Winter Camp

Neem Karoli Baba MaharajjiAs I have said before, when I first met Babaji I was not at all interested in sadhus or saints. It was out of sheer grace that he visited our house.

Although many unusual things were happening, we failed to realise their importance or to see his hand in them. His visits meant some thrill and excitement and we looked forward to them, but I still looked at him as a kind and affectionate guest.

A new process started, however, when we moved onto the larger stage of the new house. Many miracles occurred, acting as shock treatments on me. But no less important was the association with some of his oldest and most trusted devotees, whose love and devotion for Babaji were really my eye opener.

The devotees who started coming to our house when it was built included Siddhi Didi and her husband, Tularam Dada, Hubbaji (Hira Lal Shah), and Umadatt Sukla. They were the earlier ones. We had already met Kehar Singh. Then came Mr. Sang, Inder, Thakur Jaidev Singh, and later Kishan Tewari, Jiban, Ram Narayan Singh, and Gurudat Sharma.

When these persons started coming, we were unknown to each other. We were in different stations of life, with different professions and interests, but we were like different streams which come together, reach the ocean and become one.

The devotees would be in our house, not bothered by physical comforts or conveniences, but only interested in being close to Babaji, seeing him and hearing him. This did not mean that we were always trying to hang onto him. He might be in one room and we would be in another, talking about him. Whenever an opportunity came, we would sit together and compare notes—what everyone felt about him or whatever new experience anyone had attained.

After eleven o'clock at night we would be free. We would have finished our food and the whole floor would be covered with beds. Sometimes Maharaj ji would come out and take his seat on a bed. He would ask, "Are you having tea?" We would say no, "Why are you sitting here with no tea?" Then he would see the blankets on Sukla's bed, and start counting how many were there. "You have got so many layers on your bed!"

Then Sukla would say, with tears in his eyes, "Baba, this is my Didi's house, and she has given them to me."

"Oh, your Didi is very generous to you, she gives you so much. But come and look at my bed and see how hard it is!" This was his way of talking. It used to be the most enjoyable time of the whole day—like the members of a family sitting around the loving and indulgent elder, talking and chatting freely, without any restrictions.

As far as these devotees were concerned, they had been with Babaji a long time and all their doubts, all their questions, had been completely answered. They were convinced and intoxicated. But I would not be intoxicated so soon. I was hearing them talking of my Babaji as a saint and as God, but still I could not accept it in my heart of hearts. I would only say, "Yes, of course, it must be so," but I was not believing that. He could not convince and convert me easily. I did not fall headlong like your Kishan Tewari or your Jiban Baba, saying that he is all in all, the divinity incarnate.

In January 1960, the Ardha Mela was taking place in Allahabad. The celebration spread over two months. Hundreds of thousands of sadhus came and set up camp in the area of the confluence of the Ganges and Jamuna Rivers. Babaji had arrived in the beginning of December. Some devotees, including Tularam Dada and Siddhi Didi came in December, but many more arrived in January.

One day in January he went out in the afternoon and got into a car, along with Tularam, Sukla, and a few more of us. We did not know where we were going. We crossed the bridge on the Ganges and reached the ashram of Prabhudatt Brahmachari, a celebrated saint. Babaji got down and I followed him; he asked the others to stay in the car.

Seeing Baba, Brahmachari came rushing over. "Baba, you are so kind to me. You have come!" He took Baba around and introduced him to many sadhus. Then he sat Baba down and brought various kinds of prasad from Vrindaban and Mathura and offered them to Babaji, who accepted them. "Baba, the Ras Lila party from Vrindaban has come, please do stay the night and enjoy the celebration." Baba readily agreed, but Prabhudatt ji, who knew Babaji well, said, "Baba, I cannot accept your words so easily." When he had to leave for a few minutes to take care of something, he asked the people in the room not to allow Babaji to go. He warned them, "Be vigilant. He escapes very easily." I did not understand fully what he meant.

Babaji sat talking to the people for some time and then told me that we would go out to urinate. I stood up with him. He told the people he knew where to go. Then he caught hold of my hand and began moving fast. Coming near the gate he asked me to run and get the car started. When Baba got into it, Prabhudatt ji noticed and cried out, "He is running away, run after him!" the car started and we drove away.

It was a full moon night and the moonlight was reflected in the Ganges. The motor road was completely empty at the time and we stopped the car, got out and sat there. Babaji was sitting on the road with us around him. He said, "Look at this Ganga, this is not water, but milk. This is pure amrit [nectar]." None of us could actually believe that. After all, the saints and sages talk like that, a language we do not understand. The understanding was to come only after six years.

Babaji had a camp at the Kumbha Mela in 1966, feeding thousands of people every day. He stayed at our house and in the afternoon, after taking his food, would go to the camp. Many devotees were staying there.

One day in the afternoon, Babaji, Sukla, a sadhu name Omkar Baba, and I went to the mela and came to the bank of the Ganges near the sangam. There was a very big barge which was empty except for the boatman's wife, who was preparing food. Babaji got in the boat and I spread the blanket we had brought for him. Sukla had a lota and Baba told him to fill it with water and keep it there. We sat for some time until it was getting dark and Babaji said, "Chalo! When you people sit somewhere you forget everything. It is getting late, let us return."

I took up the blanket and Sukla took his lota. We got down from the boat and Maharaj ji, pointing at the lota, told Sukla to offer us a drink. When we looked in the lota we saw that it was fresh milk! Sukla wanted to bring some of the milk home for Didi and the others, but Maharaj ji said, "No! Throw it away! You want to bring disgrace on me? Throw it!" Then he had Sukla wash the lota out. I then remembered the 1960 mela when Babaji had said, "This Ganga is not water, it is milk."

On an important bathing day during the 1960 mela, the devotees had gone for their bath in the Ganges, returning late in the day. After the regular sitting in the evening and the meal, everyone retired and slept wherever a bed was available. Some were sleeping on the outer verandah. Siddhi Didi and some other ladies from Nainital went to the roof to sleep. At three o'clock in the morning Tularam started shouting, waking up the whole house, "Babaji has gone away!" I did not understand, but came out of bed and found Tularam and Siddhi Didi standing at the door. They caught hold of my hands and said, "We must go immediately." We ran down the street and found a rickshaw puller sleeping in his cart and got him going.

Siddhi Didi briefly narrated that half an hour ago two rickshaws had come to the gate and a man got down from one and entered the house. After a few minutes she saw three persons leave. It was a full moonlit night, she had seen everything clearly, but it was as if she was in a trance and could not understand what was happening. Only a little while later did she realise who had left.

Reaching the train station, we saw Babaji sitting outside on a bench by himself. He asked why we had come, how had we known that he had left. Tularam said, "Baba, in the future please do not leave the house without informing Dada. It is so very painful for him."

While we were talking, Kanhai Lal and Ram Prakash came back from having their tea. We put Babaji and Ram Prakash on the train. On our way home Kanhai Lal narrated Babaji's escape. Babaji had told him to come in the middle of the night with two rickshaws, and to tell no one. When Kanhai Lal arrived, Ram Prakash was fast asleep. Babaji actually lifted him up and made him stand. We could not understand why there was such secrecy.

Within a few days Babaji returned and stayed for more than a month. One day, after distributing the morning prasad to the devotees, he came to the library room and told me to make a bed on the floor. He said he was not feeling well and would rest; nobody should disturb him. I asked, "Baba, are you really feeling cold? Should I get another blanket?" So I did, although it was already the end of March and quite warm. He had the doors and windows all bolted and then asked Tularam to put locks on the doors from the outside and not to give the keys to anyone.

In the beginning we took it to be another of his lilas. The devotees assembled for darshan as usual, but upon hearing the story they all waited outside. By noon the whole verandah and lawn were full, everyone waiting anxiously for him to come out. The ladies from Nainital and some others sat in Babaji's room facing the door to the library and started singing kirtan. This continued all day. Everyone was in great suspense. The mood had changed from one of lightheartedness at his usual dalliance to one of deep anxiety. Many persons had tried to peep into his room or put their ears to the door, but with no success.

It was late in the afternoon. Ma, Maushi Ma, Didi and Siddhi Didi were sitting in the courtyard cutting vegetables and discussing the whole thing in a distressed mood. Suddenly someone shouted, "Babaji is running away!" We came and saw that Baba had scaled the wall and was walking fast down the road behind the house.

Many of us followed him. He entered a devotee's house not far away, sat down and began talking as if nothing unusual had happened. To every question he answered, "I don't know." When it was said that the room must have been opened for Baba, Tularam furiously replied that he had kept the keys with him at all times. Someone then went to look at the doors and windows and returned to say they were all still locked.

After some time we all returned with him. Maushi Ma said that before Babaji had jumped the wall she had seen him sitting in the garden near the bushes. He said, "Maushi Ma, I am hiding. You must not tell anybody." After she turned away was when he jumped the wall and was seen.

Later that night when Babaji had retired to his room, we gathered together to discuss the episode. To us, this was the first big miracle. The only conclusion we could arrive at was that this was an indication of Baba's superhuman power. Only his grace had allowed us to see it.

There was an interesting interlude during the 1966 Kumbha Mela. Babaji had a camp and a bhandara feeding large numbers of persons every day. Babaji used to visit the camp daily, but stayed in our house at night. One evening there were a large number of devotees waiting for Babaji in the house. As soon as he returned they all surrounded him. I was busy attending to some other things when I heard a lot of noise coming from his room. Someone came and brought me in to witness the fun.

The whole room was packed. Babaji was leaning on his pillow in one of the well-known poses. An old lady was sitting in a corner trying to speak, but Babaji would not allow her to narrate her story. He kept repeating continuously, "Ma, I was dead, I was dead, but I was born in the mountains again." I was very anxious to hear her story.

Later, after she had spent some time with Babaji, she came out and we accosted her. She narrated her story. She belonged to the Farrukhabad district where Babaji was very well-known. Her father had been a great devotee of Babaji, who had visited her father in his home for more than twenty years. When she had last met Babaji at her father's home, she was nine years old. That was sixty-four years ago, and at that time he was already well past middle age. She did not remember ever having seen him wearing a blanket.

She had come to Allahabad for the mela. When her host, a devotee of Babaji, told her that Baba Nibkarori was here, she could not believe it. She said, "What are you talking about? Baba Nibkarori must have been dead long back." She had come to verify the statement of her host that Baba Nibkarori was here. When she saw him, she could not believe her eyes. This is when Babaji said that he was dead and had been born again.

Whenever such a person would come and try to tell stories, Babaji would say, "If you talk about me, I shall go away." But another time a devotee came when Maharaj ji was in Allahabad. Baba was sitting in the hall and as soon as that person came, Babaji said to him, "You are bringing shame and disgrace on my name. You are exposing me! I shall not come to your house again!" He went on shouting in this way and the poor fellow was feeling very upset. He was a great devotee and had known Baba for a long time. His idea had been that all the old devotees should collect their reminiscences and make a pamphlet of them. He had written to many devotees and they had begun sending some of their stories. Maharaj ji knew what was going on and so began abusing him.

The devotee started pleading with him, saying, "I will not collect these stories any longer."

Maharaj ji cried, "Jao! Jao! Go and bring those things you have collected!"

The devotee's home was forty miles away, but he went at once and came back that evening. Maharaj ji took those papers and said, "Tear them up, tear them up! Go and put them into that fire!" That was Baba's way. He wanted to keep the mystery. He did not want to have beads, or matted hair, or the glimmer of a halo about him.

A friend came one morning and told me that he was having a housewarming ceremony that evening. His revered guru, Sri Deoria Baba, would grace the celebration by his presence. Many disciples, mostly sadhus, would also be coming, and the friend wanted me to help with the reception. I told him that Babaji would be returning to our house and I could not be away. Baba had left for Benares the day before and was expected back any time in the afternoon. My friend said that if Babaji arrived, someone from the house could come and fetch me. So I had to agree. I went and waited for Deoria Baba. I felt very uneasy, fearing that Babaji would return and I wouldn't be there. Finally Deoria Baba came with many sadhus and disciples, and when they were seated I slipped away without informing anybody. Within half an hour after I returned, Babaji arrived.

The next morning, Tularam, Siddhi Didi and myself were sitting with Babaji. He asked me if I had met Deoria Baba. When I said I had, he asked, "Did you talk to him?"

"No, I didn't."

"Why? Why didn't you talk to him?" I told him there was a big rush and I could not get my chance. Then he yelled out, "Why did you not take my name? He would have given you darshan immediately!" I kept quiet. But he would not stop without a reply. He began pulling my ear and repeatedly asked, "Why didn't you take my name?"

Then out of my mouth came, "One Baba is enough for me."

Tularam shouted in joy. Babaji patted me on the head and said, "It's all right. It's all right." The matter ended there.

One early morning in 1961, a devotee came and gave us two small pictures of Babaji. He had come from Lucknow and said Sukla had sent them—one for Didi and one for me. Babaji's pictures were precious, but I could not understand why Sukla had said it was necessary to have it always with me. I had neither a purse, nor did I always have a shirt with a pocket. What should I do with it? So Didi took it.

A few months later Sukla came. He told us that he had met Babaji at Lucknow some days before and Babaji had asked, "You sent a picture to Dada to be kept with him? What use has he got for that?"

I told Sukla that I had not seen Babaji since receiving the picture, nor had I talked to anyone about it. All Sukla could say was, "He comes to know on his own. No one has to tell him anything."

Maharaj ji recited the mantra "Ram Ram" all the time—twenty-four hours a day. Whenever he wanted to write something, he would write "Ram Ram," whether on paper or in a book. If he was to send a letter to someone, he would write "Ram Ram," saying that was his letter. Only once in later years, when I had to apply for a grant for land for the temple at Rishikesh, did he sign his name.

It was in September 1961 that I came to my desk to take out a book that I had been reading the night before. I shrieked and called to the others to come see the miracle. "Ram Ram" was written on the whole cover and a few pages inside. It was all in Babaji's handwriting, which we had come to know by that time. I told them that the night before, when I had left the book, nothing was written on it. Didi said, "What do you mean, last night? Only twenty minutes ago I arranged the table and there was nothing on the book!" Then she took the book from my hand and opened it. Two more pages of "Ram Ram" were there. The ink had not fully dried and we felt that perhaps we had disturbed Baba while he was working. By no stretch of the imagination could we find any clues to this mystery.

I wrote to Tularam about it. Being a close devotee of Babaji and spending so much time in his company, I thought perhaps he had some understanding which I lacked. We had become much attached to each other and whenever we experienced anything new about Baba we used to share it between us. He received my letter when he was with Babaji at Agra, and asked him how it could happen. Babaji's answer was brief. "Dada was remembering me, so I had to go." The mystery was solved.

Some months after that I was reading in my room after eleven o'clock at night. Suddenly the gate opened with a clang and Babaji began shouting and abusing me, "You tease me so much. I was five hundred miles away, but I had to come because you were remembering me. Dada, I always come when you remember me."

When Babaji came at the end of the year for the winter months, Tularam and Siddhi Didi were with him. Babaji did not mention anything about writing "Ram Ram," but Tularam talked much about it. He said such miracles were very trifling things for a sage like Babaji and that only his grace allowed us to see these things. He would always talk of Babaji as the "greatest sage of the age." His friendship was very valuable in helping me to remove some of the cobwebs that were obstructing the proper working of my mind.

That first "winter camp" of Babaji, as devotees used to call it, was unique in many respects. There were so many miracles that came in quick succession that even his old devotees were taken by surprise. Everyone agreed that never before had they had such an opportunity to spend so much time at his feet and to enjoy his grace for months together. The blissful smile with which he greeted us, his sweet and charming company, the free and intimate atmosphere of the family sitting together could never have been imagined before. This was, of course, before the Kainchi and Vrindaban ashrams were built. But these winter camps continued even after the ashrams came.

The winter camp came to be an annual festival for us—the devotees gathered in a festive mood, free from all worries. I was no longer merely a spectator, but also a participant, sharing everything with the others. And these festivals at home were so entertaining and enjoyable that there was no question of going elsewhere. I lost all contact with old friends and the old social life. The whole process was so smooth and spontaneous that it was only much afterwards that I realised the change.

Yet in spite of the feeling of participation and the enjoyment of his unbounded grace, there was still something missing for me. My mind was full of questions: How are these things happening? What are they leading to? Why does Babaji go on performing these lilas? I could not get into the heart of the matter; everything continued to be a great mystery. There were no such difficulties for many of the full-baked devotees whom I was meeting. They had recognised Baba as something divine and these were his lilas. They had surrendered their doubts and questions, but I was far from it.