It was in the month of November 1947 that Shri Nathji left Kahkashan and went to reside at his own house, St. Andrews, on the Mall. It appeared as if the house had been waiting for Shri Nathji ever since it had been built in 1869.
Seen from the Mall Road, the house conveyed the impression of a picturesque British Country House. It was constructed symmetrically.
It had a 60 feet long covered verandah on the ground floor, which ran along the entire length of the house. There was a row of windows along the length of the verandah that made the place idyllic, and gave a beautiful view of the Doon Valley and the Mall Road below.
In the middle of the sloping roof over the verandah there was a typical British gable. The roofs were made of tin, which had been painted a dark post office red. The windows of the verandah were coloured dark green. The walls were whitewashed in yellow.
The house was frequently referred to by people there as the “Peeli Kothi” i.e. the Yellow House. Some called it the “Hari Kothi” i.e. the Green House, because of the green colour on all its windows. In the years to come, it would come to be known as “Swamiji ki Kothi”, by people who could not better define Shri Nathji.
As Shri Nathji and Mateshwari entered the long and spacious verandah of St. Andrews as its owners for the first time, in November 1947, the house appeared to open its heart to them. Shri Nathji stood by the windows in the verandah and looked down at the Mall Road below, and the Doon Valley far away, and indeed the rest of the world beneath his feet.
Shri Nathji and Mateshwari entered the drawing room of the house on the ground floor. It was beautifully made. The ceiling was made of plaster of Paris. There were beautiful carvings on it. There was the face of a queen with a crown, which adorned the ceiling on its four sides. Perhaps it was the Queen of England or some medieval figure in British History.
There were three marble tables in the house. The legs were made of wood but the table-tops were made of marble. One even contained little etchings of Shakespearean characters from MacBeth. The room adjoining the drawing room looked like a small British Chapel. The doors and windows had curved arches like in the houses of old in England.
Albeit, it was a large house. There were two large rooms on the ground floor–the drawing room and the dining room. Each of these rooms had two smaller rooms attached to them. That made the total number of rooms come to six on the ground floor.
The drawing room was separated from the dining room by a small corridor. The dining room was as large as the drawing room and also had a ceiling made of plaster of Paris with a unique design of its own. There was a large dining table in the room with eight chairs where the previous owners used to have their meals.
The house appeared to be a small palace in itself. Everything there was reminiscent of the royalty in England. There were the large wooden rods fixed on beautiful carved wooden supports that held flowing, hanging curtains that swayed into the room.
There was the beautiful wooden mantelpiece and fireplace in the drawing room and a similar one in the dining room. The carving on the wood was exquisite. The wood itself appeared to be mahogany. There were large decorated dressing tables with mirrors that were in practically every room of the house. Shri Nathji instantly liked the mantelpieces, fireplaces and the dressing tables. He had a very artistic mind himself, and anything dealing with art appealed to him at once.
There were mirrors in almost all the rooms, on dressing tables, on the mantelpiece, in the verandah. A mirror greeted the visitors at the entrance of the verandah so that they could attend to their hair before meeting the host of the house, or else arrange the hair before they left the house. There was even a typical British hat stand at the entrance of the verandah adjacent to the mirror – which was meant for visitors wearing hats.
The only one in Shri Nathji’s household who wore a hat was the little Priya Nath, who had acquired the habit from Sahadeva, who frequently wore a Solar Hat, a symbol of British Imperialism.
There was a wooden staircase that extended from the corridor separating the rooms downstairs and went to the first floor of the house where the bedrooms of the house were situated. Each of the bedrooms had two additional rooms of moderate size attached to it, along with two bathrooms. The two bedroom wings were separated by a small corridor, which was an extension of the corridor downstairs.
The number of windows on the first floor of the house, as seen from the front of the house, was five, one in each of the rooms and one in the corridor, opening outwards towards the hills and valleys of Dehra Dun and generally the whole world.
As Mateshwari had entered the house she had felt the strong presence of a spirit in a small store-room next to the pantry attached to the dining room. She thought she saw a man in shackles, a prisoner. However, Shri Nathji’s entry into the house gave the spirit a release and it went away to higher regions. It was never seen in the house again.
Shri Nathji and Mateshwari were to spend many years of their lives living in the West Side Bedroom upstairs, while the bedroom on the East Side was given to the children.
The house thus had twelve rooms in all. It was large and well furnished, but very lonely. It was the sound of Shri Nathji’s voice and the vibrant laughter of Mateshwari and the children that gradually transformed the atmosphere of the house.
Shri Nathji used to say: “A house is like a body, and the owner is like the soul that resides in that body. The body and soul must go together in unison. It is thus that a house comes to have the character of its owner.”
And it was thus that St. Andrews became a Temple of God. It was a Temple that was to have a living, walking and talking God.
As Shri Nathji was to say:
Mubaarik ho makeene laamakaan aaye hain duniyaa men
Zameen kaa charkh se paayaa dobaala hone vaalaa hai
Good tidings be to all! The One without a dwelling has come into the world,
The status of the earth has become greater than the skies now!
By the time Shri Nathji had begun living in his new home, St. Andrews at Mussoorie, the winter had already set in. The little rod heater, and an oval light brown coil heater that Shri Nathji used, were not sufficient to keep them warm. Shri Nathji’s feet always remained cold and he had to warm them frequently by placing them close to the heater.
The water was already becoming ice cold in the taps. The sunlight was sparse in the bedroom of Shri Nathji and Mateshwari. They had given the best bedroom to the children, which had plenty of sunshine.
There was a fireplace in the children’s bedroom which required logs of wood. Shri Nathji and Mateshwari enjoyed the fireplace for a few days and sat around it, warming their hands over the fire, while the children placed chestnuts into it.
Albeit there was the freedom of living in a house where there was no rapacious landlord to oust them or to demand rent every month. It was for this reason that they decided to stay on longer in Mussoorie that winter.
The glazed verandah downstairs was a boon whenever the sun shone brightly. Shri Nathji and Mateshwari would sit in reclining sofa chairs placed in it, soaking in the sunshine that came through the glass windows, while the children would run around and play in the verandah. They would drive their tricycle back and forth in the verandah as if that was the purpose for which the verandah had been constructed.
Priya Nath would run around the verandah in a coat and loose trousers with the left shoe worn on the right foot and vice versa, making Shri Nathji and Mateshwari laugh. Mateshwari would say in Punjabi: “Bilkul Charlie Chaplin lagdaa hai! He looks just like Charlie Chaplin!”
Shri Nathji would say to Sahadeva about the children running around the house:
“Inn men Divine Energy kaam kar rahee hai! The Divine Energy is working in them!”
Mateshwari busied herself making curtains for the numerous windows in the house and the sixty-foot long verandah. Many a person had called it a “Sheeshe Vaali Kothi” the house with window panes.
Shri Nathji would point to the thick, vertical iron rails that were placed after every fourth window in the verandah, to give support to the windows as well as the roof of the verandah, and would say: “This is the only house in Mussoorie where such iron rails are used to make the house firm.”
Shri Nathji also spoke of iron beams and angles that were affixed between the ceiling of the first floor rooms and the tin roof of the house. Shri Nathji would say: “In all other houses these beams are made of wood, and the tin roofs often blow away when the winds are fierce, but such a thing can never happen to this house where the beams are made of iron.”
Shri Nathji’s keen eye noticed every detail of the house with the skill of an engineer or architect.
Shri Nathji and Mateshwari would also enjoy sitting in the drawing room downstairs. Shri Nathji admired the woodwork of the mantelpiece as well as the Belgium-made mirrors in the house. There was a table with two mirrors placed at right angles to each other; these were mirrors in which no one could not see his own face until the face was kept at a specific angle. The children giggled with delight every time they came before it.
There was a writing desk with a strange kind of drawer that would open only if it were rotated. The desk had a beautiful wooden carving on it. Shri Nathji used it as a writing table. The furniture was said to have been brought directly from England. It had come by ship to Bombay and had been brought by rail up to Dehra Dun. From Dehra Dun it had been carted to Mussoorie on horses and mules. It was an unimaginable feat, which only the Britishers of the time were capable of. Shri Nathji would never tire of praising the man who had built the house.
Shri Nathji always said that whoever had made the house and furnished it had done so with a distinctive taste and with great interest: “Barre shauk se ghar banaayaa hai!” The property agent had been right when he said he was selling the best house in Mussoorie to Shri Nathji.
The dining room adjacent to the drawing room had a huge wooden table with eight chairs around it. Shri Nathji always used to say that they should eat on it, but they had grown so accustomed to eating in their bedrooms that the dining room remained vacant most of the time. It was used by Shri Nathji and Mateshwari to entertain the children’s school friends or formal guests.
There was a kitchen outside the verandah of the house in which clay and stone choolhaas -hearths-existed for cooking the food. These were lit by wooden logs or coal. This was where the servants cooked the food, which was later brought into the house and taken upstairs into the bedrooms.
Mateshwari had at first attempted to cook on the choolhaas in the kitchen but after some time found it too difficult and time consuming. Most of all, it was at a distance from the house so that she had to remain away from Shri Nathji and the children for long hours every time she was there. Shri Nathji insisted that she allow the servants to do the cooking. Two servants were required most of the time – one to cook the food and prepare the chappaatis red hot, the other to carry them inside the house and upstairs into the bedrooms.
The one great disadvantage of the house was the climb on which it was situated. The house was on the side of a mountain abutting the Mall Road below. There was an approach road from the Mall leading up to the house. The approach road had a stiff slope that caused even the youngest of persons to halt and pause for their breath.
Indeed there were few who could climb up the entire slope of the approach road at one stretch. Shri Nathji and Mateshwari had been accustomed to a slope at Shadi Bhavan, but this slope was a bit too steep for them.
Mateshwari, in particular, found the climb very difficult and paused several times along the way before she reached the house. The length of the slope was about 400 feet.
Over the days that Mateshwari climbed the slope, she made the remark in Punjabi to Shri Nathji:
“Hune naeen pataa lagdaa par burraape vich mushkil ho jaayegaa aithe raihnaa!
“We may ignore the slope at present but it will become very difficult in old age.”
Although Shri Nathji was in excellent physical shape because he had been accustomed to walking rapidly in the town, Mateshwari had remained indoors most of the time, the more so after the birth of the children, and walking in the hills was an ordeal for her. However she bore it in happiness for she knew that the mountain air was life-giving for Shri Nathji and the quiet of the hills was a boon for the children’s education.
Once at St. Andrews, Shri Nathji made it a point to engage a rickshaw to take him and Mateshwari up and down the slope. The children would sit in their laps. The rickshaw was pulled by five coolies, who were handsomely paid by Shri Nathji. The baksheesh-tip Shri Nathji gave them over and above their wages was more than the British had ever given them. The rickshaw pullers who generally praised the British for their generosity in giving them baksheesh, often complained that the Indian seths were miserly. However, it was a different story with Shri Nathji. The rickshaw coolies would vie with each other in offering their rickshaws to Shri Nathji each time he was on the Mall Road. They would rush forward towards Shri Nathji saying:
“Sethji rickshaw! Rickshaw, Raja Saab! Swamiji Rickshaw! Kothi tak le chalte hain! We will take you up to the house!”
Shri Nathji had often been called “Raja Sahib” and “Sethji” by people who mistook his royal bearing and royal dress as being that of a millionaire or a Maharaja. However, since most persons knew that Shri Nathji was a spiritual person revered by people as God, they could think of no other name by which to call him except “Swamiji”, and the title had stuck.
In later days, Shri Nathji arranged for a rickshaw of his own and five coolies who often stayed at the house. Shri Nathji had liveried costumes made for each of them, which were replete with khaki trousers and coats, and green ankle and waist-bands, and turbans.
Whenever Shri Nathji would ride forth in his rickshaw drawn by his coolies, the people of Mussoorie would look with awe. They had been accustomed to the Rajas and Maharajas and the Britishers riding along the Mall in livered rickshaws, now they were witnessing an unsual sight – God in a rickshaw. Shri Nathji was so polite and so humble that no matter what the speed at which the rickshaw was being driven – sometimes the coolies would be running – Shri Nathji would ask the rickshaw to stop whenever anyone on the road saluted him. Shri Nathji would then call the person to him and even get out of the rickshaw to embrace him, and then speak for a long time to him. This would continue all along the route, the rickshaw stopping and moving in sporadic jerks.
The head coolie, amongst the five engaged by Shri Nathji, was a certain Bhaktawar Singh. He had developed great faith in Shri Nathji and would frequently be seen playing with the children. When Priya Nath would point toy pistols at him and seek to “arrest” him he would say to Shri Nathji:
“Ye barre hokar bahut roaab vaale banenge! When he grows up he will be very imperious in bearing!”
Shri Nathji would relate the remark of Bakhtawar Singh to Priya Nath in the years that followed, when recounting the past.
Shri Nathji and Mateshwari used to listen to an upright Pye Radio, which they had brought with them from Lahore, and which had dials that rotated in an unusual way. It was their one form of entertainment apart from the films which they went to see at the Rialto and Majestic Theatres.
It was just as natural for the ticket seller to see Shri Nathji giving a lecture at the theatre as it was for him to see Shri Nathji go to watch a film with his family. The manager of the theatre would usually be there to receive Shri Nathji and would offer the best seats in the hall – the sofas in the Majestic Theatre and the Box Seats at the Rialto, which had in the past been reserved for the highest gentry of the town.
Shri Nathji and Mateshwari had great love for the actors of those days, which included Saihgal and Suraiya, Ashok Kumar and Leela Chitnis, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, Raj Kapoor and Nargis, and would see their films with great affection for the artists. Shri Nathji felt a kinship with actors – for was he not the greatest actor of them all, enacting the part of man when he was God?
The halls of St. Andrews would often echo with the sound of Mateshwari’s voice, even as she sang on her Lahore harmonium. Amongst the songs that she sang were:
“Shankar Bhole Bhaale, bhakton ke rakhvaale, tumko laakhon parnaam”
O Shankar, Thou sweet and innocent Shankar, the Preserver of devotees,
Thousands of prostrations to Thee!
“Hamaari aankhon men bas rahe hain,
Idhar hain Raghuvar, udhar Kanhayiyaa
Utthaa ke prithvi kaa bhaar donon idhar hain Raghuvar udhar Kanhayiyaa
Thou art before my eyes, as Raghuvar on one side, and Kanhayiyaa on the other!
Carrying the burden of the earth, yes, Raghuvar on one side, and Kanhayiyaa on the other
Then there would be the melancholic ghazals of Ghalib, which a music teacher had taught her:
Dil hee to hai na sango khist dard se bhar na aaye kyon
Royenge ham hazaar baar koyi hamen sataaye kyon
It is but a heart and not a piece of stone that it be not filled with pain,
Weep I will a thousand times, let no one come to disturb me
The young Priya Nath, over the course of time, found the melancholic tunes too emotionally disturbing. In addition, there were moments when Mateshwari would have tears in her eyes as she sang the devotional songs. Priya Nath could not bear to see Mateshwari cry and would instantly rush to her and push the harmonium shut.
This would cause Mateshwari to say lovingly in Punjabi: “Priya ne meraa gaana band karaa dittaa hai! Priya has stopped my singing!”
Priya Nath was very attached to Mateshwari and would follow her around from room to room in the large house, St. Andrews, where one person was apt to lose sight of the other.
Priya Nath had some inborn feeling within him that one day he would lose his mother and this thought filled him with an undefinable sadness at a very young age. He could not bear to be separated from Mateshwari at Hampton Court School and would force her to sit in the classrooms with him. The teachers allowed this till the time Priya Nath had become accustomed to attending school alone.
The films that the children saw with their parents were either the mythological films, or more frequently rare Hindi films of the time, almost all of which were tragedies that created an atmosphere of gloom inside and outside the cinema hall.
Priya Nath, as a child could not forget the sorrowful ending of a film he had seen in Mussoorie, which lingered on in his mind all his life. The film was entitled “Maa” – Mother – in which there was the scene of a young girl looking sadly at the picture of her departed mother, and rocking an empty cradle, while singing mournfully: “Maa, pyaaari maa, bhoole na jhoole ke din” – “Mother, O Loving mother! How can I forget the days when thou rocked the cradle.” The tune of the song would play and re-play itself in the mind of Priya Nath during the days of his childhood and indeed during the rest of his life. He found it recurring with greater force in the large empty halls of St. Andrews.
When the full purport of the song had dawned upon Priya Nath he had found the thought of separation from one’s mother unbearable. It made him more attached to Mateshwari than ever. The feeling that existed in the mind of Priya Nath was a universal feeling that came out in the open whenever the mother of any man or woman departed from him. It was the first great unbearable shock in life. Indeed the passing away of one’s parents was the first great tragedy of human life – a tragedy that unfolded for a while the transient nature of life upon earth, something that Shri Nathji had been constantly warning mankind about.
Shri Nathji had often said: “Jo bhee iss duniyaa men aayaa jaane ke liye aayaa, raihne ke liye naheen. Iskaa saboot? History bataa rahee hai ke iss duniyaa men jitne bhee laakhon aaye, aakar chale Gaye!
“No matter who came into the world, he came only to go away. No one came here to stay. History tells us the stories of the millions who came into this world, only to go away.”
He would add:
“Jo ham se paihle chale jaate hain vo ham par barraa aihsaan karte hain – vo bataa dete hain ke hamne bhee ek din chale jaanaa hai!
“Those who leave the world before us do a great favour upon us, – they tell us that we, too, must leave the world one day!”