BHAGAVAN SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI emphasised several times that the holy Hill Arunachala is the heart of the world and the most ancient and oldest of hills. He also used to say that it is a natural Sri Chakra and that from each angle it has a different appearance. That is why it is a Siva linga with form and without form. From every direction it presents itself in a different majestic posture.

And so also I always like to see Sri Maharshi from different angles and enjoy the differences in his appearances! In respect of his teachings, movements in the Ashram, like assisting in the kitchen, catering to the needs of devotees and even dumb animals, devotees know Bhagavan to be more as one’s own father and mother and God incarnate, than as Tatwama Sivaroopa. His greatness as an intimate friend of a classmate of his is portrayed here truly revealing his loving heart.

When young Venkataraman (of Tiruchuzhi) was reading in Madurai in the American Mission High School, in his 4th, 5th and 6th forms, he was closely associated with one Muslim boy, whom he chose as his intimate friend. Venkataraman was very fond of this young Muslim, whom he addressed as Sab Jan. His real name is M. Abdul Wahab.

Mr. Wahab, now a retired police inspector, nearing eighty, unable to see or hear properly, is living with his son at Neyveli. Upon hearing this, I went there to meet with him. He welcomed me very kindly and I was amazed at the serenity of his face. I requested him to tell me something about Bhagavan in his school days. His talks on the Maharshi gave me a thrilling experience and enabled me to visualise with the mind’s eye, the intimate friendship that he enjoyed with Venkataraman, later to be known as the great Sri Ramana Maharshi.

When I asked him to describe the depth of their friendship, Mr. Wahab recalled his happy past and jumped with joy saying, “We were inseparable mates.” This Muslim enjoyed such privilege with young Venkataraman. He began to tell me of his past happy days that he was fortunate enough to spend with him. “Venkataraman was very learned in Tamil and he stood first in the class. When the teacher wanted to refer to some portion in the text book he used to ask Venkataraman to quote and Venkataraman used to do it with remarkable clarity. He was particularly well-versed in Nannool Soothram (Aphorisms of Tamil Grammar). Our Tamil Pandit, Mr. John Balakrishnan, was very fond of him. His knowledge of Tamil was really remarkable and that of Tamil Grammar very exact.

“But Venkataraman was not very good in English, in the sense that he was not an expert in that subject. In other subjects also he was above average. But in general, he was not much interested in his school books. He was very fond of playing games and among games he was an expert in football. He used to encourage me to join him in playing the game, saying that he would teach me how to play. We used to play together in the same team and I was particular only to be with Venkataraman. As was usual in those days, in Brahmin families they did not encourage the boys taking part in games, so Venkataraman’s relatives did not like his playing games.

“Once when we were playing football, Venkataraman, while defending against the attacks of the opposing players, received a severe knock on his right leg, which immediately got swollen. He was frightened and had to return home and I carried him to a hospital and had some medicine applied and brought his leg to normal condition. He was very happy and thanked me for the timely help. “Even as a student he was very religious. Every Saturday and Sunday he would go to Tiruparankunram and go round the Subramania Swamy Temple with fervent religious ecstasy. He used to take me several times with him and make me go around the temple saying, ‘God’s creation is alike and there is no difference in creation. God is the same, the apparent differences in Gods are created by man’. In the company of Venkataraman I never felt any difference between a mosque and the Subramania Swamy temple.

“This instruction of his really implanted in me a better understanding of the secret approach to religion and thenceforth I never felt any difference between a Hindu God and any other God. It is quite possible, in fact, I am very certain, that because of such an universal outlook implanted in me by Venkataraman in those days, in my later days I could become an ardent devotee of Sri Varadaraja Perumal of Kancheepuram, who actually enveloped me in his divine rapture. I had visions of Varadaraja Perumal in dreams and they proved to be of great help to me.” When I asked him in what manner, he said, “For 12 years I was able to partake actively in the Garuda seva of Sri Varadaraja Perumal by giving a shoulder to lift the deity of Perumal, while going in procession in the streets of Kancheepuram, which I regard even today as the greatest privilege and boon. There arose some complication also since some Vaishnavites objected to my carrying the deity since I was a Muslim and that was settled amicably later. This service of 12 years to Varadaraja Perumal made me cling to him closer and closer.

“Once when I was on duty in Kuppam I received a telegram that my wife, of whom I was extremely fond, had had an abortion and I was greatly worried that she would die. The same night Sri Varadaraja Perumal appeared in my dream and assured me that my wife was all right and I need not worry. When I returned to Tirupathur she was in normal condition. Her recovery was the grace of Sri Perumal.”

Mr. Wahab then spoke about Venkataraman: “Suddenly Venkataraman disappeared and it was a shock to me that he did not even tell me about his running away from his home. His disappearance made his mother terribly sorrow-stricken. While I refer to his home and his mother, 1 can not but mention the kindness and love with which mother Alagammal used to receive me. “Some Saturdays and Sundays he would go to Tiruchuzhi to be with his mother and kith and kin. I would also go there to see him. Mother Alagammal would immediately, with all affection, tell Venkataraman of my arrival saying, ‘Your dear Muslim friend has come.’ She had a wonderful face beaming with nobility. Every time she gave me a very good reception and used to give me whatever eatables were prepared at home. If by chance 1 did not turn up for one weekend, she used to enquire about my absence and give Venkataraman the eatables saying: ‘Give these to your Muslim friend’. I could never forget the maternal love of Alagammal and her kindness to me, even though I was a Muslim.” (Muslims were regarded by caste Brahmins as untouchables in those days. They were despised and treated with contempt.)

I asked Sab Jan, “When did you know of the whereabouts of Sri Maharshi?” He said, “I was enlisted in the police department and in 1903 in one of the medical shops at Uttaramerur, I was surprised to see a portrait of Venkataraman but completely different in appearance. I was anxious to know how the shop man happened to possess the photo of my classmate. Then I was told that this was the ‘Brahamana Swamy’ living in Tiruvannamalai and that the Swamy was in mounam then. “I was very eager to meet Venkataraman and at last after several months of strenuous efforts, I was able to come to Sri Ramanasramam, the abode of Sri Maharshi, my dear friend of those earlier days. I entered it and was taken in by a cowherd woman who was supplying milk to Bhagavan. I introduced myself as his classmate ‘Sab Jan’ (but his facial expression clearly showed that he had at once recognised me and that my introduction was not at all necessary) and he was pleased to receive me although he did not speak. He simply nodded his head with a raiant face. I was thrilled to meet my classmate as a swamy for he was all the more beautiful and resplendent, with a mark of saintliness. “Again, I went there when I was the Inspector of Police at Tirupathur. I was very sad then, since my father had passed away but Bhagavan showed me his mother’s tomb, which consoled me. I understood from Bhagavan’s action that death is inevitable as far as the body is concerned and that no one was ever born or died. He was so kind and offered something to eat and asked me to stay for a couple of days but I could not, since I was on duty. After that I went to see him several times and on all occasions he showed special attention to me and introduced me to whoever was present on the occasion with deep love and kindness. He used to make me sit by his side while taking food in the dining hall, which later I came to know was quite unusual with him. “A sudden change took place in me. I was transformed into a devotee of Bhagavan from being a friend of Venkataraman. This inward chang brought about by Sri Maharshi is the greatest boon he has showered on me. He showed his greatness once through a dream in which he showed signs of my wife passing away and in a mysterious way consoled me and prepared me for the shocking incident. It did take place very soon and my beloved wife passed away as predicted and by the grace of Sri Maharshi it did not affect me very much. This attitude of detachment is itself the grace of Bhagavan.

“In 1950, on 14th April, the memorable day of his Brahma Nirvana, it so happened that even though it would have been absolutely impossible for me to come to Tiruvannamalai, as I was on duty at a place far away, I had the opportunity of visiting the Ashram. In the day time I could not take my food due to lack of time during travel to go to a hotel and take food.

“I paid my homage to my friend and guru who left his mortal coil that night, but whose presence still pervaded his abode. I was in deep mourning. Then someone asked me to take food since I looked fatigued and tired and it was late in the night. I flatly refused saying, ‘1 am going to fast the whole day as an act of reverence and homage to my intimate friend and revered guru.’” I thanked Mr. Wahab and took leave of him with great reverence as the classmate of Bhagavan who did not stop at being a classmate but went further and understood Venkataraman as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, the Maha Guru.*

* Sri Wahab has passed away since the article was written.