World War II ended, and two years later, the declaration of independence made India free. Krishnamurti returned to India in October 1947, after a nine-year
hiatus. He had spent the war years in relative isolation in California, greatly traumatised by the violence of the war, particularly by the dropping of atom bombs. During the 1940s, the US government had forbidden him from speaking out against violence and from holding public meetings.
When he arrived in India, Sir CV took his two young grandchildren Devi and Ghanshyam to the airport to meet the “great man”. Sir CV was a great admirer of Krishnamurti. In Pupul Jayakar’s biography of Krishnamurti, she describes what Sir CV said to his daughter- in-law Nandini when he returned home from the airport. He spoke of a “wondrous young being, who ran down the steps of the plane, and like a shaft of light, came towards us”.
On this trip, Krishnamurti stayed at the residence of the well-known industrialist Ratansi D. Morarji. Every morning there was an open house with Krishnamurti. Many people would gather to listen to him and meet him. Just as Sir CV had encouraged Nandini to meet all the other gurus he had welcomed into his heart, he convinced Nandini to join him for the morning sessions with Krishnamurti.
In Nandini’s diary circa 1978, this is how she describes her first meeting with Krishnamurti:
Though it was sunny outside, the room was dark. A man dressed in white sat surrounded by a dozen people. I walked into the room and quickly sat down, a little nervous. There was stillness, a quietness about the man. Soon he stopped speaking and turned around. He glanced at me, looking straight into my eyes.
Once the talk was over, he came and stood beside me and asked: “Why have you come?” I felt a tremendous surge of emotion go through me. There was no conscious joy or sorrow, but I felt swept away as if by a storm— overwhelmed. I felt a need to cry, and it came from the innermost recesses of my heart, those unseen, unknown depths that the conscious mind cannot touch.
I was not sad, but was I joyous? I don’t know. Then I heard his laughter. I felt a hand on my head. I looked up and found Krishnaji’s hand gently touching my head.
She continued reminiscing about the early meetings with Krishnamurti when he returned to Bombay again in January 1948, after a few months in Adyar, Madras. This meeting turned out to be very significant to the course of her life. Her diary says:
Today, thirty-one years later, when I look back on those days, memory appears without the burden of emotion.
I see that I went back again and again each morning to listen to and meet Krishnaji. It was the same room, with people deep in discussion. Krishnaji talked of the beauty of the sunset, of experiences, of memory—most of those words hardly made any sense to me.
One day he turned to me and asked, “When are you coming to see me? Did you not want to meet me?” I heard this and did not reply.
“Are you frightened of your father-in-law?” he asked me. “Of course not” my father-in-law Sir CV interjected immediately.
When Krishnamurti spoke of “meeting” him, he was referring to the private, one-on-one sessions called interviews that he often had with those interested in discussing their life with him. Nandini’s first interview was set up for the next day. This is how she describes it in her diary:
Krishnaji was dressed in spotless all-white clothing. His touch was so gentle, so light, in fact he hardly touches. His eyes were fathomless, chaste like a summer storm, still like tranquil waters. His laughter was like rain on parched earth. His body with its sloping shoulders was graceful. There was radiance and beauty as I walked into the room.
“I will not eat you up,” he said. I heard his laughter, musical notes like streams rushing into other streams. I stood there overwhelmed, uprooted like a tree washed away by a storm and thrown aside. I stood and looked at him. All my senses came to life. I was as if born anew. This is what I remember looking back thirty-one years into the past. But how can I capture that wondrous quality of that first meeting with Krishnaji?
The first thing I told Krishnaji was about my son Ghanshyam who was born with a congenital defect in his eye. Doctors had told me that nothing could be done for it and that no power on earth could improve that eye. But I believed otherwise.
Later on, I took Ghanshyam to see Krishnaji on several occasions. He sat on Krishnaji’s knee and held his hand. Krishnaji put his hand on his eyes. He put his hand on his head in blessing. One day Krishnaji said to me: “Ask him, what he feels about me, does he like me?” Ghanshyam replied “Yes, I like him, he is sweet like a jalebi”.
Jalebi was Ghanshyam’s favourite dessert so comparing Krishnaji to that treat was indeed a compliment from the child.
Around this time, Krishnamurti started giving his public lectures on the lawns of Sir CV’s home Malabar Castle. He would sit atop a beautifully carved desk and give his discourse. The entire season of public talks were given from the very house that Nandini lived in and she naturally attended every one of them.
The famous 20th century writer and critic George Bernard Shaw once famously said that Krishnamurti was the most beautiful person he had ever seen. Many people who met him felt similarly awed by his presence. “I wonder” Nandini wrote, “if there is a single person who after seeing Krishnaji and having faith in him, does not pour out all his troubles to him.” Aldous Huxley is also reported to have stated that listening to Krishnamurti was like “listening to a discourse of the Buddha”.
Nandini’s husband Bhagwan too would talk to Krishnamurti. He often invited Krishnamurti for a drive and Nandini would join them. Bhagwan had seen Krishnamurti at least five times during this period and had asked for his help with his problems. Nandini’s mother Iravati too began meeting Krishnamurti. For years she had been unable to recover from the tragedy of her husband’s premature death, but soon after meeting Krishnamurti she began to overcome her sorrow and find joy in living.
This is what Nandini said in her diary about the early interviews she had with Krishnamurti.
I know that when I returned home after that first interview I hugged in fullness the iron bars of my window. I remember I had no thoughts except the need to go back to that room in Ratansi Morarji’s house to tell him more of my life, the family I had married into, my children, of my golden days in the United Provinces, of my father’s death, my sorrow-laden mother, my sisters, my brother.
In these discussions with Krishnaji, the man I had married I did not mention at all. In subsequent interviews I remember telling him that no one laughs in my husband’s house, and they talk of money all the time. “I want peace,” I said.” I want nothing of wealth or position”.
“Peace?” Krishnaji had repeated looking at me. His eyes seemed to be peering into my mind.
“Do you love your husband?” he asked seriously one day, those gravely-still eyes looking into mine. Everything seemed to have ceased to move and function within me. “I love my family,” I finally replied. “In my parents’ home I laughed and sang, I loved painting. I used to ride and play. My father was most loved, and my mother was the star on my horizon. No one spoke to me in angry tones, no one was bothered about discussing money. My father was beautiful, my mother wonderful. All that is gone. But I love my children, my children are all I have.”
When I left the room that day all anchors were gone; I was rudderless.
What was this rudderlessness Nandini was referring to? Was it her coming to terms with the longstanding unhappiness in her marital situation? There were numerous reasons that Nandini was unhappy in her marriage with Bhagwan Mehta. The rigid rules, the strict food habits, the absence of laughter, affection and love,
the domineering husband—these were troublesome, but
Nandini considered them issues she could bear. Besides these issues, there was the constant psychological torture and abuse she endured because Bhagwan and Nandini were essentially sexually incompatible.
Bhagwan’s ideas of a wife’s role included total surrender and acquiescence to her husband’s physical desires and his were highly complex, demanding, and occasionally brutal. Yet Nandini knew no way out. As she wrote:
I asked myself many times why I put up with so much, why I had allowed these many years to pass, and the only answer I could give myself was that once you are married you have to try to make it a success. And that had been my effort all along, to try and make my marriage happy. I thought if I kept on giving in, kept on putting up with things, one day Bhagwan would reform, one day he would change. But instead of the best coming out, he started taking advantage of me, started bullying me more.
There was another troubling issue that Nandini had kept silent about for about a year. So personal was it that she had not been able to say anything about it even to her closest allies, her mother and sisters.
Bhagwan’s demands in the bedroom had grown progressively, and in 1947, they reached a level she was unable to tolerate. He had begun to insist on acts that she found physically painful and emotionally agonizing.
In mental turmoil, Nandini turned her thoughts inward. Over a period of time of listening to Krishnamurti’s talks she began to realise and understand that the life she had been leading was crushing something within her. Keeping quiet was eating at her and destroying a vital part of her being.
Krishnamurti’s discourses had perhaps opened her eyes to the reality of the life she was leading. No more was she willing to accept the brutality and physical violence in her marital relationship.
How did Krishnamurti help Nandini during thistime? Krishnamurti’s advice to her was always to act for herself, “from the depths of self-knowing. To do what one truly believes is right.” Only then, he would say, can one stand up to and sustain one’s actions. One cannot have a dependence on the guru, the dependence needs to be on oneself, on one’s inward strength, for eventually “the guru would disappear”.
In October 1948, greatly troubled by her husband’s demands and behaviour, Nandini approached her father-in-law. He had always been most respectful and supportive of her and she found he was someone she could turn to. He suggested she travel with him to Poona to attend a series of talks by Krishnamurti.
At the time, Nandini was in a state of despair. One particular incident was so nerve shattering that Nandini was left in pain and anguish. However, for Bhagwan he was exercising his conjugal rights. For Nandini it was a catastrophic milestone. It was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. She explains it herself:
I wish that day I had made enough noise to attract all the family. But something happened to me that day, something so irrevocable, so final, that I made up my mind that no matter what happened to me—whether I starved or was driven out on the streets, whether I lost the children or not—I would not allow him to come near me. This was not a hasty decision or whim, it was not a passing kink in my brain. This was a sequence of events culminating in this decision. It was ten years of misery ending in a year of horror. Finally, I had made up my mind, knowing full well what my life would be after saying no to him. I passed many sleepless nights. I went through agony and torture and I knew such fear because I foresaw the consequences of my actions. But the agony of my life was such that I was prepared for anything. I was prepared to face the worst. I did not know my legal position then, I was convinced I would be putting myself in the wrong by saying no to marital relations, but I had made up my mind. I decided I would try to explain to him, reason with him, throw myself at his mercy.
I prayed to God he would understand. I was in such a state of mental conflict and despair, that I was almost suicidal.
For close to one year, from March 1948 to March 1949, threats and abusive language were frequently hurled at Nandini. For three months when Bhagwan travelled to America, Nandini and the children got a little respite. But when he came back, his wrath became worse. He would physically assault her if she refused to gratify him.
In November 1948, soon after returning from Pune, Nandini moved out of the marital bedroom into the adjoining dressing room. She told Bhagwan that she was going to be celibate going forward. Once she made this announcement all hell broke loose. He became infuriated and more forceful. Nandini suffered a nervous breakdown and was treated for nearly ten days. Shouting, verbal abuse, and psychological torture became a daily affair. During one of the fights Bhagwan said: “How dare you refuse me my rights? When you married me the contract was to give you money and home, while you gave me your body. Get out of my house; you have forfeited all rights to children, home, money, and security.”
Bhagwan often threatened to make Nandini’s life hell. He would talk of shutting down access to money, car, and children. He tried to keep the children away from her. He wouldn’t let her take the children to her mother’s house. Sometimes he wouldn’t let her spend time with them at home, even though the youngest was just three years old. He claimed he would either drive her mad, or drive her out of the house. In the presence of the children he would shout, abuse, hit, and insist that he would file for divorce or the restitution of conjugal rights.
One day, Nandini was particularly distraught when she spoke to Krishnaji, “What am I to do?” she asked. “He has been violent, he attacked me, he abused me, he does not let me go near the children”. Krishnaji replied: “Look, be clear, watch. Look him in the face, do not react to him. Do not be afraid. Of course physically you must protect yourself, but inwardly give him back what he throws at you. Let the flame fill your being—let it act.”
The abuse did something to Nandini inwardly. Though she was raging inside she never once showed her pain or fear to Bhagwan. Not once did she shed a tear before him. Gathering inward strength she knew she would bend, but not allow herself to break.
On 11th March 1949, an argument broke out between Nandini and Bhagwan over where the youngest, three-year-old Kaka, was to sleep, resulting in an infuriated Bhagwan physically bruising her. She was shaken and traumatized.
Three days later, it was the night of the festival of Holi on 14th March 1949. Bhagwan and Nandini once again were in an argument, with him demanding Ghanshyam, who was with her, go to his room. When she resisted, a fight erupted. He struck Nandini and pressed his elbow on her neck. Nandini screamed for help. Her ayah, Kamala, came into the room and begged Bhagwan to let her go. This culminated in the entire household including the in-laws coming into the room. A lot of harsh words were said, and Nandini was told to get out of the house. Bhagwan threatened that she would hear from his solicitors the next day. There was such fury in his demeanour that Nandini feared he was even ready to strike his father, who was trying to calm him down. Sir CV eventually extricated the child at the centre of the tussle and left the scene with him. Taraben joined her son in telling Nandini to leave their house. Agitated and tormented, Nandini finally said, “I am going and not coming back”. To Taraben she added: “I wonder how you as a woman do not feel for me. Suppose all this had happened to you?” Then she folded her hands in a namaskar to Taraben, and stepped out of the house.
Nandini ran out of the compound, and it was only when she had finally exited the gate that she burst into tears—of deep sorrow and humiliation. It was 10.30 p.m. She ran the 200 metres to her mother’s house. Only when she had reached the safety of her mother’s home did she collapse in a jumble of emotions.
The violence with which she had been struck and driven from her marital home that day changed something intrinsically in her. The line had been crossed. She resolved to herself that day that she would never ever allow anyone to assault her again.