"THE SAFFRON ROBE"

A NOVEL

BY

A.K.VIJAY BHANU

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CHAPTER - 1

Swami Jitendra, the saffron-robed young monk, sat in his Ashram looking through an album of El Greco, the Spanish Mannerist Painter. The Sanyasin himself was a painter too. He stopped at the picture "The View of Toledo". He spent a long time over it, studying the spiritual atmosphere the Painter had so admirably infused into the work. This was one of El Greco's works that held for the Sanyasin potential enough for endless contemplation. Toledo was the birthplace of the painter. It was called a city, but it was nothing more than a large, somewhat urbanized village. Whatever it was, El Greco had brought into it a rustic charm of a super-terrestrial kind. The beauty abided and ensnared.

Jitendra, in his seventh year at school, drew on his Drawing Exercise Book a likeness of one of his teachers which was so perfect and lifelike that everyone was astonished including his teachers. They asked him to draw the figure of another teacher, He did that too, He had again done it so well that it brought him the biggest applause from every one around. The school peon, a noisily humorous character, squat and bulky, a fertile model for Jitendra's talent, wanted him to make a picture of him so that he could show it to his wife and children. It was such a wonderfully sharp reproduction that his family had sidesplitting laughter. Overnight Jitendra's skill became the talk of every one connected with the school. It was then suggested to his father, whom everyone knew and respected, that he be put under an experienced painter and taught the Art, Gopilal his father knew a painter by name Vidyapathi. He kept a painting shop two streets away and also gave lessons to aspiring youngsters. He had the reputation of being an unsparing taskmaster and a hard pains-taker. Even the thickest blockheads who took lessons with him had since set up as successful professionals. Jitendra was taught painting in the evenings and during all his spare hours. On holidays he plied his brush the whole day without respite. In less than six months he had copied many works of leading French and Italian Masters. He was not very willing to paint Nudes or copy Nudes. But he knew that it was an important branch of Painting Art in which too one should try his talent if he were to call himself a full- fledged painter. But at present it looked to him a loathsome exercise and kept putting it off. His teacher too understood the delicacy involved in it for a young boy in his middle teens and one hailing from a family of highly prudish culture. He was however told that it was a part of the syllabus and that he might have to do it someda y. There was no sex in it, and no dirt at all the people usually associated with it. Jitendra had copied quite a number of even Vidyapathi's works to the latter's admiration, but not one of his Nudes.

In about a year and a half Jitendra's works began to merit serious attention by the learned artists in the line. He painted landscapes, street scenes, the hovels and the cattle-sheds of the villages, portraits of the afflicted and the downtrodden, lives of manual workers, market scenes, blighted trees, rustics in loin-cloth, artisans' work-places and the like. He was clearly attracted to the pathetic side of life. His paintings breathed an understanding and compassion for the needy and the less fortunate. They had a depth and power that worked on the sensibilities of the well-to-do and the ill-to-do. There was a moving energy in them, an invigorated expression. For a boy of just sixteen, his achievements were truly prodigious. Vidyapathi put some of his pictures in an exhibition. There were three judges who were foremost in the Art- market of Benares.

They felt the boy had no eye for the market, and commercially his pictures might not hit. But still he had a talent of a high order. He would do well to study and research on the Paintings of such great masters as El Greco, Modigliani, Courbet and Titian and a few modern painters. He must concentrate on the classics. By the by, had he made any Nude? No. He should start on it and achieve perfection. In Europe and America the young boys in their early teens painted Nudes with live models. It was part of their curriculum. There were many paintings of the Nude that have become priceless treasures of the Art-world. There were instances where one single painting of a Nude had sold for millions of dollars. Jitendra, however, was not much interested. He thought of it no more. In the meantime Vidyapathi fell ill and the shop was closed. In a few months he was as good as faded out. Soon he was lost to view. He was out of sight even to his close friends.

Now Gopilal put his son under another master. Vashatkar was his name. He made paintings that catered to the upper-class tastes He painted every aspect of their lusty lives and whatever constituted their happiness. He painted Nudes too and sold them at high prices. He had already amassed a competence. There was always a young naked woman in the anteroom of his studio. He painted her in secret. He usually engaged models that charged a high fee. Sometimes he came upon very fine models from the poorer classes and people of low life who were willing to accept any fee he offered because their chronic problem was bread, and for months on a row they would never see a square meal. Jitendra could not but cherish a great respect for his master. For he was most genuinely interested in making of him a great painter and earn a place for him in the World of Art. But he did not like Vashatkar doing Nudes. It was a rank degradation of oneself.

The master too found his pupil exceptionally gifted. By the time Jitendra was nineteen his paintings began to sell fast. He held exhibitions in France, Italy, Holland, Germany, England and America. He went to France to do a course in the paintings of great masters suggested by the three judges. He was attached to a prestigious firm of painters and became an intimate friend of many Art-dealers and Art-collectors. He corresponded regularly with leading professionals in many foreign countries. He had made it known that he would be only a freelance painter and never become a professional.

By and by strong criticisms from certain connoisseurs too came up. He had already begun to argue that a painting should not stop merely with providing just esthetic satisfaction by which is meant a superior educated sort of pleasure, but it should hold out a spiritual truth and should speak a language which the soul of Man, not merely his senses, should be able to catch and grow on. Jitendra was already a post-graduate student in Hindu Mysticism and Patanjali Yoga. His attitude to Painting was getting altered radically. His critics argued that spiritualism could never have a place in Art. No one could produce a picture on the canvas on Jitendra's theory.

But Jitendra differed. He had his supporters too. But Jitendra himself had not so far been able to produce a work that could exemplify his theory. It was true his paintings had a moral power. It catered to the sense of Good in Man. But food for the soul he couldn't yet contrive to put in any of his pictures. But he would "DO", He was sure. He already had been energetically fantasizing, advance visions were already forming in his mind of his possible ventures on the lines of his theory. He had a clear-cut body of ideas with which he could even found a School. Some agreed and many derided. Jitendra never flinched from his stance. He comforted himself with the thought that since the beginning of time there had been ideas that were thought to be utopian and unrealizable, but which subsequently became hard realities. He felt restless and became impatient. He was obsessed with an urge to search for the Infinite and the Eternal through his Painting. Now and then oracles broke out in him that he was going to.

The Ashram owned about twenty five acres of comparatively flat land that lay about it. Of this only about ten acres had been put to effective use. Quite close to the Ashram, within about hundred yards there was the Krishna temple, Japa-Mandapa, Prayer-hall, and Yaga-Mandapa. A little away from it was the Bhojana Sala, the Eating Hall, where the Ashram inmates and the visitors ate their food. Go-Sala, that is, the cow-shed, stood a bit fairly removed. Swami Jitendra was planning a few more buildings for various purposes. The money for all this came out of the returns from the enormous wealth his parents had left him. He was the only son and the sole heir. This was Ashram-Complex.

There was also a Tharka Mandapa, a Seminar Hall, in which erudite scholars assembled and discussed Vedas, other Hindu Classics and commentaries on works like Bhagavad Gita, Pancha Dasi and Yogavasishta. They used to come off and on as and when Jitendra invited them. At a convenient distance from the Ashram but well within its sight, Swami Jitendra had put up an Artists' Colony which was financed by him and functioned under his control. He was as much a promoter of Art as he was of Religion. This colony was meant mainly for painters. There were about a dozen homesteads. Painters could live in them, with their families if they wanted, and could paint landscapes, portraits and the lives of hill- tribes who lived a little yonder in the depressions of a few inaccessible valleys. But enterprising painters could go there, but Jitendra had never ventured into any of them. He had always more important preoccupations on hand. The tribal men and women would be willing to pose if they were paid well.

The members of the Artists' Colony were chosen by the Swamiji himself. They must work in silence, follow the rules of the Ashram and respect its sanctity. They should not drink, smoke and they were strictly forbidden to bring into the colony female models. But outside the limits of the Ashram property, they were permitted some freedom. But usually Jitendra expected the painters in the colony to be men of strict morals and flawless conduct. The colony was started to encourage and bring up junior painters and even learners with promise and talent. He moved with them on very familiar and friendly terms. But none could stay in the colony for more than six months at the most. The rule was relaxed in exceptional cases. They were given board and lodge at minimal charges. He arranged to sell their pictures to the dealers he knew if they possessed merit. He often conducted with them enlightening debates on Art. He provided them with money if they had no money to sustain them through their work. The leading Art journals used to ask him often to write reviews on the recent works of Art. He would write reviews on the works of the painters in the Artists' colony in case there were works of exceptional merit.

The Sanyasin had already finished his morning meditation. Usually he prayed till he felt in him the power of God rise like a heap of fire. His daily communion with God lasted at times for hours. He never got up until he got an inner signal that he had prayed enough. He was now about twenty nine years of age. He took to Sanyasa about five years ago. But he had begun to realize his oneness with God. There were moments when he felt he had become somewhere in the depths of his being a god himself. Such was his absorption into the Divine, the Infinite.

His eye again fell on the picture of Toledo.

There was a girl standing out. She waited to talk to him. She had been peeping from out to catch his eye. She was a young girl of about eighteen. But she didn't seem to feel uneasy or shy in so unfamiliar a place. One or two Ashram workers who passed by stopped to stare at her or take a quick look at her hard but shapely, protrusive features. Plebeian all through, but provocative. A succulent fare for the libertines of the lower orders. Jitendra happened to cast an accidental glance at her. He could recall who she was, but what she was he never knew, nor where she belonged. He was in the midst of an urgent work. He did not want to be disturbed. She could wait.

He had now fallen to correcting an article that was to appear in the next issue of his journal, "Madhura Vauhini". It was a journal meant to promote religion and morals among people, particularly among the masses, though it contained enough fare for the intellectuals too. Religion for him meant much more than the narrow ritual structure and the body of ceremonial observances prescribed religion. It meant the universal essence of all the faiths, the real meat of them, the common staple, the foundational principles.

There was a book-stall too in the Ashram which sold religious books for the general populace as well as for the highbrows. There were many scholars engaged by the Ashram to write easily digestible material which was published either in the form of books or as articles in his magazine. All these scholars fully cooperated with Swami Jitendra in propagating his ideals. The magazine and the books were sold throughout the country and even abroad. They sold in many European countries and in U. S. A. too. In addition, the Swamiji gave public lectures and special discourses. He undertook extensive travels throughout the country for this purpose. He had founded a number of mutts in each of which worked a team of Sanyasins for promotion of this work and to do the bidding of Jitendra in carrying his message forward. He had also founded Veda Patasalas for the teaching of the Vedas and the methods of chanting them, and the pupils were also taught holy scriptures including the Gita and the Upanishads. He held monthly or bimonthly conferences with the heads of these mutts and Patasalas and also with the scholars who were actively engaged in the Ashram work.

Jitendra didn't know why the girl still waited for him. He had expected her to leave after sometime on her own knowing he was engaged. He knew her by sight, but he had never spoken to her. He had seen her in the woods during his morning strolls. He would stumble on her at the most unexpected places. She looked like some castaway seized with a wanderlust. Whenever she happened to see him she would salute him and make a broad smile as if she had known him for ages. He never knew that she longed to speak to him, but generally he avoided her, because with her daring features and voluptuous looks, her whole body encased in ragged clothes with layers of dust, she looked quite a fright and a low sort. But it had never occurred to him that he could be possibly be mistaken too. However she looked like a damnation as he walked through the woods. He had felt he had stepped right on a devil. That the loathsome wench had stolen into the Ashram too caused him a little unease. She might occasion trouble. A Sanyasin was not supposed to let his eyes rest on such abominations.

The Ashram was in Rishikesh, the point at which the sacred river Ganges broke from the mountains and launched into the plains. It was set on a plateau beside rocky forests and stood alone among the imposing foothills of the Himalayas. The Ashram was on the right bank of the river about four hundred feet from the waters, which rolled furiously from precipitous heights down mighty rocks and valleys within the hearing of the Ashram. The roar of the river, thunderously echoing, resembled the sound "OM", the mystic primal sound of the cosmos and the Beyond, the sound worshipped in Hindu Vedantic works as Nadha Brahmam, the sound form of God, the ultimate transcendental god-stuff, the unknowable, the imponderable, the formless. The cosmos, in its final dissolution, is said to resolve itself into this sacred sound, and stay as an ecstatic music till the next creation. It was this music which the great Ganges was chanting night and day. It was therefore no wonder that Jitendra found in the tumbling waters of the river God himself, the God he worshipped. Consequently the setting in which the Ashram stood was one of the most sanctified of places on earth. It savored far more of God than anything of Man.

There was no epic or Purana or any Hindu scripture in which the Ganges had not been deified and worshipped. There was no god or Sage in them that had not bathed in its waters to secure Moksha, Liberation from the cycle of births and deaths, and final beatitude. The river was said to take its rise from the matted crest of Lord Shiva whose abode was Kailasa, the Heaven of heavens.

Swami Jitendra heard the chimes of the great bell of the Krishna temple of the Ashram. The time was 7-30 A. M. It was the time for the morning Puja. All the disciples had already assembled at the temple. The girl, feeling already impatient, could not wait any longer. She broke out rather in a loud key:

"I want to speak to you, Swamiji", She said in something like a peremptory tone. The Sanyasin was surprised. He had heard no one speak to him in so demanding a tone. He smiled, however. He could no longer avoid her.

"Yes, speak"

"There is a child dying for want of milk, Swamiji. Its mother is very ill, lying on bed. She is not going for work. Her husband too is not in a position to go for work since he has to stay beside his wife. The whole family is starving. They have no money to buy milk. I want some milk to save the child".

Jitendra stopped and thought a moment. He felt a surge of pity. But he was already on his way to the temple. Besides he didn't want to talk to her more than the barest minimum. He called one of the Ashram servants, and instructed him to give the girl at once one big measure of purest cow's milk. The girl thanked him and wiped her eyes. Jitendra, deliberately keeping his eyes averted, could hardly see the tears flooding her eyes. But when he saw he was moved. She had been weeping all along, but had been controlling her tears. She thanked him through her sobs. Jitendra had already left for the temple. But the girl had not left his mind. She appeared to be a harmless, good-natured woman, but all the same he would do well not to have anything to do with her. He wanted to be as far away as possible from women unless they happened to be close relations or friends. Generally he avoided women.

Nobody, the inmates or the visitors, was permitted to speak aloud in the Ashram premises. One of the most conspicuous things about the Ashram was its silence. It was like the very abode of peace. Silence, Mona, was one of the great attributes of God. The place stood undefiled amid the verdant beauty of Nature. And silence was its adornment. The whole place had a mystic, occult quality. It looked like the retreat of divine shades and the haunt of invisible sages. In the nights the crystalline stars, burning with a luscious brilliance, seemed so close that they almost rested on the roofs of the Ashram. The tree-tops and the bottom of the hills seemed laden with stars.

One of the painters from the Artists' colony, who had been watching the slattern while Jitendra spoke to her, later suggested to him that this crude product possibly from the underworld had rich potential for a painter's Art. He asked the Swamiji if he had his permission to secure her as a model for a painting he proposed to make of her. Jitendra asked him what it was that he saw in her that a painter could exploit. The other replied that he could make of this woman's features a highly saleable product on the canvas. One could see through her ragged clothes an abundance of vulgar sensuality. The market ruled high for such appetizing commodities. Jitendra hated the talk. He said he would have no objection if he could bring out on the picture some quality that would earn for her the love and charity of good-minded people. If he was proud of his profession as an artist, he should make the people see in her a forlorn pitiful creature instead of using his art to make a prey of her to sex- fanciers. An artist should lift something great out of the seemingly low. There was no creation, animate or inanimate, in the world that did not possess a spark of God. An artist must seek it out and lay it bare. That way an artist could promote moral culture among mankind.

A ritual fire was burning in the large improvised square pit made up of loose bricks on the tiled floor of the Yaga Mandapa. The Yaga Mandapa was a terraced structure, roughly two feet above ground, with a roof of wooden planks overlaid with corrugated zinc sheets. The roof was supported by four pillars. The Mandapa was open on all four sides. It could easily hold about fifty persons. There was now none else around the sacred fire except the Swamiji and his eighteen disciples. They were performing a Homam. Swami Jitendra acted as the chief priest. He chanted the Vedic Mantras in a succession of sonorous rhythms as prescribed in the Shastras. The musical voice, as it rose and fell, was followed by his disciples in a melodiously rich chorus. Jitendra dripped ghee into the fire with a mango leaf which he dipped from time to time into a vessel containing ghee. They were performing Sudharsana Homa, a ritual offering of worship through fire to Lord Sudharsana, a form of his patron deity lord Krishna.

The fire, Agni, was the greatest purifier. The Homam was meant to purify the souls of himself and his disciples and to ward off all evil influences that might beset the Ashram, It was also meant to promote unity and happiness among people. Fire was the medium through which one had access to the particular deity invoked in the prayer. It would get His blessings for the devotee and bring him success in all his endeavors. Jitendra had named his Ashram "Agni Vihar", The Temple of Fire. He considered his saffron-robe itself as a garment of fire. It symbolized the fire-test he had to pass through every moment of his ascetic life. It stood for his personal chastity. It stood for the extreme purity of the vows and austerities a Sanyasin was supposed to practice.

As Jitendra stepped down from the Yaga Mandapa and made for his Ashram, he saw the girl right in front of him. She had been amusedly watching the fire-ceremony all the while. When she saw the Sanyasin she gave him one of her best smiles and expected a sympathetic response. For Jitendra it was a most auspicious moment, and he was full of God. Inside him he had been feeling an ecstatic upheaval of spirit. There was God in his elevated consciousness. He was in no mood to reciprocate the generosity of her smile and answer her back in kind. But still he did talk.

"You are again here, young woman, what's the matter?", He asked.

"I want some more milk, Swamiji", Her voice was reverential enough, but still demanding. Her smile was good to look at but a little intriguing too. Perhaps she thought that since both of them had been treading the woods and had been seeing each other everyday, there was no great difference between them. Jitendra too felt that in this sense they had something in common, and he couldn't by any means think her an alien. He now spoke to her with the modicum of a smile.

"How is the child?".

"The child is better today, Swamiji, than yesterday. But the woman's condition is worsening. The couple have nothing to eat. They both had to share the milk with the child".

"They are cooking no food?", Jitendra asked in a voice that looked a trifle disturbed.

"What is there for them to cook, Swamiji?", The girl said as she drew her breath hard. Her eyes moistened.

"By the by, what is your name?", Jitendra asked in a businesslike tone, his voice rising an octave.

"My name is Jillu, Swamiji", She said, her smile enlarging disproportionately on her face. She felt perhaps she had struck at last a relationship with the Swamiji. That would pave way for more liberty.

Jitendra summoned one of his servants and asked him to fetch the storekeeper. The store-keeper came. He instructed him to give the girl for another one week each day one measure of milk, enough rice, oil, condiments and other provisions for a four-member household.

"Have they anyone in the family to do the cooking? If there is none you can engage somebody. Ashram will pay the wages".

"Why, Swamiji, I know cooking. I need no wages. It is a neighborly service. As a friend I am bound to help them ".

"Donít you work for a living ? How do you eat then?".

She laughed. She looked out to the little open gate on the back fence and shouted a call. The Sanyasin silenced her with a warning finger on his lips. In the meantime, about twenty sheep and a large mongrel, who were all waiting out, rushed in with manifest gusto in a trice and collected about her. Jitendra laughed. It was a splendid sight. It reminded him of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. The quizzical eyes of the girl stood riveted on his face minutes after the laugh had vanished. It was as if she had come under a spell.

"I tend these sheep, Swamiji. I am shepherdess. This dog always keeps me company. It follows me when I take the sheep into the pastures. It protects me from rakes when they try to gad about me. I have no kith or kin. This dog is my full time sentinel. It takes care of my virtue. There is no animal to equal it in ferocity. It would just kill anyone if its temper is roused. The sheep and the dog are my darlings. "Isnít it so?". She hugged a few of the sheep and then the dog in a few interrogative caresses. The Sanyasin laughed again.

"You belong to which village, Jillu?".

That was enough. Her name was on the lips of Swamiji. The girl felt a hysterical joy break out inside her. "See there, Swamiji, it is that village. They call it Sheegampur.", She said pointing a finger in the direction of a shabby collection of worn-out hovels.

Jitendra could see the village. It was quite near. Perhaps he had seen it before, but he could not recall. It was just a little more than a handful of hutments. It seemed to have got in between rocks and trees. To get a full view one should go nearer.

Jitendra then remembered what the artist from the colony had said to him the other day. He studied the girl from the painter's point view. She looked rugged with hard flesh and dark features. Her eyes innocently but obtrusively stared, there seemed to lurk inside her a dumb determination, a sleepy sort of a savage spirit, a combative type but the fight in her, though it had been lulled to all seeming, was certainly not dead. If she married and begot males they were sure to turn into warriors. But all the same she looked like an imbecile. Her face beamed with an abundance of natural grace. She was no doubt pure as a crystal and fresh as a dewdrop. She didn't seem to be aware of her age, her sex, the elemental power of her body and the glut of vulgar appeal she possessed.

Jitendra then bade her go. "Come every morning and collect milk and other provisions", He said.

Jitendra, seated on a sofa in the drawing room of his Ashram, fell to musing as he studied the photograph. Recollections of a mixed sort crowded up. He thought of his affluent parents and the enormous wealth they had left him, his luxurious life in the most aristocratic circumstances, the doting affection his departed parents had lavished on him, and the high altitude of society in which his life was cast before he took to Sanyasa and how he came to hate it all after the unfortunate death of his parents. His mind ranged over many events of the past. It centered philosophically on a few of them and ruminated over the power of fate in life and the manifold ways, inscrutable all of them, in which the will of God worked. He summoned up a few more remembrances that would have shaken anyone and brought tears to one's eyes. But he had grown sage enough to laugh over each one of them. He didn't grow emotional, neither did he want to. A Sanyasin was supposed to keep his mind eternally on the equipoise. In fact, Jitendra was thoroughly free of any nostalgic sentiment. He was in the position of a dispassionate analyst of life. He contemplated the beauty and dignity of it and the misfortune and tragedy that were implicit in it. He thought of the spirit of Man, how it could rise after every fall, gird itself and march ahead with renewed hope or how it could meanly succumb to a blow and get lost.

A wind rose from somewhere, pitched itself high and blew hard. The weather was dim all around. Now the silence of the place was suddenly cracked with a bird-cry. The dark, little snow-stuck summits of the mountain, that lay close, were suddenly lit with the oncoming splashes of sun. Soon the silhouetted world came into relief and attained a clarity. The Sanyasin's mind drank in the peace and beauty of the scene. His reverie over the photograph now resumed.

There was a lovely young woman of slender build on the photograph, a dainty specimen delicately modeled, richly textured, wearing ornaments studded with diamonds and other costly gems. A cherubic smile sat on her dimpled oval face, a nervous withdrawn look that had on it a deep tinge of unstudied modesty coupled with a grace that one could never achieve unless one was born to it. Her long thick hair neatly bundled and held in a clasp rested on her right shoulder nestling against the red velvet of her cheek. She was clad in a thick shining silk Saree with a broad gold-laced border and a high-necked Choli sleeved up to the elbow. The photograph was a close-up that stopped with waist. She held tenderly in her arms a little boy of four, whom she looked like cuddling, pressed against her bosom. Her serene countenance brimmed with a maternal solicitude. She had a strong resemblance to one of Raphael's Madonnas. She looked like an idealized mother, the archetype.

He took the next one. This too was a bust. A man gallant-looking, nobly endowed in face and limb, stood dressed in a costly steel-gray suit. He had a well-combed wavy head of hair. His face, with its broad forehead, was cast in the mold of a knight-errant one came across in Walter Scott's novels. His wiry mustache, hard and curly, picturesquely abundant, was both attractive and decorative, an ultra-masculine asset to a commanding presence. His overall person had an inlaid power and a regal quality. A man in the spring of life with a beaming vigor. He gave the impression of absolute invincibility. A smile, rather flashily strong-set on his firm lips and his eyes that hit hard at everything they lighted on suggested that he was a man that knew no compassion. But it was the reverse that was true. He was one of the kindliest and most generous of men. He was openhanded to a fault. He was so full of charity that he gave money in fistfuls to the poor and the needy. The same boy of four he held against his chest in a fond and protective hugging. One could easily guess that there was nothing on earth that was more dear to him or more precious. In actual fact his whole life was centered on the lovely kid he held in his arms. It was to him a godgiven treasure.

The great bells of the Krishna temple began pealing. It was 6-30 A.M. Jitendra was due for morning Puja at the temple. The midday Puja was at 12 noon. The evening Puja was at 7 P.M. Jitendra had finished his morning meditation and was talking on the phone to an important caller. He rang off and came out of the Ashram and walked to the temple. Suddenly he noticed Chrysler Henry, the Delhi-based correspondent of the London Times. He was awaiting waiting in the premises to see Jitendra. He had an appointment with the Swamiji for a professional interview. His eyes were set on the young monk. He was bewildered and stupefied at the sight of him. The entire place seemed charged with his spiritual radiations. Jitendra's centrally parted jet-black lustrous mane, his orange-red complexion, his upright aristocratic bearing, his neatly finished robust figure, the strings of large Rudraksha beads that hung around his neck, his saffron robe that sparkled against the sun and clung to the body in the feathery breeze, all had a mightily arresting effect on the correspondent. "What a marvel of a man!" He told himself.

Jitendra, as he saw him, stopped and smiled. They shook hands. Jitendra asked him to please wait in his drawing room till he finished his Puja at the temple. Then he turned and walked at a swift pace. All the disciples had assembled and were waiting for him. It took about half hour for the Puja to finish. Slokas from important scriptures including Bhagavad Gita were recited. Then the usual prayer from Brihadharanyaka Upanishad was sung in a chorus before they all bowed again and dispersed.

"Lead us from Untruth to Truth,

Lead us from Darkness to Light,

Lead us from Death to Immortality,

Om, Shanthi, Shanthi, Shanthi".