WHENEVER NANDINI’S CHILDREN MET as adults, they would remember with nostalgia the wondrous years of the 1950s when they took the annual holiday with their mother and grandmother. Summer was the most exciting time for them because that’s when they had six weeks of uninterrupted time together. Nandini and Iravati would take them on vacations to hill stations like Nainital, Shimla, or Kodaikanal. It was a period of great happiness and joy during which the three siblings’ only quarrel with each other was about who would get to sleep next to their mother each night.

All three greatly cherished the wonderful memories they had of these vacations. They would laugh about how Kaka with childlike innocence once described their feelings before and after a trip. As a little boy he’d said: “When we left on our holiday we were vir pharr and when we returned we were vir phoos” (meaning that like balloons, when they left on their holiday they were inflated with happiness, and when they were on their way back, they all felt deflated).

During the 1950s, Nandini and Krishnamurti’s friendship had grown and they regularly exchanged letters. Not just Nandini, but most of Nandini’s family became attached and dedicated to Krishnamurti and his teachings. When Krishnamurti spoke in Bombay they all came to hear him. Although some of them admitted that they didn’t quite understand the discourses, no family member wanted to miss his talks. Just being in his presence was important; his aura was deeply calming.

Whenever Krishnamurti was in Bombay, Iravati hosted family dinners with him. She would make a huge effort to cook a lot of food and extend impeccable hospitality; for her it was an act of devotion. Nandini’s eldest sister Moon and her children Asit and Shyama would also be present. Around a table heavy with delicious food, laughter and conversation flowed. No abstractions or deep spirituality was discussed. Talk would include the children and often be about mundane things: books read, places visited, the latest gossip, the newest thrillers, the latest films, and so on.

It was an open atmosphere in which everyone spoke fearlessly. At one of these suppers, Krishnamurti related an incident in which Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was travelling abroad. He said that the Maharishi was sitting cross-legged on the airplane seat and had started to levitate. Hearing this, Kaka burst out laughing. Krishnamurti looked at him and said calmly “There are more things in heaven and on Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.”

Kaka was often unabashedly sceptical about incidents or experiences that were outside the realm of scientific explanation. Yet, he was deeply interested in being with Krishnamurti and never missed a single talk when he was in town. Kaka had a great sense of humour and would often tease his mother or mock her devotion to Krishnamurti. “The Lord is in town,” he would say with flourish, when Krishnamurti arrived in Bombay.

Ghanshyam too never missed Krishnamurti’s talks and had the deepest reverence for him. Devi learnt the practical aspects of living the Krishnamurti way through the example of her mother. This devotion to Krishnamurti spanned four generations. Moon’s son Asit Chandmal was devoted to Krishnamurti and later published two photographic books on him. Devi’s daughter Aditi Mangaldas is a performing kathak dancer. Even today, the flyers and brochures announcing the themes and content of her performances often include quotes from Krishnamurti. Since 2006 she has been in a relationship with Armin Sprotte, who was educated at Brockwood Park, Krishnamurti’s school in England, as his parents were deeply interested in Krishnamurti’s teachings. Pupul’s daughter Radhika Jayakar Herzberger joined Krishnamurti’s Rishi Valley Education Centre as a teacher in 1982, and went on to become its Director, a position she still holds. Her husband Dr. Hans Herzberger is also deeply involved with the school at Rishi Valley. Additionally, several children from the family have studied at Rishi Valley.

When Krishnamurti was in Bombay, he often walked at Hanging Gardens on Malabar Hill, where different people would join him. Nandini frequently accompanied him on these walks. Krishnamurti, Pupul, and Nandini would also go for long walks at Worli Seaface. Years later, Nandini would recall these walks with affection. In her diary she wrote:

I remember those evening walks along the promenade by the seaside with Krishnaji. Pupul and I would stride beside him. Krishnaji spoke of many things. Look at the sea, do you see the waves dashing against the rocks? Look at the darkening horizon, this house, that tree. At every moment his attention was drawn to something. As a friend once said, “nothing could escape the magic of his glance”.

The correspondence between Krishnamurti and Nandini spanned 38 years. Krishnamurti’s letters to Nandini were always handwritten, usually on light-blue onion skin paper. Later, when he switched to a typewriter, he continued to handwrite letters to her. The letters often began with a greeting, an enquiry of health and mental state, and a short update on what he was doing. This was followed by words of guidance, a message or discourse, before closing with, “Sia bene, sia benedetta”. Be good, be blessed.

Krishnamurti wrote to Nandini as one would to a dear friend and confidante. He talked about the mundane as well: his health issues, his difficulties and problems. He mentioned the people he had met and talks he had given. He told her that she was in his consciousness, and he was deeply concerned about her health, her family. He asked how her “little school” was getting along, and how Nandini spent her day. If she did not reply soon, he chided her. Even in later years, there was interest in all the little things in the lives of her children, grandchildren, and extended family. She wrote to him about her daily life, details of her family, the problems she encountered, the concerns she had. They shared with each other their thoughts and contemplations.

Nandini listened to Krishnamurti intently. She thought through the principles and philosophies, and used them in her everyday life in a practical way. She would say that Krishnamurti had taught her that life is strange and uncertain, and unless you are extremely awake and intelligent, or mindful, it can break you. She reminded herself that he had asked her to keep awake, like a flame that is always burning, without smoke (i.e. without motives). To all her children she would write about the flame, the perfume, building a sense of self-awareness. “When it is there, all problems dissolve into nothingness and without it, the heart, mind, and body are an arid, parched desert,” she said. When Nandini wrote to Krishnamurti about an illness in the family or some fear she had, he would often write back telling her not to worry. His advice and consolation was often just a few pithy statements, referring to himself using the plural “we”:

“Face the fear/problem. Don’t get panicky. We will be there with you. We will look after things.”

Krishnamurti’s letters proffered nuggets of advice on living a happy, healthy life. And Nandini would often copy significant sections into her diary. For instance, he wrote:

“Look after yourself wisely and don’t let fear darken your health. Be wise and definite about your health. Don’t let emotion and sentiment interfere with your health, nor self-pity belittle your actions. There are too many influences and pressures that constantly shape the mind and heart; be aware of them and cut through them. Don’t be a slave to them. To be a slave is to be mediocre. Be awake, aflame.” “You know you ought to spend some time by yourself, not to rest or go to sleep, but to take stock, not to be overwhelmed by the family and circumstances, to empty the mind of all its contents, memories, pleasures etc., to start anew and to be completely still and empty. Do this, my dear, do it and don’t just think about doing it. Do it as naturally and simply as you brush your teeth and take a bath.”

Krishnamurti used the word “awareness” to talk of mental alertness to the external world, a mind free of desire and full of love, what Buddhists refer to as “mindfulness” “inward observation”. Start with the external and then slowly move to examining the internal, he would say. Address a problem from both sides, externally and then internally as well. The agitated mind cannot watch. One needs to first still the body. Then start observing the mind and one’s actions—without judgment, he advised.

As the years went by, Nandini’s children moved away. Devi married Harshavadan Mangaldas in 1959 and moved to Ahmedabad. Nandini would visit the family in Ahmedabad often and had a deep and close relationship with Devi’s husband and two children Aditi and Aditya. Ghanshyam went to the US to study at the University of California at Berkeley in 1963. He returned to India in 1971, married Meena Munim a year later, and moved to Brisbane where he taught at the University of Queensland. Nandini’s diary mentions her great joy whenever she would talk to her gentle Ghanshyam and his daughter Maithili on the phone from Australia, or when the family visited India once a year. Kaka also studied at Berkeley from 1968 to 1977. He then became a professor of mathematics at the University of Mumbai and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and in 1997 married Indra Munshi. On 4th June 2014, Nandini’s birth anniversary, he succumbed to cancer.

Krishnamurti held great affection not just for Nandini, but for her family as well. When Krishnamurti was in California in the 1960s he made it a point to meet Nandini’s sons Ghanshyam and Kaka. He wrote a detailed letter to Nandini about the conversations
they had and his observations of her boys.

In 1967, Nandini and Devi went to Gstaad on Krishnamurti’s invitation to attend his talks in Saanen. Again, in 1971, he invited them and Devi’s children, this time to Brockwood Park, where they attended his discourses over four days.

Iravati (Motima) doted on Krishnamurti. She had mourned her husband’s premature death for nine years, but after meeting Krishnamurti she had felt a large part of her burden had lifted. She was a gracious hostess even in her senior years. When Krishnamurti stayed with her daughter Pupul at Himmat Niwas building in the early 1970s, she would personally and lovingly supervise the preparation of Nagar delicacies.

In April 1976, Moon died suddenly at home, in the flat she shared with Motima. Motima was shocked and utterly devastated. That night Nandini took her mother to her home, where she wept in profound sorrow. No words could console her. Nandini held her mother to her heart and wept with her. After the death of her daughter, Motima was a broken woman. Soon after, she suffered a mild stroke and became bedridden. In January 1977, when Krishnamurti was in Bombay, he made it a point to visit her. She was weak and frail, but delighted to see him. For over an hour, Krishnamurti, who always called her “Amma”, held her hand and chatted with her. Motima passed away a few months later.

Whenever he was in Bombay, Nandini never failed to meet Krishnamurti or go for his talks. On a few occasions she and Pupul accompanied him to Rishi Valley, Ooty, Delhi, Sri Lanka, and other parts of the country where he had a lecture series. For Nandini, every moment with Krishnamurti was an opportunity to learn something new, to understand life and the world better.

One day, Nandini was visiting Krishnamurti at Pupul’s house at Himmat Niwas in Bombay. He called her to the window and pointed to a tree outside the window of the flat, a flash of green in the concrete jungle. He said to her: “Every day I have been here I have looked at that green tree. To me it has been all the forests of the world, and that one yellow flower, all the flowers on Earth, though the tree is full of dust and in the midst of filth.” Nandini related this conversation to Devi in a letter adding:

When I looked at that tree, indeed it was an incredible green, a green I had never noticed before. That one remark from Krishnaji had within it all the wisdom one could think of; all the beauty and dignity of life, and the grace and charm of living. “Life is to be enjoyed” Krishnaji said to me, “Be happy”. So I tell myself, you, and all who will hear me, to find that patch of green, that oasis in your life.

The green patch or spot has to be within you, independent of all outward events. A source of strength, a spark. It cannot by its nature be lodged in another, no matter how much love we have. It is the lamp that lights our way, which no one can take away from us. In this uncertain life, one has to find that inner strength. Call it faith, or call it holding God’s hand and never letting go.

Nandini’s letters and words are her legacy. She would often say that she did not have any material goods or gifts to give her children, but she wanted to share with them the principles and tenets by which she lived her life. From 1959, until Devi moved back to Bombay in 1983 after the breakup of her marriage, mother and daughter exchanged letters at least twice a week. Nandini wrote regularly to Kaka and Ghanshyam as well. She wanted to share with them the benefits of what she had learned from Krishnamurti. To Devi she would say “what I write to you is first my meditation”. One letter states:

I think that it is the duty of every parent to see, as much as possible, that their children grow up in love and understanding, in care. That they are able to cope with life, have a clear mind, and all this can only come about if they have no fear. Children must learn to be thoughtful, to observe, and to doubt and find out, to know when to act and when not to act, to know themselves. To yield verbally (to appease or pander to someone) or to be aggressive, is the same thing—it destroys. I have seen both in action. Peace at any price, to pander to someone, to please them, so that the person is in a good mood— this policy is a disaster. There will be bullying and blackmail outwardly and subtly. Stepping on another, or be stepped upon. You can be used as a doormat. I too was the yielding kind. My instinct was to be that, but one has to watch most carefully what one’s inclinations are, they are most suspect. Watch them, be awake, know what you are doing.

Nandini loved to read. She read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, she read Chinese philosophy, books on Buddhism, the Upanishads. Some of her favourite authors however, were D. H. Lawrence, Gerald Durrell, Anais Nin, P. B. Shelley, and several Japanese poets. Whenever she was touched by some words of wisdom, or by beautiful passages in a book, she copied them out and shared them with Devi. Nandini loved this passage and quoted it from The Diary of Anais Nin:

“When anxiety sets in like a fever, cold and hot waves, chills, be calm. Know it for what it is: anxiety. Do not explain it away by blaming any particular incident, experience, for then it becomes magnified. When depression suffocates you like a London fog, think that the cause is not as great as you may think. A small defeat, a small frustration, a small discord may set it off.

You must see the transitoriness of moods. Beware of exaggerated reactions to harshness, brutality, ignorance, selfishness. Beware of allowing a tactless word, a rebuttal, a rejection, to obliterate the whole sky.”

Different parents give different kinds of advice to their children. Nandini’s advice was never about material success. Instead it was about refining one’s personal, internal qualities. “Don’t constantly demand things from life,” she would write. “Let things be and happen. Take very little, be content with less, don’t develop a greedy mind, enjoy gazing at life in wonder and delight.” On the subject of love, she once wrote to Devi:

Deva, share your richness and capacity to love with others, give it to all those who are part of your world. Share your warmth, your outpourings of feelings and then you will never age though the years may come as they inevitably must. But the spring of your inner being will be replenished and renewed by the very act of giving. By its nature love flows out, like a river, swift and life- giving, like a tree that shelters and creates. Love cannot rest in stagnant pools, it has to flow. But it keeps within its banks, orderly, maintaining its own vitality and beauty. The world is so poor, it refuses to understand this. Or it is perplexed and gets furious with a person who is not acquisitive.

When she found it relevant, Nandini often included short quotes from Krishnamurti’s communications to her.

“I am afraid there will always be problems. But settle the problems as swiftly as they arise and don’t carry it over to the next day. Be very alert and aware of every thought and feeling. Be tremendously alive, in spite of everything. I must see you like that… Meditation is a marvellous thing. It destroys everything, but the real.”

Devi worked as a counsellor and Nandini would discuss with her the virtue of treating each person she met with a mind that was a blank slate. “Don’t have an image of a person, don’t judge them as you talk to them, but listen…” she would say. These letters were important to Devi because they helped her live her life, sort through any problems she was facing, develop a sense of calm. Nandini wrote:

Live through life dealing with light and darkness, to use Krishnaji’s words, “Like a morning after the storm, like new rain has washed a leaf, sparkling and clean”. When he talked to me, he showed me what allowing a problem to take root in the mind, allowing it to come over and over again, does to the mind. He said be aware of every thought. Do not let a reaction go without noticing it, and do not judge or justify. Do not pursue the path of gratification. Watch the mind. Do not say, this is good, I want it. This is bad, out with it. Sit on the banks of a river, let the waters go by, watch and observe. If you have a thought, explore, watch it, and move on. Do not look back. Be alert. One has to live Krishnaji’s words, see clearly for yourself, and bring order into your daily life.

Sometimes Nandini digressed from more practical discussions to examine other topics. On the meaning of renunciation, she wrote:

What may be right for you will come as it should, and not as you want. Do not try and shape events. Have you not realised that when something good happens, it comes without a struggle, with no plan. It comes and gives its magic and its joy. One has to let the memory of that fleeting joy go too. That is true renunciation. The true giving up. As Krishnaji says, renunciation is not the saffron robe and the reciting of mantras. It is unknown to all but the one who puts away happily and without struggle the glimpses of joy he/she has had. Krishnaji said the outer gestures are child’s play, but to have had a glimpse of joy and to wipe it out, to not hold to the memory of it, not ask for more of it, that is true renunciation. Ponder this.

When they lived together in Mumbai after 1983, Devi would sometimes come home to find her mother sitting in a chair by the window, an air of calm across her face, looking out at the sea for long periods of time. When she asked her what she was thinking about Nandini would reply, “Nothing. My mind is calm and still, without the incessant chatter of thought”. From her diaries and letters, it is abundantly clear that Nandini had indeed found her patch of green.
A person can only be prepared to meet evil, violence, fear, by living wisely. By fearing it we attract it, and it enters us. Instead, face it, be aware of it, but don’t react to it.

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

Nandini at her daughter Devi’s wedding with Harshavadan Mangaldas in Bombay in April 1959.
Nandini at Ghanshyam and Meena Munim’s wedding in December 1972.
Pupul, Devi, Nandini, Aditya, Krishnamurti, Aditi, Amru, and her granddaughter Anjali at Pupul’s home, where Krishnamurti stayed when he was in Bombay, in 1970.
Nandini, Kaka, and his wife Indra Munshi, in Mumbai in 1998.