CONVERSATIONS: FIRST SERIES
(Being pages from the diary of a woman disciple)
UDBODHAN OFFICE, CALCUTTA.
ONE Friday morning Sriman K – came to our home at Pataldanga in Calcutta and said : ” We shall go to Baghbazar to-morrow afternoon to pay our respects to the Holy Mother. Please be ready at that time.” Well, after all I shall now have the good fortune to prostrate myself at the feet of the Holy Mother ! Such was my exuberance of joy that I could hardly sleep during the night. I had been living in Calcutta for the last fourteen or fifteen years. And after such a length of time the Mother was gracious enough to afford me this opportunity to pay my respects to her.
Next day in the afternoon we hired a carriage, fetched Sumati from the Brahmo girl school, and set out to the Holy Mother’s house at Baghbazar. I can hardly describe the eagerness and fervour which I felt at the time of this pilgrimage. I reached her
house at Baghbazar and found her standing at the door of the shrine room. She was standing with one foot at the door-sill and the other on the door-mat. There was no veil on her head. Her left arm was raised high and placed on the door, while the right one was hanging by the side. The upper part of her body was bare. She had been looking wistfully as if expecting somebody. As soon as I prostrated myself at her feet, she asked Suraati about me. Sumati introduced me as her elder sister. She had been visiting the Holy Mother for some time past. Then the Mother looked at me and said, ” Look here, my child, how much 1 am troubled by these people here ! My sister-in-law and her daughter, Radhu, are all down with fever. I do not know who will look after them and nurse them. Will you wait for a minute ? – Let me wash my cloth and come back.” We waited and she returned after a few minutes. Then she offered us two handfuls of some sweets and asked me to share those with my sister. Sumati had to go Backto her school. Therefore we could not stay for a longer time. We saluted and took leave of her. The Mother said, ” Come again,” This interview of five minutes could not satiate the inordinate hankering of my soul. I returned home all the more thirsty.
12th February, 1911
When I went to the Udbodhan Office on this day, I found that the Holy Mother had gone to the house
of Balaram Bose. I had not to wait long before she returned. As soon as I saluted her, she asked me with a smile, ” Who has accompanied you to-day?” ” One of my nephews,” I replied.
Mother: How are you today ? How is your sister ? You did not come for a long time. I was anxious about you and thought you might not be doing well.
I was surprised because I had met her once only and just for five minutes. But she had not forgotten us. My eyes were filled with tears of joy.
The Mother said with great tenderness, ” You have come here, and I was feeling restive at the house of Balaram.”
I was completely taken aback. My sister Sumati had sent two woollen caps through me for ‘ Khude ‘, the baby nephew of the Holy Mother. I handed them over to her. She expressed such joy at these trifles. She sat on the bed and said, ” Sit by me here.” I sat by her side. The Mother said with great tenderness, ” It seems, my child, as if I have met you many a time before, as if we know each other for a long time.” ” I do not know,” said I, ” I was here one day only for five minutes.”
The Mother laughed and began to speak highly of the devotion and sincerity of myself and my sister. But I do not know how far I deserve those compliments. Gradually many women devotees assembled. All of them looked wistfully and with great love at the smiling and compassionate face of the Mother. I had never seen such a sight before. My mind was feasting upon the spiritual joy when someone reminded me that the carriage was ready for my return. The Mother at once left her seat and offered some Prasada. She held these before me and said, Eat these! ” I felt shy of eating in the presence of others without sharing. The Mother said, ” Why do you hesitate ? Take these sweets/’ I accepted the offerings in my hand. I bowed down before her and took leave. She said, Come again. Can you go down the steps alone, or shall I go with you ? ” She came with me as far as the staircase. I said, “I can go alone. You need not take the trouble.” The Mother said in parting, Come another day in the morning.” I returned with a sense of fulfilment and thought, What a wonderful love ! “
14th May, 1911
No sooner had I prostrated myself before the Holy Mother today than she said, It is so nice that you have come. I was thinking all the time about you. Why did you not come all these days? “
Devotee: I was not in Calcutta. I was at my father’s house.
Mother: What is the matter with Sumati ? She has not come here for a long time. Is she very busy with her studies ?
Devotee : Her husband was not here.
Mother: Well, she goes to school. Do they follow the duties of the world ?
Devotee: We do not know, Mother, what the world is and what our duty is. You alone know that.
The Mother smiled. ” What a warm day ! ” she said, and gave me a fan. ” Ah dear, you took a hurried meal and ran up here. Now lie down by my side.”
A mat was spread on the floor. I hesitated to lie on her bed. But she said, ” Why do you hesitate ? Lie down ! Listen to my words ! ” I could not help it. The Mother became drowsy and I lay silent. A few women devotees and two nuns arrived. One of the nuns was middle-aged while the other was young. The Mother said, her eyes still closed, ” Who is there ? Is it Gaurdasi ? ” The young nun said, ” How did you know it, Mother ? ” The Mother said that she felt it. After a few moments she sat up. The young nun then said : ” We had been to the Belur Math. Swami Premananda fed us sumptuously. When he is there, one cannot return from the Math without being thus fed.” The Mother gently reprimanded some one of the party for not having put the vermilion 1 mark on her forehead, which is obligatory on every married woman if her husband is alive.
Gauri-Ma learnt about me from the Holy Mother and invited me to her girls’ school. About sixty girls attended the school. She asked me if I knew how to sew. I said that I could sew a little, and she requested
me to teach that much to the students of the Ashrama.
1 In Bengal women put on this mark as indicative of the married state as distinguished from maidenhood and widowhood.
With the permission of the Holy Mother, I visited the school of Gauri-Ma one day. She was very loving to me, and requested me to go there every day for an hour or two and give the girls some lessons. I said, ” It is absurd for me to be a teacher with my little training. If you insist, I can just teach them the simple alphabets.” But Gauri-Ma was inexorable. I had to yield.
One day, after leaving the school of Gauri-Ma, I went to see the Holy Mother. It was then summer and I was quite tired. The Mother was seated in her room surrounded by a group of women devotees. As soon as I prostrated myself before her, she looked at me and at once took a small fan from the top of the mosquito-curtain. She began to fan me so that I might be refreshed. Then she said anxiously, ” Take off your blouse quickly so that the body may be cool.” What an unprecedented love ! She began to caress me before many devotees. I felt ashamed. All eyes were fixed upon me. Seeing her eagerness, I had to take off the blouse. The more I requested her to hand over the fan to me, the more she insisted with great tenderness, ” That is all right! Be a little refreshed ! ” She brought a tumbler of water and some sweets. Seeing me partake of them, she became happy. The carriage from the school had been waiting for me. So I had to take leave presently.
3rd August, 1911
This morning I went early to Baghbazar. I had the desire to be initiated by the Holy Mother to-day; so I took a few articles with me for the purpose. Gauri-Ma gave me the list of articles and she also accompanied me to the Holy Mother’s place. When I arrived there, I found her absorbed in worship. She asked me by signs to take a seat. After the worship was over, Gauri-Ma broached the subject of my initiation. I had also spoken about it to her one day. I had taken some good bananas with me. She was very pleased to see the fruits and said, ” Ah, I see you have brought many bananas.” One of the monks present expressed his desire for them. Then she added, ” Take that carpet and sit on my left.” I replied, ” I have not yet finished my bath in the Ganges.”
Mother: That does not matter. It is enough if you have changed your clothes.
I sat by her side. I felt my heart palpitating. The Mother asked the others to leave the room and then said to me, ” Now tell me what Mantra was revealed to you in dream ? “
Devotee: Shall I utter those words or write them down ?
Mother : You may tell them to me . . .
At the time of initiation the Holy Mother explained to me the meaning of the Mantra that I had received in dream. She at first asked me to repeat that Mantra and then communicated to me a new
Mantra. I was instructed to repeat the first Mantra a few times every day, and then repeat the second and meditate.
I saw the Mother absorbed in meditation for a few minutes before she explained the meaning of the Mantra to me. At the time of initiation my whole body began to tremble. I began to weep, for which I could not divine any cause. The Mother put a big mark of red sandal-paste on my forehead. I gave her a few rupees for offering at the shrine room. She handed over the money to Golap-Ma.
I noticed the Mother to be severely grave at the time of initiation. Then she left the seat of worship. She asked me to repeat the Mantra for some time and meditate and pray. I did as I was asked to do. As I bowed at her feet, she blessed me with the words, ” May you attain devotion to God ! ” Even now I remember those words and pray to her, ” Please remember your blessing. May I not be deprived of its effect! “
The Holy Mother was going to the Ganges for her bath. Golap-Ma accompanied her. I also joined the party, taking with me the towel and the cloth of the Mother. It was drizzling. After finishing her bath, the Mother gave the priest on the ghat a coin and a mango. As she made these offerings, she said, ” I am giving you the fruit, but it is the fruit of the gift that belongs to you.” Ah ! the priest could hardly realize who made this gift! He could hardly understand the significance of those words ! Nor can we, puny creatures, torn as we are by millions of petty selfish desires!
The Holy Mother changed her dress and gave me the wet cloth to carry. Golap-Ma headed the party while I walked behind. The Mother was between us. She carried some water of the Ganges in a small vessel and offered a little of it at every sacred banyan tree that stood along the way. There was a water-jar near the cistern close to the tap on the ground-floor. The Mother washed her feet with that water and said to me, ” There is mud on your feet. Wash it off.” As I was looking for some water, she said, There is water in the jar. Why do you not wash your feet with that?” “You have touched that water. How can I use it ? “1 said I with some reluctance. Sprinkle a little over your head,” replied the Mother. But I hesitated and said, I cannot use that water.” I took some water from the cistern in another jar and washed my hands and feet. She waited for me all the time. Then we went upstairs. She took some offered sweets and fruits in two leaf-plates, and asked me to sit by her. With great tenderness she fed me with the Prasada and also partook of it herself.
Gradually many women devotees arrived. I did not know them. They would take their meals at noontime at the Mother s place. After the worship was over, we all sat to eat. The Mother also
1 According to the Hindu custom, the water that has been touched by a revered person cannot be used for washing feet.
occupied her seat. She took three morsels of food and then gave me some Prasada, which was also distributed among all others. The Mother now became her former self. She became jolly again. Since the time of initiation she had been altogether in a different mood, grave and introspective – veritable goddess ready to grant favour or punish iniquity. I had been trembling with awe. I have seen her, later on, giving initiation to many devotees, but I have never again seen her in such a grave mood. Laughing and joking, she initiated many persons. They were also happy and satisfied. Goaded by curiosity, I sometimes asked the devotees how they found her at the time of initiation. One middle-aged widow once said in reply, “Just as we see her always. Nothing very particular. I had been initiated before by my family Guru. Afterwards I heard of the Mother and came to her for initiation. She at first asked me to repeat ten times the Mantra I had received from my family preceptor. Then she gave me initiation. She pointed out Sri Ramakrishna as my Guru and another deity as my Ishta. She instructed me to pray thus to Sri Ramakrishna : ‘ O Lord, please relieve me of all sins committed in this and in previous lives ‘, and so on. I am greatly troubled now-a-days. Can you explain it ? I cannot repeat the Mantra for more than half an hour. Someone, as it were, pushes me out of the seat. Do you also feel like that ? I often think of asking the Holy Mother about it. But I cannot do so. You are so free with her. Has the Mother deceived me then ? ” I never wanted to know all these details. But the lady spoke out all this very frankly. I said, ” Please open your heart to the Mother. At first you may feel a little constraint. But it will be easy by and by. We also could not be so free with her at first. Even now she, at times, becomes so serious that we cannot approach her.”
In the evening the women devotees took their leave of the Mother one by one. She asked her nieces to meditate and pray. They were late, and she said in a tone of displeasure, ” It is evening. Instead of meditating, they are gossipping! ” Golap-Ma, Yogin-Ma and other devotees prostrated themselves at her feet. She blessed them all, laying her hand on their heads, or touching the chins, or kissing them. She bowed before the image of Sri Ramakrishna and then took her seat for meditation. After she finished meditation, I took leave of her and returned home.
* * *
I was not able to visit the Holy Mother for some days on account of the pressure of my school duties. No sooner had I saluted her today than she began to show her love for me in countless ways. Bhudev was reading the Mahabharata. He was a mere boy, and therefore could not read fluently. The Mother had her other duties also to attend to. It was almost evening. She said to Bhudev, pointing to me, ” Give her the book. She will read it quite easily. The reading cannot be closed without finishing this chapter.” It was her order ; so I began to read the Mahabharata. Never before had I read a book in her presence. At first I felt a sort of shyness, but somehow I finished the chapter. The Mother saluted the book with folded hands. We went to the shrine room to witness the evening worship. The Mother took her wonted seat and soon became absorbed in meditation.
The Mother completed her Japa, uttering the name of God in a loud voice, and bowed down before the image of Sri Ramakrishna. The Prasada was then distributed to all. After this the conversation drifted to our daily duties. The Mother, referring to her own busy days at Jayrambati, advised us to be always engaged in some work or other, as it was conducive to the health of both body and mind.