I had made it to Basavangudi quite early that morning, and I found Nagaraj and Adri already present there. U.G. looked quite neat in his laundered kurta-pajamas.
Adri, it seems, was a shopkeeper and an ardent follower of J. Krishnamurti. It seems his passion for J.K.'s lectures drove him to trust an utter stranger with his shop, and the unworthy stranger gave everything in the shop to every passer-by on credit. After the enlightening lectures Adri returned to the shop to find two soaps left and an utterly bankrupt Adri faced a bleak future.
I first met Adri at U.G.'s. U.G. shows a special affinity to the old man, generously giving him gifts every time he comes back to India. He also takes him along with him on his tours to Bombay, Mysore or the Nagerhole Forest. Adri, on his part, shows a strange attachment to U.G. which excludes the usual hello's and goodbyes. He just sprints into the room and joins the conversations and sprints out equally fast without wishing anybody goodbye.
Nagaraj worked as the Personal Assistant of the Post Master General in the Bangalore Main Post Office. Nagaraj too was a J.K. freak, read every book published by the Krishnamurti Foundation, practiced "choiceless awareness," sat for hours in front of trees and flowers in the Lalbagh gardens, and accidentally, much to his reluctance, met U.G. U.G.'s discussion of the "red bag" and "door knobs" instead of flowers and sunsets, blew Nagaraj's mind. Every time U.G. came to Bangalore he would apply for a month's leave and sit in a corner to take down notes in shorthand. It was his speed in shorthand and later in transcribing them that was a great help to U.G.'s second book Mind is a Myth.
Brahmachariji, a former I.A.S. officer and professor at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, was well adept in Vedanta and Shastras of Hindu philosophy. He happened to meet U.G. in Mysore. It was Brahmachariji who urged U.G. to come to Bangalore and introduced Chandrasekhar, Shashidhar, and Satyanarayana (who were learning Sanskrit from him) to U.G.
Very soon, after a brief exposure to U.G., Brahmachariji lost almost all his disciples who became staunch regulars in the U.G. camp.
Radhrakrishna came to India from Karachi. He was a refugee after the
partition in 1947. He had an adventurous journey in a train and arrived
penniless in Bombay. He started from scratch as a balloon peddler to end
up a tea merchant. Now his pockets overflow with money. He is always smiling
and is nicknamed "Sadananda". He visits U.G. almost every day, and it is
he who devotedly brings U.G. his cream for coffee, the Time Magazine
or any other shopping item.
Rochaldas, the millionaire friend of U.G., introduced Gopinath and Radhakrishnan to U.G. So, in short, these are the regulars whom I meet every year.
Last but not the least, Subramanya, who is called the "sleeping man" by U.G., always goes into a sort of trance whenever U.G. is in the room. All of us are used to seeing him nodding his head in a corner. Narendra is another ardent devotee. He owns a bicycle shop, and whenever U.G. visits Bangalore he is ready to play the chauffer and drive U.G. around in his car.
I told U.G. that his name was mentioned in the I am That in Chapter 72, and that Maharaj had commented that "this man", referring to U.G. would soon stop talking altogether. U.G. on hearing this said, "Maybe, I will develop throat cancer or something. It is only the privilege of a saint to die of cancer. I told Mahesh to see that in my death certificate the cause is put down as cancer and not anything else. Otherwise I won't be recognized by the world. Anyway it is only when I stop traveling that I will drop dead."
I had somehow got Maharaj to autograph the book I am That, and this made the book all the more precious to me, so precious that I was reluctant to lend it to anyone. And if I did lend it I was quite worried about losing it till it came back to me. U.G. remarked, "If you are that attached to that book, whatever you get from it will be a big zero." This statement surely succeeded in reducing my attachment to a certain extent, but even at this point it has not completely vanished. Just to end this narrative concerning Maharaj, I remember I had told U.G. that when I had first read Maharaj's book I felt as if the chair that I was sitting on was pulled from under me. And U.G. replied, "I will pull the chair, the carpet, and the very ground that you are standing on." I was so hypnotized by his words that even for my own sake I did not have the strength to run away from him.
"The religious man condemns corruption from the platform and makes money by condemning corruption. The politician does the same thing. So what's the difference? The politician says, "I am the custodian of the morality of man. I don't want anything for myself, only for my cause. What cause? Cause of that blind cow there?" U.G. continued, "I am not singling out anyone. I am just pointing out. Society wants Mr. Average, just ordinary people. It will destroy Hitler, if he does not commit suicide on his own, and will destroy Gandhi. Society does not tolerate extremes like Hitler or Gandhi, the two extremes of the same spectrum. Sinners and saints both have to go. So what we are left with is wanting to be a saint one day. Until then you remain a sinner. That is the problem with us. The emphasis that everybody should be a saint has created this lopsided civilization, which is not possible." I thought we had enough of politics and politicians for a day. I declared that I had tried my hand at poetry and written the poem "Ganga" on the previous day. I cleared my throat and read it out to what I assumed was an appreciative audience. At the end of it all, when my ears ached to hear, "Bravo! encore!, encore!," what do you think U.G. said? He sneered, "Where did you pick up that horrible prosody?" It took me quite some time to recover from the shock and regain my confidence in myself and dare to lift my pen again to write poetry.
"Man is just a memory. You understand things around you by the help of the knowledge that was put in you. You perhaps need the artist to explain his modern art, but you don't need anybody's help to understand a flower. You can deal with anything, you can do anything if you do not waste your energy trying to achieve imaginary goals."
The scientist then asked U.G. if we could convey any experience. U.G. replied that we could not convey any experience without a reference point. He gave an example of a Dutch girl who had never tasted a mango in her life and could never have the concept of the mango taste till she could taste a mango piece herself.
U.G. was then asked why religion had gained the upper hand in India. He said, "In those days the temple was the center of social activity. Slowly the priests took over the entire field of social activities." Asked about fear, U.G. said, "What you call you is fear. You go to a cricket match, take a drink, or listen to music to escape from the reality of the situation. The body can handle fear. It either faces the situation or runs away from it."
"If you have no fear, only then human relationship is possible. Then man will kill only for survival." U.G. continued, "I am a selfish man. I want only my two meals. The rest can do what they like. It's only because of religion that people are starving. You hoard for your children, your great grand children, and for the whole of evolution. Man is the most vicious of all animals, of all the species on earth."
"As for corruption, it is there in the West on a gigantic scale. Here it exists at every step, on every level, right down to the common man. We are doomed: the writing is on the wall. If you don't see it, you are illiterate and blind."
The scientist got up to leave. He was very polite and thanked U.G. for the very enlightening conversation. But U.G. refused to take any credit. He replied, "This is a drum--the beat, the song, and the lyric are yours. There is no part played by me. But it is a perfectly tuned drum, singularly incapable of producing a single wrong note. All the specialists, scientists, economics, and chemists teach me everything. I am not a well-read man as you might think me to be."
We came home and had lunch. I share a regular meal with Suguna. But U.G. eats noodles day in and day out with a little yogurt to wash it down. I ask him if he does not get bored with the same meal day after day. He seriously replies, "If I had liked a variety of dishes, I would have liked a variety of girls."
I was in one of my religious moods and in spite of U.G.'s sky-high philosophy, I had defiantly carried with me my japa mala (rosary) and had persisted in doing my japa right under his nose. Of course, he had his share of jokes and taunts at my expense. He looked at the mala round my neck and said, "What is that dog collar you are wearing round your neck? Anyway, how is it that you are managing to look very spiritual?"
The whole afternoon was spent in watching "Death Wish" which turned the insides of my stomach. It had every conceivable violence in the most grotesque form, and U.G. sat unblinking through the whole movie, as if he was watching "Sound of Music."
I escaped to the kitchen and U.G. followed. I said, "I am hungry, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses...." He did not let me continue. He said, "You'll get the daily bread, but forgiving your trespasses, no!" Anyway, I was quite happy with the daily bread and was not very anxious about getting my trespasses forgiven.
"It is the idea of the perfect relationship that you must have, and which you are pursuing as an ideal, that has soured all relationships."
"The contact you have with me, the dog there, or the door there, is the same. Nothing is expected of this relationship. My relationship is not what I get out of that, or what I can give. Both are the same. Both are absent. There is no exploitation. All relationship is mutual exploitation. Why don't you remain by yourself, be and stay happy and die happy?" I felt quite cheerful listening to all this.
Then we discussed the concepts of beauty, fear, and goals. U.G. spoke patiently: "Beauty is just the framing done by thought and it is cultural. Thought is the frame. Beauty is not in the object, neither is beauty in the beholder's eye. It is thought that creates space and frames whatever is there and calls it beauty. To define beauty as the total absence of the self is just pure romantic hogwash."
"It's the body that lives from moment to moment. The body's malfunctioning we call disease, and the body gracefully accepts what you call death. The body does not know it is coming to an end. In a way you can say the body is immortal. Not the permanency as you understand the word, but even after the so-called death, the body disintegrates and becomes one with life. It has its own intelligence."
I asked U.G. the next day why he spoke against J.K. or anyone else. He replied, "Didn't he speak and scream from the platforms against gurus and tradition? All I am doing is to shake a person's attachments to anybody, however great he is proclaimed to be, strip the person of everything, and then he is on his own." That seemed to be a great explanation and satisfied my question. So, I paid no attention to a stranger's opinion about U.G.
U.G.'s Italian friends Paolo and Marissa were in town. It was Marissa's first trip to India. Very soon we became good friends, and she told me many interesting episodes about U.G.'s stay in her home. The same evening U.G. called up to say, "Shanta, bring the whole family. You are all invited to dinner. Marissa is cooking an Italian dish--gnocchi." We made our way to Poornakuti to find that Marissa was unaware of the role of the head cook that U.G. had chalked out for her that evening. So we had to start with buying tomatoes from a nearby store and boil some potatoes. I and Mittu helped in whatever way we could. Paolo kept us entertained with his stories till the potatoes and flour were mixed into a soft dough. U.G. shuttled in and out of the kitchen till the gnocchi was finally ready. My husband and children were some of the "honored guests" to get the first taste of the strange but tasty dish. U.G. finally gave his solemn speech about how grateful he was to Marissa, and how sorry he was for putting her to such trouble. Any of us could get an idea of how sorry U.G. really was!
As all this was being noted down, Suguna brought a plate of hot, roasted groundnuts. I placed the plate in front of U.G. who started mechanically popping the groundnuts one by one in his mouth. After some time he said, "Remove that plate, pass it around. If it's here, I won't stop eating till it's all over." I rescued the groundnuts and the rest of us helped ourselves to them.
I reached Poornakuti to find that Radhakrishna had brought some hot buns from the bakery fresh from the oven. I was in time to get a share and then, of course, some hot coffee to start the morning. U.G. was relaxing on the front door steps. He was in good moods, or so I thought. It was the right moment to declare that I thought he was the only reliable and dependable friend I had in the whole world, and that I trusted him so much that if at that minute he asked me to jump from the window I would obey him blindly. He listened to this and immediately said, "Really? Let's go on the terrace. That's high enough for you to jump from."
One young man asked U.G., "But even eating something can be called a pleasure." U.G. replied, "I eat food because I need some energy, at least to walk to the toilet by myself. What is the special charm in living? I have no other way to survive in this human jungle. This is the only way to fall in line. You do things either for pleasure or for power. Money will pour in my hands like rain if I promise them something. I cannot promise them anything. So, I am willing to dig trenches if I must, to make a living.
"Once you are relieved of the burden of culture, any potential will be exposed. What stands in the way is the culture, all the teachers and what they have taught.
"Of course you have to depend on others in some ways. I can't grow my own wheat, milk my own cow, but at least I could solve my own problems without the help of anyone.
"The only interest to give expression to this is to strip it of all the religious content, and not because I have the hope of freeing you from anything or anybody."
Thus U.G. kept on and on vehemently as each of the many in the room fired questions at him, and he in turn fired back: "The machine gun is not interested in killing. But it is designed to trigger and shoot at the slightest movement anywhere, and this machine gun just shoots.
It was lunch time and the crowd dispersed. They brought some soup which was so hot that I asked U.G. to wait till it cooled a little. He insisted on torturing himself, and jokingly added, "The whole culture of this land has its foundation in masochism."
He poured some ghee in his rasam and he looked at me and said, "See how the ghee floats on this rasam! This reminds me of how your Shirdi Baba performed the miracle of lighting lamps on water. Obviously this is how the layer of oil must have floated in the tin pot." I told U.G. that I would jot this down, and he said, "Enough of rasam in your notes. It is already overflowing there. The notes are soaking with it." This reminded me that I had mentioned rasam quite a few times in my diary.
Then he was watching some program on the TV which depicted a dance of Krishna, and he said, "How depraved the Indian mind is. Remove Rama and Krishna, and they will be nowhere. All their music, architecture, dance, even pornography centres around those two."
By now it was just Chandrasekhar, Suguna, myself and that couple from Mysore left, and U.G. was in quite a jovial mood. He spoke and joked about a few things here and there. He said, "Now in America or anywhere else it is fashionable to be able to walk on fire. My grandmother picked live coals with her bare hands." I told him that there was a time when I liked to eat egg omelets, and now the very smell of fried eggs created nausea in me. U.G. said, "Every seven years every drop of blood, every cell changes in the body. The body gets used to a certain type of food, and then there is no more demand for a particular food on the part of the system."
Anyway, U.G. was unperturbed and cheerfully related this incident to us and added, "The vegetarians, the so-called vegetarians who love to eat fish call it the flower of the sea. Some consolation to the fish! Just an excuse to eat fish."
The usual scene: a hilarious welcome to the holy man, Brahmachariji, Chandrasekhar and Suguna enjoying the whole scene, U.G. all poised to make the best of the situation, Nagaraj walking in and falling prostrate at Barhmachariji's feet, much to the joy of U.G., then very soon the palm reading session. U.G. stretching out his palms to Brahmachari and asking him questions like, "Will I go abroad? Will I be rich?" Brahmachariji said, "Money will be pouring in from now," and U.G. said, "We have a shortage of funds. I don't see any windfall." Then Brahmachariji said, "There is a star on the Mount of Jupiter. You'll lead the life of a teacher." U.G. said, "It's arrogance on anyone's part to say that he is the channel for the divine, and that his teaching is the teaching. The real compassion is to know that you can't do a damn thing to come out of the trap of culture." U.G. then added, "I am getting some evil ideas. I feel like kicking the whole thing and going and living in some jungle." Brahmachariji said that wherever U.G. went, according to the lines of his palm, even if it were the jungle, a five star hotel would sprout near the very tree that U.G. happened to sit under!
As usual, whenever U.G. sees Brahmachariji, he is reminded of the three acharyas, Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, and Madhavacharya. U.G. said he was ever grateful to at least Madhavacharya for having turned out Udipi Brahmin cooks. Their unique contribution was Udipi restaurants which were found in every corner of the world, even in Hong Kong. So U.G. would not miss his idli sambar wherever he happened to be.
The next day he was leaving for Bombay and then on to his four month trip to Switzerland and San Francisco, California. The crowd had dwindled to almost nil. It was almost eight o'clock, and U.G. gave his parting piece: "I sing my song and go. Enlightenment is one thing I don't want from anybody. Dollars are welcome! That seems to be the situation not only here but wherever I go. They seem to know a lot more than I do on enlightenment.
"Whaever I say, Nagaraj, depends upon you, not me. What I am saying is not my own. I cannot claim originality. It is your insight. That is why it is not working. It won't work because it is your own, it's not mine. Any insight you may have is your own creation which is the product of your thinking. But I want to know what you make out of it, so that I can use some other medium than this religious medium, or the medium of the Krishnamurti freaks, or similar media. I have nothing to say. There is no gist. No essence. This is not the right kind of material. If nothing happened, it doesn't bother me. Nothing is going to happen anyway. Maybe there is something, somewhere, somebody...."
He continued, "I don't want to be called a guru, a god man, or a religious teacher. It bothers me just as you would be bothered if I called you a thug or a crook. Since I am not that, the film people put a picture of me in their magazine and label me as the `sexy god man of the film world' which I am not. God man, no! Sexy god man, much less. So I go, leave the film people.
"So, Chandrasekhar, Nagaraj, you have to help me understand and free myself from this business of talking to people day after day. I have no idea at all how to put an end to all this. It's the same thing everywhere. So the only thing I can do is to hang myself along with these bats there, or talk to the trees." So he went into his room to finish packing his small suitcase which held all his belongings.
There was no turning back, though we would see each other only after five months, no tear-jerking farewells, no emotional goodbyes, no promises to keep in touch, not even a look. The door closed, and I made my way back home, as unemotional as the strange man I left behind.