He came to our house again, this time for a train ticket.

Smt. Lakshmi Reddy was interviewed by Brni. Prarthana Chaitanya (now Swamini Kaivalyananda).  

Smt. Lakshmi Reddy was the editor of the magazine Usha, a precursor of Tapovan Prasad, for the full duration of its existence. She used to lead the chanting at any of Pujya Gurudev’s yajnas in the earlier years, sometimes even travelling abroad with him. It is her voice that lent the chanting support in Pujya Gurudev’s famous talks on The Art of Man-making on All India Radio. 

You have known Pujya Gurudev from a very young age. Can you share with us how he guided you into the spiritual path?

Gurudev came to our house in December 1951. I vividly remember him seated in our huge verandah. My father introduced him very briefly, saying he was from the Sivananda ashram and was going to conduct a Satsang. Because of the purdah system prevalent in those days, the ladies were seated in the drawing room and the men were outside in the verandah. Swamiji focussed his attention mostly on to the people outside and kept questioning them “What is bhakti? Can anyone tell what bhakti is?” The men looked bewildered. Suddenly, I said loudly from behind, “Devotion.” I heard Gurudev’s commanding voice, “Come and sit in front”.

Soon the satsang started. I recollect him saying that we should start a satsang by chanting ‘Om’, not once, but three times. He did not chant anything further, but directly spoke on the various types of bhakti and bhaktas, like Meera, Sudama etc. We were enraptured by Gurudev’s stories, his impeccable English, his body language, his charismatic personality, his description of bhaktas and how bhakti could make one a different person altogether.

On the second day, he continued to talk on devotion, and then slowly introduced us to the Upanishads. Though we were novices, we were shaking our heads very vigorously.  Amused by this, Gurudev smilingly queried, “Can you name the Upanishads you have heard? How many Vedas are there?”

We had never heard the name of any Upanishad but were able to answer that there were four Vedas. Thus, he gently guided us to start our spiritual journey.

What was your first impression about him?

Swamiji came like fire. Very enthusiastic, tall, covered with dust and holding his Kamandalu and stick. In those days, he used to walk barefoot, carrying his jhola (bag). He was traveling without much financial help or support. He would make do with whatever food or water he got. It must have been difficult for a person coming from the royal family of Cochin, a highly qualified person, who had done his post-graduation and then worked for his country’s independence. Having discovered his goal in life, he had suddenly taken up this path.

The vision was there from the beginning, but the meeting with Swami Sivananda had crystallized it. He was trying to give us that vision, and my father, as a devotee of Swami Sivananda, was open to it and was enamoured by this great personality. We were teenagers, and not much of what he said was going in.

Was he staying at your father’s house?

No. He stayed in Sri Kapoor’s house for some time and later on, in another Sindhi lady’s house for a day or two.  I remember that he had only one set of clothes. He used to jump into the Hussain Sagar, have his bath there, wash his clothes, dry them and then come out wearing his dried clothes. Swami Sivananda had given him my father’s address, and that is how he came to our house.

We spoke Urdu in the house and had Muslim servants. Swamiji would greet the driver with “Adaab arz hai” To the maali, he would say, “Maali saab namaste!” and to the little children, “Good morning,” or evening”. Swamiji knew how to capture these people and the world in his own unique way.

On the third day, Swamiji came around noon time. I had just returned from the school, and the bell rang. I opened the door, saw this person and thought to myself, “Oh God, he has come again!” I said, “Ayya Swamiji, my father is not here. Please go away.”  Swamiji was disappointed and said, “But your father asked me to come at this time.” Again, I repeated, “Sorry, he’s not here. Please go away.”

I bolted the door, and with downcast eyes, his bag dangling from his shoulders, he walked to the gate. My father had a forty-two roomed house and the gate was quite far away. Ten minutes later, my father arrived with train tickets in his hand. He went straight to my mother’s room and asked “Did Swamiji come”? My mother did not know. He then asked Lakshmiah the cook who replied “Yes, he came. Ask the little girl sitting there”. My father asked me and I narrated the whole incident to him. He was very angry, but there was no time for reprimands; he had to catch Swamiji. He opened the gate and rushed to the station. The tickets were for Swamiji to travel to Pune for his first yajna in December 1951.

My father found Swamiji pacing up and down in the station and ran towards him. He apologised, handed over the tickets and seated him in the third-class compartment, just as the train started moving. When my father got back home, he scolded me roundly for sending Swamiji away.

Swamiji had great impact on the entire house – the way he walked, the way he talked to little children and mixed with everyone, even the dogs. Once, when the ayah brought a ten-day old baby, Swamiji lifted the baby to his forehead and whispered, “Hari Om! Hari Om! Hari Om!” Seeing this, other servants also brought their little children to receive Swamiji’s blessings. Swamiji asked my mother to make some prasadam and he distributed it with his own hands.

When did you meet Swamiji next?

After reaching Pune, he wrote to my father. My father must have mentioned to Swamiji about our strained circumstances and the difficulty of managing the family with six small children. Those were the times when Hyderabad had merged into the Indian Union; there was a lot of confusion and all our land had been taken away.

I still remember Swamiji’s reply, “Hari Om! Gopala Reddy, these things happen in the world. Everyone has to carry his own cross. I am carrying my own cross. Do you think life is easy for me? It is not. You bear the cross, take the name of the Lord and go ahead with the work. You will be protected. I’ll be in touch with you from the Yajnasala.