"Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf." ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Faces of India
Mahayogi Pilot Baba

Romola Butalia recalls a couple of meetings with Pilot Baba, which influenced her life in the years to come.

Long years ago, as I climbed the last of the steps up the hill where I lived, I saw a freshly painted sign that stated simply, Pilot Baba. Soon, we were invited for dinner by a close friend, who had spent some 15 years in a Zen monastery in Japan. The invitation was to dinner at someone else's house.

There I saw a photograph of our host with Pilot Baba. He told us that a few years earlier Pilot Baba had taken sthal samadhi, and he had kept vigilance at the site for the seven days he had been underground. Then we read in the newspapers that Pilot Baba had taken jal samadhi somewhere.

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I don't remember mentioning that I would like to meet him. But one day my husband phoned to ask, "would you like to meet Pilot Baba? We have been invited to dinner by someone whose house he is visiting." That evening we met him. I asked him, "What is your normal state of consciousness?" I was keen to know whether people could maintain a meditative state of consciousness while dealing with the everyday world. But for that I wanted first to be allowed to see his meditative state.

I had heard that Pilot Baba got his name from having once been a pilot in the Indian Air Force. During a particular mission, when his plane was spiralling downwards to sure disaster, he had been saved, and apparently renounced the world, thereafter. This was hearsay. I never asked him about his past life, being aware that a renunciate leaves behind his past with a ritualistic renunciation of all attachments. I never asked him about reports of his ability to withold his breathing for several days during jal and sthal samadhi. Somehow 'miracles' have never fascinated me. They seem very ordinary.

At dinner time, as a special concession from the tradition of our hosts, I was invited to join the men at the dining table, along with Pilot Baba and another sadhu who was with him. Immediately after Pilot Baba took his first mouthful, he turned to me and it was the pilot clad in saffron who emerged to apologise, "I am sorry I had not noticed that you had not started eating."

En route Pindari

A couple of years later, in the rarefied atmosphere of the higher Himalayas, on the way back from a trek, we heard in the village that Pilot Baba was arriving. As dusk fell, he arrived with several other sadhus, having trekked the hard 20 kms distance upto this tiny village, where supposedly the descendants of those who had shelterd the Pandavas of the Mahabharatha still lived.

Along with the entire village, and several of the trekkers around, we went to meet him. People came seeking his darshan, prostrating themselves before him. Others came in curiosity. We looked around the room, where three saffron-clad yogis of indeterminate age sat, not recognising him from our earlier meeting. He announced, "I am Pilot Baba. I cut my hair at the recent Kumbh." We sat down to join the others. Soon everyone had left, and we continued to sit and talk about everyday things. I still had several questions I wanted to ask him I still wanted to see his meditative state. So, after dinner, we asked him if we could spend a few minutes with him.

The minutes turned to hours as we talked about the Mind, about birth and death, about the spiritual path. He asked me why I am doing what I am, with my life. I answered, "Because I enjoy it." He asked me to define my interpretation of death experience and of re-birth. I explained and asked him if that indeed could be the truth. He said, "it is 100% true." It seemed to me that I felt the need constantly to verify the truth of what I believed, by seeking a gross manifestation of the Truth. He said, "You will not need it again."


I asked him where I stood, and where I had to go. He said, "You enjoy, you know and you believe. You have nowhere to go. You will never have a guru. Seek the Truth in your experiences of life, from everyone you meet."

It seemed to me he spelt out the milestones I would cross as I walked ahead. I listened intently. Every time I have reached the hard-won understanding I sought, I knew he had given me a glimpse of it, in allowing me to see his own meditative state. Lately, I have felt that I have walked a long way without meeting the sages who once crossed my path frequently, and each of whom gave me, in passing, a glimpse of their own realisations.

I have been content to walk on. I have idly wondered where Pilot Baba now is. I have not sought to meet him, as I have not sought any of the experiences of my life, sure that my destiny awaits me, and I will reach it, if I am free of the search for it. The other day someone wrote in about their trekking experiences. I read the name Pilot Baba and started. Is it the writing on the wall again? Is it time for another meeting then?

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.