MONTHS OF ACCUSATIONS ON BOTH SIDES followed. Some family and friends attempted to broker a reconciliation. At one point, a discussion ensued between a male family member from Bhagwan’s family and Nandini. He argued that Bhagwan assaulting Nandini was justified as she herself had once admitted that she had indeed provoked him. To this Nandini replied: “Please do not forget the reference to the context in which I said I provoked him. I wanted to take my children to my mother’s place. He abused me violently and struck me. When he was asked whether he had abused and hit me, he said, ‘Yes, but you provoked me so I hit you.’ If taking my children to my mother’s place and not agreeing to every word and demand of his was provocation, then the answer is yes, I did provoke him.” He said that physical violence was justified in a family and Nandini vehemently opposed the idea, insisting that it was not okay for a man to strike his wife, under any circumstances. With these debates Nandini’s own stance became abundantly clear to her. She would remain celibate and she would not tolerate any physical violence. Everything else she was ready to accept, adjust, compromise on. She was even ready to go back to 42 Ridge Road for the sake of the children.

All attempts at an out-of-court settling of differences or reconciliation proved futile. Bhagwan refused to allow her to see her children, causing her and the children great torment. Nandini soon filed for judicial separation and custody of the children on grounds of cruelty. Thus began a long and protracted legal wrangle for custody of her three children aged nine, six, and three.

Against Bhagwan’s money, power, and access to a huge legal team, Nandini had very little chance of winning the suit. The judge decreed that in the matter of Nandini’s claims of sexual cruelty he “had no hesitation in refusing to allow the question to be put, or the allegations to be made”. It was a clear reflection of the times. An era in which a judge could bring his own personal biases and opinions on the petitioner, and allow the wealth of the defendant to freely colour his judgment. All allegations of cruelty, assault, sexual and psychological torture were simply dismissed, and not considered part of the case. What gained prominence instead was the point that was made by Bhagwan’s lawyers: That Nandini was immature, and had been “unduly influenced” by Krishnamurti’s teachings to revolt against what was the norm in Indian culture and Indian households. And, since Nandini never spoke publicly about the violence in the marriage, this is what the media latched onto.

For the daily newspapers it was interesting gossip to be published. A prominent industrialist’s wife had left him, under the influence of a guru. It seemed just the kind of story that would shake up Bombay’s high society. It was the perfect potboiler. As Pupul Jayakar, Nandini’s sister wrote in Krishnamurti’s biography, after the story broke, “Men looked afresh at their wives, the clans closed in… And above all, the eyes of the city turned to Krishnamurti.”

Pupul Jayakar was worried that her sister’s custody battle would impact Krishnamurti, but he was hardly concerned about bad press. It didn’t bother him that his discourses were being quoted at great length in a civil lawsuit. He was not affected by the fact that Bhagwan’s lawyers were arguing that he had incited Nandini to act against her husband. In response to Pupul’s attempt to shield him from the negative public consequences of the lawsuit, she reveals in her book, that he said to her: “Are you trying to protect me? There are far greater beings who protect me. Do not falter. Do what is right for Nandini and the children. The children are important. It does not matter whether she wins or loses, if it is right, fight.”

When Judge Weston, one of the few Britons still in the
Bombay High Court, finally delivered his judgment on 3rd January 1950, he dismissed Nandini’s petition. She lost custody of her children, though no law could force her to live with her husband. In the judgment, Weston went so far as to state that he did not think that the dozen or so counts of physical abuse alleged by Nandini had occurred at all. He declared: “I consider the Petitioner’s final act in leaving the house the inevitable outcome of a situation which was largely of her own creation.”

While in personal conversations some of Bhagwan’s family members had discussed and even justified physical violence, in the legal documentation it was completely denied. In the eyes of the law Nandini’s claims of assault held no water. Instead, the judgment argued that Nandini had undoubtedly been influenced by the teachings of Krishnamurti. She had been led to revolt her “doormat” position, to repudiate her relationship with Bhagwan, to reject the domination of a husband over his wife.

This became the prevailing socially accepted version of the reason for Nandini’s exit from the marriage. What exactly it had meant to be that doormat—the details of the incidents of cruelty or assault were left unexamined.

TIME magazine ran an article entitled “Revolt of a Doormat” in its issue dated January 16th, 1950. The story relates how the wife of one of Mumbai’s textile millionaires had her eyes opened by Krishnamurti’s teachings. She had listened to his words and analysed her unequal status in the relationship; she had then revolted against her subordinate position, and turned celibate.

For Nandini, the truth was so much more than that. The reality was much deeper than any media story could ever fathom. For her it was the turning point of her life. It was an endeavour to end the violence and brutality that encompassed her existence. It was a horrific situation, a desperate struggle of a financially powerless woman in which she lost custody of her children.

During this time she visited Krishnamurti in Bombay, to talk and listen to him. When he left, they exchanged letters. In a diary, written many years later, Nandini refers to this period:

How did Krishnaji help me in 1948? He held my hand in friendship. He gave of his love abundantly, overwhelmed me with care and attention. He watched me, and helped me to watch. In his letters, never once has he appeased me or sympathized with me or felt sorry for me. He helped me get over my self-pity. His letters were never personal, they were letters written by a person who watched, listened, and cared. They were full of compassion. The state of his being was only communicated, he didn’t give advice. He never praised or compromised his perception, never pushed me in any direction. He neither praised nor blamed me for my situation. When I lost my case, when my children were frightened and weeping, he held my hand.

I remember going to him, full of my problems, full of the violence surrounding me. The lawyers had been badgering me with questions: think before you speak, answer yes or no, think and only then reply. I felt as if evil walked beside me. My children were anguished and frightened. I had escaped, but I had left them in that burning, violent house. How can I help them? How can I get out of this nightmare surrounding me? I had asked him. I am caught on all sides. I do not know what to do. What will happen to my children? What are people saying? I am lonely, I am lost. What will I do with my life?

To me he had said: “Take adversity as it comes; prepare for it, be ready to meet it. Out of it comes maturity, a fullness, a joy that is imperishable.” When Krishnaji smiled, the storm in my life quieted. His presence alone felt like rain, like a benediction.