Flying West

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, Informal Talk with sannyasins, March 1990, Ganga Darshan

There were about seven or eight of us sitting in front of the hall in old B.S.Y. having kirtan, when the telephone rang. In those days the telephone was in panchavati, the room next door to the hall. The swami who used to answer the phone, got up and after speaking came back and said to me, "Paramahamsaji says you have to go to Calcutta, today itself. So pack things and get ready".

It was the 26th February, 1970. One other swami got the job of taking me to Calcutta. We went to the Munger railway station the local train was just standing there. We got into one compartment, locked the door, spread our dhotis on the bunks and fell flat during the half-hour trip to Jamalpur. We were all alone, there was no-one else in the compartment. This is something you will not find in today's Munger.

That very night we took a train from Jamalpur to Kiul, and from Kiul we travelled straight to Calcutta. We had three hundred rupees with us. On the morning of the 27th, around ten o'clock, we got off the train and there was Paramahamsaji standing on the platform waiting for us. The first thing he said was, ''Money!'' so the swami with me took out two hundred and twenty rupees and gave it to Paramahamsaji. Paramahamsaji did a quick calculation: two tickets, this, that, and said, Sixty rupees short, what happened to the other sixty rupees?' The swami said. "Well, Swamiji, we ate".

Then Paramahamsaji said one thing which has never left me: "Even if you have money, you should live like a beggar". That was the only sentence he said until we came to the place where he was staying. In the meanwhile our hearts were banging - sixty rupees, my God! The other swami was actually trembling. I thought, "God! Why did we have that sweet? Why did we have that tea? We could have done without them". Similar thoughts started coming. After we reached the hotel, which was in Alipore, Paramahamsaji said to me, "You are coming with me to Ireland".

On the 27th evening we took a flight from Calcutta to New Delhi. It was my first time on a plane. I did not realise when we took off and when we landed because I had fallen asleep, and suddenly there was this metropolitan city, New Delhi. We went to the Ashok Hotel which is the biggest hotel in Delhi and there, for the first time in my life I saw a full-sized mirror. Paramahamsaji gave me a guided tour of the Ashok Hotel - this is the room, you put the key through this hole in order to open the door, etc. (because in B.S.Y. things did not work like that in those days).

So I suddenly came across this full-sized mirror, and I had never in my life come face to face with one before, I used to hide from Paramahamsaji while he was talking with someone and go and stand in front of that mirror. But, of course, Paramahamsaji noticed - nothing used to escape his eyes.

On the night of the 28th we got on this big jumbo plane. In those days Indian airlines used to have pocket planes. From a pocket plane to a big jumbo - I felt like I had entered a city! I can still recall that image. So many people, just heads and heads in rows, and I said to Paramahamsaji. "This plane will not fly". He asked, "Why?" I said, "There are too many people here".

So off we went and when we landed it was night time. I was looking out of the window and I could not believe I could see so many lights! As far as the eye could see there were just rows and rows of lights and lights and more lights. I said, "Swamiji, what is this?", he said "Well, this is London".

When we came down into the terminal Paramahamsaji got a trolley. "Swamiji can I push that?" He said, "Alright". It was one of those with the locking system. So I was trying and trying to push it but it would not budge. Then Paramahamsaji told me, "Release that handle, just hold here and push". But unfortunately it was one of those crooked ones which always tend to go the wrong way. So, I started pushing but at the end I found Paramahamsaji standing somewhere else. So I just left everything and ran to him and said, "Swamiji it does not go where I want it to go". So again he came and saved the situation.

It was nice in the airport. There were huge neon lights and I had never seen anything like that before. It was like paradise for me at that time. Finally we got out and there were many people waiting for us. We got into a car and by the time we reached the house where we stayed it was late, so we went to sleep.

The next morning when I woke up I went running to Paramahamsaji and said, "Swamiji, why is everything here white?" It had snowed and I had never seen snow before. The trees were all covered with snow, everything was covered with it. I said to Paramahamsaji, "What kind of country is this? The trees are white, the leaves are white, the flowers are white, the ground is white. What is this?" Then he said, "Come with me", and we went out - He picked up a handful of snow and said, "Look, this is snow". After he told me about snow and ice. Another funny experience occurred. I went to the bathroom in the house in which we were staying and saw all these funny things and tried them all. There was no mug near the toilet and also there was this roll of paper and I could not understand why. I looked for a pen, but could not find one. I wondered, "Why are these people keeping paper in their bathroom?". There were some magazines also. "So", I thought, "Perhaps this is the office!" Once again I went up to Paramahamsaji, "Swamiji, there is no mug in the bathroom". He said, "Isn't there any paper?" "Yes, but what do you do with it?". He began to laugh. After that I said "How do I take my bath? I looked, there are no buckets!".

So Paramahamsaji came and gave me my first bath. He put me inside the tub and said, "You sit here and open the tap" - hot water! "Swamiji is there fire?" "Where is this hot water coming from?" He filled up the tub about two inches and said, "First you use this water with some soap, wash yourself, then throw the water out. Then fill it up again to the top". For about one hour I just lay there. That was my first day in England, in 1970 and today I was reminded of it and memories came flooding back to me.

Butter used to be my favourite food - a two-inch thick layer of butter and large slices of white bread, I used to take half of that big slab, put it in between two pieces of bread and eat it. During the week that we stayed in London I ate about ten of those slabs.

At one point I asked Paramahamsaji, "Why are the people here so white? Do they suffer from any disease?" Paramahamsaji said, "No, it is just their colour!" These were very first, childhood experiences in the West.