Lately I have often been having this feeling that I have spent these past few days assembling the pieces of an impossible puzzle called U.G. This quiet dawn echoes my desperation. My inability to sum up U.G.'s life becomes sharper as the daylight seeps into this pitch dark room. 'You don't know me. You think you know me,' said U.G. to a friend during the course of a telephone conversation. These words, like bullets ricocheted to me and before I could blink, they exploded all my claims of knowing U.G. intimately. Despite spending endless hours on this biography, I am still miles away from my goal of giving a fair account of this man and his life. Talking about the myth of Icarus and using it as a device to romanticize defeat is one thing. Staring at one's charred self-esteem after it has taken a thrashing and knowing very well that there are no spiritual payoffs, is quite another story.
In a quest-adventure story usually the central character sets out to find or learn or do something. Passing through trials along the way, the character finally succeeds or at least survives, often at great personal cost. But that is not the end. Having won through, the character returns home, in part to be rewarded, and also to share the benefits of the experience with the family, tribe, nation or mankind, whether these benefits be tangible treasures or intangible insight and wisdom.
So after his quest of forty-nine years and his extraordinary physiological transformation, what does U.G. have to offer to the world which is desperately looking for something to keep it from falling apart? U.G., when asked about what had happened to him as a result of the 'calamity', usually has recourse to the "Peanuts" cartoon and says:
I don't know why it happened or when it happened or how it happened. I don't even know what happened. Did something happen? U.G. also illustrates his point with the following Indian parable: Once, twelve children were playing in an uninhabited part of a village. There they discovered an image of Ganesh, the elephant god, the god of beginnings, the deity that makes all your wishes come true. They started dancing and singing around this image. The pot belly of the god's image attracted the attention of one of the boys; out of curiosity he stuck his finger in its navel. He felt something sting his finger. Instantly he withdrew his finger from the navel. Instead of crying out in pain, he pretended to his playmates that something extraordinary had happened to him. The boy closest to him followed suit. One after another the rest of the boys tried the same. Except for the last—the youngest. 'It's a scorpion!' he cried. Everyone nodded their heads and they all joined him in crying. U. G. is like the little boy in the above story who is screaming to the world that he has been 'stung by a scorpion'. Excerpts from the book, Thought is Your Enemy
, replay that 'scream':
Whatever has happened to me has happened despite everything I did. Whatever I did or did not do and whatever events people believed led me into this are totally irrelevant. It is very difficult for me to fix a point now and tell myself that this is me and look back and try to find out the cause for whatever happened to me. That is why I am emphasizing all the time that it is acausal. It is something like, to use my favorite phrase, lightning hitting you. But one thing I can say with certainty is that the very thing I searched for all my life was shattered to pieces. The goals that I had set for myself, self-realization, God-realization, transformation, radical or otherwise, were all false. And there was nothing there to be realized and nothing to be found there. The very demand to be free from anything, even from the physical needs of the body, just disappeared. And I was left with nothing. Therefore, whatever comes out of me now depends on what you draw out of me. I have actually and factually nothing to communicate, because there is no communication possible at any level. The only instrument we have is the intellect. We know in a way that this instrument has not helped us to understand anything. So when once it dawns on you that that is not the instrument and there is no other instrument to understand anything, you are left with this puzzling situation that there is nothing to understand. In a way it would be highly presumptuous on my part to sit on a platform, accept invitations and try to tell people that I have something to say.
What I am left with is something extraordinary—extraordinary in the sense that it has been possible for me not through any effort, not through any volition of mine. Everything that every man thought, felt and experienced before has been thrown out of my system.
There is no teaching of mine and never shall be one. 'Teaching' is not the word for it. A teaching implies a method or a system, a technique or a new way of thinking to be applied in order to bring about a transformation in your way of life. What I am saying is outside the field of teachability. It is simply a description of the way I am functioning. It is just a description of the natural state of man. That is the way you, stripped of the machinations of thought, are also functioning.
Your natural state has no relationship whatsoever with the religious states of bliss, beatitude and ecstasy. They lie within the field of experience. Those who have led man on his search for religiousness throughout the centuries have perhaps experienced those religious states. So can you. They are thought induced states of being and as they come, so do they go... The timeless can never be experienced, can never be grasped, contained, much less given expression to by any man. That beaten track will lead you nowhere. There is no oasis situated yonder. You are stuck with the mirage.
'Doesn't an encounter with you help people in any way in their quests?' I asked U.G. in the kitchen as he was teaching me to fix the washing machine. 'Look, during your stay here, you have learned to make coffee, toast your bread, use the washing machine and wash your dishes like anybody else. These are the only things you will learn from me,' he said laughingly. 'Jokes apart, tell me. I have a deadline to meet, damn it! What can people get out of you?' I persisted.
My way of life and what I am saying will not help people to face the difficult situations in their lives. If there is any potential in them, it will surface. But this doesn't apply to spiritual progress or potential because that doesn't exist. If you are a murderer, you will murder with finesse. This doesn't mean that I condone murder but whatever is there in you will bloom. When I look back at my life with its successes and its failures and its endless errors, I know for certain that had it not been for U.G., I wouldn't be here today. Whenever I am with U.G. I find a mighty current of strength coursing through my heart. The few words I speak and write are only through the force of that current gained by coming in contact with him. I do not for a moment think that I have any greatness of my own. Inhaling the memory of the times spent with him fills me with vigor and courage. I often ask myself what value all that he says has for me. In fact, it has none. I still am and perhaps will always remain what I am. Though I am a 'somebody' now, deep down inside I know I am ordinary—a somebody who is in fact a nobody. I have tried every creed, and they have all failed to comfort me. Where do I go from here? U.G. says, 'Get up and go.'
What he says is unacceptable, and how he says it is revolting. No wonder a philosopher of great repute christened him as a 'cosmic Naxalite'. Never have I seen or met a man who is so certain about what he is saying. It is this certainty which plays havoc with our attitudes and platitudes. U.G. says, 'As long as you are there you are dead. And if by some chance or accident this you, as you know yourself, is absent, even for a trillionth of a second, that is when you will touch life. But you will never know what is there.'
Bernard Selby, the English postman I had met in Kodai in the year 1979, who is now a Labor leader in Manchester and aspiring to be a member of Parliament, once gave voice to my feelings: I know U.G. for fourteen years and there again I don't know U.G. I know him and I don't know him at the same time. I think that with him, the more you get to know him the more you discover that in a sense you don't know a great deal about him...
When I see U.G., he affirms in me a negative sense. He deepens my ignorance.
How does this living quality operate in U.G.'s life—his day-to-day life? U.G. says, 'I sit, I eat, I walk, I talk and I travel.' But there is a lot more to the story, a never-ending story, and now I will let the story tell itself. After the 'calamity', U.G. returned to India. His visits to India are now regular. Every year while he is in India, he divides his time between Bombay, Bangalore and of late Delhi.
Though U.G. says that he does not discuss personal problems, the fact is that hundreds of people all over the world have undergone total change after coming into contact with him. I have observed that for some reason people who are 'mentally ill' get U.G.'s very special attention.
'Why do all the crazy people come only to you, papa?' my daughter Puja once asked. 'So that I can drive them completely mad and then hand them over to U.G.,' was my reply.
Some of U.G.'s friends who believe in the doctrine of karma say, 'Since U.G. abandoned his wife, who was then mentally ill, he had to pay now by caring for all the maddies.'
'Why are you talking to all these people? Do you know that only the four walls of this house are benefited by what you are saying?' said Kalyani, cutting into a conversation that a group of leading psychiatrists were having with U.G. one evening in Bangalore. 'Do you know the difference between a schizophrenic and a paranoid?' she asked the doctors. And then without even waiting for their response she started explaining:
'The difference is very thin. Take the example of a girl who comes out of a midnight movie. She is apprehensive and anxious that the driver of the autorickshaw she got into would molest her, as she is alone. This is a schizophrenic. Now the paranoid believes that she is actually going through an experience of being raped.'
Kalyani was one of the most fascinating women I came across around U.G. in Bangalore. She must have been in her late fifties when I first saw her. That was ten years ago. Her presence was dazzling. She had a history of mental illness and had spent some time in a mental hospital in Delhi. She hailed from a cultured South Indian family. Her husband was a bureaucrat; so was her son-in-law. At one time Kalyani also taught mathematics in a high school. Kalyani suffered from the mania of showering all her money, jewelry and other valuables on the temple priests and holy men. It was because of this that her family members committed her to a mental hospital. Ironically, it was the testimony of those priests to whom she gave all the money that led to her being institutionalized.
Kalyani used to wander aimlessly on the streets of Bangalore before she met U.G. For the remaining years of her life, U.G. became her anchor. He gave her some money every month for her expenses, and also helped her to find a place to live. I can hardly get over those exhilarating moments of exchanges between the 'mad woman and the sage'.
'After I met U.G., any difference between the street and the home has disappeared,' Kalyani remarked. She had once healed a lady friend of severe neck pain by a mere touch. When the friend thanked her, Kalyani said, 'You must thank U.G. I am just a surrogate.' Her singing and dancing and her begging for money kept everybody enthralled. U.G. always put a little money in her hands each time she visited, even though he knew that she would give all that money away or drop it in a mail box.
Even when Kalyani was dying of breast cancer she refused to receive any medical help. She looked like an open wound when I saw her for the last time. The cancer had eaten into her chest. Despite her condition, she came out into the street to greet U.G. when he paid her a visit. 'Help me to die, U.G.,' she cried, 'you are the only one who can...' U.G. held Kalyani's hand and for a while they both stood in silence. A few months later Kalyani died, leaving behind all her earthly belongings to U.G. They consisted of a few torn saris and other clothing, and seven thousand rupees. As always, U.G. passed this money on to others.
The story of the role U.G. played in Parveen's battle with insanity has never been told. Perhaps the time has now come to tell it all.
'Back to normal! I am fit to work without a break now! Parveen Babi,' screamed a headline of the number one gossip magazine Stardust. With that Parveen Babi was back 'forever' from her trip to Europe, U.G., and insanity. Back in the world of films, ready to run in the race once again...
But I could not be with U.G. forever. I have to live my life myself. U.G. cannot live my life for me, just the way I cannot live his life. And now that I am back, I miss him but I am not lost without him.
Parveen Babi—to Stardust magazine on her arrival in Bombay in 1980.
After her first breakdown, Parveen had accompanied U.G. to Bali. At the time she was limping back to what is called 'functional sanity'. While they were away, a news item appeared in the India Today announcing that U.G. and Parveen were married and were now honeymooning in the exotic Bali islands. This news created an uproar. When the media confronted U.G. on his arrival in Bombay about the authenticity of the report, U.G. said, 'I wish it were true. What more does an old man like me want? Parveen is a famous actress—rich, young and beautiful. What more can I ask for?' The reporters were aghast at U.G.'s answer. Later, when U.G.'s friends suggested that he should file a legal suit against India Today and claim damages for defaming him, U.G. laughingly said, 'If it is true, it should not hurt me. If it is false, it should not hurt me—in any case it should not hurt me at all.'
Behind Parveen's 'all is well' exterior loomed the terror of sinking once again into the abyss of madness. U.G. had tried to get her out of the 'dog-eat-dog' world of the Bombay movie industry. But soon he gave up. He knew that a relapse was inevitable. It was just a matter of time.
She told U.G. while she was spending some time with him and Valentine in Switzerland, 'If I stay here, I will go mad. If I return to Bombay, I will go mad there also. I don't know what to do.' To which U.G. said, 'Better go to Bombay and go mad there...' He thought her only way out of the impending doom of insanity might be to lead a sort of a protected life, like that of a nun.
Later, in July 1983, Parveen once again had a breakdown.
The following excerpts are reproduced from an article which appeared in the Illustrated Weekly of India dated 29 January 1984.
This time U.G.'s attitude was not protective or patronizing like the last time. He told me he would not be able to give me any advice, that I was well enough to make my own decisions... For me it has come to this. If I stay in the film industry I lose my head. So I am staying out. Sorry, but I just can't take it any more. For the first time in my life, I am finished. Done with it all: my fame, my success, my identity as an actress and my old life. I have come to U.G. because I feel he is the only man who can help me bridge over to whatever fate has in store for me... I am now in America with U.G. and Valentine resting, doing everyday chores like cooking, cleaning, watering plants, etc. I have never felt more secure, peaceful and happy.
One year later, on 4 April 1984, on her birthday, Parveen suddenly disappeared from U.G.'s house in London. 'She could be flying down to India,' said U.G., informing me of her disappearance. He asked me to keep a vigil at the Bombay airport. I immediately contacted Parveen's former secretary and passed on the news to him. For two whole days there was no news about Parveen. In a letter dated 4 April 1984, written from London, U.G. explains how and why Parveen ran away from his house:
As I told you, Parveen's present condition has been a great drain on my time, patience and energy ever since we left California. I have been making it crystal clear to her for some days that her idea of digging in her heels here and wanting to be with me forever is very unrealistic and that it is time that she started living her own life... She has looked after Valentine so well that Valentine is already missing her. Isn't it an eternal shame that she can't make anything of her talent and of her life now? What lies ahead of her can never be clearly sign-posted by anybody. Babi girl's exit is as sudden and as theatrical as last time. She just got up from her chair and said, 'I don't want to be a burden on you. I am going to India right now.' She left all her things here and walked out. But I gave her some money to take care of her tickets, etc., for aught I know she may still be somewhere in London. Maybe she is already there in India...'
New York, 7 April 1984. A disturbed and distraught Parveen Babi landed in the New York International Airport. She was asked to show her identification papers by the Airport authorities. Something in her snapped. She is said to have acted difficult and was handcuffed. When she put up a frantic struggle, she was also ankle-cuffed and carried by four policemen to a public hospital. An Indian doctor recognized Parveen and came to her aid. He got U.G.'s telephone and address from Parveen and called him to tell him of her whereabouts. U.G. informed me about the tragedy that had occurred in New York. We spoke at great length over the telephone of what could be done to get her out of the mess she had got herself into. Finally, I convinced U.G. to go to New York and bring Parveen back.
When U.G. landed in New York, he found Parveen in a general ward with thirty other mentally disturbed patients. The Indian Consul General, who had been informed of the unfortunate incident, had personally come to visit Parveen at the hospital. During U.G.'s visit, Parveen smiled and chatted with the Consul as though nothing had happened. In his letter dated 12 April 1984, U.G. wrote to me explaining in detail what exactly he was going through with Parveen.
In a letter dated 25 April 1984 (U.G.'s final letter to me on the Parveen crisis) he wrote from the Shelburne Murray Hotel, New York:
Well, I am afraid my usefulness has come to an end. Every time she reached out for help, I found it hard to let her down. My determination to prevent her from ending up in a mental hospital worked. I couldn't let this happen to her. Now she is spiraling toward disaster. This seems to be the final breakdown. She is plunging herself into her final manic-depression. She is doing things which I thought she never would do. I am sure she will completely and totally fall apart with no hope of ever putting herself together without medical care. As I sit here in California writing this piece on Parveen Babi, she is back for the past few years in Bombay leading a life of a recluse. Recently she mailed a set of pages written on U.G. to K. Chandrasekhar in Bangalore, portions from which are reproduced here:
U.G. is the most perfect human being I have ever met in my life. There is nothing apparently extraordinary about him. It is when you spend some time with him that you see the perfection operating. I have lived and traveled with U.G. And after being with him for a substantial period of time I have realized that U.G. treats human beings as human beings should be treated—with respect, consideration, understanding and compassion. I also realize that he treats everybody as his equal—whether the person is younger, poorer, richer or older. We all treat people as relations either above us or below us. We do not treat them as our equals. His behavior comes naturally to him. He does not make a deliberate effort to act this way, nor is his behavior accompanied by the feeling that he is a special person, that his behavior is special and that he is doing people a favor.
Another most special quality about U.G. is that he never uses people for his personal gain. U.G. usually gives back much more than he receives. And his giving is the purest kind of giving. He gives without expecting anything back in return. He gives so silently and so selflessly that oftentimes even the receiver does not realize that he has received. If he feels it is necessary to state the bitter truth for a person's good, he states it. He can state the bitter truth because he does not mind losing the person's friendship, if it helps the person.
I have never seen U.G. take advantage of anybody, cheat anybody, mislead anybody, use anybody, or take advantage of a person or situation for his personal gain even in the most insignificant way. Apart from U.G. I am afraid I cannot say this of anybody else I have come across in the world.