Shashi Bhushan

shashiI do not remember much of my life as a child, but I have managed to piece it together from what my family and village members tell me. It is scary to think of where I came from and what I have been through.

I was born in Mathura, a city outside Delhi. My father moved there to work many years before his children were born. He established himself comfortably and had purchased a nice home. My family then consisted of five children, two boys (I being the youngest) and three girls. Our close-knit group broke up with the death of my eldest sister, Urmila. She was 15. Shortly after, my father died, which left us with no source of income. As a result, my mother and the remaining children were forced to leave our home and move to our father's village, Kafna. There we had a house and land with which we could try to support ourselves.

Due to our circumstances, neither I nor my brother and sisters were able to attend school. Those of us who could helped our mother in the fields and with her domestic work. Shortly after, our mother became ill and we were again forced to move, this time to her village, Musan gaon. There her brother, my Mama (uncle), took care of us. We finally got the chance to begin school and I was able to complete the primary levels. I remember having to walk about three kilometers through the jungle to get to school. Soon, though, my eldest brother and my mother became ill. Both died shortly after.

At this point, we were living with my grandmother in Kafna. She could not afford school for us, so we helped to graze the cows and collect wood or cow dung for fuel. She took care of us the best she could, but she understood we needed schooling, clothes, and other things she could not provide. Her concern for us grew as she noticed the difficult time the villagers were giving us. Some villagers claimed we were bad omens or evil spirits. Once, when I was out grazing the cows and one wandered into another man's field, he came at me yelling and screaming that this was my fault and no wonder my family died. I was a wretched child, he said. There were many such occurrences.

My grandmother had heard of Swami ji's Ashram from my Tau (father's eldest brother) who was great friends with the Swami. He had explained to her that this ashram could possibly provide us with food, shelter, and education. She decided we should go to Swami ji's Ashram. Tau made the arrangements and brought us there. I was about five, my middle sister six, and eldest sister nine. At the beginning, we were happy and excited to be there, but the thrill slowly wore away. It was difficult for us to adjust to a new place, people, and language. At that time the Ashram was very primitive and was still developing. It consisted of the top rooms, had a few cows, some crops and the beginnings of an orchard. As a result, life was difficult for everyone there. Each person had physically demanding jobs and money was still an issue. In spite of this, we tried to make the best of the situation. While grazing the cows, we would sing in the forests, swim in the water tank, and enjoy life as much as possible. We went to the local primary government schools but, due to the amount of work at the Ashram, we usually attended only three or four days of the week. Since there was not much money we would have one set of textbooks for four or five of us.

I remember a time when we had to work very hard. We had planted new apple, pear and other kinds of fruit trees in the orchard, but the water systems were not working and these trees desperately needed to be watered. Each child was handed two buckets and had to travel to a nearby stream to collect water and then spread it across the orchard. This took all day, but it needed to be done. Swami ji was a very hard working man who did what needed to be done. It could be twelve o'clock at night but if the roof needed fixing, then the roof would get fixed.

At school, my passion for reading grew. Many times I would escape from the troubles of the world into my stories. I read everything I could get my hands on. Swami ji knew I loved reading and always encouraged me. When I hid in the corners of the Ashram's library, he made sure I was left undisturbed. Thanks to this, reading is now one of the great joys of my life.
I realize now that what he wanted for us was to learn to be strong, independent individuals. He felt that through hard work and through coping with challenging situations we would accomplish this.

I recall learning about hygiene from him. My sisters and I had not learned the habit of brushing our teeth, combing our hair, or frequent bathing. Many of us never had a parent to teach us these habits, and often the women of the ashram were too busy to keep up with all of us. Swami ji was very particular about this and he would notice when we were not clean. We would tell him we bathed or brushed our teeth but he knew better. Often he himself would scrub us down, wash our clothes, and ensure we all brushed our teeth.
Cyril ji taught me about finances and accounting as I regularly brought my tokary (large bamboo head basket) full of fruits and vegetables to the market. He made us keep count of how many bundles or kilo's we would take and how many we sold. Each day we would give him the money we made. All money spent on chai and candies was accounted for. I remember feeling very responsible and realized being a good business man was very important. I once cried out of fear of disappointment when the contents of a basket was eaten by my friends at the market. I did not know how I could explain my loss in sales.

The Ashram had become a home with a large family. I had gained two fathers and many mothers. I never had to think of the future or plan a career but I was happy. Unfortunately, there was an ex military man in the late eighties who came and disturbed the whole town. He had a special hatred for Swami ji and the Ashram. He was a man trained to use psychological mind games in order to instill fear, and he used to beat people at the Ashram. He even raped a woman. I recall my Ashram brother Gyanu and I being beaten by him as well. Then his madness got the better of him and he killed Swami ji.

I was in shock. Having Swami die was like losing my father. I was angry and scared. I wondered what would happen to me. It was a very dark moment in my life, but, with Cyril's help, I slowly moved out of this phase. He assured me that the Ashram would continue and so would my life. He gave me the courage to fight this difficult moment and I remembered the lessons Swami had taught me about survival. And so I did.

I went through life not really knowing where I was headed nor even aspiring to a career. The one thing I did dream of was having a family of my own. I fulfilled my wish when I found a wonderful wife, and together we have brought two amazing children into the world. I have begun to experience the joys of parenthood and have realized that I can now live the childhood I never had with and through my sons. It is a very exciting and wonderful feeling.

Written By Cindy Escobar

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