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How Uday Singh Deshmukh, who sought ghosts for company, became Bhaiyyuji Maharaj

The Indore-based spiritual guru, who advised heavyweight politicians like Narendra Modi, shot himself dead on June 12.

 |  5-minute read |   12-06-2018
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Bhaiyyuji’s little ashram was established in 1999. Until then, he had something of a chequered career. Officially, he was born on April 29, 1968 but isn’t quite sure if the date is accurate. "You know how it was in rural areas," he said. His father, Vishwas Rao Deshmukh and his mother, Kumudini Devi, lived in Shujalpur village near Indore and their son, named Uday, studied at the village school. Growing up in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, the child picked up a smattering of languages: Hindi, Marathi, Malwi and English.

"After obtaining my BSc degree, I worked for a while in a series of small jobs. I managed the Mahindra cement plant as a project engineer. I modelled part-time to supplement my income (among others, for Siyaram Suitings)!" That, perhaps, accounts for the metrosexual look… But none of this was satisfying; Uday Singh Deshmukh, BSc, knew he was meant for the elusive something else – whether bigger or better, he didn’t know… spiritualism was clearly not a childhood calling. He arrived at it by degrees, after having tried other career paths.

The possibilities were many. He was an accomplished cricketer, wrestler and a fine actor. His chocolate-box good looks, perfect diction and muscular physique toned by horse-riding and swordplay, justified a shot at Bollywood. He was smart and his people skills argued success in the corporate world. His mother, on the other hand, had no doubt that he would fulfil her dream by clearing the civil services examination.

Biographies of godmen often depict them as having been “spiritually precocious” in childhood. Bhaiyyuji is no exception. His mother speaks of a compassionate, sweet-natured and generous youth, with a good scholastic record aided by an excellent memory.

He would speed-read through the books his parents bought him and then teach the other kids. He was mischievous, never malicious and learnt early on to stand up for himself. "He once came to me, crying because someone had hit him. I told him to give two slaps for every single one that he got." Not quite a Gandhian approach, but one can empathise with a mother who wanted her child to be self-sufficient and street smart.

In the eleventh grade, Uday began to dream of a holy man, who would stand next to his bed, smiling and raising his hand in a gesture of blessing. He also began having prescient visions. It was then that Uday’s mother recalled a tall, dark sadhu of fearsome aspect visiting their house shortly after the Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, when she was pregnant with him.

guru-copy_061218045034.jpgStories of India's Leading Babas; Rs 150; Westland Books.

The sadhu had predicted that she would give birth to an extraordinary son and instructed her to scatter seven types of grain for pigeons on auspicious days, so as to ensure a safe delivery. She complied.

As a child, Uday had a disconcerting habit of sneaking into the forest all by himself, seeking the company of ghosts. According to his mother, he even encountered a couple of the benign variety. An old woman who mysteriously appeared to help him cross a stream in spate; another who insisted he stand proxy for her dead son and partake of the meal she had cooked, so that his spirit could depart and so on.

Uday’s brush with the preternatural both thrilled and disturbed his mother. On the one hand, he was clearly special, on the other, close encounters of the paranormal kind did not point to a career in the civil services.

He never fulfilled that hope, but in retrospect, Kumudini Devi has no regrets, understandably so. "I ran into one of his teachers, who told me, 'I used to scold your boy, now I touch his feet.”’ If she worries about anything, it is that he is a soft touch. "He never holds a grudge, even when people take advantage of him. He says he is like a train; passengers get on and off."

Meanwhile, Uday couldn’t see himself in a dreary government office any more than on a film set or a sleek corporate suite. Although there was no single moment of revelation, he somehow knew he wanted to change things. He often found himself seized with questions that had nothing to do with a career-oriented future — what made people tick?

To what extent were attitudes shaped by money, fame and power, the conventional yardsticks of success? By ordinary standards, what if he embraced failure? Would his family and friends abandon him?

"So I left my farm and came to Indore in 1995. I struggled a lot, as people do. I wanted to see how many relatives a humble man has," he said, flashing a Rhett Butler smile. "My life has been an experiment. I have interacted with all kinds of people, both as an unsuccessful 'failure' and then as a successful person."

Subsequently, he sold a part of his ancestral land in Shujalpur village and used the proceeds to purchase a 2,400sqft plot in Indore. The ashram came into being; its doors and the kitchen were always kept open.

(Excerpted with permission from Westland books)

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Bhavdeep Kang Bhavdeep Kang @bhavkang

Bhavdeep Kang is a freelance journalist and writes on politics, agriculture and food policy.

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