Life is a prison house in which relativistic rival interests hold the spirit down from flying into its innate freedom in the Absolute. Subtle chains bind all men, whether they are conscious of it or not, and like unhappy birds in cages, all are subject at each moment to the bondage implied in rival claims of relativistic interests of group life.


Our movements, thoughts and words are circumscribed, and if one asserts one's absolutism in a relativistic setup, the usual consequences known to all truth-lovers of human history come into evidence. Socrates had to drink hemlock; Mohammed had to fight for forty days to save his disciples and their wives just for insisting that there was only one God; Jesus was crucified. Bruno, in more recent years, was burnt at the stake for holding absolutist theological views, nearer to science than religion. Rousseau and Voltaire suffered banishment and shame. Hypateia, Joan of Arc and Abelard had to pay the price too in their own times and places at the cruel altar of relativistic idolatry, actual or ideological.


The latter can be more harmful than the former because the evil is invisible. One is caught finally on one horn or other of the relativistic dilemma, ambiguity or paradox. When thus caught and unable to take a firm decision, absolutism suffers defeat and is, in principle, dead. All possibility of a moral or spiritual life becomes impossible in the asphyxiating atmosphere, social, moral or religious. Thus it is that often the battle for absolutism is lost time and again in individual human life or history. Fleeing relativism again and again is thus the only answer.



How I was taken for granted and treated as a nonentity among the followers of the Guru, although the Guru himself looked upon me with favour, has been recounted. I seemed to make no impression at all on anybody and felt myself unwanted, although not told so openly.



I could not fit myself into any actual working context as, like one who had missed his proper vocation, I sought to affiliate myself to one group after another in vain. Each leader or group conformed to types or degrees of relativism, representing compromise with first principles that were precious to me but not so important to them. A rarefied set of value-worlds thus presented to me offered no point of affinity or stable contact of any wholehearted kind. Lukewarm affiliations of course could not last long.


Thus jostled and pushed around by attractions or repulsions in a world of pluralistic values, I was dazed and confused like a fluttering bird caught in the hands of a naughty boy. I had to breathe the free air of absolutism, and the stagnation of the fen in which I found myself gave me no enthusiasm to live a full life in keeping with my age or temperament.


The Guru alone could understand me and, as I have stated, had arranged for the money needed for a voyage overseas where I was to go to complete my training in education. I could not stand any more the lifelessly thin air of relativistic interests and, like a half-starved cow released from its tether to which it was uselessly tied all day as an apology for grazing, I took to my wings one day into the larger open world of what is called Western Civilization.



I must have been a problem disciple of the Guru. All others belonged to one camp or other, but here was a lone ranger, a franc-tireur or a freelance who wanted to fight his battles alone. Although it was not normal for a Guru to take interest in the career of an individual, he seems to have understood my one-pointed dedication to the Guru cause and went out of his usual course to help me both with cash and blessings to go abroad.


I was then headmaster of the English school started under the auspices of the Guru, which I was to shape as a model educational institution. My plans in this matter did not tally with the local committee and I had to work out my salvation in other larger fields. The Guru's keen eye saw my plight and he opened the cage door for the confined bird.



I was first to go to Colombo and take ship from there. An address was to be presented to me on the eve of my departure from Varkala. The Guru was there, resting in one of the newly-finished rooms of the school building. The function for sending me off was organized by the citizens of Varkala and one sentence stands out as I read the words of the address dated 20th May, 1928, which suffices to show that, mostly taken for granted by the public as I happened to be, there were some silent admirers lurking behind the scenes who were conscious that my life had some deeper significance, though it seemed frustrated at first sight.


The English assistant of the school, who evidently enjoyed drafting the address in the name of the public - though merely a matriculate schoolmaster of Edwardian India - showed himself capable of literary ability in a foreign language when he wrote: 'Your career may be likened to that of Cicero who, on consulting the Delphic Oracle as to how he should attain most glory, was answered that he should make his own genius and not the opinion of the people the guide of his life'.


How true this oracular verdict has been in my case could be verified by the same person, Mr. Ram, whom I met recently in Singapore, a grand old man with children and grandchildren round him, a peacetime hero who gave the best of his life as an unknown schoolmaster to the cause of child education far from his native land. After a lapse of thirty-five years I pay back now, in January 1964 in these words here, the compliment he meant for me. Let such compliments, in spite of lapse of time or distance, glorify human nature in the name of the Absolute to which all belong, whether as an echo or a light of Eternity.


I remember the intimate gathering at the other wing of the school building from that where the Guru rested, a witness to all the fuss that was being made about my departure to the West. After the function I was ushered into the Guru's presence. He was bedridden with his last illness which came to take him away from the world of actuality of touch and hearing. He lives, however, intact in a world as real, where touch, taste, smell or hearing do not count, and has a certain independence in a more subjective zone of the personality, nourished by the reputation it built up when actually alive.


I took leave of him as usual and inclined before him, not always touching his feet nor prostrating. I complied only sometimes to this traditional requirement, which is perhaps one of the most touching of the remnants of old India persisting from Kashmir to the Cape to this day. To take the dust off the feet of a Guru is a time-honoured gesture which marks Indian life and behaviour from the rest of the world.



I wish I had been more traditional here than I actually was, although in the name of modernity and revised scientific Vedantic notions, my own inclinations with folded hands could be considered good enough. Kow-towing might be considered not in keeping with the sense of dignity of modern man in a democratic setup - but in a contemplative world of values it should still hold its fully-dignified status in man's relation to man. Man and God can be interchangeable terms enhancing human dignity rather than bringing double degradation to both involved. It is the dialectical way of double assertion that should finally decide the question.



There was a short parting talk which had its own wisdom lesson to teach me, as precious as any other he had richly bestowed on me on many a previous occasion. About one year before this he had given me the signal that his lessons in wisdom to me, spread over the years, were to be terminated.


This was at Trichur, where he was resting with his chief disciples, concerned as he was at that time about the continuation of the work he had started after his time. I generally had a time all to myself with him, and it was understood between us when this hour or two of teaching was to be during the four or five days we were to be together. The subject of wisdom followed an inner sequence strictly observed by the Guru as in the case of any professor of a university - only here it was more tacit and implicit. On that occasion, seeing me enter into his presence for the lesson, he sat with closed eyes instead of starting the conversation as usual. This was to tell me that the lessons had ended.


On the same sojourn at Trichur, a group photograph was taken of the disciples and, because of some irregularities on the part of the organisers, I was keeping away from the group. The Guru noticed this and himself asked me to sit for the photo which visibly records the event to this day.


Such details are many, and the Guru's silent look of approval or disapproval has lighted on me on many an occasion and guided me more eloquently than actual words could have done. The present occasion was to be the last physical contact I was to have with the Guru. He handed me a roll of currency notes which, he was particular to say, belonged to his personal account and not to any legally constituted body at that time, to which he knew I did not wish to belong. He asked me kindly how long I would be away, and when I said 'about eight months', the Guru said, as if thinking aloud, 'four months'. Then he ordered a 'prasadam', a parting gift of fruit, to be given to me, and two attendants brought two fruits, a mango and a pomegranate.



Handing me these, he blessed me fully and said that the two fruits that chance brought meant that I would have double success. Thus the parting took place, which in effect, brought us together more intimately than ever before. I was re-dedicated to the Guru cause more inseparably than ever.



Why did the Guru say 'four months' when I had said that I would be away eight months? This was the enigma that put its question persistently again and again within my subconscious mind like the call of a brain-fever bird. As I walked with the boys carrying my luggage up the sloping road to the Varkala railway station another bad omen was noted in the form of an attendant of the Guru who tried to dissuade me at the last moment from going. He must have acted out of jealousy at the favour shown to me by the Guru. My spirit of adventure prevailed on me to go forward, not heeding the language of ill omens. They must have been conspiracies of negative relativism to try my resolve at the last moment. Those who can watch with a keen eye the workings of omens, rumours and conspiracies can discover many strange goings-on in the world of relativism everywhere.


As to the difference of four months in the words of the Guru himself, it was readily solved by me by interchanging the subject and the object. As 'I' and 'you' do not matter in the context of wisdom's language, the Guru was telling me indirectly that he would pass away in four months, and that if I came after eight months I would not find him a physical entity like me. Truth was inter-subjective and trans-physical. Echoes, suggestive signs, omens good or bad, flourish in a dull world of relativistic values side-by-side with valid contemplative suggestions or signals; and all we can say about the parting scene is that it was not unlike that of two lovers who talked their own mystical language meant to be understood between the two concerned. All other implications did not count. Men may come and men go but the bubbling brook goes on for ever. Such is the way normal to absolutism.






Colombo in the 1920's.


Starting from Varkala, I caught the Mail Boat at Madura next afternoon and reached Colombo after crossing the ferry at dusk in the morning. Finding a lodging with Kerala friends in Dam Street, Colombo, I contacted shipping agents. The steamship called 'Chantilly', named after one of the three musketeers of Dumas' novel, was what was available within a fortnight.


More money came to the post office, sent by the Guru as promised. A new black suit and hat were purchased, and so, with an old overcoat, I was a gentleman ready set for sailing. A send-off was given me at a night school of which I was supervisor. On the eve of departure a strange character who looked a typical crook - a miserable and familiar figure found in almost any port anywhere in the world, a by-product of modern collective life - prevailed on me and another young Indian student to stay in his questionable boarding house. He did petty services out of sheer good will as he pretended, but wanted to blackmail both of us, keeping back the passport and tickets which he had helped to collect, as a kind of self-appointed sub-travel agent. I had to do a bit of shouting at him before the ship sailed, as he insisted on abnormal charges at the eleventh hour when the ship's siren had already sounded once.


Released thus from the last clutches of relativism, I could see the coast receding fast as the ship's propellers sent the waters boiling behind in a broadening streak, while the bow cut the billows with great strength. The bitter experiences of my failures were only slowly erased as the ship carried my thoughts further and further into the new world of adventure which was opening before me in strange lands among strangers with strange tongues, costumes and ways.




In those pre-war days the 20,000 ton ship on which I embarked at Colombo was a luxury liner, but it was destined to be a discarded old tub soon after the end of the Second World War, as I saw it again in 1960 on the quayside of the new harbour at Marseilles, with all its glories forgotten and almost in disgrace among more modern boats, berthed apart in lonesome neglect.


Air travel was not known then and the first class dining room of the ship with its French garçons and tables richly loaded with red and white wines, was considered chic enough for those days. The bellboys announced dinner soon after embarkation but I had to rush to the purser to see that I had vegetarian food served me. I talked to him in English, but as a true Frenchman is always expected to do, he pretended not to know English.


I was seated at table beside a Paris medical student from Delhi, a Bombay jeweller returning to his gem business in Paris, a Bengali going to study perfumery in Geneva and an Italian from California interested in yoga. We soon made friends and found ways and means for life together for spending the three weeks before us. The jeweller was a stuck-up fellow who talked as if he was an authority on correct table manners, himself unconscious of violating some elementary rules. To eat with the fork 'à la fourchette' without the knife or spoon that poor Englishmen used, was more French.


I happened to discover that the 'pommes rôties' (roasted potatoes) had a piece of lard in it, although served as fully vegetarian, and that the vegetable 'potages' (soups - not the consommés, which had meat) had a suspicious taste of 'stock' too. Thus I could remain vegetarian in principle only, and began to take eggs, whose animal life-element I considered negligible. I swallowed a fly once while hiking and panting in summer, but still consider myself a good vegetarian in principle. My conscience in such cases was adaptable to necessities when imperative enough. Sabbath was for man and scruples to be respected only within limits of normality.


A wine-bibber with side whiskers, coming from Goa on his way to Portugal, was a nuisance at table, as he began collecting the bottles left undrunk by sober passengers like me. He thought himself lucky and unfortunately, in the cabin he had the upper berth to mine. Dead drunk already at Colombo, he had lost all his money at a house of ill-repute and was raving and in distress all the night, spitting and ready to vomit, while alternately praying for the purse he had lost. Thus he made of himself a thorough nuisance, in which light the negative relativism I had left behind had something to be said in its favour. Thus the Western world opened itself out to me with a bang, as it were. More surprises were still to come.




Forming coteries on the deck both at sunset and at morning hours; responding to dinner bells; watching deck games; making new friends among men and women; with parties where some drunken sailor performed tap dancing; witnessing clandestine love-affairs during the night where drunken officers were implicated, reports of which came to the cabin - were the normal occupations in which the passengers passed their time.


As days passed, however, the Arabian sea became rougher. Foaming crests of waves extended menacingly more and more, and as there was no end to this, whichever way one turned, a negatively mystical fear was induced in some. It took time to gain one's sea-legs. Meanwhile half the passengers were noticed to be absent from breakfast, and their share of butter on the table was grabbed by the more greedy. The billows rose higher still the next day and there seemed to be a ground swell too through which the brave ship had to plough. Pitching and rolling too, with breakers beginning to wash over the deck itself, instilled more concern. An Indian family did not know how to close the portholes and had to be saved from a flooded cabin. The small spirit of man shrank into its own narrower dimensions, and the non-self gained all importance and took up more spiritual space. All might be lost at any moment. The looks of the crew and officers did not instil the former confidence into the passengers either.


I was myself feeling fine for the moment, bravely swallowing saliva whenever there was a dip, with a funny feeling at the bottom of the stomach each time the ship seemed to go down under my feet, relieved later by its counter motion when passing the crest of a billow. For days on end all we could see were occasional vessels passing or counter-passing our ship, giving strange signals which the mysterious captain, seated above in his top cabin like a god, could alone understand. Lifeboat exercises made the danger seem still more real. Finally, land was sighted and one felt like a Ulysses or an Ancient Mariner. Djibouti, the French port of African Somaliland, was announced, and it was a consolation for the group of men and women to stroll on the seaside in the hot sun, greeted by the black eyes of Africans and Hindustani-speaking labourers. We were in the land of Islam. The neglected and barren land had almost no attractions to offer the dazed seafarers who, like a motley crowd of Sinbad's men, wandered in gay colours over the grey sands of the beach. Port Said was going to be more interesting, but I had taken ill by that time and was confined to bed and could only hear of reports from cabin mates about the bad reputation of this latter port where all the worst features of mercantilist colonialism were concentrated.




The Holy Land of Jews and Arabs as well as that of Christian Gentiles lay on either side of the Red Sea as the 'Chantilly' went through the calmer water in the midsummer heat of June 1928.


I had to learn my first sentence in French by sheer thirst which made me go to the maitre d'hotel to ask for water. 'Donnez-moi de l'eau, S.V.P.'. (Give me some of the water, please) was the only way I could do so and not call for water straightaway in English. Iced water again and again every half hour made me ill with some kind of influenza. Two other shipmates who died of the same illness found their watery graves soon after when the Captain had their bodies lowered into the sea. The hungry sharks must have benefited. Port Said was announced. The drunken Portuguese young man on the top berth climbed down to mine at night and began to hug and implore me to pray to God that he should get his money back at Marseilles. His exaggerated fervour made me, weak as I was, fight him physically, pushing him away with all my remaining strength. He had guessed that I was the kind of person who might have some favour with God as he understood him to be, not knowing that God might also be with a profligate or a publican too. The favour of an absolutist God is no monopoly of the goody-goody or the merely respectable. An absolutist touch has to be there to deserve the grace of the Most High.



Soon we passed beyond into the region where orange groves and olives spread their balm into the cooler Mediterranean air. Under the shadow of Stromboli, the lonely sentinel of a barren volcanic isle rising steeply and sheer from the blue-black waters, the passengers were already transported to the mental climate of Europe, although the temperature was only a few degrees lower.



One could live no more in the mental climate of Colombo; while to think of Paris or London became easier, though for no actual reason of distance or time. The transition takes place inside without notice, and one adopts unconsciously the mental idioms and behaviour patterns that go with a new epicentre of a civilization, each of which has to have its personality or soul associated with a city, language or with a name or group of names.


It was the Guru Narayana who first pointed this out to me when referring to the inner transition that takes place between Trivandrum and Nagercoil in Kerala, the latter being now properly included in the Tamil-speaking State of Madras. Linguistic geography proves as real to people's minds as the geography marked by rivers or mountains.


The approach of Etna in Sicily made all bring their binoculars up on the busy deck. Carpet and curio vendors had already invaded the ship between the Suez Canal ports. Now, passing through the ancient location of the Scylla rock and the whirlpool of Charybdis, we steamed on our way and reached Marseilles in the early hours of the morning two days later.









Marseille in the 1920's.


The 'Paquebot Chantilly' had done its work well and was berthed quite early in the morning at one of the quays not far from the old port of the antique rumble-tumble city of Marseilles, ominously dominated by the St. Barthélémy Hill. The old port known to seafarers of ancient times still existed, and the Place Canebière and the Gare St. Charles where we had to entrain were landmarks known to travellers, then as now, to be counted as rival sights in fame only to St. Mark's Square in Venice and the Eiffel Tower of Paris.


The reputations of cities live on, giving depth and meaning to their personalities, some of which are definitely feminine, while others are neutral. Modern towns sometimes fail to have a character at all and leave an insipid taste. Marseilles could not be classed among them. It had its characteristic life, both underworld and above-board, of night and of daytime - so fully French or Provençal that years of contact with the outer world could not erase it in the least.


With the clearing of baggage, the health inspection and passport formalities, it took us to nearly ten o'clock to get out of the ship which I was to see again only after two decades as a discarded old tub. With some more shouting to do before everything was settled with bogus baggage agents whose respectable looks and printed cards should not beguile anyone, and who change their rates without notice - as bad as in Colombo or any other port - we found ourselves settled in a small hotel near the steps of the Gare St. Charles.


Breakfast-lunch (déjeuner) was soon served in a dining room with large glass windows facing the street from which little hungry gavroches looked in greedily at the diners, pressing their noses flat and pale on the glass panes from the pavement which was their home. Victor Hugo knew them well.




During the last days of the voyage I had changed my mind and, instead of heading towards London, which was what I thought I would do at first, I decided to go to Geneva.


To change one's mind is the privilege of every free individual, but to do so too often and too much without proper reasons would make for no virtue, even for a gentleman at large. Something told me that London, with its pounds and shillings to spend and rigid educational rules, was no fit place for an adventurer like me, trying his luck, largely depending on what possibilities could open their doors to me as life unravelled its scroll - full of many possibilities but only a few probabilities.


One's discretion has to be used, and it is when there is a fifty-fifty chance involved that we call the discretion intuition, which is only a respectable name for guesswork. The Bengali student whose friendship I had cultivated in the meanwhile, having contacts in Geneva, could be relied on for finding accommodation on reaching there. I was myself armed with a letter of introduction to Dr. P.P. Pillay, then employed in the International Labour Office at Geneva, given by his father in Trivandrum. Although Geneva, with its French, German and Italian and no English, would be a stranger place for me than London, prompted by some whispering little bird within me I cast my lot for the former. The absolutist outlook and the spirit of the gambler go together when both are faithfully or earnestly treated.



Five or six miles out of Marseilles lived a Frenchman with his wife and child in a country cottage. He was known to the Bengali friend, Mr. Sen, and took us for a ride to see his home and orchard. Cherry blossoms, which gave it a festive garb in spring had, by the end of June, 1928, ripened into fruit, and it was a favourite pastime all over this Mediterranean region - especially for children, but even for grownups - to spend days on little ladders, picking the fruit by way of harvesting - although a portion of the yield was harvested directly into the mouths of the pickers. This was considered quite in order, as it created no further economic problems for experts to solve.


The abundance of Nature fed the children's hunger directly, and the world of opulent currency notes was just bypassed in the simple way that God perhaps likes better.



High walls of grey granite, schist or shale enclosed orchards of olives and oranges, besides plums and pears. Vineyards were not unknown either, next to the blue sea water or the cypress-clad hill slopes. Like Naples or Greece, the Alpes Maritimes or the Côte d'Azur lured holidaymakers from the bleak domains of Northern Europe, for whom it was a veritable dream come true after the winter and early spring snows and blizzards. Europe went out of doors into the sunshine then. A festive spirit of holiday prevailed for all and spread both its wings freely and drank of the blue sky and the warm light of the sun. Man was in the embrace of Nature and got full nourishment thereby.



This little visiting interlude, before we were brought back by our host in his self-driven tin lizzie-like car - violating traffic rules a hundred times, driving right instead of the British left, which was heterodox enough for us as we sat seeking security inside - gave us the first peep into French country home life, which has retained its validity in spite of many later contacts.


Our host was a lover of India, and his wife studied books on 'Indian spirituality', whatever that meant. India was a magic name for many other votaries far flung in all corners of the world. She refused to be civilised in the modern sense, and this must have been her secret recommendation to the hearts of simple folk anywhere on the globe.


Ugly, ignorant, poor or silly, as one might call her, this is a moral asset stronger than any victory that wars can bring in the future, and worth many diplomatic victories put together. Let modernism never wreck this subtle treasure, by dint of which India has survived many storms and upheavals like the humble grass that bends its head to conquer the violence of gales that can push down many a giant forest tree fated to fall, uprooted with all its pride, before the first storm.


Some civilizations survive by the simplicity of their lives. France, like India, has its point of contact through the economy based on land rather than on mercantilism. Saint Simonism, which France has produced, may have economic affinities with what India too wants at present.



Our tickets had been booked early and, with white linen-covered pillows for our heads, we found our places in the continental train, about eleven at night, speeding towards Geneva. Grenoble was passed at night, and it was daylight that revealed the landscape with hedges and waterways, with half a hundred culverts and bridges over which the engine pulled us full steam at about one hundred kilometres an hour. Lovely silver birch trees and rows of poplars with summer daisies, red poppies and cornflowers peeping through tall grass as one farmyard after another went past, with cattle and sheep grazing, made the pastoral South European scene new to me and full of interest.


Geneva was reached at about ten in the morning. The friend of Mr. Sen was there in the station to receive us, and we trotted out into the city. After a light lunch at a restaurant, we crossed the famous bridge across Lake Léman, past the monument of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.


We had already found a lodging in a costly hotel next to the station and, putting our baggage there, went out for sightseeing. The spirit of Rousseau hovered over the city and no wonder, therefore, that this watch-making, milk-canning village grown big became by President Wilson's wish, an international city and the home of the League of Nations. Rousseau was the 'Citoyen de Genève', which, by its very innate veracity, made him in the minds of men a Citizen of the World by implication, which all could feel if sensitive to such values at all.







My first contact with Western civilization was, by some strange chance, through contemplating the statue of Rousseau on the island in the Lake of Geneva. There he sat on a tall pedestal, with scroll and pen in hand, sculpted or moulded - that lover of truth and of humanity who once shed his tears into that very lake out of sheer love for it and Nature, of which it was the nurseling. This simple thought was overwhelming to his spirit and, although accused of over-sentimentalism by other Europeans of his time, his was a genuine soul that was fully alive to all human values.



As days went on, this contact, which seemed incidental and almost accidental, gained further significance in my life, and gave me the first key to the spirit of the West. White and black swans swim round this little island of poplars, washed by the river Rhone as it passes out of the Lake of Geneva into the sunny southern lands.


Although he is recognized as the father of modern education, my full course in India on this subject had left me only superficially acquainted with this great name. Rousseau was too good for the average Englishman who wrote the textbooks for teachers' training courses in India to understand, and so he was bypassed and neglected, while in verity Indian education, more than any other, stood in need of Rousseau to shape its own course along its natural lines.


To the educated Englishman like Wells, Rousseau was only a hypochondriac who wrote undignified sob-stuff, his deeper mystical and contemplative traits being wrongly evaluated from a mercantilist background. If the East can meet the West, it must be through the link of Jean-Jacques. Human sentiments weld humanity into one family.





Old Geneva.


There I was in the strange city, first trying to find a cheap room where I could stay, and then to find the convenience for useful study or work. Fully conscious of my pocketbook which showed that more than three-fourths of the cash I had been given had been already spent on tickets and clothes, my movements had to be quick and cautious. Four hundred Swiss francs which I held in Cook's cheques could not last me more than two months, however I economized.


Faced with the danger of being thrown on my meagre resources soon - an utter stranger to the language and still more so to the people and their ways - I relied on a Bengali medical student to find me a room, which happened to be in the Boulevard du Pont d'Arve, a name I could hardly pronounce properly.


As I sallied forth into the streets I could not fail to notice how strange a figure I cut with my Colombo-tailored suit and felt hat, both of which were many days in date and degrees in latitude out of mode for Geneva, which was nearer to the epicentre of all European fashions, which was destined to be Paris for ever by a strange conspiracy of the world of tailors, and which had already adopted what Colombo was to know of three months later.



Uniform conformity, even to the point of an imperative cruelty to any sense of individuality left in one, was demanded in the fully-living Western civilization. Fashions changed, and it was a hard task to keep up with its detailed demands. My felt hat had a brim perhaps one centimetre more than what was fully in fashion then, and to add to this, short and round as I was in build, the long hair that I grew, which showed curls from behind the hat-brim, must have been the reason why giggles, sometimes suppressed, sometimes failing to be so, burst from children and even from a group of grown-up ladies, who quickened their paces to get past me on the street, trying their best to conceal the inevitable outburst, as common courtesy would demand. Soon, however, I became a familiar figure, something like the bonhomme seen on Quaker Oats packets and, except for schoolboys who followed me for no reason, they were getting used to me. But young women could not contain their giggling, in spite of their desire to be polite to a stranger. I once saw a mother reprimanding a grownup daughter in a shop to behave better, but she could not help being outrightly impolite. Soon the incidents passed off, at least along my frequented roads and haunts.


I found a boarding and lodging place for about two hundred and fifty Swiss francs (almost the same as rupees) a month with a Swiss family in the Boulevard leading to the river Arve on the southern side of the city. The family at table consisted of Madame de Negro with a son and his stepfather, a man with a weather-beaten face and past fifty or so, in love in his belated dotage .


The young man took me on a hired bicycle to bathe in the lake and showed me the city which was just lapsing into autumnal cold after the hectic days of late summer. Before the month was out I paid my boarding and lodging promptly and found a humbler room in the Rue de l'Aubépine with an Armenian landlady with a divorced husband, Mr Eltchian. The rooms were smaller, but I could cook my soups in a kitchenette adjoining and have baths free, for less than half the price I paid before. I went out for my buns and rolls morning and evening, and made different soups with packets of Potage Maggi, which had scores of varieties to choose from, and began to feel settled down, although my pocketbook began to show that I was to touch the bottom of my resources soon.



To make my Sunday breakfasts easy to cook, I allowed myself the luxury of selecting small cakes from a nearby boulangerie (bakery); otherwise I practised all the virtues of parsimonious living that I was capable of. I attended different Sunday services, beginning with one at the Cathedral St. Pierre, through Sufi and Baha'i to a Quaker meeting, which last seemed to suit my temperament best.


Thus I fully abandoned myself to the hands of chance at Geneva in the late summer of 1928. There was an Institute of the Science of Education, otherwise called the Institut Jean-Jacques Rousseau, where I got myself admitted as a student, and began seriously to do library work and attend courses under well-known educationists like Dr. Edouard Claparède, Dr. Pierre Bovet and others who held higher positions in educational matters. There was also Dr. Adolphe Ferrière who was the Founder of the New Education Fellowship in Europe, with whom I soon came into touch.


I proposed to write a thesis on the subject of 'The Personal Factor in the Educative Process' and consulted the authorities of the University of Geneva for the purpose. Meanwhile I got the information that the University of Paris was a freer and more open one, where foreign students could enter without rigid governmental restrictions belonging to states imposed on university education.


How I could finish my course, after mastering sufficient French, was vague to me, but there was some faint voice within me which made me believe that I could do it. Languageless, penniless and friendless, I still ventured, depending on the Tao to do the rest.








Man is an enigma to himself. One cannot tell oneself 'I am an honest man under all circumstances'. Absolute honesty always hides its own version of criminality.


One is false to the state when making one's own counterfeit coins; but a neighbouring state can indulge in such a luxury with impunity. Dry or prohibition areas in the same state can be divided from the wet areas by a bamboo placed across the road; and what is a crime on one side of it may be a virtue for a drunkard citizen on the other side.


A line can divide two conflicting consciences. What is duty at one time might become an offence at another. An absolutist conscience can neither be wholly right nor wholly wrong. It can only say 'amen' to both or either of rival claims and remain neutral, lest our conscience should make cowards of us all. Neutrality is the best form of bravery.


In my early Geneva days, when utter indigence and I seemed to walk hand in hand, a stranger in a strange land, I had occasion to bring my own conscience under, as it were, a sort of X-ray scrutiny.


In Gobbo's language conscience is something 'hanging at the neck of one's heart', but he would not have been right if he had considered it as having a fixed voice. In fact, it often has a sliding adjustment, and what it does not permit in the policeman's presence is in order when he is gone. Society is often the custodian of the conscience of certain people, while others look up to God to regulate it.


A conveniently adjustable conscience is what most people have - sometimes obeying society and at other times the voice of 'duty' as they call it, as 'the stern daughter of the voice of God'. Treachery, tyranny and sheer homicidal glories may be conveniently covered by the name of 'duty' to crown, country or God - without ever being recognized in their true colours. Even rank fanaticism can pass muster in the name of religious zeal or duty. Any conscience at the behest of relativistic interests must, however, be considered suspect. A relativistic conscience would be far worse than having none at all.




Returning from an evening walk on one of the last days of my stay in Geneva, finding what luck had in store for me, conscious of the end of the resources that should make my life possible without being reduced to utter penury in a civilization that looked askance at beggars, my conscience if any had a very unstable position within me.


When I neared the Parc des Eaux-Vives on the lakeside road coming to Geneva, in full view of the evening glow of Mont Blanc, a piece of folded paper lying on the sidewalk caught my attention. I picked it up with alacrity and, as I already suspected, it was a currency note for a thousand German marks. For a moment I thought that luck had favoured me just at the time I was in dire need. I looked at it a second time to see if it was a genuine one with all the required inscriptions. It was so. I could change it for Swiss money in any bank and that would keep me going for a month or two. I put it into my pocket but looked round to see if anyone was watching me. My conscience came into play just then and I began to have a moral sense of some strange guilt. I should, as a man of integrity, surrender the money to the police to return to the person who might have lost it.


With these thoughts I went to a garden seat in the nearby park. As I sat and thought about the thousand Reichsmarks in my pocket, I could definitely feel that my conscience said one thing at a given moment and just the opposite at another. Instead of hanging at the neck of my heart as Gobbo felt it, saying 'budge' or 'budge not,' it seemed to sway upward or downward, touching the plus and minus poles of its full amplitude, making me alternately a criminal or a respectable citizen. It could not be stabilized, at least for some time.


At last I prevailed on myself to equalise my intentions and said I would keep still till some right answer came by itself. One or two days thus passed and the thousand marks lay in my pocket without affecting my heart one way or the other. Neither the thought of luck nor ill luck was to cross my mind. I had swallowed up the thoughts, as it were, and kept them motiveless within myself. My wobbly conscience was thus stilled for the time.



But the curiosity about the luck that seemed to come my way remained active still. At last I brought the question to a friend, an Indian domiciled in Geneva, to find out the value of the note. He examined it and said that it still could be cashed in a bank, although it belonged to the pre-war regime of Germany - but the exchange value would be about a thousandth of the face value.


This was a veritable anticlimax to the whole episode, but I was glad that my poor conscience was no more to be disquieted by this piece of paper. False luck, that thus came to tempt me, at least made me confirm the truth of the proverb that an open door will tempt a saint. I could at best expect to be an honest man with a criminal conscience. One or the other had to prevail at a given moment and make me the same fundamentally as any other fellow man. We can at best live a stable or unstable life at the core of a conscience belonging to all men in an absolute sense, which is neither a criminal nor an honest one. No conscience can be permanently stabilized in any other sense.



In spite of such false scents that lured me off my track, the main doors of chance were not shut against me, as experience soon revealed.


It was at one of those Sunday-morning meetings of the Quakers at the centre of the old city of Geneva that chance conspired to open a secret door for me. I was sitting for the second or third time in the silent Quaker Sunday service. There was no priest nor preaching, but all sat silent for a while, and when half an hour had elapsed, could speak when 'moved by the will of God' or the spirit or whatever moved or quaked man from his own inside consciousness. The voices often came gently, without passion, as if from the other side of life if there was any such. Instead of a priest as a representative of holiness or God, they had only a man or a woman who functioned as 'clerk' to the meeting. Votes were not counted even at the business meetings of the Quaker 'Society of Friends' as they called themselves, but the consensus of opinion at the meeting was recorded honestly by the clerk, who could exercise his discretion to some extent to keep the votes from becoming too brutishly quantitative.


The ways of such a Christian group became interesting to me, especially as they respected all religions within limits, and did not descend into vulgar methods of proselytism in the name of winning souls to the Church and in the innocent name of Jesus, as most missionary groups do, almost with unholy haste. Often we see an over-zealous missionary of Christ beginning to have rather a nuisance value by his excesses and exaggerations, reviling other believers in the same God. The Quaker meetings could not be charged with any such vulgarity, and therefore their ways appealed to me as coming nearest to that of the attitude of the tolerant and 'mild' Hindu within me.


Miss Emma Thomas happened at the time to be the 'Clerk' for this Geneva Quaker meeting. I sat silent mostly at the meetings, and was treated as a 'friend of the Friends.' On this occasion, prompted by some strange urge which I cannot analyse, I went up to Miss Thomas, the Clerk of the meeting, when the service was over and, having understood that she was the head of an international school on the banks of the Lake of Geneva about twenty kilometres outside the city, where new educational methods were being applied under her direction, asked her if she would permit me to stay somewhere near and frequent the school so as to observe at first hand the new teaching methods employed.


The lady looked rather confused at my request and seemed for a minute not to understand exactly what I wanted. One of the young English teachers at her school had recently left and the room in which he lived, and his work, had to be filled before the winter term began, which was to be in one or two weeks. She could not believe that I was asking her for no more favour than to frequent the school as a mere observing student, which I was at that time. Moreover the police office where I had to report myself not long before, had told me in so many words, that I was 'interdit de prendre emploi' (prohibited to take employment) in the Canton de Genève, and a seal to this effect was stuck on to my visa by a grim-looking fat Swiss gendarme in unmistakable terms.






The Lake of Geneva seen from Gland.


The Tao, however, could not permit gaps or a vacuum to exist, whether in the world of words or of actualities. The lady took it for granted that I was indirectly asking to be employed and appointed to the vacancy which she suspected I was aware of, in spite of my complete ignorance of any such. The myth-making instinct supplied the rest and, strangely enough, she said something to the effect that I was welcome as a teacher in the school and that the only formality in the way was putting the application before the staff meeting to take place in a few days. She promised to write me the result.


Fortunately too, as I found out, I would not be breaking the law by accepting the job because Gland, the little lakeside village where the school was located, was just two or three kilometres outside the limits of the Canton of Geneva. The promised letter did not fail to follow soon, and I was to be a teacher of science, all found and paid an allowance too of a hundred Swiss Francs per month, which was an amount received equally by the Directress herself as well as by the cook and the gardener, on a principle of equality and Quaker fellowship. The amount was not much by other standards, but was sufficient for my simple needs.


Thus it was that the myth-making tendency, which always fills up gaps where they exist in nature, and the Tao, a vague principle in the Absolute, working hand in hand with subtle possibilities-probabilities to throw up chances which we mortals call luck or good fortune, saved me from the brink of dire penury and want, after having tested my conscience and its stability under the experimental circumstances related.


Necessity and Providence which, when conceived in very crude or brute terms of given facts or events, is also called Fate, is made of sterner tragic stuff. Kali, the cruel goddess, can thus be also the favourable mother of wisdom, Sarasvati, when viewed in the less harsh context of a general chance situation. The language and science of mysticism or contemplation recognize these factors less empirically. Believing in such matters is not to be treated as an article of faith in any hide-bound religious sense, but as a free recognition of subtler factors that make up the stuff called life in which human values are woven or strung or built in. The Tao thus conspired to help me go on with my studies and follow up my ambitions for five years, unhindered by any necessities of ordinary life.



I could go swimming in the lake, and rich vegetarian food in plenty, with baskets of fruits and nuts, not to mention milk and butter, were provided by the same hand as sports and pastimes. Forty boys and girls and a dozen teachers of all ages drawn from different parts of Europe and outside, Chinese and Negro, French and German, with an overdose of American and English, basked in the free international atmosphere on the borders of Lac Léman dear to Rousseau, and with their animation and frolics brought some semblance of rare values to prevail on this green planet of ours. Geneva was a specially favoured spot in this respect - a holiday home for fellow mortals here.



The 'Ecole Les Rayons', as the school was called in which I was to spend the next five years of my life - teaching while preparing for a doctorate in education - combined many happy features which made my good fortune all the more so.


It was an international school where national frontiers did not count and, as for race and sex too, these were not much respected either in the matter of keeping humans from getting together in a normal way. Many languages were spoken, though for the time being this was limited mostly to the European ones by geographical limitations. Quakerism implied the principle of pacifism and that of non-killing, of which vegetarianism was a corollary. Thus it was easy for me to conform to the principle of non-killing or ahimsa, which was one of the articles of my behaviour-pattern that, next to absolutist doctrines, took its place as the very first item of my ideas of what made up a spiritual life.


Between extreme vegetarianism that made all animal produce taboo, as with some sects in India, and gross carnivorous habits, I was willing to include milk and unfertilised eggs into my menu when diet otherwise called for their inclusion in cold countries, especially outside the limits of India, where vegetarianism was enforced sometimes as a religious scruple and sometimes on the basis of the principle of ahimsa. One had to draw a line between taboo and scruple on the one hand and the requirements of a scientifically-understood adherence to vegetarianism. In one sense even eating green leaves would be wrong, as it does hurt life, and, at another extreme, we can think of cannibals who would justify the eating of their own kith and kin.



Here again, between the maximum and minimum of quality or quantity in the possible applications of this principle of non-hurting of fellow creatures, each one had to make up his mind about where to draw the line. I willingly therefore conformed with the ovo-lacto-vegetarianism that prevailed in the Fellowship School of the Quakers where I found myself. In Rome one had to be a Roman, when no fundamental principles were violated.


Extremes of exaggeration have to be avoided in the name of Absolutism when neutrally and normally conceived. The Gita recommends such a middle way called samatva, which implies harmony between extreme possible positions. Moreover, in actual practice one finds that it is often difficult to break away from conforming to prevailing standards in such matters unless one insists on being an out-and-out individualist in behaviour. Strict standards often become disturbed by outer circumstances calling for adaptability to existing environments. A man living in utter retirement can manage matters even more easily  without any compromise. Drupes and berries which leave the life-elements intact when the fruit has been eaten enable an easy practice of non-hurting. A farmer with his cattle who found a tiger lifting one of them each day can hardly be asked to forego them all in the name of this principle. Between the necessities and contingencies of the situation one strikes a middle course, which is the yogic way recommended by the Gita.


Thus it was that I found myself quite at home in my new surroundings as a pacifist, vegetarian and a cosmopolitan with flexible, open and dynamic notions of religious, moral or spiritual values.








I arrived at Gland railway station, bag and baggage, one pleasant forenoon after the summer months were over, from my habitation in the Rue de l'Aubépine in one of the less rich districts of Geneva where I had settled for some time. The electric train in which I came had a stop at a small station previous to Gland, and I was about to alight there by mistake because of its not being a fast train but one of the ordinary ones. I quickly discovered my mistake and put my heavy trunk and belongings back and got to Gland.


By a strange chance an English couple who were on the staff of the Fellowship School where I was to teach, lodge and board, were present to meet some other arrival by the same train, and they offered to put my luggage in the 'char' (small four-wheeled cart) that they had brought with them from the School, which was a mile off on the borders of the blue Lake Léman. Except for some ugly remarks made by a lady who knew India and thought that I was an upstart coolie pretending to be the equal of Europeans, who want to look down on black colonials as inferior when they go east of Port Said, my welcome to the Fellowship School was fully cordial.


All turned out on my arrival at the School to have a look at the newcomer. As the School was divided into family units for dining-table facilities, with a male senior member, a woman senior member, two senior students, male and female, and children of different ages to make up seven or eight round a table, the senior boys and girls vied with one another to book me for their family as an interesting asset.


That I came from distant India was a special recommendation. The male teachers, they soon explained, were known as 'Pitar' because the Head of the School, Miss Emma Thomas, had discovered this Sanskrit name more suitable than the word 'Father', which had become somewhat hackneyed by long use in Catholic Schools.



Deus-Pitar as the derivation of the name Jupiter, the Most High God, also helped in this choice, as the 'Pitar' of Jupiter  was traced by philologists to the same root as 'Pita' in Sanskrit. The corresponding feminine was 'Mata', which when Miss Thomas spelled it happened to be 'Moto' so that she was called the Moto of the School as a whole, and each woman teacher had Moto prefixed to her Christian name, while men had Pitar similarly used.


Thus it was that I was called Pitar Natarajan, or more endearingly, Pitar Natty for short, especially by the younger teenagers, both boys and girls, with whom I became very popular and even a favourite before hardly a month had passed.



I have a strange weakness for children which, as a personal trait, like a constant in mathematics, has always haunted me through my life wherever I have gone. In the strangest of countries, children discovered in me, as often as a dog or cat did, a familiar friend. They took it for granted that I was going to be good. Sometimes even the smallest of them took liberties with me on the road in the strangest of places, whether in the countryside of India itself or abroad.


In the village of Gland, where simple peasant boys were sometimes quietly grazing cattle and I had to pass them on the road, I could notice how they feared me as a kind of bogey-man, as children often called figures which were suppositious only and not real to them yet. A strange short figure, black or brown, was enough of a puzzle and reminded them, perhaps, of some Negro doll they might have seen. As I approached, I could see the boy in great difficulties trying to hide his fear and praying for me to get past him somehow without any fearful problems for him to solve. As the distance shortened between us, the confusion and fear mounted in inverse proportion of the square of the distance between us.


At the critical moment he would just manage to say 'Bonjour Monsieur', and when I went past without harming him he would gain his breath again, after being dumbfounded and almost tongue-tied. To hear me talk in response to his laboured greeting made the confusion more confounded, as in certain cases with younger children, especially after I had added, in later years, a beard to my enigmatic face, which once scared two tiny tots who were about to cry on seeing me approach, but could not help bursting into loud screams when they found that the bogey man could not only walk but even speak like others who were not bogies at all.



School-children have followed me everywhere and, although I treated them as pets, I was obliged to look upon them as pests or nuisances when I could not get rid of them. When there was no elder person to scare them away with a grumpy voice, I found myself often mobbed and, as it were, marooned, surrounded by ragged urchins who took no end of liberties with me, treating me as a harmless 'bonhomme', no more harmful than the weakest among them.


How they were able to guess my helplessness so readily has remained a puzzle to me. I can remember a girl in rags, hardly six, who went far in making faces at me and treating me like a strange monkey or other animal, while I only smiled benignly and looked on. She continued her efforts to disturb my equanimity for several hours at a time and for several days on end, so that I began to wonder how much wickedness could remain stored in little imps of her small size.


As a schoolmaster I had to be a disciplinarian and the demands of this side and the extreme latitude that children took with me often created annoying problems, especially in a school which was fully committed to pacifist Quaker ways. All physical punishments were taboo too, and both the parents and teachers adhered to rule as best they could. I had to be an exception in this matter and often fell back on hitting myself when no other honest way could be found. Children understood and excused me. I made up quickly and we were all friends again.



'New Education', whatever the term was expected to mean, was the rage in the school world of Europe at the time I became one of the staff of the Fellowship School in Gland. From the Negative Education of Rousseau to the Free-Play method of Froebel and Pestalozzi, one heard such expressions as 'the Child-Centred School' and the 'Ecole Active', where education, instead of being given or driven into the pupils, as thought correct till then, was rather drawn out with a programme or syllabus based on the natural interest of the pupil, paedocentrically, as against a programme of subject-matter where books to read took the central position.



Such schools were sometimes called 'experimental schools', either because they were based on experimental psychology or because the schools themselves were looked upon as experiments in educational research. The children were not only to be left alone, unpunished or uncoerced, but enjoyed what was called 'freedom', which often verged on license, and chaos sometimes reigned in classrooms.


In most cases the individual rather than a group was catered to. Sometimes the children were grouped according to age groups or subject groups, with projects to accomplish, whether within laboratories or in the open air. 'Learning through free play' was another doctrine in vogue, and the teacher was mostly an onlooker or a companion only, rather than the all-knowing village schoolmaster whom Goldsmith had portrayed. One talked in terms of 'a garden of children' where the horrid school bell and the grammar-school atmosphere through which a David Copperfield or an Oliver Twist had to be ground or licked into shape by the free use of the birch by the Murdstones or stepfatherly educators of the old school; or where the boy had to make good at any cost along the lines that the state or the county council demanded; or be banished into the army or the navy as a good-for-nothing - was no more the case.


On the contrary, sheer impishness and the terrible features of the spoiled child often came to evidence. Gloating over the two cross clauses of the full declaration of freedom of the child, which were 'I can if I want to' do such and such, and 'I don't have to', completed the condition which often made chaos prevail where all had been dead discipline and silence before.


Calligraphy and the three R's naturally suffered in such a setup and there was not much difference between a school working day and holiday. Such was the educational paradise into which I entered. As the teachers too, naturally, took their vocation as lightly as the pupils did, my life at the Fellowship School was no drudgery at all. Nestling among the mountains on the border of the lake, it was for me five years of freedom with everything found.



Thus study and ease together mixed with the games and recreations in a Swiss village in full view of the Alps and their twilight glories reflected in the lake where swans glided and icicles melted as the seasons passed, not far from Nyon where Rousseau was born as the son of a watchmaker. Life was for me a pastoral paradise in earthly surroundings, which could not be any better.



The table too, at the school, lacked no nourishing food. Plenty of butter, fruit, and milk, with all imaginable luxuries belonging to a rural gastronomy were provided in plenty. Natural honey and nuts and seasonal fruit and vegetables, with a cuisine that catered to all European tastes, French, Italian, or that of the New World; with a company of men and women in full healthy holiday mood - was just the opposite phase for me of the immediately preceding austere years that I had left behind in India. I feared that God was being too kind to me and tried hard to bring a touch of old austerity into the merry-making world in which my lot happened to be cast.


Dinner was on a cafeteria basis and all helped themselves at a large kitchen. Ad lib was the rule as we passed in single file round the various items of the full three-course meal, beginning with vegetable soup and ending with dessert. In the beginning I was so repulsed by the gourmandising atmosphere that one day I decided to be satisfied by the first course alone. I could not continue this severity on myself without being discovered by my young friends who became so touched by it that they stood round me one day, protesting and asking me to eat for their sakes and not be such a killjoy. It was not fair to all the rest, they argued, and I had to give in finally - which was not difficult as it was austerity which was unnatural. I was obliged to conform and soon began to grow fat on rich ovo-lactarian food, with other open-air activities.


When autumnal evenings began to be colder, indoor games and assemblies were organized and it was fun and frolic round the clock, except when one was in the nursing arms of sleep. The grape-gathering season was over, during which the vendangeurs and vendangeuses, young and old, had their time of gay orgies of kissing and being kissed while they plucked the grapes - which was quite normal then as between young and old of both sexes. This was a Swiss custom which had its origin from Rousseau's time and excites the people each year like the Holi of India.





Jean-Jaques Rousseau.


One day when it was my turn to be on duty in the kitchen of the school, making toast for supper for the whole community of fifty or sixty as the autumnal days set in with that strange touch of inner sadness that creeps into one at the time of the falling leaves before full winter, I remember that I sat near the fire and, while watching inside the large iron oven to see that the toast did not burn, I pored over the pages of Rousseau's 'Emile'.


My knowledge of French was still poor. By reading signboards and newspaper headlines and more particularly by scanning a textbook in which one page was the translation into English of the facing French text, I made headway inch by inch, always annoyed by the complications that the conjugation of irregular verbs presented and by the bugbear of gender that made syntax a hurdle for foreigners to the language.


Still I plodded on, burning the midnight lights. I made full use of the only full phrase I knew at the beginning which was the English title of one of Keats' poems, 'La Belle Dame sans Merci' and naughtily repeated it to some of the girls to make them mock my aptitude in learning French. Instead of taking easy books with no interest to me, I adopted the contrary way of following as best as I could the thoughts in difficult books such as those of Bergson and Rousseau.


I distinctly remember when I read in Emile the following, 'It is to thee that I speak, gentle and foreseeing mother' etc. in the introduction where, continuing, Rousseau says that it is the mother alone who can put a fence round the growing child in the initial stages of its education so as to protect it from those who might tamper and distort the growth of the tender plant when it needs full protection. 'C'est à toi que je parle, douce et prévoyante mère' ran the actual words which enthralled me for the first time as I read Emile to find its affinity with Indian concepts of education. I could see the kinship between 'negative education' and the idea of brahmacharya as understood in the context of Indian education. This was an eye-opener for me in my researches on the 'Personal Factor in the Educative Process' which was to be my chosen subject for a thesis I was to write for Paris.


I was also deeply moved by another sentence there which ran as follows: 'Reader, remember always that he who speaks to you is neither a philosopher nor a savant, but a simple man, a lover of truth (un ami de la vérité)'. How often since then have I repeated these words, each time with an increasing emotion, till sometimes I have been so deeply touched as to have tears filling my eyes.



Rousseau became thus for me a key to Western civilization more and more; and a sure contact was thus established between me of the East with the West by my understanding of the dear spirit of Rousseau who combined the 'Solitary Promeneur', the 'Lover of Heloïse' and the 'Teacher of Emile'. He was a Citizen of Geneva and at the same time a Citizen of the World. I have not been able to forget him for the rest of my life. 0 Kindred Spirit! I now greet thee again from this distance of time and space, after two hundred years have passed since you lived with vivacious emotions, the same as when I read your precious words!


Autumnal evenings merged and blended with colder winter days and, after an initial cold and attack of fever by which my system seemed to adjust itself to the challenge of real winter in a European climate; with a sense of fear of what was going to be, and with deep-seated emotions being revived within, both intellectually and instinctively, with new sets of relations with people around - I felt a strange sense of the numinous not unmixed with a touch of agony, anxiety and even exaltation at the strangeness of the situation as a whole. Admiration for Rousseau became more and more justified as I read more of him and allied literature in preparation for my work at the University.



Before the last embers of my first affair with a woman had died out, I had early forebodings of another that was going to erupt, as it were, from underground. A pretty French teacher at the school was in question this time. As each family table had to have a father and mother and enough children of both sexes, I found that by some strange chance this particular person was at my table.


I had already been looking to her for help in learning French. Something forewarned me that I should change my family table and not be bracketed with this pretty mistress. I did so. In the long run, however, this deliberate avoidance did not avail. A strange intimacy began to grow between us, which seemed to have the approval of all nature. She was the teacher willing to teach me, and I had to be closeted with her in the newspaper room of which I was in charge and where I had my own books for my work and gave lessons in science for the junior boys and girls three or four times a week.



It was the warmest and cosiest corner too for me to remain most of the late autumnal days. I spent many hours alone there, sometimes half-drowsily listening to a girl at her piano practice in the adjoining school hall. Some of the haunting notes of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata sank into my own subconscious and became part and parcel of my own nature while it seemed also to interpret the colourful autumnal scene which I watched through the windows.


While sweet memories brought also memories bright or dark around me, it was at this period that a strange letter was received from the woman in a far-off land whose story I have already told and by which the last embers of my love affair with her were to be soon extinguished. At the time she was still treating the matter seriously. The long letter described how she had made the acquaintance of another man who was keen on having her as a life companion. She wished that I should permit her to enter into alliance with him and absolve her of any understanding with me. I gave her this assurance readily and thus a chapter was properly closed, though the ashes continued to be warm till death on her part extinguished them finally about three or four years later. The new love affair was ready to leap its surprise on me already - and however much I tried to avoid it, all my efforts only made it more difficult for me to completely call a halt to further developments.


On a certain evening I was going to catch the night train to Paris for the first time to see the professor who was to interview me about the thesis that I was to submit in another two years or so. The kind lady accompanied me at dusk as far as the railway station, and on the way put me a strange question which I did not understand at first, which was clothed in the simplest of words: 'Pitar Natty,' she said, 'What do you think of me?' I could not answer her so simply and straightforwardly as she was able to put this momentous question. She was bringing out into the open something she could not express. In the world of love affairs, however, it was an event as important as the eruption of a latent volcano.


Next school year after winter, however, the illness of her parents kept her away from the school, and I had for the time being no problem to solve. I continued my life playing mixed football matches or tennis; indulging in swimming whenever the weather permitted; and taking language lessons in French and German, while I gave my lessons, in class or to individuals, in English and in science subjects, for seniors as well as juniors.




In India one hears of psychic powers or siddhis, which ought really to refer to spiritual attainments or perfections of some kind, but are often imagined to be supernatural or extra-sensorial aptitudes or abilities such as divination, telepathy, clairvoyance or the power to produce some desired results at will. Materialisations and hallucinations too get mixed up with these, but the officially-recognised siddhis or powers of a yogi in Sanskritic lore, which are eight in number, are said to belong to the series: anima, mahima, laghima, garima, prakamya, isitva, vasitva, prapti - with many others sometimes added - and comprise powers of being or becoming small, big, light, heavy; of mastery, divinity, control and attainment.


Sleight of hand is responsible for some so-called powers, but others are more psychic or occult. A mixture of elements, apparent or real, can produce puzzling effects. To see light between the eyebrows when meditating, and to hear sounds or have visions of holy lights with singing of heavenly choirs are other familiar forms of siddhis, besides levitation and flying into thin air.


I have been strangely innocent of any of these during the course of my spiritual practices. I tended normally to discredit them and only hoped one day to discover their scientific basis, while generally preferring to be sceptical about them. I cannot say, however, that I never had an experience of an order that could be suspected to be supernatural or abnormal.


This, as it so happened in my case, has been connected with books. When I wanted a book badly, by some strange chance I came up against it, almost as a rule. The need had to be real and the desire fully genuine. It may be possible that there is a subjective element involved, so that when a certain expected event happens, you tend to match a desire for it as its cause without any intrinsic cause-effect relation between them - it might have been a mere sequence and you have read more into it than there is actual justification for in the case itself when treated without fuss. All such views are possible, but one cannot fail to note a coincidence, especially when it is of great significance to one's life.


Miss Thomas had decided to give me a room near and overlooking the lake with only the fishing boats and the pebbled beach intervening. A fisherman was living next door, with two or three motor-propelled boats with which he went fishing with his wife.



The broad lake, with the French Savoy opposite, was rich in finny population of various kinds. In this room was where the chance event took place which I tell without any distortion of circumstances at all.



It was a longish room, with doors and windows opening towards the lake only, and my bed and table were at the end where there was enough light. I was to begin my work seriously on my thesis, and was preparing to make the first skeleton outlines and explore for preliminary books which would give me ample data.


I had to take a decision to start the work on the thesis in right earnest and had drawn two tables together and got ready the writing materials. I sat down, determined to make a beginning - but I thought of the preliminary books I had to read. I was not acquainted enough with the new school of analytical psychology. Freud and Jung were the rage at the time, and Adler too was much talked about. How could I prepare a thesis without knowing about them? And there were experimental aspects of psychology which I had not mastered and without which my thesis would be feeble in its documentation and cross-references.


I raised my pen several times to start writing the first paragraph of the introduction. The pen gave me some trouble too. I felt disgusted with myself on not being able to muster the first sentences which, when well begun would have made my task half done, as the adage puts it. A first, second and a third time I made my attempt, but I felt no confidence in what I wanted to say, which had to be one hundred per cent honest and original. I was not going to get a doctorate with made-up theories or on findings of a second-hand order.


When I found that my confidence utterly failed me a third time, I put my pen down in disgust, rose from my seat and began to pace up and down the longish room. How was I to reach the books on psychoanalysis and have a better grounding in experimental aspects of psychology? I had already ransacked the school library and asked the other members for any books in their respective collections. The only alternative was to go to the nearest library in Geneva, which meant a day's journey each time.



As I paced up and down, I clearly remember noticing, for the first time, a curtain hiding a door at the hindmost end of my room. I removed the curtain, pushed open the door and entered a lumber room where old things were stowed away. There, on a broken piece of furniture, I found a pile of big volumes. I looked at their titles and what was my surprise when I found that they all referred to abnormal and analytical psychology which I wanted to consult very badly indeed just at that moment. Miss Thomas had wanted these books to be put away from adolescent readers because they contained sex anecdotes. And there they were, together worth a couple of hundred Swiss francs, and all waiting for me to make use of them.


If the coincidence did not tally with the very moment I was in anguish for them, I could have dismissed it as a mere accident - but put together with my inner agony for lack of them just at that very moment, I could not treat the event merely mechanistically. There were more than merely brute mechanistic factors involved, whatever name I might give to the chance element which was a blend of probabilities and possibilities of a fifty-fifty world of subtle occasionalism. As I claimed to be both a sceptic and a believer at once, as one dedicated to absolutism, I left this as an open question and I do so even now. It could be treated just as a mere coincidence if I thought like Bertrand Russell; but in the light of the principle of pre-established harmony in the universe of a Leibniz I can look upon the same event as a wonder and a mystery. I like to accept both of these and fit them into a common scheme of the Absolute, as a fact as well as a mystery at once.


While I am on this subject I must also say here that a fortnight after this event I found another book I wanted in the same mysterious way. It was the book on experimental psychology that interested me then, which I wanted to revise from end to end before starting on my thesis. I had asked all the teachers, especially the English couple, Mr. and Mrs. Best, who had a fine collection of books in their flat upstairs, also overlooking the lake, just above my room.


It was Easter of 1928 and the whole school had gone to Arles in the South of France for an excursion and historical study round the Greek remains there. The couple had entrusted their flat to my care and I could use their library when they were away, as also their crockery and all the jams and conserves they had left behind. I did not let the chance slip and helped myself freely to the provisions.



I looked once again all over for the wanted book, although I had already asked the owners if they had it and they had denied it. At a moment of keen need felt inside, I bent over the bookshelf again, and a smallish book with peculiar Sanskritized lettering on the back, belonging to the 'Temple Series' as it was called, seemed to beckon to me to come closer and take a look at the title. When I bent more closely, I read, to my surprise, the very words 'Experimental Psychology, by William Mac Dougall'. No better book could have come to my hands just then, and I grabbed it with prayerful avidity and a thankful drop of tears in my eyes - confirmed sceptic and unbeliever that I otherwise ordinarily claimed to be in other moments of my life. Life consists both of facts as well as mysteries.









Paris in the 1920's.


Paris, Paris! This name has endeared itself to modern man in many ways. Its charms have attracted many a globetrotter, and to repeat the name brings to mind a cluster of associations that cling together almost into a persona.


Paris has a female personality which one never fails to sense on entering through its walls. Besides the Cathedral so called, some fashionable 'Notre Dame' occupies mentally the core of Paris, trotting the pavements in a quick high-heeled pace. It is the woman and not the man who is respected in Paris, and if anywhere in the world the word 'Madame' gains meaning in modernism, it is at Paris that its high-water mark gets recorded every time you utter the word. The aristocrat or bourgeois here takes off his gloves to shake hands with a mere servant-woman, which one does not do elsewhere in civilised cities.


To love Paris is to respect Woman, irrespective of her faults which might be more glaringly revealed in the night-life of Montmartre than anywhere else in the respectable world. Thus it is that the 'amour' of Paris is 'pour toujours' (forever). Like the thing of beauty which is 'a joy forever' as Keats would say, 'Paris toujours' is the slogan natural in the mouth of the young dandy or old flirt.


Much intellectual life has also to be associated with Paris, with its life dating back to the fall of Rome after which soldiers, priests, sailors and philosophers jostled and rubbed shoulders in what is called 'la vie de Paris', lasting for centuries. Even the concierges and charwomen were respected like vestal virgins here. Such was the Paris that in the autumn of 1928 I walked into, unconscious yet of her charms and claims to be worshipped on the part of a votary from a far-off shore, suckled by other strange 'pagan' and 'barbarous' cults and customs.




'See Naples and die', goes the saying, but the smells and sights

of actual Naples might be repulsive. After alighting at the Gare de Lyon I was conducted through the streets of Paris by an Indian friend who later become famous as a physicist. It was still early in the morning and the autumnal sun was hardly visible in the dull air. The shops and boutiques were opening, and the trams and Métro only beginning to wake up the lazy giant city from its prolonged slumbers after a busy previous night. Most of Europe is dead drunk still at eight in the morning, and the carpet-beating of some wilful man on a fifth-floor balcony only makes the sleeper turn onto the other side to get his lost forty winks again. The polite policeman of Paris breathes mist like a fiery horse, and the wayside vendor begins to arrange his flowers or stockings with a yawn. The waitresses too shake off their slumbers as best they can before the revels begin again with glasses clinking and pavement cafes begin to work in full swing through the day into the recesses of the night.


'Le Quartier Latin' is where all Parisian life converges to reveal its most unconventional liberties. Past the University area where blonde girl students can be seen walking arm in arm with their jet-black counterparts from the interior of the Dark Continent, or sipping café noir sitting on high seats in restaurants, one reaches the Porte d'Orléans, where fish and rabbits hanging upside down are displayed alongside chic shops with flower- or newspaper-vendors, with roasted nuts too. All this makes for the busy life of the more common Parisian. The latest Paris cries can be heard here as in the days of old.


I finally went off the Boulevard to a smaller side-street where I was to live at No.5, Rue Marie Davy, 14th district, where my kind hostess Madame Morin was expecting me. This lady was a friend of Indians, many of whom enjoyed her hospitality over many years. Finally her love of India brought her to Delhi, where she still lives, broadcasting in French for All-India Radio. To have become such a mouthpiece must have been in her karma in this or a prior life. Such thoughts do not sound strange to an Indian mind, although they might rub a Papist the wrong way.


I had a room to myself which belonged to the son of Madame Morin, Jean-Jacques, then about twelve, who was then in a boarding-school. There, sitting up many times on autumnal mornings carrying the foretaste of winter to come, I formulated the contents of the thesis I was going to write for the Sorbonne University. Many tentative skeletons were made and torn up before something satisfactory emerged.



The agony of finding shelter, learning a language, paying for my lodging and board, finding guides or friends, were still uphill points for me to climb and reach if possible. Faith alone was on my side then. I felt much helplessness and ignorance, keenest at this time of my life; and to Madame Morin goes the credit of giving me some attention which is still appreciated by this man who is 'ever yours truly', no other than a 'satya-dharman' - a lover of truth trying to walk in its path.



'The Personal Factor in the Educative Process' was the title of the thesis I was going to submit to the University. Even before going to Paris I had made up my mind in this matter, as I have always been of the opinion that the core of education consists of proper rapport between teacher and taught. This principle has been understood through all time in India, as even a peasant woman to this day would strongly vouch for in asking her child to touch the feet of a passing saddhu or itinerant teacher. From the learning of the first alphabet to wisdom, this Guru-sisya (master-pupil) relation counts; and this belief, tacitly accepted by millions for ages, needed to be restated in a revised form for moderns to understand. The subject had enough research features involving psychology, pedagogy and philosophy.


The whole theory and practice of Indian education had to be revalued and restated, and this topic that touched the core would, I thought, command a basic interest that would not pass away quickly. Modern education under the New Education Movement started by Dr. Adolphe Ferrière, Dr. Edouard Claparède and Dr. Pierre Bovet, whose personal acquaintance I had already made at Geneva while at the Institute Jean-Jacques Rousseau where I had completed short courses already, had given me enough modern ideas in education to give flesh and blood to my study of the role of the Guru.


Taking the dust off the feet of a Guru walking the dusty roads of India has been a gesture dear to the Indian mind, even before the great Buddha's days when it was fully recognised; and the unique character and personality India possesses to this day is owing to this respect for Guruhood. To analyse this regard and give it, if possible, a new lease of life was to be my contribution through my thesis.



I am sure the idea is dear to India still and perhaps will remain so whatever else changes and passes. At least that is a hope, even if all else should be lost. Whether in early 'negative' education, in later adolescent 'natural', or mid-life 'pragmatic', or in 'idealistic' education before death, the bipolarity as between teacher and taught holds good as a law in education.


Nature's pages could substitute for the Guru in a sense, and a living guide represent the Guru-ideal - but these are partial aspects of the total situation in which a full osmosis could take place between the two poles of the situation. Both gain equal transparency in the end when the Absolute vision is complete. Such were some of the implications of the subject I had chosen.



The nights began earlier and lasted longer, and this gave me a strange sense to which I was unused and which I cannot describe in words. It had an element of self-realization which made it interesting to me as I sat one evening in a Métro that had emerged from underground, where it properly belonged, to above the houses and roads in the area of Paris where the Eiffel Tower raised its head and was visible like a ghost from far off, through the misty atmosphere lit up with blurred lights. The Trocadéro and the triumphal arch passed by and I was being conducted to the study of Professor Wallon by my good hostess Madame Morin.


Wallon was the name of a young professor of the Faculty of Letters of the Sorbonne who was to be my 'rapporteur'. Madame was my interpreter in French and I readily handed in the abstract in French that I had got ready. He scanned the items and turned the pages silently for some time and seemed satisfied, but soon added that Indians were generally 'sentimental', and the thesis had to be  'objective' and 'critical'. I knew already that these words were dear to the modern Western mind. 'Demonstrable', 'operational', 'pragmatic', 'scientific' and 'realist' are other modern words which are dear to the West - and anything that even smells of the a priori is at once suspect and thus repugnant. The modern man forgets that all speculation is immersed in truths taken for granted as a priori, whether as axioms, postulates, theorems, riders, corollaries or lemmas which all depend on the principle of the a priori.



I took up the challenge of the professor from that day, and have tried to fulfil the requirements of the critical approach in all my speculative writings. A science must have its due proportion of both speculation and criticism, which together bring up the total knowledge-situation in the progress or procession of thought, speculative or scientific. It was thus that I struck another bargain in my life-long research of the Absolute.



By the time I returned to Switzerland the trees had shed their leaves and winter sleet and slush were announced, with the Mistral or the Bise that needed double shutters to keep out the cold. There are many kinds of killing winds in the world 'nor good for man nor beast', rising from land or sea. Of these the Bise with its league-long wings was special to the lakeside Canton of Vaud in Switzerland, as the Mistral is to the South of France. It brought blizzards which alternated with hoarfrost and unhealthy mists decking the pine trees in various fantastic costumes from day to day or week to week, revealing or hiding Alpine scenery both near and far.


Icicles and frozen lakes were common, favourable to iceskating and other winter sports. Migrating water birds of many kinds, and robins who ate crusts off the windowsill, lent the winter air a mystical content of joy. Indoor cosiness and comfort had its counterpart in the bleak skies outside, so that one reflected the projection of the other with a subtle one-one correspondence between the inner and outer spaces.


Winter too had its glad tidings and greetings of the season, presided over by the pagan Santa Claus figure of the pine-clad Nordic clime with a sled drawn by reindeer. Christmastide, with its carol singing when the first snows are evident, brings the pagan world of witches, Pucks and Jack-O'Lanterns into full view, as reflected in Goethe or Shakespeare. Christianity can never hide its pagan background in spite of its Passion Plays belonging to the Greek context.


Warming myself in bed and keeping fires going all round were responsibilities I shared with all others. Shutting doors after one and not letting the heat warm the garden outside were precautions to be taken, and thus winter days passed memorably for me as we enjoyed its close embrace.




Coming events cast their shadows before. Strangely, an instance of this kind came into my experience when winter days were beginning and we were planning to go to the Dôle, the highest peak of the Jura Mountains, a formation of a different geological origin from the Alps, to the north of Lake Geneva.


In September I had celebrated the birthday of the Guru Narayana at a place in Geneva, the 'Salle Quo Vadis', which a kind Theosophically-inclined lady, a follower of Abdul Baha, had lent me for the day. It had a small auditorium with separate places for cooking and eating. I sent out invitations, asking people to bring an offering of fruits or flowers to the Guru, whose picture was placed on a pedestal and decorated with flowers and adored in right Indian style, not omitting incense and the waving of the camphor flame.


A dinner of rice and vegetable curry was also cooked by me. About fifty Europeans responded and participated in these quaint formalities with open-minded willingness, and a very fine atmosphere prevailed during the day. The Rev. C.F. Andrews, passing through Geneva, sent a note too, with a few rose-flower offerings, saying that he was on his way to Marburg University that day, after visiting Romain Rolland that morning, to meet Dr. Rudolf Otto, whose book 'The Idea of the Holy' ('Das Heilige'), was just then a sensation of the season.


This event was on September 14th, and on September 28th the Guru Narayana attained samadhi (final peace) in life. I was still ignorant of this event in the school at Gland, on that winter day when I was preparing with two others to climb the peak of the Dôle. On that morning, a wasp, angry that summer days were over but who continued to survive in the colder days, had stung me, and this mishap, though negligible in itself, had induced a strange state of anxiety in my mind, sensitive as I have been always to adverse red lights wherever they flickered as signals or omens against me. One always waits for what adverse event might follow. I was aware that all this was nonsense but could not help noticing the coincidence for whatever it was worth. Coming events do cast their shadows, however faint, before - though not as a mechanical rule, but in the subtle language of chance or omens. It is the voice of the Tao, for those who are sensitive to its whisperings.



The wasp-stung mood of anxiety had scarcely passed away when I got the news that the Guru Narayana had passed away in India. What heightened its significance to me was the fact that the date was roughly four months after I had taken leave of him, as recounted already, and his words 'four months' when I said I would be away for eight months, were still ringing in my ears. There are still, small voices that one can listen to within oneself if one is sensitive and can properly tune in to them.




Romain Rolland.


The great pacifist writer of France, the author of 'Jean-Christophe', a novel in several volumes, was living in retirement or self-imposed banishment at a small lakeside retreat in Switzerland at the other end of the same lake on whose borders I too lived.


Soon after the birthday celebrations of the Guru Narayana at the 'Salle Quo Vadis' in Geneva, I had a letter from the author of international fame whose books were no sooner issued then they were read in several languages in far-flung corners of the Western world. He had heard about the Guru Narayana from the Rev. C.F. Andrews, and wanted to meet me as the Guru's disciple. A date and time were fixed which I tried to adhere to as best as I could. At Lausanne station, however, where I had to change trains for Villeneuve, I made the mistake of being exact to the minute to try to get into the train, and when two minutes still remained, started from the first platform to the second, but in spite of my carefulness, by over-punctuality rather than neglect, I missed the train by one minute, as the railway clocks were automatic and my watch worked second by second instead of the minute-hand jumping once a minute rather than progressing by seconds. When I said there were still several seconds for the last minute, the railway clock had changed position twice. A sort of Zeno paradox involving Achilles and the tortoise - the former never being able to overtake the latter - was involved here. I learnt to respect Zeno from that day, but as I had to take the next train I arrived at Romain Roland's residence nearly an hour late. Otherwise the interview went well.


I was received in the drawing room of a villa bordering the high ranges of the Jura as they closed on the Alps from the southern side of the eye-shaped lake. I forgot to make any apology for being late, as the great writer, then a bachelor past sixty, and his sister Madeleine greeted me.



Soon the conversation touched the subject of the Guru. I happened to mention that the Guru mistrusted excesses like killing to please God in the name of religion. Not having visited India, the sharp grey eyes of the moustached visage of the lean and pale-looking Frenchman seemed to peer into mine questioningly. Between Bengal and Kerala a racial difference of temperament was soon read into the story, although actually there are no two ethnic groups in India that could be bracketed together as alike as the Bengali and the Malayali. He then scanned me with cat-like eyes, and with his natural penetration took me to be a representative man of Kerala, which in many respects I do not think I am.


In one of his posthumously-published diaries he has a small note about meeting me and pays me the compliment of being ugly. Although I do not consider myself very good-looking by Western standards, from my own inner standards I have never had any misgiving about my good looks. My mirror has always praised me, whatever others might have thought of me as fat, round or bald, as I actually was. One sees Helen's beauty in an eye of Egypt, as Shakespeare would put it about a lover's imagination. On my part, the slanting moustache, grey eyes and pale look of Romain Roland himself did not make any particular impression on me either, and thus we can be quits on this subject, I suppose, at least at this late hour.


A short footnote in 'The Life of Ramakrishna' which Rolland was at that time writing, shows how he made use of the interview in getting all information he could. We sat and sipped tea together and, on hearing a cough and a voice from the next room, Rolland remarked to me that it was his father who was nearing a century in age. 'He talks to himself sometimes', he added. Rolland's ability to read into the general climate and implications of Indian spirituality without ever visiting the country, it must be said, does much credit to him.








Three more years of holidaymaking on the continent of Europe still remained for me to enjoy. From 1930 to April 1933, many unexpected trapdoors of chance opened for me to give me peeps into the history and civilization of Europe. I had only to let go and not make my own plans, to be taken free of cost to all the best scenes, art-galleries and museums, cities, and hubs of what together make up Western civilization.


But we cannot afford in these backward glances to linger too long over each item. A peep through each door left ajar for me to get a passing view is all we can attempt here. Let memory bring its 'sweet light of other days' again. Regrets, if any, could have been bitter when mixed with memories, which can never attain to the full savour of sweetness; but in my case, regrets are not strong enough to mar in any way the sweetness of those unforgettable days.


I shall tell here the story of a stranger from the Deep South of India as he found his way in post-Georgian Europe after the First World War. The heart of Europe was still beating strong at that time, with not yet any signs of the decadence which only became evident a little later. From the fall of the Roman Empire through the French and Russian Revolutions to the League of Nations, reborn as the United Nations, the events are too many - but the pulsations of the heart of Europe were sturdy and sound still and held out a promise of world-wide repercussions which were to be far-flung and significant to impress the age the world over with its characteristic contributions - whether good or bad remains to be judged by posterity.



I had early located the heart or epicentre of European thought in the 'Citizen of Geneva', the solitary 'Promeneur' and lover of Truth, who was none other than the much-misunderstood and persecuted Rousseau.



Without him at its core, European civilization would be an empty shell of opulent glamour hiding poverty in the form of economic scarcity, with no true value-content within, as Voltaire correctly indicated in his 'Candide'.


With all his faults, it was Rousseau who proved that Europe still had a pulsating heart. True, his own is considered to this day as over-sentimental by some of Europe's best sons; but to the view of an outsider like me, Rousseau's sentiments alone acted as an eye-opener to civilization as applied to Europe which otherwise would have remained a closed book to all men sensitive to the human values.


Both Rousseau and Voltaire were hounded round different parts of Europe for the opinions they expressed, and the game of ushering in the Age of Enlightenment in Europe can be said to have been played with a ball that was passed from one side that was sentimental to the other that was over-rational - as represented by Rousseau and Voltaire respectively. Both found The Hague of those days an open-minded city where they could take refuge from the closed and static loyalties of the old regime.


England too, nobly played the role of protector of the freedom of thought with its sceptical Protestant and empirical outlook, and gave hospitality to these men off and on. The credit and glory that this brought to Great Britain, as both belonging to Europe and outside its mental climate, linger on in the reputation for stern common sense that the British people still enjoy in the eyes of the rest of the world. It was thus right that I should turn my eyes to England to know modern Europe.



Known as Pitar Natty in the little international lakeside community in Switzerland where I had spent my first two years in Europe, I soon became a favourite among the boys and girls who clung round me constantly with familial familiarity. One day, even before the limit of the two years was over, an elderly lady from Wales belonging to an old Quaker family, Miss Edith Roberts of Nelson, Glamorgan, who had watched me with the children of the school, and who was dressed in a broad-brimmed straw hat and plain untrimmed robes, accosted me and with deep seriousness in her face and offered me a blank cheque which I could fill with any amount I wished, to enable me to visit England and Wales.



The reason she gave was a touching one, and I could not disrespect her sentiments, even if I did not want to take the chance. 'My father built railways in India', she said, 'and I have always wished to return part of the gains to an Indian'. I was myself broke, with my bank balance dwindling and at that precise time altogether inadequate for a trip to England and back. Besides the blank cheque, she had procured a return ticket for me in a comfortable second-class to London, via Paris, Dieppe and Folkestone.


Starting sufficiently early the previous day, Paris was passed at night and the Dieppe-Folkestone crossing was announced during the early hours of the next morning. It was a long schooner or cutter that waited to ferry us over the chafing channel, on whose deck we soon found ourselves huddled with our belongings. The crossing was not long, but the chilly winds and choppy weather were all unfavourable for any tender sentiments, least of all lovemaking, as I could not omit noticing with some couples or pairs of them around me. No doves can coo in adverse weather. Love calls for a calm atmosphere - it is vertical and bad weather is horizontal. They cannot go together.


At long last the daylight announced itself and the ferry was within sight of the English coast. A fellow-passenger who was an English student in London stood beside me on the deck and pointed at the first English roof that caught our eye in that dear old country. He taught me to recognize the pub which is always to be associated with Merry England. Soon on English soil my friend helped me to find my way to London. A taxi soon took me to Gower Street Indian Hostel, where, after a few hours waiting, I got a bed-and-breakfast lodging in famous London Town.






London in the 1930's.


John Gilpin's London Town with its turnpikes and towers must have changed after the Great Fire and the Plague recorded in old Pepys' Diary. Dickens too portrayed a London in his 'Pickwick Papers' and 'David Copperfield'. Sir Roger de Coverley saw a London that was pre-Victorian as revealed in the Spectator essays of Addison. My familiarity with London was supplemented by what was heard and seen in pictures and from the Illustrated London News. The Thames Embankment, Tower Bridge, and the Houses of Parliament had figured on the top of biscuit boxes or as wallpaper designs. Stereoscopes had made me familiar with the fabulous policeman of London and the newsboy, representing London types in life already known.



Ever-changing London presented to me three different pictures on my three visits and sojourns there; the first in 1930, the second in 1951 and the third in 1969. Each time it was almost a different London that I visited, although at its very core London retained its personality. The London of winter was quite different from the hot London of summer with its unexpected thunderstorms and showers. It was in such an uncertain London that I found myself on my very first visit in 1930. It was a cold, sleety, misty and bleak London that I visited in 1951. I remember walking under Big Ben on Christmas Eve of 1951 with my overcoat, hands kept warm in my pockets. The short days were closing in even at five and, in the boarding-house in Tavistock Square where I stayed, I had to keep warm by putting pennies in slots for the gas fire to burn as in the good old days. Changeless London still lingered on as a state of mind in spite of change all round. Hyde Park Corner and Picadilly Circus retain still some of their fine old aspects. Greater London with its suburban life is where change was seen greatest during my 1969 visit. The familiar Londoner was being displaced by people from all the far-flung corners both of palm and of pine - dark, fair or mixed, to make of modern Greater London a mosaic pattern of different complexions and mentalities.



The countryside of England gives a better picture of English life. I had already an invitation to spend a few days at a typical old Quaker house in the Welsh town of Nelson, near Cardiff, removed from urbanism and hiding within typical country surroundings. I took a train at Euston for Glamorganshire. The Great Western Railway engine soon gathered full speed as its big wheels covered the countryside like a dart. The waiter soon after announced lunch and, while bridges and fields went by as I watched through the dining saloon window that shook characteristically because of the luxury springs beneath the bogeys, an Englishman sitting facing me at table put me a question which was queer to me though natural enough from his standpoint. 'Is Gandhi still giving trouble in India?' he asked.



'Sure', I nodded assentingly, swallowing my patriotism, if any, to accommodate the conversation that naturally followed afterwards. Yes, the Mahatma was a troublemaker, only he made such trouble that one group liked and another disliked. There were racial and geographical boundaries involved, however generously interpreted. If there was absolutism in the trouble, it was not at least evident on the surface.


The Bristol Channel was crossed under the estuary rather than by an overhead bridge. It was a new experience for me to be told that we had passed from England to Wales at an estuary in daylight without seeing the water that we had crossed. Changing to a smaller-gauge railway line at Cardiff, I continued through winding hilly country scenery, not unlike that of the Indian Nilgiris, into Wales proper past Welsh towns whose names I could hardly pronounce. Beyond Pontypridd I found my way to the little village of Nelson in Glamorganshire to the house of my hostess, whose sister received me with the charming hospitality of old Wales, now unknown in urbanised parts of Great Britain: mixing with the people of the place; attending an educational conference; cooking a much-relished Indian dinner for the inmates of Pilgrim Place, as the centre I lived in was called; and airing all my views openly and freely without reserve.


After spending five days, I returned part of the way to Cardiff in a cart with an ex-member of Parliament in charge of doling out help to unemployed Welsh workers in social centres scattered over South Wales. The troubles of the labouring section became fully evident to me as I was taken in a spin to more than a dozen places. I was dropped at a wayside station in the afternoon from where I reached Cardiff sufficiently early to attend a lecture by Mrs. Annie Besant in the biggest half of the town, with Mr. Shiva Rao on the platform with her, speaking on Indian Home Rule. An Irish lady speaking on Indians in Wales gave me fresh perspectives in politics. Cardiff, I discovered, had some colour prejudice because of Negro sailors, who were not welcome in some inns and restaurants. I bought some clothes in a main-street shop before returning to the baggage I had left in the station, and took the train late at night back to London. Arriving too early, before daybreak, I waited till it was daylight to find my room again in the Gower Street Hostel.



Sight-seeing for its own sake was against my principles in life, and, for the reason of insisting on sights coming to me instead of my seeking out sights, I spent a whole afternoon sitting on one of the benches opposite the British Museum. Rare exhibits of interest, especially as I was a naturalist and indologist, must have been missed, but curiosity must have a break and what we learn must come by natural interest contacts of time and place. I would not go out of my way to seek new satisfactions. Sufficient unto the day was the evil thereof. More sights have come to me by this negative attitude than to many others equal to me in other respects who have cultivated interests more haphazardly. The world of interest outside and our own curiosity must be correctly linked so that an osmotic interchange of essences involved between them can naturally take place.


The Nelson monument, Covent Garden, the place where Johnson lived in the Haymarket, what was said to be the Old Curiosity Shop pictured by Dickens, Hyde Park Corner - not to speak of Kingsway, the East End where Quakers worked in slum areas, and High Holborn - none went out of my view. Sight after sight came before me.


Once entering Hyde Park, summer as it was, the lawns were filled with holidaymakers basking in sunlight. Spring fever was still lingering on and, unlike in India, love-excited men and women with flushed faces were having a good time. I sauntered along with my broad-brimmed hat and long hair showing its curls behind. As I entered the park, I created a sensation as I must have appeared a queer figure like the man figured on Quaker Oats packets. I could not explain the uproar that went on around me wherever I walked that day, till I had proved experimentally that it was the curly hair beneath the broad-brimmed hat that had gone slightly out of fashion that acted as a cynosure, by returning to the same spot without creating any excitement after I had a haircut, everything else remaining the same as before,

I visited my Bahai friend, Lady Bloomfield, and was taken in her brother's car to have a spin round the sights of London. Another day I took tea in Parliament House overlooking the Thames with the famous Labour member, Fenner Brockway. I dined another noon in the suburban residence of two other senior parliamentarians after attending a Quaker meeting at Euston.



I missed my way many times, walking the streets and shop-window gazing, catching wrong buses to add to the confusion. I used the underground 'tube' and climbed by revolving staircases at Tottenham Court Road. I did not omit Woolworth's, also once attending a Church service at St. Martins in the Fields. The blank cheque was filled in by me with 'pounds ten' which I cashed at the Trafalgar Square branch of Lloyds Bank, and I had time too, to get a London tailor make a coat and plus-fours - in fashion then in London - made of heavy woollen worsted.


After a full fare of London's attractions, major and minor too, like eating at the Lyons' Corner House restaurant or witnessing a Punch and Judy marionette show, I returned to Geneva the way I went, this time the train rounding the outskirts of Paris from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon, to avoid breaking my journey there. A special midnight train brought me to Gland, although I happened to be the only passenger in the bogey that could take fifty.


The London I again saw in 1951 had many familiar spots blown out of existence. Some were being rebuilt, but others seemed to take a laborious time to recover, contrasting in this respect with Germany where recovery seemed comparatively vital and fast.



As I have related, my first love affair in India was at a time when I was ill-fed and steeped in poverty. In Europe it was the opposite condition that prevailed. Butter, cream, nuts and the equivalent of two or three eggs a day, with fruits and three-course dinners regularly, was normal, and I could not baulk out of it although I made a trial at first. The second love affair that came up, as I have related previously, came with a bang of surprise and interest when I was better fed. As the Gita says, food has a direct bearing on appetites such as sex and only a full vision of the Absolute can effectively cure man of this basic biological disposition. (Gita, 11.59).


Seasickness, love-sickness and homesickness are like all other ailments, which are essentially fleshly in origin. Their origin is not deep-seated in the human system, but belongs to the peripheral epiphenomenon aspect, full of the changing glamour of interests. Some take them seriously as belonging to the soul of life. The true love of Shakespeare's Sonnets has its reality in anthologies of lyric poetry where it is treated seriously.



Lyrics become more serious in Romantic literature, culminating in such works as Victor Hugo's 'Hernani', where the play ends and the curtain drops over two lovers who at the end of five or more acts full of tragedy-verging romance drink poison from each other's hands and lie dead on the stage at midnight. Love stories in Hamlet and Othello become instilled with sterner stuff till they attain to white heat again in Greek tragedy in the hands of master artists like Euripides and Sophocles. When love thus transcends death and rises to an absolute status in the scale of human values it deserves to be respected, otherwise it is no more than a stomach ache, nostalgia or mal de mer.


The affair that was in evidence in my life when I was in the better-fed atmosphere of the Swiss lakeside boarding-school was perhaps one of those billows that begin with early adolescence, gently at first as a sort of ground swell, but which are succeeded, as one approached middle-age maturity, by surging waves that sometimes dash against the beach as breakers. Tidal waves thus come and go, leaving behind the rock they swept over when true love emerges and survives all stages of life.


These truths were known to me, but my affair with the pretty French schoolmistress was not yet closed. I had a telephone call in a lady's voice one day after winter's ice had thawed and spring flowers like cowslips and buttercups were still hiding under the grass waiting to announce the glorious spring that all poets of Europe have ever lauded. The call was a familiar one and, interspersed with sighs and deep breaths, it announced the death of her father. A further link was established thus with the same young lady who is the subject or object of this love affair or romance, the second wave that passed over me after attending a Quaker meeting at Euston - a taller billow than before by its lack of deeper content. How I lived through this second upsurge and tided over my emotional crisis I shall tell later.








England to me was not a strange land. It was known through books and some aspects of England forgotten or taken for granted by the Englishman himself were known to me more intimately. Not so with the continent; it held its close secrets even for an educated Englishman whose course of culture could not be considered complete without being finished by a continental tour.


A smattering of French often added to the stature of an English snob, and to have had a French nurse in infancy gave a continental touch to enhance aristocratic superiority. In most cases this kind of little knowledge did not go well with the bowler-hatted conservative and suave Londoner who could never make a good Parisian dandy brought up in the free and easy atmosphere of the continent.


The continent had a liberalising effect, although through the Dark Ages to the time of Voltaire there lurked at its heart many vulnerable spots which were the subjects of the vitriolic indictments contained in 'Candide'. A whole generation was later to be disillusioned by Voltaire about the value of the mercantile civilization of Nordic Europe. The Latins retained some culture in spite of these forces of opulence and gold rush.


Hitler and Mussolini were still alive when I had the chance to spend several holidays in rare parts of Europe still holding out cultural treasures for the edification of moderns. A pilgrim from the East had many new matters to absorb from art galleries, museums and music halls and even from the range of wines that required the cultivation of 'good taste', the last distinguishing mark of one whose education was not neglected.






The chronological order of my several holidays in Europe eludes me at this distance of time, but each such period comes within the purview of my retrospective glance like a separate island rising above the water level of consciousness.



Each year, invariably at Easter, the Fellowship School programmed a visit which was called a 'pilgrimage' to the warmer climes of southern Europe. I had purposely missed the very first of them, which took the school to the Greek ruins in and around Arles in the south of France. I found time for all such tours the rest of the five years. Each teacher as well as student had months of preparation before the pilgrimage began in which courses were given and library references made in respect of the sites and scenes to be visited. This preparatory course was compulsory for both pupils and staff.


The history of art and architecture was explored so as to throw sidelights and give proportion and perspective to history as gained from mere textbooks - much of which book-work often evaporated without leaving any impression on the pupils once the white heat or boiling point of the public exams were over. The brains then remained clean slates again with no living interest fixing the facts and figures into memory. Personal visits helped to make the programme of interest supplement the programme of mere study. As in the 'look and say' method, one appealed to the visual and the other to the auditory, till both fused into one 'apperception mass' as educational psychologists call such, after Herbart. Some neglected aspects of my own education were thus to be compulsorily and free of cost made available to me, even though rather late in my career.






It is Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice' that introduces this city to the undergraduates of English universities. Padua, Verona, Vicenza and other smaller and less-reputed towns have also their stories to tell about classical times, both Roman and Greek. The Jew like Shylock entered the scene only after the fall of Constantinople, bringing in his trail the Renaissance, with Christianity spreading from the time of one pope to another. European civilization had its cradle here. Master sculptors and painters found patrons through the centuries: now under the Church; now under the rulers who ousted each other in turn in domains big and small.


Venice has retained its character through all these vicissitudes. The favourite landmarks in terms of which the modern tourist thinks of his itinerary remain here, such as the Bridge of Sighs; the Lido; the Rialto on which Shylock shouted for his daughter, offering ducats; St. Mark's Church and Square; the Clock; the Doge's Palace and the Church of Santa Lucia of whom the gondoliers sing as of old their long-drawn songs of praise - give Venice its time-honoured personality.



Balconies and loggias speak of ancient love-smitten couples who must have been serenaded from road or canal under conditions in which Shylock's daughter herself eloped at night by torchlight reflected on the dark waters. The glass-blowers too must have been there because Venetian glass has a reputation dating back quite far into history.


It was at a station before reaching Venezia Santa Lucia that we were unexpectedly told to alight with bag and baggage from the long compartment in which forty boys and girls of all nationalities, together with the staff and some guests who were allowed to join the holidaymakers, had travelled from Switzerland. We detrained in a hurry and each took care of his own and other people's things in promiscuous mutual aid. As a result, when we reached the Italian boarding school for adults where we were to lodge I found to my distress that my suitcase, which contained my typescripts for my thesis, was not among the boxes that had arrived. It was too precious to me to be lost and, after telephoning from the same station, the next day the lost article was traced at the terminal station, Venezia Santa Lucia, whose very name became thus associated in my mind with something dear to me. The song in praise of Santa Lucia still rings in my ears although I can hardly repeat the beautiful cadence reflecting the leisure with which I have heard the gondoliers themselves sing it in praise of the Holy Mother of Light.


Vicenza itself was not without its important places of cultural interest. Each day of our stay large tourist buses took us in different directions, including the ancient City of the Dead where remnants of past civilizations lie buried. I could learn about elements of architecture; distinguishing the Gothic from the Greek style or from the Byzantine or the Renaissance over which the genius of Palladio, a native of Vicenza, had exercised his architectural imagination that is said even to have influenced Sir Christopher Wren of St. Paul's of London fame.


Among sculptors the name of Canova stands out for the purity of his work on marble; and for paintings in the various galleries too numerous to mention, the ultramarine used by Tintoretto in his painting of the Virgin or of the Immaculate Conception stands out. The little I knew then has mostly evaporated by lapse of time and other interests.



Even if I could recall some more details here they would only show how superficial and meagre my knowledge was in proportion to the richness of material that was presented to me. Madonnas can be graded by the austere touch in their faces or by their jocund smiles into a series representing the stages of the revaluation of the ancient art of the old regime to that of the days after Leonardo. I could recognize Rubens and Michelangelo in broad terms. The composition that counted in paintings relied sometimes on natural tones, some more realistic; while others, of a miniature style, had their own sense of proportion. Grand creations on canvas alternated with ones that loved details of birds, flowers, fish or festoons of babies hanging from on high; and delicate and robust ones could be distinguished, as could those that used chromatic colours profusely and those that used them sparsely. The good taste that remained for me after all these sights and criticisms has at least enabled me to be sensitive to the architectural monstrosities and clashing colour schemes that have contributed to the large-scale vandalism that prevails in India at present, where laws of line, light and colour are all violated by authorities, from municipalities low down up to those sitting in the Viceregal lodges of old on high, who murder art in many ways and bury taste everywhere at present in public squares or parks all over the country. No one protests, which is a pity.




Rome in the 1930's.


Another Easter pilgrimage took me to Rome. Even before reaching there I kept repeating to myself on the train those lines from Shelley's 'Adonis':


'Go thou to Rome - at once the Paradise,

The grave, the City, and the wilderness;

And where its wrecks like shattered mountains rise

And flowering weeds and fragrant copses dress

The bones of desolation's nakedness

Follow when all is fled - Rome's azure sky,

Flowers, ruins, statues, music, words are weak

The glory they transfuse with fitting truth to speak.'



I shall not be tempted here to describe in better words what Shelley said so well, but simply add my own signature or confirmation to the words after staying on two different occasions in this city. The Rome of Mussolini's time presented, however, some features which Shelley could not foresee. Multi-storied apartment houses raised their architecture inspired by le Corbusier rather than by a Palladio or a Wren. Side by side with sepulchres and ruins infested with families of cats which bred in the very centre of the city, modern constructions in reinforced concrete in plain, futuristic, or cubical styles went sheer up to break into the sombre monotony of the antique background whose limit was masked by the Renaissance. Between the old Rome and the new that raised its head, one could visually measure the span of the history of the city of the suckling wolf and the gargoyles to the age of skyscrapers, whose time-range was marked also by the names of Caesar, Garibaldi or Mussolini.



Even to do bare justice to the treasures that Rome offered to a pilgrim in search of cultural secrets would take volumes, and I shall not venture any further here. The Vatican as an institution interested me personally, and I frequented St. Peter's many times and was present on a certain Easter Sunday at a service in which the chief of the cardinals of the Pope went past in the service conducted there. It was too much for me to aspire to have a personal interview with the Pontiff himself, but the sight of the cardinal was itself one which a constant crowd waited patiently to gain a glimpse of.


Although a Pagan I respected Christianity as much as I could without considering myself as belonging to any closed group. One could not only tolerate other religions, which some might feel is sufficient, but one could even go into the spirit of another religion so well as to be as good a papist as the Pope himself by inner sympathy. One becomes as royalist as the king without violating the openness and truthfulness that all absolutist views imply as corollaries.


I was therefore as much a Catholic or a Roman in Rome as any other in the world without inner contradiction; though, horizontally viewed, I remained an Oriental Pagan while all others around were Occidental believers in a True God.



As all spirituality depends on an inner vertical view, to speak of Jew or Gentile, Kafir or unbeliever, unless mutually recognized by both parties as such, makes contradictions for purposes of war or clash by rival worldly interests.


I cannot linger on this subject of Rome longer and must omit my visits to the several churches and memorials to bygone popes and emperors. I did however snatch a special occasion to visit the graveyard of both Keats and Shelley, and also a museum where the originals of Keats, who died a young poet, were preserved. I could actually read in Keats' own hand the first lines of his 'Endymion' which read, 'A thing of beauty is a joy forever, its loveliness increases, it will never pass into nothingness' etc. The art galleries in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican would take pages to cover. I shall therefore pass on to my next pilgrimage, penetrating deeper still into European history, religion and art in deeper southern latitudes.






The tyrant Dionysius ruled in Syracuse, the port and capital of Sicily, in the days of Plato, who is said to have been his tutor or political adviser. Starting from Switzerland on another Easter pilgrimage we passed through the Simplon tunnel, crossing the Alps into sunny Italy. After staying at Milan to see the famous cathedral and the church in which the original painting of the 'Last Supper' by Leonardo da Vinci still attracted many tourists, we travelled along the coastal route past Genoa, again to Rome and on to Naples, breaking journey in each place for long or short periods. Passing through tunnels that alternatingly contrasted with open vistas into the sea as we passed at express speed, it was a memorable joy-ride that took us to the toe of Italy where we crossed the straits, the whole train-load carried into the ferry-boat, to continue on the other side of the Straits of Messina, passing the rocks from Scylla to Charybdis instead of through them.


We soon went past Catania, overlooked by Etna whose eruption was an ever-present sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the citizens of Catania and its neighbourhood, as Vesuvius was to Pompeii. Arriving at Syracuse in the afternoon we found our home for more than a month's séjour in an orange grove of several hundred acres. There were cargo ships of smaller size loading and unloading in the quay and, unlike the opulent exterior of northern Europe, the countryside presented an air of poverty.



Tonsured priests of a Capuchin order were to be seen here and there, and bullock-carts were also in evidence with decorations on their wheels, much like what one finds in India.



Of all the sights of importance in and around Syracuse, by far the most important we visited was the Catacombs. These have reference to the earliest chapters of Christianity in Europe and were supposed to be the Christians' hiding and burial places where they sought refuge from persecution at the hands of the Greek-Roman Gentiles as well as Jews. Some marks like the swastika and the fish were to be seen near some of the niches of burial in the underground caverns where we had to go with candlelight. These have prehistoric kinships in common with larger civilizations that prevailed before Christianity, as in the case of Mohenjo-Daro in India (presently in Pakistan).


The land of the papyrus, which lies on smaller islands off Sicily that we also visited in smaller boats, took us to the days when there were commercial links between the Dark Continent and Europe through the Mediterranean; thus taking us back to a stratum in history that could be called almost prehistoric. Papyrus was the source of the earliest-made paper known to man.