The Kitchen Garden Party

By T.R.A. Narayana

The year was 1948. I was then in my thirty-ninth year and lived in Madras with my wife and four children. I was the branch manager of a large British firm and, in happy circumstances, felt no need for any religious practice or spiritual enquiry, and was content with enjoying the good things in life.

I was on a tour of small towns with one of the inspectors under me, Sri Parthasarathi. It was a hot April day. We were boarding the train at Villupuram to go to Tiruvannamalai, we noticed a young man of about twenty-five trying to enter the first class compartment by the next door. The man was so fat that he heaved his bulky body this way and that, while another man on the platform, obviously his servant, pushed him in through the door. He was also ashamed at the curious way the people on the platform, including Sri Parthasarathi and myself, watched his predicament. He got in somehow and occupied the cubicle next to ours.

When the train had run for some minutes, the man came to our cabin, introduced himself as Ratilal Premchand Shah and started talking.

Sri Ratilal was a Saurashtra Vaishya, born and brought up in Gondal and the only son of a rich merchant. He was married six years ago. Since his tenth year he has been cursed with so much body fat, that now, at twentyfive, he was a huge mass of flesh and misery. Oh how he wished to get rid of his fat and be a man!

In the last week of March, Sri Ratilal had had a vision in his sleep at night. He saw an ascetic smiling and beckoning him. The smile and the beckoning persisted for a long time and stood clearly before Sri Ratilal’s mental eye when he awoke. He did not speak to anyone about the vision. Two days later his wife was reading a Gujarati magazine. Looking over her shoulder he saw the picture of the ascetic he had seen in his vision. 

He came to know that the ascetic was Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. He at once went to his father and arranged for his journey to Tiruvannamalai with the trusted family servant. All he knew about Bhagavan was what that Gujarati article said. But he felt sure that his suffering would end as soon as he reached Bhagavan; the smile and the beckoning of his vision of Bhagavan had given him that firm faith.

Sri Parthasarathi had seen Bhagavan many times before and had also read a good deal about him. He and Sri Ratilal talked about Bhagavan during the whole twohour journey. I was apparently reading an English novel, but heard their conversation with interest and attention. At Tiruvannamalai station, Sri Ratilal was received by a local merchant with whom his father had arranged for his stay. Sri Parthasarathi and I proceeded to the travellers bungalow.

It was four when we had our bath and tiffin. Sri Parthasarathi knew that I was very businesslike and would not waste a single minute. He said we could visit the market. He was very surprised at my reply: “No, Parthasarathi! We shall go and have darshan of Maharshi first. Then, if time permits, we shall go to the temple. Let business wait!”

It was about five when Sri Parthasarathi and I entered the Ashram. Going round Bhagavan’s Mother’s samadhi, we came to the veranda by its side. About fifty people were sitting there, Sri Ratilal, his host and his servant included. Bhagavan was not on his couch as usual. The visitors talked in whispers, trying to find out where he was.

After waiting for some ten minutes and finding that Bhagavan had not come to his seat, Sri Parthasarathi suggested to me that we could in the meantime go around and see the goshala and other places.

Finishing our inspection we were returning to the veranda by another side, when we heard a childish voice say “Chee, asatthe! (Fie, you creature!).” We could see no children around, and, therefore, peeped to find out the source of the voice. We observed movement among the leaves of the brinjal, lady’s-finger and other plants in the kitchen garden near the veranda. Looking more intently, we saw a small goat, a little monkey and a squirrel and Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi! Bhagavan was sitting on his haunches with his legs folded up to his breast. The goat nestled between his knees; the monkey had its head resting on his right knee; the squirrel was perched on his left knee. Holding a packet of paper in his left palm, Bhagavan picked ground nuts from it with his right-hand fingers, one by one, and fed the goat, the monkey and the squirrel, and himself, by turns. His remarks appeared to have been addressed to the monkey which had tried to snatch the nut he was going to place between the squirrel’s lips. As we watched, the four companions went on enjoying the eating. All four seemed to be equally happy; the way they looked at one another and kept close together was touching. The goat, the monkey, the squirrel, and Bhagavan had obviously forgotten their differences in species! And we too, looking on, saw the four only as good friends despite the differences in their forms. No words could describe the feelings which passed through my being at the sight. The vision of the Transcendent appeared as a flash of lightning and revealed to me the essence of being, awareness and bliss, sat-chit-ananda.  The nuts were over. Bhagavan threw the paper away and said: “Pongoda! (Go away, you fellows!),” just like any old man speaking to his grandchildren. The goat, the monkey and the squirrel left. Bhagavan made to get up. Sri Parthasarathi and I hurried away, feeling guilty of trespassing into the Divine, but not sorry.

Soon after Sri Parthasarathi and I had resumed our seats in the veranda, Bhagavan came to his couch. I cannot say he looked at us. He stood facing us, his eyes fixed on something far above and beyond anything on earth. They were like screens which shut the material world off from the light which was burning behind them. Sparks of light shot out through the fibres of the screen at times, sparks which cooled the eyes on which they fell, pierced the gross coverings and lighted the wick inside them.

Bhagavan reclined on the pillows placed on the couch, supporting his head on his left palm. We all sat down to look at his face. We sat and sat, and looked and looked. No one spoke or made any noise. But the confrontation was not a dead silence; it was a very live experience in which the innermost being of each of us communed with the Supreme Consciousness which was Bhagavan.

I was numb with the realization that this Glory was the same that dwelt in the simplicity which I had just seen eating groundnuts in the intimate company of the goat, the monkey and the squirrel. My mind kept recalling that scene: how the goat had snuggled to Bhagavan’s breast in perfect confidence in his love for it; how the monkey had grinned in joy and how Bhagavan had returned the grin as both bit the nut; how the squirrel had peered with its pinhead eyes into Bhagavan’s dream-laden ones and scratched his nose tenderly with its tiny left paw. The splendor of the Supreme Spirit underlying and overlaying the sense perception was spiced with the lovely sight of the groundnut party in the kitchen garden. 

Bhagavan got up from the couch. We got up. It seemed tacitly understood that we were to leave. We left. I felt a hitherto-unknown peace and joy inside me; the faces of the others also showed a similar condition.

I saw Sri Ratilal, his host and his servant get into their bullock cart at the Ashram gate. There was a new spring in Sri Ratilal’s movements. Bhagavan’s promise in the lad’s vision appeared to be starting a fulfillment. Many things have happened in my life since that day. My material circumstances underwent changes for the worse, but my inner life has always been happy since that day, for I often had a vision of Bhagavan, particularly when I was most depressed in spirits.

In 1953, I was in Rajkot staying alone in a lodge. One day, while in the dining hall, a man of about thirty accosted me, “Don’t you recognize me, Sir?”

“No, I’m sorry,” I replied, truthfully.

The man continued: “I am Ratilal of Gondal, Sir! You remember the darshan of Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, five years ago?”

I looked at the man again. He was thin and wiry, his face aglow with health and happiness. I shook his hands heartily. He spoke again: “Sir, Bhagavan fulfilled his promise wonderfully well. You see me. I am now managing our family business, my father taking complete rest. I have a son two years old and expect my wife to give me another child in a month or two.”

My mind immediately went back to the goat, the monkey and the squirrel – and Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. I could never think of Bhagavan alone! So it has been all these years. The scene comes to my mind’s eye often. The kitchen garden with the four friends at the groundnut party. And, I thank Sri Ratilal and Sri Parthasarathi for guiding me to the Vision Beautiful!

— The Mountain Path, 1975, Vol. 12, No.2