Part I: My Chittagong life

Longing for a bicycle of my own

When I was five or six years old, I was dying to have a bicycle of my own. I wanted to have a proper two-wheel bicycle. It was beneath my dignity to have a three-wheel one. So I used to scream and cry for my parents to buy me a bicycle.

My parents allowed my elder brother Mantu to get a two-wheel bicycle, so I thought: What is wrong with me? I was smarter than Mantu in every way. How could he get one? But, unfortunately, he was so tall and I was so short. I cried and cried, but my parents were very strict. Mantu was showing off with his proper bicycle and I was not allowed. What could I do? I had to be satisfied with a children's tricycle.

Then one day I saw a small two-wheel bicycle in a shop near our bank. I was so happy! I liked that bicycle very much. I went inside the shop to ask the price. I had no money, but I was so eager to buy that bicycle.

I said to the owner of the bicycle shop, "Is this one for sale?" He said, "Yes, that bicycle is for sale. For twenty or even fifteen rupees you can have it." I was so thrilled.

This happened in the morning. I ran back to the bank and told my brother Chitta the good news. Chitta said, "No, no, no! They are not going to sell that bicycle."

I said, "Definitely it is for sale. They told me." Then I started crying and crying in front of him for that bicycle. Finally, he asked, "Which place is it?" I described where the shop was. Then Chitta said, "When I have finished my work, we can go and make enquiries." I was bursting with happiness.

At our bank, we had three peons or messengers. Now my brother was very clever. He secretly sent one of the peons from the bank to go to that bicycle shop and give the man three rupees to tell us that the bicycle I had chosen was already sold.

When Chitta had finished his work for the day, I literally dragged him to the bicycle shop. It was only a few hours since I had been there, but the shop owner said, "I am sorry, but that bicycle is already sold." My brother pretended to be very innocent.

What can you do? A beggar cannot be a chooser. My brother did not want me to have a two-wheel bicycle because he felt I was too young to ride one. He was afraid that I would meet with an accident. So I had to be satisfied with sitting on the back seat of one of our messengers' bicycles.

This is how my brother Chitta played a trick on me. I did not find out that he had fooled me until long afterwards, when I was at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. There he told me the truth.

Riding with the bank messenger

My father and Chitta were very strict with me when I went out with the bank messenger on his bicycle. My father did not like me to go at noon because of the heat. He thought I would become too exhausted. Then Chitta always used to insist that I wear a hat. I never liked hats. But I was the darling of the family and he was worried that I would fall sick.

In spite of their concern, quite often I managed to go out anyway. If they asked me, "Where are you going?", I would say, "I am just going out."

Often one of the bank tellers would let me know when the messenger was leaving. With his eyes, the teller would signal me when it was time for the messenger to go to the various banks, and also he would indicate on which side of the building the messenger was. Then, when I went out, the messenger would be waiting for me.

The messenger was so kind-hearted. Everybody called him Phani, but his actual name was Phanindra. Phani means 'snake', but Phanindra is an epithet of Lord Shiva because he wears snakes all around him. The snake symbolises cosmic energy.

Phani was very short and fat. One of his legs was a little shorter than the other, so he used to walk with a limp. He was so fond of me.

A dispute over two banks

Adjacent to our bank was another bank called Mahalakshmi, which belonged to someone else. Whenever I sat behind the messenger on his bicycle while he was delivering letters, I would always ask him which bank had more money: our bank, Griha-Lakshmi, or Mahalakshmi. His answer would depend on his mood. On the days when he said our bank had more money, I would be so overjoyed that I would give him candy. But when he said that ours had less, I used to become so sad that I would give him nothing. Quite a few times he told me very seriously that our bank really did not have as much money as Mahalakshmi.

Once I asked my father if this was true. My father said, "No! We have more money. He is just a messenger. What does he know?" I was so happy to hear that.

Chitta overheard our conversation and he was very amused. Then another clerk came over and said, "It is good to say that we have less money. Then there will be no robberies!"

My father said, "All right, if you feel that way, we will be happy to say that. But I wish to tell you that we really do have more money. I am not saying this just to console my son."

After that day, I believed my father and I was so proud that our bank had more money.

Tumbling off the bicycle together

Two or three times, the messenger and I both fell off the bicycle. Once it was absolutely the worst experience. The messenger took me to a place four or five miles away to get a particular kind of toothpick which is very bitter and very good for the teeth. He was pedalling quite fast, and small branches along the side of the road were striking me.

When we came to the Punjabi Sikh colony, something really serious happened. The Punjabi Sikhs are very tall and stout. They wear big turbans on their heads and they have beards and moustaches. As we approached, three of them started shouting and screaming. They were shouting at somebody else, but we thought that they were screaming at us. I became frightened and jumped up. Then Phani lost his balance and both of us fell down. The messenger fell on top of me. The poor fellow was bruised very badly and I was also bruised very badly. The three men saw that we were frightened and did not come near us.

I started crying and Phani became very worried about what would happen to him when my family came to learn of the accident. He knew that my father was very compassionate, but he thought that my aunt, my maternal uncle's wife, would not only scold him, but perhaps also fire him. My uncle, my mother's brother, was the assistant manager of a printing press, and quite often I used to stay at their house when I stayed in town. My uncle used to call me "rabbit" because one moment I would be very near him, and the next moment I would be somewhere else.

When the messenger and I returned that evening, the messenger recounted the whole story to my father and Chitta. They put all the blame on him. I said, "No, no, it is not his fault!" Then he was forbidden. My father said to him, "You must never take Madal again." Then my father took me to my aunt's house to spend the night.

When my aunt found out what had happened, she was so furious. She had something in her hands and she just threw it on the ground. The next day she came to the bank and mercilessly insulted and scolded Phani. My brother Chitta also scolded him. That day Phani took an oath that he would never take me on his bicycle again. But his oath only lasted three or four days!

This was the aunt who adopted my sister Ahana. She and her husband did not have any children, so they adopted my sister. My aunt was very, very dear to me. And among the cooks, even now I can say that she was the best cook in the whole world!

Secret adventures with the messenger

It is very hot in India, but since our bank used to serve many Europeans, my father was influenced by European culture and he always wore a real suit and occasionally a tie. In the evening, when he came home and took off his jacket, quite often I used to steal money from his pocket—a few paise, much less than a few cents. I felt no need of asking him or telling him; I just took it. Do not follow my example or you will be put in jail!

Whenever my mother caught me, she would always scold me. She used to worry that when I grew up I would steal from others, but my father used to tell her, "No, Madal will not do that kind of thing; he will not go that far." Then, when my father used to go out of town, inside the same jacket he used to put much more money for me to take.

With this money I used to buy lozenges and go and give them to the workers at the bank. Some of them were big shots. They were very, very fond of me. One of them had white hair on his head and on his face. To me, he looked so beautiful! I liked his hair so much. All the others had black hair, but his was all white. I wanted to have hair like that, so I asked him, "How can I also have white hair?" His answer was, "Wait for a few more years!"

Anyway, after the accident on the bicycle, my father and my brother were always watching to make sure that I did not go with Phani on his bicycle. So Phani and I decided to have a special signal. He used to do something cleverly with his hand. If he was going in one direction to deliver messages for the bank, he would use the special signal to tell me to go in the opposite direction and wait for him. He would ride four or five blocks in the other direction, in case my father and Chitta were watching. Then he would come all the way back to pick me up. His destination was one way, and he would very nicely go in the right direction, but then he would come back and get me. He was supposed to go to so many places, but he wasted time coming back for me.

Then, while we were returning from doing so many errands, he would leave me at a particular spot and he would approach the bank from the opposite direction just to prove I had nothing to do with him.

My father and brother were so smart. They knew that I was fooling them, but they could not catch me red-handed. So we were saved. Whenever my father and my brother asked me where I was going, I would simply answer, "I am just going to buy some sweets."

One more story I wish to tell about my father. Every morning, the barber used to come to shave my father. Also he used to pare my father's nails, polish his shoes, everything. Sometimes he was absent. On the days when he did not come, my father used to do everything himself. Then he used to put the coins that he would have given the barber inside a big jar. He said this money was all for me. The same amount of money that he was supposed to give to the barber, he kept for me. That was my father. My mother did not allow me to use it. Then, after my father's passing, it became mine.

My mother belonged to the world of worries, whereas, my father belonged to the world of poise, poise. My mother was full of worries that I would do something wrong, but my father had so much confidence in me. My father was made of confidence — confidence in his child, confidence that I would become a good person. And my father was right.

Part II: My Pondicherry life

Bicycling at last!

When we came to the Ashram in 1944, Mantu was given a bicycle because he had learnt to ride in Chittagong. But, poor me, I had not learnt and also I was still much shorter than Mantu and so they did not give me a bicycle. I was so unhappy.

This is how my brother Chitta prevented me twice from having a bicycle. Two weeks later, I was allowed to learn how to ride. In two hours, I learnt it. Of course, I fell down quite a few times while learning!

Then afterwards, I used to borrow one of the Ashram bicycles whenever I needed one. At sports time, I used to get one for three or four hours to go to the playground. They did not mind if I kept it even for four hours.

A very dear friend of mine had a cycle that was a little bit old. One day he told me that he wanted to give it to me. So I wrote to the Mother to ask her permission. She said flatly, "No!" I was so sad.

Then the following day, the Mother sent one extremely good bicycle for me to have. It was not brand new, but it was very good. So only one day I suffered.

In those days in India, we used to think that two types of bicycle were the best: Phillips and Raleigh. Both were of British manufacture. According to us, Raleigh was better. It was a little shorter than the Phillips one.

The Mother keeps her promise

After I gave up school, the first job I took in the Ashram was as an electrician. My boss, Bula-da, came from Calcutta. There he had been a professor. He was a distant relative of C.R. Das, the great politician. When he came to the Ashram, the Mother told him to go and study electricity. He was at that time forty-five years old. So at that age he had to study electricity.

Once he told us something very funny. One day he was summoned to Sri Aurobindo's room. Sri Aurobindo had a kind of table fan. Sri Aurobindo said to Bula-da, "Is there no way, no way at all, to reduce the speed?" Bula-da saw that the fan was going at the highest speed. With such compassion and affection, he told us, "My Guru did not know that you can have different speeds!" Then he showed Sri Aurobindo how to lower the speed.

This was my first boss. When I came to America, he used to pray every evening to Sri Aurobindo. What for? For me to get the Nobel Prize in literature. He said, "If you get it, it will help both the Ashram and you."

One day Bula-da sent me to the main power house to deliver a message. It was about two and a half miles away, so I went there by bicycle. In the Ashram, some bicycles were kept for the workers; they were common bicycles.

I cycled to my destination. When I arrived, I locked up the bicycle and took the key out of the lock. I entered into the power house and gave the gentleman in charge the written message from Bula-da. After ten minutes, everything was settled and I was about to start the return journey. I tried to open the lock using the same key, but the lock would not open. With this kind of lock, you had to insert the key, then press something. It would click and then lock. For opening, again you had to use the key and press something.

For half an hour I tried so hard to open the lock! I tried in every human way, but it would not open. Other people saw that I was having difficulty and they came to assist me, but they also could not open it.

Now I was in serious trouble because of this stupid lock. If I could not open it, I would have to start walking two and a half miles back to the Ashram, or else I would have to take a rickshaw. I did not know what to do. I could easily have left the bicycle there and come back with a locksmith to break the lock open. But I did not want to break it.

Many years before, when I was thirteen, during my meditation, I entered into the very high consciousness of the Mother and She said to me, "Whenever you are in trouble, serious trouble, just invoke me. I will be there to help you."

Now I was in trouble. So I said to myself, "Let me see if what the Mother told me is my mental hallucination or if She really told me She would help me." So I said to the Mother in the inner world, "You told me that whenever I am in trouble, if I invoke You, You will come to my rescue. Now where are You?"

The Mother replied in the inner world, "Did you invoke me?"

I said, "I am now invoking You."

Believe it or not, I did not even put the key properly inside the lock. I put it just a little inside, and it opened up! It did not go the whole way—I did not turn it even—and the lock was completely unlocked. So the Mother's promise to me was not my mental hallucination.

First I was struggling and struggling. Then, when I completely surrendered to the Mother, it just opened. This is what is called "kept promise". Such faith I had in the Mother! Again, if the lock had not opened, the human mind will say that Her promise to me was all my mental hallucination. Outwardly, the Divine Mother did not make that promise. The second thing is that I could have become angry if She failed to keep Her promise. The third thing is that I could have said, "The Divine Mother has far more important things to do than opening up a lock. Why should She be responsible for my bad luck? This kind of thing is so unimportant."

But it stopped there; the lock did open. Some spiritual Masters promise to their disciples that whenever the disciples are in trouble, they have only to invoke the Master and he will come. Babaji is one of those. And these Masters do appear, covering hundreds of miles in their subtle body.

Babaji's story I am sure you know. Babaji said to his dear disciple, Lahiri Mahashoy, "Whenever you are in serious trouble, just invoke me and I will appear." Babaji was at that time in the Himalayan caves. Soon afterwards, he asked Lahiri Mahashoy to return home to his family. Lahiri Mahashoy was on his way home and he stayed with some friends on the plain in Bihar. They were talking about spirituality. Lahiri Mahashoy's friends were expressing doubts about the occult powers of the present-day spiritual Masters.

Lahiri Mahashoy said, "There are Masters today who do have occult power. I can bring one here right now from the Himalayas." Everybody laughed. This happened in the evening. Then Lahiri Mahashoy asked his friends to leave the room and he began to invoke Babaji most soulfully. Babaji came in his subtle body because he had given his disciple the promise. Lahiri Mahashoy's friends did not know who it was. Babaji's face was very unfamiliar to them. They said, "Who is this sadhu?" When Lahiri Mahashoy explained to them that it was his Master Babaji, these same friends were so proud of Lahiri Mahashoy that he could bring his Master from the Himalayas. But Babaji was furious with his disciple. "This kind of fun you are having? You have to prove to people who are not at all spiritual, people who are undivine, that you can do this?" he said. Then he continued scolding his disciple mercilessly. Finally, he said, "From now on, I will never come to you at your request. I shall come to see you only whenever I feel like it."

Lahiri Mahashoy and his friends had been eating papadams or something like that. Before he left to return to the Himalayas, Babaji also ate a papadam and enjoyed it.

After that incident, Babaji started coming to Lahiri Mahashoy only when he wanted to see his dearest disciple. But his compassion was such that, after some time, he broke his own iron rule and he did come to see Lahiri Mahashoy whenever Lahiri Mahashoy invoked him.

The big hole in the road

One particular night, around nine o'clock, I was cycling to the Ashram very fast, very fast. I was quite unmindful. Then very near the Ashram, I did not see a huge hole, like a cave, in the road. My front wheel entered into the hole. The rear wheel was still up. One half of the cycle was inside the hole and the other half was up on the level of the road.

What did I see there inside that big hole? I saw a wide circle of light and inside the circle I saw the Mother's Face, smiling at me. She was smiling at me very vividly there inside that big hole. The hole at that time was not a hole as such, but a round circle of light. I was not hurt at all, but nine or ten spokes were gone in the bicycle's front wheel. I left the bicycle in one corner of the street, then I went to the Ashram. The following day I got the bicycle repaired.

The faulty brake

When you are using the front brake, you have to be very careful. First you have to use the back brake, then the front brake. If you use the front wheel brake without using the back wheel brake, the cycle jumps. So first the left, then the right, always. Emergency time you use both brakes, but otherwise always the rear wheel only — left side.

On this particular day, I did not know that my back brake was not working. There was one very fat lady crossing the street in front of me. She was crossing so slowly. I immediately applied both the brakes, but my back wheel brake did not function, so my cycle went up in the air. Luckily I did not fall. I got the shock of my life.

Did you have any experience like that? I am sure there are people in my boat!

Sri Aurobindo's protection-power

This story is about my most dangerous cycling accident. It was a most significant experience. When I was quite young, I broke the big toe on my right foot playing football. Alas, I had to give up playing football for two or three years. Then I wanted to play football again. Previously I never used football boots. This time, to protect my feet, I decided to use football boots that were very hard near the toe. Finally, somehow, I got a pair of boots.

One day I had five or six footballs inside a net and I was cycling to the playground, wearing my new football boots. I was bringing the balls because I was the captain of the football team. I was going at quite a good speed, holding the net tightly in one hand. If you go walking to the playground, there is a short way. But I was bringing so many balls there that I decided to take my bicycle and go the long way.

Halfway to the playground, what happened? All of a sudden, my right boot entered into the spokes and got caught. The whole cycle jumped up so high and I did one or two somersaults in the air! Here on the ground I cannot do somersaults — never, impossible! When it comes to doing somersaults like Ashrita does, alas, that I could never imagine doing.

Anyway, on that day I did somersaults in the air and then I fell down on the street. What a serious accident! This happened on the main street. Shopkeepers from either side of the street came running. They thought that I had gone to the other world.

But my life did not end there. What happened was this: when I fell, I saw vividly Sri Aurobindo seated to one side and on His lap was a big pillow. Sri Aurobindo was no longer in the physical at that time and yet I saw Him so vividly. I fell on top of the pillow on His lap and nothing happened to me. Believe it! This was not my mental hallucination.

My bicycle was completely smashed, but I was unhurt. One or two grains of sand perhaps on my elbow, but nothing serious; I was not even bruised. People could not believe it. They were talking to me and asking me questions, but how could I tell them what had actually happened? They thought that I would be dead — but I was alive!

I fell on Sri Aurobindo's lap. This is called protection. How much protection I can have in this lifetime! Had it not been for Sri Aurobindo's protection, my head would have broken into millions of pieces and I would have gone to God. But absolutely nothing happened.

After the accident, I had to keep the remains of the bicycle nearby at one place. Then I started walking, walking, walking to the playground. And I had problems because I did not take my regular sandals or anything. Just boots. With these boots I had to walk; it was very difficult. Luckily, it was only another two or three hundred metres.

In the case of my cycling accidents, protection came from Above. I had protection from my Guru and from my Divine Mother. But my disciples do not have that kind of faith. I am sorry to say that so many accidents take place in their lives because of lack of faith. That is why I always beg you to please pray to the Supreme for a minute or two before you drive. Otherwise, the hostile forces are always ready to give us a sad experience.

Divine protection

When I think of Sri Aurobindo's protection and the Mother's protection — how they protected me, protected me, protected me! Even now, I cannot imagine the extent of their protection. How badly I could have been hurt because of various incidents that occurred during my Ashram life. But time and again they saved me.

Speaking of protection, there was a very striking incident in the life of Dilip Kumar Roy, the Golden Voice. Once he and his friends were in the Kashmir region. They were driving in a car when they met with an accident. Everybody was thrown out of the car. All the other occupants of the car died, but Dilip was protected by Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo came with a kind of cushion and Dilip fell on Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo was there to protect him and Dilip remained alive. He had just joined the Ashram at that time.

Delivering the Mother's blessing-eggs

To some disciples, very few, every day the Mother would write down their names on the outside of a raw egg. Then it was my job to deliver the eggs safely on my bicycle. The eggs were in a small basket on the front of my bicycle.

The disciples would eat the egg and many would preserve the eggshells. In my case, instead of 'Chinmoy', the Mother used to write down 'Chin'. When She was very pleased with me for some reason, She used to give me two eggs. I never broke any of the eggs that the Mother entrusted me with.

After I left the Ashram, She discontinued giving the eggs.

My self-appointed task

Every day, regularly, between one o'clock and half past one in the afternoon, I used to ride my cycle round and round the main Ashram building. That was my spiritual exercise, my self-appointed task. While cycling, I used to meditate. I do not know how I managed everything. I had no spare time.

Cycling versus running

I did a great deal of bicycling when I lived in India in my youth. For at least two and a half hours every day I used to cycle as I did errands around the Ashram. Cycling does not increase running speed at all, but something is better than nothing. Sometimes cycling can actually be a hindrance to running speed because it develops special kinds of muscles which do not complement the speed muscles. Bicycling does help for endurance, but if you want to increase your running speed, then I do not advise it.