Sri Naidu recalls the day of the very 1st Yagna.

The Naidu Family was interviewed by Brni. Prarthana Chaitanya (now Swamini Kaivalyananda).  

Sri Naidu, who is 82 years old now, is one of the earliest devotees of Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda. As a teenager he attended Gurudev’s first Upanishad yajina at the Ganesh Temple in Rastha Peth, Pune, in the year 1951. From 1953 to 1962, he served the Indian Air Force, but was constantly in touch with Chinmaya Mission. His son Sri Narendra Naidu was active in the Balavihar and the Chinmaya Yuva Kendra and was instrumental in the formation of the Pimpri-Chinchwad branch of the Mission.

What drew you to attend Pujya Gurudev’s first upanishad yajna?

Sri Naidu: We were a family of four brothers. The Ganesh temple was very close to our house and after arati, they used to give sumptuous prasad. So, my brothers and I would take turns to visit the temple, collect the prasad and bring it home for everyone in the house. That day it was my turn and I saw a very tall, thin man with lotus eyes talking in English at the temple.  I studied in a Marathi medium school and was fascinated by Gurudev’s English. I kept looking at the orator, at his eyes and saffron clothes. I had not seen anyone in saffron robes earlier. After the talk, I collected the prasad and came home. I remember clearly that on the first day, not more than eight to ten people were inside the temple. The next day, I was drawn there automatically by Gurudev’s personality. I started going daily just to listen to his English, because in those days I did not understand anything about Upanishads. Then the crowds started swelling. Soon the whole temple was full. In front of the temple was a small lane. People started gathering there. Loudspeakers were fixed, and within a week, people were seated on the road and the by-lane near the temple to listen to his talks. There were no tarpaulins or pandal. My brother-in-law, a second lieutenant in the army, staying in the Ghorpadi area, nearly six to eight miles from the temple, would come by cycle to listen to Gurudev’s lecture. Many army officers would come and squat on the ground to listen to his talks.

Meditation sessions started from the first day of the yajna. I would try to get inside the temple to join it. After the lecture, the lights were switched off. There was a square wall-hanging behind him, with an Om on its milky glass covering A zero-watt bulb behind the glass would light up the Om and Gurudev would lead us into meditation.

Did you ever ask Gurudev why he came to Pune or why he chose this particular Ganesh temple?

Sri Naidu: No, I never asked him. We were too young then. I can show you the place where he was staying. From there he used to come to the temple walking. I would wait on the road and watch him striding down the lane like an arrow straight to the temple. I still remember the sound of his khadau (wooden padukas). His walk was majestic. In those days, he was very lean and had piercing eyes.

The talks would start sharp at 6.30 p.m. He was very particular about timing and discipline. In his talks, he would use examples from daily life and current affairs, things that happened in the city. The movie Gone with the Wind, featuring Clark Gable, was the rage in those days. Swamiji used the story and gave it a spiritual twist. I also remember him using the algebraic equation a2-b2 = (a+b) (a-b) to explain concepts in Kathopanishad and Kenopanishad. With the SSLC examinations approaching, I could very well understand the algebra part, though the rest of the comparison went above my head. That is how Gurudev drew his examples from all facets of life. Once Gurudev said, “If you go to the race course, continue going to the race. If you are gambling, continue to go and gamble.” Like this, he would talk about all the vices! He gave a specially good description that day about horse racing, how the races are run in Bangalore, how a bookie from Pune takes the money for the race and places bets, how receipts are issued by bookies, how the bookies get their money, how people come from Bombay to Pune to gamble, how there used to be a special race train from Bombay to Pune and how they would purchase a return ticket so that even if they lost everything in Pune, they would still have the ticket to return to Bombay. I was just a school student and found it very interesting to listen to such things.

That is the greatness of Gurudev! He had to bring the knowledge to the common man and so used examples they would understand easily.

Sri Naidu: Correct. Gurudev would make a great show of the way card players shuffle the cards; he would mimic it exactly and fan the cards and then say, “Please don’t give up your vices.” We were wonder struck! Then he gently said, “Even if you try to leave the vices, you cannot leave them.” He took the example of a spittoon and explained, “How do you clean the spittoon? You do not put your hand in it and clean it; you simply open the tap and the fresh water washes away all the dirt. Like that, don’t give up bad habits, but cultivate good habits. The bad habits will automatically go.” I was hardly sixteen or so then and all this had a great impact on my life. I served in the Air Force, yet I am a tee-totaller. No smoking or other addictions. This is the effect Gurudev had on me as a young man.

As a teenager, Gurudev moulded you and you have passed on these values to the family through the generations. That is wonderful!

Sri Naidu: I have to tell you about the hardships Gurudev faced in the initial years. Wherever he was called for bhiksha, he would go walking. He was once invited by Smt. Jayabala Gujar to her house in Raviwar Peth, adjacent to Rastha Peth, where Gurudev was staying. He went to her house and came back in the hot sun walking all the way.

Did he go for bhikshas even in those days?

Sri Naidu: Yes. Wherever he was called, he used to go. In those days, after bhiksha, people used to give a kind of coarse white long cloth to sannyasis. There was a choultry called Ananda Ma Dharmashala, which was run by one of my aunts. It was frequented mainly by South Indian travelers, sadhus and sannyasis. In the choultry, there was a bucket which had a hole in it. My aunt had fixed the hole by inserting a piece of cloth in it. Gurudev would dye the white long cloth by soaking it in saffron coloured water (gerua) in that bucket. His hands would remain red for a day or two.

It is because of Susheela  Mudaliar that we went to see Gurudev often. He used to keep a small steel trunk in which he would keep the addresses of those who met him. And it would be arranged systematically in the alphabetical order. He would send Yajna Prasad booklets to them. I remember the akhanda kirtan during the yajna. It was held at 329, Rastha Peth, Madrasi Dharmashala. In the evenings after his talk, he would join the kirtan and sit for a while. I still remember the tone in which he sang: Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare .. Everyone participated, taking, turns to chant. We would chant for one hour and then the next person or group would continue the chanting. It would go on day and night. In the wee hours, between two and four, it was difficult to get any volunteers. At such times, Gurudev would often come and chant.

Can you narrate some more incidents about the early days after the first yajna?

Sri Naidu: In 1951, soon after India’s independence, the Hindu-Muslim divide was there. So Gurudev organized a procession through Pune city to bring about unity among the Indians. The procession started from the temple, moved to Apollo Talkies, and then proceeded to the Cantonment area, which was populated with Anglo-Indian and Christian families, and then wound through the Muslim area of Bhavani Peth to end again at the Rastha Peth temple. I was also a part of that procession.

How long did it take?

Sri Naidu: I do not remember exactly, but it took a very long time, maybe two hours or more… Gurudev was seated in an open car and we chanted Hare Rama Hare Krishna as we walked along. At one place, the merchants of the area had hung a basket filled with flower petals from the top of a building, and they tilted it when Gurudev’s car passed through. The flower petals fell on him. Gurudev got down from the car, enquired who had arranged it and congratulated them. Then the procession continued on its way Right from the first yajna, homam was performed with a homa kunda and Gurudev would sprinkle Ganges water on the devotees. He would tie a hand kerchief around his head. He used to look majestic!

I am told that Gurudev’s talks used to be transcribed immediately

Sri Naidu: Yes, cyclostyled copies of his talks would be distributed. That is how our Prasad Pustikas were in the beginning. My father used to receive them. I had often noticed Gurudev’s handwriting on the cover. My father used to send those booklets to me when I was in the Air Force. After retiring from the Air Force in 1962, I settled in Chinchwad, Pune. I started Balavihar in 1971, mainly for the sake of my children. I also took up other activities of the Mission. Christian and Muslim children would also come to attend the Balavihar classes. When my brother informed Gurudev about this, he replied, “What is the harm? Let them come.” Now my Balavihar children are grandmothers! My elder brother was in constant contact with Chinmaya Mission, especially with Sri Bhatia, during the period I was with the Air Force. They used to have a regular study group. My brother would write to me about Gurudev. When my son Narendra was four years old, he had memorized chapter twelve of the Bhagavad Gita. I attended a Balavihar program, where I met Gurudev and talked to him, thus renewing our personal contact.

Amma, can you share your memories of Gurudev?

Smt. Sunita Naidu: My husband would take me to attend Gurudev’s lectures, even though I did not understand English. We would go along with the children. They were young; Narendra was eight years old and Sadhana was three. Since the children might disturb the talk, we used to sit in the gallery, spreading a dhurrie (cotton rug). I would feed them and let them sleep. We would listen to the lecture peacefully and return home by the last train. After the children grew up, we could sit in the front seats for the talks. One day, we did not attend and Gurudev had asked Swami Purushottamananda, “Where are the four people who sit in the front row?” The next day, Swami Purushottamananda asked us the reason for our absence and we told him that we could not attend because Sadhana had fever.