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CHAPTER-8 : IN THE SERVICE OF THE MASTER [PART-II]
|Shambhu Charan Mallik|
Realizing the Holy Mother's difficulties from insufficient accommodation, some of the devotees of the Master built a small cottage for her near the temple in 1874. Sambhu Mallick, acquired a plot of land on lease for Rs.250, and began constructing the cottage on it. Captain Visvanath Upadhyaya, the agent of the Nepal Government in Calcutta, was a great devotee of the Master. As he was in charge of the Nepal Government's timber yard in Calcutta, he offered to give all the timber necessary for the cottage. Accordingly, three logs of wood were towed up the Ganges, but unfortunately one of these was carried away by the flood tide at night. Strangely enough, Hriday, Sri Ramakrishna's nephew, was displeased with the Holy Mother for this, as he attributed it to her ill-luck and want of faith. When the Captain heard of the incident, he sent another log, and with it the construction of the house was completed.
The Holy Mother lived in this house for about a year. To help her and keep company with her, a maidservant was engaged. There the Holy Mother would cook the food for the Master and bring it to the temple to serve it personally to him. The Master, too, to please her as well as to see whether everything was going on well, would visit her house once in the day, and after spending a little time there, invariably corne back to the temple by dusk. One day, however, there was a break in this rule. He had gone in the evening to the Mother's house, but owing to heavy rain he could not corne back. So he had to spend the night in the house, and while the Holy Mother was serving him food, he jocularly remarked, 'Do not the priests of the Kali temple go home at night? I am also doing likewise, am I not?'
About one year after, Sri Ramakrishna had a severe attack of dysentery, and in order to be by his side to nurse him, she returned to the Nahabat. Afterwards she seems to have never gone back to her cottage. For what reason she did not do so, is not known.
The Holy Mother's chief duty at Dakshineswar was cooking. Sri Ramakrishna had a very delicate stomach which easily got upset by any irregularity in food. The preparation of his food, therefore, had to be done with scrupulous care and attention, and it was found that only the Holy Mother could do it in just the way that suited the requirements of his health. Whenever she was away from Dakshineswar, the Master used to suffer, and he would sometimes send word to her asking her to come back soon. Referring to his utter dependence on her in this respect, he once humorously remarked to somebody, 'Well, what does a "wife," signify in the case of one like me?' And he himself gave the reply jokingly, 'Don't you see? But for her, who would have prepared my food in just the way that suits my health?'
In earlier days, she had to cook only for the Master and his old mother, Chandra Devi. As we have seen, Chandra Devi shifted to the Nahabat in order to be close to the Ganges. The Holy Mother was her companion and attendant. Yogin-Ma reports that even amidst her heavy duties the Holy Mother used to be so vigilant about the service of her mother-in-law that before she called out her name in full, she would rush to her side. When Yogin-Ma remonstrated with her, saying that by running in such haste she might knock her head against the doorway and hurt herself, she would reply, 'It does not matter much even if it happens so. She is my Guru, and she is also my mother. Ah, she is so old, and if I do not go to her in time, she may be put to inconvenience. That is why I run to her in such haste.'
As days went on and devotees began to gather round the Master, the volume of cooking the Holy Mother had to do, increased. For, at times several devotees would stay with the Master, and they had to be fed and taken care of. From some of her recorded conversations we get a glimpse of the heavy work that fell on her. She said to a disciple: 'I used to cook for the Master. He had poor digestion. So he could not eat the food offerings from the Kali temple. I had to cook also for the devotees of the Master. Latu lived with him. Having had a difference with Ram Datta, he had come away. The Master said to me, 'He is a nice boy; he will knead flour for you.' (Note: Latu later on became a monastic disciple of Sri Ramakrishna and came to be known as Swami Adbhutananda. One day he was meditating at dusk. The Master went up to him and said, 'That (ie the Deity), on whom you are meditating, is making Chapatis in the Nahabat. Go and help her by kneading the flour.'). I had to cook day and night. When Ram Datta came, he would shout after getting out of the carriage. 'Today I shall have Chapatis (Indian bread), and gram Dal (a kind of soup).' Then I would at once start cooking. I used to make Chapatis out of three or four seers of flour. (Note: According to Yogin-Ma, she used to make Chapatis from seven pounds of flour and betel rolls without number. Besides she would boil milk for the Master for a long time, as he liked the thick cream.). When Rakhal lived there, I often made Khichuri for him. The Master one day asked me to cook nicely for Naren. I prepared some Mung (green gram) soup and Chapatis. When the meal was over, the Master asked Naren, 'How did you enjoy the meal?' 'Very well,' he replied, 'but it tasted like sick diet.' At this the Master said to me, 'What sort of stuff have you cooked for him? You must prepare for him thick gram Dal and heavy Chapatis.' Finally I prepared those things and Naren was very pleased. Suren Mitra gave ten rupees a month for the expenses of the devotees. Gopal Senior did the marketing. Dancing, devotional music, ecstasy and Samadhi went on day and night. I made little holes in the bamboo-mat screen, so that I could watch through it. (Note: According to Lakshmi-Didi, the Master purposely kept the northern door of his room open, so that the Holy Mother could see all this from the Nahabat. Seeing the holes in the bamboo-mat screen becoming bigger day by day, the Master would humorously remark to his nephew, Ramlal, 'O Ramlal, your aunt's seclusion (Purdah) is going to be affected!' To this Ramlal would reply, 'You alone are responsible for that. Why do you keep the northern door open in spite of my repeatedly closing it?'). Standing there continually, I got this rheumatism in the end.'
Sometimes her skill as a cook was tried to the utmost. One evening some distinguished gentlemen came to Sri Ramakrishna, and the Holy Mother had to prepare food for them. Her stock of vegetables was exhausted. She had nothing left for curry but a few cast-off leaves of cabbage and some bits of vegetables not deemed good enough for the earlier meal. She was in deep perplexity, but Gopaler-Ma, a woman disciple, assured her she could make a delicious dish out of these remnants. 'Very well,' the Holy Mother replied, 'I will try. If it succeeds, all the merit will go to you. If it fails, the blame too will be yours.' She cooked it quickly and carried it to the room of the Master. Sri Ramakrishna asked in surprise where she had found the materials for so wonderful a curry. But she could not take the praise or blame - it belonged to Gopaler-Ma!
In fact, the Holy Mother's daily programme of life at Dakshineswar was one of unremitting service and ardent practice of devotion. She, would, as already stated, get up between 3 and 4 a.m. and after bathing in the Ganges, spend the morning hours in meditation and worship. For the Master used to insist on meditation both in the morning and evening. (Note: Sri Ramakrishna was always a hard taskmaster in matters spiritual. If on any day the Holy Mother and Laksmi-Didi, who lived with her at the Nahabat, failed to get up at the usual time, he would, as he passed that way in the early morning, pour water into their bed from his water jug, so that they might get up and begin meditation). Then she would attend to cooking. After that, if there were no devotees near the Master, she would go to him and massage his body with oil. While the Master was engaged in his bath, she would prepare betel rolls. Then she would take the Master's food to him, (note: As long as his mother was alive, the Master would go to the Nahabat and have his food with her. After her passing away, his food used to be served in his room) and personally serve it and stand by his side as he partook of it. For she had to engage him in some light conversation, so that his meal might not be disturbed by the sudden onset of Samadhi or any such higher mood. Besides, as in feeding a little child, she often had to have recourse to various tricks in feeding the Master. For, the sight of a large quantity of food on the plate would make him nervous, and he would refuse to take it, fearing it would upset his stomach. So she would hide the real quantity of rice by pressing it down into a small heap. In the same way she would take from the milkman more than the usual half a seer of milk allotted to the Master, and boil it down into the usual quantity. (Note: There is an interesting description she herself gave to a disciple about how she fed the Master with milk. She said, 'When the Master was ill, Dr. Ganga Prasad Sen of Kumartooly was consulted. The physician prescribed some medicine and forbade water. The Master began to ask one and all, "Well, can I live without water?" He asked this question of everyone, even of a five year old child. All replied, "Yes, sir, you can." "Can I?" he asked me. "You can," I replied. He then said, "You are to wipe the water from even washed pomegranate cells. See if you can do it." At that I said to him, "Well, everything will be done by the grace of Mother Kali. We shall try our utmost." The Master made up his mind at last. He stopped drinking water and took the medicine. Every day I used to give him three to four seers of milk to drink - later on even five to six seers. The man who milked the temple cows used to give me milk in large quantities. He would say to me, "If I give all this milk to the temple, the priests will taeit home after worship and give it away to anyone and everyone. But if I leave the milk here, the Master will have it." He used to give me up to five or six seers of milk. He was a good man, full of devotion. I used to give him sweets. I would boil it down to a seer and a half. The Master would ask me, "How much milk is there?" I would say, "A seer or a seer and a quarter." He would remark, "Perhaps more. I see such a thick layer." 'One day Golap (a woman disciple) was there. He asked her, "How much milk is there?" And she told the truth. "Ah! so much milk," he exclaimed, "that is why I get indigestion. Call her, call her." I came in, and he told me of what Golap had said about the milk. I pacified him telling, "Oh! Golap does not know the measurement. How can she know how much the pot contains?" ' .'Another day he asked Golap about the milk and she said in reply, "One full bowl from here and another from the Kali temple." At this the Master got nervous again. He sent for me, and began to ask about the exact measurement of the bowl as to how many Paos and Chataks it contained. I replied, "I do not know about Paos and Chataks. You will drink milk. Why all these enquiries about measurement? Who knows about all these calculations?" He was not satisfied. He said, "Can I digest all this milk? I shall get indigestion." Really, that day he did get indigestion. He did not take anything that night, except a little sago water. 'Golap said to me afterwards, "Well, Mother, you should have told me about it before. How could I know? His whole evening meal is spoiled." In reply I said to her, "There is no harm in telling so about food. Thus I coax him to eat." In this way he picked up his health and was almost cured of his illness.'). By adopting such methods, she used to feed the Master well, and under her loving care, his health invariably improved. When such improvement became marked, he used to tell her, 'Just see how I am growing fatter by taking the food cooked by you.'
Labels: life of sri sarada devi