Mukul was one of the many thousands of devotees of Radheshyam Baba. What drew Mukul to the Baba’s ashram was curiosity rather than spirituality. What kept him returning to the ashram was Gopika, one of the many women who managed the front offices of Radheshyam Baba.
The first thing that struck Mukul when he visited the ashram for the first time was the absence of men from the reception and other offices as well as counters. Men managed the main gate and the security there. Once you pass the security check, you are in a land of Gopikas. Krishna’s Radhas. Radheshyam Baba’s Babies.
Mukul saw Gopika at the reception desk during his first visit to the ashram. She smiled as he approached the desk on which was placed the sign ‘ENQUIRY.’ He had nothing to enquire about except the name of the charming young woman who stood behind the sign with an indeterminate smile which struck him as less plastic than the smiles of the other women he would see in the ashram eventually.
“Where is the bookstore?” Mukul asked though he was not really interested in any book published by the ashram. He wanted to impress the girl with his projected intellectual interests.
The girl smiled at him. The smile wafted through his being like a soothing breeze. He did not hear her telling him the way to the bookstore in the enormous ashram complex. The soothing breeze was metamorphosing into an intoxicating drug within him. The drug would bring him again and again to the ashram. His parents were delighted that their son had become very religious unlike the other young men of his age who loitered around taking selfies on their mobile phone and whatsapping them to everybody in the contact list.
The queries he could ask at an enquiry counter had been exhausted long ago. He had taken to standing at a little distance from the ENQUIRY counter and watching the girl whose smile had become a shower in the summer of his being. He had noticed long ago that she gave the same smile to everyone. That made little difference, however, to his feelings towards her.
“Jai Radhe,” he walked up to her one day and greeted her in the tradition of the ashram.
“Jai Radhe,” she reciprocated with the same smile on her face.
“What should a devotee do if he falls in love with another devotee in the ashram?”
“Love is a divine feeling,” she said with absolutely no change in her smile. “We should love everyone.”
“I don’t mean that kind of love,” he said eagerly.
“I’m not the right person to guide you in such matters,” the smile continued unchanged. “Please consult one of our counsellors.” She went on to give him the route directions which he did not listen to. He was bathing in the shower of her smile. The movements of her lips. The twitches of her cheeks. The glow in her eyes.
“Forget those women,” one of the devotees who introduced himself as Sahasrabhojane counselled Mukul. He had noticed Mukul’s obsession with the girl at the enquiry counter. “They are Baba’s gopikas.”
Radheshyam Baba was an incarnation of Lord Krishna. Sahasrabhojane explained. Mukul found that interesting. Krishna himself was somebody else’s incarnation. Mukul hoped he would one day be able to be an incarnation of the Baba of the Babies.
“Baby. That’s how Baba calls each one of them. They are his babies. Like Lord Krishna’s gopikas.”
“Hi, baby,” Mukul imagined the Baba addressing the girl at the enquiry counter. “How is my baby today?”
“Fine, by your grace, Baba ji,” Mukul imagined her response. Would it be the same smile that she has for her Baba too? Or would the smile acquire a blush? Would blood surge to her cheeks on meeting her Shyam?
Mukul could feel blood surging through his body stirring something within him.
“It is spiritual love,” Sahasrabhojane explained. “Lord Krishna had thousands of gopikas. Some were more dear to him than others. Radha was the most beloved. Jai Radhe!”
“Jai Radhe!” Mukul returned the chant. “Was he a philanderer?” He asked.
“Who? What are you saying?” Sahasrabhojane was scandalised. “The Lord, how can he be anything but a divine lover?” He walked away chanting Radheshyam, Radheshyam, Shyam-Shyam, Radhe-Radhe...
Why couldn’t he love men equally then? There was nobody to listen to Mukul’s query.
Later Mukul learnt from another devotee that Sahasrabhojane was another aspirant to being an incarnation of the Baba. “Everybody aspires after something,” said the devotee. “Most of the women aspire to be Baba’s gopikas. The men want to be Baba’s avatars. There are also many who make much money out of the ashram. Some are satisfied with some positions of power. You can even aspire towards spiritual enlightenment....”
“I’m in love with you.” Finally Mukul gathered the courage to walk up to Gopika and profess his real devotion. Gopika was the name he had given her. It was her love that he aspired after.
Her smile vanished. She took up the receiver of the phone, dialled some number, and said, “Security, immediately!”
Mukul did not get the time to absorb the transformation that had come over the face whose smile had been his shower and sunshine for quite many months.
Radheshyam, Radheshyam, Shyam-Shyam, Radhe-Radhe... Mukul heard the chanting from the Meditation Hall as he was being dragged by Baba’s security men.
A collection of my short stories is available in book form HERE