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.
Gurudev’s parents began looking for a suitable bride for their son as soon as he found his professional footing. Their search ended in 1960 when he married Sudesh Sharma, a twenty-year-old lady from a well-respected family in Ludhiana, Punjab. Years later, she became known reverently as Mataji (mother).
Mataji’s father was a coal trader who died when she was a child. She was the youngest of seven siblings. Her oldest brother was a well-known freedom fighter and member of the Indian National Congress, and another brother, Rudra ji, was a teacher.
In an interview I conducted a few years before Mataji’s death, she recalled having no idea of Gurudev’s spiritual leanings when they married. A week after their wedding, she found him unconscious on the bed. Assuming the worst, she dashed to her sister-in-law’s room, pleading for assistance. She calmed down after Gurudev’s sister told her that he would go into a comatose state during paath (meditation) and that she needn’t worry. Mataji laughed as she recalled her first encounter with her husband’s spiritual side.
Their marriage, like most, had some teething issues. After a few weeks, Gurudev decided to practise sanyaas (renunciation) in a modern way. As a renunciate, he left his marital home to pursue spiritual attainment. Five years later, while meditating at Gurudwara Sri Santoksar Saheb in Amritsar, he heard a voice tell him that his final attainments were only possible if he fulfilled his responsibilities as a husband. Soon after, he returned to his wife and settled into the life of a householder. Years later, he taught this concept of grihasth ashram to his disciples.
Gurudev affectionately addressed his wife as Master and was a kind and attentive husband with a sense of humour that had her in splits. Before his advent as a mahaguru, their lives were filled with simple pleasures such as riding on his scooter and watching late-night movie shows. When he once told her, “Master, wait and see what I become at thirty-five!” she innocently assumed the prophecy meant a promotion at work and a salary increment. Little did she know that he was referring to the age at which he would catapult from a spiritual seeker to a mahaguru. She remembered this story with glee, almost making fun of her conjecture.
Mataji met the expenses of running her household with the money Gurudev gave her and the salary she earned as a schoolteacher. Even though she never complained, running a home on meagre finances while raising young children was no cakewalk. She became a supportive partner and facilitator in her husband’s journey. She was the Shakti (feminine principle) to his Shiv (masculine principle), shouldering the responsibility of looking after the household while he focused on seva.
A Family Portrait (From L to R) – Renu, Ila, Gurudev, Puneet, Parvesh, Mataji and Alka
She was often perplexed by her husband’s understanding of all things spiritual. She couldn’t fathom the source of his knowledge, which rivalled that of the great sages and gurus of yore. She had only seen him read Urdu newspapers or detective fiction like Colonel Vinod, and nothing more. In the early years of their marriage, she was too innocent to accept the concept of his third-eye opening and the inherent power in his intentions.
Gurudev never imposed his belief system on her. He was pragmatic, frequently encouraging her to adhere to her own spiritual and religious practices. He once told her that she did not need to chant any mantras because half of the benefit of his nisvarth seva (selfless service) and paath would accrue to her anyway. Years later, he gave her the powerful Mahagayatri mantra. She recalled him ribbing and telling her to stop chanting mantras lest she becomes more powerful than him. Despite their awareness of the chinks in each other’s armour, their 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 defence lawyer on our behalf, fighting our cases valiantly in Judge G’s courtroom while we would hide from his gaze. Alas! Poetic justice befalls the gods and the greats as they get straightened by their wives!
Mataji treated us as if we were her children. She defended us, cared about our well-being, and cheered us on as we navigated the snakes and ladders of Guruism. She was an able supporter of her husband and a mother figure to his disciples, besides being a spiritual force in her own right.
When a disciple hosted his daughter’s engagement ceremony, he was surprised to find more guests than he had invited. Dismayed at the prospect of food falling short and the attendees going hungry, he requested Mataji for help. She accompanied him to the kitchen, peered into the food containers, and covered them with lids. Thereafter, she instructed those present not to look into the vessels while serving the food. Consequently, the food prepared for about 150 people turned out to be more than enough to feed around 250 people. When this disciple apprised Gurudev about what had happened, the mahaguru remarked, “Your mother is Annapurna”(the giver of food and nourishment).
When a disciple’s son suffered multiple skull fractures in an automobile accident, his parents sought help from the sthan (centre for help and healing). Mataji arrived at the hospital the next day and placed her hands on the boy’s head. She walked away after assuring the parents that everything would be fine. A week later, the MRI scan revealed only one microfracture on the skull!
Mataji’s unwavering dedication carried forward Gurudev’s legacy of nisvarth seva after he passed into the beyond. Her commitment to his cause reflected her undying love for her husband and his selfless work.
She passed away in May 2014. On the hour of her death, the stars were auspiciously aligned. It was a queen’s muhurat given to very few, indicating her exalted spiritual status.
Gurudev and Mataji’s relationship may have been that of a married couple, but in essence, it was and possibly continues to be an exceptionally powerful spiritual alliance.