BY 1952, NANDINI HAD LOST the petition for custody of her children and the subsequent appeal was dismissed as well. She often found herself surrounded by venomous tongues. People started avoiding her, they accused her of ruining a family and disturbing the peace in an illustrious house. She was accused of abandoning her children. The talk became malicious and also brought in the role of Krishnamurti, who was seen as the guru who had “misled” her.

No formal custody arrangements were prescribed in the final judgment, so how much Nandini could or could not see the children was dependent on Bhagwan’s whims. He understood well the children’s need for their mother and although he had earlier tried to keep them apart, he did not continue to do so.

Bhagwan laid out what would today be considered fairly generous visitation rights. The children were able to see their mother for a little over an hour every evening. They were allowed to travel with her and their grandmother for six weeks in the summer and a week during the Diwali break, on a holiday paid for by him. Additionally, Nandini was allowed to visit them when they were ill. Besides, Nandini would receive a monthly allowance of Rs.1,200, though the actual payment of this was left to Bhagwan’s whims and moods.

Over the course of the next one year or so after the verdict, Nandini, Bhagwan, Devi, Ghanshyam and Kaka settled into a tenuous rhythm of life lived across two different homes, about 200 metres apart. Evenings were the part of the day all three siblings looked forward to the most because they could spend time with their mother.

Devi went to J.B. Petit School at Fort, and life at school had been particularly difficult while the court case had been playing out in the media. Girls would sometimes discuss the gossip in the local newspaper. When they did that, Devi recalls hiding in the bathroom during recess, to get away from the questioning glances, the unkind things said about her mother by those who knew nothing of what the family was going through.

Did she blame her mother for leaving them? Did she feel she had abandoned them? Devi did not. Being the oldest and having witnessed a fair bit of the violence and verbal abuse in the home, she never grudged her mother’s need to leave. She never doubted for a second her mother’s dedication to the children.

Nandini had believed she had a strong case against Bhagwan, and right until the end she had held on to the hope that she would win custody.

No children should ever be put in a position of choosing between their father and mother, but given the circumstances of their lives in 1949-50, that is exactly what happened. In their minds there was no contest between the strict, hot-tempered, disciplinarian father who instilled fear in them, and the soft, gentle, and affectionate mother. All three siblings adored their mother and no amount of separation from her weakened this love or attachment. If anything, their affection for her strengthened with each day spent apart.

Without doubt Bhagwan recognised this great attachment. Whenever the children had been naughty, or hadn’t done exactly what he demanded of them, there was one standard threat he used regularly: “You will not see your mother today.” This had the effect he wanted. It instilled fear in the children, who were terrified of losing the precious little evening time they had with Nandini.

In hindsight, however, they need not have feared this threat. For in all the days and years this threat was made, there was not a single occasion on which it was actually executed. Bhagwan never kept the children from visiting their mother as punishment. Deep down, Bhagwan realised and respected how deeply all three of his children loved their mother. When she was in London for surgery the children wrote letters to her, expressing their love. When she was getting set to return to India, Bhagwan wrote to her too: “Prepare yourself for an onslaught from the kids. Juju (Devi’s nickname) will talk your head off, and the boys will manhandle you.”

Credit to both Bhagwan and Nandini that though the separation was extremely acrimonious and difficult, neither spoke negatively about the other, at least within hearing range of the children.

Both parents loved their children, albeit they had completely different ways of expressing it. The siblings longed for as much time as they could get with their mother, soaking up the love she bestowed upon them. For her, love was caring, laughter, cuddling her children, showering them with physical affection. She had a tremendous capacity for nurturing. For her, love was never using a harsh word, correcting with gentleness. Love was sharing, giving, looking on the bright side of life. Whatever she learned about love from Krishnamurti’s teachings was an important part of who she was. In letters she wrote to Devi years later, she describes her philosophy of love:

To care is the beginning of love. To love one has to look upon another with care and gentleness, be it a tiny pup, a tree, or a lovely laughing child. To care, to tend, to love— is to think less and less of oneself.

Krishnaji would say the more attention you give to others, the less you think of yourself, the more there is love and gentleness in you.

Bhagwan on the other hand was not a physically affectionate or demonstrative person at all. He loved his children. But his definition of love was “tough love”. He was always correcting, laying down the law, judging them, demanding improvement, requiring they live and play by his rules.

He was brought up in a materialist world where money had prime importance and that is what he knew. He had tried to control Nandini with money, and perhaps it bewildered him that it failed; that she cared nothing for wealth, objects of desire, jewellery, social status, or position.

Using his own brand of humour he would tell the girlfriends he would bring home years later, “Nandini is de jure my wife, but not de facto”. Though Krishnamurti was vilified by Bhagwan’s lawyers in the custody battle, he personally did not criticize Krishnamurti beyond occasionally saying that his teachings were “hocus-pocus”. In other areas Krishnamurti’s influence remained. For instance, Bhagwan’s taste for western classical music had emerged from Krishnamurti’s recommendations to him, and he would often listen to this music, playing it loudly into the wee hours of the morning. It was Nandini’s sister Pupul Jayakar who Bhagwan truly blamed for “leading Nandini astray,” even though it was through Sir CV that Nandini met Krishnamurti, and through her that Pupul met him. Pupul was an independent-minded, outspoken woman, and perhaps Bhagwan did not like the strength and fearlessness she exuded.

During 1951-1952, not long after their judicial tussle, and just when the reality and routines of their lives were settling down, two incidents rocked the family again. The first was that Bhagwan lost Century Mills in a hostile takeover by the Birlas. He soon lost his directorships in various companies as well. This left him with a deep sense of loss and frustration. He never lost his self-esteem and ego, however, nor his peculiar sense of humour. Despite the dip in his business and prestige, he sometimes liked to say to his children: “I am the Prince of Wales”. He had seen success very early in life, and particularly during the war years, his textile business had brought him great wealth. He had an air of arrogance and confidence that came from both financial success and popularity. Now suddenly at 37 he was without his business, with virtually nothing to do. With plenty of money to keep him afloat, he refused to work for anyone else, stating that he would instead dedicate his time to bringing up his children. This he did with an authoritarian hand. But more than that, his parental philosophy involved evoking fear in his children. His permission had to be obtained for everything, even to turn on the radio to listen to Binaca Geetmala.

Bhagwan had many eccentricities. His sons, for instance, were made to wear white on most occasions. He loved lists. Everything the children did had to be documented. The length and breadth of their suitcase had to be measured, and the number of shirts, pants,
and other clothes packed in them recorded. Every month the children were administered a dreaded dose of castor oil and they had to then note down a very embarrassing pathological report for him. Every morning he would enter the room where the three children slept and in a thunderous voice annouce: “Now no levity, no laxity, and no hilarity. I want 99.5% efficiency. Now up!” When he chose to, Bhagwan was the most charming man alive, especially with doctors, lawyers, Anglo-Indian nurses, Parsis, and Westerners—who were his favourite people. Otherwise at home, he had a very short and hot temper and the domestic staff often got the brunt of it.

He suffered from migrainous neuralgia, and when he had an attack of one of these cluster headaches, he became totally irrational. He would go berserk, yelling at and abusing anyone who crossed his path; the children knew well to stay out of his way.

His extreme eccentricity and need to do exactly as he pleased was evident in all of his actions. Despite his refusal to give Nandini money when she was ill and needed it, on two occasions over the years, Bhagwan gifted her Vacheron Constantin luxury watches.

Once when he was admitted to Jaslok Hospital for a short surgery, he arrived there with 27 pieces of luggage! Another time, after he had lost his home at 42 Ridge Road due to the complex death-duty taxation issue, and lived at Baitul Yumn, off Peddar Road, he woke up one morning, gathered up all the silverware in the house, and sold it. In this house he would chain and lock everything up. The chair was chained to the table, which in turn was chained to the cupboard, and so on. Huge padlocks were visible on everything!

In 1971, just before Malabar Castle was to be sold, Bhagwan suddenly asked Nandini for a divorce, possibly on the advice of his lawyers. They had already been separated for close to 20 years.

Nandini asked Devi to settle the issue with him. At the time both her sons were away in America. A small trust was made for Nandini. She would receive a basic monthly allowance from the interest, but could never touch the corpus. Though Devi requested Bhagwan to set aside some money in case of a medical emergency, he refused to do so. Nandini stated that she had fought like a tigress for the custody of her little children 20 years earlier, but now she was prepared to settle quickly for any amount. In her diary she wrote: “I am free!”

Bhagwan’s way of showing his love for his sons was by ensuring that they got the best education. He paid for both of them to study at the University of California at Berkeley, where they earned PhDs. He was immensely proud of them and their achievements. Though he came from a typical Gujarati business family where men ran businesses, he did not harbour any such illusions for Kaka and Ghanshyam, particularly considering his own business was now defunct. He was also deeply attached to and possessive of Devi, who he offered to send to Cambridge to study when she announced she wanted to get married at 19.

The second incident that greatly affected the family in 1952 was that Nandini was diagnosed with galloping cancer of the uterus. She was just 35 and had no money for the treatment, but was told that the cancer was spreading fast. With the help of her sister Pupul and brother Kumi she borrowed money and went to London to be treated by a famous surgeon.The day after he operated on her, the surgeon suffered a massive stroke. Nandini’s diary mentions some of what occurred during the trip to London for treatment.

I remember a gloomy, dark day in London. I was alone, my brother and sister had gone out. Suddenly I started bleeding—large lumps of blood and tissue— as if something from within me had broken loose. I remember holding onto the table, soaked in a pool of blood. My mind said, “Oh God, I am alone!” And then almost as soon as I said those words, in my mind’s ear a voice clearly said: “You are not alone Nandini.” I heard this as clearly, as precisely and concretely as the table which I clutched onto—as undeniable, as much a fact, a reality. I felt a burden dropping away. I slowly crawled back to my bed and lay down. There was no agitation, no fearful thoughts, no tears, and soon, no thoughts at all. I just lay there. Then I tried to call a friend and locate my family who returned quickly.

Throughout my ordeal there was this sense of peace around me. It was not as if I had resigned or surrendered. It was a stillness I experienced, which kept me within an enchanted circle, Krishnaji’s circle.

When I came around from the anaesthesia I knew I had not been alone even in that unconscious state. I had been under anaesthesia before and know how one feels a sudden dropping off and the blanking out of all consciousness that usually occurs. But during this operation I was not alone. I knew where I had been even in that unconscious state; that state of enchantment was with me. After the operation, lying gravely ill, body in tremendous pain, I had but to turn my head on the pillow to the left or right and it was there. My mind lay in pools of stillness and seemed to flow on and on. What magic I witnessed… how inexplicable certain things are.

In another diary Nandini explains that when her lawsuit was underway Krishnamurti held her hand. When she had cancer however, she did not get a single letter of sympathy. Her diary says:

It was as if I did not exist. I was abandoned and yet I knew he was there. I heard him telling me from within the deep, deep inner core of my being, the hidden depth of my being, “Nandini, you are not alone”.

When he returned to India a year after my operation I met him and I expected the usual concern and questions about how I was, what had happened, how happy he was that it had all gone off well. But that did not happen. I went into Ratansibhai’s place feeling a little low and sorry for myself. And there he was like a flower in all its flawless beauty, his calm face like a burst of sunshine, his laugh, joyous and radiant.

That day… I learnt to overcome self-pity. “I” do not matter. The overwhelming joy, the abundance, the good, is all that matters. I am a mere speck, a dot, on the moving, living picture of life.

A year after Nandini’s cancer surgery she fell ill again, with very high blood pressure and swelling. There was panic amongst her family—had the dreaded cancer spread? She was operated in Bombay and when the surgeons opened her up they discovered that her kidney had failed because an artery had erroneously been sutured during the previous surgery in London. Considering the surgeon had suffered a stroke the day after the surgery, one wonders if something had gone wrong during the surgery itself. How else could he have accidently sutured her tube? This time one of Nandini’s kidneys had to be removed and she underwent a great deal of pain; her body was weak and traumatised.

Through all her troubles, Nandini’s family helped and took care of her. Pupul was always at Nandini’s side when she needed her. There was a natural affection between the two sisters although they were of such different temperaments. As children, Pupul was the intellectual of the family and Nandini the beauty. Their bond blossomed into a true friendship after meeting Krishnamurti. From January 1948 onward, they tried to attend every lecture and discussion he held in India, and spent hours exploring his teachings. Pupul would say that she considered Nandini’s understanding of Krishnamurti to be deeper than her own. As grown women, reminiscing about their halcyon childhood days, they often wondered how their sensitive father, employed by the imperial civil service, a man of law and order, could not have experienced conflict in his mind and heart over his role in the British Empire. After all, the freedom struggle was in full force in the country. This issue was never expressed or discussed at their childhood home. Could this internal conflict have led to his premature death at the age of 56, they often wondered.

Across the board, Nandini’s family exuded tremendous strength and support. When her grandmother Kiki heard that Nandini’s marriage had fallen apart, she neither moralised nor urged her to adjust, suffer, or bear the agony of living with Bhagwan. Instead, she had firmly said, “Fateh”, which in Gujarati means “Victory”. Nandini was clearly part of family of strong and resilient women who took the lemons life delivered head-on.
If one comes to Krishnaji or his teachings with a thimble, you leave with a thimbleful. But if you come with an open heart and mind, the possibilities are endless.

From Nandini’s letter to Devi written in the 1970s.

For Nandini’s children, the highlight of the year was the summer vacation they took with her. Nandini with Devi, Ghanshyam, and Kaka in Nainital in 1955.
The three children with Iravati in Matheran around 1953.
The three children with their cousin Shyama (holding a dog) in Nainital in 1956.
In 1952, when Nandini was in London for treatment for galloping cancer, her children wrote to her regularly. Ghanshyam, aged 9 at the time, wrote this poignant letter to his mother. He talked of eating fug (fudge) and tried to appear brave though he missed and thought about her a lot. Kaka who was six, also scribbled a few lines on top.