Stories of U.G. in Bangalore

--by Shanta Kelker


I hope my memory stands by me like a faithful companion as I relive before you, the reader, some of my more memorable moments in the company of that enigmatic philosopher, U. G. Krishnamurti. I met this man in the course of my long, arduous adventure on the so-called spiritual path, in an attempt to thrash out the burning questions in my mind. I listened to every sort of lecture given by every sort of holy man. I attended talks by saffron-robed messiahs, bearded sannyasins, and wise acharyas. But I succeeded only in intensifying my frustration. I was exhausted and confused. My tears replaced my prayers, and all my supplications to the Omniscient and Omnipotent God to please show himself were to no avail.

Finally, I came across the book I am That, a volume of translated interviews with Nisargadatta Maharaj. With my adoption of this teaching I felt sure I had at last reached the end of my spiritual search, that really there was nothing left to do. I thought I had gone far beyond any mere knowledge, that for me just `being' was enough. It took U.G. to show me that the so-called `being' was nothing but knowledge.

Mid-March, l980: My first interview with U.G.

The handsome, smiling, humbly-clad man they called U.G. sat relaxed and friendly before me. Intent upon using my visit to get straight answers, I hurled at him my first question:

"Are there any boots to walk on thorns."

His reply came back crisp and direct, "There are no thorns."

Unsatisfied, I pursued, "The thorns are very much there for me!"

With quiet patience he answered, "Stop looking for roses and there will be no thorns."

NOW THAT WAS REALLY SOMETHING! He had no boots for sale, nothing to offer. Suddenly the man in the white kurta-pajamas sitting before me became a very interesting personality indeed! I kept on throwing questions at him for some time, and like a golden bell the answers came back clean, precise, and convincing.

Pushing on, I asked him about the mysteries of the mind, and if it was not possible to control the thought process.

"All that kind of thing is bogus. I found out for myself that there is no mind, nothing there to control," he said.

It looked like a hopeless case. I was not getting the answers I wanted, but had no intention of giving up: "Can reading, study, and trying to understand help me?"

"No, these things cannot help you in any way because they are only forms of entertainment for you," he said.

Getting down to brass tacks, I told him that my biggest problem was my unreasonable fear of physical pain. The thought of sitting in a dentist's chair was terrifying for me. Try as I might, I was unable to overcome this fear.

He suggested in all seriousness that I should take some pain shots before having my teeth worked on, as if I did not know that! But I persisted, saying that what I meant was whether there was any way of detaching myself from the pain.

"For heaven's sake," he exclaimed, "don't try all those things. They just don't work. Please take the injection before having your tooth extracted!"

"But," I replied, "Ramana Maharshi had an operation done without any anesthesia."

"Ramana or anybody for that matter undergoes the same physical suffering," U.G. answered. "No one escapes the natural laws."

Thus ended my first encounter with U.G. I left his apartment with a sense of relief and exhilaration. Despite a few chinks and kinks in the armor which I knew would need some straightening out, I was happy and knew that I would be returning to see him again and again.

Trying my hand at the culinary art:

One day, just after a picnic with my family, I went to visit U.G. at his place at Poornakuti. I caught him descending the stairs with some wires and things in his hands, looking somewhat bedraggled. I ventured to ask him the cause of his disarray, as it was so unlike his usual impeccableness.

"I have the flu. Aches, pains, fever, you name it, I have it," he said, grinning. He was unconvincing as a patient, lacking as he does even the slightest hint of self-pity. Insisting that I should "stick around," having come all that way, he was soon putting me to work in his "sweat shop" making him some rasam. I was thrilled at the prospect of doing something, no matter how small, for a man who was rigorously independent, who denounced with vigor those around who practice "aggressive kindness."

Soon I was in U.G.'s kitchen trying my hand at the culinary art. But my efforts met with failure: the moong dahl refused to cook properly. But soon a very thankful sounding U.G. was gobbling it all up, praising it to the skies!

We spent the rest of that evening quietly watching TV.  He was more polite and friendly than usual. But later, on my way home, happy as a lark with the overall success and amiability of the visit, it occurred to me that, knowing U.G.'s unpredictability, the fair weather could turn foul at the slightest gust.

The very next day, fortified with more knowledge on the correct method of cooking rasam, I returned to U.G. and his sweat shop. But cooking rasam for U.G. is no snap. You are forbidden the use of most of the usual ingredients like rasam powder or tamarind. The only vegetable worth calling a vegetable is, according to U.G., the tomato, and none other is allowed in his kitchen. Running up the stairs, bowl in hand, I offered him a taste of my creation.

"Why on earth have you used so many tomatoes and curry leaves? Now I am forced to filter your soup before I can even drink it. Anyway, Narsamma (the housemaid) is very happy, dancing with joy in fact, since I told her that your soup was just horrible. So it is not a complete loss."

Livid, I was ready to bolt for the door. I could not trust myself. I was ready to grab the heaviest movable object within reach and hit him with it. Imagine having to take insults just to make some servant woman giggle! It was too much.

I asked him if he enjoyed making one person happy at the cost of another person's unhappiness. His reply was unrepentent. "It is always that way with everyone," he said. "If you feel very hurt just because I didn't like your rasam, he went on, "then you and your precious rasam can just get out. I don't want people around me who get upset and hurt over such idiotic trivialities."

This is in keeping with his unvarying willingness to scuttle any and all things which become unnecessary or tiresome. As he is fond of saying, we must be ready at a moment's notice to throw out "the bath water, the bathtub, and the baby." Once, looking intently at the chair I was occupying, he remarked, "Both the chair and its occupant must be thrown out together." If I or anyone else protested against such shocking statements, he would merely reply that if we didn't like to hear such things we could get out also. No one, he reminded us, is indispensable. He would sometimes end with the acerbic statement, "You can really do without anybody in this world. Even Valentine can survive without me."

After the picnic he was looking dull....

The following week, on November l4th, I thought that my daughter, Mittu, deserved a long day with U.G. We went to Poornakuti but found that, as often happens, U.G. had gone out for a walk. We paid a visit to a nearby restaurant and when we returned to U.G.'s we found him in a very quiet and subdued mood. This is by no means uncommon: during full moon days U.G. often gets very withdrawn and dull. Those of us who hang around him on a regular basis often joke that we need not watch for the phases of the moon, as U.G.'s physical state is always a sure indicator of that cycle.

He seemed to arouse himself just long enough to listen to all the gossip and my personal news, then slumped back into his chair in serene silence. I left the room for a short respite in the kitchen, and he proceeded upstairs to his room for one of his frequent catnaps. Soon the nap was over, and I heard him descending the stairs announcing to me that the maid needed some leftover curds for her lunch. Around U.G. one soon learns that small things are not necessarily trivial or unimportant. Oh, the irony of it all! Here was this genuine sage concerning himself with a maid's lunch while the so-called saints ride in Mercedeses demanding devotion and service from the thousands who attend to their every whim.

Then he abruptly marched off to the kitchen to make coffee for us all. I must add that his coffee is less bitter than some of his words. Then he noticed an old aluminum kettle which, because it had turned black with use, he wanted to be rid of. "Here," he said, "is something for sale. I'll sell you this kettle which I bought for 17 rupees, and I will throw in this pot as a bonus." I protested that I had plenty of useless junk at home and had no intention of adding that to my collection.

Later the same day an elderly Ayurvedic doctor was supposed to arrive with a brahmi plant which he was sure would help revive Valentine's failing memory. (According to Ayurveda, the leaves of this plant, when consumed, revived failing memory.) U.G., with his usual cynicism, was sure it would instead relieve her of what little memory she had left.

The enthusiastic doctor duly arrived, the plant in hand. U.G. followed him, exuding interest and sincerity, into the garden, where the little plant was given its own place amongst the greenery. The doctor, eager to perform his task properly, asked if he thought the pit he had dug was deep enough. U.G., smiling pleasantly, nodded his approval as he said under his breath to me, "You can bury yourself in that pit for all I care." I shook uncontrollably with laughter, threatening to include the incident in my diary. "It was you I was referring to," he said. Once again I was doubled up with laughter. U.G. was evidently quite pleased with the effect his cutting remarks were having on me. But I could not help wondering what impression this giggling lady must have made on the venerable old healer.

(The plant was sadly forgotten, after this incident. U.G. was away for a few months, my visits to Poornakuti dwindled, and the little plant withered in the corner.)

It was time to leave, but I was reluctant to say "good-bye" to U.G. As usual he was already planning to leave Bangalore, and he was already counting the hours till he would fly off to his next temporary nest. Taking my leave, I stopped into the waiting car, and, looking back for one last glimpse, I saw his serious face, motionless, as he waved a cultured good-bye.

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