THE FAMILY MAN
The queen he wed became his pillar of strength,
The Shakti to his Shiv.
She took on the mantle of mother to his clan,
Serving selflessly as long as she lived.
As soon as Gurudev found his professional footing, his parents began searching for a suitable bride for their son. Their search ended in 1960 when Gurudev married Sudesh Sharma, a 20-year old lady who hailed from a well-respected family residing in Ludhiana, Punjab. Years later, she came to be known reverentially as Mataji (mother).
Mataji’s father was a coal trader who died when she was very young. She had seven siblings–four brothers and three sisters. Her oldest brother was a renowned freedom fighter and a member of the Indian National Congress, while another brother was a teacher.
In an interview I conducted a few years before Mataji left her body, she recalled that she had no idea that Gurudev was spiritually inclined at the time of their wedding. A week or so after the marriage was solemnized, she found Gurudev lying comatose on the bed. Assuming the worst, she ran to her sister-in-law’s room, crying out for help. She calmed down after Gurudev’s sister informed her that Gurudev would go into a comatose state during paath (meditation) and it was no cause for concern. Mataji delightfully recalled that her introduction to Gurudev’s spiritual side was an emotionally stressful one.
Like most marriages, theirs too had some teething problems. A few weeks in, Gurudev decided to practice sanyaas (renunciation) in a contemporary way. He left his marital home to pursue spiritual attainment as a renunciate.
Five years later, while meditating at Gurudwara Sri Santoksar Saheb in Amritsar, Gurudev heard a voice inform him that his final attainments were possible only if he fulfilled his duties as a husband. He returned to Mataji soon after and embraced the life of a householder. Years later, he inculcated this concept of grishastha ashram in his disciples.
Gurudev who fondly called his wife ‘Master’ (she worked as a school teacher) was a kind and attentive husband whose sense of humour would leave Mataji in splits. Their life before Gurudev’s advent as a Mahaguru was filled with simple pleasures like going for rides on Gurudev’s cycle or scooter and watching late-night movie shows.
When Gurudev once told Mataji, “Master, wait and see what I become at 35!”, she innocently assumed the prophecy meant a promotion at work and an increment in salary. Little did she know that Gurudev was referring to the age at which he would transform from a householder & spiritual seeker to a Mahaguru. She remembered this story with mirth, almost making fun of her conjecture.
Mataji met the expenses of running a household with Gurudev’s money and the salary she earned as a school teacher. Even though she never complained, running a household on meager finances while raising young children was no cakewalk. Engrossed in seva, Gurudev was often oblivious of the hard choices Mataji made to keep them afloat financially.
One day, while walking through the market square with Gurudev, his daughter Renu ji saw a roadside vendor selling bottles of milk. She asked her father to buy her a bottle. She gulped it down in an instant and then asked for another. Upon returning home, Gurudev asked Mataji why she had not fed Renu ji milk before leaving home. It was then that Mataji apprised him of their precarious financial condition which did not allow them the luxury of buying milk every day. It is believed the incident disturbed Gurudev who spent all night wondering if the spiritual path he had chosen was right for his young family. However, as morning dawned, Gurudev was more certain than ever that no matter what personal sacrifices lay ahead, he would spend his life in the service of others.
Mataji became a supportive partner and facilitator in this journey. She was the shakti (feminine principle) to Gurudev’s shiv (male principle), shouldering the responsibility of looking after the household while Gurudev focused on seva.
A Family Portrait (From L to R) – Renu, Ila, Gurudev, Puneet, Parvesh, Mataji and Alka
Gurudev’s understanding of all matters spiritual would often leave Mataji perplexed. Having seen him only read Urdu newspapers or detective fiction like Colonel Vinod, she found it difficult to fathom the source of his knowledge which rivaled that of the great sages and gurus of yore. In the initial years of their married life, she was too innocent to accept the concept of the opening of his third eye as well as the inherent power in his intentions.
Despite being spiritually knowledgeable, Gurudev never imposed his belief system on his wife. He was pragmatic, often encouraging her to follow her own spiritual and religious practices. He once told her not to chant any mantra if she desired as half the benefit of his nisvarth seva (selfless service) and paath would accrue to her anyway. It was many years later that Gurudev gave Mataji the powerful Maha Gayatri Mantra. Mataji recalled one instance when Gurudev ribbed her and asked her to stop chanting mantras lest she became more powerful than him. Aware of the chinks in each other’s armour, Gurudev and Mataji’s good-natured banter was delightful to watch. But truth be told no husband ever born has been spared by femininity!
Gurudev was a hard taskmaster who would often put his disciples through trials by fire. Unable to meet the high standards he set for us, we were routinely at the receiving end of his reproach. It was then that Mataji would transform into a fierce defense lawyer on our behalf, fighting our cases valiantly in Judge G’s courtroom, while we hid from his view. Alas, poetic justice happens to the Gods and the Greats when they get straightened by their wives!
Mataji treated us like her own children. She defended us, cared deeply about our well-being, and was a cheerleader as we navigated the snakes and ladders of Guruism. Not only was Mataji an able supporter of her husband and a mother to his disciples, but also a spiritual power in her own right.
When a disciple hosted the engagement ceremony of his daughter, he was surprised to find more guests at the venue than he had extended invitations to. He was dismayed at the prospect of the food falling short for the attendees. When Mataji arrived at the venue, the disciple informed her of his predicament. She asked him to lead her to the kitchen. Once there, she looked into the vessels that contained the food and covered them with lids. She then instructed those present to refrain from looking into the vessels while serving the food. The food that was prepared for not more than 150 people was more than enough to feed around 250 people who showed up. When the disciple informed Gurudev of what transpired, Gurudev remarked, “Your mother is Annapurna (the giver of food and nourishment).”
When the son of a disciple suffered multiple skull fractures in an automobile accident, his parents requested the sthan (centre for help and healing) for help. Mataji arrived at the hospital a day later and moved her hands over the boy’s head. She left after assuring the worried parents that everything would be fine. When the next MRI scan was conducted a week later, there was only one microfracture visible on the skull!
After Gurudev’s passing, Mataji’s single-minded focus took his legacy of nisvarth seva forward. Her commitment to this cause was indicative of her deep and unquestionable regard for her husband and his selfless work.
Mataji left her physical body in May 2014. On the day of her death, the stars were auspiciously aligned astrologically. It was a queen’s mahurat (auspicious time) given to very few, indicative of her exalted spiritual status.
In this lifetime, Gurudev and Mataji’s relationship may have been that of a married couple but in essence, it was, and possibly remains an exceptionally powerful spiritual alliance.