On November 20, 2021, Yvette Rosser (better known as Ram Rani), took her last breath at the age of 69. She was a mother, scholar, and ardent devotee of her Guru, Neem Karoli Baba.
After graduating high school in the UnitedStates, Ram Rani spent some time in Europe before departing on the “The Hippie Trail” through the Middle East and South Asia. During her exploratory travels, she spent time in Afghanistan and Kathmandu. Eventually, the trail led to Vrindavan, where she met Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaj-ji, for the first time in 1972. Like many other American and European devotees -people like Ram Dass and musicians Krishna Das and Jai Uttal- it was love at first sight for Ram Rani.
Several months before meeting her Guru, Ram Rani had a vivid dream of a “triangle-shaped man in plaid” waving at her, inviting her to come near. When she described the dream to a friend, he handed Ram Rani, a copy of Be Here Now, where she saw a photo of the man in her dream, draped in a plaid blanket. Months later, when she finally met the Guru, he waved at her exactly as he did in the dream. For Ram Rani, there was no doubt in her mind that her meeting with Maharaj-ji was predestined.
Maharaj-ji rarely gave his devotees explicit instructions, but with Ram Rani, he made an exception. He told her to “help make Hindu Dharma better understood and respected." Ram Rani felt that academic study was the best way to honor her guru’s wishes. She came back to America and enrolled at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). Ram Rani earned a BA in Language and Literature of India in 1982. During her undergraduate studies, Ram Rani befriended famed Indian novelist and UT Austin professor Raja Rao. She took several of his courses, including “Symbolism of the Male and Female” and “Introduction to Advaita Vedanta.” She returned to UT Austin 15 years later and received a masters' in South Asian Studies. Ram Rani faced some resistance during her graduate studies as some professors and administrators labeled her “too Hindu” to academically study Hinduism. Rao was an asset during this time, telling the College of Liberal Arts dean that, of all his students, Ram Rani “understood India the best.” Her Ph.D. dissertation, “Curriculum as Destiny: Forging National Identity in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh,” was not accepted by the school until 2005.
Ram Rani also served for several years on the Board of Directors at the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram and Hanuman Temple in Taos, New Mexico. During her time at Maharaj-ji’s only American temple, Ram Rani worked tirelessly to coordinate building improvements and the acquisition of an adjacent property.
By the time I met Ram Rani, she had moved back to India and rarely visited the US. Before meeting her, I had begun following Neem Karoli Baba and felt his presence in my heart. She was the first person I met who had met our Guru before he left his body. I had so many expectations upon meeting her. I foolishly presumed that anyone who met Maharaj-ji must be constantly emitting a heavenly glow, floating more than walking, and speaking only in profound and loving prose.
Indeed, Ram Rani was sweet and joyful, but she was also a human being. She spoke frankly and directly. When our little satsang recited the Hanuman Chalisa, her voice was gruff and her pitch was anything but perfect. Meeting her taught me a lot about how silly my expectations were. Gurus do not do their work through angels. They utilize all sorts of people to spread Dharma.
Although I only met her once, Ram Rani and I stayed connected online. A couple of years ago, she put out a call to action on Facebook. She was living at Kainchi Dham, near Nainital, at the time. Some books that were stored at her property in Austin were being destroyed by rats. I volunteered to pack up the books in sealed containers. While doing so, I uncovered a large print of our guru that had been neglected for years. Without hesitating, Ram Rani donated the print to The Little House of Love in Austin where it still resides today.
The more that I got to know about Ram Rani and her studies, I began to see similarities between her and myself. I just completed my first semester at Ram Rani’s alma mater, UT Austin. I am a humanities major working on a self-designed degree plan. My degree combines aspects of religious studies, sociology, and journalism. Maharaj-ji once said “See all religions the same. They all lead to God.” These simple words have inspired me to make religious minorities better understood in the US. While Ram Rani looked at how Hinduism is represented in textbooks, I seek to explore how religions and religious people are represented in the news media. Although our paths are different, our goals are the same.
Ram Rani has shown me that a Guru does not have to be honored in a temple or on a pilgrimage. The wishes of our guru can be fulfilled on a college campus.