Part I — Stories from 28 October 2006

My tea and coffee experiences

Many times I have told about my tea and coffee experiences in this lifetime. In my Chittagong life, tea and coffee were forbidden. Nobody drank tea or coffee in the family. Only when guests came, they were served tea. So we never had the taste of tea or coffee.

When I was in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, secretly I took tea twice in twenty years. The first time, I did not like it. The second time, I asked for a little more sugar. I was denied. So that was the end of my tea experiences.

Then, when I came to America, I became fully acquainted with tea and coffee. I even went so far as espresso! I read and also I heard that Indian doctors say if you have a little fever, then tea is very good. So I started drinking tea, since it has a medicinal effect. Alas, alas, when you start some bad habit, it is very difficult to stop. So I took tea mostly four or five times a day, up to a maximum of eight times. Bad habit, bad habit!

It is said that tea will give you strength and energy. Many people believe that God gave tea some hidden strength. God alone knows!

Let us not try to discover
Instant God-realisation,
Like instant coffee.
Let us only bring to the fore
Our heart’s sincere inner cry.

The mystery of tea bags

In 1964 I came to America. It was the first time I had been in an aeroplane. I was travelling by myself. I was half in this world and half in another world. At one point, the stewardess brought me a cup containing hot water. On the side was a tea bag. I tore open the bag and emptied it into the cup. Then all those little, little leaves were swimming in the cup. The whole cup was full to the brim with leaves!

My stupidity never ended! I made a complaint to the stewardess. Of course, she knew that I was the one who had made the mistake, but she did not say anything. She took away that cup and brought me another cup of hot water and a fresh tea bag. She placed the tea bag inside the water and held it there until the tea was ready. Then she left.

When I watched her making the tea, I knew what I had done wrong.

The African ambassador takes tea

Once a few ambassadors from various countries came to see me. One African lady was either an ambassador or a deputy ambassador. We were all eating together in Annam Brahma Restaurant and I was sitting beside her.

Strangely enough, when the time came for her to take tea, she tore open the tea bag and emptied all the leaves into her cup. I could not believe it! Can you imagine, right in front of me she did the same thing that I had done on the plane so many years before. But she did not make any complaint. She was drinking the tea very happily!

Graduating to coffee

After drinking tea for a few years in America, I made tremendous, tremendous ‘progress'! From tea, I graduated to coffee. As in the spiritual life I made very fast progress, so here also in the caffeine world I made very fast progress!

Afterwards, I used to take two or three cups of coffee on a daily basis for years. Sometimes I used to take cappuccino. Then, I think it was in Brazil, I made faster than the fastest progress. I began taking the kind of coffee that President Gorbachev’s wife used to drink — espresso. At that time my progress was really something. I was getting my ‘Master’s Degree’!

The first sip of espresso

This incident happened in Brazil. I ordered espresso and the man brought me such a tiny container. It was so small! While I was standing at the counter waiting to pay, I just took a sip. Then, right in front of the counter, I started jumping up and down, up and down! My chest was burning so powerfully. It took time for me to control my heartbeat. Then I gave the man his money.

So this is my caffeine business — tea, coffee, cappuccino, espresso. Of all of them, espresso is the worst. I took it only a few times, but that was enough!

Tea and ice cream

Now my sister Lily has disappeared from the earthly scene, but in those days, since I had passed my tea examination, she used to make tea for me whenever I visited her at the Ashram. But it was controlled. Twice a day she would make it — morning and evening — and sometimes only once. By that time she herself had started drinking tea, but only once, perhaps, or twice a day.

Talking about quantity, Swami Vivekananda used to drink tea thirty times or even more during the day. Somebody used to make him a big flask and then he would take cup after cup. He started drinking tea in his childhood. Later he took both tea and coffee, but specially tea.

Then, when he came to America, he discovered ice cream, which we call kulfi. How he loved and adored ice cream! In the winter, he would go with his admirers to a restaurant. The first thing he would ask for was ice cream. The restaurant manager would say to him, “At this time of year?”

Then Swami Vivekananda wanted the ice cream to be served before the main course. They would tell him, “But this is dessert!”

“No, I like it,” was Swami Vivekananda’s answer. So, because he liked it, everybody had to take ice cream before the real meal. Love is like that.

How I stopped drinking tea and coffee

This is the story of how I stopped drinking tea and coffee. What happened is this: in June 1999 I was returning home from Pondicherry, where I had been visiting my brother Mantu. When I opened the door of the V.I.P. lounge in the Bombay Airport, I clearly saw my sister Lily there, right in front of me. As you know, she left the body on May 16th, just two weeks before. She said to me, “Come inside and sit down.”

So I took my seat. My legs were stretched out in front of me and I was quite comfortable. I was passing the time reading and drinking coffee. Then I saw my sister on my right side. I was seeing her very clearly. She was chatting with me in the inner world. All of a sudden, we were joined by my sister Ahana, who passed away in July 1950, just a few months before Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo left his body in December of that year.

Ahana is the sister who taught me my childhood songs and about whom I always tell one famous story. Once I was quite upset with my family and I refused to eat supper. So I went to bed and pretended to be asleep. Ahana came and told me that only great singers can sing while they are asleep. I wanted to prove that I was a great singer, so I started singing. Then I was caught! She carried me off to eat my supper. She died at the age of twenty-four or twenty-five and she is still in the soul’s world.

Anyway, this sister came out of the blue and started massaging my head so affectionately while Lily was talking. One soul was chatting with me, another soul was massaging me. Can you imagine? Perhaps you will call it my mental hallucination.

Why was Ahana massaging my head? When my plane arrived in India a few days earlier, two videotapes fell from the overhead compartment onto my head. Ahana was telling me that she was observing inwardly when this occurred. She said, “I was so shocked!” She was so affectionately massaging my head where the videotapes had struck it. We were talking and she was narrating various childhood incidents.

Then she stood in front of me and began begging and pleading with me. She said, “Madal, please tell me that you will never again drink tea and coffee — never! I have not made any request to you in the past. My only request to you is this: never touch tea, never touch coffee! They are not good for you.”

I looked at her and said, “Now that you are not in the land of the living, I will listen to you. Since you are begging me, I will never, never touch tea or coffee again. But had you been on earth and if you had made this request, I would have taken double the quantity!”

I never listened to my sisters! Any desire they had for me was not fulfilled. In fact, I did diametrically the opposite thing!

Since that experience, which was so vivid, I have become a saint! I have given up drinking tea and coffee. I am still keeping my promise. How obedient I am to my sister Ahana! So many times people have begged me to take just a little tea, but I said I will never touch tea and coffee again and I have to take my promise seriously. My promise is my promise. When you make a solemn promise, specially to your dear ones, you have to keep it.

Part II — Stories recounted over the years

My tea-prophecy1

My Muslim professor-friend, Abul, once said to me in an Indian restaurant, “I highly appreciate your pen, but I truly admire your abstinence. You do not drink tea at all, whereas I take tea, the slow poison, eight times a day.”

I told him not to worry. I said to him, “True, tea is slow poison, but its antidote — quick aspiration — you have in abundant measure. It will save you.”

My lofty prophecy has come true. My professor-friend and tea are no longer friends.

  1. TCE 8. 1973

Zatopek offers chai1

The immortal runner and four-time Olympic gold medallist Emil Zatopek spent two days with us in Zurich on June 14th and 15th [1980]. Eight from my childhood, I have been a great admirer of his, so I am deeply grateful that Zatopek came from Czechoslovakia to visit us. So many unforgettable experiences we all had with him and his wife Dana!

My plane reached Zurich at 11:30 in the morning and at twelve o’clock Zatopek’s plane was supposed to arrive. Kailash, Abarita and I went with two photographers to another gate to wait for him. His plane came on time, but there was a problem with his bag. We were all excited because we could see him, but he could not come outside to greet us because he was looking for his bag.

At long last he came out and I approached him. He recognised me. I wanted to shake hands with him, but he immediately folded his hands in the Indian way and said, “Namaskar”. Then he started talking to me in Hindi, using a few Hindi words. He was asking me if I wanted to drink chai [hot tea].

Then he asked, “How is it that Hindi is easy, but Urdu I could not learn?” He and his wife were in India for four months. Like this, we were talking and talking about various things. Then Zatopek and his wife went to their hotel to take rest.

  1. TCE 9. June 1980

Coffee before the race1

I always say that the past is dust, but in my case, quite often the past is gold! Today, for inspiration, I was watching a videotape of my best seven-mile performance. It took place in Connecticut on 30 March 1980. That day I ran at a 7:19 pace. So the past for me is not dust; it is gold.

Five minutes before the race started, our limousine driver, Pavaka, came up to me and said, “Guru, would you like to have tea or coffee?”

In those days, I seldom took tea and coffee, so I said, “I do not want anything.”

“No, Guru, coffee will do you good,” said Pavaka.

So he brought me a cup of coffee and I got strength from it in the beginning of the race. My first mile split was 6:51! Later on, the coffee stopped working. Even so, my split for the last mile was 7:09.

My timing for the race was 51 minutes and 18 seconds. It still remains my personal record.

  1. TCE 11. 20 September 1981

Only tea on my flight to Bermuda1

On the plane, to Bermuda recently I was inspired to write fifty-eight poems. That saved me! Before the flight, I had said that I would not eat anything; I would only take tea. So I just wrote and wrote and did not eat at all.

When I arrived in Bermuda, a man from immigration asked me how many times I had come to Bermuda.

I said, “Four times.”

He commented, “That means you like it.”

I replied, “Definitely I like it.”

The man went on, “That means you have friends here.”

I said, “I do not have any friends here, but I have seen some good people and I like the place."

He checked all my things very nicely but did not find any gifts for my ‘friends’.

  1. TCE 12. January 1982

Room service in Bermuda1

Around ten o’clock at night, I ordered room service: coffee, french fries, chilled soup and plain salad. The girl who took my order said, “Please tell me what kind of salad dressing you want.”

I said, “I do not know. Any dressing.”

Then she asked me, “How old are you?”

I said, “Fifty”

She said to me, “Grandpa, I am sending you Russian dressing. I will send you to Russia.”

I said, “How I wish I could go to Russia!” This was our joke.

The girl told me that in half an hour they would send the food to my room. After an hour had passed, I phoned and said, “Please cancel my order; it is getting late.” But they said they had just sent it. Finally, the food came but unfortunately it was not good.

When they gave me the bill, I just signed it without looking at it. In the morning, I saw that it had come to $17.50! Why? There was a service charge.

  1. TCE 13. January 1982

Bengalis go out for coffee1

Earlier this year, while I was in Delhi, they were holding the Asian Games for athletes over forty. I registered for six events, but on the day of the competition, I had such a high fever that I could not participate. The following day, I went to the stadium to watch some of the events.

In one walking race, two Bengalis stood first and second. One finished at least three minutes behind the other. But the judges mixed it up and declared the second-place finisher first.

When they made the announcement, everybody started laughing. The judges got mad because they felt they could not have made such a mistake. The walker who stood second even went to the judges and said, “I was far behind him”

One judge said, “I do not want to hear that."

So the walker who was second went and embraced the one who had actually stood first. He said, “What can we do?”

The other competitor said, “Let us go out for a cup of coffee.”

The wives of the first and second-place finishers were roaring with laughter. Fortunately, the couples were good friends. So all four of them went out for a cup of coffee.

  1. TCE 14. 31 March 1983

Tea in the bakery1

The other day I went to a bakery. I told the lady to give me a dozen cookies. She said, “I am sorry. We only have eleven.”

I said, “Fine, then give me eleven.”

She could easily have pretended that she had given me twelve. Who was counting? But some sincere people do exist. That is why we are still alive.

Eight or nine months ago, I drank some tea in that bakery. The lady still remembers. She always says, “You don’t want tea?”

This is the famous shop that always burns down. Previously there was another owner. He used to shake hands with me and give me everything half price. Whatever the item was, he used to give me half price.

  1. TCE 15. 12 May 1983