The ashram had its rules—strict always, often stern, sometimes harsh as well. Bapu made these rules. His word was final in how they were applied.
In these ways, Bapu could be seen as the patriarch of a large, extended family. But my personal view of Bapu—and I believe the view of the other ashram children—was completely different. For us children, he was never the stern disciplinarian, never the dictator. To us, he was above all simply a friend.
Let’s take the example of the dining hall. The rule was that all the ashramites eat their meals in this hall. The ringing of the ashram bell would call us to the meal. At the second ringing of the bell, the dining hall doors closed. The third ringing began the prayers.
One time, I was late getting to the dining hall. Just as I was climbing the stairs, the bell rang for the second time. The dining hall doors slammed shut.
Now, what child anywhere on earth has adhered to the rules and regulations regarding meals? Just the same, a closed door now stood between me and my food.
I began imagining the scene on the other side of the door. People would be sitting on the floor in four rows. Their plates would have been filled with rice, vegetables, milk, and slices of yeast bread. My mother, working in the kitchen, would be worrying over my absence. Bapu, sitting near the door, would be looking around at everyone with a smile.
I don’t remember whether it was someone else’s idea or my own, but standing at the closed door, I began to sing.
Open the gates, O Lord, open the gates of your temple.
All was quiet in the dining hall, so my young voice carried inside. Bapu burst into laughter, and the doors swung open for Babla!