UG Krishnamurti: A Life

  The Encounter  ·  Early Years  ·  Life Among Theosophists  ·  Locking of Horns  ·  Adrift In London  ·  Endings  ·  What Is That State?  ·  Calamity  ·  Aftermath  ·  Years After  ·  The Never-ending Story  ·  A Taste of Death  ·  Conversations


Adrift In London

'Experiences of others, much less our own experiences do not help us to change anything at all. If it were not so all our lives would be one sweet song.' U.G.

In the year 1961, U.G. landed in London, alone and penniless. 'There was no will to do anything. I was like a leaf blown here, there and everywhere.' His friends saw him going headlong on a downhill course. But, according to U.G., all that he did at that time seemed perfectly natural to him. The mystic phrase, 'the dark night of the soul', has been used to describe those years of U.G.'s wanderings. U.G. disagrees. In his view, 'There was no heroic struggle with temptation and worldliness, no soul-wrestling urges, no poetic climaxes but just a simple withering away of the will.'

To escape from the English winter cold, U.G. spent his days in the London city library sitting on a chair next to the one in which Karl Marx sat and wrote Das Kapital. The only book that interested him was the Thesaurus of American Underground Slang. During the nights he wandered the streets reading the names and telephone numbers of call girls written on the trees.

One day U.G. said to himself, 'This kind of life is no good. I have practically become a bum living on the charity of people. This is a shoddy life. I have gone insane.'

Another day, after a night of wandering in the streets, U.G. was sitting in Hyde Park when a policeman confronted him. He warned him to leave and threatened to lock him up if he didn't. U.G. had only five pence in his pocket. 'Go to the Ramakrishna Mission,' said a voice in his head. U.G. took the tube as far as the five pence could take him. Then he walked the rest of the way to the Mission. It was ten o'clock at night when he got there.

'You can't see him now,' said the staff members of the Mission in answer to U.G.'s request to meet the Swami. As luck would have it, the Swami himself emerged. U.G. placed his scrapbook of newspaper cuttings on his background and lectures before the Swami. 'This was me, and this is me now,' said U.G. to the Swami. 'What do you want?' the Swami asked. U.G. only wanted his permission to enter the meditation room for the night. The Swami explained that he could not allow that as it was against the Mission's policy. However, he gave U.G. some money and offered him a room for the next day. 'Stay in a hotel tonight and come back tomorrow,' he said.

U.G. returned to the ashram at noon the next day. He was invited for lunch. 'For the first time in a long time I had a real meal. I had lost even the appetite for food. I didn't know what hunger was or thirst was,' said U.G., describing the state he was reduced to at that time.

'I am singularly incapable of doing any literary work. I will wash your dishes or do something else. But I can't write anything,' said U.G. when the Swami asked him to help him in bringing out the Vivekananda centenary issue. The Swami said that he was looking for a man with a background in Indian philosophy. His assistant, who used to do the editorial work, had ended up in a mental hospital. The Swami declared that he was in a fix. U.G. desperately tried to drive home the point that he had a problem with writing. But the Swami did not yield.

While working on the centenary issue, U.G. was paid five pounds as were the Swamis in the Mission. U.G. had lost the sense of the value of money. There was a time when he could write a check for a hundred thousand rupees. With those five pounds U.G. decided to see every film that was on in London. He stayed at the Mission, worked in the morning, ate at 1 p.m., and then went off to a film. Soon he exhausted all his money and had seen every film in and around London.

'Why are they doing all those silly things?' U.G. used to wonder, seeing people meditate at the Ramakrishna Mission. He himself was through with the entire game. Then one day, he had a very strange experience in the meditation room.

I was sitting doing nothing, looking at all those people, pitying them. 'These people are meditating. Why do they want to go in for samadhi? They are not going to get anything—I have been through all that—they are kidding themselves. What can I do to save them from wasting all their lives, doing all that kind of thing? It is not going to lead them anywhere.' I was sitting there and in my mind there was nothing—there was only blankness—when I felt something very strange: there was some kind of movement inside of my body. Some energy was coming up from the penis and out through the head, as if there was a hole. It was moving in circles in a clockwise direction and then in a counterclockwise direction. It was like the Wills cigarette advertisement at the airport. It was such a funny thing for me. But I didn't relate it to anything at all. I was a finished man. Somebody was feeding me, somebody was taking care of me, there was no thought of the morrow. Yet inside of me something was happening... Then after three months U.G. said to the Swami, 'I am going. I can't do this kind of thing.' When U.G. left the Ramakrishna Mission in London, the Swami gave him fifty pounds. Here is an interesting letter which U.G. wrote to the Swami shortly before he left the Mission:

7 September '63

My Dear Swamiji,

I have just been told by Maharaj that the eye operation has been a success and that you are well on your way to complete recovery, and that you will be returning to the Center in a week or so. This is very good news. And we are all looking forward to seeing you back at the Center ere long.

I would like to pay you a visit, but certainly not if this will in any way cause strain to you. If it isn't too much of a strain, it would give me great pleasure to see you at the Hospital, and you may be assured that it will be a very short one.

I wish to God I knew what hidden hand led me to the Center. When you suggested helping you out with some kind of editing work, I did not for a moment hesitate to fall in with your kind suggestion. What I did not know was that I would be having the most Blessed Moments of my life here at the Center. It is needless to add that it has been a great privilege to have associated myself with you, and I feel greatly refreshed both in mind and body.

That, however, apart, my continued stay here at the Center and the necessary atmosphere for alert and strenuous discernment in meditation have helped me tremendously. The hidden agony of my life which no human being could understand has dissolved itself into thin air, as it were, and this has awakened me to what may loosely be called a kind of spiritual sleepwalking. I have pulled myself out from what looked like the edge of an abyss.

You know that there are very rare occasions in the lives of most of us when we have brief experiences of existing beyond time. I too have had several such moments. But this has been more than fleeting and has indeed become an abiding certainty. Nevertheless the strains and stresses of adjusting myself to a whole new way of life resulted in a peculiar state of mind hedged with some kind of indolence, maybe a form of conceit, which only meant greater and greater sorrow but left with a kind of empty expectancy. I may have achieved a certain calmness, but that calmness was of death-producing languor. But I have always felt and still feel that one has to haul oneself out of one's own swamps by one's own bootstraps.

However, all my strenuous and directed attention hasn't helped me much to break the vicious circle. Well, now, through the touch of the inscrutable Divine power of Sri Ramakrishna, I have been blessed beyond words with the clarity of perception. And this calmness is a calmness without a trace of languor or contentment or watchful expectancy but one of completeness and wholeness. Need I say that when I burst forth into the world—the joy which overflows the heart is indeed bursting forth—I will be a new man?

With deep and affectionate regards,

Ever yours,

U.G. Krishnamurti

The news of U.G.'s wanderings had traveled to India. This is when Mr. Bhave wrote to him in London urging him to meet Krishnamurti. All those years Krishnamurti had been asking Bhave about U.G. and his family. He was eager to know about U.G. personally and about his son's condition after the treatment in the United States. U.G. was not particularly anxious to meet him. Yet he wrote to him. The next day Krishnamurti phoned him saying, 'You may come over. We shall go for a walk in Richmond Park and talk things over.' When U.G. went there that evening, it began raining heavily. Instead of going for a walk, they sat near the fireplace and talked. U.G. told him that his son's recovery had been astounding. He was now able to walk. 'What are you doing here?' Krishnamurti asked U.G. 'You don't look well. Why don't you go back to India?' U.G. answered, 'I am adrift here in London. I have nothing to do and I don't want to go back to India. My family will try to reconnect with me, which I don't want. I am finished with them.' Then Krishnamurti said, 'If your family tries to see you, tell them that you are not available.' His answer amused U.G. He smiled and asked Krishnamurti, 'Have you ever had any family?' Krishnamurti ignored the question.

They sat there in silence for some time. All of a sudden Krishnamurti asked, 'Why are you trying to detach yourself from your family?' U.G. looked at him. Evidently he had no understanding of what was happening deep within him. 'I am not trying to detach myself. You can't understand me,' he said. 'Shall we go into the subject of why you are not attached to your family, Sir?' Krishnamurti persisted. That was too much for U.G. 'Sorry,' he said, 'I haven't come here to discuss my family affairs with you. To quote a Telugu proverb, you seem to have the same medicine for "both being struck by lightning, and being choked by rice". I am not here to seek any help from you.' Before U.G. left, Krishnamurti persuaded him to attend the twelve talks he was giving in Wimbledon.

Reluctantly, U.G. attended the first three talks. At the end of each talk Krishnamurti came to U.G. and gripping his hand, asked, 'How was it? Has it helped you, Sir?' U.G. replied saying that he hadn't paid any attention. 'Mahesh, actually, he bored me stiff with the same old stuff,' he told me. That was U.G.'s last visit with Krishnamurti.

The following is the last letter which U.G. wrote on 30 December 1961, to his wife, ending their relationship:

I have received today on my return here your letter of 11 September, 1961. It's quite obvious that I have failed to open your eyes and make you understand the reality of the situation. It hurts me to hear, from time to time, the suicide attempts of yours. But my detachment from you and my passive acceptance of your actions is a solid piece of fact. It is not apathy. There isn't a whiff of apathy in me. The bond of the family relationships has simply fallen away from me.

I have thought long and hard about this matter. You know I am not the sort of person to be persuaded in these matters and I do not act on impulse. Let the marriage wither on the vine. Neither of us can bear to see the ravages of pain in the other. Let us prefer to cling to the memory of the past. You have not, perhaps, much of a sweet memory to live with or cling to. Maybe you have a lot of things to cry over. Yes, I am quite as mentally broken down as you are, but it manifests itself in a different way in me. In the past, I may have beaten you and used insulting language toward you. All that is over and done with now. If you feel the agony about me which you say in your letters you feel, I can well understand your feelings. I know you love me deeply. And I loved you dearly too in spite of our many bickerings and constant battles. But this 'broken wing fixation' will destroy you. You can't base your life on sentiment alone and that cannot be the basis of any marriage.

We have known each other for eighteen years. It is impossible to forget the ties of those eighteen years. Old habits and memories have a strange way of surviving. I can never forget you, and I know nothing else will ever equal my feelings for you in intensity. When we first met I liked you very much. That impression will continue, unchanged by anything that has happened since then. In the nature of things, it cannot be otherwise. The bond between us is a 'subtle inner force', which the Sanskrit poet says is the essence of love. It is not 'erotic sentiment'. What happened to 'the feeling that you feel when you have a feeling you never felt before'? I wouldn't know. But we are now at the end of our tether. Tears and torments may have been your lot, but continued angry words, bitterness and rancor, however justified they may be, do not take us anywhere. This sustained nastiness for long periods is neither desirable nor useful. Anger is a terrible corrosive. It may seem advantageous to use 'blackmailing weapons', which is the chief ammunition in the arsenal of your family, and it may bring temporary relief to you, but in the long run it is our children who will suffer.

We cannot blame anybody for the mess we have made in the lives of the young ones. I may have laid a harvest of woe for our children, and I know that it will be laid up at my door that I have left my own children bewildered, with nothing in life to look forward to but sadness. I do not see any reason why things should be any more difficult than they have been. Your stubborn unwillingness to admit the facts of our situation is also responsible for the anguish of our situation.

Why is it, with all the will in the world, I cannot understand what is so obvious to you? Well, anyway, I would rather let things go to the devil in their own way than try to go back to the past. Since we get exactly what we ask for, no more and no less, there is no question of any atonement on my part for the way things have turned out. Everyone weaves his own destiny. If our children take beatings at the cruel hand of fate, I feel that I am not wholly responsible. They are as much your children as they are mine. Let not the idea that I have left you destitute overwhelm you. You have your own name, your degrees and your own properties. Why I acted the way I did and still act is difficult to grasp. But if they are held up against the mirror of my own peculiar interpretation, my actions show a logic of their own. For all I know, life may not run on logic. Whether it is right or wrong, it in no way changes the pain of the situation. But there is nothing that I can do to change the course of events.

One more thought. Postponing a problem of course does not solve it. There is a way out of an unhappy marriage. When one partner breaks the law of commitment, the right accrues to the other of breaking the bond. The woman is not the husband's bond slave but his companion, and as an equal partner is as free as the husband to choose her own way of life. Since the new Hindu Code Bill provides for divorce, why don't you find some grounds either for divorce or legal separation? That would save a lot of mental anguish for us both. Do not for a moment think that I am asking you to do anything I would not do myself. But, personally, it does not matter to me one way or the other.

There is no reason for me to return to India. Be happy and stay happy. I wish you the best and the finest.


U.G. never heard from her again. If there is any significance to the number seven and cycles of multiples of seven I do not know, but U.G.'s married life lasted twenty-one years, even if they did not live together all those years. U.G.'s wife died in 1963. No one knew where U.G. was at that time. One of his cousins who lived in England at that time sent a letter addressed to a friend of U.G.'s in London informing him of his wife's death. His friend did not know of U.G.'s whereabouts. Six months later, when U.G. happened to visit him, his friend handed him the letter. He did not see any reaction on U.G.'s face when he read the letter. He asked him, 'What does the letter say?' U.G. replied, 'It says my wife died six months ago.' That's all he said to his friend. But he wrote a letter to his children expressing his sympathy for their loss.

The younger daughter wrote back telling him about her mother's last years after the breakup with U.G. U.G.'s wife had gone into a deep state of despondency and depression and had to be hospitalized. She received electric shock treatments. She came out of the hospital within a few weeks of the treatment and died in an accident in which she had slipped and broken her neck.

U.G. did not return to India. He lost contact with his children. In 1967, when he returned after almost fourteen years, his daughters were married and had children of their own.

When I think of U.G.'s children I am reminded in particular, of Vasant Kumar. That name brings back memories of perhaps the most intense days spent with U.G. in that summer of 1982 in Bombay. Vasant was one of India's leading copywriters. His face flickers on the screen of my mind. He was a handsome boy, soft, sweet, quiet. I was there one evening when he complained to U.G. about the pain in his back. Little did any one of us know then that in a few days he would die of sarcoma (galloping cancer). He was only thirty-two then. U.G. was in Bangalore when he received a telegram which stated that Vasant had cancer. His reaction, it is said, was not remotely close to that of a father. He was 'abnormally' casual. Our friends in Bangalore insisted that U.G. should spend the remainder of his time in India with his son in Bombay.

U.G.'s flight to Bombay arrived late in the evening. I was waiting to pick him up and take him straight to Vasant who was by then in a hospital. 'How is your newborn son?' asked U.G. warmly as soon as he saw me. I searched his face to look for traces of anxiety. But U.G. looked normal—absolutely normal. I was certain that it was not pretended. As we drove to the city hospital he said, 'So the death watch has begun. I only hope that the cancer does not spread to the brain.'

In the last days of his life, Vasant had U.G. visiting him every day. U.G. was a peculiar blend of a friend, a nurse and a comforter. How concerned he was about Vasant's prognosis! To make matters worse, Valentine fell ill suddenly. She contracted tuberculosis. She too had to be hospitalized. U.G. and I now had to shuffle between two hospitals at the opposite ends of the city.

'How can U.G. be an enlightened man? He is behaving like any ordinary father. Look at the way he hangs around the hospital all the time...' No matter what U.G. did in that situation, people criticized. His calmness on receiving the news had infuriated the people in Bangalore. 'He is being callous, heartless. He should be with his dying son. What kind of a jivanmukta is this?' they screamed. When he heaped all his attention and affection on his dying son, they said, 'He is just an ordinary guy.' All this talk left U.G. unaffected.

'He is dead,' said U.G., in a matter-of-fact tone over the telephone. He asked me to meet him at the hospital to make arrangements for the funeral. We had known that Vasant's end was near. One of my friends had hoped that U.G. would perform a miracle. As we walked to the hospital after hearing the news of Vasant's death, my friend believed even then that U.G. would bring his son back to life. What actually happened at the hospital took us totally by surprise. U.G. wanted the body to be removed and cremated immediately without any ceremonies. The hospital would not release the body until all the bills were paid. It was 6 a.m. and our total combined resources were nowhere near the amount needed.

Then U.G. laughed and said, 'You can forget about your sentiments and solemnity surrounding death. In the end it all comes down to money.' We were shocked. We all found his conduct quite lacking in the decorum that such an occasion demanded. The expected miracle did not occur. We were amazed at U.G. There was no trace of emotion in him. He simply attended to the legal formalities that were necessary for the cremation and walked away from the scene.

As I watched the corpse reduced to ashes, what U.G. had said earlier flashed through my mind: 'If medical technology cannot save this boy who is dying of cancer, no power in the world can help him. If some of you feel that the avatar Sai Baba who is in town now can save him, seek his help by all means. He can't do a thing.' Vasant's friends did see Sai Baba. Vasant died the very next day.

I was shattered by Vasant's death. It formed the basis of a film that I made in later years. The film was called 'Saransh'. It won the Critics Award in Moscow in the year 1985.

It was during one of our drives to the lawyer's office in downtown Bombay, where Vasant's estate matters were being sorted out, that I asked U.G. an uncomfortable question: 'Do you have any regret, any remorse for doing what you did to your wife and kids?' 'No,' he said. 'Tell me, U.G., if you have to live your life again, what would you do?' His reply: 'If I have to relive my life all over again, things would not be any different. Experiences of others, much less our own experiences, do not help us to change anything at all. If it were not so, all our lives would be one sweet song.'