Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's sister: At school, teachers came to my brother for advice
From his meditative mindset as a schoolboy to his dislike for sport, Gurudev, the first authorised biography of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar by his sister, offers fascinating insight
Young Ravi performing aarti in the puja room at Manjula
As children, we used to create makeshift homes with matchboxes to take care of butterflies, caterpillars, frogs and worms. But the nosy being that I was, I would keep peeping in to check if they were still there, and in the process let them free! After a typical day of explorations, expeditions and games, we would still not rest and wait for Pitaji and his stories. He encouraged us to make our own stories. I once narrated the story of a beautiful queen who washed vessels. My brother made fun of me, 'How can a queen wash vessels?' We argued over this, and he won, of course, but I enjoyed losing to him. Later, Gurudev would make my story come true. Everyone who comes to the ashram participates in seva during advanced programmes irrespective of their positions. For our joy to increase, we must share it with others. Giving is essential for spiritual growth. The willingness to share what we have and help others is called seva. Gurudev says that the best seva is helping someone understand the eternal nature of life.
Young Ravi with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at Seelisberg, Switzerland, in the late 1970s
One day, little Ravi learned that as people grow old, they die. As Atthaiamma was the eldest in the family, he thought she would die first. He was very close to her and this thought made him anxious. He shared a room with her and after everyone fell asleep, he used to wake up and watch her breathe. He would watch her belly go up and down and was happy as long as she snored loudly. Whenever she stopped snoring, he would wake her up. The hours would go by till he drifted off to sleep at around four in the morning. He dreamt that if she were to die, she would wake up on his touch. This continued for many months, and he would often fall asleep during the day. When Atthaiamma finally passed away, I was in my seventh grade and it happened during our exams. I remember that my brother did not touch her then for fear of her coming back to life.
Author Bhanumathi Narsimhan
My brother was popular among his friends and teachers alike. He was a soft-spoken child. The school recognised his extraordinary intelligence and gave him a double promotion from class one to three. However, he was never able to talk about things that interested other kids. Sports and movies did not matter much to him. He wondered why others did not seem to think about the meaning and purpose of life, the world, and the divine. 'I would see other children playing and fighting - I spent most of my time resolving their fights.'
Two-and-a-half-year-old Ravi with Bhanu in 1958
Young Ravi could not play football. 'I would see a ball, look at my feet, and think, "I cannot kick anything away with these feet." My feet would not move.' Amma was concerned about my brother's lack of interest in sports. But he told her, 'I never really enjoy winning. I am not happy to see someone else lose either. If someone were to lose, I would not be happy. I am happy seeing others happy.'
Sri Sri with Bhanu in North America in the early 1990s. Pics Courtesy/Gurudev
At school, teachers and students came to my brother for advice and solace. They used to say, 'Somehow Ravi just dissolves our worries and problems. Being with him makes us feel light.' One of our teachers, Ms Shanti, sometimes even came home to meet my brother because she felt peace of mind in his presence. Many of my brother's friends, some from his class, some from higher classes, would walk back with us from school, just to give us company.
Once, during an interview, the host asked Gurudev how he felt during his teenage years and he said, 'When I was twelve or thirteen, I used to feel that before coming into this body, I was everywhere, all pervading, and now I am here.' As we grew up, I always wanted to be where my brother was, to the extent that our parents had to seek special permission for me to accompany him on class trips. I would be the only child from a junior class in a trip for the senior class. Like all siblings, at times we had our disagreements. Whenever I did something that displeased him, instead of yelling or fighting, he would sit calmly in a corner with his eyes closed. He would take to silence. I would go near him, make funny faces, and do everything to make him smile. Later, I learnt that only in silence could you find solutions, not in arguments.
There were three boys in our school who bullied and teased other students. My brother requested them to stop bullying students, but naturally they did not take kindly to this and waited until after class and chased him. My brother could understand their intentions. He took off, hid behind a tree, and ran home once the boys went past his hiding spot. He outsmarted them two days in a row, after which they became his friends and changed their ways. Gurudev often mentions that any emotion, be it negative or positive, lasts for a maximum of two days and a quarter.
Amma used to sing and was adept at playing the veena. She had mastered the fine art at a young age. My brother and I learned to play the veena from her. Sometimes, we caught him playing movie songs too! He even went on to win prizes for playing the instrument. Gurudev has jokingly said that he might have turned into a veena player had he not chosen the spiritual path. But for him, even the veena has so much wisdom to offer. He says, 'The seven strings of the veena are like the seven layers of existence (the body, breath, mind, intellect, memory, ego and self). When they are in tune, in harmony, then life is mellifluous.'
My brother completed his education with a Bachelor of Sciences degree. He says that he acquired the degree just to please his mother. He even went for job interviews, one memorably with a bank. He talked to the interviewers about meditation and the value of a calm mind. They offered him a job, but since my brother was not really interested, he chose to visit Rishikesh instead, on the banks of the Ganga, before returning to Bangalore.
Years passed by as young Ravi ceaselessly travelled across the globe with Maharishi. But his visions of people who were waiting for him continued. These visions appeared and passed like clouds in the blue sky, but with time, the passing clouds were turning into regular reminders, acting as a gentle pull towards an unknown path whose call was growing intense. Perhaps the time had come for a new beginning.
But before taking any decision, my brother decided to meet Devraha Baba, an old saint who lived on the banks of the Ganga. He arrived at dusk, and the boatman was initially reluctant to take him as he thought it was getting too dark and the Baba would not see anyone so late. Nevertheless, when my brother insisted, the boatman agreed. The silence in the air was interrupted only by the sound of the rowing. The boat moved ahead at a steady pace across the majestic river. As soon as it arrived, the old saint came out and greeted young Ravi, 'Oh my son, you have come!' Usually, Baba gave sweets to his visitors, but he gave a watermelon to my brother and said, 'Water has to flow. If it stops, it would stagnate. Satsang should also flow as it spreads grace across the world. Bring Satsang everywhere in the world'. The boatman exclaimed that he had never witnessed anything like that in his life. The saint was waiting for him, which was quite unusual. Giving a watermelon was unexpected as well. The message was loud and clear. Young Ravi had to start on his own and spread his wisdom through the world. But the toughest decision was leaving Maharishi.
In the late 1970s, Maharishi wanted to open a Vedic school in Bangalore for which Pitaji had recruited 175 students. However, the organisation soon decided to consolidate all the schools and relocate the children to a place near Delhi. As they were all from the southern part of India, it was difficult for the children to adapt to the new environment. So they wanted to come back. But their education had to continue. So my brother decided to take over the school, though everyone around him was baffled at the decision. This was clearly the first time that he was taking up an initiative on his own. He chose to stand by the needs of the children despite the friction it caused between him and the organisation.
Excerpted with permission from Gurudev: On The Plateau Of The Peak, The Life of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar by Bhanumathi Narsimhan, Westland, January 2018.
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