MANY YEARS after my father’s death in 1970, I opened an old suitcase and found several of his unpublished manuscripts. It is strange that they remained buried and unknown for so long, but perhaps now is the time for this story to be told. Reading through them it was intriguing to see how true his voice was, and how it endured over the years. One of these documents was his autobiography that he had entitled “The Mountain Path, My Quest”.
Later when he founded the quarterly magazine for Ramanasramam he used the title “Mountain Path” for that, so we decided to leave it out of this work in order to avoid confusion.
It is an apt title for the chronicle of his life which was dedicated firstly, to finding the path, and once he was sure that he had found the right one he was utterly committed to it. His poetry as much as his prose show what a struggle it was for him at times, how he fought with darkness and despair, but, as he points out, a man who is climbing Mount Everest does not stop to play the violin. Through all his vicissitudes his faith in Bhagavan was unwavering, and Bhagavan recognised in him his humility and dedication. Sometimes when he was sitting in the hall with his eyes closed in meditation Bhagavan would look at him with such love that it could move one to tears. Even as a child I recognised this as something very special.
He was a very special person and father, but as he was the only one I had ever known I perhaps did not quite realise his uniqueness until much later. Of course some things were outstanding even to me. He writes about being quite gregarious as a young man; be that as it may, by the time he was an older man, and my father, he had become quite the opposite. He would talk, but he never chattered. I could ask him about anything that I wanted to know and get a concise answer, but he never talked randomly or just to fill a silence. He was a man of silence and he wore it like a cloak.
A couple of stories I remember sharply illustrate this quality in him.
Two men once came all the way from Delhi to Tiruvannamalai especially to meet him, and my mother seated them all on the veranda while she carried on with her work. After about an hour, hearing no sound from outside she assumed the men had left and came out. She was startled to see the three of them still sitting together in silence and she hastened to make conversation. They wanted to ask him many questions but were nervous or shy of initiating a discussion. When they eventually did leave my mother asked him why he hadn’t spoken to them, why in fact he had left them sitting in silence for so long. He had no idea why she was upset. He said that he thought they wanted to be quiet but that if they had anything to talk to him about they only had to say so!
Some time after I had left home and was living with my husband in Pakistan, I came back on a visit. I had bought some old coins in the bazaar in Peshawar and I showed them to him, explaining that I had been told they were from the reign of some ancient king. He looked at them and said that one of the coins was certainly of a much later date than I supposed.
“How do you know?” I asked him. “I didn’t think you were interested in old coins.”
“I’m not,” he told me, “but the date is written on the coin.” “It is written in Arabic!” I exclaimed. “I didn’t know you could read Arabic. Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“Well, you never asked me,” was his reply. He had in fact learned the language many years before but had not used it for a long time. In all those years it had never occurred to him to mention that he spoke yet another language apart from Polish and French, and for all I know several more that I hadn’t asked him about! As I said, he was not a man of many words, but those that he did speak were worth listening to.
My mother was also deeply devoted to Bhagavan although hers was more an intuitive devotion: her instinct was sure. When my father was interned in Bangkok at the beginning of the Second World War she had not one single word from him for two years, and then a telegram came from the War Ministry to say that he had been killed. At the time we were staying with our friends the Sharmas in Madras. Mrs. Sharma was terribly upset on my mother’s behalf and tried to comfort her.
My mother was relatively calm. She kept saying, “Don’t worry, it is a mistake. If Arthur were dead I would know it. I know he is not dead. It is a mistake.”
Of course they all thought that she was unbalanced with grief, and Mrs. Sharma was so upset by this seemingly irrational behaviour that my mother ended up trying to comfort her, while she herself remained unwavering in her belief that her husband was alive, and sure enough a few days later there was another telegram saying in effect that they had got the wrong Osborne. Her intuition guided her, and her faith in Bhagavan who, when my little brother Adam asked him to keep his daddy safe, had assented. This, and her own instinct gave her the knowledge and the fortitude to sense the truth and to recognise the mistake for what it was. Later we got all his letters simultaneously, and apparently he also only heard from us after two years.
As the oldest of the three of us and the only one who could write or who, in fact remembered my father, I was allowed to send my own letters although there was a rule that each one should be no longer than twenty-five words. I spent a lot of time trying very hard to fit all that I had to say into that allocation and I would save up the things I wanted to tell him and practise distilling them into very few words; this did not seem as difficult then as it does in retrospect, as children seem to be born with the ability to accept whatever life offers and to take it for granted. We lose this talent as we grow up and then have to work hard to reclaim it. Now I feel how very distressing it must have been for both my parents to keep going in the face of such a long silence. Luckily they had Bhagavan.
The years after he came home from the war were, for us children, a great joy. Our almost mythical daddy was back with us and we revelled in it. He brought a new perspective into our lives. My mother had struggled alone throughout the war with three very small children and an uncertain future. She was, for us, the sole authority and it was sometimes difficult for her to cope with our constant ability to get up to mischief. With the arrival of my father our horizons broadened. We loved his wisdom and his innate sense of justice. We loved his subtle sense of humour and the way he would tease our mother with an absolutely straight face until we all burst out laughing ... her too. Looking back I sense that the pleasure my parents felt at the end of their long separation brought laughter into our lives.
My father was an enthusiastic gardener and I enjoyed walking round with him in the mornings as he observed all the growing things and tended to them. He knew by instinct what each plant needed and he inculcated in me a love of gardens that I have never lost.
We would sometimes sit outside at night and he pointed out the various stars and constellations. He also told me stories from mythology that fascinated me as much as they had enthralled him as a child. When we were little he told us the most wonderful bedtime tales; there was the ongoing saga of a pixy that lived in a magnolia flower and travelled on moonbeams. Astonishing though it might seem, the three of us began to look forward to bedtime! He was a natural storyteller.
Many years later when I came home for a long visit with my little daughter Aruna we were concerned about her missing too much schooling, so my father undertook to teach her English and history. They sat outside on the veranda, his deep voice telling her stories and her childish treble interjecting an occasional question. He made it all so interesting that I sat myself in the doorway inside, out of sight, in order to listen. My mother was sitting in the same position in the other room. She caught my eye and smiled, and then she put her finger to her lips and we were joined in a conspiracy of silence.
At the time when my parents were seeking for a spiritual path it was not at all a popular point of view. Nowadays, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the dangerous and materialistic world we live in, more and more people are interested in finding a deeper truth. Inadequate gurus or bogus sects unfortunately lead many astray. Bhagavan said often that we are not the body. His teaching is as valid and alive today as it was when he sat in the hall wearing a body for all to see.
For my father, his coming to Tiruvannamalai was an affirmation of his Quest and having confirmed that Bhagavan was his guru, he never ‘looked back.
After retiring from his work in Calcutta he founded and edited The Mountain Path until his health gave out. Knowing he couldn’t continue he prepared and left in perfect order ten editorials which were for whoever was to follow him. As it happens my mother took on this task for a time, which was especially difficult for her as English was not her mother tongue. She did it out of love and loyalty until her health too gave out. Their relationship, a union of opposites, was crucial to both their lives and my father’s last words were to her. He said “Thank you”. Then he died as he had lived, without fuss, and he is buried in the garden he created and loved.
He was only sixty-four.
The war years had taken their toll of him and also the intensity of his inner quest placed an enormous strain on his body because he made no compromise.
The precious legacy he left us is in his, writing. We can travel with him along the road and experience how he dealt with the problems that beset all of us. Reading again of his inner life and struggle I am heartened that an ordinary human being could find in himself such steadfastness and such ability to remain resolute in the face of all obstacles. It is surely an example to anyone on the mountain path.
A Station Passed Through
Change of Course
Down to the Nadir.
The Quest Begins
Adventures on the Path
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
I Become a Writer- and Cease to Be One
The Initiatic Death
The Dark Night
The Lady of Shalott
Complete Your Work!
The Sleeping Beauty
The Two Windows
Ergo Non Sum
Day and Night
The Waning Moon
The Elixir of Youth
Children’s Books (51)
Brahma Sutras (85)
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