Can a monk and a householder go beyond their worldly identity to become real friends? Can a friendship give you power of selfless love? I am yet to solve the mystery. Someday I will be able to share the truth. 

Our first meeting was awkward.  I usually take the back seat because you have flexibility to move and change positions during the discourse. That day I desired for the first row experience.  So way before time I went and grabbed a seat. I was soaking in the experience and there she came from nowhere looking at me with a question mark and a smile. I was confused, then I realized I probably took her seat. I apologetically moved to give her space. I wondered who she was? And how can she come so late for the discourse? I shrugged it off. 

Later, I saw her again, when I was waiting for my turn for the 1-on-1 meeting with Om Swamiji. We managed to exchange smiles and we moved on. 

“Nikunj, please call Mani. She will give you guidance on food”, said Swamiji.  It was one of the worst moments when I could not serve the meal to Swamiji. One needle prick and I would have bursted was the state of my mind. I managed to get  her phone number and  as soon as I reached home that night, I called Mani Di. 

Before she could say hello, I was crying. I shared with her how disastrous it was serving Swamiji on his first visit to Singapore.  So flawless was she in turning me positive and prep me for the next meal. We never really were formally introduced to  each other, such was the start of our relationship. 

The next time I was in Ashram and in Swamij’s meeting room. She came in to serve him breakfast and what sprouted in my heart was respect and admiration for what she does day in and day out. It’s one thing to serve your master on the day he comes to your town and it’s another thing to bring that perfection in your service daily. You walk on thin ice when your master has no expectation from you and all you are doing is raising your own bar of expectation.

It’s all rosy in your head when you get that first golden opportunity to serve your master, but  translating it into real takes the life out of you only to make you realise how fragile and imperfect you are. I guess that realization is the beginning of the journey of awakening. 

She comes from a world of devotion, purity, discipline and strong resolve.  And I come from a world of reckless living, with very little exposure to Vedic literature or the likes. All I know is to light a lamp and offer flowers when you go to temple. To be honest, we have nothing in common. 

Once Swamiji was in solitude. And Mani Di (then) was incharge of service to him. Within the first week she had an accident and broke her arm. Going to a doctor was a one day trip to the nearest town. And that would compromise her seva. She wrapped her broken arm and managed everything with the other working hand. She managed to keep this secret but after a month, it was known.

Swamiji had no clue about all that had happened. She was immediately taken to the doctor later. She didn’t care about permanent disability, her seva was the only thing on her mind. What makes a beautiful and successful banker at the ripe age of her flourishing career give up everything and follow a monk? When she didnt even know if she would be accepted as a disciple. I have heard about a monk who gave up his Ferrari, I have never heard of a single woman who gave up the whole future ahead of her. 

It has been quite a journey, knowing Mani Di ( Now Sadhvi Shraddha Om). She arrived at the airport with only my name and address. I messed up at the terminal and took good time to pick her up. She just laughs it out when I mess up. That’s her way. It’s like when you come back home all dirty and mama cleans you up with love.   

Looking back, I remember I had made all jazzy plans to show her the real Singapore. But she only attended the culinary classes to learn different cuisine. All she cares about is what’s the best next meal she can prepare for Swamiji.

I took her to Victoria Secrets, watched Tomb Raider with her and showed her how Demi Moore shaves her head off. I also showed her how Moana finds her truth. First she would make a straight face, then she would take a deep breath and then start with her funny questions. I took her to Michelin star restaurants and more, she was only tasting and quickly learning the plating techniques.
If ever Sadhviji gets to hang out with the celestial beings or visits heaven, her eyes would be scanning all the designs, comforts and luxury, her mind would already have a blueprint of new ideas to improvise for Swamiji’s comfort. I wish someday I can take her there, so that she can do that. 

Unusual friendship Golden times in Singapore

She lets me oil her hair, she lets me blabber, and tolerates all my stupid jokes. The irony is that we never talk about spirituality or talk about god or devotion, when we are together, we are nobody under the Sun. That’s how moments unfold when we come together. The most precious gift she has given me is experiencing the joy of being nobody. Is that how you experience your real self? I don’t know yet.

I read somewhere “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” and now I think I understand the meaning. Sadhvi Ji is one of the most courageous person I have ever met in my life. I have only come to realize it with time. 

When I am on my way to Ashram, she would have already brought all the goodies and kept in my room. Last time, I missed my flight to Chandigarh and I travelled all night despite the choice of stay at Chandigarh.  I know I was safe with Sanju. I peacefully lied down in the back seat while he was driving to Ashram. Sadhviji called me after every one hour throughout the night till I reached Ashram.

Her cottage is at least twenty minutes away from my room, but as soon as she is done with her Seva she would check on me. Because I am terrified of snakes ( no jokes! I actually had an encounter with a baby cobra right outside my room once) in the pitch dark night she would walk me to my room and walk back to her cottage alone. I don’t even know in the ways she has taken care of me. She never mentions, her joy is in doing things without letting me know. 

It was a shock to me when I visited Ashram in November 2018.  Mani Di was now going to be Sadhvi Shraddha Om. I went numb. I felt like I had lost a friend forever. But your happiness lies in the happiness of the ones you love, right? I repeatedly told that to myself. 

To tell you the truth, Mani Di was a Sadhvi even before she was initiated, what we witnessed was just a formality. Aunty (Sadhviji’s mom) and I joked a day before her initiation while I was oiling her hair – “If ever a book is written on you, we would take the 99 pages of the book on how we made you Sadhviji and the last one page can be about your journey”. 

Monk and a householder friendship Sadhviji’s initation day. Photo courtesy – Anindita Chaterjee

Sadhviji, its my first attempt to write about you and you took away all the pages, not a single page is left to write about me 🙂 Pranams to you and the love you carry in your heart. 

I wish that everyone experiences pure love in this season of friendship. How about surprising our loved ones with that love? Precious Gift? I am already thinking.