Sketches from my Childhood - by Ashok Babaji





The image on top of this page is one of Nainital town in the Himalayas. My childhood home in Nainital was just around the center of this image, a little to the right, now behind the clouds on the hill.  This was an area where most army families like ours stayed because it was close to the Military Cantonment. As a child of four or five, I loved to climb up to window height and look at colorful sail boats in the lake at the bottom of the hill.. On rainy days there were no boats but it was nice to look at  patterns rain water made on window panes. The same hill is shown in clouds in a Picture snapped a few years ago from the opposite hillside.

I spent a lot of time in the spacious kitchen of our home, especially at times when mother was away to meet her friend by the name of Tunnu next door. My elder brother Deepak and sister Kiran were often off to play or school which they went to daily on horseback, fighting daily as to who shall sit in front on the saddle. In the kitchen our wonderful cook and family guide all rolled into one - Hira Lal - who belonged to a nearby town of Almora was often busy turning out his delicacies. He had learned his skills and English from a British Brigadier who had left for England after India became independent. He then joined our household. He would turn out delicious curries, mutton chops or minced meat cutlets wrapped in mashed potatoes that tasted a lot like shepherd’s pie but had a spicier filling. It was a time when the family ate much more meat than now. Nowadays I am a lovegan food eater (a diet that includes milk and eggs but not meat) for the most part although on some rare occasions, a few times a year, I get chicken to share with some cats who love it. The kitchen was in a separate section connected to the main house with an open passage. It contained a huge old fashioned wrought iron oven and stove from the previous century. During my childhood we had meat regularly but chicken was rare because it was far more expensive as compared to meat then and was reserved for special treats. Nowadays, it is the reverse and chicken is much cheaper but I have now discovered that Mother Earth has provided us with a variety of foods that do not require perpetuation of violence on life and they are much nicer. 

I still recall how Hira Lal would beat in bits of ginger, diced onions, garlic and herbs into the mutton chops with a little kitchen hammer to flatten them out, then dip in a batter of eggs and roll in bread crumbs before frying them golden brown in a pan. I tried the recipe in later life but they never turned out the same as with Hira Lal who stayed with the family for a near decade before retiring to his village in Almora. The cook- Hira Lal - in a novel I wrote once - Nude besides the Lake - is modeled on the real life Hira Lal and was given the same name.

My mother said Hira Lal had left the family because he never got along well with my dad, but then most of us did not with the exception of my younger brother Anoop born in Nainital who went on the become a Lt. General in the Army. Our family had arrived to India as refugees leaving home and all behind from the western most districts of undivided India. My father having lost his father earlier, much of his attention before my younger brother was born was taken up in trying to settle his younger brothers and sister as well as his mother. The task was a tense one and he was severely stressed because of it at that time. However, our mother made up for it all. She was one of the best in the world, not just for us but also for my father's family too. At one time when my father's sister needed an urgent expensive surgery, she rushed to market to sell off her gold jewellery to pay for it. He name was Nando (Nand Rani) and she left this world  in April 1999.

In summer relatives from the plains visited and an uncle( he was named apple, because his face looked like one in childhood, even in later life as as a brigadier in the army) has often told a story of early fifties that I myself have no memory of. He said he was in the flats and saw that a baby show was being organized to select the cutest baby of Nainital. He thought I was very cute and ran all the way home to other side of town and grabbed me for the show. There was no time to change dress, and rushing back in time for the competition to begin, he entered me in dirty clothes but he said I won the competition and became Baby Nainital that year. LOL, I am hardly that cute if you see me now.

By the edge of the lake at the bottom of the hill in an area called the flats was the only cinema hall in town. It is beside the lake in a flat portion of town. My Mother said that she took me for a show of the famous movie ‘King Kong’ there once and I recited incidents from the movie for a long time after. The hill on the opposite side had schools and a picnic spot called Tiffin Top. Our family and friends would walk up to it on holidays. Even at the age of four, I would walk up to it all the way briskly without feeling tired as I have been told many times by my mother. As a child, on long hill walks, I would fall into mindful breathing from practice of past lives and bending forward a bit as one must up a hill. I would also grab a stick from the forest on the sides to hold and lean on from time to time. A stick is an excellent asset on hill walks.  My adult experience too is that mindful breathing when done effectively makes the body light and swift as a cloud. Nainital was a lovely town in those days and still is but not as lovely as then because of over development in parts, especially where our home was.

A few years later, at the age of seven, most unlike other children,  I used to ask apple uncle  to bring me holy images and would sit in front of them to pray. This was something I delighted in due to habits of a past life I think. As a result the same uncle gave me a name Pandit ji (holy man) to tease and that name lasted with me through some of my childhood.

In this green lake town full of majestic oak and pine trees, wild flowers and mountain springs lay the seeds of my love for nature and thoughts on life and spirituality that stayed with me even as I moved to study, live and work in different parts of the globe. These thoughts are expressed in  my blogs and books. A blog covering many issues from life and spirituality, in an informal light style was launched in 2007, soon after receiving inspiration to do so from a guide and spiritual mentor Haidakhan (or Hairakhan) Babaji who taught at Haidakhan in the district of Nainital between 1970 and 1984. Essentially his teaching consisted of just around two sentences - love God, recite his name as a meditation (Jap);  promote love, truth and simplicity in your life while reserving some time to serve others - humans in need, animals and nature. 

Taken as a whole, the thoughts expressed in my various books and blogs present a system of thought for life and living, a system that is not rigid like religious systems tend to be because it is assumed they are God's words although they are spoken, written, described and interpreted by man, but instead they are open to revision and continuous improvements just as scientific thoughts are as are all thoughts born of an imperfect human mind. All have a bit of the infinite God in them and all contribute some  good to the world just as all have a bit of the devil in them too and contribute pee, defecation and stench, both metaphorically and literally. Life is an endless quest to evolve and increase the worthy, joyous and the beautiful in life while reducing the worthless, painful and ugly.

Although one may benefit from education in numerous aspects of life, spirituality and spiritual relationships are based in the highest and purest form of love and therefore do not require the intervention of guru or counselor unless such relationships are much damaged or one is undergoing an episode of difficulties in life, with a fair chance that an incompetent or fraudulent guru would damage it further. Many jump into the fray for profit as do many in others areas of life where human needs are urgent such as medicine, legal and financial professions. However, if one can find a worthy teacher, one may refer to a teacher for limited periods for learning or for help in resolving ethical and moral dilemmas, discuss the mysteries of the spiritual side etc. 

Genuine spiritual teachers do not latch on to you and often ask you to leave after some training unlike fraudulent ones who latch on like a leech and make a big fuss if you leave their fold even as many religions do. Those are the ones to run away from as fast as possible because the Lord gave freedom of belief and pursuit to all and those who deny that could be agents of the devil but not of God.. 

Aside from that, just as the love of a loving human parent or child is enough to re-establish a spoiled relationship between parents and children; just the love of God, the divine parent is sufficient to re-establish any spoiled relationship with Him, for His love exists eternally without change and his books illustrated with colorful wild flowers are all over the trees, forests, lakes and mountain streams, especially in lovely places like Nainital in the Himalayas. 

The first sixteen numbered post of the present blog summarizes the spiritual way for interested readers from any part of the world, with any religious background. Each post is complete and can be read independent of others, in any order, but for the most serious student, it would be best to read them in consecutive order beginning from 1 and then proceeding on to 16. If any questions emerge in your mind as you read them, enter them in comments. I shall respond soon as opportunity permits but more than anything else, my best wishes to you for delight in His eternal Love. It flows freely without charge, cost or labor merely because one is His loving child.


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