You know how to fool everyone1

As I was coming out of the plane at the Eugene, Oregon airport, there was an old man with a cane right in front of me. With his right hand he was holding the rail, and he was dragging his legs. I was behind him doing the same because of all my back pain and leg pain. He turned around, mad, and said, “What are you doing?” He thought I was mocking him. He said he was 76 years old. I said that I was not mocking him, only I had leg pain. He believed me.

When I got to the motel, I went to the gift shop to buy some candy. The saleslady started to talk to me. She was saying, “How are you? Did you have a nice day?” and other things. Salespeople like to talk to everyone, so I didn’t think she was talking to me because she knew who I was. I only smiled at her.

When I gave her a dollar for the candy, she gave me back a quarter. Then she said that she had gone to one of my meditations once, and had seen me meditating in my dhoti. Now I was in western clothes. So she said, “You know how to fool everyone.”

  1. WE 1. 19 October 1980

Thank you1

This morning I had to telephone someone. I could not dial directly from here, so I had to take help from the telephone operator. She was an elderly lady who was very, very kind to me. When I gave her the number, she said to me, “Thank you.”

So I said to her, “Thank you.”

Then she said to me very affectionately, in a motherly way, “When someone says ‘Thank you’, you are not supposed to say ‘Thank you’! You are supposed to say, ‘You are welcome’!”

I thanked her for telling me that, and then she started laughing and laughing.

  1. WE 3. 17 September 1981

The Philippines airport1

At the airport in the Philippines, I had three pieces of luggage - two suitcases and a carry-on. Three boys took them away, but they were not going in the same direction. I told a policeman and he laughed, but he made the boys come back. I said that I needed only one fellow. Afterwards I found out that when you give the porters money, it goes to the police.

  1. WE 4. 31 December 1981

Italian experiences1

On this trip the Italians were so bad to me! It started at the airport, where all my luggage was missing. Even when I was in a taxi on the way to see the Pope, the taxi driver took me out of my way. The Vatican was in sight, but the driver, thinking I wouldn’t recognise it, went somewhere else. The ride never ended!

In Italy the churches are very beautiful. But when you go to a church, five or six photographers will take your picture and then try to sell you the photographs.

  1. WE 5. 31 December 1981

Rainy Bermuda1

Once I went to Bermuda for three days alone. The hotel I stayed in was near the water. It was very beautiful. But it rained heavily the whole time I was there. I could not even go out. It rained cats and dogs. Only once I went across the street to a Chinese restaurant. My only consolation was that I wrote two hundred poems while I was there. But I was not able to go out walking or running at all!

  1. WE 6. 3 January 1982

Unfortunate experiences in France1

I have many good things to say about France, but each time I go there, I have to lose something - or perhaps I should say they have to steal something! Once they stole my harmonium and another time they took my tape recorder. I had left a tape recorder right on the dresser in my room. As soon as we reached the airport, only fifteen minutes later, I called the hotel and said that one of my students was coming back for the tape recorder. The manager said he would send someone up to see if it was there. After a few minutes he said that there was nothing on the dresser in my room - as if my mind would go blank in fifteen minutes!

  1. WE 7. 3 January 1982

Indian hotels1

In India, the hotel people show you a room and say that all the rooms are the same. So you pay for a room, leave your bags in the car and go out for two or three hours. When you come back, O God, the room they take you to is unbelievable. Compared to the room they showed you, it is the difference between Heaven and hell. It is on the same floor as the other room, but there is such a difference!

  1. WE 8. 3 January 1982

Indian drivers1

In Agra, the drivers take two hours to go to the Taj Mahal, although it is only twenty minutes away. God knows where they take you! Then, in the hope of a little more money, for four blocks they will follow you like a faithful dog. If you throw them something - even the smallest coin - then when they go to pick it up, you can gain some ground on them and escape.

  1. WE 9. 3 January 1982

Airport encounters1

At the Calcutta airport, quite unexpectedly Mother Teresa and I met face to face. For me to recognise her was a very easy task. But she didn’t give any sign of recognising me. For a fleeting second she looked at me and I looked at her. We were only three metres from each other. She was travelling with only three attendants, and they were all wearing saris. Usually I have quite a few attendants around me, although this time I had nobody.

Then again at the Delhi airport we passed by each other. But it happened so quickly that I barely noticed her. Then I saw three or four people come up to her for her autograph.

  1. WE 10. 28 March 1982

A letter to the editor1

As you know, a very nice article came out about me in /The Illustrated Weekly of India,/ which is like America’s Time magazine. The following week an Indian wrote four or five lines highly appreciating that article. It came out as a letter to the editor. I saw it when I was in India.

  1. WE 11. 28 March 1982

The deceitful taxi driver1

Indian taxi drivers are notorious for deceiving people. On this trip deception started at the Bombay airport. From the airport to the hotel is a very short distance. The taxi ride normally costs only seven rupees, but the driver asked for two hundred rupees. I started arguing with him in Hindi. Perhaps I made some grammatical mistakes, but he understood me perfectly. From two hundred he finally came down to sixty. So I gave him sixty rupees. What could I do? The following morning, when I went from the hotel to the airport, another driver charged me the correct amount - seven rupees. So you can see what a rogue the first driver was!

  1. WE 12. 28 March 1982

The missing notebook1

The following day, while I was waiting to board the plane to Madras, I was writing poems. After some time I put my notebook on the seat next to me and began meditating. Suddenly I noticed that my notebook had disappeared. I started asking myself, “Where did it go?”

I looked for the notebook in my blue bag, but it was not there. Then I started looking around me. There were about seventy or eighty people waiting to get on the plane, and it was almost boarding time. Then I saw that somebody was holding the notebook. He was not reading the poems; he was only appreciating the beautiful parrot that was on the cover.

I said to him, “Excuse me, this is my book.”

He said, “Your book? I found it on a seat. Nobody was sitting there, so I took it because I liked the bird.”

Fortunately I got my notebook back at the last minute. Otherwise, ninety-nine poems would have been lost.

  1. WE 13. 28 March 1982

The lightning call1

When I arrived in Calcutta after leaving Pondicherry, I wanted to phone my family. My sisters and brothers had driven me to the Madras airport, and then they had to make the three-and-a-half-hour drive back to Pondicherry. So I was worried about them. I felt sorry, because going and coming back came to seven hours of driving altogether. For me, it was only an hour-and-a-half plane ride from Madras to Calcutta. So after about three hours I started phoning Pondicherry to see if they had gotten back all right.

The operator said that the Pondicherry line was out of order and that it could be that way for two or three more days. Quite often when I try to call from New York, the operator says that the Pondicherry line is out of order. The first day I believed the operator. The second day when I tried to call, again the operator said that it was out of order. I said, “O God, what does the government do if it has to make an urgent call?”

The operator said, “Oh, the government has a special line that is used only for lightning calls. If you make a lightning call, you have to pay eight times more.”

I said, “Look here, I am willing to pay eight times more.”

The operator said, “Eight times more? Are you sure?”

I said, “I have the money, so please do it.”

So the operator made the lightning call around one-thirty in the morning, but nobody answered. My mind was worried that perhaps something had gone wrong. One is allowed to try a lightning call only twice, and then the call is cancelled. They made the second call a half hour later and still there was no answer. What had happened was this: the Calcutta hotel operator had put through the lightning call, but the rogues in Madras had used a wrong number. All the time I thought that something had gone wrong with my family’s phone. It turned out that our phone was all right, but the Madras operator was putting me through to a wrong number.

The following day I tried to make another lightning call two times, but again it didn’t go through. Whenever the call does not go through, you don’t have to pay; but you always get a scolding from the operator. The operator barks at you because a lightning call is only supposed to be made by very rich or great people. They did not feel that I was rich or great enough.

My family couldn’t call me because they didn’t know at which hotel I was staying. Finally, I called my house in New York. Since nobody there had heard from my brothers and sisters, I said, “That means that everything is all right. If anything had gone wrong, they would have called New York.” From New York one of the girls tried calling Pondicherry, but she had the same fate. She could not get through. Finally, she sent a telegram to my family asking if everyone was all right.

The next day I told the operator that I had been trying to call Pondicherry for three days. She put in another lightning call, and in two minutes the call went through. My brother answered the phone and I immediately said to him, “Why have you not been answering the phone?”

At the same time he said to me, “Where is your concern for us? Why have you not called us for four days? One of us has always been near the phone, worrying.”

I said, “I have tried to make lightning calls twenty times.”

So everything was all right. The first day when they didn’t answer, I felt that perhaps my sister was tired and exhausted from travelling, and therefore she didn’t hear the phone ringing. It turned out that my brother was there, but the phone line was not working at all. For three days the Pondicherry line was not working. I said, “What kind of worries the telephone can create!” I was blessing the telephone like anything.

I was so happy that I finally got through to Pondicherry that I called the hotel telephone operator. I had heard her say her name, Mrs. Dasgupta. She was Bengali, but we started talking in English because telephone operators always prefer to speak English. She told me, “You asked for a lightning call, but I did not make a lightning call. I have a friend in Madras and I told her to make it a special call without saying it was a lightning call.” It would have cost me six hundred rupees, but now I had to pay only one hundred ten rupees. So I was very grateful to her.

I put a hundred rupees in an envelope to give her, and then I went downstairs to the hotel telephone office. The place was so dirty! I stood at the door and said, “I would like to speak to Mrs. Dasgupta.” So many people were working there. How could I go in and give her the envelope when there were so many other girls around? I said to the guard, “Can you ask her to come here?”

The guard came back and said, “They are asking you to come in.”

I said to myself, “I am in trouble now. I can’t just give her this envelope in front of everyone.”

So I gave her a copy of the small Galaxy of Luminaries. When she saw my picture with the Pope, she could not believe it. She said to me “Where do you come from?”

I said, “I am Bengali. Why?”

She said, “But when you talked to your family, it was not in Bengali.”

I said, “I come from Chittagong.”

She said she could not understand a word of our Chittagong dialect.

I said, “This is what you do? You listen to people’s private conversations?”

She said, “Oh no, I just wanted to see if you got through to your party. Then I heard something very peculiar.” Then she added, “You don’t have a Chittagong accent.”

I said to myself, “Not in vain did I stay at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. There I spoke real Bengali.”

Then she started appreciating my Bengali. I didn’t have the heart to tell her how many books, poems and songs I have written in Bengali. Then she said, “Is your mother alive?”

I said, “No.”

She said, “The person who would have been the happiest to see this picture is not alive.”

I said, “I lost her when I was quite young.”

She said, “I am so sorry that you have lost your mother. She would have been the happiest person.

I said, “There is something called Heaven, so she can be proud of her son from Heaven.”

She was very moved. Then I gave her the envelope and said, “This is a gift.”

I thought she would show false modesty and say, “No,” and I would have to insist. But she just took it and thanked me. Inwardly I said, “You deserve it! You saved me from paying for a lightning call.”

  1. WE 14. 28 March 1982

The flight to London1

What an adventure this trip to Scotland was! So many things went wrong in the airport, on the plane and in the hotels.

After the disciples saw me off at Kennedy Airport, I went to the British Airways lounge. Can you imagine? About forty people were standing because there were no seats left in the lounge.

Finally we entered into the plane. An orthodox Jewish man was sitting in the seat beside mine. He had a little cap and a long beard. His seat was on the aisle and mine was at the window. When I came and stood in front of him, he didn’t want to move or get up so that I could get to my seat. It was only with greatest difficulty that I was able to sit down.

After ten or fifteen minutes I thought, “Let me start writing poems.” But I could not find even one ballpoint. I had put six ballpoints into my bag, but at that time I could not find even one. I searched here and there. I said to myself, “How can I ask this man for a ballpoint? God doesn’t want me to write poems.” So I read for hours on the plane and I didn’t write even one poem.

Towards the end of the trip, the stewardess gave out immigration cards for us to fill out. I could have asked the stewardess for a ballpoint, but often it is so hard to get their attention that you lose all your inspiration. I said to myself, “At the airport I will fill it out!”

  1. WE 15. 20 May 1982