1.  My Earliest Memories  1
2.  Trinity College, Kandy  12
3.  Adolescent Ideals and Hero Worship  24  
4.  Glimpses of Guruhood  37
5.  Academic Life in Colonial Style  48
6.  Sex and Ideals  59
7.  The Tao and My Destiny  68
8.  Finding my Svadharma  77
9.  Ultimate Surrender to the Guru  90
10. Trials of Discipleship  100
11. Weaning from Relativism  112
12. From Home to Homelessness  121
13. The Birth of the Gurukula  129
14. Fernhill: The Hard Years  139
15. A Hungry Man's "Love Affair"  151
16. Reaffirming My Svadharma  163
17. Passage to Europe  175
18. Chance Brings Me To Geneva  185
19. The Criminal Conscience of an Honest Man  192  
20. I Settle in a Swiss Lakeside School  199  
21. Walking the Corridors of the University  211  
22. In Europe Between the Wars  219  
23. Holidays on the Continent  227  
24. European Winter Tours  235  
25. The Close of my First Chapter in Europe  243  
26. Homecoming and After  254  
27. Adventures in Job-Hunting  263  
28. Chequered Patterns of Indifferent Fortune  275  
29. Occupational Vacuity Gets Filled  285  
30. The End of the Second World War and After  294  
31. Geneva Once More  301  
32. Atlantic Crossing And After  311
33. After the World Conference of Religions at New York  321
34. I Make up for My Neglected Education  331
35. Second Visits to Europe and America before Returning to India  341
36. I Return to India to be Recognized as a Guru  351
37. The Guru Centenary Coincides with My Sixtieth Birthday  361
38. Dialectical Dragons and Near Murder  367
39. Wanderings and Encounters with Providence  373
40. A Holiday Cruise to Europe  381
41. Art Reflections and Happy Hobos  388
42. European Contacts Old and New  399
43. Searching for a Gurukula in the South of France  407
44. Summer Dreams in Italy  418
45. Eventful Escapades Across Europe  428
46. In Good Old England Again  439
47. Rare Gifts From the Tao  448
48. In India Again  459
49. The Magnum Opus and Call of the Island  468
50. Festivals and Forewarnings  474
51. Autumnal Depressions and After  480
52. Hospital Life Without Tears  486
53. Still to Turn the Corner  494
54. Turning to the Prospective  504
55. Bolder Flights into the Unknown  512
56. Prophets, Idols and Hippies  520
57. The Role of Protolinguism in Unifying Science  534
58. More thoughts on Hippiedom  544
59. Intimate Meditations  548
60. A Visit to Moscow  556
61. Time and Spring Time in Belgium  564
62. Contacts with Hippies and Highbrows  572
63. Hippie Adventures in England  580
64. Iceland, the Nordic Paradise  589
65. At the New Jersey Gurukula  598
66. With Professors and Drop-outs in Chicago  605
67. The Benares of the Drop-outs  612
68. Trips in Inner and Outer Space  620
69. Californian Midsummer Orgy  628
70. Strange Meetings in Honolulu  634
71. Crossing the Date Line  641
72. Globe-circling  648
73. Busy Days in Malaysia 652  
74. Midnight Cheese and other Problems  658                 
75. Problems Solved and Unsolved  664                      
76. Mysticism and Travel Twilights  670                         
77. Two kinds of Resources and Initiatives  676


INDEX  687


Nothing is so precious to one as one's own self and no one else can judge it better than oneself, provided one is truthful and fair. Essential human nature is the same in all, and to reveal it without damage to its intrinsic dignity is, or ought to be, the legitimate aim of all biographies, especially autobiographies. The latter can take the form of confessions and may fall into the error of revealing more than what is consistent with the nobility and dignity of human nature by under- or over-estimation. When others write a biography, the personal Boswell-Johnson intimacy counts, so that commercial banalities and distortions may be avoided. There are aspects in one's private life that one would rather speak of for oneself than trust such matters of importance and delicacy to others who might, often by misplaced admiration, damage the values involved. There are sidelights that one could throw on many seemingly insignificant subjects which one can treat better when one tells his own story than in the form of formal essays or articles, by way of anecdotes or intimate incidental remarks casually made in relation to the living experience of oneself in life.

Although reminiscent moods, except when they refer to a clear spiritual content, are detrimental to the course of life of an absolutist speaker of truth - all memories being forms of regret - I have long nourished the idea of writing my own story so as to save my disciples the trouble of interpreting me. I see signs already of some disciples about to take up their pens for the purpose, and one of them, as Editor of Values at present, actually prompts me in telling my story, merely saying, 'We disciples really won't find anything more interesting than that'. These are some of the remarks and excuses with which I wish to kick off the ball, as it were, as Robinson Crusoe did, simply by the sentence, 'I was born in the city of Bangalore in the month of February in the year 1895'.


Bangalore in the 1890s.

The long reign of the good Queen Victoria had not ended; and India had lived through the days of the mutiny against foreign domination for about four decades already; and the memories of the Delhi Durbar of the early seventies were ushering in a period of very settled rule that prevailed in the country, punctuated later by the second Delhi Durbar of 1911.

Mysore itself, of which Bangalore was the
de facto capital, was ruled by an Indian Maharajah, although under the paramount power of the British. With its clean roads and attractive avenues, flower gardens and elevation on a plateau almost three thousand feet above sea level, Bangalore City had many features not shared by many other similar cities in India.

February mornings could be quite chilly and August mists could still hide the faces of passers-by on the same road on certain misty mornings. Vasanta is the name in Sanskrit for the season when spring meets summer, when nature abounds in flowers and the messenger of the season, the Vasantaduta (the Indian Cuckoo) plays hide and seek among the tall trees of the countryside with its long-drawn and modulated musical note, giving that Kalidasa touch to the lazy hours of the noontide. The generosity of the fruit season attracts plumed and other visitors including monkeys from neighbouring parts. It is true that rainfall is sparse and the village tanks are parched for many months; but welcome rains bring out the hut-dwellers with their ploughs, season after season, eagerly blessing the Rain-Giver, themselves being blessed in turn. There is the kite-flying season too, when grownups forget to be serious and join the urchins of the village in high spirits when the high winds prevail. Dust-storms and whirlwinds sometimes on very dry days drag their ghostly trail, crossing the parched grassy plains. Bamboos can catch fire and spread circling smoke on the hillsides. The bats clustering on hoary banyan trees near the village wells and the kites flying high reveal the jungle India that Kipling's Mowgli knew well. A deer or two might leap across the field of vision and be gone in a trice while elephants could also not uncommonly be sighted in their unconcerned majesty round this countryside. The tiger and the peacock too added glory or a note of fear in thick forests, with stripes or spots. What particular planetary or natural forces conspired to make me born, as I was, in the middle of February in such surroundings, I do not hope to know in any wakefully precise terms. Just as the rainbow is a marginal effect, a sort of epi-phenomenon, forces from the farthest corners of the cosmos must have come to a sort of focal point in me to vivify my being and make me grow as a local fixed entity, both as a lump of protoplasm and a bit of consciousness.



From the date of my birth to 1898, about three years, I have no memories of my life at all. I did hear, and took for true, that I had a father who was said to be in England and that I was born in the lunatic asylum quarters where he had medical charge under the Mysore Government before he went abroad. The great plague that carried away hundreds of thousands of lives in the Bombay and Mysore areas needed qualified doctors and, having bravely served in fighting the scourge in the thick of the epidemic at the risk of his own life, when hundreds were dying round him, he was selected for higher medical bacteriological specialisation and studies in tropical diseases generally, which he completed in a couple of years at Cambridge; at the Pasteur Institute in Paris; and in Lille and Rome.

When he returned the plague had not yet abated taking its abnormal toll of human life. One English doctor died of it while engaged in inoculating - a hero not of war but of peacetime. During the years of oblivion in which I must take it that I was living, I must have travelled to Trivandrum where, near the sand-dunes washed by the Arabian sea, on a bit of land which divided the dunes from the paddy-fields and coconut groves, the humble homestead stood where a delicate and fair young woman, who was to give birth to me, had passed her days with her parents and four brothers as the second-born. She had a complete Sanskrit education together with her elder brother who later became famous as a poet and playwright, having himself often acted in his own plays. He died early and the news reached Bangalore sometime during the years of the oblivion of my own earliest childhood years. It was thus to a house of mourning that I had come during the years that my father was abroad and when my psychological self began to prevail over the physical aspect of itself - I began, as it were, to sit up and take notice. The buffaloes, the ducks that swam in the puddles and swamps and the white paddy-birds which took wing suddenly as men passed with palm-leaf umbrellas along the banked-up boundaries; the minnows in the streamlets that fed the paddy-fields from the pond; the water-lilies, and hotter days which were more humid than in my birthplace in the Deccan - all go to complete the picture of my world of childhood.

Malabar, where humans flourished and multiplied more easily on rice, fish and coconut, presented a different picture to me about the age of three or four. I began to attend a vernacular school with my sister. It was a one-teacher affair in a palm-leaf shed, where twenty or thirty of us wrote letters in the sand with our index fingers and said them aloud so as to fix them firmly in the mind both by impression as well as expression. Paper was just beginning to be known, but I had my first lessons written for me on a palm-leaf with an iron needle (stylus). We were allowed, during intervals, to search for a special herb with which to make the needle scratches visible by rubbing the juice with charcoal on the palm leaves. Thus it was that my literacy had its start in the ways of a bygone India that we can see no more. The elder boys and girls sat on benches and had a printed book - a rare object in those days - to read from. Going to and coming back from school I had to beware of the leeches that were found in the streamlets that we had to pass in the middle of the paddy-field - sometimes there would be horned buffaloes that had to traverse a narrow lane in the opposite direction. The chameleons were thought by boys to suck human blood from a distance because of their clubbed tongues with which they caught insects. Other fears of childhood were about the vaccinator, newly introduced at that time, who was dreaded by one and all. The cop was not known in the villages at all, and was a mighty man when he actually appeared. There was also a vague rumour about 'man-catchers', who must have been agents supplying indentured labour for the new estates in Ceylon or India - which added to the insecurity of the countryside about which children could only fear without any full understanding. There were also mendicants who carried the mask of the monkey-god, Hanuman, who came round and were employed to frighten children into good ways with their macabre voices and foreboding, besides the usual wandering minstrels, fortune-tellers, snake charmers and acrobats. I did not make much headway in my so-called education, and my familiarity even with the Malayalam alphabet was of a dubious nature indeed when another page in my life was soon turned with the return of my father from his distant travels.


Palm leaf book.


Travancore of those days was synonymous with the farthermost corner of India. Trains were unknown and reached only as far as Ernakulam in the then neighbouring state of Cochin, and one had to go from Trivandrum by heavy postal bullock carts as far as the town of Tinnevelly for two days and nights through robber-infested areas to reach the nearest railway station. Six or seven days had to be passed in canoes with thatch roofs along the backwaters before one reached Ernakulam. One embarked in such house-boats with provisions, propelled as they were sometimes with oars but mostly by punting all the way with bamboo poles. Mat sails were unfurled too, sometimes, when favourable breezes blew - especially when the ten- or twelve-mile-long backwaters of coastal Malabar that intercepted the canals had to be passed. The steamboat came into vogue only a decade or two later, and then it was the talk of all who wondered how it could overtake the country craft and disappear from sight within less than an hour, leaving only its trace of smoke behind for the admiring fishermen to watch in wonder, muttering words about the white man's intelligence.


Boats in the Travancore backwaters.

A man who returned after a Western education was still a rare person in those days, and except for one other there was no one heard of who had actually done so. The family house of Dr. Palpu (a contraction of Padmanabhan) - who was no other than my father - had at this time plenty of visitors who came to look at the curios, pictures and gifts he had brought from Victorian England and from the continent of Europe. There was general excitement about everything, and all seemed strange and unbelievable. Top-hats, kid-gloves, binoculars, and serial pictures of famous sights like the Eifel Tower, not omitting the feeding of pigeons near St Mark's Square in Venice and the Vatican in Rome; stereoscopic miniature binoculars with the Houses of Parliament within - all figured side by side with coins and articles of dress as presents for each. I was particularly excited about a box of gold and silver coins which when peeled proved to be bits of chocolate, which no sooner had the women tasted than they spat them out, saying they tasted like moist bran. The general excitement took several days before the wonder was over. In the confusion my Fez cap was gone and the printed silk handkerchief which I had kept on a window, to be able to look at the picture on it in the morning, had been torn and used as wick-cloth at night by some of the servant women of the house.

My own sense of property was not strongly developed at that time and thus I withstood these initial disasters of my life quite stoically. Of the two routes to Bangalore, we chose the bullock-cart route, and two of these carts started from father's house at dusk, carrying the family and some other relations who came half-way to the limits of the State to see the party off. I remember a breach in the railway line somewhere en route and crossing a ferry in large round tubs to continue our journey to Madras and thence to Bangalore.

Queen Victoria's reign ended in 1901. I must have been six years old at that time and I can still well remember hearing the salute of 101 minute guns that were fired in mourning for her death at the Civil and Military Station of Bangalore, where the family had then taken residence. There was a horse which was being fed with gram at that time while I stood at the inner courtyard of the Anglo-Indian style residence, with a portico and drive and a garden of fruits and flowers around. The horse drew a dogcart in which, as Health Officer in the City, my father drove five miles each day to his office at the other end of the City. I had become by now a conscious individual, though not a person in any social sense. I remember too once sitting beside my father with a bugle in my hand as he held the reins and drove through the streets, and my bugle went now and then by way of warning to pedestrians crossing the path. Regular lessons, which were broken off on leaving Trivandrum, were not properly resumed during the days in the Bangalore Cantonment. Some penmanship and spelling of simple English words from the New Orient Primer, which had a rising sun on its cover and the story of Ganga Ram who was a cart driver inside, was my first book. I remember to have thrown away three or four copies of it, dog-eared and torn in my efforts to master their contents, before I could claim even the first step of literacy in English. I preferred to play in the garden under the spreading mango tree where I made a little compound with bricks lying there, and planted French marigolds in rows for trees along the drive with its two gates for entry and exit. This incident is specially interesting because already it contained in germ what became my main hobby in more mature life when building up four or five Gurukulas, which happened to be only a serious-scale replica of what I did in miniature when at play in childhood. This cryptic prototype behaviour pattern persisted through life in a strange and wilful way with me.

Vedanta refers to such archetypal psychophysical tendencies as vasanas, with their persistent patterns of behaviour implied in them in intentional terms. The acorn virtually contains the oak and the child is the father of man - in this sense only.  

There was a new extension of the City of Bangalore to relieve the congestion of the centre of the City where plague had become endemic. In the year 1902 the family moved into a newly-built house in that place which was a suburb which was then just getting built up. The architecture and taste in which the house and the acre of garden were laid out and built were modified adaptations of ancient Indian style to suit middle-class Indians of that time. The light rains allowed for open terraces and there was an inevitable courtyard at the back of the house where the womenfolk could cook or eat or wash clothes away from the public gaze. By no means streamlined or modern, there were gingerbread decorations and multicoloured window panes which did violence to good taste in their own way. It was named Padmalayam, and each shrub and tree in the place was familiar to me and formed part and parcel of the intimate world of childhood days. One can get related with places almost as intimately as with persons. The death of a pet dog can sometimes affect one more keenly than that of relatives. The law of bipolar relationship with persons, places or things - or with ideologies, as in the case of martyrdom in the name of religious values - is so familiar that no experimental proof is called for, as some scientifically minded people might want. Common experience in such matters is a better basis for belief than experiment, whose scope of yielding certitude in matters of human import is much more limited. Examples are as good as experiment when probabilities and possibilities are viewed together and not compartmentally, as departmentalization of knowledge would alone justify.

The familiar Champak tree, which was big enough to support two or three of us at a time on its branches; the favourite mulberry bush; the fountain in which we bathed on hot days; the tennis court rolled and made ready by common effort; the stables and the vegetable garden in which tomatoes grew wild and beans could be raised easily; the grape-vines which attracted a stray monkey visitor - at times a pet and most times a nuisance - afforded much fun that made for a happy childhood.

I was innocent yet of the horrid school bell and - except for a private tutor who would invariably turn up just when the play was most absorbing and who broke into the life now and then with abruptness to take us to task for sums undone and copy-writing forgotten - the earliest years of my life were spent more or less like a long holiday. I was not particularly good at lessons; and grammar, both English and Sanskrit, which I was asked to study, was as difficult for me then as it is even now, as I cannot even today readily tell the difference between a gerund and a verbal noun nor that between atmanepada and parasmaipada, nor why or how the first conjugation was different from the second, although the very first lessons of the very first book of Bhandarkar's Sanskrit Grammar, then in use, began with such distinctions. In fact I ignore them more now than in those days when I would imitate my fellow students and teachers who pretended to know all about them in a rough attitude of collective make-believe. Later, in my thirties, when I went into the syntax of French grammar, I found that there were subtle discrepancies between parts of speech as understood in French and in English.

Latin and Sanskrit interrelations were more complex still. In fact, syntax is a mystery; it is a sort of horizontalized version of pure thought which takes place in verticality within the minds of all men, independently of the language which gives it publicly-accepted form by often arbitrary structure. Until we get a syntax that is common to all languages it could not be said to be conceived scientifically. Arithmetic was no less puzzling because, in making up a bill for groceries bought, I had to abstract the problem from the actual articles to do the sum correctly. The tutor, instead of helping me in the abstraction, tried to place before me samples of the articles involved. All numbers are abstractions which do not belong to the visible world. Empirical intelligence had to be put away before one could be good at sums, but my boyish tendencies dragged me to the visible rather than to the intelligible aspects of the problem. I do not think even now that if I was dull in sums it was wholly my fault as, in the natural order of development of the faculties in the child, the visible precedes the intelligible. Sickly boys, often with bad eyesight, could be seen sometimes to show themselves as prodigies in calculations - which did not prove to be wholly advantageous to them in the long run.


With little English and less Sanskrit and torn between Malayalam and Kanarese for vernaculars, it was as a mistrusting rebel to the whole show of what passed for education in those days that I entered regular school, located as it was in Tippu Sultan's palace in the old fort of Bangalore City. The building itself was a historical relic which was renovated and adapted in a rough and ready way for the purpose of a lower secondary school under the City Municipality. There was a musty smell in some of the rooms which were ill-ventilated and, with the group of thirty children of about eight or nine years in my class, which was the second year of my primary education, I was confused and lost. The textbooks were ill-adapted. The typical village schoolmasters and the boys, who dressed and behaved in no decently regulated way, lacking accepted standards or methods, made me more confounded still. I just could not enter into the spirit of the situation. All seemed artificial and unreal. An orthodox Sanskrit teacher, who must have passed seventy years, gave us lessons in that language and, besides conjugations and declensions, long poems had to be recited, which I was not ready by previous preparation to do justice to.

As I was the youngest of the class I was also subject to constant bullying and teasing by the other boys. As I had a haircut instead of a tuft on my head, the boys enjoyed pulling my forelocks, calling me a horse. Once when they found that there was in the Reader the story with a picture of the Silly Lamb that got lost in the forest when all the flock returned to their pen, they could not resist the temptation to nickname me by that appellation and, what was more preposterous, two of them went to the extent of calling me aloud by that nickname when I was going for a walk with my mother, and that within her hearing! This last extreme step upset me seriously as the limit and I wanted to have it out with the rude fellows. I promptly went up the steps to the headmaster's room and reported it to him the next morning, but the elderly, turbaned, bespectacled and long-check-coated headmaster genially smiled the matter off, to my great disconcert. I could not understand how he could treat so lightly such a serious matter to me which touched my good repute, but now when I remember that, on becoming myself a headmaster of a high school several decades later, I behaved almost in similar way when a boy came and said that a classmate had called him 'enampechi' (which meant something like Jack-O'Lantern), I advised him to retaliate with another name invented by him. He went away satisfied.

Christian morality would not perhaps approve of this; but between the rule of a tooth for a tooth and showing the other cheek there must be gradations which growing children could understandably live through in everyday terms which should be considered normally permissible. The boys were not wholly to blame as I can say now that something in my character too must have justified the nickname conferred on me by fellow students. I can remember that all through my school career I had similar nicknames sticking to me.

When, later in the fourth form, the teacher once spoke of nitrogen as an inert gas, the boys with one voice decided that it applied to me and called me either Inert or by the name of the gas itself which  euphonically resembled my own. Later in the Matriculation Class there was the character of Athelstane in Scott's 'Ivanhoe' as an indifferent and inactive hero whose goodness verged on the silly. This name stuck to me also for some time by common approval of my schoolfellows. When I reflect on it now, although I resented these at the time strongly, I can admit without damage to my self-respect that there was much truth in the innocent and spontaneous judgements. I thank my dear fellow-students of that time, now from this distance of time, for the unconscious compliment that they must have implied. I find that this trait has continued through my life, as I take a backward glance now, and must admit it is a kind of key to my own personality which I can recognize more clearly, now that I am nearing sixty-eight, than when I was in the thick of life's battle just beginning for me. From the second year of primary school to the second year of the lower secondary, which made three years in all, I thus spent my time as a half-dazed, confused and ignorant pupil with perhaps a touch of the innocence implied in the nickname with which my fellow students, with an unerring instinct, honoured me.


Trivandrum in 1900.

The school bell, the recesses, the examinations, promotions or failures; with changes in school between Trivandrum and Bangalore; with different languages as media of instruction; with occasional troubles with fellow-students, one of whom once lost his book and blamed it on me; with the bug-bears of grammar and arithmetic - my early school life was a period of not much directed effort nor of any tangible progress beyond the just average level.

I repeated the first form in the Maharajah's High School in Trivandrum, where I had to recite Malayalam poetry instead of Kanarese, and then again after one year I was admitted into the second form of the secondary stage in St. Joseph's College, Bangalore Cantonment, where both Malayalam and Kanarese could be omitted in favour of Sanskrit for a second language. In Trivandrum as I sat in the first form one of the strange happenings worth recording took place. Occasionally the headmaster entered the class and asked all the Brahmin boys to stand up and gave them each a silver coin as a ceremonial religious gift coming from the government. In the water-shed where thirsty children went during intervals there used to be caste discrimination too, by which the free right to quench their thirst was denied to some boys. In the St. Joseph's High School there was another imported type of caste as distinction as between black and white or mixed boys. Free fights were frequent between the two sections until the authorities separated them. Strange again to say that in one's own country there was unfavourable discrimination in many matters for the native-born subject of the country. It is nothing strange that apartheid persists in South Africa now and fights take place in India because the so-called low castes touch the drinking-water of a village well, as reported even in today's papers. Progress in these matters seems ever marking time. Such discriminations that came to my notice even in early childhood must have had some stultifying and vitiating effect on my general attitude in life. While walking to and from school in Trivandrum I could not help hearing that certain of the roads were reserved for high castes only. These matters did not make me bitter at the time, as I took them mostly for granted. I did not at that time understand fully, as I only realised later, its character as one of the major blemishes that seriously tarnished the fair name of India as a land of inequality between one human and another. True education could not thrive on such a soil.


From the Bull Temple Extension in the City, where we lived, to St. Joseph's College in the Cantonment, the distance was about five miles. The four children of the Municipal Health Officer could be seen to cover the distance, sometimes in a victoria - myself often sitting beside the coachman with the reins and whip in hand. More often it was in a spacious double-bullock cart, which the Health Officer had to use when he had to make his rounds in the outlying districts of Mysore to prevent the plague, that we jolted along. This cart could be stationed like a gypsy caravan on the roadside when breaking journey, but in the City we progressed onward slowly, revising our lessons while seated within, past the toll-gate to the Cantonment area, which was directly under British rule at that time. We passed through the Lal Bagh Gardens, a remnant of a Moghul-style garden started at the time of Tippu, and along the Residency Road and the Convent to St. Joseph's where bearded Fathers of the Society of Jesus from Europe and clean-shaven Brothers of the same Order from England taught the different subjects in their own ways. Sometimes one bearded Father paid a short visit to another in the classroom and it was a sight to see them speaking in French or Italian, shrugging and gesticulating, guttural sounds predominating. French seemed harsh and ugly but I had a different opinion about it and thought it a sweet language when I had more intimate acquaintance with it in later years. When a French-speaking Swiss gentleman once told me that he had heard people speaking Tamil in South India and that it resembled spitting or vomiting, I could understand how the strangeness of a language could be directly responsible for the ugly initial impression it could make, which toned into mellowness as intimacy grew. To understand a tongue well is to like it also. Tamil, when spoken by a genuine Tamilian, could be one of the sweetest languages to hear. The French Father who taught us English History in the fourth form had his own version of English History when it came to the differences between the Pope and Henry VIII. All the boys in the class had to kneel and cross themselves as the midday triple peals of chiming bells came from the adjoining Convent tower or nearby Church steeple. Education here had a better shape than the miscellaneous and confused programme that was obtained in the Municipal school. It conformed at least to one set of definite values, though somewhat limited and dominated by the Catholic context.

The continuity of this education, however, was again soon to be interrupted when we were admitted again for one year in the fifth form of the Maharajah's School, Trivandrum; and before I could come to the Matriculation class it was decided that the two brothers should go to Ceylon to appear for the London Matriculation, which was the equivalent of graduation in the matter of admission into professional courses in England, where it was planned to send us for higher studies later on. Another kind of education awaited us in Ceylon.



My early schooling in India itself had a miscellaneous character with a multiplicity of media of teaching as between the various regions within which it had to take shape - if it had any shape at all. The transition from this education into a regular English Public School outside India was more abrupt and implied a harder note in the gentle weaning - which the process of education was supposed to be by those who understood its secrets.

It was with a lump in my throat and a mist in my eyes that I saw the ground receding behind as the horse and cart took me to the Bangalore Railway Station after I had said goodbye to all at the house where my early years were spent in security and happiness. I was to cross the seas and go to Ceylon after a few days in Madras to prepare for the life in the Trinity College at Kandy on the Island of Ceylon. As I progressed in the cart, I recognised for the first time that strange feeling within that overwhelms the spirit of man, however brave or mature he might otherwise be, of a certain attachment to one's country. Whether called love of native land or understood in harsher terms as patriotism calling sometimes for sacrifices or penalties - there is deep down in the heart of all some feeling that one must have experienced at one time or another in one's life, which comes under the name of nostalgia which, like its kindred maladies like love-sickness or sea-sickness, is part of the human makeup and given to none of us to escape altogether. One is said to love 'the ashes of his fathers or the temples of his gods' when patriotism gets mixed with religious sentiment, and nationalism can contain a blend of both. To emancipate man gently from the trammels and obligations of the voice of such a 'stern daughter of the voice of God' which can induce even noble minds to suicidal fanaticisms in extreme cases, is perhaps the greatest humanizing influence of a good education. Kalidasa makes Kanva Rishi, in his Sakuntala, describe similar sentiments when he is overwhelmed by thoughts of the impending departure of his adopted daughter, and wonders justly that no one, however detached, could be wholly devoid of such feelings.



To be fully human and yet remain above instinctive sentimentality involves a normalization which it is the task of a good education to accomplish.

The cool breeze of Bangalore which waved the trees; the favourite playgrounds, pets and mates; not to mention parents and sisters - were to be left behind for years, and the prospect seemed bleak and colourless as we arrived at Madras among a group of Ceylonese students who were studying medicine in Madras. The vaporous sultry days and listlessness that induced lack of taste for food and disinterested lassitude towards persons had the same nostalgic touch implied, and spoiled all zest in living. Life seemed for a time empty of purpose and thus without any value. Something dear has to regulate life both from inside as well as outside or both. Loneliness and worry from which people suffer could be traced back to varieties of the same nostalgia in a general sense. Much poetry and music too are basically nostalgic in character. Counteracted however much by the opposite sentiment of love of adventure or wanderlust, it was the negative feeling that scored over the positive one while I passed through Madras and, after a short halt with friends, took train for Tuticorin where a good ship of the British India Steam Navigation Company plied on certain weekdays as ferryboat between Colombo and that port.

From the world of the backwaters of Malabar to the experience of crossing the sea for a whole night in bad weather was an experience in itself. The contact with ships opened up for me the vista of a mercantile world of which I was innocent till then. If I had not made this contact sufficiently early I would have remained a stranger to a great part of what is interesting in English literature itself. Seafaring and adventure are part and parcel of English life and - bad as I was in respect of sea-legs, and prone to sea-sickness - the first contacts with this world of the civilized West had a strange effect on me. Before embarking we had to stay in a hotel at Tuticorin run by an Indian Christian with a Portuguese name, where we got a room for the night. This was because there was one more day for the ship to sail to Colombo by its schedule, which we did not carefully scrutinize before starting from Madras.

The only hotel which was available was in a big colonial-style building and was in reality not meant for catering any food that was edible, for it specialized in drinks, for the sale of which the boarding department seemed only an excuse. While we were served next to the dining room with a meal that was only fit for a dog, I could see two Europeans having drinks at the proper dining table. One of them resembled a character in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, or a crook portrayed in Victor Hugo's 'Toilers of the Sea'. His mate was pouring out some drink for him. The man who poured out the drink took only two or three glasses while the other proceeded in geometrical progression and both walked off after an hour or so of drinking. When we were at the pier at ten the next morning there was a drunken sailor lying as if dead on a chest in the hot sun, his face all red and with a dripping from his nose which dropped continually on the ground. I could recognize the same victim of the generosity of the previous scene. I took some time to piece the two pictures together as related through cause and effect and even today the full significance of this peep into 'civilization' that I was given so early in my life remains to be fully elaborated in all its bearings in my mind. My recent reading of Voltaire's Candide has helped me very much in this matter. I am glad to say that the innocence with which I first looked upon that - which surely must had a subtle subconscious effect on me - has not been totally wiped off from my nature, in spite of two visits to America and about four visits to Europe with a duration of stay of about a decade, exposed to what is called 'Western Civilization'.

Life in a medium-sized British ship as it went full steam ahead over the Indian Ocean, where the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal mixed their waters and strange winds winged across the endless expanses of the waters, with league-long wings outstretched in which my soul must have participated through actual contact or by mental representation, put me in a strange mood unfelt before. I looked round the ship's inside and stood on the deck; but before we were many hours away from shore the sun fell and all was dark. The cabin and the closed porthole left a security from Nature in whose arms we rocked, trusting to the intelligence of those who made the ship and to that of the Captain, who must have been sitting at its helm guiding it from rocks and shoals. There was no other go but to trust to these powers. After a dinner served in Western style without rice unless asked for, I tucked myself into the well-made bed with just a foretaste of sea-sickness coming on me.

While denying it, I had to press my lips together to swallow saliva now and then, as the pitching and rolling developed more and more. Soon sleep, that gentlest of all nurses, came to my consolation and all was effaced for me till the sunlight streamed through the porthole and land was announced to be sighted next morning.

I politely said 'Good Morning' to the fellow passengers and hastened to peep through the porthole - and there was Colombo revealed to view before me as it was in the days before the first World War. Although modern Colombo has lost much of its character of old colonialism with its victorias and rickshaws; and although new streamlined buildings are now seen here and there breaking the monotony of the skyline; the musty smell of Western mercantilism still lingers here, giving to the chief city of the ancient island of Lanka a touch that is not altogether its own. The smell of fish and the waving of coconut palms, with the warm seas and beaches, are not unlike the shores of Malabar - but Colombo is more open to the highways of trade routes, both ancient and modern, and the people represent a timeless civilization in which many currents and cross-currents have made their contribution through the ages. A lighthearted lively people live here side by side with outcrops of deep strata of races bound to the land and a mixture of seafaring adventurers from the Western world who themselves become evident as sub-stratifications, with Burgher, Sinhalese, Tamil and Moor. The harbour with its breakwaters with palm beaches all round; a city with tall hotels and commercial buildings and shrines both Buddhist and Hindu interspersed, where tram-lines and bullock carts crossed or overtook rickshaws, and some cars - that was Colombo of nearly fifty years ago. After staying at Cinnamon Gardens and in the city itself, we soon found our way to Kandy.  


Trinity College, Kandy.

Nestling in the hilly central part of Ceylon amidst the greenery of the vegetation with its lawns and sumptuous parks is that ancient capital of the Kandyan kings who, like highland clans of the Scottish lake district, once exercised their regime. The sunlit lake that gleamed in the very centre of this pretty hill-station with its neat hotels and the famous Temple of the Sacred Tooth where the relic of Buddha is believed to have been preserved through two millenia or more, gave to this picturesque little town a setting and an atmosphere all its own.

Round the lake there persist some of the viharas where Buddhist priests, young and old, live by daily rounds of begging as they did at least a thousand years ago. This very depth in time gave a dimension to the setting which few towns elsewhere in the Orient enjoy. The yellow robe clinging gracefully to slim bodies; the shaven head and the begging bowl with the palmyra fan with which the glare of the sun as well as the curiosity of the onlookers might have been meant to be warded off; Buddhist Bhikshus went about here in spite of the vulgar mercantilism that was corroding into the life of this little paradise from the coastal periphery of the island. Adam's Peak, which is the highest point on the central massive crags of Lanka, was associated with Shiva as well as Buddha and drew pilgrims from those of Islamic faith also once a year.

Trinity College, Kandy, was a fully-fledged public school that was started by the Church Missionary Society, not far from the lake and the Temple of the Tooth. It represented the zeal of some Englishmen under the leadership of Rev. A.G. Fraser, the Principal, to combine in one institution what was best in the message of Jesus and what Western civilization had to offer to far-flung parts of the Empire for the glory of that Empire and that of God at the same time. The intentions were perfectly genuine but some of the means and shapes that this zeal took were not altogether free from certain elements that cut at the root of the notion of true civilization in a human and universally valid sense. As H.G. Wells has strikingly revealed in his book called 'The Great Schoolmaster', referring to the life of Sanderson of Oundle, who was a headmaster who fell martyr to the inner conflict implied in the two slogans by which his own school inspired itself which were: to 'love one's neighbour as oneself', and 'Rule Britannia' - the great teacher falling dead when presiding over the School Day, as the author describes while he was a witness. The headmaster was referring to the above conflict in so many words, with some visible emotion. At the core of the double-sided value that his zeal represented there was hiding a conflict which modern education has not even today succeeded in resolving.

When we find that certain church services allow soldiers fully armed to the teeth to offer their prayers of a Sunday in some of the most important churches of capitals such as New Delhi, even now, it is not difficult to see how a sensitive teacher who took his educational role seriously as a life-mission should have paid the ultimate possible penalty in the name of the conflict left unsolved by educationalists even today.


Alison House was a big dormitory in which a hundred students, all boarders, with their master in charge were lodged. I had my bed fixed at the corner of the main entrance to this spacious hall, and had hardly settled down with all my belongings on the very first day of my admission when in the afternoon a cross-country run of four or five miles in drizzling rain was announced by a bell in the dining hall. I had not yet had time to read the notice about this but was roughly ushered out of the hall by the prefects who followed like hounds behind the hares. The whole school was out and the first excuses which I made saying that I was running a temperature were pooh-poohed away by the teacher in charge. My temperature was not unconnected with my state of mind because the travel sickness and homesickness still weighed heavily on my spirit. Bodily and physical indispositions had to be adjusted to the need of the hour and off I went, though reluctantly, following the lead of the six hundred others who went before me. Some prefects and teachers brought up the rear end and we made for the first time the full round of the hillock behind the college. The winding road through thick wood and vistas of fine scenery here and there was called Lady Norton's walk, if I remember right. Wet and tired, we returned to the dormitory just before the evening dinner bell and had very little time to wash and change into dry clothes.

One item on the timetable followed thus after another, making public-school life a busy one caught in the rigid routine of which contemplation or the negative aspects of education got hardly any chance to assert themselves. The harsh game of rugby; the ragging that went on in the dormitories; occasional bullying by big brothers of less tough guys who were at their mercy most of the time; the Latin lessons which were compulsory; the rising bell which had to be obeyed rigorously; the hasty dinners in which - instead of learning polite table manners of 'give and take' - 'first come, first served' conditions prevailed to the detriment of the less assertive younger brothers brought up in gentle ways at home; the lessons that were given by six or seven European teachers direct from Oxford or from Cambridge who had the exacting ways with lessons understood in the European tradition which was mostly beyond the reach of children brought up with other vernaculars than English in other parts of Asia; the debates and speech days with the exams and tests that came quite often; home tasks and vacations - made life in the public school full of outside events meant for making a hardy gentleman as understood on the English soil.

The far-flung Empire needed talents for domination and administration of people who did not have the gun with them.  They had also to be civilised in another inner sense so as to integrate them into one solid body within which give and take would build up a larger commonwealth for the mutual benefit of all its members. Education for citizenship had to be blended with education for making a moral and spiritual man whose life was at one with the great human family. One needed generosity and gentleness; and the other a certain harsh attitude of the colonial adventurer. The conflict implied in these two ideals treated together has not been faced in educational theory except by Rousseau - but even well-informed Englishmen like H.G. Wells (as he states outright in his World History) considered Rousseau a sentimental hypochondriac whose educational theories were worth nothing.

Sundays were fully observed as Sabbath days at Trinity College. We brushed our shoes and polished them in advance and were lined up in our Sunday best to be marched off to the school chapel at about ten in the morning. A long church litany with hymns sung and refrains, responses and prayers interspersed, ending with benedictions and a sermon from the pulpit, were all regularly gone through.

On certain Sunday evenings Christianity was presented as a rival religion to that of the Buddha; and then one heard cheap religious propaganda that brought down the dignity of both the great names involved, as they had to be treated as belonging to the cheap competitive level of mere marketable commodities or patent medicines.

The vulgar spirit of the salesman prevailed over any attitude that could be called spiritual. Expert proselytizing techniques were sometimes employed that did little credit to the high subject. Odious comparisons were established to bring discredit to one as against the other. The unjustness of these claims hurt the sensitive souls of many persons, both among the propagandists and those whom these were meant to prejudice in the name of one religious group or the other.

Duality - which implies one standard of truth or justice for one and another for someone else - always hurts the collective consciousness of man which cannot divide man into any strict compartments of sheep or of goats.

There was another still cruder conflict which tore the soul more drastically, which implied a duality too between the ideals held up on Sundays as against those that were presented on weekdays. The school cadet corps had to carry its rifles and go for its practices of skirmishes and shooting exercises in which the very persons who preached with robes from the pulpit taught, in another uniform, man to kill brother man. There was no philosophy which bridged the gulf between the blatant duality involved here. It is true that even on weekdays there were some minutes devoted before each morning in which reference was made to 'the tremendous personality' of Jesus Christ. Christ was the only saviour of men who could absolve mankind of sins, but to transform the first commandment was normal. There was only one door between two rooms: one that was for sinners and the other for those who were to be saved or were already saved - and Christ kept that door, it was taught. Prophetic religions, as opposed to those in the Orient which pinned their faith as much on values here as well as  hereafter had a certain zeal for the sublime which sometimes made them fall from the heights of sublimity to something so ridiculous that they often left a poor impression on the hearers. Sometimes the effect was the opposite of what was intended, and I can remember that I myself indulged in some anti-Christian talk now and then and secretly read books and pamphlets then distributed from England by the Rationalist Press Association, and avidly read Ingersoll and Spenser, thus representing anti-Christ in my own way, though unconsciously then.  

In spite of the dualisms involved in the education to which I had to submit, the days I spent at the Trinity College were those that made the greatest impression on my personality. The English have a way, as they say themselves, of 'muddling through' situations without much logic or system. The Americans go one step further in the same direction and what they look to is whether something will work or not.

Between the English and the American methods of education which were coming into vogue at that time, pragmatic ideals in education were sometimes mixed with naturalistic and even negative ones; and the overall aim of making a good citizen for the Empire and a good Christian fit for the Kingdom of God made of the educational programme a hodgepodge through which one had to muddle so as to be licked into some sort of shape. No single educational theory guided education. Unitive education transcending mere paradox was unknown. To love India is not necessarily to hate Pakistan, and this neutral attitude is a patriotism that belongs to the non-relativistic context of the Absolute. Patriotism and Nationalism - just as idolatry or any other closed or static loyalty within a group - have to be given an open and dynamic character by any education worth the name. In the light of such an outlook the education that I received at Trinity College had many drawbacks, but for this reason I cannot generalize and say that it was not good at all. It raked up many problems that burnt within me as doubts which I had to solve for myself, independently of what my teachers taught me in the classroom. Trinity College successfully knocked out of me over-sensitiveness and a general introversion with which I was affected in early adolescence. It put me in touch with a proper English-speaking world, which must have done a lot of good to my language. 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'The Tempest', which we were taught in the Junior and Senior Cambridge examinations, were taught by graduates recruited direct from Oxford and Cambridge. This had greater value than what was obtained in India, where a kind of Babu English often replaced the vernacularised substitute sometimes called Pidgin English. There are, however, various kinds of Pidgin English, some peculiar to Ceylon and others to Malaya - each flinging the name at the other with a superior air. Thus the Bengali would readily laugh at the Madrasi while both of them only talked their own jargon. Where ignorance is bliss it is folly to be wise. Ceylon boys of those days had a high opinion of the progress of Ceylon in what they considered modern developments and were proud that there were electric lights in the chapel and asked me innocently if India had electric lights too. Coming as I did from Mysore State where hydro-electric schemes came into operation quite early in the history of Asia, I could laugh at the ignorance of the boys with real superiority in this matter, though not in all such items.

The Madras University Matriculation was a hurdle that the best students from Ceylon of those days alone could cross. Although Indians seemed slow in adopting European dress they had an easy walkover in matters where studiousness and intellect counted. I was myself considered only a mediocre student while in the fifth and sixth forms in India. I was allowed to sit in the Junior Cambridge class when first admitted, but when the first terminal examinations were over, I had scored first class, first marks (to my own surprise), even in Mathematics, which was my weakest subject. I received congratulations all round and was conducted to the Senior Cambridge class by the Principal, A.G. Fraser himself, straightaway without further formalities - to the surprise of the whole class. I prepared for the London Matriculation Examination and no more considered myself a dullard. The London Matric needed a good standard of English which I tried to acquire; and in Mathematics and Physics too my efforts were not in vain. The classical subject that I had chosen was Sanskrit, in which I could get no guidance at all; and textbooks like Bhandarkar's series, on which I had to rely, with their Latinized nomenclature side by side with Sanskrit ones, confused me further. The syntax was a bugbear and the Sanskrit names for tenses and the irregular declensions and conjugations had no rival in any language except perhaps German, which I tried a hand at many decades later and gave up in despair. I could translate from Sanskrit into English quite easily, although the reverse exercise was more of an uphill task. When it came to grammatical questions involving rules with a series of exceptions, my patience often gave way. One has to learn a language by actually using it as children do at first, and then enter the intricacies of grammar. If the latter is taken up first, with all brains except the best-gifted for theoretical studies, failure has to be taken to be normal.

After more than two terms done at the Trinity College, in which preparatory work was done in view of the London Matriculation, it was decided that a correspondence course done from the family home at Trivandrum, where the family had moved from Bangalore because of the transfer of the father and other reasons - would be more satisfactory than a public school life with so many diversions.



Traditional house in Trivandrum.

The Bogambra Green where the boys went for rugger matches and cricket, which figured prominently in the formation of the young gentleman of England, as in Eton or in Harrow, had their exacting demands on health and energy. The humidity of Ceylon told on the health and every time that we played a match, some horse leeches were sure to creep under the stockings and be discovered much later bloated with precious blood that they had silently sucked. To pull them out was bad in that the salivary secretion meant for keeping the blood from coagulating while the leech sucked could not get extracted from the blood and often left a festering sore hard to cure through many weeks. The class lessons did not directly cover the portions required for the examination that was to be taken in one year. At the end of the second term, I therefore returned to Trivandrum and lived in a newly-purchased bungalow overlooking the lake in the public park there, which was duly named 'Park View'. Correspondence lessons from the University Tutorial College, London, came there and thus studies were continued without regular schooling. To master Physics or Chemistry without laboratory work or regular class lessons was not easy work and I did not have sufficient willpower to cope with the demands of the situation.

I loved literature and even secretly indulged in composing poems. First it was a simple poem about a boy who grazed a buffalo on the slopes of Adam's Peak where we happened to go on an excursion. He was called Girbir Gulab, at least in my poem, and with my scanty knowledge of scanning and metre I adopted the iambic tetrameter for the poem that consisted of about twenty-five verses. It told the simple story of the buffalo boy and how he rode on the back of animals while he grazed them in a pastoral paradise. The style of William Wordsworth had influenced me subconsciously. Even previously to this I had tried my hand at a fully-fledged sonnet which described sunrise as seen from Adam's Peak which we had climbed just before my coming to India. I had a big bound notebook with the ambitious title of 'The Complete Poetical Works of P. Natarajan' written in flowery handwriting on its first page. After a few years of this secret hobby which I was hiding away from elders in the house who might have wished me to take to more serious studies, in which many more sonnets and poems accumulated in due course, I consigned this precious volume to the flames, saying to myself that I did not after all want to be a poet. To change one's mind is the privilege of youth characterised by erratic enthusiasms.

This was the beginning and end of my career as a poet, but exercises with phrase-making and with rhyme have stood me in good stead all my life, although my ambitious poet-hood itself was shut out. Physics and Mathematics demanded my attention but the willpower to master these comparatively dry subjects was not in me. I trudged along, however, as best as I could manage and returned to Trinity College again for a further period of schooling. This time I was not a boarder but stayed in the main street of Kandy with the family of a man from Jaffna of the name of Saravanamuttu, who was a lawyer. In spite of the difference of the actual subjects taught at school and the requirements of the London Matriculation, I was preparing for the examination to be held at the end of the year. I was thrown on my own resources in mastering many items of the programme of studies. In the matter of Sanskrit I had no help at all. No wonder, therefore, that when I sat for the examination and the actual paper in Sanskrit, composed and printed in London, happened to be an elaborate and stiff one, printed in a different script than the one I was familiar with, I failed in that subject, having answered but a few of the questions properly. Rumblings of the war-clouds of the first World War were already beginning to be heard when, after sitting for the examination in Colombo, we sailed back to India. My early education was thus a miscellaneous and amorphous one and left me confused and very little confident about my own powers with many changes and set-backs.



As I pen these lines in mid-October 1962 at the mature age of 68 years I hear again the rumblings of the war clouds as the Indian President, Dr. Radhakrishnan, and Prime Minister Nehru call to the nation to 'gird their loins' for what might culminate in what is being known in history since 1914 as a series of World Wars, of which this is likely to be the third. International wars can implicate the whole world, as interplanetary feuds of the future may jeopardize the universe itself. To think that such contingencies are impossible or altogether improbable is becoming old-fashioned, whether reasonable or not.  

While on the one hand all kinds of absolutisms in thinking are getting discredited in the modern world, on the other side of the picture, necessities are growing into global, wholesale or absolutist proportions calling for total rather than piecemeal solutions. There is thus a lag, gap or hiatus between contingent thought and the necessary aspect of life which can spell disasters, large or small, to humanity. Unless humanity can bridge this dangerous hiatus that is ever widening between thought and action, these World Wars must continue their series, inevitably. Unitive absolutist thinking is the ancient time-honoured solution of the wisdom of the East which is, unfortunately for mankind, getting more and more discredited in the modern context.         

Empiricism; analysis; operationism depending on demonstrability; trial-and-error methods based on probabilities rather than the possible; mechanistic approaches seeking piecemeal rather than wholesale solutions; practicality - of which the Bomb is the supreme example that 'works' with one hundred percent destructive certitude; split-second correctness and speed that would rival the velocity of light itself - such are some of the attitudes implied in the modern outlook. These attitudes are cultivated lopsidedly without the corrective normative goal or value of the absolutist approach.

Relativism itself can be unconsciously treated as if it belongs to the absolutist context. We are living in times of intellectual decadence, in spite of the rich mine of Wisdom for which the East has been reputed. The echo of the rumblings of the clouds of the First World War seems of feebler negative import than what we are beginning to hear now which might take its place as the Third World War.

From the end of the year 1912 to the eve of the First World War - or more roughly from the Delhi Durbar of 1911 when king George succeeded Edward VIII to the eventful date of 1914 - the world was moving fast towards the great events of the century. The steamship and motor car were beginning to be taken for granted and the Victorian era gave place to the Georgian through the gradations of the Edwardian, when I found myself back in the Civil and Military Station of Bangalore, trying to do my matriculation over again, browbeaten and discouraged by failure in the London Matriculation.

I was about sixteen, yet I can definitely remember the beginnings of a social and political sense (with some touch of sensitiveness to religious values too) marginally awakening in my consciousness. My love of poetry-writing had already asserted itself, and I tried my hand also at drawing and painting when the holidays were long enough for such luxuries. A broken violin in the house afforded me the pastime of music which I was able to produce, though of an indifferent quality, being able by my own efforts to follow kirtans (musical compositions) in accompaniment of any who sang them. I made enlargements of portraits of Swami Vivekananda, Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Gaekwar of Baroda, whose personalities seemed to have begun to have some meaning or significance for me, however indirect.

The cry of 'Vande Mataram', which later became the full-throated political slogan of the people of India thirsting for freedom from foreign domination, was beginning to be raised to the annoyance and irritation of the British whose rule was perhaps at its best - at least for themselves - at this period. Indian students, even of the college classes, at that time were innocent of any sense of political rights, being steeped in tradition and the dreamy idealisms that marked a decadent era.  

Idealisms were exaggerated beyond all proportion, as seen in the suttee which only recently had been abolished by Lord Bentinck, the rigours of untouchability and the caste system still prevailing. India may be said to have been asleep or still unawakened yet.

I can remember how the sentence of transportation for life pronounced on Lala Lajpat Rai made a deep impression on me. It was hard enough in those days to be a 'moderate' in respect of the natural rights of the people. The brilliant English oratory and eloquence of Surendranath Bannerjee and Bepin Chandra Pal made equally their impression on me side by side with those of Burke, Bradlaugh, Besant and Macaulay. English education itself was the first stimulus for the political interest that awakened in me at this time, and slogans such as 'Taxation without representation is robbery' stuck in my mind tenaciously even in my teens.

As for religious awakening, it was due to the personality of Vivekananda. He was the most interesting hero of my youth, and I could repeat by heart the whole of his Chicago address before the Parliament of Religions even when I was scarcely twelve years old. I used to visit the Ramakrishna Mutt at Basavangudi in Bangalore even before my schooling in Ceylon. I was acquainted with the Bhagavad Gita and could repeat some of the more familiar verses. Again I frequented the Ramakrishna Mutt regularly at Bangalore on my second return to this interesting, clean and park-like city, walking five miles from 'Barne Park' in the High Ground to the Bull Temple extension five miles off to listen to discourses by the Swamis. I had also started social service a little later and used to carry with me to school a box in which I collected coins. When it filled up to some extent I organized a feeding of the indigent to whom I delivered tickets in advance, inviting them to come to an appointed place where they were to be fed.

Side by side with these awakenings to social, political, religious and aesthetic values, I could feel within me the pressures of adolescence which first exerted itself and became evident in a tendency to idealize certain of my schoolfellows. While still in the St. Joseph's College I had my favourite boy, a white-clad Anglo-Indian whom I had mentally idealized and was secretly in love with. This first wave of sentimentality which was of the nature of love at first sight and which acted as it were from a distance telepathically, without my ever talking to the person of my dreams gave way to other waves of adolescent sentimentalism, the second of which was sharper or keener in the arrow wound it inflicted on me than the first one and was this time directed towards a classmate to whom I brought roses from the garden each Saturday when we had morning classes. I remember walking through the August morning mists of Bangalore with the rose in my hand to give to my favourite friend.

At times also my tendency to idealize friendship of this kind went so far as to make me sit and compose a poem idealizing friendship. Hero-worship too found expression when exaggerated praise and admiration was showered on some teachers who happened to retire or get transferred. Love affairs with girlfriends, so common in the West, especially in the United States where schoolchildren during and before adolescence had each their girl- or boyfriends, did not figure in my life as far as I remember, except in one or two instances in which some such veil passed, as it were, and ruffled the silken sail of adolescent personal preferences for one person or another.

This does not however mean that adolescence in the normal sexual sense was in anyway weak in asserting itself in me. The full force of adolescence in the form of inner pressures and infatuations was true in my case if not more so than usual. Brute sex in most cases did not come into overt evidence because of the tendency to idealize, which seemed to form part of my character even from my earliest years. A prince among dreamers of dreams, imaginative and shy - representation from inside was always more powerful with me than any need for outer adventure in the actual sense. Eroticism in literature and in art, especially in Sanskrit, was a kind of shock-absorber by virtue of which actual outlets for sex were always driven inwards and often sublimated. I can only generalize and say that the stresses and strains of adolescence, generally speaking, were stronger in me than usual but that a rich inner life was able to pulse away the tides of instinct, emotion or passion; and the need for actual sex satisfaction scarcely asserted itself in me as a necessity. I might have to say more on this subject when I come to more more mature youth, when love becomes more real and matter-of-fact.


All education is not derived from schooling. In fact much of it results in spite of even wrong schooling, just as Nature can save patients from the ill-effects of wrong drugs that might often be administered by doctors. The habit of voracious reading that I began to cultivate attained its maximum, both qualitatively and quantitatively, at this period. After books like 'Robinson Crusoe' and 'The Vicar of Wakefield' which I finished early, I was steeped in Scott, Dickens and Thackeray for many months. Although London slang predominated in the writings of Charles Dickens, I devoured the jokes - sometimes understanding them, at least roughly, but more often believing that I did so.

I read one hundred pages a day, which I had heard from fellow schoolmates was the respectable speed of a good reader, although I know one or two of my mates who far exceeded it. Many phrases and expressions must have tumbled into a sort of shape in the subconscious repository, to remain there inarticulate before they could be available to use overtly in speech or writing - in the same way as many cement blocks have to go into the sea before a harbour breakwater can be walled up above the water level. Each type of person has a subconscious capacity which must be different in this respect because I have found that some pass more quickly than others from impression to expression in language. But often what is lost in time is gained in the larger capacity of content, justifying the dictum that the slow is sure. The dull student often makes up at the last round of the race, although starting slowly, and a hare-and-tortoise paradox is often implied here.      

Various forms of indeterminisms, ambivalent polarities, compensating synergic sets, antinomies and dichotomies - enter into the psychophysical or somatic life of individuals to make characterology or type-psychology a very intricate science indeed. All I can say about myself is that I was more of an introvert than an extrovert and that over-sensitiveness and richness of inner 'daivi' rather than 'asuri sampat' (spiritual rather than active endowment) distinguished the type to which I might have been said to belong. Arjuna and Rousseau may be mentioned as instances of this type, which is full of reservations and hesitations, with inhibitive factors stronger than the over-active ones.

Although I read some detective stories and knew all about Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series, I soon gave them up in favour of the Three Kings of English Literature whose names I have already mentioned. Not knowing French at that time I did not read that great masterpiece of fiction of all time, 'Les Misèrables' of Victor Hugo, which must have influenced English authors, contemporary or later, to write the novels they did.

Oliver Twist and David Copperfield made a deep impression on me and, after the fat volume of the latter, which I read with great attention and interest, was laid aside after reading it from beginning to end non-stop with absorbing interest, I said to myself that its pages contained a veritable education by themselves. This I felt again in respect of Hugo's great work, 'Les Misèrables', which I read more than a decade later, and which left me with the same feeling of wonder and gratification. A whole lifetime of education could sometimes be contained within the covers of some great books written by kings of literature.

It was at this period again that I was introduced to Shakespeare and Kalidasa. The minute criticisms to which 'Sakuntala' was subjected both by Sanskrit critics and Westerners, and the same for Shakespeare's plays which were beginning to be critically understood, contributed considerably to my intellectual formation of that period. The 'Raghuvamsa' and Milton's 'Paradise Lost' were equally familiar to me, although at that time I could not see behind the latter the classical influence of Greek tragedy which shows the context of the Gods of Olympus or Dionysos through the threadbare Christian context of the 'fruit of the forbidden tree'. Even Shakespeare's King Theseus of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' was a mixture of an Athenian and a London background promiscuously mixed up. At that time I could not see this subtle influence, in the light of which much of the originality of these authors became compromised for me at a later period.

Some verses of Sakuntala stuck to my automatic subconscious mechanism so intimately that there were days on end when I repeated one of the grandest verses in it incessantly. It referred to the King who relaxes at midday after a morning's 'mrigayavinoda' consisting of disturbing the peace of the animals of the forest, which has its English counterpart in 'John Peel with his hounds and his horns and his coat so gay in the morning' of the popular ditty. The King, Dushyanta, loosens here his bowstring and then the wild boars are free to drabble their snouts in the quagmire, and the wild water-buffalo can enjoy beating the pond with their horns again and again while drinking too of the limpid waters at will, while the group of frightened deer fixed under the tree-shade can continue to chew their cud in peace. The bow itself, according to the king, was to have a much deserved rest after the tension of the forenoon.

All nature thus went into another vectorial space, as it were, in its life-aspect. Two worlds were contrasted here which had as it were a 'one-to-one' correspondence, one inner and the other outer, just in the same way as Shakespeare himself envisaged in the subtle technique of the famous knocking at the gate after the midnight murder of Macbeth.

Literature thus began for me to open and leave ajar its portals to let me have just a peep into its secrets. Shakespeare's genius was deep enough for me at that time but the deeper and all-inclusive genius of the scheme of reality kept in mind by Kalidasa was yet to be unravelled in its full glory to me. I was thus fully awakened to the beauties of literature at this period and was able to look for interesting poems or paragraphs anywhere.  

I have already mentioned that I was nicknamed Nitrogen by my dear classmates by way of a sarcasm mixed with attention comparable to the brine on the seashore, bitter and watery at the same time, the product of over-activity of the temperament natural to adolescent youth. Boys of that age can be extremely nasty, though with an undercurrent of generosity. When Ivanhoe was studied in the sixth form as a detailed textbook in English they could not resist in their mischief to nickname me cruelly Athelstane, the lazy unprepared one whose counterparts are the various characters like Caliban in 'The Tempest' and Kumbhakarna in the 'Ramayana' or other Falstaffs or fat boys of literature as in Dickens. Exactly what impression I made on those fellows to draw on to me this kind of calumny I ignore even today. When I know now that the same was waiting for me even in Switzerland where I was a teacher many years later and the boys and girls took all sorts of liberties with me as they do even now wherever I go at sixty-eight, there must be something the keen eye of youth discovered which I could not keep a secret from them.

I could not act seriously and pretend to be firm or rigid, although on the other side some of my college-mates thought I was a very reserved and unsocial student. There must have been something peculiarly complex which eludes analysis, which all the same must have been interesting as even bad qualities could be. I have remained an enigma unto myself.

It was strange therefore that when the literary union of the High School met for elections and all the higher classes were gathered, I was unanimously elected its general secretary. I never dreamed that such an honour could come to me, but the verdict was wholehearted and serious and I set about devising methods by which I could do justice to the expectations that my comrades placed on me so generously.

Retiring as I was in my ways, I remember that I was also affected by some love of showing off or exhibitionism. I began to part my hair in the middle and took many months to decide the most smart fashionable way of signing my name, and to wear some of the gaudy silk neckties stolen from my father's wardrobe. Even some of the oversize coats that only fitted me roughly were thus dishonestly appropriated. I remember wearing a black coat and stiff collar with a purple silk hand-spun tie to go to the stand which was set apart for the High School students to greet the then Viceroy of India, Viscount Hardinge, on his visit to Bangalore near the racecourse at seven in the morning.

The School Day of the year 1916 was celebrated with the full co-operation of all my schoolmates because I adopted the device of distributing portfolios, as it were, to all those whom I thought were my rivals and wanted to be important themselves. For the first time I learnt the great lesson of organisation which consisted in just sinking your own personality and neutralizing it to such an extent that everyone who wanted to be important got a full chance, in spite of your importance in principle. Suppress your agency in action, called 'kartrtva' in Vedanta, and the magic is done and all co-operate fully. All you have to do then is to sit as it were informally on the table that your rival is using, leaving your own official chair, and make suggestions - not from on high but as one among the many, without letting your personality obtrude into the situation at all.

Leadership seeks men out in this way and makes them do impossible things, not by specific abilities of birth but by what is imposed on them by dint of extraneous circumstances.

A certain tendency to exaggerate and distort human values characterizes youth, which is often fired by idealisms, though often misplaced. The appeal of the superman, implied in every man, gets at this time of rich life an added impetus which when frustrated and
misdirected could end in 'shallows and in miseries' when the full tide is missed.

The impetuosity of youth can either make a young man a madcap or a desperado or else, when the surging vital forces are properly canalized and directed by good education, the buds of real genius might begin to sprout in him. In all this development the model man or the superman has his place to guide and fire the imagination of youth.

When such a model is not available, there is a desperate sense of frustration, especially in sensitive youth. This urge is like a hunger or thirst, which is both a moral, intellectual and aesthetic enthusiasm for truth. Man does not live by bread alone, and love and freedom or other values exist in the higher reaches of the axiological scale in which man is to trace his spiritual progress upwards to his goal. There is both an ascent in the scale of values and a descent implied here. The hero has to be both a man and a God at once, and in his conduct he has to be the embodiment of goodness and the God manifest on earth with enough of earthiness too. There is thus a subtle dialectical interplay of values which is the same as worship. Reverence is the word that Tennyson would perhaps prefer. In any case the model which occupies the mantlepiece for the time being always has an interchange and interaction like that of osmosis between two solutions. There is a purificatory process which is bipolar, and this process is best guaranteed when a man accepts a Guru who represents the highest that can be thought of in the context of spiritual progress.



It was a memorable day in Bangalore when M.K. Gandhi returned to India after his days of struggle in the name of indentured labour when he was in South Africa as a practising barrister. How he entered my own life, and how he became one of the earliest models of a hero of my adolescent years, is a long story in itself. To tell this in any complete form would take me back two or three years from this early period when I first saw the name Gandhi printed in a green paperback book that was handed to me by a fellow passenger on a ship when I was returning for the last time to India after my studies in Ceylon.

The passenger in question was a vegetarian and told me that he was from the Island of Mauritius where he practised law, often pleading for the Indian labourers who had legal troubles. Our point of contact was that we were both together in the ship's kitchen pleading with the chef for the omission of beef or meat or both from the menu which was intended for us. He turned to me in the dining room and asked me if I had heard of the name Gandhi. Mohanlal Karamchand Gandhi was his full name and through articles in the Indian Review of Madras he thought all Indians knew about him. In fact I was aware that none of my schoolmates had heard of him yet. This gentleman came all the way with his family who were seasick, and in the cabin he politely handed me a visiting card with the name Manilal M. Doctor BA, LLB etc. printed on it.

I was elated by the recognition that this middle-aged, gold-rim-spectacled, well-dressed and sleek man of India gave me. We sat and talked about Indian politics on a deck seat and became good friends for the time being, but it was as late as half a century later that I could even meet a man who at least knew him. This was at a party in Geneva when a man called Doctor was introduced to me who was a businessman in, I think, Port Said, who was the nephew of the original Doctor I had met and lost contact with forever afterwards. Crossing the Atlantic several times back and forth I have lost in the same manner several valuable friends with whose contacts, if I had kept them up, I should have been very rich in friendship indeed in this world which is becoming smaller and smaller by developing communications.

After seeing the name of Gandhi for the first time in this manner, I found his name more often in magazines and newspapers . After the days of the Boer War in South Africa when Gandhi had played his part in passive resistance, and after some correspondence with Tolstoy while yet in London, Gandhi developed the technique and philosophy of Satyagraha in India; and when the names of Gokhale and Mrs. Annie Besant were at the height of popularity this enigmatic little man returned to India to take over the reins of politics, and steered the ship of the Indian Independence Movement till it was welcomed into the haven of Independent India.

Gandhi's name thus became more than a household word and, my own hunger for hero-worship also being at its zenith, I took to Gandhi with more fervour at that time than perhaps any other person of my age in that part of the country. There was a reception accorded to Gandhi at the Glass House in the Lal Bagh public gardens at Bangalore in which the future leader of politics in India was first seen with a Marwari turban and white cotton clothes sitting beside his humble-looking wife and a black boy sitting on the ground near him.

The boy was one adopted from those who suffered in the Passive Resistance struggle in South Africa. The complete humility of the man was evident to anyone, for a part of his turban was coming unwound but he sat unconscious of it while the multitude of thousands of all religions and groups of India watched him, including a smattering of Europeans - many praising him one after another on the platform while the crowd itself sat in silent admiration.

India seemed to be becoming a nation and not merely a country presenting a mosaic pattern of different peoples. This was what inspired youth and brought India together at least to such a degree of integration of sentiments as to be able to oust the typically shy, sensitive and self-conscious English. Whether the Chinese, who are at the door of India while I write these lines (28th October 1962) can be made to give up occupied territory by sentimental negative warfare, is a matter for doubt. Yet the triumph of the negative way applied to politics was in itself a surprising phenomenon, and any victory (if a lasting victory it can be called) must give credit to this earnest, humble and enigmatic little man with lean legs and a hungry look, who proved to the world that negative force, under given conditions, could be as effective as, and prove itself mightier than, the sword. I had again a closer look at the couple and the black clean-shaven-headed boy on the platform of my High School itself where he came to unveil the portrait of Gokhale, and I clearly remember Gandhi folding his hands humbly and reverently before the garlanded picture of Gokhale and calling him his Rajya Guru (leader in political wisdom).

Reserving for the present time the rest of the story of my worship of Gandhi, I just now refer to the other personality besides Vivekananda and Gandhi who entered into my adolescent life, as it were, with a bang.  


That an uncivilized and backward people could produce a poet in the English language who excelled in it to such an extent as to obtain the Nobel Prize for Literature, was an event that enhanced the self-respect of the people of India, and made them hold their heads high in the view of outsiders who had succeeded in making them believe that they were an inferior race. To the question 'Is India civilized?' the thundering answer came from Swami Vivekananda. To the question 'Is India intelligent enough to shake off the foreign yoke in a manner in keeping with its own best traditions?' the intense answer came from the shrill, small voice of Gandhi. To the question 'Does India understand cultural refinement and can it rise to heights of creative imagination?' Tagore gave the answer. In the fields of science and even in sport, such as cricket, Indians showed they were the equal of any others and thus gave to the youth of that generation a fresh hope for the future, and opened up new vistas for their spirit of adventure and triumph.



Rabindranath Tagore was a name, high sounding in itself and suggestive of the best aspirations of the youth of my generation. Vivekananda, Gandhi, Tagore, Bose and Ranjit Singh each added feathers to the cap that young India wore with just pride at that time. Tagore's 'Gitanjali' did not make any meaning at first to most English-educated Indians brought up in the tradition of Addison and Steele. The language was too laden with fable and allegory and many mixed metaphors blended their subtle suggestions together to give a kind of Upanishadic flavour and taste to his writings which were strange to the English genius. The pure literary dignity and value of the compositions however stood head and shoulders above the ordinary run of drab poetry that English taste considered respectable. The bold flights of fancy brought up in the shadow of Upanishadic imagination, so free and easy, was a new feature which a critic like W.B. Yeats was able to recommend in his Foreword introducing the 'Song Offerings'. They were quickly compared to the Gita Govinda on one side and to the Song of Songs of the Bible on the other.

In the High School itself I heard these prose poems read out by a Tagore admirer. I became fired by the idea of possessing a copy of this book but as the first edition was sold at too high a price for an average Indian student's pocket in those days, I decided to copy the whole of the book into notebooks and read and reread them many times.

I was familiar with Vivekananda literature from the age of twelve when, as I have said, I could recite by heart the Chicago Address. The life of the Swami had been read from cover to cover and the 'Works', which were four or five quarto volumes as published in those days, were beginning to be studied from end to end by me. Now came this transparent crystalline flow of prose-poetry or free verse which was like a confection, highly flavoured and sweet, reminiscent of the Upanishads themselves. It was certain that India was thus slowly and steadily coming to its own.



The transition from puberty through adolescence to the stage of a youth - the period of storms and stresses alternating with smooth-sailing periods through which every man passes - is perhaps one of the most interesting parts of anyone's life, especially as seen in retrospect. Childhood has its fears and helplessness, but the journey to vigorous manhood, when both the body and mind survive through tribulations and trials, big and small, inner and outer, with its hesitations and bold resolves, passions and emotions - demands harsher fibre than what the silken sail of infancy needs for its texture. The twilight period between adulthood and adolescence was still lingering on with me through the years of the last stages of the First World War.  

It is true that religious, aesthetic and political appetites were getting shaped and nourished within me by corresponding Gurus or model supermen who influenced my life as heroes. While I was still worshipping them, pouring out my innocent loyalties of adolescent youthful admiration as libations at the feet of such idols as Vivekananda, Tagore and Gandhi respectively, an enigmatic figure began to take its place step by step within me and not with a bang, as in the case of the last as already mentioned.

I hardly suspected, when as early as 1899 or so, as an infant, I was pushed into the presence of a strange man past forty who lived in a riverside hermitage twelve miles south of Trivandrum, that he would influence me most in my life in later years. He was surrounded by a multitude of admirers and worshippers at that time, as I visualize him now, while he himself sat amidst the crowd in a sedate and silent attitude, sparing in speech, blessing with his unmoved eyes the people who, one by one, took the dust off his feet in adoration. I was asked to do the same, but I remember to have protested in my own infantile way, saying to myself that my ego, though small, was greater than that of any other man, especially of a stranger.

The Guru himself noticed this self-assertion and remarked that as the son of a doctor I was not willing to prostrate to anybody. Perhaps a touch of absolutism was there from the very beginning, of which I was not conscious. Beyond feeling in the atmosphere that this man was being considered someone very important, I did not see what was the matter with the populace which constantly followed and seemed to fuss about him. Such was the first contact or lack of contact that I established with a mysterious Guru, who was to mean so much to me in later life.


Narayana Guru.

I remember the second occasion on which the same thing happened to me, which must have been at least three or four years later. This time this Guru-figure was seen coming to the family house of my father in Trivandrum. The way in which all the relations stood in reverence before this enigmatic man intrigued me, but the situation itself was opaque to me in its significance. On being told that I was going to school in Bangalore and knew Kanarese, the Guru asked me to read a lesson from my Kanarese primer which I did very shabbily, being hesitant and shy. I could understand nothing of holiness or of religious feeling. Many religious parents force their children when they are too young to show devotion and reverence when the feeling is still utterly strange to them. Rousseau was right here when he said that religious instruction, if given to children at all, must come very late. A sense of mystery about the world into which the child might be born is about all that can be expected by way of spiritual development before the child attains adulthood.

When I visited this enigmatic figure of a Guru about the age of ten or fifteen the mystery was still thick, but had begun to be a little more transparent. I remember at least two occasions on which I was in his presence. The first was when I went to the ashram at Varkala when it was in its stage of being just established. The Guru lived under a tree near a clear brook and there was merely a parnasala (leaf hut) where living arrangements were made. He spent most of his time on a hill-top just acquired about a quarter of a mile away where, in another leaf-hut, he used to meditate while the sea breezes greeted him and the gurgling springs formed themselves into brooks round the hill that he had chosen for his abode.

A part of ancient or perennial India was thus visible to me, a veritable rishi's abode of whose whole association and significance I was still ignorant at that time.

On the first of the two occasions I was in the company of my parents, brothers and sisters and the youngest born, the fifth boy who was to be named in the presence of the Guru. This was done at a simple ceremony and afterwards there was a plain meal in which I participated with all the others. Even this I could call rustic and in keeping with the utter simplicity of life in the forest which was the natural setting in which Gurus have always lived. All this made but a vague and passing impression on me at that time, although at the time of writing these lines more than fifty years later, the meaning has changed for me considerably. Early youth lives in a world of its own, which is, vectorially speaking, the opposite space of the one in which one finds oneself in more mature years. In that world, the Guru-presence was only taken for granted as if in the background among other things, some of which might have deserved less of my attention. Values in life change over from one side to the other in a strange way.

There was a deer and a peacock which were ashram pets, but which were nuisances by the damage they did to the neighbouring cultivators who cursed them, in spite of their contribution of beauty to the atmosphere of the ashram by their moving about in the place with such otherworldly grace. Here again conflicting values were evident. These impressed me more than the Guru himself, although he was the centre of the piece, and only taken for granted in a subconscious manner. Three or four years later when I went to the same ashram, fresh contact was memorable in that the Guru gave me recognition by speaking to me. Someone had reported to him that I had said that a lion or tiger could scare cattle away but the Guru added the first remark which he ever made to me, by saying that when wild buffaloes ganged together against a tiger they could be more ferocious. However, in spite of these contacts of pre-adolescent days, the Guru-figure still remained an enigma to me.


About the year 1915, when my High School days were being completed and I was waiting for my School Leaving Certificate and the summer holidays were on, one day in Bangalore there arrived the Guru to whom I would not bow in my infancy. With just a water pot (kamandalu) carried by an elderly, darker-complexioned man who followed him like a shadow, the clean-shaven-headed, white-robed, slim and tall figure turned into the side gate of Barne Park High Ground, Bangalore, where I happened to live with my parents at that time before going to College in Madras.

He had arrived by the morning train from Madras and was walking without any specified destination in mind but arrived by chance, as it were, as I gathered later from the attendant who was with him. In Madras Central Station, where he had entrained the previous night, he had left all his followers - who were at least half a dozen in number - with the bedding and cooking vessels which he constantly said he wanted to rid himself of, but which the insistence of his devotees inflicted on him all the time, in spite of his protests. As it actually transpired, the story was told to me that when the first bell had rung for the mail train to start, a man in the Guru's compartment occupying the lower berth (for sleeping only after ten PM according to the railway rules) objected by mistake to the Guru sitting on it when it was still only eight or so. On this the Guru left the train altogether, on seeing which, the disciples with their baggage also got down from a compartment at a distance, but on the stroke of the second bell and the whistle, the man who had objected to the Guru apologised and the Guru was in again; and thus it was that the Guru arrived with one man only with him, leaving the others bag and baggage behind.

This interesting side event in the Guru's life helps to show what kind of informal, free and easy unburdened life belonged to him. Contact as between individual persons had not been established between me and the Guru at this time and, except that he was respected by all in the house - onto which my respect was added naturally - there was no bipolarity or mutual adoption between us as in a regular Guru-Sisya relationship. A disciple of the Guru who had stayed with us some time prior to the visit of the Guru had given me some insight into the way in which a Guru is respected in India. To think of a Guru in terms of a God was natural to the Indian mind. It was part and parcel, as it were, of the very spiritual climate of India. How exactly this kind of glorification was to be understood was still to me a mystery. How much of such respect was just traditional or social habit and how much original and genuine I could not make out.

During the four or five days of his stay under the same roof, however, some kind of intimacy that was natural and living became established, although the contact was a feeble one in the matter of any spiritual exchange between us. Traditional background respect however changed over into conscious and bipolar adoption in the proper sense by slow degrees in later years. How the sense of Guruhood grew up with my life itself is one of the peculiarities of my discipleship, making it superior in certain respects and inferior in others, is a matter to be borne in mind by anyone interested in how this rare spiritual affiliation takes place so naturally in certain cases as in my own.

To live with a veritable Guru under the same roof just when adolescence was translating itself into manhood within was a rare and precious advantage. The lion comes to your den. If the Ganges flowed through the basement of your house, as in Hardwar, or you had wild beasts for neighbours or had a full view of Mont Blanc from your kitchen window, you could feel no more cause for elation. An actual Guru to speak with you intimately and whom you could watch in his own ways and habits is as stimulating as when an untamed deer drinks water from your hand or birds peck grains off your palm. I was all attention and interest, although I did not understand the Guru any more than on the previous occasions when I was privileged to contact him. A well-bred pet dog could not be more all eyes and ears to the voice of the master. The world that Guruhood represented was still mostly a closed book to me; but there was an instinctive curiosity mixed with genuine desire to know more about it. Hero-worship, pent up within me to find a normal outlet was, as it were, lying in wait for its prey. The strange man was so sedate and taciturn that a glimpse into his person was not easy, because he was in this respect like a high-born maiden, avoiding all prying into her grace. The hints that he threw out for me to bite seemed of a delicate and flimsy order indeed, but the baits thus dangled - judged by their effect as seen only in later years - were of consequence, though not of any antecedent importance at all.

He did not teach me philosophy as such directly but stimulated my curiosity in his own insinuating way. To give an instance, he came into my study where I had hung up certain pencil drawings that I had made. There was among them one of Vivekananda, in which he was seated in meditation, which I had enlarged from a book illustration. I thought that the Guru would compliment me on my artistic ability - he looked at it intently an instant and asked why there were certain patches on the face. He seemed to question the method of pencil shading and did not approve of it. This kept me guessing about the intelligence of this strange man who did not know perhaps that shading was normal to pencil drawings. Line, light and shade were to be employed according to him perhaps with more severe rules than modern art of the ordinary type now recognized. The severe lines of ancient Indian art did not favour this easy use of shading and had purer norms and standards here. Shading was a kind of falsehood and should not be resorted to too easily. A subtle dig and a gentle snub were anyhow implied in the remark, though incidental and seemingly trivial.

This was followed on another occasion when the Guru cut my complacent pride in modern education by asking me if I knew of a certain spirit of which people in Kerala talked about a lot which was wont to cause stones to drop from the roof. 'If one should pick up such stones, they were not any that could be seen as missing from anywhere nearby and one could put them, say, under a coconut tree and they could be seen day after day to be in the place where they were put'. Such were the given data from the mouth of a Guru. After a certain pause the Guru asked me pointedly whether modern science had anything to say about such phenomena. Of course I had heard of such stories as the Park Lane ghost and water diviners, negative hallucinations and even vaguely of materializations. But the question of the Guru was too much for me at that time, although fifty years later I found myself on better ground, though still not completely at home in such a world of possibilities or probabilities. What the mind is capable of parapsychologically still remains largely closed to modern science, although psychic research has begun to discuss similar problems. The depth of the mystery of the Guru-figure had by now doubled itself in me.

It was during the same visit that the Guru was heard to make some concession to my ignorance in inner spiritual matters and explain to me the nature of electricity. In the bedroom where the Guru had slept the previous night there was an open electrical socket which had given the Guru a shock as he tried to put on a switch by himself in the dark. Referring to what had happened the Guru said that electricity gives an idea of the absolute Reality that philosophers try to define. Perhaps what he meant was that electricity could be taken to be the operational version of the metaphysical Absolute.

It was not on the same occasion but at least three years later that a similar topic was raised by the Guru, which equally puzzled me. He referred to a piece of music played from a gramophone record and asked why playing the record many times did not have the effect of fatiguing the original singer whose voice was recorded. I had learnt in Newtonian mechanics that action and reaction were equal and opposite, thus linking cause with effect, but the problem presented by the Guru was confusing to me and at first seemed somewhat absurd. I tried to explain that the record reproduced vibrations etc. The Guru said he knew all that but the point was not that. Even to this day I find I cannot answer the Guru correctly except to say that the record confined itself to the operational plane only, while the living musician was more than an operational entity. Like printer's type and the printer himself there was a fundamental distinction.

On another occasion still, on my mentioning to the Guru that zoology taught me about a certain hermit crab which found protection for its abdomen in a molluscan spiral shell to which it got attached, the Guru abruptly asked me why I should not think that the hermit crab was created as it was and that all the story of the crab occupying a shell was irrelevant or insignificant? I remember also his asking on a still later occasion if the Englishman who spoke of evolution had actually seen a monkey change into a man. It was of course a theory and not a fact directly given to experience. 'The evolutionists would say', the Guru continued, 'the process is so slow that, like the motion of the hour hand of a clock, we fail to see the evolutionary movement'.

Thus, topic after topic touched by the Guru started within me newer and newer doubts till I stood confounded and confused in the presence of his enigmatic personality. The education that I was getting began more and more to count as nothing as new vistas of intellectual adventure opened themselves before me one after another. Thus a new line of education was opened out for me by this enigmatic personality whose significance grew into my life more and more, changing the direction of its aim and giving it new content at every fresh contact. There were thus two different roads, one high and the other low; or one cutting the other at right angles with a common participation point of insertion or articulation, into what might be said to be integrated knowledge or wisdom. Duality, when admitted into the domain of education, gives rise to many harassing situations or conflicts that will spell double gain or double loss.


The visit of the Guru described above synchronised with the turning point between High School and College education for me. It was like the meeting of four roads, each with a different background and purpose: Indian education with its own background; and Western education grafted on with a background that was altogether strange and unfamiliar. East and West were proverbially never to meet. The Indian Guru could not find any place in the actual scheme I was submitted to, and on the other side there was no point of contact at all between values represented by Western education as adapted to the needs of Indian youth and the deep-seated inner urge for education coming up, as it were, from the proper soil of India.

Strangely however, at the very time when this conflict was felt keenly in my life there happened to be a sympathetic teacher who was the Headmaster of the High School where I studied. From his way of taking detailed English texts in the matriculation class I had developed a high regard for him as a man capable of great understanding and intelligence. He seemed to have understood me as I expected myself to be understood and there developed a certain mutual adoption and bipolar relation between us resembling, though only distantly, that of a Guru and Sisya of ancient times. He was just a plain schoolmaster but had a family background which belonged to the spiritual heritage of India. The critical mind of the mimamsaka (scholar critic) belonged to him, and his English education had opened up for him the wisdom of the West in which he could at least find spiritual entrance. He was thus one in whom East and West could meet, though not at a high mystical level but on the intellectual and the rational.

After retiring as Registrar of Mysore University this teacher became the companion in spiritual matters of the then ruler of Mysore who sent him as a delegate to the philosophical conference which was held in Paris about the year 1926.

Though mute and inglorious in most other respects, this man was a remarkable example of how a wisdom tradition could survive the barriers dividing one generation from another vertically and one cultural growth from another horizontally. In a long black coat, short of stature, plain, white-turbaned, bespectacled, dark and unpolished socially as he was - he carried a wise head on his shoulders which gave him a status above other retired schoolmasters of his generation in the India of that time. His name was V. Subramanya Iyer. The respect I had developed for him was reciprocated because he treated me with special favour as his student and remembered me long after with regard and affection.

I was keen therefore that this teacher should know the Guru who was then staying with me. I accordingly arranged for a meeting before the rare possibility passed away. The Guru on his part paid a visit to the High School and took interest in the plan of the buildings and the manual work sections, saying that boys must know how to do as well as to think. I was with the party as they went round the classes, and glad to witness the rare possibility of an Eastern mystic and a Westernised teacher establishing some contact at all. Such was the culminating event of my High School career which was coming to an end.

On the fifteenth of June 1915 I was officially understood to have completed my secondary education and declared eligible for admission into the University. The jam, jumble and bottlenecks involved in the rush for such an education, if worth the name at all, were happily to be over from this date. But all was not over in reality. Admission into colleges depended on being selected for interviews by each of the principals of the various colleges in South India. Applications were sent at random. There were hurdles of red tape, back-door irregularities, VIP pressures, sheer favouritisms, side by side with high marks and real or pseudo-educational requirements that still stood in the way. Dates of application were important and it was usual to see fathers with their sons and daughters trekking the streets to offices or institutions with sad faces as the fortunes of their protegés were being decided. Sportsmanship and scholarship counted not equally but sometimes preferentially for the former. Tribalistic considerations and rules of selection had to be satisfied.

The task of an impartial principal sitting in his office was a difficult one because last-minute telephone calls from some MP or VIP or turbaned royalty - of whom there were hundreds - could upset the regular ways. Some professors also walked through the corridors to the room of the principal on the opening day, threatening resignation - at least in one case to my knowledge - if a certain student - or as it happened a lady student - was refused favourable treatment. Before all chances in the different colleges were irretrievably lost after a certain date one had to contact by telegram those out-of-the-way colleges which might still admit the leftover applicants. Much gall and wormwood with clenching of fists and gnashing of teeth by parents or principals was often involved, all in the name of perhaps a ne'er-do-well of a boy. I went through this anxious period calmly, but all was not yet over. Bad as this scramble for seats was in my days it was nothing like what obtains at present in India. Conditions have worsened in geometric proportion.

I was first admitted to the Central College, Bangalore, but then my father, who had to go to Baroda on services lent, could not keep three establishments: one for the boys in Bangalore; another for the two girls who got admission to the Queen Mary's College in Madras; and a third for himself in Baroda. It was thought practicable to take the whole group of five: three boys and two girls - four in the College first year, and the youngest boy in High School - to Madras. Again they had to live in this rumble-tumble growth of a city of distances, in some place from which they could go to their respective institutions. While waiting for father to come back from the office of Dr. Skinner, Principal of the Madras Christian College, sitting in my carriage in the Fort District of Madras, it was made known that the Principal objected to having two brothers in two different colleges. The Christian influence for which the College stood, if good for one had to be good for both or not at all. This was the subtle dialectics. Other statistical considerations made for still greater absurdity  with other academic authorities who based their judgements on probabilities rather than possibilities. These subtle impediments of the world of the struggle for existence and survival of the fittest made me sour at heart already in my life while I was yet to see the world of job-hunting in India, about which I might have to give a worse picture later. Nepotism, criss-cross interests and partialities based on group life made such a tangled mess of the principle of equality of opportunity for all that the phrase itself began already to taste bitter in my mouth.

After all the tribulations a solution came. The four of us got distributed between the Presidency College, Madras, in the Marina, and the Queen Mary's College in the same district. A house, the top floor of a chemist's shop in San Thome, was rented and we settled there for some months or years before going to another house nearby and then to Komaleswarampet in the Mount Road area.


Mardas Presidency College.

Life in Madras was very different in many ways from that of Bangalore ruled by a Maharaja. The fuller light of British colonialism played on one in Madras, while Bangalore and Mysore were pieces of Ancient India dropped from high as it were into the changing context of New India. Added to this was the actual and not merely political climate. For months on end the dream of Bangalore persisted within while the sticky heat of Madras made for sweating and sweltering as one sultry morning hour gave room to no less a sultry night. The breezes of the Marina sands were the only relieving feature and all the city came there in the evenings 'to eat air' as the Hindustani idiom would put it, within the hearing of breaking billows and the glimmer of lights in a long row reaching to the harbour end from San Thome, twinkling like distant stars.



Macaulay knew Madras when he had to visit India in connection with the famous dispatch by which English was to be adopted as the medium for public instruction for the 'natives' under British rule. Colonialism in Madras was at its zenith at that time. Indians, however, became aware of what it implied stage by stage. In the days when I was a student in the Presidency College, Madras, the cry for Home Rule by Indians was beginning to be heard in nooks and corners of the country.

Tar roads were scarce and underground drainage was unknown except in European quarters, though trams ran in the city, creaking over the rails from the Beach through Round Thana to Luz Church or Triplicane. Electric light was there in some parts but only mechanically made and not from hydroelectric projects. Dupleix was still remembered in Pondicherry as were Clive or Munro in Madras. The 'Black Town' was just being renamed 'George Town' to efface the stigma that attached itself to the former name. Interpreters, contractors and commission agents mixed with clever 'native' lawyers and a new era with new classes was just coming to be. English professors came all the way from the mother country to fulfil the white man's heavy burden of civilizing the rest of the world. The black man's world consisted of coolies and rickshaw-pullers with half-naked fishermen with their catamarans on the palm beaches. Men and even women often substituted for the bullocks in carts of sand drawn by surprisingly able-bodied humans nourished only by sunlight and salt, supplemented by rice in water with onions and green chillies on which whole families nourished themselves, year in and year out. Modern dietetics was thus challenged. Macaulay mentions the Marina of Madras, even then famous as a heat-relieving lung for the town dwellers during the sunset hours. Madras was the seat of the Governor, and one of the oldest universities of India was established there. The half-naked population were slaves useful for pulling the punkahs (fans) - but there were plenty of liveried servants too, dressed like Nabobs, who hung round the offices and bungalows of the white servants of the Queen or of Edward or George the Emperors, helped by dubashes (interpreters), contractors, clerks and lawyers.

Old Madras was a well-known state of mind just as Brooklyn or Manhattan is to New Yorkers at present. Drab actualities and the intimate personality of the slum-filled city blended into an interesting confection, with the lazy cries of street vendors, the wilful crows and the other birds like the curlews or gulls with strange cries that strayed occasionally onto the terraces from their natural habitat in the Coromandel Sea. The air of Old Madras had some life-giving elements in spite of its humidity and sultry summers which lay heavily on an ill-clad, half-starved, seething population. Madras still held out chances for the intelligent 'native' youth to shine and have the most alluring attraction of a career as a paid Government servant, as seen from his own world of abundance from where even a little opulence had a magnified interest for him. Job-hunting was the strongest spur to the adventurous spirit of Indian youth in those days, and to pass examinations in English and to hold degrees was the dear dream of every parent who sent his son to school. Matters are much the same even now, with the difference that the bottleneck is narrower and the jam and rush more close-knit. All this involved the transition from the economy of abundance to that of opulence where cash-value left the use-value of things far behind. The agonies of the transition from the one to the other were not over at the time I became a student in an Old Madras that still retained the colonial flavour lingering on after its days in India were beginning to be numbered.  


Old Madras.

Beyond the surf-washed, sandy beach and the broad Marine Drive, which was used illegally by fishermen to mend their nets or spin their twine, as the tarred road surface made for mirage effects to dupe the lazy minded, the noble edifice of the Presidency College raised its pyramidal spire above the expansive vista of the seafront. It was a red brick and sandstone building, a replica of similar public buildings in London, with perhaps the cloakrooms omitted and only otherwise very slightly modified. In the way that this first of educational institutions of the Presidency of Madras functioned too, there was not much of a difference between the original model in England which the institution copied, except for the fact that the lesser members of the staff were turbaned and dark-skinned men instead of regular Englishmen.

The Indians however, were selected because of their capacity to resemble as nearly as possible the English they were meant to substitute for, rather than because of any intrinsic or native genius. This was all the more evident when oriental learning was professed by pundits who had to keep in mind two different models at the same time - the indigenous one that belonged to the soil itself and another that of some Western orientalists or others who had influenced them as admirable scholars, and whose style of speaking and writing - even when the scholarship belonged to a foreign and not necessarily an English context - was the commodity which had high exchange value in academic life under colonial governments of the time. A turbaned professor with high pundit qualifications but who conformed to far-off models of strange cultural growths while trying to preserve his own orthodox love of his own traditions, resulted more often than not in a caricature model rather than a genuine sample; and only rarely did the genius of a scholar combine the best of both and live through without sacrificing the best of both in favour of some insipid stuff that passed for high learning. More often the compromise which succeeded was the one in which the discipleship to the West was more pronounced than any first-hand substance that was basically valid.

When it came to science subjects the atmosphere was much more refreshing. Shakespeare too was studied under professors who themselves learnt under distinguished scholars of England and could transmit to Indian students something of the enthusiasms which true culture implied. Mark Hunter, Allen, Duncan, Littlehailes - were some of the familiar names of professors of the Presidency College of my time under whose teaching several generations received their intellectual formation - mostly Madrasis with a majority from Mylapore, which supplied the greatest number of recruits for higher offices under the Government, and many astute lawyers. Our rival College in the city was the Christian College, which too had to its credit perhaps an equal number of intellectuals who came out of its portals each year, and which had as many professors at least of equal quality - but who taught under the aegis of Christianity rather than the Empire. The Bible and the gun, with an overall commercial interest of a brand of mercantile colonialism, came into touch with an ancient civilization that had gone to seed and become effete on the soil of India itself; and the resulting combination produced mostly 'natives' with an English mind, and rarely some Englishman with a native mind.

The latter phenomenon, when it took place, was derided and successfully driven under by the fully colonial elements, both black and white and mixed, who dominated the atmosphere. There were thus Indian authorities on English pronunciation who used a more Oxford accent than Oxonians themselves; the premium put on them being high in the services, and the inducement to imitate them by young professors or their senior disciples was very compelling. Many freaks thus came into being in the main and secondary institutions all over India who slurred their 'r' or lisped or haw-hawed their phrases with many 'rather's' and 'golly's' as they spoke, so as to outdo their counterparts in good old England itself. Their legacy has not vanished still in present-day India, but many Americanisms coming from the film world have been added to the stock of ever-accumulating dross of jargon journalese on which much modernist pretence tries to erect its imposing but false façades and big fronts. Some still say 'yah' for 'yes' and '-kyou' for 'thank you'. As a result, genuine scholarship suffered much and still suffers, as many oriental publications have become mostly unreadable in our days. Publications coming from academic bodies amply bear witness to this. That similar academic bodies existing by their own right in the West secretly laugh at such books that they review or discuss in group studies, is little known here. Outmoded models of punditry die hard. Where ignorance is bliss it is folly to be wise. Such was the academic context of the Presidency College, Madras, where I was admitted in the year 1915. Shaking oneself free from the stilted ways of such a hybrid education was more important for me than to retain what was learnt.

Besides Shakespeare and English literature and Sanskrit courses for the intermediate classes, the real subjects that I had to study as optionals were physics, chemistry and natural science. One of my sisters took history for optional but the remaining three, consisting of two brothers and one sister, were in the science group. The last, although belonging to the sister institution for women, had common science classes with the men by mutual arrangement.  

The first disadvantage was present in the change in climate due to transfer from a height of three thousand feet to sea level as between Bangalore and Madras. A coat and cap were compulsory at college as, according to the words in the educational code that was brought into force, 'good manners required a coat and a suitable covering for the head'. The lecturers were to wear pith turbans or plain white ones, mostly starched and put on like thick bandages round the head. Most of them wore black long-coats like Christian priests as laid down for Government House receptions, preferably with stockings, so as not to shock the gentle ladies at banquets. Otherwise it was possible, when Indians were allowed their own ways, that they took off their shoes and sat crossed-legged on the sofas of the Western drawing-rooms. These details of obligatory dress had the nuisable aspect too of making the climate of Madras altogether unbearable.

I remember how in the Chemistry practical work we had to spend a whole afternoon in laboratories with many bunsen burners in a steam-bath-like room with windows too big ever to be opened, after what obtained in London. Here most of the time we were engaged in weighing salts or dealing with acids, minerals or alkalis in which even the vibrations of the needles of the balances had to be recorded. Half the clever boys finished their work, to my surprise, one hour at least before me. I found myself lagging far behind and considered myself inferior in intelligence till I discovered that one could cook the data to be recorded if one knew the theoretical answer roughly in advance. My honesty in this matter made me a fool again as the cleverness of the others only wielded their dishonest ways. Falsehood appeared true. The heat of the laboratories depressed me and the thought that I might really be a dullard added fuel to the state of mind. I remember on many an evening wending my way along the Marina towards Mylapore, unhappy about everything both outer and inner, wet and sticky, with perspiration on the skin relieved only by the land breezes that come in the evenings as I walked near the waves.


Fishing Boats in Madras Harbour.

Fishwives were seen waiting weepingly for their men who had to work at sea. Sometimes in stormy weather when the billows showed each a foamy crest, a lone fisherman was seen near his catamaran laden with his net performing a puja with lighted camphor. At first I thought he was praying because he was afraid of the anger of the gods,but a little extra gesture on his part revealed what was uppermost in his mind. While walking round the catamaran with the lighted camphor, he made a special additional waving of the flame round the net meant for a good catch and suggesting no fear at all. Greed had the upper hand over fear in his case.

I studied the herbs that grew on the beach, such as ipomea biloba, cleome thespesia, the cactus and vinca roseas of the Marina gardens, and watched the butterflies that visited the zinnias and lived a rich inner life promenading peripatetically in contact with nature.


Madras Beach.

The waves washed and the sun fell and all the beach passed through twilight into dark as I sat on many an occasion in those days trying to meditate on the seashore. No real meditation would come, however, as I was still ignorant of its technique and went about it the wrong way. But all was not a loss. The effort that I put in at least made me aware that true meditation was different from what many people pretended to know and teach. Every failure paved the way to some kind of success. One has to be clear about what to meditate about and with what inner instrument to do so before any worthwhile meditation can take place. This division between the Self and the non-Self is just that which has puzzled Western philosophers till the time of Fichte, and Indian philosophers till the time of Sankara - although known to the rishis who wrote or uttered the Upanishads. My aspiring spirit went through this form of subtle agency on many twilight evenings. It was only after many such years that some light seemed to come, as it were, from the other end of the tunnel.

More than the humanities that I studied at College, what did me good was the study of science subjects. Once upon a time, during the days of Aristotle, Natural Science was called Natural Philosophy. How and why science and philosophy displaced each other is a mystery. Nature Study is more than the mere cataloguing and describing of animals or plants. Running through the scheme of life one has to see the process of one becoming many through growth and division, and how the process is kept on through time, fitting the immortality of the protozoa and the dignity of man as Homo Sapiens. Laboratory and field studies, both microscopic and megascopic, with attention to details and data are important, but one should not fail to see the forest for the trees. Modern thought prides itself in being analytic rather than synthetic.

Over-specialisation and stress on the objective has brought us to the brink of compartmentalization, and the philosophical vision which implies an overall knowledge of the implications of a given situation, globally and totally viewed, has largely been shut off in modern Western education. Histology and morphology were all interesting in Botany and Zoology but evolution and the insight one got into the process of creative becoming, as distinct from mere static being, was that part of the study of nature which gave it the philosophical touch - and it was exactly this part which received less attention than static aspects studied objectively in situ. The patience with which data were accumulated in minute detail was admirable, but although frogs and cockroaches were dissected or sometimes even vivisected week after week and year after year for seven or eight long years in my life at college, the genuine weight of true knowledge other than the information these killings yielded was minimal. Even now some like Sir Julian Huxley think that evolution is a fact while it is no more than a hypothesis or at best a theory. Based on it there is even a rival religion coming up in modern times with a doctrine opposed to that of Genesis of the Bible.

As for physics and chemistry, the hardest part of these twin branches of the positive sciences was the calculation involved. 'An elephant rolled down a grass slope and came with an impact of so many units of weight or momentum on a lower level. What was the difference of the levels?' Such were some of the problems in which in order to succeed in solving one had to subtract the actual visible or
observable aspect completely and think abstractly of a world without colour or poetry. Poetic temperaments were thus unfit for applied, though not for higher, mathematics; and if one belonged to a type that contained the poetic and the mathematical in equal proportion, the genius in one tended to be stifled in favour of the other - allowing  only one at a time. In my own case I happened to be a type in which both prevailed in a weak dosage, and both science and humanities offered me equal difficulties. Calculables when too complicated were beyond my reach, and the observable aspects of science were too easy to really hold my interest. As it happened, at the intermediate examination each general scientific question was inevitably followed by a calculation problem carrying more than double the marks. What I gained in the former I lost in the latter - but it so happened that when put together the total was above the average and pushed me over to the next class automatically.

Thus mediocrity had its advantages when genius was pronounced neither on one side nor the other. Again I muddled through years of the intermediate, and although I fell ill with enteric fever and again once with acute amoebic dysentery, having eaten questionable food from hotels when the family was away and I was left to myself (both of which brought down my weight considerably), I still found myself in the second half of the four year's course an over-sensitive, weak and emaciated young man about to enter manhood and torn between the trials of adolescence and adulthood and the regular sentimental life that all young men in normal spirits are bound to pass through.

The attack of dysentery just before joining College for the BA was so severe that one day I was in a rickshaw going to the General Hospital for admission. On the way a classmate of mine accosted me, not knowing that I was in a low and poor state of health. I did not have strength to return the attention I received and this evidently upset my friend. The grudge was carried over to college days and continued to strain our relations for the rest of college life. As he would not speak to me at all and I could not make any apologies if he did not listen, one friend at least was thus lost for no fault of commission on my part - I could not mend it and thus it ended.

Phonetics was taught by the eminent professor Mark Hunter, and minor poems like Keats' 'Isabella' by a professor newly recruited from England. He invariably came about half an hour late and even on the days when he did make his appearance he took it easy in right Oxonian fashion, taking a full seven or eight minutes to call the attendance in the afternoon. The minor poems were dismissed without even being read in class and all that he did was to get down from the platform without telling us which verse was being taught. He went to the blackboard, wrote a word with its Greek equivalent in beautiful printed letters, returned and took his seat again mumbling something about Boccaccio in a full Oxford accent, punished one or two in the name of strict discipline and went away as the bell rang. Thus hardly half the regular classes were actually  taken, while on most days a slip came from his retiring room with the word 'Indisposed' written in impeccable writing, through the elderly peon of the English Department. As was eagerly expected on most days, after twenty minutes the expected slip came and all dispersed gleefully. If the professor made his appearance at all, we could see that he was all red in the face due to the heat of Madras to which he might not have been used or, as we guessed, due to some unsoft drink that it might have been his practice to imbibe during the lunch hour.

The high Oxford style of professing English, with all the excuses mentioned, left the students free and happy, and we expected that he would not be exacting in the exams. On the contrary they proved more exacting than usual and we came to understand that students were expected to do most of the work themselves. Good in principle as this undoubtedly was, the possibility of it being carried to an extreme was forgotten.  

College life had its other miscellaneous though not minor diversions when we walked the corridors or sat under the Powell statue, our common rendezvous at lunch hour. It was the time for us to get together and make new friends. There were many Malayalam-speaking students from Cochin and Travancore who were fond of moving in groups like their Telugu, Kanarese or Tamil counterparts. Hindu and Muslim were brought together in college life. Linguistic barriers were rubbed off and a nationhood with common values was vaguely dangling before the youth of the generation.

Women too passed from one side of the class to the other and bevies of pretty girls from the women's college had to go past the boys many times in the day when changes of classrooms were involved. Unused to mixed life of this kind there were many annoying situations when there were many secret goings-on, mostly invisible and inaudible. A group of giggling girls was a greater threat at any time than an equal number of boys under similar circumstances; and what most wise young professors did on such an emergency arising in class was to dismiss the class. Unwarranted catcalls and shrieks from unexpected corners were sometimes heard when a specially good-looking girl had to cross the platform in front of the gallery of boy students. In one case in the Central College, Bangalore, a pretty maid had to decide to leave college altogether because there was general excitement when she entered or left the class. In more recent years, it would seem, conditions have eased to such an extent that, as in the USA, it is common now to find Indian students dating and valentining with boy- or girlfriends as the case may be. In my days all was rigid still and co-education had its problems both to the sexes involved and to the parents at home who were on tenterhooks till the grown-up girl, especially, returned home after classes.

Many girls were caught between the ire of an angry father on one side and the pathetic implorings of an infatuated young man on the other. Dagger-drawn glances were exchanged in the corridors, and once too a Muslim student, of all people, gallantly dropped his silk handkerchief for a Brahmin girl to pick up - which became a general gossip item trumpeted at least for the next seven days. Some of the more chivalrous boys would lie in wait for their prey just at that point of the Marine where the girls of the Queen Mary's College had to cross the sands to the surf beach, timing their walk exactly to that of their counterparts of the fairer sex. How far the fairer and more innocent-looking girls were to be implicated in such affairs. God alone could decide.

As for myself being involved in such activities, I was reputed to be reserved and dignified. After forty years a friend who knew me confirmed this trait in me. I tried to be full of respectability or virtue - but whether I was really so inside is another question which I shall not answer now. My reputation for such had the better of me and I myself trudged behind the ideal that I constantly tried to reach. Once, as I paced up and down the corridors steadily and in my usual dignified manner, I remember that some kind of emotional disaster befell which remains unforgettable to this day. Under the staircase leading to the entrance to the chemistry laboratory on the ground floor of the College were waiting a whole group of girl students, silent together like a shoal of fish. They were hidden from my view as I paced up and down as full as ever of my sense of importance. As I passed a certain point I was all of a sudden face-to-face with this bevy of pretty girls. I was flabbergasted, but as it would have been wounding to my pride to show any overt sign of my confusion, I resolved, mustering all my reserve strength, not to change anything in my demeanour. I kept up the same slow pace and had a hard time getting past the girls. On their part the girls seemed equally affected in the opposing sense, emotionally speaking. They burst all together into laughter. Although again I had committed no overt fault other than to insist wilfully on keeping my own dignity, the circumstances were enough to confuse me and to steep me in deep tribulation. The only other occasion in my life in which anything similar had happened to me was once about five years later when at Alwaye I went to my favourite evening haunt which was a neglected field off the main road round a corner. I had been there many times before but, on a certain day, turning the same corner I found forty wild elephants big and small stabled there.

I could not believe my eyes for a minute or two. Emotionally speaking and thinking in terms of vectorial psychological space, the herd of wild elephants (which they happened to be) when set upon without notice could be less upsetting than a bevy of pretty girls, more especially at a certain age of the life of a young man, and under certain circumstances. Coming events cast their shadows before.


Infancy's silken sail and the vicissitudes of teen and adolescent years are as nothing compared to the stuff implicit in the rough sailing of shy youth passing into full manhood. The personality has to develop through these stages with the sex urge and idealism on either side like two rocks, both of which, when exaggerated, could wreck life and spoil the future irretrievably. My early years at the Presidency College, Madras, were punctuated by an attack of dysentery which had made my health delicate, added to a bad influenza too that took a high toll of life all over the post-war world. I was still adjusting myself to the heat of Madras, consoling myself again and again in my effort to overcome the sense of degradation that the sexual urges asserting themselves more and more strongly in my psycho-physical make-up, called for. I administered different dosages of all available kinds of religious or spiritual palliatives that came my way. This particular period was filled with many silent inner upheavals which I alone knew and had to endure.  

Perhaps all men have a similar history to tell or perhaps some are born so pure from the beginning that such trials do not ruffle their sails at all. In my own case the stresses were more innate than overt. Nor did any problems present themselves that others had to solve for me. The dreamy introversion of my type of personality stood me protection here, and all went well on the surface.

I shall not here fall into the error of Rousseau who in his 'Confessions' revealed so much of the inner workings of adolescent impulses as to make respectable men blush and pity him as a lost soul. He himself in the beginning of his confessions challenged any such representation of the conscience of the whole human race to come to the presence of God's throne and if possible to dare to laugh at his own weakness. God could know the weakness of the flesh of all mortals.

The Christian world especially - which made capital out of the guilt of concupiscence to gain converts in its early days - made sex look completely unnatural. At present there is a revolt of youth which revels in the nausea that a free sex-life must involve. Both excesses, whether in the name of prudery or sin, the profane or the sacred, could present a distorted picture of normal human nature. Austere people in India too talk of celibacy or brahmacharya in highly distorted terms; and persons like Mahatma Gandhi in their autobiographies make out of normal human urges something that has to be confessed with a revenge as it were, to do violence to human nature for which some error is at least normal. Sin should be taken as an exception that proves the normal goodness, dignity and beauty of human nature as created by its Maker.

In spite of these considerations, all cannot be said to have been smooth sailing with me. Sometimes breezes blew strong enough to perturb my tranquillity. I made characteristic errors of omission as well as those of commission which must have made some that knew me intimately at that time smile mildly at least at my expense. I could have been more intelligent and pure but whether all those who dared to blush at my foibles had themselves any inner right to do so is another matter altogether. Like a frail bark tossed about by billows as by wavelets that lapped on its sides, I sailed the high seas of adolescence, past the sensitive shape of youth, to a manhood that held out still more serious trials for me.

Even at this mature age of sixty-seven the tidal ebbs and flows and ground-swells still affect me; but the days of actual bad weather and equally inner disturbances seem now a thing of the past. Life itself seems to be bound up with this question, and to cease to have any movement at all might be identical with loss of all life itself. As death by itself cannot be a meritorious end, the whole problem for man is to be able to look upon sin or concupiscence without distortion or exaggeration. It must be in this sense that Krishna in the Gita tells Arjuna that He, as the Absolute, is himself the representative of kama (the normal life-urge) which finds the third place among the four purusarthas (ends of human life) in Sanskrit lore - the others being dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth) and moksha (release).  

Entering the Presidency College in the year 1915, I continued to live in Madras till the year 1922 when I emerged out of my college career with a first-rank Master's degree in Zoology and Geology. In the early intermediate classes I was by no means a brilliant student but, as I got more and more adjusted to the climatic and inner stresses and strains, I began to shine more, although still overladen with a heavy weight of lethargy. I graduated in the year 1919 with English Literature, which was compulsory for the BA (Pass) Course, and two other science subjects of which Zoology was my main and Geology the secondary subject.


The Beach at Presidency College, Madras.

The former subject involved dissections and sometimes vivisection; and although I tried to back out of the choice given to me I was obliged to stick to this subject against my conscience. Many rabbits - not to speak of frogs and cockroaches and one member at least of every important genus or species - came on the dissection table. I remember putting a cobra in a jar with chloroform and cannot forget how it knocked at the glass lid before it was dead. This sin is still lying on my conscience and I do not think I can ever be consoled about it. Once later I had put a pigeon in a cage and forgot that during the holidays that intervened there was no one in the laboratory who could feed it. When I came back it was still alive and I dissected it and found that it had nothing in its gizzard. Even today I am cursing myself for this error of omission and wonder if I deserve to be forgiven at all. I plead guilty before the All-Merciful and supplicate before him for the full punishment I might still deserve if I have not expiated my sin already by any suffering, inner or outer, so far. Absolute self-surrender, I know too, on the other hand, can absolve you of all sin, however grave, as the Gita allows and the Bible recognizes too. It is in such matters that the Absolute becomes the last and the only refuge, although it is true the doctrine is not to be treated as an excuse for error of the same kind to be indulged in in the future. If the surrender is absolute such a contingency would be out of the question anyhow.

After attending the University Convocation in 1919 with cap and gown on passing the Bachelor of Arts degree, I continued in the same Presidency College for one more year preparing for the Master's degree (through the Honours course then open to post-graduates under transitory regulations). Meanwhile my father had retired from the Mysore Government service and had become a pensioner under the Mysore Government. The costly higher education of four of his children began to be talked of as a burden to the family.

Sensitive as I was to such matters I thought of applying for the place of demonstratorship in Zoology at the Presidency College itself. It brought me a small remuneration of only between sixty or seventy rupees a month. The honours course was completed in one year, but owing to some mistakes in identifying fossils in the practical examination I obtained only pass marks and was given a Bachelor's degree a second time at the end of 1920. I continued next year in the Teachers College, Saidapet, on the outskirts of the city, and sat for the MA and the LT Examinations by special exemption to do so and in the year 1922 passed both examinations together with a rank in the MA and just a scrape through in the LT, to the preparation for which I had not given any special attention, being more concerned in doing well for the Master's examination. If I add here that in the year 1932, ten years later, I got a Doctorate at the University of Paris (after nearly a decade of life as a wanderer) with a 'très honorable' mention, I would have roughly said all I have to say in respect of my academic record.  


Saidapet College.

The period of my study in the higher grades of university life coincided with developments and activities which were to become significant stepping-stones to my later successes. Elements of altruism and religious sentiment, with some patriotism and dreams of an India free from poverty and ignorance and a strong resentment of the foreign yoke - some of the vagaries of which rule were blended in my imagination and upset my life then rather more than they legitimately ought to have done - as I view my life in calmer retrospection now.

Youth is more alive to values of group life, while the mellowness that age brings turns the spirit on itself, and interests shift their ground from the outer to the inner zone of the person. As it actually happened in my case, before any actual religious feeling was ever felt within me, even vaguely, an extreme compassion or pity for the poor was the first keynote to my inner life. This was felt even from the days at Trinity College, Kandy, Ceylon, as early as 1910, where I was elected a member of the Committee for Social Service under the guidance of one Mr. Campbell, who taught chemistry there.

Later in the School Final classes of Bangalore the same interest, once awakened at Trinity College, continued to influence my thoughts and activities. I remember how in the environs of the beautiful town of Kandy in Ceylon I used to wander with other schoolmates into the villages distributing epsom salts and quinine. Altruism as an instinct got a chance to be awakened in me at that time and took a stronger hold on me as the years went by. To help the poor out of sheer kindness of fellow-feeling was natural and was perhaps the first step to other spiritual factors or values that entered my life one after another. While later, as I remember, in Bangalore, there being no Social Service Union in the School, I was obliged to organise such a service on my own initiative. I accordingly bought a box with a slot for coins and carried it at school with an appeal for small contributions from fellow-students and teachers, one of which latter, I clearly remember, put a coin in it with an understanding twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face such as made me think that I was, if not a too naive, at least an out-of-the-way fellow.

My ignorance of the fact that one cannot afford to be too good in this harsh world where mere goodness had little chance to withstand the blighting winds that usually prevailed, was all my protection for my innocence at that time. When the box was fairly full, I arranged with the mother of one of my friends in school to cook enough rice and vegetables for about two hundred poor people. Disorganized or promiscuous charity was distasteful to me even then, and for this reason I devised a method of issuing tickets for a free meal and went all over the town issuing them to beggars, riding on a bicycle to spot them and give them directions to reach the place of feeding. These happenings refer to events separated by a decade each between Kandy and Bangalore. About a decade later still, my own sense of doing good took the shape of running a night-school and a hostel for poor students in Chintadripet, Madras, when I was still an honours student in Presidency College.

Doing good to others is both a natural sentiment and an article of faith. Religion has a different origin. It is the wonder of the visible world which is its starting point, and the God or its equivalent in any religious formation occupies the centre of its cosmology and then becomes revalued into higher and more subtle notions. Of these two sentiments that a young man might feel within himself, the pity for fellow men arises deep down psychologically rather than cosmologically. Theological religion is still another matter which enters the individual through group loyalties in the social context.

It is true that all these aspects could meet in one Supreme Person, when presented in revised and rearranged form for the purposes of the faithful in different religious groups. The Isa Upanishad has such a God and the Svetasvatara too presents a global and well-rounded notion of the Absolute to meet the three requirements - cosmological, theological, and psychological. At present we are concerned with the sentiment of altruism which was the uppermost expression of sprituality for me at the time. Like the para-kripa or extreme sense of pity that overwhelmed Arjuna in the battlefield, as depicted in the Gita, this sentiment asserts itself normally and naturally as the first overt expression of spirituality in the life of a normal person as a novice in spiritual adventures.

Altruism by itself, however, when treated apart from the good effects that might accrue to the individual reflexively, is not held in high regard in the context of the higher teaching of the Upanishads. There we read that 'ista' and 'purta' (two kinds of works of public benefaction) are attributed to people who are led by the blind and who are foolish and proud. On the other hand there are proverbs which record the popular conviction that doing good to others is meritorious. Vedantic prayers sometimes end with a prayer for the wellbeing of the whole of humanity. How are philanthropy and social service to be fitted into such a context correctly without violating the over-all normative considerations of that subject when scientifically understood? These were questions that had not yet asserted themselves with any definiteness within me during my post-graduate days at the University. Altruism has thus its own correct first principles and applied aspects. When I graduated I was still innocent of its full and correct implication.  

India had hardly any public schools in my time except perhaps those of a quasi-military character or those meant for the ruling classes of the time, who could be the sons of Rajas or Maharajas or those of high officials or other important persons, among whom were to be counted sometimes the large population of those called Anglo-Indian. They used once to be called Eurasians and the name and such a community still persists unabsorbed into the general population of India even to this day.

The British rulers were not specially interested, at that time at least, in giving to Indians anything more than a clerk or a lower-officer-making education, although some could compete for the Indian Civil Service, which was once a complete preserve of the Britisher. Social life as between the students of a University was mostly unknown in India.

In such a context, life at the Victoria Hostel, where students of various professional and arts colleges of the City of Madras had a common home where they got together each day and got to know each other in spite of the strict social stratifications that prevailed still, was significant. In the rooms all denominations - whether of the so-called castes or of Hindu, Christian or Muslim - rubbed shoulders, but when it came to eating, problems raised their ugly heads. The brahmin would not sit beside the non-brahmin in the same dining room, and even among the brahmins there were those who objected strongly to the use of certain taboo foods, not as between meat and vegetables only but based on certain further scruples against onions, radishes, and so on.

Once I remember there was almost a skirmish over the question of vengaya sambhar (lentil curry with onions) which a certain section of orthodox brahmins would not permit to be cooked in the brahmin section where Smarthas, Madhwas and Iyengars were meant to dine with a common kitchen. There were two kitchens for non-brahmins, one a vegetarian and the other a non-vegetarian, besides a Muslim and a Christian section which were based more on religion rather than on any difference of menu. Over and above these there was a tacit understanding - written or unwritten - by which none of the so-called lower castes, outside the pale of the four main ones, could be admitted in the hostel at all.

The European wardens of the hostel believed that it would be disastrous to break into these traditional distinctions in any way and, as they did not want to face more problems than what already existed, seemed to support the divisions. Whether they were all so bad as to connive at these distinctions to be able to rule better by dividing the people against themselves is not sure.

Anyway, it was a picture that belonged to a sort of ancien regime that presented itself to me when I myself, without declaring myself as belonging to any caste, became a member of the student community there. It was actually a miniature replica and cross-section of the social conditions that prevailed in the larger society outside in that part of India; only these distinctions were magnified and took a more aggravated form, with many more compartments more watertight than in the hostel.

Could something be done to efface this blot which the new India could and should not tolerate any more, although it could have been taken for granted by a prior generation? This was a question that cropped up within me. I consulted the then warden, Mr. S.E. Ranganathan, who took some more interest in this question, being the first brown-skinned man to be appointed to the post. The pale-faced wardens before were indifferent, and that suited them also. On the other hand the brown-faced man was not orthodox because he happened to be a thorough Englishman himself inside by his education and discipleship of the English. There were many turbaned and black alpaca-coated members of the same generation who were similarly brown-faced but fully westernised inside like the palefaces themselves.

I made a proposition to the warden by which a new section called the cosmopolitan section could be formed in which all students, irrespective of diet or religious scruples, could get the food that suited them. It is not certain if orthodoxies would not enter again by the back door to take their place in institutions of this kind when the common enmity that was a factor that ushered in a spirit of integration or cosmopolitanism was removed, as in present-day India. As it happened the scheme found favour with a warden who happened to be a cultured Indian Christian. He liked the idea at once and wanted me to collect signatures for it. If there was a sufficient number from the two non-brahmin and the Christian and the Muslim sections, the new combined section would be started. Some became scared of the idea and kept aloof and some thought it was not feasible. All was hopeful when, to my surprise, all agreed, and one cosmopolitan section with vegetarianism as optional could bring together for the first time the students who had before to sit at separate tables, though fellow students in modern India. The very first combined meal was to take place in the evening and the success or failure of the project was still hanging in the balance because there were whispers among the cooks and servants, who raised objections at the last moment, saying that some of them would not remove the banana leaves (on which food in India is served) of the non-Hindus who were going to be admitted.

As the chief organizer I was again in distress when one of the servants was reported to be weeping in a corner at about eight at night because he thought he would lose his caste forever if he removed the leaves of the Muslims and Christians. The situation was critical and all was going to be lost again after victory had actually been sighted! If the leaves remained unremoved for any length of time a major problem would have been created. There was no use arguing with a poor man caught in the adverse logic of superstitious emotion. To have tried it would have been disastrous. No time was to be lost. I got a new idea. Let me remove the leaves myself the first day. Two or three others were there ready to follow my lead. We quickly started to remove the leaves and the sentimental objection was over. Once faced squarely, the problem lost all momentum and could not present itself any more. All went well from the next day and I hear that this cosmopolitan section is the biggest section in the old Victoria Hostel today. I remember dining there once again several years after, but I sat among the students a perfect stranger, unrecognised as the one who got the idea once upon a time. As Heraclitus said, one cannot enter into the same river twice.



The days I was to spend in Madras as an undergraduate student were coming to an end by the year 1920. I remember the transition day at the beginning of the term of that year, when I went on a bicycle from the Victoria Hostel in Chepauk to the Saidapet Teachers' College.

My demonstratorship at the zoological laboratories had been artificially terminated by a favouritism exercised by the then officer in charge in favour of his would-be son-in-law; and I could not return to my work there, being cut off from below, as it were.

This was my first foretaste of the stresses and strains that prevailed in the world of jobs in the India of my time, into which netherworld I had just had occasion to peep. The whole story needs to be related with all its horrors and its skeleton closets in a section by itself. This, however, did not disconcert me. My career was just starting and the more the doors at which I knocked at this stage, the brighter and more varied would be the possibilities that opened themselves to me.

In such a spirit of open adventure I trusted to chance more than to any set plan of action. The chance of the Tao had to operate and lead me from one open door to another so that my true nature would have full opportunity to express itself. The doors of chance are open everywhere to man, especially at the inception of his career. Whether called 'fate' or the 'will of God', or 'the tide in the affairs of men', there is, to the keen observer of the unfolding of one's own life, a light that leads or a thread that guides from event to event, as chance flits by occasionalism as if from one tree to another. No button must be pressed before its time and no petal unfolded before the time of full blooming has come. No fruit should be plucked when still immature. Chance must work its delicate way through the maze of possibilities and probabilities. Providence must have a full chance for working out one's salvation without the intervention of one's own egotistic will which, when it enters into the picture, tampers with the natural and overt orientation of overall interests as they develop in a certain living order within.                    

Such were the thoughts that vaguely worked within me when I set out from the courtyard of the Victoria Hostel, pressing my hands on the bicycle handle, to continue my studies, as it happened, for one more year to finish my education in India.

I must say that the Tao did work and decided for me without my initiating any action myself. I kept myself strictly neutral internally and said to myself that the bicycle itself was free to turn to the Teachers' College or to the Presidency College again. I remember how, on leaving the gate of the hostel it turned towards Triplicane, en route to Saidapet Teachers' College, six or seven miles off, without permitting me for a minute to exercise any preference for one career to dominate the other. A teacher's career was thus selected for me by the will of the Tao or the Absolute, which is not other than the neutral point of life where possibilities and probabilities have full freedom to operate. The word 'God' is going out of fashion in the modern scientific world, but means the same factor of chance in the context of transcendentalism. His will was thus done.

Altruistic or philanthropic motives often take the form of works of benefaction ranging from localized charity to the high aim of wishing the true happiness of mankind as a whole. As in the case of the rise and development of the religious instinct in man, this parallel passion for doing good grows and matures in its own way in the life of individuals.

In my own case I have indicated how its first leaves were unfolded in the days when I was wandering among the forests and rivers of the up-country of Ceylon, distributing quinine and Epsom salts as a student in the matriculation classes. By the time I had reached the graduate courses at Madras I had seen what the limitations were in the matter of large-scale feeding of fellow humans. The feedings at the birthdays of great saints like Swami Vivekananda, Narayana Guru or Sri Ramakrishna at which I participated off and on in my school and college career, must have also helped to mature and shape these deep instincts within me in the course of the years.

What I called to myself 'poor-feeding' was a sort of surrogate of religion with me when I was still an undergraduate at the Presidency College. From the mere doing good to others in the relativistic sense to the love of fellow man in a more truly spiritual sense, is a far cry which, in the case of many persons, even educated and fully informed, remains still disjunct in the growth and development of general life-interests and connected activities, without any organic link between them.

It was again the personality of Narayana Guru that added to the situation thus conceived mechanistically and in a prosaic manner, that little touch which, as it were, leavened the whole lump, transmuting what was dull metal and giving to the tendency that noble lustre which distinguishes true spirituality. I shall take a pace backwards to tell how it happened.

Every schoolboy knows Leigh Hunt's poem of Abu Ben Adhem (whose tribe must have increased by now manyfold). His problem was to distinguish between the love of God and the love of fellow man. Dialectically understood they are equally valuable but, taken unilaterally, one works to the detriment of the other. Here again the question of double gain or total loss is involved.

It was in the year 1920, when I had not yet finished college, that I used to go to teach after eight in the night in a certain poor area of the City of Madras which could be called a slum. What makes a slum by outwardly evident signs of poverty or overcrowding is often very misleading in India. Streamlined areas in the suburbs of New York that I have known have some essential slum qualifications. What these exactly are it is very hard to put down, but when neighbours are so close to each other so as to have to speak of their domestic secrets in public when they happen to quarrel - especially in matters of sex - that to me determines whether a place is a slum or not, however apparently affluent in other matters. When people have to queue for bare necessities such as breakfast, or even run for change to put in a slot for opening a room of public convenience, they are competing with fellow man and thus proving themselves to have a very poor slum life indeed. This happens in the heart of very rich cities like London.

An Indian slum which might appear ramshackle might still preserve precious human values intact, and in a South Indian village of the poorest, lowliest and lost people, one often finds preserved the remains of a civilization five thousand years old, where the smell of the cattle refuse and the ashes that people wear on their foreheads in the name of the timeless Shiva, adds a spiritual touch to life which is not in evidence in many mansions of the rich in other parts of the world. In such a holy slum it was that I found myself one night giving language lessons and sometimes writing petitions for the 'poor' who were occasionally beaten up by the police or refused admission into hospitals.


It was late at night once while I sat in the anteroom of a neglected public building in Chintadripet. The regular students had gone and I was left with some social workers who were members of an association called the Advaita Bhakta Sabha, a socio-religious organization started by one Kalathoor Muniswami Pillay. This gentleman was supposed to be a member of the Adi-Dravida community, which was a name given then to what the English social reformers of a previous generation would have called the 'Depressed Classes of India'. Elsewhere one refers to them as the 'fifth caste' or 'pancamas'.


Adi Dravidas.


Actually, this stratum of society one day represented the topmost in India before the invading hordes who entered into the fertile Gangetic and other plains of India had added newer and newer strata above them, as it were, submerging this group which represented perhaps the oldest of the proto-Aryan civilization, not far removed from the time of the Indus Valley civilizations now revealed in the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa excavations.

Great names like that of Saint Tiruvalluvar, author of the Tiru-Kural, perhaps the wisest book of maxims ever written, about the beginning of the Christian Era in South India, were associated with the same stratum. They represented an economically and politically defeated people who retained traditionally the best in the history of India. What corresponded to the dominant section that over-covered this ancient and precious stratum was that of the 'Brahmins', which consisted of tribes who claimed Vedic orthodoxy which was to be traced to the Aryan invaders. The earlier however, though 'depressed' were superior by true spiritual heritage although, due to domination and defeat, they seemed to lack outer social refinements.

The Aryanized group who dominated these ancient peoples, sometimes by better refinements, sometimes by shrewdness - as reflected in the stories such as that of Nala and Damayanti or Harischandra, or even in the story of the Pandavas - were really inferior to them when true spiritual values were put on the balance.

The Adi-Dravidas were thus custodians of proto-Aryan traditions of a more ancient stratum, but were defeated and derided, although they conserved in their culture the highest of Indian spiritual values. The 'Brahmin' was thus the rival of the 'Pariah', and to this day this distinction and the dialectical challenges and responses involved between these two sections have vitiated the social, economic and political life of India and continue to present problems that are not soluble except by some sort of root-and-branch reform.



Adi Dravida Housing in Madras.


I was then acting as a secretary to this group, who were later named 'Harijans' by Mahatma Gandhi, who came back to India after the Round Table Conference which Ramsay Macdonald, the then British Prime Minister, had called together in London to consider the claims of Indians to rule themselves.

At the time I refer to, even Mahatma Gandhi was not sympathetic to the cause of the poor people, and only after his return from the Round Table Conference did he even consent to treat the problem as deserving any attention at all. During the visit of Gandhi about this time, around 1921, in Madras, I myself remember to have invited him to make a halt of a few minutes when passing through the Chintadripet area to receive a garland from these lowly people. But this request was not granted.

After returning from the London Conference, a sadder and wiser man went far in the opposite direction, and even changed the name of his weekly journal which was called 'Young India' into 'Harijan', which was to support the cause of the 'Harijans' so that they would not prove an impediment to the attainment of independence for India.

Whether he was against the 'varnashrama' theory, on which castes in India largely rested for their theoretical justification and nourishment, is still an open question. Subsequent pronouncements in connection with the Vaikom Satyagraha, and even the one in the 'Harijan' itself during the very week of his tragic assassination, would tend to make this sufficiently clear. I was myself torn between admiration for Gandhian ideologies - of which I tried very earnestly to understand the subtle logic, even with a certain fervour - and confusion about their intricacies. Some of his arguments seemed tortuous to me, but I could not offer any alternative to them myself at that time.


While these upheavals were taking place within, the social activities in which I was engaged during out-of-college hours had assumed a still more mature form. Instead of occasional poor-feeding I thought in terms of night-schools; and, not content either with that kind of part-time institution, I became connected with the founding of a hostel for so-called Harijan students in Chintadripet. A temporary shed had been put up, with palm-leaf thatching and side partitions of the same material, on a piece of land which had been recently acquired at the instance of Narayana Guru who came into the scene in his own mysterious way, which I was on the point of describing a moment ago and from where I must continue now, as the incident by itself was a great turning-point in my life.

It happened roughly as follows. As I said, I was one night lingering late after my night-school teaching work. The senior members of the group had just a fortnight before produced a play called 'Nandanar' which referred to the life of a saint who is supposed to have belonged to the untouchable section of the community. The night-school that had been started and the hostel students who were to be looked after needed funds. But I was still thinking in terms of feeding the poor. The play was staged in George Town, Madras, and brought us some surplus amount after the expenses were deducted. This was to be utilized for feeding as many of the poor of the locality as possible on the next Sunday.

While I was discussing these plans in the anteroom rather late, there arrived a tall and slender old man with a muffler round his shaven head and tucked below the chin. The man was about sixty and was not well, appearing to be suffering from some cold. He came straight into the room where I was engaged in the conversation with the social workers. He was the Guru Narayana, whose contact I had made even from my childhood and who was destined to influence my life in that special way only known to the world to which Gurus and Sisyas belong, to the exclusion of all other considerations whatsoever.

The reason why he had made this late appearance and done me the honour of showing such interest in my work remains a mystery to me to this day. He spoke to me very kindly and tried to understand what I was doing. He approved of it but seemed to want to add something more than what I could guess on the subject of doing good to others.

I could only vaguely imagine at the time that he was not enthusiastic about me in any all-out sense as I myself happened to be, but kept some reserve thoughts to himself on this subject of doing good or being good in this world. More than this I was not able to gather. A few days later however, there was a 'poor-feeding', as I called it, at the same place at which the Guru again took the trouble of doing me the honour of his presence.

This time I felt a sense of elation and goodness within me as the food was being distributed. I said to myself that the Guru would agree with me that I was a good man trying to do good to fellow man, but the Guru made no comments implying any praise for me or for the kind of work I was doing. He asked me what all that was going on was about and I replied that it was 'feeding the poor'. I had in my mind the 'daridra narayanas' (poor gods) that I had heard talked about in such a connection. 'Which poor?' he asked. 'We are all poor in a certain sense', he added.

A new clarification about the very nature of altruism or philanthropy dawned on me when I looked at the silent and sedate face of the Guru who put me a simple question: 'Which poor people?' He seemed to suggest that all of us were poor internally if not externally, or none was poorer than the other. By feeling sympathy for the so-called poor section of society the poverty becomes shared at once in principle at least, and the division between the two sections  becomes or ought to be automatically abolished. This was a subtle difference that one might dismiss as highly dialectical, but all the same it did the trick for me for ever, because I began to realize that the real poverty resided in my heart; and when I came under the influence of a dualistic sense of pity and felt myself to be a benefactor, the very purpose of beneficence in a total or absolute sense was defeated.

One who suffers from extreme pity, like Arjuna on the battlefield, contributes his share of suffering to the total situation of human general happiness and, if each person should follow this example, we have the picture of humanity multiplied by so many individuals, each of whom brought his suffering to bear on the general situation.

The correct way would be for each to think of bringing his own happiness to bear on the total situation, so that total or general happiness would prevail.

A lesson was thus learnt by me which I was able to confirm and verify in the light of proper dialectics only many years later when I became familiar with the ancient classical dictum of 'All for One and One for All' which gave the correct relational formula which would  spell double gain in such a matter.

The Guru himself on another occasion clarified the matter when he put the delicate question in the form of an arithmetical problem. Supposing there were one hundred hungry people to be fed and  ninety-nine had sat down for the meal, while one remained over to serve the others, remaining hungry when all were happily going through with the feast. The suffering of this last man would reflect on the total situation as a negative element which would detract from the general happiness and compromise it altogether. Philanthrophy has thus its own dialectical laws which do not brook violation.

I looked at the problem of doing good still from the relativistic side; but the same question of doing good was viewed from another standpoint by the Guru. The work in itself might seem the same in content, but the context and approach to the same work were radically different.

In popular maxims such as 'Charity begins at home', and the other that indicates the opposite, 'Love thy neighbour as thyself', we have the two different attitudes represented which show two different approaches to doing good to fellow man. Both are true in the context of the overall absolute Value; and how to reconcile one with the other is an art which the absolutist way of life alone could justify. It was the Guru Narayana who, in his own unobtrusive way, put me on the path of the Absolutist approach to this problem, and once the new approach was grasped in its spirit it could be made to apply to other, and in fact every other department of thought or activity. There is always a relative and an absolutist approach to problems, and the former spells tragedy while the latter solves all problems.

As the secretary of the Adi-Dravida Sabha I tried hard to get a plot of land for the use of the night-school and for the purpose of a place of worship for which the community badly felt the need. One of the office-bearers thought that Narayana Guru could help in the matter. He was staying as the guest of a Dharma-karta (Chief Trustee) of a temple which possessed certain lands in that area which were suitable for the purpose.

The Guru was approached the next day. When the question of the land was mentioned the Guru straightaway gave the assurance that if it was badly needed it would be obtained. 'Which was the land required?' he asked, and before the next twenty-four hours were over, he stood on a piece of land adjoining the river at Chintadripet, pointing out to members of the Sabha the land they could get. All practical arrangements for its transfer were made at once, and I was myself struck with the speed and the spontaneity with which all this was done.

A hostel for four or five students was put up on the plot and a corner of it was set apart for a Ganesh Temple which was put up only later. The funds for maintaining the hostel students free of any charge to be paid by them, was partly obtained through Miss Mrinalini Chattopadhyaya who had come from Hyderabad in those days to settle down in Madras. She was the well-known daughter of Dr. Aghornath Chattopadhyaya who was a high official in Hyderabad, and one of whose other daughters was Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, who became famous both as a poet and a leader in the political life of India in later years. The ease and grace with which the Guru thus collaborated in my efforts to help my fellow man was another eye-opener for me. It was surely one of those events that influenced the course of my life activities for many years to come.


The Tao it was that decided for me the teacher's career. The handle of the bicycle that I rode out of the gates of the Victoria Hostel at Chepauk took me past Triplicane and on to Mount Road which went to the Mount of St. Thomas, about a dozen miles or more due east of the city, by a broad and straight highway. Mount Road within the city limits is the shopping centre which is fast changing its earlier colonial and mercantile complexion to wear at present a modernised though not fully streamlined look. I went past the outskirts of the city leaving my mute machine to lead me where it willed, if it had any will at all.

Soon I arrived in full view of the whitewashed, old-fashioned buildings of the Teachers' College through whose portals many a teacher of the southern region of India must have passed to gain admission properly into the teaching profession. This profession was however not a favoured or a glamorous one for those who thought in terms of a career or looked for soft jobs, which was the rage of the period for every university graduate of my time. The round two-storeyed part of the buildings, built in a mixture of Renaissance, Byzantine, Gothic and Mogul styles with arches and columns which were mixed promiscuously, was a specimen of bad standards in architecture, but was good enough for those times when the atmosphere of the days of the East India Company still lingered on in Greater Madras.

Colonialism had to thrive on certain elements for which the educational policy had to pave the way in certain indirect and subtle ways. Although, therefore, this institution that I now entered was to make of me an educator, it did nothing much more than to shape me as a schoolmaster who in turn was to bring out from the machinery called the educational system of the time roughly-finished robot personalities who could be used to fit into gaps, round or square, as they existed actually in the limbs of the Empire. They had to be turned out in mass to supply the demand, whether in India, Burma or Ceylon, and sometimes in South or East Africa too.

By my state of mind, as well as by my outer life occupations, the academic year of 1921-22 which I had to spend at the Teachers' College was a chapter in itself. Rural conditions of the region outside the city suburbs proper prevailed here, and one breathed the clean air free from suspicious gases and fumes, while one drank well-water without suspicion of the chlorination or fluorination which made city waters often suspect. There was a stream too on the outskirts of the grounds of the Teachers' College which was accessible for occasional baths when one felt like it; though the water was somewhat hard and the current rather too sluggish to make it fully interesting. There was plenty of leisure on Saturdays and Sundays and one could take random walks in the flat country around, which was mostly uncultivated and had clusters of trees, grass plots or reeds nearer the water's edge.

The bird life was interesting; and as one lay on the bank of the stream and watched the snails that went gliding by and the millipedes, scorpions and snakes that abounded there, one felt a true naturalist on the prowl. Suddenly a bird took off from a thicket and one saw the hoopoe - the so-called crested woodpecker - as also the true woodpecker. The mango bird and the paradise flycatcher were also in evidence, as also the heavy 'seven sisters' who hopped on the ground under bushes. One heard also the long-drawn voice of the Indian cuckoo to add a touch of mystery to the leisure time which I spent for many hours off and on.

The change from the life at the Victoria Hostel to the life with well-water, bathing sheds and primitive comfort amenities provided was a marked one with me. Adolescence was left behind for ever but the responsibilities of manhood stared me in the face, as it were, from a nearer future more than ever. Some of the intimate friendships that I had cultivated at the Victoria Hostel had attained a fully sentimental coloration by the time I had to leave that institution where I had just begun to have a foretaste of manhood and its normal emotional contents.

To watch the passing clouds as I lay leisurely at the middle of the day under the shady neem trees that grew wild in the area, was also a pastime that I indulged in now and then.

The villagers themselves represented the Tamils, who had behind them a continuous history, mostly undisturbed, for at least two thousand years; and although these simple, dark, wiry and tall peasant types could not compare with the Bengal Lancer or the Rajputs of North India who robbed all the glory from them, especially in the eyes of a newcomer to India - still half-naked and dirty as they often were - they were a people who endeared themselves to anyone intimate with them for any long period. Gentle and full of a spirit of reverence, they were mostly mute and often in rags just big enough to fully cover their loins. Their language knows no harsh word nor the harsh voice of the Hun which was foreign to the South altogether. Such humble people must be dear to God, and this was one of the items that made life in Saidapet memorable to me.

Star-gazing on certain clear nights, naturalizing and making a special study of the birds of the locality for a model lesson that I was to give; inwardly stricken by certain friendships with fellow-students or those left behind in the City; with many a pining day of languishing love or affection for individuals mainly of the same sex in a way that should have more properly applied to one of the opposite sex, as in keeping with my age which had passed twenty-five at that time; with games with teenage children of the model school attached to the Training College, of which I happened to be in charge for a time; with some picnics with schoolboys, two of whom were discovered to be rarely gifted in vocal music, whom I and another kidnapped into town into the Victoria Hostel one evening, each seated on a bicycle handle, to the consternation of their parents who missed them at night while they entertained a group of elder students in the City Hostel - these are some of the items, memories or associations which made this period a dear one to be remembered all my life.

To love and be loved by all with whom one came into contact, with a whole lifetime's career and opportunities ahead to which one was getting internally and externally adjusted; with many interests, some artistic, some literary, political and economic getting started as days went by; with daily newspaper reading as a regular habit - not taking the eyes off them from front-page headlines almost to the end of the last column - absorbing the information which nourished sometimes merely the outward life, but occasionally the inner springs also where life interests had their origin - these made this period of my life very rich in inner developments almost every day.

Inside the walls the life in the Teachers' College itself was not of a bright or interesting order. The one-year post-graduate course was both to obtain a Licentiate in teaching from the University and have departmental permission to teach in the High Schools or in the Colleges. Training in the teaching of English was binding on all, but as for other subjects they were divided into groups of Science or Letters - the former having its own groupings of Physics and  Mathematics and another of Physics and the Natural Sciences.

By my previous qualifications I belonged to the last-mentioned grouping and continued my days in the Natural Science Laboratories attached to this group. We had observation lessons to do and  notebooks to fill about the matter and method used in the classrooms and the five formal steps of Herbart. The heuristic method was adopted with the recognized 'apperception mass' by which new learning was grafted onto the old. Rousseau's name came in only rarely and when it came at all he was dismissed as a hypochondriac and a sentimental man of tears who stood for nothing practical, dignified or worthwhile. Montessori was made much of because the experimental material with which she worked with children in the name of what was called 'sense training' - although it did not fit in with any serious educational philosophy - lent itself to be used in the elementary schools. Pestalozzi's was another name that was often mentioned; but not much of his spirit in education was actually introduced in the actual methods used, where Herbartian steps were almost all that were applied.

Most of the lectures given by the government-salaried professors and lecturers were mere repetitions of notes left on some subjects by old incumbents in the office generations ago. Dusty and musty notebooks were repeated ad nauseam and new ideas had hardly any chance to penetrate into the theory or practice of education. The Project Method and the Dalton Plan were found mentioned in textbooks, but I have known some school inspectors of my time dismiss such new-fangled ideas as too fanciful. The schoolmasters who went out of the portals of the Saidapet Teachers' College year after year were thus mere old-fashioned models who continued their humdrum existence in one of the least attractive careers, torn as they were between the needs of departmental red tape on one side and any originality that might have vaguely asserted itself in them on the other in certain rare instances only, even at that.

Among the batch of trainees to which I myself belonged there was a gentleman of advanced years who had already served in the clerical section of the education departmental offices for quite a number of years. The then principal of the Teachers' College, Mr. R.G. Grieve, was once presiding over a criticism lesson given by this elderly teacher. The man's lesson, as I remember, was excellent and he used the correct methods as laid down in the textbooks. He was dealing with a lesson on how best to teach the parts of speech and he used a special method which some expert educationalist of the Indian Service had himself developed in which the noun was described as a person who occupied a certain house as its owner. When he had to be away there was another man who substituted for him, and this was the status of the pronoun. This kind of personification and analogical allegory was developed so as to bring the adjective and adverb ingeniously into the story. Like the metaphysical poetry of the Shakespearean or Post-Shakespearean period of English literature, this kind of ingenuity was in order and quite respectable in the course conceived for the teachers' formation.

In fact after this lesson the principal who was presiding was all praise for the model lesson. He added also that this elderly trainee was head clerk for many years and had applied for a change from the clerical to the teaching side and had waited many years for his prayer to be granted. This case throws light on how the whole matter was treated as a routine governmental affair without fresh living influences being brought to the problem involved. In applying the heuristic method (eliciting answers through questions) on another occasion, I remember how a teacher wanted to teach trade-winds to the fourth form and began to prepare the students for the subject by asking the question of what they would do if there happened to be a bonfire in the middle of the class room. He pointed at a boy with thick spectacles who had the reputation of being intelligent. The boy stood up readily and answered 'We shall run away from the class, Sir'. It took the teacher much time to get started on his subject properly with other questions and excuses. Sometimes in the fourth form one came up against a boy who knew all about the course that the training teachers had themselves to undergo and anticipated intelligently what the teacher would expect him to answer. He was in the know, not only of what was legitimately required of him as a member of his grade, but over and above that, had understood what the post-graduate teachers under training expected him to answer in view of their educational theory and practice.

The intelligence of some young homo sapiens is sometimes surprising. Lectures on the 'Theory and Practice of Education' were mostly pet ideas of certain teachers in London who wrote textbooks on the subject for the use of the London County Council or such bodies that functioned as part of Government departments with a heavy machinery that propelled them through recommendations of educational commissions, supplemented or complicated by much red tape.

Textbook committees and university authorities had also to have their say; and modifications came too because of political reasons when parties changed at the helm of affairs. Real education was a living process which could hardly thrive in such an atmosphere. Innate conflict at the core of what is called 'education for citizenship' and 'education to make the man' was not even distantly recognized when policies were outlined and programmes laid down by the authorities.  

The kindergarten and the Montessori Method sections were by far the most interesting part of the Teachers' College. This section was located in the best part of the building, as it deserved to be, and was in charge of a fully-trained lady of European descent. As the name itself suggests, the kindergarten has its origins in the German-speaking world. It is an expression of the New School Movement that started in Europe in recent years and is based on a programme of interest rather than on a programme of subjects. Paedocentricity is its central doctrine by which the child is given the central place and the teacher stands aside and watches and, as it were, only waters the garden as in a nursery of plants. Froebel and Pestalozzi have represented this child-centered free activity school. Creative activities were to be encouraged.

The freedom of the child and respect for his individuality were also principles involved in this kind of education. Here again what Rousseau understood as negative education in his monumental work called 'Emile' was hardly understood in England and consequently ignored by educational authorities in India, who were only disciples of English leaders of educational theory.

Experimental education had moreover brought into vogue an educational policy based on measurement, mainly with the help of brass instruments. The triumph of science as a subject for students in general overcovered the humanities, and any form of education that was not bookish but had plenty of gadgets or instruments caught the imagination of the authorities more easily than intellectual work. This acted even to the detriment of proficiency in the three R's; and orthographic, etymological and syntactical errors became more and more common with schoolchildren. Calligraphy, which received great attention in old schools, was neglected to such an extent that it collapsed altogether except in the case of a gifted few.

I took my normal share in this youngest section of the Teachers' College and remember that the mistress in charge set the training students the task of making small paintings that would interest the children of the section. This gave me a fresh chance of cultivating further my ability to use the paintbrush after an interval of two or three years, before which, during a summer holiday I applied myself to this alluring hobby of watercolour painting. Starting with pencil drawings, I had tried my hand at watercolours while I was graduating, and this opportunity to do the same with kindergarten children in my mind gave me just that incentive to be a painter again, though for a short time only.

This has given me also an insight into painting as an art. Art is something that takes place at once within and outside the vectorial space of the mind. The colours of the palette as an artist paints indicate, in principle at least, the mirror-image of the inner creative centre where all art originates in the artist. A Picasso or a Goya is admired by a high-born rich lady who pays any price for it, not only because of the line, light or colour, but also because it represents the inside of an artist which the intuitive eye can represent behind the splashes of paint that might have actually been put on the canvas by the artist any old how. Impressionists, cubists and surrealists succeed because they project their own inner vectorial space to the outside, just in the same way as a self-chosen menu can reveal the nature of the hunger or appetite of a person. A still-life representing a dead rabbit or glass of wine with a peculiar check-pattern tablecloth and perhaps a guitar lying beside it, can have no interest other than when viewed as an ensemble that hangs together in the inner mental space of a pavement artist in Montmartre or Westminster. The free-activity programmes of Froebel and Pestalozzi cater to the need for an early cultivation of good taste in the inner life of the growing bambino.

Montessori sense-training is quite another matter altogether. We know that Madame Montessori started her career in Rome with defective children. Their sense-organs needed some kind of readjustment and she took much pains to invent little toys and other objective devices by which she could help the establishment of normal functioning of the senses. Unfortunately, however, when this method, so laboriously developed in the context of defective children, was applied bodily to normal children of the infant classes, many anomalies traceable to the origin of the method got carried over automatically into the domain of normal child education. As a result we witness sometimes the glorification of a method of teaching for its own sake.  

I remember many years later to have gone to Rome and visited the very school in which Madame Montessori developed her methods. There I was taken round by a nice italian signorina to the class where multiplication in arithmetic was being taught. I was shown how a child was compelled to do multiplication according to the rationalized and experimental method so laboriously devised by Madame Montessori. I was told that this method was superior to any other random method. By being compelled to follow this new method strictly, the child had to erase in its mind and forget about any other method of multiplication than the one recognized by the school and exacted by the teacher.

A clever pupil, by the play of its natural mathematical instincts, might have developed a method by which it could muddle through and arrive at a valid answer. There was the possibility also of it having been already taught a non-Montessori method of multiplication and that it had got the swing of that habit well established. All this had to be scrapped for the glorification of the new method which governments imposed on the child - and this involved an unnecessary painful duplication of learning effort on the part of the child. What was more unjust to the nature of the child was to make it retrace its steps and forget something that had become part and parcel of its intellectual equipment. Like the unfairness of carrying a duck head downwards or making a horse walk backwards when tied to a cart, child-life with its bugbear of drudgery became more unnecessarily burdened still when pedagogues made their methods of teaching ends in themselves, as they often did in educational practice.

A tall, soft-spoken, shy bachelor past forty-five, R.G. Grieve, as already mentioned, was the principal of the Teachers' College of my time. He took his rounds on horseback every morning and indirectly kept one supervising eye on the drill classes that were compulsory for all teachers, some of them very elderly, who were sent for training from colleges all over South India, sometimes late in their career. The morning mists had not disappeared in September months when one had to obey the commands of an elderly drill sergeant whose shrill orders rent the cool air as we turned right about. The situation had a touch of humour when heavy-turbanned middle-aged professors with a big family at home had to behave like robot toy soldiers on the Teachers' College playfield.

The principal was bound to enforce this on the unwilling grown-ups by governmental rules, and the principal on horseback was only satisfying his conscience in the matter. He did the same sometimes at night to see if the students of the hostel attached to the college were behaving properly, taking them up for noisy behaviour now and then. This shy English bachelor took classes on educational theory and did justice to it conscientiously in his own way, but this did not mean that there was anything original or new in what he contributed to the discussions. He just toed the line of his predecessors in office and much remained bland and uninteresting tripe.

Spending his days in a big bungalow with more than one servant to whom he hardly spoke during the whole day, except lisping certain words from beneath his mustache, he was a silent lonely man who had to look serious to the point of outward grumpiness, mostly put on for administrative reasons. He must have remained fully human inside. He was the last of the Englishmen under whom I studied or got trained for the teacher's calling, although once after the intermediate examination I had tried for admission into the  Medical College, some formality omitted at the time or detail overlooked in my form of application stood in my way then to become a medico like my father, although he had moved heaven and earth, as it were, to make the Principal of the Madras Medical College overlook the slight irregularity to get me admitted - but failed in his efforts, although the then highest officer in the Medical Department recommended my case. The hand of the Tao had worked to make of me a humble schoolmaster rather than one who cut up human bodies and got paid for very dirty though helpful work.

I was thus saved from living in the harsh world of the dissection-table which had nothing much in common with contemplation, for which I had perhaps been predestined. In the light of a later chapter of austerity that I entered after my life in Teachers' College after 1922, I should have known to have said goodbye forever to a pattern of life in which I grew up from my earliest days of education. The changeover was such that a tragic sadness would have lingered over it, because I did not in actual life avail myself of any of the material benefits that ordinarily accrue to one after passing examinations and completing courses. I was soon to leave this comfortable world of salaried jobs for ever and lapse into the status of a beggar and wanderer which was to continue all my life thereafter.        

I had to give a model lesson about the birds of the countryside round Saidapet to the boys of the fourth form. I worked at the details of this lesson with special care and kept the schoolroom requirements strictly in mind while bringing into the lesson as much originality and fresh air as could be admitted. The plumage, habits and the cries or songs of the main kinds of birds with which the wooded areas were crowded with noisy life came into my lesson. The boys caught the spirit of the open-air lesson quickly; and when I asked them to be silent and orderly because otherwise the birds of the wood would be disturbed they understood and subdued their animal spirits and tuned themselves perfectly to the quiet harmony of natural bird and animal life where every being hunted on its own grounds according to the law of the jungle, sometimes superior to that of the human. The king crow, the kingfisher, the hooded and non-hooded or the real and so-called woodpeckers, the brain-fever bird, the coppersmith and the Indian mynah; the sparrow and koel, known for its voice rather than its plumage, with the corvus splendens and some sea-shore birds that came ashore - together made a subject for study which had a quietly contemplative influence on the mind, almost like that of religions like Quakerism, whose followers are known to have indulged in this kind of hobby for their Sunday afternoon programmes.

My model lesson in bird study was mentioned many years after by a fellow student who had served Government for three decades and retired and was recorded as a success in the archives of the Teachers' College itself. In spite of this, however, all I got was a third-class pass in the actual examination at the end of the year. Several reasons conspired to make this near-failure in comparison with the academic success which generally attended me otherwise. For one thing I did not take seriously to the studies because I was also appearing for the M.A. the same year by special permission; and the latter naturally took more of my interest and attention than the former, which I did not treat seriously. But this reason was not all, as I shall presently narrate.