Issue #55

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Issue 55—October 26, 1978 to November 24, 1978


In this issue we see the first time that Mary has returned to India since her initial visit there in 1965. Everyone there has come to realize her importance to Krishnaji’s work, and she is treated very differently than she was twelve years before, but the visit is still not without its challenges, as well as its charms. The discussion from which the transcripts were made for this issue took place in 2005—twenty-five years after the visit. Yes, Mary had made, at the time of the visit, detailed diary entries that are an aide mémoire for her; but it is interesting how very vivid the memories of that trip are for both of us.

The Memoirs of Mary Zimbalist: Issue #55

Mary: We begin today on Thursday, the twenty-sixth of October, 1978. ‘Krishnaji and I took the 11:23 a.m. train to London. Joe Links met us and dropped us on Jermyn Street. We lunched pleasantly with Mary at Fortnum’s. It was congenial as always. I will miss our being together. We parted at Hatchards where Krishnaji bought some detectives and I bought my friend Christopher Fry’s memories of his family called Can You Find Me. Krishnaji had his hair cut at Truefitt, and I walked to Hill Street where I received, at the office of a friend of Lou Blau, the legal papers for the house sale sent to me by Lou Blau air freight on Tuesday. Some need notarization. As I was near the U.S. consulate, and didn’t want to come into London tomorrow, I ran over to get it done, and hastened back on foot to Truefitt. I saw Krishnaji standing in the doorway. As I crossed Bond Street, a taxi with a light on appeared, so we grabbed it and went off to Waterloo just in time to jump on the 4:20 p.m.’

Scott: [chuckles] We should say that when a taxi’s light is on, that means it’s free to pick up passengers.

M: It’s yours if you’re nimble.

October twenty-seventh, ‘Krishnaji dictated Letters to the Schools number 24, a complete year. In the afternoon, I posted legal papers to Lou Blau. The Marogers with Diane arrived for a few days with a niece of Jean-Michel, Pauline de Grémont. They’re here for a few days, and I put them all in the West Wing. Krishnaji spoke to the staff, which I missed.’

The next day, my diary just says: ‘Packing. Desk. Walk. Krishnaji put his hands on Diane and also on Harsh.’

October twenty-ninth. ‘Krishnaji spoke to school. I telephoned Erna and did more packing. Walk.’

Monday, the thirtieth. ‘I packed and put things in order all day. The Mercedes, which Krishnaji had washed yesterday with Eric, was put away for the winter—the battery was removed and it was covered up. At 4 p.m., Krishnaji, Dorothy, Jean-Michel, and Marie-Bertrande and I walked. The gray, autumn beauty of the land—a last enjoyment. At 5 p.m., Marie-Bertrande drove me to Alresford Surgery, where I had a gamma-globulin shot. I finished packing, doing laundry, and putting things in order. I was up till almost midnight doing last-minute things, but then I managed very little sleep.’

S: I can remember having gamma-globulin shots, but I can’t remember what they were for?

M: I guess it was supposed to be protective of something, because we were leaving for India.

S: Yes.

M: October thirty-first. ‘We left Brockwood at 6:45 a.m., Krishnaji and I with Dorothy, and Scott driving a second car with luggage and Doris. A few students were up to see Krishnaji off. The loveliness of autumn seemed to line the lanes we passed. We stopped for a picnic breakfast at the usual place near the airport. Esme had made us some delicate small sandwiches of marinated tofu. Our Air India flight scheduled for 9:15 a.m. actually took off a little before 11. We were laden with hand parcelS: a seven-pound Cheshire cheese, a sun umbrella, plus my usual load. At the airport, Krishnaji said, “Let’s buy some chocolates!” He wanted them as presents for people in India, so we bought some. We had the desired two farthest forward seats on the left side in the first class. But idiotically, Air India divides its smoking and nonsmoking section down the aisle, and we were afflicted with a pipe smoker only a few feet away on the other side of the aisle. We landed in Rome, went into the transit lounge, and there were Vanda, Filomena, Topazia, Mr. Turchi, and a Russian named Alexander Ladizensky, about whom Topazia and Vanda had telephoned earlier. He has been allowed to immigrate to Israel, but can go to the U.S. too, and his one thought is to see Krishnaji. My own one thought was to see Filomena. It made me truly happy to see her. She has had some acupuncture help from Sofia Sanguinetti, and she looks well.’

S: Ah, yes. The former Brockwood staff.

M: Yes. ‘I knew Filomena would be there, so I brought her prescriptions of Dolobid, which she asked for after reading an article on them as “super-aspirina” for arthritis. I also brought Brockwood cassettes for Vanda and received pounds of cheese from her and a bag of fresh figs, nuts, raisins, and biscotti from Florence. Topazia, as usual, had something to hammer on about: a meeting of some psychologists who want Krishnaji to attend their conference in Rome next year. Krishnaji thought Vanda “looked old. Must be from all that yoga,” he said.’ [Both laugh heartily.] Oh dear. [More chuckling.] ‘All the talk was tiring. I felt exhilarated by the success in seeing Filomena; she looked very nice in a blue cashmere cardigan I bought her in August, and she was very dear. So we flew on through the night over Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. No sleep at all for me, and very little for Krishnaji.’

The first of November. ‘We landed in Delhi about 4 a.m. Sunanda and Pama met us with a car at the aircraft itself, and drove us to a VIP lounge where Krishnaji, Sunanda, and I sat while Pama and Mr. Mourli’—Mr. Mourli was a nice man who lived in Delhi, was friendly to Krishnaji, and always helpful–‘took our passports through immigration and fetched the luggage. The latter took quite a while as one bag didn’t turn up for about an hour. We then went upstairs to a transit passengers’ hotel where they had a room and bath for each of us to rest in until the Benares flight. Krishnaji wanted to change to Indian clothes, which they had brought.’ The Indians always felt he must wear his Indian clothes the minute he gets to India, and he rather liked his Indian clothes.

S: Yes, yes. [M chuckles.] And he looked incredibly elegant in them, too.

M: That he did. ‘And I was glad to shower and change into fresh clothes, and lie down a little. The room was like a prison, but Sunanda had brought their own linen for the bed, and in spite of no sleep, it was refreshing.’ It was very thoughtful.

S: Yes, that was.

M: ‘They also brought a picnic breakfast. And then we went to the flight. Frances McCann, who left Brockwood Sunday with Chris Jones’—who’s Chris Jones?

S: He was an American student. He and his brother Ken were students at Brockwood.

M: …‘were on the same flight. I dozed as we made bumpy landings at Agra and Kahjuraho. Then, Varanasi’—that’s another name for Benares. ‘A hot, moist breath of tropical air invaded the plane as the door opened. Pupul, Ahalya, Radha Burnier, and Upasini were there to meet Krishnaji. He and I drove to Rajghat with Pupul and Upasini. It was then that I felt in India again. Before the eye saw, one knew it: the curious, intricate smell of India. Of what? Dust, spice, wood smoke, smoke from cow dung fires, incense, the tinge of oil in the air—complex as Indian cooking, it would tell me I was in India if I were blind. The land is very green from the recent floods, the air much moister and warm, the children, wandering cows and buffaloes, dark faces, brilliant colors, potholes everywhere. Almost all faces turning to watch the car pass. The eternal presence of poverty. Life lived here against odds that would probably destroy me. So we came to India and Rajghat. The school is on holiday; it’s Diwali. It began yesterday, but there was nevertheless a crowd to greet Krishnaji. A young, shy girl gave me two bunches of tightly tied flowers. Ahalya, intent on making up to me for my lodgings here in 1965’… [M and S both chuckle]. That’s another story!

S: Yes, we remember that one.

M: Yes…‘had prepared two rooms for me to choose between, both in Krishnaji’s house. I took one just under

Krishnaji walking in Rajghat. Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

Krishnaji walking in Rajghat.
Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

his, which I realized only later is normally Ahalya’s own room. The usual high ceiling, plaster-walled room, cement floor with fresh-smelling matting, a bed with mosquito netting, dressing table, writing table, and a metal cupboard with a lock. The bathroom has a geyser [1]. So, I can heat my own water and fill the bucket, which is a great luxury here. There is also a low stool to sit on while soaping and pouring water over oneself, which then flows across the floor into a drain.’ [Both chuckle.] I remember it well. I learned, in India, to do everything with one bucket of hot water, which meant not only bathing, but doing my laundry, too.

S: Yes.

M: When I first went to India, I got only one bucket every morning, so I had to use it judiciously.

S: [laughter] I know. And I can remember one year I went to Rajghat and they had just installed a new electric geyser in my bathroom. But they hadn’t grounded it. [M laughs.] Which meant I got a terrible shock trying to turn it on or turn it off.

M: What did it do when not grounded?

S: Well, that means that you get the electric current going through you. You know…

M: Oh!

S: Yes. So, I just got a terrible shock.

M: Do you mean a physical shock?

S: Yes, a terrible physical electric shock, it’s just really…

M: Well, that’s awful.

S: Yes, it was really lethal.

M: It’s dangerous.

S: It was very dangerous. And I had to…

M: What’d you do?

S: Well, I told someone responsible, of course, but nothing happened about it, this being India, so I would turn it off and on with a stick. [M laughs.] I had to stand out of the room and reach around the corner and turn it on or off with a stick. Because, otherwise, if you were standing in the room and the floor was wet…

M: Yes, you’d be electrocuted.

S: Well, you know, it really was a very severe shock. So this is how I operated from then on.

M: Did you ever get it fixed? No?

S: I can’t remember that. But I can remember thinking that this is so India. They’ve gone to all this expense of buying this thing, the trouble of installing it, but they didn’t do it right. So, it actually was worse [hearty laugh] than the old previous arrangement, because it was dangerous.

M: Well, now, this is one of those things that, if all our voices percolate to India, do we censor this or not?

S: You know, this is the kind of thing that they know about, and Krishnaji was always hammering away at them about.

M: Well, they know about it, but for us to be giggling about it may offend.

S: [big laugh] By the time anyone hears or reads this, all the people responsible will be dead, so it won’t matter.

M: Also, I hope that it somehow comes across that our criticisms or comments are about places for which we have great affection.

S: Yes, yes. They are.

M: ‘Pupul is in her cottage, not far away. The others are in various guest cottages. Parameshwaram (who cooks for Krishnaji everywhere in India) is here. Before going to bed at night, I gave him the recipe and nagari for making the tofu. We had a late lunch. Krishnaji slept, but I unpacked and by suppertime was falling asleep at the table. I hadn’t had more than three to four hours sleep since Sunday night.’ This was on Wednesday. ‘They say the river rose to almost the rim of the cliff here in the September floods, but now the Ganges is quiet, sleeping mildly, returned to its ancient ways.’

S: Wow. The cliffs are very high.

M: That’s a lot of water.

November second. ‘It was a quiet day. I helped Parameshwaram with his first making of tofu. Dr. Parchure brought his wife to meet me, a charming, shy, nice woman. I also met the young woman principal of Vasanta College, Ms. Schuetaschgal?’ That doesn’t sound right. I don’t think that’s correct.

S: Now, just to say, Vasanta College…

M: That’s the women’s college.

S: It was the women’s college that was founded by Annie Besant. It was first called the Women’s Hindu College, or something like that.

M: Yes. ‘Our meals are cooked and served by Parameshwaram in the upstairs dining room on Krishnaji’s floor. We have salads and all manner of very good food, immaculately cleaned. He is, of course, a Brahmin. In the late afternoon, Krishnaji, Ahalya, Upasini, and I walked around the new filled-in ravine; then down to the playing field where Krishnaji did five laps around it. I came back after three and bathed. It is very hot. Dr. Parchure gave me a foot massage. Both feet are swollen from the long flight and the heat.’

The third of November. ‘At 9:30 a.m., Krishnaji held a small group discussion on the self. Present were Pupul, Sunanda, Pama, Ahalya, Achyut, Radha B., Narayan just arrived, Parchure, Upasini, and Rajesh Dalal—a nice, bright, young man—Krishnakutti, Frances McCann, Mrs. Parchure, a few teachers, and Mr. and Mrs. Deshpande.’ Do you remember that name?

S: Ah, yes.

M: ‘He couldn’t see the relevance of discussing the self.’ [Chuckles.] ‘Krishnaji had at him. But it only silenced him. Krishnaji asked what we had all done with the gift of something true.’ [Both chuckle.]

The fourth of November. ‘Krishnaji rested today. Today is the twenty-year anniversary of my husband’s death. How extraordinary life has been. I cannot judge it or assess it from the outside. It is as if it were not mine to speak of it. It has happened, and not of my planning. I went out early and stood watching the sunrise on the river, the slow, silent casting of nets from the fishing boats. There is something curiously still here, inside. My mind seems to be silent, without much movement, listening, and it isn’t somehow mine. The possessor is absent, or has it merely stepped away? Krishnaji rested in the morning but was at the lunch table. Achyut and he have been discussing religious centers, apart from the schools, perhaps in the cities where books, tapes, etcetera would be available, and where people who are serious could be found to come to other small centers for a sort of retreat. Krishnaji wants to go into this. At 4 p.m., Dr. Parchure came and walked with me to his house where his wife gave me tea. After tea, Dr. Parchure left us alone to talk. She seems so nice, shy, and unsure of her ability in English, but she’s actually quite proficient. I’m inclined to talk more than I want to, to help over the bumps, and was touched by her wanting to talk to me. She walked back with me. Krishnaji had been for a walk.’

November fifth, ‘There was another small group discussion at 9:30 a.m. with the same cast as last Friday. Krishnaji used the analogy, “You have been given a baby. What have you done with it? Have you cared for it? Is it the most important thing in your life?” Pupul spoke of “clouding over”; one has clarity, then it clouds over. Krishnaji in effect said, “You let this cloud over because you are not serious. You have not accepted the baby’s responsibility. You have not given it your being, your total energy. This is not the whole of your life.” It hit hard at most of them. He spoke with great force. At lunch, he lingered at the table until 3 o’clock discussing whether Nagarjuna and Shankara’—these are great teachers in Buddhist and Hindu traditions—whether they ‘had the insight of the Buddha, or whether intellect brought saints to see the limitations and the futility of intellect, until out of that and an ensuing search, there came an insight. Krishnaji felt that a Buddha and possibly Nagarjuna, “They were not intellectuals though they had great intellect.” He felt that they had insight born of compassion. Then, from that, came intelligence.’

I’m glad this is written because in the dialogues I now go to, people have thought and they can never get out of it.

S: Yes.

M: And I can’t ever seem to…I talk about it, but it doesn’t seem to have any effect. What is insight and then intelligence. You know, Krishnaji used to say to us, when you see the limitations of what you’re doing, an insight can come into that. And he used to say that thought can see its own limitations, and by seeing its own limitations…

S: …it is changed.

M: …insight comes in like a light.

S: Yes, yes, and it produces a change.

M: Exactly. This just doesn’t convey when I talk about it.

S: I don’t know if it conveys to anybody who hasn’t experienced it.

M: But in a way, not in a profound religious sense, insights are…

S: Yes, we have little insights.

M: Yes. I’m sure everybody has had some little insight. Some of them are just—you know that sensation, suddenly seeing something quite differently. Yes. ‘He was doubtful about Shankara. Radha Burnier, Achyut, Sunanda, and Pupul were at the table. Radha said that too little is clear about Shankara.’ They’re all very good on the history of these things, this group.

S: Yes.

M: ‘As all the subsequent Shankara Charyas wrote’—you know, the people who followed him—‘it is hard to be sure what is the writing of the original one. These lunches are too tiring. My leg aches sitting there so long, and Krishnaji, though he enjoys talking about it all, is tired by it. In the afternoon, Nandini and her older sister Amru arrived from Bombay. Nandini looks quite a bit older, but her manner is always gentle, friendly, and graceful. Krishnaji was rather hoarse on the walk. He did only two laps, said he was tired, came back, and started to talk to Nandini, but gave it up. I sent Dr. Parchure to see him, suspecting fever. It was—100-degree. Parchure mobilized things, spent the night in a room nearby, and prepared to fight the fever if it rose.’

The sixth. ‘Krishnaji’s fever is now sub-normal. He says he slept well. His voice was very hoarse, and he has a sore throat. He was mostly interested in the tailor who was coming to fit a kurta’ [S laughs] ‘and underclothes. The meeting with Buddhists tomorrow has been postponed. He stayed in bed all day, and in the evening his fever went down to 99.8. I walked around the campus with Ahalya, Nandini, Amru, and Mrs. Padma Santhanam.’ Oh, I don’t think she’s appeared yet. Padma Santhanam comes from Madras. ‘Elections are going on, and the county is fascinated by whether Mrs. Gandhi will win the election to Parliament. If she does, she will apparently become the leader of the opposition.’

November seventh. ‘I tried on a kurta and a copy of my Courrèges trousers by the tailor, then went to Benares with Ahalya, Sunanda, Parchure, Narayan, and Upasini, where I bought some cotton for more kurtas. Benares is a nightmare of people, dust, dirt, crowding, noise, a torrent of life that would be my destruction if I were ever dropped into it. It is like the edge of a volcano, watching beings who are in it—surviving barely. A ghastly carnival celebrating nothing.’ Have you been to Benares?

S: Oh, yes.

M: ‘The clouds of dust and refuse, every vehicle has a horn screaming at every other vehicle, carts with porters, carts with shrill deafening music advertising movies, wandering about the streets pulled by tiny horses or a human being, donkeys carrying rubble herded by thin little boys, bicycles, streams of people. It is an ordeal just to drive through the streets. We stopped at the Theosophical Headquarters building in Benares to pick up Radha Burnier. It is called Shanti Kunj, and it is where Krishnaji and Mrs. Besant used to live. The garden there, in its age, had a luxuriance and quiet, astounding after the terrible streets. Radha, calm and clean, in a white sari, didn’t mind as the dust poured in the car coming back. I had to wash eyes, nose, throat, and everything once we got back. Krishnaji had slept all morning, no fever. He approved the three cottons I bought for kurtas. Mrs. Gandhi had won the election for a seat in Parliament.’ [Chuckles.]

The eighth. ‘Krishnaji is much better. He rested in bed except for attending a trustee meeting of the KF India, to which I was invited. I explained the state of finances in Ojai, and also the point of view of the U.S. and English Foundations that Krishnaji and his teachings are one, and our responsibility is to that. In the afternoon, I drove with Pupul, Nandini, Amru, and Sunanda to tea at the Agricultural College. A German girl who tried to force her way into Tannegg last summer was hanging around the gate. Pama stayed to dissuade her from being here, except at the public talks. We drove through villages of rubble, dust, swarms of people, and wandering animals, past camels slowly pulling their large flat feet down the dirty roads. Then, suddenly, there were fields of green with only an occasional buffalo, and the beauty of the land was a wave. We were on the road the Buddha once walked to Sarnath, and I thought how beautiful India must have been then, with very few people and the land in its pristine freshness. I walked back in the twilight in a pair of what Krishnaji calls “sand shoes,” sneakers in my childhood.’ [Both chuckle.] ‘Krishnaji had supper on his veranda.’

The next day. ‘Krishnaji is well. At 9:30 a.m., he held a discussion with all the students in the Assembly Hall. It was preceded by the children chanting as Krishnaji sat cross-legged on the small dais facing them. The rising beauty of the chant, and the extraordinary grace and majesty of Krishnaji brought tears—there are times when his presence is that of a god. The children were good at speaking up in spite of their shyness, but their sing-song English and the heavy consonants tripping over each other made Krishnaji use Rajesh as an interpreter.’ [Both chuckle.] He couldn’t understand their English. [Chuckles.] ‘In the afternoon, a motorboat ride up the river past the Ghats was laid on with Nandini, Amru, Padma Santhanam, Frances McCann, Chris Jones, Krishnakutti, Rajesh, Mrs. Drassinower, and a difficult couple, the Levittons. Mrs. Levitton was a victim of polio and has to be carried or wheeled everywhere. She was very affable, and was an instant first-name user to me, though I didn’t know hers. Her husband does acupressure and there was something unpleasant and unclean about him.’ You see, these are the comments…

S: They’re your impressions. We don’t call them truth, and we won’t send them a copy of this.

M: Alright. But I don’t like to hurt…

S: I know…but this is life.

M: There’s such a thing as discretion.

S: Not when you’re writing history.

Krishnaji looking at the river Ganga. Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

Krishnaji looking at the river Ganga.
Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

M: Hmm. ‘The great and sacred river is filthy and brown; the city sewer gushes into it just upstream from where the Rajghat school is, downstream from the city ghats and where the clothes are washed by the dhobis.’

S: The laundry people.

M: The laundry people, all male…‘where the dobhis wash the laundry. Just the bathing, teeth brushing, plunging in that goes on along the ghats makes me feel green.’ [Chuckles.] ‘Bodies are neatly queued on the burning ghats, waiting their turn, wrapped in bright cloth. Seven fires were going as we passed; the air was heavy with smog from all of it. Buffalos were being scrubbed by their owners, half-submerged in the river. Goats picked at invisible weeds on the cement. We came back in mid-channel. I have no further impulse to visit Benares.’ [Chuckles.] I obviously didn’t like it. I don’t remember disliking it.

S: It’s very difficult to like.

M: Yes, but it’s interesting.

S: Yes, it is very interesting. [Laughs.]

M: ‘A cable came from Evelyne. She arrives from California in Delhi tomorrow, and will be here on Monday.’

S: Ah, yes, Evelyne was coming with Michael Mendizza because he was filming that year.

M: Oh?

S: Yes.

M: November tenth. ‘At 9:30 a.m., an Indian television crew that is doing an hour’s film on Krishnaji and who photographed yesterday’s discussion with the students, filmed in 16mm black and white a question-and-answer session with Krishnaji. The questioners were Achyut, Pupul, and me.’ I was in for international effects. [Chuckles.] ‘The man in charge, a Mr. Leyti, had done his homework and made up the questions. We each were given two to ask. Mine were, “What place has knowledge in man’s search for enlightenment?” and the second one was, “You say conflict arises out of desire and choice; and they structure our lives. Can we be free of these?” In the afternoon, they photographed a similar session between Krishnaji and a few students. This I missed as before lunch Dr. Parchure gave me something for “dust allergy,” which turned out to be an antihistamine that made me sleep as though hit on the head. I came to at about 4 p.m., and walked with Krishnaji, Pama, and Upasini around the perimeter of the place. Krishnaji was tired in the evening, and he didn’t eat much supper.’

The eleventh. ‘At 9 a.m., Krishnaji gave the first Rajghat public talk in the assembly hall. It was filmed in part by the Indian TV crew. It was on disorder. He lunched at the table, but went quickly to rest and got up later only to greet the governor of Bengal. He did exercises in his room only. While at supper upstairs, Nandini, who with Amru had eaten at Vasanta Asharam, came running from downstairs saying that Mr. Levitton was in a temper from being told that he and his wife couldn’t come to Rishi Valley, and he had charged in demanding to see Krishnaji then and there. I went down to speak to him. He was furious. I said the obvious things, that Narayan’s decision was necessary due to the physical limitations of Rishi Valley, etcetera. He argued. I asked him why he couldn’t accept it with grace, which seemed to choke him with rage. He made Namaste’—that’s the Indian greeting with hands together—‘sarcastically and left. Narayan came a little later and said that he had told Levitton that the school would not be able to give aid to his wife’s infirmity while Krishnaji is there, i.e., carrying her around as Mr. Levitton gets Chris Jones to do here.’ He was exploiting Chris Jones—getting him to lug this fairly heavy woman all over the place. ‘Narayan explained that during Krishnaji’s stay, the school is so busy, but they were welcomed to spend a few days later on when some help could be provided. Later, while Narayan was eating dinner, Mr. Levitton came to his table and said, “I hope you don’t get a stroke and have to learn to live in a wheelchair.” Then, “He cursed me,” said Narayan in a matter-of-fact voice.’

November twelfth. ‘Krishnaji gave the second public talk at 9 a.m. The hall was overflowing with all kinds of people, but it seemed a superficial audience, easily inclined to laugh. At times, the questions are in such a heavily accented English that Krishnaji cannot understand them. I sat near the Tibetan Rinpoche, a young man in a dark red robe and yellow shawl. He crossed his legs and seemed not too comfortable, shifting on the hard bench. Krishnaji spoke further on disorder, on the seeing of it, which then brings about order. A man asked about dying, and Krishnaji shot back, “Have you ever tried it?” and reproved the laughter and went on, and spoke of dying to the self. He lunched at the table, rested, then saw some of the Patel family briefly. He talked to Ahalya, Parchure, Rajesh, and Upasini about Rajghat, and later did exercises in his room. I took a nap and walked as it was getting dark with Nandini and Pama. After supper, Pupul, Nandini, and Sunanda reminisced about Krishnaji in the late ’40s: Krishnaji’s gaiety in those days, how Rajagopal came to hear of Krishnaji’s strange events at Ootacamund, and Pupul’s and Nandini’s report of that; how Rajagopal came to hear of Krishnaji’s strange events at Ootacamund through grilling the servants, then made Pupul swear never to speak of it; of the nastiness of Rosalind to Krishnaji when she came to India in 1956, her berating him, yelling at him, and of her convincing Krishnaji that the CID [2] was opening his mail, of her speaking ill of Krishnaji to Pupul when Pupul visited Ojai, of the case between Nandini and her husband in which Nandini’s charges of cruelty were answered in a brief which quoted pages of Krishnaji’s public talks in which he said Indian women were considered chattels and that this, not the husband’s behavior, caused her to leave him. The husband won the case and custody of their three children; she could see them only in the summer outside of Bombay, and only with his mother present. Devi’—that’s her daughter—‘was nine years old when this happened, and she became a little mother to her two brothers. A year later Pupul had to take Nandini to London for a cancer operation and later a removal of a kidney. Pupul spoke of papers she has, notes of meetings between Krishnaji and Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India, and with Indira Gandhi, of marvelous things Krishnaji used to say in discussions, which were not recorded.’

The thirteenth. ‘At 9 a.m. in the assembly hall, Krishnaji held a discussion with a Tibetan Rinpoche and three other Buddhist scholars. Achyut translated the Hindi when necessary, helped by Pupul, Radha, Sunanda, and Deshpande. The Rinpoche began with a quiet, almost whispered, question about the observer and the ending of thought. Then another Buddhist held forth in Hindi and it took forty-five minutes before the basis of a question was accepted by all. Krishnaji kept having to ask what actually happens in daily life in relationship, and the Hindi-speaking Buddhists kept going off into theory. More and more, Krishnaji is emphasizing the actual, dismissing the theories, the ideas. This seems the point where people balk. They escape into the idea of something and away from the thing itself. In the afternoon, Krishnaji saw the Patel family for what was to be a ten-minute meeting, but which went on one-and-a-quarter hours, sorting out their troubles. Evelyne, Michael Mendizza, and Robert Dunigan, in cowboy boots and hat, who is to do the sound recording, all arrived from Delhi. Evelyne is in the little guest house that Frances McCann relinquished. Evelyne brought pneumonia vaccine from Lailee Bakhtiar’—that’s our doctor in Beverly Hills—‘and an unclear message from Lou about the buyer not approving the geology report on the Malibu house. I went for a walk in the twilight with Krishnaji. After supper, Evelyne and Michael outlined plans for filming in India to Ahalya, Pupul, Nandini, Achyut, etcetera. It seemed to go down well. It was a noisy night with the village festival, chanting, and dogs barking.’

November fourteenth. ‘A day of rest for Krishnaji. Evelyne, Michael, and Dunigan went into Benares. Evelyne came back in time for lunch. Radha and Professor Krishna of Benares Hindu University and his wife were at lunch. He told Krishnaji of the present university condition where threats with knives and guns are made by students to the teaching staff for grades, and when cheating for examines are denied.’ I remember that, I was there. They’d come in with a gun and say, “What’s my grade?” ‘I walked with Krishnaji and Upasini around the playing fields.’

November fifteenth. ‘Krishnaji called me before breakfast. He had a feeling in the night that I was upset about something. I assured him that I wasn’t. At 9:30 a.m., he held a student discussion in the assembly hall. It was way over their heads. One Muslim girl asked, “Sir, what is religion?” Krishnaji replied it was what it is when you know what it is not.’ [Both laugh.] That must’ve baffled her. ‘They had trouble, too, with comparison, and understanding that there cannot be love when there is fear. He had difficulty understanding their questions. It may be not only the heavy Indian accent, but also a bit of deafness on Krishnaji’s part. I spoke to Parchure about it, and he will suggest hearing tests in Madras. There is a certain critical stance toward the school here. “This is all too difficult for you; you are not used to this,” he keeps saying, which of course is true, but it could come across as criticism. At 4:30 p.m., Krishnaji was filmed by Michael with the littlest children here outside the house, and then at a tree planting. Krishnaji, Upasini, Nandini, and I walked. I came back, bathed, and changed, and went with Krishnaji and others to chanting by Brahmin priests.’ Those were wonderful.

S: Yes.

M: They all chanted very loudly and vociferously, and it sounded wonderful. Hmm, hm.

The next day. ‘Nandini and I visited the art department of the school. Krishnaji saw a sannyasi. In the afternoon, Michael filmed him walking along the path by the houses with the Ganga in the background. Then, Krishnaji, Nandini, and I walked along the perimeter road. A village man came up the cliff from the river, suddenly saw Krishnaji, and prostrated himself, touching his head to Krishnaji’s feet.’ I remember that so well. He came up and he looked at Krishnaji as though he was seeing a god or something…

S: Yes.

M: …and threw himself on the ground at his feet. It was very touching. He was taken totally by surprise. ‘Krishnaji raised him up, greeted him silently, and walked on. A look of wild wonder and emotion was in the little man’s eyes as he watched Krishnaji, as though he had seen God. It wasn’t adulation, nor the see-a-famous-person look; it was wonder and adoration. In the evening, Oopali, a former Rishi Valley student and now professional dancer, gave a recital and we went to part of it.’ I remember that man, little old man, so very well; he’d scrambled up the bank, got up to the level part, and there was…

S: Krishnaji.

M: It was nice, very sweet.

The seventeenth. ‘Krishnaji talked to the teachers. I didn’t go, thinking that the fewer outsiders, the better. Instead, I did letters. In the afternoon, Michael filmed Krishnaji on the other side of the Varuna’—the little river that flows into the Ganga—‘walking on the farmland with his big sun umbrella. When this was done, we walked to the eastern end of the KFI land and came back past the Sanjivan Hospital, where Evelyne and I went in. A Dr. Sharma, the one and only nurse, and a most hard-working woman, showed us around. It was pitiful to see how much is needed.’ It was a very primitive hospital.

S: Yes. Yes.

M: I remember the beds were…there weren’t any sheets on them.

S: Yes, just rope beds.

M: Rope with some kind of a plastic mattress. Not what you’d like. ‘On our return, Dr. Parchure talked at length to me about it, and about his early life as a country doctor, living with his wife and two-year-old son in a thatched hut with poisonous caterpillars on the walls, crabs the baby reached for scuttling on the floor, and snakes falling from the ceiling.’ He has extraordinary tales, and he tells them very well; he tells them straight, but I always wanted to record them because they were…

S: Yes, yes…extraordinary.

M: November eighteenth. ‘I went with Achyut, Radha Burnier, Pupul, Nandini, and Evelyne to the Sarnath Museum. Pupul and Nandini then left before lunch for Bombay. In the afternoon, I had Mrs. Krishni to tea’—a very a nice woman—‘now retired to Poona from teaching here.’ She was a teacher when I’d been there before.

S: Right.

M: ‘I remember her tireless kindness in looking after foreign guest meals in 1965. She had the eagerness to talk that is part of her friendliness, and a tendency to run on that seems a part of aging in some women. Krishnaji was visited by the Maharaja of Benares, a short man. I did some packing easily and quickly, as the dhobi brings the clothing so well folded.’

November nineteenth, ‘The school was out to see Krishnaji off when we left for the airport at 8:45 a.m. Michael filmed it. Evelyne, in spite of her fever yesterday afternoon, was there, too. Krishnaji, Achyut, and I flew to Calcutta. Friends of Achyut’s and admirers of Krishnaji came to the airport with their families—a Mr. Mehta, a large meat-eating Brahmin in a dhoti, and a Mr. Sen, wife, child, etcetera were there. They brought a three-course lunch, which was served to Krishnaji, Achyut, and me in a private apartment in the airport. The wives, daughters, and sisters served it. A stubby, rather rough-looking psychotherapy woman seized the opportunity by the throat to ask Krishnaji intense questions, the answers to which left her face scrunched up in puzzlement.’ [Both chuckle.] ‘The last one was, “Do you believe in God?” Krishnaji said, “Who invented God?” There was a shocked silence. “Obviously,” he said, “man invented God.”’ [M laughs.] ‘They all looked like a frozen frame in a moving picture. We were driven in a large private car to the aircraft stairs, an assistant of the airline took us aboard, and we left at 2:30 p.m. for Madras. The country was green flying over it. There, to meet Krishnaji, were Pama and Mrs. Jayalakshmi, who gave Krishnaji and me each a huge garland of roses, and tuberoses, and bead necklaces. Others were there, too, including Mrs. Santhanam, who lent her air-conditioned car to drive Krishnaji and me to Vasanta Vihar. Madras was warm and humid, but green and cleaner-looking than Benares. The air was soft and pleasant, not dusty and polluted. Vasanta Vihar is now painted white, which gives it a stately beauty instead of the dingy stained yellow of 1965. There were shrubs and plants everywhere. Waiting on the porch were Sunanda, Prema Srinivasan and her daughter, and Vatsala. The latter was arrow thin, with large dark eyes that veer away when looked at.’ I don’t seem to remember her. ‘Her speech and movement is rapidly intense. She immediately asked me if I would like to take a walk. So, down the drive we went in the dark and up the road a bit before returning. She has examinations in German tomorrow and later again this week. Krishnaji’s rooms are above his old ones, charmingly done, a sitting room with blue and white cushions I would like to have in Ojai,’ [chuckles] ‘the bedroom beyond with a small porch, and large, handsome bath. I have been given his old rooms on the ground floor just underneath, with a small sitting room, large bedroom; both clean and comfortable, attractive. Then I took a luxurious bath with ample hot water. In this heat, bathing becomes almost a rebirth. We dined in a new dining room, in the kitchen building, once a garage. It’s back of the main house. Dining were Krishnaji, Achyut, Sunanda, Pama, and Vatsala, who has been living here for the past ten months. Early to bed as we are tired from journeying.’

The twentieth of November. ‘It was hot and humid. Krishnaji wanted to talk to Achyut, Sunanda, Pama, and me about the Foundations’ schools predominating over the teachings, and Rajghat problems. No sooner had we started than Mr. Santhanam walked in and sat down on the floor with the rest of us in Krishnaji’s bedroom…and sat,’ it says. [Chuckles.] ‘Krishnaji was irked and wanted him gone, so he got up, and Sunanda and I sorted his clothes for Rishi Valley. Achyut and Pama eased Santhanam into the sitting room, and talked to him about land for the school his wife is running but which belongs to KFI. He finally left and we resumed.’

S: We should just say that Mr. Santhanam, who was just mentioned, is the husband of Padma Santhanam, and that they eventually became the philanthropists who funded the school in Madras.

M: That’s right. Mrs. Santhanam…

S: …was the guiding force.

M: Yes.

S: And she was really the one who had the interest in Krishnaji, not Mr. Santhanam.

M: I think so.

S: Mr. Santhanam, I think, had made his money from car parts. I think he had Lucas Car Parts, or something like that, and had the franchise for all of India. That’s where all the money came from.

M: I knew there was a lot of money, and he was a big business man, but I didn’t know what he did.

S: Yes. I think it was that.

M: ‘Krishnaji feels the schools have overshadowed the Foundations and the teachings, and taken all the energy, etcetera. He wants to change all that. He discussed Rajghat, the north splitting from the south someday, and how to prevent it. He questioned if the Foundation should run the hospital at Rajghat, the rural schools, etcetera. Achyut gave the pros on this. Later, Krishnaji came down and talked to me alone: “Do they know what I’m talking about?” At Rajghat, he felt “like going away.” Also, he felt one night in meditation a tremendous force descend on him.’ Dick Clarke and his daughter Heather Thornblod came to call.’

S: Oh, yes! I remember Dick Clarke! We should just say Dick Clarke was one of Krishnaji’s tutors when Krishnaji was a little boy at the TS, and by now, Dick Clarke was about 500 years old.

M: Yes, but…

S: But spritely.

M: Very spritely. And still could bicycle, if you remember.

S: Yes! I remember well. He used to bicycle everywhere.

M: [chuckles] Anyway, they came to call. ‘And Krishnaji had a word with the daughter.’

‘Prema Srinivasan lunched with us. After lunch, Krishnaji had a long talk with Vatsala and later told me she wants to leave. She said she cannot live on words, and wants to get a job. He asked her what she was most interested in. She said she is serious about religion, but must do it her own way. He said she should, and she will stay only as long as he is here. He seemed to think that her not wishing to live on words meant it is only that to Sunanda and Pama, that that is all they offer. I wonder if it reflects Vatsala’s own state. Krishnaji wonders about all the older ones here. Pupul in particular. He wants more young people in the Foundation. Afterward, and more briefly, he spoke to Prema’s daughter. He then took me and Pama on a rather harried walk in the dark, past a place where gypsies were cooking their supper on an open fire. Buffaloes wandered, and it was again dusty and dirty. There was a discussion at supper with Achyut, Sunanda, Pama, Vatsala, and me on what is tradition. Krishnaji spoke about tradition, and said that all religion is based on tradition and is therefore meaningless. I asked if he was against tradition because it is second-hand, a pattern, a formula, etcetera; or did he also deny the original perception of the first teacher, the Buddha, etcetera? Did he deny that there had been truth for them, which may subsequently have been corrupted into tradition by the ones who heard it, didn’t understand it, but passed it along? “Truth cannot be given to another,” he said. I asked about a person who reads in one of his books, say, the observer is the observed, and instantly sees the truth of it, not intellectually, but truly sees it? Tradition is not there. Achyut spoke of a conversation with Krishnaji years ago in which Krishnaji had showed him the falseness of something that was weighing on him, and it had totally ended then, and it had never relapsed. “But I have other blindness,” he said. Krishnaji then said insight in one thing shows us the totality of things. This seemed to upset Sunanda. “It is not one thing at a time,” said Krishnaji. He asked, “What happens when I say that conflict harms the brain?” I said I instantly see it is true, but it is memory and seeing because I have experienced just that, and know the harm and it does not recur. One swiftly finds it is real because it would recur—but I didn’t have to finish the sentence because Krishnaji, sitting across the table from me—there was that nonverbal exchange. Krishnaji’s statement that truth cannot be given to another is clear—the person must come to it, but truth about the factual, psychological impediments are communicable by him, or his writings, I said. Only one who has understood can communicate this, he said. And he further said that the understanding, and therefore, the wiping out of one impediment, makes one see the whole field of impediments, and they cease to exist. This must be gone into further, says I.’ I don’t think I reported this very well.

S: One gets the gist of it. One gets the gist.

M: ‘To bed right after dinner for early rise.’

November twenty-first. ‘We got up at 3:15 a.m., bathed, dressed, and had luggage ready to load into Mrs. Santhanam’s car. Dr Parchure, who arrived last night from Benares by train, took my bags. Sunanda, Pama, and Jayalakshmi were up to see us off, the latter will come with Narasimhan on the twenty-fifth. Parameshwaran rode in front, while Krishnaji, Achyut, and I were in the back. We left at 4:10 a.m., going westward along roads where trucks were coming from Bangalore with produce, and bullock carts, mountainous with hay, moved slowly toward us. The bullocks’ eyes shown in the dark like cats’ eyes. As it became lighter, the village huts of mud and thatch, though very poor, don’t have the squalor of the north. Krishnaji took pleasure in the large tamarind trees along the road, telling me that the villagers do not cut them as they give valuable fruit, and each tree belongs to someone. Pale green rice fields appeared, and the soft mauve bloom of the sugar cane. We stopped once for petrol. Little thin-legged boys were carrying on their shoulders pots of water to the huts across the main road; some were brightly polished old brass pots, but too often they were a plastic copy. As we came near Chittoor, the land was like parts of California: low rocky hills, but there was water here. The monsoons have left river water and there are small lakes. Krishnaji pointed to a shrine on a fairly steep hilltop and said, “He used to climb up there alone, they have told me.”’ That meant himself when he was a boy.

S: So he doesn’t remember doing it, but he was told.

M: Exactly. ‘In Madanapalle, where he was born, there was all the comings and goings of a market, and he remembered the running joke in Laugh-In.’ Laugh-In was a comedy program we liked to watch in California. I don’t know if you remember…

S: Yes, I remember it.

M: It was funny, and they used to joke about “beautiful downtown Burbank,”…‘and Krishnaji kept laughing at “beautiful downtown Madanapalle”’ [S chuckles] ‘all the way through the town. Achyut explained to us, as Krishnaji had no idea, how Rishi Valley came to be. Mrs. Besant had a Theosophical college in Madanapalle, and had offered it to Krishnaji for a school, but Krishnaji didn’t want a school in the city. So they searched and found land in the valley, nearer to the Rishi Konda mountain. The valley then had no name, but the choice to Krishnaji was obvious. The school grounds were green with very many new trees. The part around the old guest house where Krishnaji stays is nicely planted and a stream runs through a stone channel. The school was waiting to greet him. Frances McCann is already here. Narayan has given me the room across from Krishnaji’s on his floor. It is cool, clean, quiet, and good to be in the country after cities. I felt very glad to be here. I unpacked, and washed my hair. Parameshwaran, with two helpers, provides our meals in the kitchen and dining room next to my bedroom.’ Do you remember, Krishnaji had the rooms on the left, then there was a big open space…

S: Yes.

M: …and then there was a little dining room and the kitchen; and in the back was a small bedroom, which is what I had. ‘Krishnaji was a bit hoarse on leaving Madras, and this was worse at lunch. He went to bed, admitting reluctantly that his throat became sore on the flight.’ What flight?

S: Flying from Benares to Madras, where you just came from?

M: Yes, yes. ‘Dr. Parchure arrived in the afternoon, and says that Krishnaji’s vocal chords are inflamed. He ran a fever of 99 degrees in the afternoon, but that dropped to 98.8 in the evening. Earlier in the afternoon, I had walked around and met Indira, Narayan’s sister. Then, Narayan showed me the new guest house.’

S: We should just say that the reason people would get up so early to drive from Rishi Valley to Madras is that it was a four-hour drive, if all went well, but it was very hot.

M: Yes.

S: Very hot. So, if you wanted to get your traveling done before the heat of the day, you had to leave Madras at about 4 a.m.

M: Yes. It was cooler then, and the roads weren’t quite as hectic.

S: Yes, not quite, but still at 4 a.m., there was a remarkable amount of traffic on the road.

M: Also, a lot of things in India happen early.

S: Yes.

Krishnaji walking in Rishi Valley. Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

Krishnaji walking in Rishi Valley.
Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

M: I remember that they used to have discussions with Krishnaji at 7 a.m. in the morning.

Now for November twenty-second. ‘I went in early to Krishnaji and took his temperature. He had no fever. He had slept well. I went with Narayan to the chanting assembly of the school, then walked around with Frances a bit. I came back and unpacked Krishnaji’s trunk of clothes. A tailor came, and he had old kurtas altered, all the time Krishnaji standing in a draft in his night clothes, rejecting the choga I got out for him’…A choga was a kind of coat, or I don’t know what you’d call it; it’s a long garment that you’d wear over your Indian clothes if you needed warmth.

S: Yes. It’s more like a bathrobe without a belt.

M: Yes, it is…‘rejecting the choga I got out for him stubbornly.’ [Chuckles.] ‘Narayan brought teachers: Prasad, Indira, and Mrs. Thomas to lunch. Sunanda and Pama rang from Madras; Evelyne had arrived but still has fever, and has gone to bed there.

Krishnaji with a Rishi Valley student.

Krishnaji with a Rishi Valley student.
Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

They will all motor here Saturday. Meanwhile, Michael Mendizza arrived in the afternoon. Dunigan, his sound man, walked out on him Sunday in Benares. He left without telling Michael, who was at the TS filming in the afternoon, and came back to find Dunigan gone, no note, nothing. Frances saw him on her 2 p.m. flight to Delhi. Michael says he can manage here and his wife Bonnie will join him in Madras. Narayan took me to see the new thatched building for the rural school, rather like the Ojai pavilion but in brick, eucalyptus rafters from the school grounds and thatch. It cost $1,000, and was very handsome.’


Editor’s Note: At this point in the discussion, Mary had a leg cramp, and asked for the tape recorder to be turned off as she tried to get rid of it. What follows is what was said when the recorder was turned back on. Obviously, Mary and I were talking about the nature of these discussions.


Krishnaji with Rishi Valley Students. Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

Krishnaji with Rishi Valley Students.
Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

M: This has to be a memoir.

S: Yes, it is.

M: …which is what Krishnaji was referring to. It’s what I was witness to during those years, filtered through my eyes and my brain…

S: Yes, well, that’s just it. And I think, it’s right to be up-front about all the limitations. So, you can say, ‘I thought he was a wonderful person,’ or ‘I thought he was a terrible person,’ and that is not the same thing as saying, ‘he was a wonderful person,’ or, ‘he was a terrible person.’ If it’s at least continually implied, that this is just your perspective, then, I think you can say all kinds of things, and your subjectivity is taken into account.

M: Yes.

Krishnaji walking in Rishi Valley. Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

Krishnaji walking in Rishi Valley.
Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

S: And what you’re saying is terribly valuable, it’s terribly valuable. Something like a book, as a finished product, is meant to be presented to the public, whereas these discussions, as they aren’t. As these are, this is the raw data.

M: Yes, that’s right. I was saying what I had, or what I heard or saw or thought that day.

S: Yes, exactly, and out of this raw data, scholars can make something that’s polished for the public, or I can do editing down to something that’s more for the public. As these discussions are, this is just the raw data, but it’s incredibly evocative, and communicates a whole sense of that…well, it’s an era. And really, it’s an era that’s gone; in absolute terms, it’s gone. And so it’s just terribly, terribly important; all the little details, all the different people that came and went, all the…it’s very communicative. Anyway, let’s go on.


Editor’s Note: Readers of these memoirs should probably know that, despite the length of this account, more than half the volume of the transcripts has been edited out, without, I hope, removing anything of significance.


M: What was that last date we did?

S: Have we finished the twenty-second?

M: Um, yes. I said the rural school building cost $1,000.

November twenty-third. ‘Krishnaji stayed in bed all day. I went to see Chris Jones, a Brockwood student who has been ill, then I walked, wrote letters, and had supper in the visitors’ dining hall. Kathy Harris and Julie Desnick arrived.’

S: Kathy Harris was a Brockwood staff member, and Julie Desnick was a student.

M: That’s right, and ‘they arrived from Brockwood. Also Joan Wright.’

The twenty-fourth. ‘In the morning, I went with Narayan to Madanapalle to buy kadhi cotton.’ It’s a hand-woven cotton, and very nice. ‘But the shops had closed. We walked past the house where Krishnaji was born, a narrow street with narrow houses and open drains outside. They appeared very small. A tailor lives and works in it on the ground floor, and a family lives upstairs is what a small sign said was “Sadhana Tutorial School.” The house must be deeper front to back than wide for it seemed tiny. We didn’t get a good look inside, as Narayan didn’t want to show much interest.’ The Indian Foundation were thinking of…

S: …buying it, yes.

M: ‘If the buyer was known to be KFI, the price would inflate. It is hard to imagine that little baby being born there over eighty-three years ago. It seemed infinitely mysterious. Perhaps it was a nicer street then. The smallness of everything made it seem part of another time; and so it is, really. Krishnaji showed no interest at all in it when I told him where we had been. At lunch, Krishnaji came to the table with Mr. Gandhi, an architect, and Narayan. I have had an idea to make the end room where the meetings are held into a big handsome bedroom for Krishnaji. It would have light on three sides, and could easily be done with shutters. His present bedroom is small.’ He had…

S: I know, I remember it.

Krishnaji with Rishi Valley Students. Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

Krishnaji with Rishi Valley Students.
Copyright Mary Zimbalist.

M: …yes, a little, tiny…

S: Little, tiny, ridiculous, lightless, airless room.

M: Yes. ‘The alterations could easily be done with shutters. The present bedroom is small and dark, and in the mornings he needs a lamp to read. Then, I suggested enlarging the center room to include both verandas, making it a large space for meetings.’ That, too, was eventually done. ‘The architect says it is all feasible. In the afternoon it rained. I began Christopher Fry’s memoir Can You Find Me. At 4:30 p.m., Vasanta Kumari, the woman singer who is going to live and teach here, sang for Krishnaji. Palgat Mani Iyer, the great mridangam player, also now living at Rishi Valley, was there also.’ He was wonderful. Do you remember him?

S: Oh, yes! He was wonderful. We’ll have to end it here as we’re running out of tape.

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[1] It is what they used to call electric hot water heaters in Indian bathrooms. Back to text.

[2] Criminal Investigation Department. Back to text.