Shri Nathji lived in the portion of Shadi Bhavan known as Flat No. 3. The house was situated on a small hillock on Camel’s Back Road. The place was isolated from the rest of Mussoorie. Close by, was the Christian cemetery. It was rumoured that during the solitary winter nights, wild animals, leopards and bears from the jungles, passed by the house. In the cold winter evenings there was the sound of jackals howling in the hills and valleys.
Camel’s Back Road formed the backbone of Mussoorie. It was a gravel road about ten feet wide, which had been carved along one side of the mountain that encircled the main town of Mussoorie. A rock formation at the top of the mountain, which resembled a camel, was said to be the reason why the road had been given that singular name.
There were few lights along the road at the time, and, late in the evening, people who walked on the road did so with some risk of falling into the ravine below the road, in places where there was no railing. Mussoorie was, however a place where robberies and dacoities were unheard of, it was a place where crime was practically non-existent.
However it was also a place where medical aid was very poor. Since there were no telephones in private homes at the time, there was little that one could do in case of a medical emergency. The few doctors who lived in Mussoorie lived at great distances from Camel’s Back Road, and in the rainy season they would be totally inaccessible and could seldom go to a man’s house for a visit.
People rarely stayed for long months at Camel’s Back Road. Those who lived there did so over the months of summer from May to July. For the rest of the year the area was barren and lonely. There was the sound of the whistling of the cold winds from the Himalayan mountains visible far away to the North.
As the months of winter approached, the faraway mountains would turn into snow-clad peaks. Most people thought Mount Everest was amongst the peaks. The pilgrimage center of Uttar Kashi was also said to be in that direction. Even though the scene of the Himalayas was breathtaking from Camel’s Back Road and produced a feeling of immense peace, it also brought with it a feeling of immense loneliness.
It was only on the Mall Road of Mussoorie that there were signs of human activity throughout the year. But, during the winters, even the Mall Road was seen vacant, without a soul, for many hours of the day and night. There was the inevitable sound of jackals howling in the valley below the Mall Road during the cold winter nights. On the whole, Mussoorie presented an atmosphere that was soothing and serene, but also lonely and frightening at the same time.
Mateshwari never grew to like Mussoorie. She had been brought up in a large family in the crowded city of Lahore, and to her this absolute loneliness would have been unbearable had it not been for the constant nearness of Shri Nathji and the children.
Mateshwari would often quote the Punjabi saying:
Bhaaven hove kair
Live in the crowds of a city,
Even though it be an ordeal!
She would often think that the relative isolation of the hills cut off Shri Nathji from the crowds, who were thirsty for his darshan and blessings at Lahore, Lucknow and Delhi and other places. Being practical, she also knew that Shri Nathji was too important a personality to be kept all alone at Mussoorie.
However, she had seen how Mussoorie had restored Shri Nathji’s health and that was a source of tremendous comfort to her. Here was a city that had given Shri Nathji new life at a time when the doctors had thought there was little hope of his survival.
Surely no matter what the inconveniences of staying at Mussoorie were, the city was all- important for Shri Nathji’s health, and therefore Mateshwari cheerfully accepted living in isolation there. She also knew how the crowds in the plains taxed Shri Nathji’s health to the point of breaking it altogether.
Here, in the hills, Shri Nathji could concentrate upon his favourite pastime – that of writing- and also give the children a good education. He would also meet visitors whenever they came to him, especially in the summer months when the tourist season at Mussoorie was at its peak.
Shadi Bhavan was spacious but generally cold and inhospitable. It had a small glazed verandah with grey windows. Indeed the entire complexion of the house was grey in colour as that was the paint used by the owner for the woodwork, lending a somewhat bleak look to the house.
The bedroom had a large skylight, called a roshandaan, which became troublesome during the monsoon season as water trickled down into the bedroom from it. Also, frequently scorpions were found to fall from the skylight into the room. There were occasions when Mateshwari found scorpions nestled up beneath the pillows and bedding in the house. She had ever to be careful that these harbingers of evil did not sting Shri Nathji or the children. Poised as the house was on a small hillock bordering the road, it had plenty of sunshine, rain, hail and sleet and even snow in the winter.
There was a small, open lawn in front of the house overlooking the ledge on which the house was poised. Shri Nathji and Mateshwari and the children frequently used this open space to escape the cold inhospitable nature of the house, especially during the days when the sun was shining brightly.
Shri Nathji would be seen reclining on his favourite armchair, and Mateshwari would be seen walking about the garden in a warm Kashmiri dress, while the children would play around in the lawn.
Pran Nath and Priya Nath would be seen pedaling their tricycle in the lawn in the sunshine. Shri Nathji had especially purchased this tricycle for Pran and Priya and he enjoyed seeing Pran Nath drive the tricycle around while Priya Nath sat behind him in a especially constructed seat, chewing a rubber nipple to which he had become attached since childhood.
Shri Nathji would ever afterwards recollect with humour, how, on one occasion the rubber nipple, which was called a “pappaa” was lost, and Priya Nath would not be pacified even when a brand new one was brought for him. Peace was restored to the house only after the original worn out “pappaa” had been found in the lawn!
A photograph of Pran Nath and Priya Nath on the tricycle in the lawn of Shadi Bhavan taken on May 15, 1946, [photo shown on the right] existed in the drawing rooms of Shri Nathji and Mateshwari for many years afterwards. The photograph was taken by Mateshwari with her Agfa Camera, which only she knew how to operate.
The kitchen of the house was at some distance from the house, towards one side of it, and it was there that the loyal Sardar Basant Singh made the food for Shri Nathji and his family. Mateshwari would also go there and cook on many occasions.
Shri Nathji used to recollect how he and Basant Singh enjoyed many moments of humour together at Shadi Bhavan. The weather of Mussoorie was too cold for frequent baths, and there were times when Basant Singh skipped bathing for days and weeks on end. This was also because no bathrooms were available in the house for attendants.
There was the day when Shri Nathji urged Basant Singh to take a bath but Basant Singh disobeyed his Master’s injunction. That very night he fell into a septic tank close to the house and began to smell so profusely that he was forced to take several baths in succession! Shri Nathji enjoyed these, and many other sundry occurrences of daily life, when he was living at Shadi Bhavan along with his family, to outer appearances cut off from the rest of the world.
Shri Nathji’s footsteps would ever be heard falling gently on the gravel of the Camel’s Back Road as he walked in his well-polished black leather boots.
Indeed numerous were the times when he walked to and fro from Shadi Bhavan, walking up the Lavender Lane to the Mall Road at Kulri Bazaar, and going all the way round along the winding Mall Road to Library. Many a time Mateshwari would walk by his side.
The children would frequently be taken in their perambulator driven by Basant Singh. In later years, the people of Mussoorie were ever to remember that elegantly dressed Majestic Being who walked in their midst, along with his wife and children. Indeed such was not the manner of living or accoutrements of an ascetic, sadhu or mahatma. No one could understand in entirety who or what Shri Nathji really was.
Shri Nathji would frequently go for a walk in a reverse direction, that took him along the entire length of Camel’s Back Road, joining the Mall Road at Library, and walking all along its length till he came to Kulri Bazaar, from where he returned to Shadi Bhavan again, coming down Lavender Lane and joining the Camel’s Back Road.
In Lavendar Lane, there were butcher’s shops as well as the shops of cobblers, many of whom grew to know the familiar figure of Shri Nathji and were eager to salute him as he passed that way.
Many a time Shri Nathji would avoid the route that led up Lavender’s Lane and would instead go further East along the Camel’s Back Road and pass beneath the Skating Rink situated there, and then pass alongside the Roxy Building and enter the steep slope of Kulri Bazar, from where he would go to the Mall Road and then return home along the West side of Camel’s Back Road. It was thus that Shri Nathji hallowed a large part of Mussoorie with his footsteps.
Shri Nathji had become very fond of walking over the years and walked with a swiftness that left everyone in a state of amazement. The devotees who walked with him had a very hard time keeping up with him and would be seen frequently running to keep up with his swift pace. Shri Nathji walked punctiliously as this was also good for his digestion. The hard water of Mussoorie caused great gas problems, to overcome which walking had become a necessity.
Though Shri Nathji had put some weight on after marriage, he looked as perfect in that added weight as he had done when he was absolutely slim.
Shri Nathji looked perfect no matter whether it was his young age or his middle age. His looks had become more and more majestic with the coming of middle age, and he looked like an emperor, matured in the fulness of his glory.
Mateshwari too had put on weight after the birth of her second son, Priya Nath. She could not keep pace with Shri Nathji’s fast manner of walking on the road and allowed him to walk several yards ahead of her on almost all occasions, except when they were going for a leisurely walk together along the Mall, taking the children with them.
Shri Nathji’s face was always a wonder to behold. It was not the face of any ordinary mortal. The absolute symmetry and beauty of his features, the perfection of his nose, the glory of his eyes, the shape of his lips, his compassionate and kindly smile, his loving glance, all at once took the beholder to another world.
Shri Nathji had a complexion that was pink and rose-coloured and white in turns. Whenever he chose to turn his divine light on, a powerful spiritual glow came over his features, and all were compelled to bow before him. No one could stand before the glorious radiance of Shri Nathji’s face. Shri Nathji had often said:
When the light is off, I am man, but when the light is on, I am God!
The cool and elevating mountain air of Mussoorie brought a red glow to Shri Nathji’s face, which was a sign of good health superimposed upon his divine glory. Indeed, it was not for nothing that Shri Nathji had selected Mussoorie from amongst all the hill stations that he had visited in India.
Shri Nathji always said that no hill station had the wonderful, elevating climate of Mussoorie, and that, as a city, it was amongst the cleanest in the country.
Shri Nathji often said: No matter how ill I may be at any time, the moment I come to Mussoorie a miraculous improvement comes about in my health!
In later days, Shri Nathji would often say:
Mussoorie has this magnetic quality of calling me back to itself no matter where I may go!
Indeed the fresh air of the Himalayas at Camel’s Back Road was a boon for Shri Nathji’s health, and his stay at Shadi Bhavan proved fruitful in more ways than one. The wound in Shri Nathji’s right arm began to heal itself.
During those days, Sardar Basant Singh was the only constant attendant that Shri Nathji had. Frequently, Shyam Lal Kasera or his younger brother, Gopal Kasera, would come to live with Shri Nathji and spend various periods of time with him at Shadi Bhavan. But each time they were compelled to leave for their work in the plains. There was even a time when Gopal Kasera simply vanished from Shadi Bhavan, leaving behind a note of regret at his truancy.