One warm February afternoon in 1973, I met Neem Karoli Baba-ji at the Sankata Mochana Hanuman Mandir on Parikrama Road in Vrindaban. Early the next morning Maharaj-ji left for His ashram at Kainchi Dham in Nainital Jila, Kumoan.
A few months before meeting Baba, I had received funds from the USA. When I left the Brajbasi plains for Kumoan to follow Baba, I passed through New Delhi where I cashed $100 into rupees, which left me with $300 in American Express traveler's checks. The exchange rate was Rs/7.38 rupees to the dollar. In my bag I had some rupees and fifteen traveler’s checks in twenty-dollar denomination. The checks had come in a blue plastic AmEx envelope, which I kept in an inside pocket of my shoulder bag.
Prior to receiving those traveler's checks, I had been in India with very little money. God's grace or luck had taken care of me and I never wanted for food and shelter during the months that I lived in India. I took meditation classes in Bodh Gaya, lived in little houses that rented for 30 rupees per month. I was always safe and people were kind and hospitable. I could travel anywhere and always found a warm reception, a spiritual connection, and accommodations at Dharamsalas. I never feared or wanted, even if I was short of funds. I was only eighteen years old when I arrived in India, more pushed than drawn, by my deepest samskaras.
In March 1973, when I cashed $100 of the traveler's checks in Delhi, I made a game with myself. I didn't want to worry about the money running out. I also felt the need to be generous and share it with others since I had always been taken care of when I had come up short--I felt a debt. So I played a game. I decided that I wouldn't count the checks again. I would let the last one surprise me when the money ran out. I decided that every time that I cashed some of the traveler's checks, I would intentionally looked the other way, carefully extracting them individually from the plastic envelope--just lift out the one or two that I wanted to cash.
I didn't want to worry, "only $200 left, only $100 left." I thought it was better to avoid anxiously anticipating the last of the money. After all, I was young. I had been all right in India before, with hardly any money and I would be OK again. In the interim, I did not want to be miserly or to worry about the out flow of the funds that I was fortunate enough to have. Besides, I was going to the Guru's feet. What to worry? I carefully stashed the $300 in traveler’s checks, and left Delhi for Kainchi Dham.
As months passed, every few weeks I would go into Nainital to change money and buy a few things. Each time I continued to play the little avoidance game. Without looking or counting I cashed two checks, then three checks, then a few more. After several bus trips to Nainital, I tired of the chore of changing money. I decided to cash all the checks. It seemed more convenient to just change the dollars into rupees and be done with it.
When I think of it today, it is as if I am standing there at the State Bank of India in Nainital—the memory is so very tangible. The bank was an old wooden building, colonial architecture, with the front gate chained together so you have to stoop under to enter. There were wooden walls, wooden floors, and a tall Pahari gentleman with a mustache behind the dark shiny wooden counter.
How much of the original $300 remained? Perhaps as much as $180, maybe only 60? I had made at least three trips to the bank since arriving in Kumoan. Perhaps there might be $100 or maybe $80. I removed the checks from the envelope and counted them. There were fifteen American Express twenty-dollar traveler's checks--the exact amount that I had placed in my bag in New Delhi months before.
My feet were suddenly rooted to the ground, my heart wavered. I counted them again. There was $300 in twenty dollar traveler's checks laid out on the counter before me. The tall handsome gentleman at the State Bank of India looked concerned and asked "Is there a problem, are you missing some checks?" I asked him to please count them. He did so and reported, "There are 300 dollars. How much would you like to cash?" I was speechless. "All of it," I whispered.
I returned to Kainchi on the U.P Roadways bus with a deep sense of wonderment. There was no way that I had miscounted the traveler’s checks. I had had $400 when I arrived in Delhi. I had cashed $100 into rupees (five $20 checks), and then cashed numerous $20 checks in Nainital after arriving at Baba's ashram. There was no possible way that I could still have $300 remaining. I had not miscounted. I had not not spent the money. It was impossible that I could have had the same number if traveler’s checks I’d had when I arrived, months after living in Kainchi--renting a house and all the financial obligations that Maya entails.
Later that afternoon when I returned from Nainital to Kainchi Dham, Baba-ji kept motioning and laughing and winking. Then he called out across the courtyard, "Kya, paisa mil gaya?" (“What, did you get the money?”)
I didn't tell a soul about the traveler’s checks that had materialized in that plastic envelope. I was a little unsure as to how Baba had manipulated the American Express Co. I worried about legal repercussions. That may seem silly now, but I was only twenty years old. I guarded the secret for years. I cherished the idea that I had to protect Baba's confidentiality, long after His Maha Samadhi.
I kept the bundle of rupees in a string bag, spending as needed. I didn't play the little game and didn't worry about having money or not having money. I was in India for a few months after Baba left His body, and I never ran out. I never thought about it. But, I always had rupees. I never counted them. I just spent them carefully and tried to give some to others who were needy. The only reason that I'm writing this now is because I have complete confidence that American Express Co. didn't have anything to do with it!
Since then, from time to time, I have teetered on the brink financially, but Deus ex-machina, somehow, I always have enough. Once, in the early nineties, when I was having some financial problems, a thousand dollars appeared in my checking account. I asked the bank to trace it. I thought that it had been deposited by mistake. They assured me that it was my money. Yet, I had not deposited it. The kids and I paid our bills and no one ever questioned the funds, except me! It's not as if this sort of thing happens regularly. I have to work and worry about paying bills just like the rest of us, but there have been moments when Baba has lent me a few.
Then there is the Grace He has showered on me since the new millennia………