“Father, I want to invite Master and four friends to accompany me to the Himalayan foothills during my summer vacation. May I have six train passes to Kashmir and enough money to cover our travel expenses?”
As I had expected, Father laughed heartily. “This is the third time you have given me the same cock-and-bull story. Didn’t you make a similar request last summer, and the year before that? At the last moment, Sri Yukteswarji refuses to go.”
“It is true, Father; I don’t know why my guru will not give me his definite word about Kashmir.1
But if I tell him that I have already secured the passes from you, somehow I think that this time he will consent to make the journey.”
Father was unconvinced at the moment, but the following day, after some good-humored gibes, he handed me six passes and a roll of ten-rupee bills.
“I hardly think your theoretical trip needs such practical props,” he remarked, “but here they are.”
That afternoon I exhibited my booty to Sri Yukteswar. Though he smiled at my enthusiasm, his words were noncommittal: “I would like to go; we shall see.” He made no comment when I asked his little hermitage disciple, Kanai, to accompany us. I also invited three other friends Rajendra, Nath Mitra, Jotin Auddy, and one other boy. Our date of departure was set for the following Monday.
On Saturday and Sunday I stayed in Calcutta, where marriage rites for a cousin were being celebrated at my family home. I arrived in Serampore with my luggage early Monday morning. Rajendra met me at the hermitage door.
“Master is out, walking. He has refused to go.”
I was equally grieved and obdurate. “I will not give Father a third chance to ridicule my chimerical plans for Kashmir. Come; the rest of us will go anyhow.”
Rajendra agreed; I left the ashram to find a servant. Kanai, I knew, would not take the trip without Master, and someone was needed to look after the luggage. I bethought myself of Behari, previously a servant in my family home, who was now employed by a Serampore schoolmaster. As I walked along briskly, I met my guru in front of the Christian church near Serampore Courthouse.
“Where are you going?” Sri Yukteswar’s face was unsmiling.
“Sir, I hear that you and Kanai will not take the trip we have been planning. I am seeking Behari. You will recall that last year he was so anxious to see Kashmir that he even offered to serve without pay.”
“I remember. Nevertheless, I don’t think Behari will be willing to go.”
I was exasperated. “He is just eagerly waiting for this opportunity!”
My guru silently resumed his walk; I soon reached the schoolmaster’s house. Behari, in the courtyard, greeted me with a friendly warmth that abruptly vanished as soon as I mentioned Kashmir. With a murmured word of apology, the servant left me and entered his employer’s house. I waited half an hour, nervously assuring myself that Behari’s delay was being caused by preparations for his trip. Finally I knocked at the front door.
“Behari left by the back stairs about thirty minutes ago,” a man informed me. A slight smile hovered about his lips.
I departed sadly, wondering whether my invitation had been too coercive or whether Master’s unseen influence were at work. Passing the Christian church, again I saw my guru walking slowly toward me. Without waiting to hear my report, he exclaimed:
“So Behari would not go! Now, what are your plans?”
I felt like a recalcitrant child who is determined to defy his masterful father. “Sir, I am going to ask my uncle to lend me his servant, Lal Dhari.”
“See your uncle if you want to,” Sri Yukteswar replied with a chuckle. “But I hardly think you will enjoy the visit.”
Apprehensive but rebellious, I left my guru and entered Serampore Courthouse. My paternal uncle, Sarada Ghosh, a government attorney, welcomed me affectionately.
“I am leaving today with some friends for Kashmir,” I told him. “For years I have been looking forward to this Himalayan trip.”
“I am happy for you, Mukunda. Is there anything I can do to make your journey more comfortable?”
These kind words gave me a lift of encouragement. “Dear uncle,” I said, “could you possibly spare me your servant, Lal Dhari?”
My simple request had the effect of an earthquake. Uncle jumped so violently that his chair overturned, the papers on the desk flew in every direction, and his pipe, a long, coconut-stemmed hubble-bubble, fell to the floor with a great clatter.
“You selfish young man,” he shouted, quivering with wrath, “what a preposterous idea! Who will look after me, if you take my servant on one of your pleasure jaunts?”
I concealed my surprise, reflecting that my amiable uncle’s sudden change of front was only one more enigma in a day fully devoted to incomprehensibility. My retreat from the courthouse office was more alacritous than dignified.
I returned to the hermitage, where my friends were expectantly gathered. Conviction was growing on me that some sufficient if exceedingly recondite motive was behind Master’s attitude. Remorse seized me that I had been trying to thwart my guru’s will.
“Mukunda, wouldn’t you like to stay awhile longer with me?” Sri Yukteswar inquired. “Rajendra and the others can go ahead now, and wait for you at Calcutta. There will be plenty of time to catch the last evening train leaving Calcutta for Kashmir.”
“Sir, I don’t care to go without you,” I said mournfully.
My friends paid not the slightest attention to my remark. They summoned a hackney carriage and departed with all the luggage. Kanai and I sat quietly at our guru’s feet. After a half hour of complete silence, Master rose and walked toward the second-floor dining patio.
“Kanai, please serve Mukunda’s food. His train leaves soon.”
Getting up from my blanket seat, I staggered suddenly with nausea and a ghastly churning sensation in my stomach. The stabbing pain was so intense that I felt I had been abruptly hurled into some violent hell. Groping blindly toward my guru, I collapsed before him, attacked by all symptoms of the dread Asiatic cholera. Sri Yukteswar and Kanai carried me to the sitting room.
Racked with agony, I cried, “Master, I surrender my life to you;” for I believed it was indeed fast ebbing from the shores of my body.
Sri Yukteswar put my head on his lap, stroking my forehead with angelic tenderness.
“You see now what would have happened if you were at the station with your friends,” he said. “I had to look after you in this strange way, because you chose to doubt my judgment about taking the trip at this particular time.”
I understood at last. Inasmuch as great masters seldom see fit to display their powers openly, a casual observer of the day’s events would have imagined that their sequence was quite natural. My guru’s intervention had been too subtle to be suspected. He had worked his will through Behari and my Uncle Sarada and Rajendra and the others in such an inconspicuous manner that probably everyone but myself thought the situations had been logically normal.
As Sri Yukteswar never failed to observe his social obligations, he instructed Kanai to go for a specialist, and to notify my uncle.
“Master,” I protested, “only you can heal me. I am too far gone for any doctor.”
“Child, you are protected by the Divine Mercy. Don’t worry about the doctor; he will not find you in this state. You are already healed.”
With my guru’s words, the excruciating suffering left me. I sat up feebly. A doctor soon arrived and examined me carefully.
“You appear to have passed through the worst,” he said. “I will take some specimens with me for laboratory tests.”
The following morning the physician arrived hurriedly. I was sitting up, in good spirits.
“Well, well, here you are, smiling and chatting as though you had had no close call with death.” He patted my hand gently. “I hardly expected to find you alive, after I had discovered from the specimens that your disease was Asiatic cholera. You are fortunate, young man, to have a guru with divine healing powers! I am convinced of it!”
I agreed wholeheartedly. As the doctor was preparing to leave, Rajendra and Auddy appeared at the door. The resentment in their faces changed into sympathy as they glanced at the physician and then at my somewhat wan countenance.
“We were angry when you didn’t turn up as agreed at the Calcutta train. You have been sick?”
“Yes.” I could not help laughing as my friends placed the luggage in the same corner it had occupied yesterday. I quoted: “There was a ship that went to Spain; when it arrived, it came back again!”
“Guruji,” I said, “from my twelfth year on, I have made many unsuccessful attempts to reach the Himalayas. I am finally convinced that without your blessings the Goddess Parvati2
will not receive me!”
1 Although Master failed to make any explanation, his reluctance to visit Kashmir during those two summers may have been a foreknowledge that the time was not ripe for his illness there (see pp. 208 f.).
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2 Literally, “of the mountains.” Parvati, mythologically represented as a daughter of Himavat or the sacred mountains, is a name given to the shakti or “consort” of Shiva.
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