'Death and birth are simultaneous processes. There is no space in between birth and death.' U.G.
Our stay in London has come to an end. As we take off for San Francisco I replay in my head the incidents of the past week. Someone said, 'Any story told twice is fiction.' U.G. agrees with this someone. He says, 'All autobiographies are lies. And biographies are double lies.' At times I feel that listening to U.G. can really wreck all the work I have done so far on this biography.
We are flying over the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft bumps. 'Fasten your seat-belts,' announces the hostess. 'We are passing through some turbulence...' These bumps send a little shudder through the aircraft. They wake me up or rather make me aware that I am awake. U.G. is sleeping through all this. The flying time from London to San Francisco is eleven hours. The very thought of flying over these long stretches of water scares me. Wanting to get away from the scare, I hasten to pick up the threads of U.G.'s life from the time he left London.
He still had an airline ticket to return to India. He turned it in at Paris and since it was paid for in dollars, he made 350 dollars. For ninety days U.G. lived in Paris in some hotel, wandering in the streets as he had done before in London. The only difference was that now he had some money in his pocket.
While in Paris, U.G. heard of a comment which Charles de Gaulle had made: 'It is difficult to rule a nation which makes 360 varieties of cheese.' For those ninety days that U.G. stayed in Paris he ate a different variety of cheese each day. (Even today cheese is a favorite food of his.)
When U.G. found himself slipping into the old pattern of living he quit Paris. But he resisted returning to India because that involved seeing his family and children. The prospect of that frightened him. He left for Geneva with a hundred and fifty francs or so to spend. He continued to stay in a hotel even after he ran out of his money to pay his bill. After two weeks the hotel management produced the bill. U.G. had no money. He threw up his arms. The only recourse left to him was to go to the Indian Consulate.
'Send me to India. I am finished, you see,' he said to the officials of the Consulate. As he said this, U.G.'s resistance to return to India dissolved. He took out his scrapbook and presented it to the Vice-Consul: 'One of the most brilliant speakers that India has ever produced.' It contained, among other things, the opinions of Norman Cousins and Radhakrishnan about his talents. The Vice-Consul was impressed but said, 'We can't send this kind of man to India at the expense of the Government of India. Try and get some money from India and in the meantime come and stay with me.'
It was here that U.G. met Valentine de Kerven who was witnessing the exchange between him and the Vice-Consul with great interest. Valentine was a translator at the Indian Consulate. As destiny would have it, that day she happened to be there at the front desk because the receptionist was absent. She and U.G. started talking and soon became close friends. She said, 'If you want I can arrange for you to stay in Switzerland. If you don't want to go to India, don't go.' After a month the Consulate turned U.G. away but he somehow managed to get along with the help of Valentine. It was Valentine who created a home for U.G. in Switzerland. She eventually gave up her job. She was not a rich woman. But the little money she had along with her pension was enough for both of them to live on.
Madame Valentine de Kerven was a remarkable woman in her own right. Born in Switzerland in August 1901, she was the daughter of a famous brain surgeon whose books were translated into twenty languages. Her father is also cited in the medical textbooks for his discovery, named "de Kerven Syndrome" after him. Her grandfather was a clergyman. Valentine left Switzerland for Paris at the age of eighteen, to lead an independent life. She was never a believer in any religious doctrine and was a revolutionary in more ways than one. U.G. never saw her shed a tear in all their years together.
Valentine belonged to a group of artists and writers. She was interested in photography and modern art and was an active member of a French experimental theater group. She became closely associated with the poet-philosopher, Antonin Artaud, who was also an anarchist. With Dullin she gave a presentation of a play written by Artaud. She used to design costumes as well. She was a trained nurse too and worked with the Red Cross in Switzerland during and after the War.
Valentine lived openly with a male friend, which in those days was considered a social offence. She and her friend were the first to cross the uncharted Sahara desert on motorcycles. She was also the first woman to wear pants in Paris. She made a documentary on gypsies and was the first female film producer in France. Her production company was called "de Kerven Films". She also made documentary films on her father's medical research.
She made an unsuccessful attempt to join the fight against Franco and the Fascists in Spain. In the Fifties, she drove from Switzerland to India, a trip which turned out to be the first of many she would make.
Since this chance meeting in the Indian Consulate in Geneva, U.G.'s and Valentine's lives melded. They remained 'traveling companions with no destination' till the sunset of her life.
At eighty-five, Valentine was struck by Alzheimer's disease. She began to slow down; her memory began to fade. But somehow the glow in her eyes continued to twinkle till the very end. Toward the end of her life she lived with her friends in Bangalore, a South Indian family, whom she had met in 1969.
On 20 January 1991, as the Allied forces persistently bombed and battered Iraq, a telephone call announced, 'Valentine is dead... She passed away peacefully this evening.' She was ninety. Her death ran contrary to astrological predictions, which gave her a hundred years to live.
At the time of Valentine's death U.G. was in California. When the news of her death was conveyed to him he gave the friends who had been looking after her, instructions for the last rites in a quiet and unemotional manner: 'She is a foreigner. You need the permission of the police to cremate her body. The Swiss Consulate in Bombay should also be informed of her death. Her body may be cremated without any ceremony since she had no religious belief of any kind. What will you do with the ashes?' U.G. asked. 'They will be placed in the waters of the sacred river, Kaveri,' replied the friends.
Valentine, who had created the Fund for the Travels of U.G. Krishnamurti from her inheritance, was often asked by people all over the world why she had dedicated her life and her entire fortune just to be with U.G. She never responded to such queries. A small paragraph from her diary, written in French (translated here) says it all: 'Where can I find a man like him? I have at last met a man, a man the like of whom can be met very rarely.'
In 1953, while U.G. was traveling through the beautiful valley of Saanen in the Alps, something in him said, 'Get off the train and spend some time here.' He did exactly that. While he was there he said to himself, 'This is the place where I must spend the rest of my life.' He had plenty of money then, but his wife did not share his inclination. She hated the climate. Ever since, living in Saanen had remained an unfulfilled dream for U.G. And now, just like that, it had materialized. Valentine set up a house for U.G. in Saanen.
And then, one day, J. Krishnamurti arrived there. He started holding talks and meetings in the Saanen Valley every summer. U.G. at that time was not interested in Krishnamurti, or for that matter in anything. Not once, till his forty-ninth year, did he ever discuss with Valentine his interest in truth or reality, etc. Though there was no trace of any search left in him, nor the desire to seek after anything, he felt that something strange was happening to him.
During that time (he refers to it as the 'incubation period'), all kinds of things were happening inside of him—constant headaches and terrible 'pains in the brain.' He consumed huge quantities of aspirin to relieve himself, with no success. One day Valentine said to him, 'Do you know the amount of money you are spending on your aspirin and coffee? You are drinking fifteen cups of coffee every day. Do you know what it means in terms of money? It is three or four hundred francs per month. What is this?' U.G. could not explain to anybody the nature of the headaches he suffered in those days.
'All kinds of strange things happened to me. I remember when I rubbed my body like this, there was a sparkle, like a phosphorus glow, on the body. Valentine used to run out of her bedroom to see—she thought there were cars going that way in the middle of the night. Every time I rolled in my bed there was a spark of light. It was so funny. It was electricity—that is why I say it is an electromagnetic field. At first I thought it was because of my nylon clothes and static electricity; but then I stopped wearing nylon. I was a very skeptical heretic, to the tips of my toes. I never believed in anything. Even if I saw some miracle happen before me, I didn't accept that at all—such was the make-up of this man. It never occurred to me that anything of that sort was in the making for me.'
Since the whole 'spiritual business' was out of his system, U.G. did not relate whatever was happening to him to liberation or moksha. But somehow, at the back of his mind, the question about 'What is that state called moksha or enlightenment?' persisted.
In the year 1963, it was impossible to walk on the streets of Gstaad without bumping into J. Krishnamurti. U.G. always tried to avoid him, as he no longer saw any reason for both of them to meet. One day, when he was returning home, it started raining heavily. U.G. was soaking wet. At that moment, Krishnamurti's Mercedes came to a screeching halt. The door flung open and he shouted to U.G., 'Hop in, quick!' 'Thanks,' U.G. said, 'but I haven't insured my life. And I don't trust your driving.' 'Suit yourself,' said Krishnamurti and he drove away.
In April 1967, U.G. happened to be in Paris with Valentine. Some of his friends suggested, 'Why don't you go and listen to your old friend, Krishnamurti? He is here giving talks.' As Valentine had never heard Krishnamurti before, U.G. thought that they should go. When they got there, they had to pay a two-franc admission charge to go in. U.G. was not ready for that. He said, 'Let's do something foolish. Let's go to Casino de Paris.' Even though it cost twenty francs they went there. While watching the show U.G. had a strange experience. 'I didn't know whether the dancer was dancing on the stage or I was doing the dancing. There was a peculiar kind of movement inside of me. There was no division. There was nobody who was looking at the dancer.' This experience, which lasted till they came out of the theater, puzzled U.G.
The last time he had a dream was a week after this incident. In the dream he was bitten by a cobra and died instantly. His body was carried on a bamboo stretcher to the cremation ground. It was placed on a funeral pyre. The flame from the fire awakened him with a start. He found that his electric blanket was on high. This dream was a prelude to his 'death'.
Even though U.G. no longer dreams, he continues to have what can be called 'death experiences.' To call them 'death experiences' is misleading because death cannot be experienced by him or anybody. As U.G. says, 'It is not something poetic and romantic, like "dying to all your yesterdays". Death and birth are simultaneous processes. There is no space in between birth and death.'
This death that U.G. undergoes occurs in all kinds of situations and places. Once in Rome he had gone to see a James Bond movie along with some of his friends, including Dr. F. Leboyer, the well-known authority on natural childbirth. In one scene, gun shots were fired. Leboyer found U.G. collapsing on the floor. He was alarmed. A few seconds later, U.G. revived. Leboyer said, 'The way you fell, U.G., was exactly like a man who has been shot.' Lebyoyer went on to say that as U.G. was recovering, his movements were similar to those of a newborn baby. U.G. said, 'Those movements were the origin of Yoga. The movements bring the body back to its natural rhythm. What is called Hatha Yoga today is nothing but acrobatics.'
Each time, this 'death' happens to U.G. in a different way. It cannot be anticipated. There is no way of knowing how and when it will occur. It is one of those 'strange, unexpected happenings'. For U.G., it is a renewal of the body. He says that once the body cannot renew itself through this process, what we call 'final death' will occur. U.G. describes the process in this way: 'It is quite similar to actual death—cold feet and hands, stiffening of the body and gasping for breath.'
An observer of this process said that U.G. appeared to him like a corpse. U.G. is unable to describe what actually happens during this condition. He says: 'This is totally unrelated to what people call the near-death experiences.' He adds, 'They are only useful for writing books, conducting seminars and making money.' He says that the process is not something that happens only to him. It happens to every living organism on this planet including the planet itself. He says the reason people are not aware of this process is that they are blocked by their thought.
The events in the Casino de Paris followed by the dream in which U.G. saw his body burning, was just the beginning of a series of even stranger events that were to occur later.