By the end of the 1960s, Westerners were traveling to visit the spiritual teacher, Babuji, in India. Among the first were the Danes, who all fell in love with Babuji and were instrumental in bringing the spiritual practices of Heartfulness to the West. One of these pioneers was THOMAS MOGENSEN, who first visited Shahjahanpur in 1971 with his wife and some friends. They filmed their conversations with Babuji, took many photos, and Thomas later wrote two books about these precious experiences. Here is a small vignette from one of his books, written with his signature humor, joy, and tenderness.
A large wooden table and some upright chairs occupy our dining room, situated and set aside solely for us in one of the buildings enclosing an inner kitchen courtyard in Babuji’s Shahjahanpur home. The very first time we eat our lunch there, he himself suddenly shows up.
As expected from a good and polite host, he takes his seat at the end of the table. With a few words that food should be nourishing and simple he sinks into silence, looking down in front of himself in the humblest way you can imagine. As we dine, the situation gets more and more unsettling for our Danish sister, Vibe. She looks distressed from one to the other, then turns to Babuji gently saying, “It’s all right, Babuji, you don’t need to sit here with us.” Without further notice he says, “Thank you,” as polite as ever, gets up and leaves.
Babuji takes his food squatting in solitude in a corner of the kitchen courtyard. His meals are served on a large stainless steel plate. Though the amount of food is not much, he often shares most of it with the cat, the only one sure to join him. Once in a while, someone, usually his granddaughter, Nini, drops by to see if he is all right. She instructs him to eat more, as she knows better than anyone else how a loss of appetite, if allowed to continue, can end up in the danger zone of his ulcer breaking out causing some real bad trouble. All such things are normally kept away from us, but after one of our lunches, Nini approaches us. Explaining how Babuji has not eaten anything for days, she asks us to please return to the veranda and speak among ourselves about food – any food, our favorite dishes. “You need not speak English,” she says, “and don’t speak to him. Just speak in your own language.”
Returning to the veranda, we find Babuji as we left him, far gone and curled up in his easy chair. We launch straight into some nice Danish talk about food, practically serving him a dish of the summer’s first new and absolutely delicious cooked potatoes with some nice cool Danish butter, a bit of salt, and a good lot of freshly chopped parsley, when his withdrawn painful condition lifts off. Surprised, he looks from one to the other as if wondering why he is suddenly taking part in such an odd conversation. Then he gets up and disappears into the kitchen courtyard. Probably the cat is already waiting there for him and his appetite to return.
We ask him once about this ulcer of his, “Why don’t you just cure it yourself? You can easily do that.”
He smiles and answers, “I don’t like to part with it. We have become good friends, me and my ulcer.”
What’s hidden in this rather intriguing ulcer-thing, you, dear readers, are welcome to ponder over as much as he leaves us to do. Anyway, everyone eats the same simple food here. The same identical dishes day in and day out and, yes, it becomes a bit boring. Babuji senses it.
“The food I serve you,” he says from his easy chair, making sure that no one from the kitchen happens to turn up, “I call ‘slaughtered vegetables.’”
Now, if no one in the kitchen hears this masterly coined joke, an angel surely does, for one fine morning a local abhyasi1 appears on the scene. Round in shape and dressed all in white, we nickname him “the Baker.” He always observes the politest conduct and humbly presents his errand in quietly spoken Urdu, making Babuji lean forward, fully attentive. After a while of listening, he takes a good deep puff of the hookah, seems contented with what he is hearing, and turns to us saying, “He has invited you to take food in his house.”
The very next day, the Baker returns for further instructions. Every detail of such a daring excursion must be in place, and with Babuji’s blessing the chosen evening finally arrives. In the dark streets of Shahjahanpur, our good Baker’s glowing white moon illuminated shape leads the way. Meanwhile the thought of something local, a bit of home cooked curry with some pickle on the side, grows on us. And soon we are seated at a dining table much like the one we are used to.
Eagerly watching us, the Baker’s family glue to the walls around us, five foreigners alone at the table. They are so keen and polite that they hardly dare speak a word to us. And now, eager hands place the food on the table in front of us. Down to the smallest detail they are the exact same dishes we have been eating for months now! Yes, sir! This is so absurdly funny that only one person can be behind this pleasant surprise – Babuji himself. This is why he took so much time and care to instruct our loving Baker. He wanted to be dead sure that nothing unusual would happen to us, maybe even down to the dining table itself. Boy, he could serve God on a stainless steel plate, but this is what makes you love him. As soon as we complete our meal, the Baker is ready to take us back home for him to present Babuji with a detailed verbal report of the evening’s events.
By the way, Babuji’s favorite dish was mushroom soup. On their travels to the West, his successor, Chariji, lured him with that when he lost his appetite. “Come on, I think they have mushroom soup for us today.”
1 Meditation practitioner
Thomas has been a Heartfulness practitioner for over 50 years. He is one of the first Europeans to have traveled to Shahjahanpur to visit Babuji, and he wrote two books about his experiences, In the light of His light and Dreams Awakening. He also filmed conversations with Babuji that were published in the book Babuji... Read more