Part I-RECOLLECTIONS AND DIARY NOTES
LOOKING BACK: THE HAND OF GRACE
I was a simple lad, .somewhat introverted, unable to mix freely with others, with little understanding of things. I had no interest in studies. My teacher, whatever else he may have been, was always friendly. Another teacher was a friend of my father's and he felt he could exercise all rights upon me and say whatever he pleased. In the classroom he would openly ask me questions which I could not answer, then mock at me saying that I had grown only in body but not in mind. The students would naturally laugh and he joined in the laughter. I could do nothing about it except pray to God to reduce my body. But apparently He did not hear my prayer, for my body continued to be robust and I was nicknamed Ganesh.
In 1918, when I was fifteen, I joined the Jnanaganga abhyasagriha. [study-home] opened that year by the famous academician Dr. Pandya in our town Patan. It was run by my mother's maternal uncle, Manilal Dave.¹ Students would spend the whole day there except meal times when they would go to their homes. I was very happy there.
Every year one of my paternal uncles used to go to a Shiva temple in a village near our town for a month-long puja in the holy month of shravan. When he passed away, my father asked me to perform that puja. I accepted on condition that after the month was over and I returned home, I would not rejoin regular school. He agreed. At the end of the month, I stopped going to school but continued in the abhyasagriha.
Somehow, a copy of Ramakrishna- Kathamrita came into my hands at this time and I devoured it avidly. I lost interest in everything. But I retained my interest in the akhada [gymnasium] which was popular in our town and where I went regularly, not so much for doing the exercise as to enjoy the freedom of the place. There I met Punamchandbhai, a very popular man who had a well-built body like that of the famous wrestler Sandow. I learnt that he not only looked after the boys' exercises, but also followed the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo. I met him at his house. I was much influenced by him. Mother was to tell me later how hard she had to work to remove his influence over me; it remained
with me till 1930 when I was 27.
Some time later Shri Kesarlal Dikshit - a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and a very respected figure in the educational circles in those days — came there and met Punamchandbhai. Both of them decided to go to Kashibhai's place near Bharooch [on the estuary of the N armada]. Punamchandbhai asked me to proceed with Dikshitbhai and said he would follow, along with his wife. Although my father knew very well that I would not be doing any studies there and it was only an excuse to leave home, he raised no objection. He did not believe in imposing anything on children after a certain age and simply kept quiet. My mother (whom we called jl) had two brothers. The younger was highly educated and took a deep interest in us. He had a very close relationship with Dikshitbhai. So my jl consulted him. When Dikshitbhai learnt of their reluctance to send me, he came to my father and said to him; "I am asking for bhiksha [alms], give me Champak. He is a jewel wrapped in rags." Father consented. That was how I left home when I was 17.
The ashram was on the island of Kansia , a few miles from Bharooch town. It was a fine place on the estates of Kashibhai, Kamala's father. He led a spiritual life and used to invite saintly personalities to stay there so that all of us who lived there could benefit by the satsang and build up good sanskara. He had invited Dikshitbhai to come there, Dikshitbhai' s wife and son were already there when he and I reached the ashram. Kamala was then 5 years old. Later, Punamchandbhai and his wife Champaben, and Chimanlal, elder brother of Kesarimal [who later opened the Ayurvedic Section in Sri Aurobindo Ashram], arrived". Kanti, brother of Chandulal and Vasudha2, left his college and joined us. Also came Natwarlal. Though in the beginning we had separate kitchens, after some time there was one joint kitchen along with Kashibhai's family. Dikshitbhai was the director of the ashram. A book can be written about what I learnt from him and about the history and management of this ashram.
Kashibhai's brother Haribhai lived in Bharooch and was a political leader at that time. Many important people used to visit him; I remember seeing C.F. Andrews at his place. Sri Aurobindo
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considered Haribhai exceptional enough to give him instructions in sadhana even though he accepted the Swaminarayan cult after retiring from politics. I learnt that the instructions were such that Haribhai could go his own way helped by them.
Kanti and I went to Haribhai's house on the day of Ramakrishna Jayanti. We meditated there. Our desire to see Sri Aurobindo increased so much that I wrote to my aunt Motibai (my father's sister) about it. She had loved me very much from my childhood and I felt I must inform her. I did not want anything from home. She did not reply. I learnt later that she had not received my letter at all.
I told Dikshitbhai that we intended to go walking to Pondicherry. He declined to send us that way, on our own. He talked to Punamchandbhai and decided that all of us should start together. Dikshitbhai, Punamchandbhai and his wife Champaben, Zaverben whose husband Narayanbhai was Kashibhai's munim [estate manager], Chimanlal, Natwarlal, Kanti and myself formed the group. Dikshitbhai' s son and the son of Dikshitbhai' s maternal aunt also started with us but they went back from the next village.
We came to Navasari where Punditji, a disciple of Motilal Roy of Chandernagore, ran an ashram and published books in Gujarari. We stayed there for a while. I did not know what the elders of our party told him, but I learnt that we were to make sandals, sell them on the way and travel on the proceeds. Kanti knew how to make sandals. One big bag of leather was procured; we had to carry it by turns. Once while crossing a bridge over a river, Kanti was so tired that he wanted to throw the whole bag into the waters! Somehow he did not do that. At last we came to Bilimora from where three of us, myself, Kanti and Natwar, were to be sent by train to Bombay. I learnt that Champaben's ornaments were mortgaged in the town and tickets were purchased for us with that money. At Bombay we went to the bungalow of a disciple of Dikshitbhai, a businessman of Ghatkopar. Dikshitbhai had given us a letter of introduction to him. We procured a letter from a high railway officer, Motilal Mehta, to a certain Narandas (a C.I.D. man!) in Pondicherry. We were to stay at his place. How we met him and what happened subsequently I shall tell you next.
By the way, in the course of our journey, we all had gone for a bath in a river. Zaverben came with us saying that she could swim. While I was enjoying myself in the water, I suddenly noticed that she was struggling to keep her head above the water; as soon as I swam close to her, she caught hold of me. Somehow I extricated myself and managed to pull her back into shallow waters. I do not know how I did it or how I got the strength to save both of us. Obviously I had to come to Pondicherry. The Grace works in many ways.