My eyes open today at 4:35am, I hear Satsang in full swing. I lay there and then fall back to sleep till 7am! Jet lag is done! It took a full 2-3 days to recover and normalize.
I spent my hour with reading and writing, quickly called the kids and Jason – they had a field day going to the bike shop, Shave It and the Halloween store! Corwin wants to be an Avenger.
I get out of my room and go quickly to clean up. Field work is usually over by about 8am and then they sound the whistle to inform everyone around that Huzurji is coming through…I know mama will be inordinately pleased to see me out there ready to ‘be blessed’ by His presence. Within minutes of me finishing getting ready I hear the whistle and quickly grab a ‘dupatta’ a scarf to cover my head and walk out to join the crowd of people lining the streets. I’ve seen parades with less people lined up! This dude is a celebrity of epic proportions for a lot of people! (I’m probably committing heresy by calling him a dude!)
He drives by and I turn to the house, sure enough mama is on the patio and has the slightest smile on her face…happy, I was there unasked. I kiss her and wish her ‘Radha Soami’ the greeting here the equivalent of aloha. It is a reverent word like Aum. It’s used here in lieu of Namaste. I join them in their room for a while and then pretty soon Priya’s arriving at 9am.
Breakfast today is ‘gobi paratha’ cauliflower grated and then lightly sautéed with oil, seasoning and then stuffed into the whole wheat dough ball and rolled out then roasted with ghee (are you seeing a theme here? Any vegetable cooked into the dough and rolled out suffices as a breakfast paratha).
Daddy doesn’t feel good today. He’s shivering a bit and is cold…definitely a sign of not feeling good since its 85 degrees and muggy! He doesn’t want to eat a lot either. He’s having trouble staying seated so opts to lie down more. Priya dilutes a crocin tablet (anti-fever pill) into water (ewwww) to give him to drink.
Swarna auntie calls and says she has a kurta for me that I should send Priya to get it. I tell her that I’d rather come get it myself, I’ve been wanting to walk in Dayalbagh and this is my chance! So I set out after breakfast with vague left/right instructions from Priya and trusting my memories of 30+ years ago when we would want to go over to their house almost daily because her kids were the fun cousins! It’s hot! And humid! And did I mention it’s hot? And I’m wearing more clothes than I would like to be wearing in this heat. The only time this heat is tolerable is when I’m in a tank top and shorts. Right now I’m wearing a salwar kurta and have the dupatta too, because without that, you’re almost considered indecently dressed, well, not really– but it’s an incomplete outfit and more likely to attract unnecessary comments.
I walk along the well worn pathway both physically and the ones in my mind of 30+ years ago. Here’s where I went to nursery (pre) school, here’s where as a kid and pre-teen we would go for PT (physical training– or exercise basically). Here’s where my cousin sister stayed at the hostel while attending DI (Dayalbagh Institute). I decide to record the walk, to show Jason and the kids where I was. So I’m talking into my phone and recording video. Ahead of me, a man on a cycle stops me and asks me where I’m from. I mention I’m Col. G. R. Chopra’s granddaughter and apparently that title is enough. I feel obliged to tell him more, that this isn’t a commercial enterprise I’m just recording for myself personally to share with my kids and he cuts me off mid sentence saying he just wanted to be sure I wasn’t a strange woman in Dayalbagh ‘recording video with commentary’ – that I was daddy’s granddaughter was enough to make what I was doing ok. Daddy, even all these years past your active service, your name is still carrying klout!
I continue my walk, past the medical service facility, the homeopathic pharmacy, the array of satellite dish shaped solar panels that power the big ‘Bhandar Ghar’ where everything is cooked to provide subsidized and possibly even free food for inhabitants of Dayalbagh. I’m at the start of Prem Nagar and Priya said second row, I turn down a pretty tree lined street and am finding it strangely familiar and yet unfamiliar. The homes look familiar in that they’re a row of homes like I remember. What’s unfamiliar is seeing upgrades like shaded patios, cars, and solar panels on the roof. Back then the most advanced thing was having a cooler. It’s the equivalent of an air conditioner but because of the dry desert heat in summer they use water coolers so that the air is cool. It’s more efficient than an air conditioner and more effective than a fan! I’ve discovered too, that each home has a quota of electricity that they can use per month and that you’d actually get a letter if you go over. At that point you can write and explain why that may have happened (e.g. Had visitors so used the cooler more than usual etc.)
It’s so interesting to me. Solar paneled facilities and yet rationing electricity, no shortage of water yet water is rationed, I wonder if there’s a ration on anything else. The philosophy here is basically one of using in moderation, being simple and frugal and ‘self-governing’ oneself. Not living a life of excess. I find this very appealing. Don’t get me wrong, if I had to live with rationed water and electricity I might resent it, (although I’m sure I’d eventually get used to it) but the concept of only using what you need and using in moderation is a wonderful one. Imagine if all over the world we did this? We wouldn’t be running out of our natural resources.
I’m finally at Swarna auntie’s home. I speak out the customary Radha Soami and she ushers me in. The door is unlocked. Our door at home stays unlocked and usually ajar all day long. It’s a very different way of living. People who may be in the area or passing through would think nothing of stopping in for a visit and stay for chai. No appointments needed. No need to set up a date to visit – just come by when you think of it. One of my cousins who lives outside Dayalbagh, when we spoke by phone and told her I was here, she said she’d stop by tomorrow…not when, or what time– just sometime tomorrow. So I go in, give her the bar of chocolate that I’d bought for her. It’s customary to never go to someone’s house empty handed for the first time. And even though I practically grew up in that home, it’s been over a couple of decades and so I felt that I should bring her something. We visit for a while, every few minutes she asks if I’m comfortable, hot, cold, hungry, thirsty by asking if she should turn the fan higher, lower, eat something, drink something, eat something, definitely eat a piece of candy – so I comply.
Since I’d promised mama I would be back soon, after about 20-30 min I say my goodbyes (I’ve asked after the family, she’s asked after mine, we’ve talked about her arthritis, I’ve shared how she could control some inflammation by minding her acidic food intake (diet here is rich in dairy– ghee, butter, yogurt, milk and wheat- rotis, parathas, puris, bread)– and now are at a loss for a topic) and start to head back.
The walk back is uneventful and hot! Hot! Hot! Hot! Again– this temperature at a beach is bearable- here clad as I am, it’s not!
I get home and let mama know I’m home. The girls are around- and the energy level is high! Daddy however isn’t feeling good so we are all hovering around him. He’s definitely got a fever. He’s having trouble sitting upright and keeps keeling back. So I prop myself up behind his back and serve as his back rest while he eats his morning snack…grudgingly. He doesn’t want much. I ask him to take just a couple more bites, a few more sips and so he does.
They’re resting. So I’m reading. Such a luxury to be able to do that. Read in the middle of the day because there’s ‘nothing else to do.’
Lunch is ‘Chhola Bhatura’ masala chick peas made to have a ‘gravy’ by which I simply mean they’re more like a soup and not dry. Bhatura is a type of Indian flat bread, except it’s not flat, it’s a different flour called ‘maida’ that’s made into a dough with a spoonful of yogurt, some salt, ajwain and then enough water to make it into a dough ball. Let it rest for about 30 minutes then break off small pieces and deep fry them in smoking hot vegetable oil – they puff up and are light and crispy and yet a little elastic like a flaky croissant.
Thereafter they’ll rest again. Daddy’s uncomfortable because he hasn’t had a movement for a while. He’s asked to have his bed pan near him. He’s sensing he’s going to need it. I’m lying in bed between them as usual after lunch, Priya’s set up her cot for a few hours of rest for herself too and she’s asleep. Daddy asks for his bed pan and there’s no one but me so, I get it for him and discreetly leave the room to give him his privacy. He’s adept and taking care of everything including cleaning himself. He called me in once he was done to simply clear the pan away. He wears a ‘lungi’ which is a piece of rectangular fabric that men commonly wear in the south of India more than the north. It’s simply wrapped around the waist and tied like a sarong. This is what he wears now as it’s easy to take care of business and also he has a catheter attached to his bladder for urine.
He’s feeling relieved now, feeling light. He’s resting easier now. Since he’s not been feeling well, we haven’t turned the cooler on here and the air is thick and still. The fan is rotating limply and not doing much to circulate the warm air. I retire to my room to catch 30 minutes of cooler-cooled air before 4pm tea time.
Tea time is chai and biscuits
See that dark brown stuff on the top right corner…that’s ‘malai’ or milk cream from the full fat milk that’s used here. Somehow it doesn’t feel nearly as ‘heavy’ as it does back in the U.S.
Daddy’s having trouble sitting upright so I go act as his back prop again.
This evening after a second round with the bed pan, as I’m washing my hands at the sink, I had this sensation of deep satisfaction and immense gratitude for this moment. Yes, an odd moment to feel grateful for. One where I had to handle a container of human excrement. This man with his body a former shell of himself, one who was so proud and never liked to ask for help, the man who has loved and cared for me so deeply my whole life gave me the opportunity to care and serve him in that most basic of all ways. This man who has been the Patriarch of the Chopra Clan and in many ways still is. He still has all his mental faculties, he may be hard of hearing, but still wants to know every rupee that gets spent in his house. Whatever items are purchased get reported to him line item by line item. This man with the huge fingers and seemingly giant hands who has always been ever so affectionate with me (and I’ve seen him firm and stern with others- yikes) is now so devoid of ego – he is in complete surrender over his need for help from other people. Something that I imagine was very tough for him to come to terms with. As a career military man, the concept of surrender was probably not something he ever liked to deal with. And here, in the final stages of his life, (he said 90 was a good age to have died, 99 is way too long) he starts his 100th year of life on October 15, he had come full circle and is back at that child-like stage of a new born who needs his every need met by someone else. Preferably those who love and adore him.
He’s been talking a lot about how there’s no one here to care for them, just the maids and they don’t care. To them he’s just a paycheck. While this may be true, they still do care enough to cook them healthy wholesome meals, treat them with the respect they deserve and care for their basic needs. More than sometimes is available to elders in these last years of life. He understands that I’m leaving in a day and keeps saying, once I’m gone the maids won’t care – they don’t sit with them, they just serve them and leave. What came up for me as I put this through the filter of my own life is that sometimes it’s easy to forget what’s in front of us and wish, want, need, lust after things that are just beyond our reach, or things that we think we need, or want or ‘should’ have. We certainly should all over ourselves a lot. My commitment to myself and my family is to be grateful and 100% present for what’s in front of me, for what I DO have instead of what I wished I had.
Here they have a crew of 12 people each of whom know their roles and their responsibilities and help them live the rest of their days with a modicum of ease and comfort. Certainly without having to worry about clean clothes, fresh food and a strong roof over their head. They have people to get their groceries, clean their house, their toilets, tend to their yard, wash their clothes, cook them food, serve them, manage the house, ensure they take their medications on time and still get to live in their home of 39 years and are lucky to have the knowledge that likely they will die here. They have people who help them with their personal hygiene, and even with people to help them nourish their soul by taking them to Satsang every day. Yet the one thing that they crave more than anything else is people to love them and spend time with them daily. And if you think about it, considering they sleep more than they’re awake it’s not that many hours in the day that they want someone there. But they do. Basic human nature. Not meant to be alone. Meant to be loved, nurtured, supported and comforted. Without this, nothing else matters, not any amount of money, possessions, cars or anything.
It’s about the time that Priya leaves, and Usha arrives with her daughter Mahima. So we decide to get snap happy and take a bunch of pictures. She also shows me pictures of them celebrating mama’s 94th birthday earlier in the month, cake and all. Tradition here is that the first bite is fed to the birthday girl by someone in the family. Usually a spouse, a parent so in the video daddy is being helped to feed her. Her sweet tooth kicks in and she actually grabs the rest of the cake from his hand and eats it. They’ve been married 72 years (April 23, 1943) now! Wow!
Mama doesn’t want to go to Satsang today. I decide that I’m going to go anyway. I’m strangely drawn to the opening prayer song. I’m not sure if it’s the same one daily, or different. I just love the harmonic sound of the whole group singing. I leave right after that first ‘binti.’
Dinner is uneventful. I’m observing that there are a lot of pictures of the different Huzurs in the house. More in fact than pictures of their kids and grandkids. Each room has 4-7 pictures of Huzurjis staring down at us. I imagine it’s the same way in every house here in Dayalbagh. Mama wears two chains around her neck. One a ‘mangal sutra’ which is the mark of a married woman, usually a triple string of small black seed beads of whatever length with a pendant in the middle…usually gold and/or diamonds. The other a simple gold chain– both have a small picture frame of the current Huzurji. I asked Daddy about how the Huzurji was appointed. He said that after the death of the existing Huzurji they bring together a general session of the 25,000+ voting members. Here they’re asked who they feel should be the next Huzur. The people start to mention a name based on the name that comes up from their heart, and it turns out that it’s a pretty unanimous call. And so is appointed the next Huzurji in succession. Since Dayalbagh’s founding in 1915 there’s been 8 Huzurs. All of whom take on a God-like image in the eyes of the people.
As these images show, people line up along the side of the road to wait for him to arrive to go to his office. All simply for a glimpse of him. And OMG if by chance he happens to make eye contact- it will be the highlight of their entire year and will be a topic of discussion actively for days and possibly weeks.
The concept of Dayalbagh is an extraordinarily brilliant one. Here is a colony of people not just bound by their faith but also employing socioeconomic, academic, capitalist principles in a way that propels the entire community forward as a whole so that the whole is greater and better than its individual parts. It turns out it’s ‘cool’ to be ‘Satsangi’ here in Agra, and my grandfather is third generation Satsangi. The only way you can live (for practically free) in Dayalbagh is to work here in some capacity. Office work, field, cooking in the Bhandar Ghar or community kitchen where each household of the community gets a free quota of food in a tiffin daily. Clothing is deeply subsidized too. So provide basic needs in exchange for work, provide academic excellence for the next generation of Indians; the education is accredited by the Delhi Board of Education and is par excellence! Apart from earning a Bachelors degree one can also learn leather tanning, fashion or interior design, architecture, civil, mechanical, electronic or auto mechanic engineering at the Polytechnic Institute. The amount and caliber of courses offered here in Dayalbagh isn’t available anywhere else in India and I would wager the world.