Part I — Poems

1.

To the Streaming Tears
Of My Mother’s Heart
To the Brimming Smiles
Of My Mother’s Soul

— Madal

I have inherited

My sister Lily’s love and determination
I have inherited.

My sister Arpita’s concern and service
I have inherited.

My brother Chitta’s poetry and sacrifice
I have inherited.

My brother Hriday’s philosophy
and wisdom
I have inherited.

My brother Mantu’s patience
and detachment
I have inherited.

My sister Ahana’s music and immensity
I have inherited.

My Mother Yogamaya’s psychic tears
and surrender
I have inherited.

My Father Shashi Kumar’s
inner confidence and outer triumph
I have inherited.

Part II — Experiences of earliest childhood

My mother’s prayer

For my mother’s centenary celebration we are using many statues and pictures of Lord Krishna and Radha. This is because my mother was born during the festival of Baisakh, which is dedicated to Krishna and Radha and the era of Lord Krishna’s life when he lived in Brindaban. Also, my mother prayed to Lord Krishna that like His mother, Devaki, she too could have a special child.

My brother Chitta had a number of dreams that my mother would give birth to a great soul. When he told my mother, she said, “Perhaps Krishna has sent his dearest devotee into our simple, humble and prayerful family.” But my brother felt that the child she was carrying would be not just a devotee of Krishna but a spiritual soul of the highest magnitude. That was my brother’s prediction.

Madal is born

I was born in our village home. in those days people did not go to the hospital. The day I was born, our house in the town was burnt to ashes. Therefore, my grandmother said to the family members that this rascal would destroy the whole family.

My mother said, “No, my child is going to bring tremendous name and fame to our family.”

A week later my grandmother composed a couplet in Bengali that said: “The Bhadra-born people turn everything topsy-turvy.” The name of August is “Bhadra” in Bengali, but in the Chittagong dialect we say “Bhada.” The words to the poem were:
Ek bhada jar
Ut put tar

My mother also composed a couplet in Bengali saying that he who is born in this month, Bhadra, is definitely going to beat the golden kettledrum. The golden kettledrum is being played in the Heavens by the cosmic gods. The poem was as follows:

Ek bhada jar
Sonar madal tar

They gave me the name Madal, which means “kettledrum,” but my very first name when I was born, my horoscope name, was Ganapati. Ganapati is the elephant god. It is he who grants realisation.

Kettledrum

During my childhood, I was known by the affectionate Bengali nickname Madal, meaning kettledrum — perhaps because I was always making so much noise! Sometimes my grandmother would find my liveliness too much for her, and she would say, “This kettledrum will bring about the total destruction of the family!”

My mother would protest confidently, “Nonsense! On the contrary, Madal is sure to bring us abundant name and fame. He is destined to be played on by the gods and goddesses in the skies!”

Stories from the Mahabharata

When I was a little boy, I knew lots of stories from the Mahabharata. At that time I could hardly read, and to read a big book like the Mahabharata was an impossible task. My mother used to force me to sleep every afternoon. She did not want me to go out in the blazing Indian sun, so she would read from the Mahabharata and tell me stories so that I would fall asleep. For five or ten minutes I used to listen to her stories. Then I used to pretend that I was fast asleep.

My mother would be very happy; she would close her book and watch carefully to see if I was really asleep. Then she herself used to fall asleep. I was only waiting for her to fall asleep, and then I used to run away. In the garden there were so many trees bearing guavas, mangoes and other fruits. The servant used to help me pluck the fruits and I used to eat them.

In half an hour or forty-five minutes my mother would wake up and see that I was missing. She used to send the young servant to find me in the garden. Most of the time I was in the mango tree, getting mangoes for the whole family.

Then I would go back inside. My mother used to scold both me and the servant who would take me. She would say, “Why did you take him outside?”

The servant would say, “He was crying. What could I do?”

But my smile was enough to conquer her heart. As soon as she saw it, she would stop scolding me; she would forgive my deception. I played that trick many, many times.

During the school holidays my mother would tell me many more stories from the Mahabharata. I used to listen to her stories and then tell them to my relatives, who thought I was a great authority on the Mahabharata.

My first lessons in English

When I was about four years old, my eldest sister, Arpita, saw that I had no interest in learning the letters of the Bengali alphabet. So she began to teach me the letters of the English alphabet. I liked them very much, but when my mother discovered what Arpita was teaching me, she was so displeased. She wanted me to learn my mother tongue first. She did not care for the English language at all, although my father had a very good command of English, and his immediate bosses were all Englishmen.

It was beyond my mother’s imagination that one day I would come and live in America, but God gave my sister divine insight.

Washing my father’s feet

Early in the morning on weekends, my mother used to come with a glass of water and wash my father’s feet with utmost devotion. It is an old Indian tradition. Even though my father had just taken a shower, still she would wash his feet. She also used to wash his feet before he went to the temple. My mother used to touch my father’s feet in front of her children, servants — everyone. When my mother used to do that, our love for her would increase. We all had tremendous respect for our mother.

The monkeys

When I was a child, we had a dog named Bhaga, a white hare, many birds and a few monkeys. One monkey was named Madhu. I was very fond of the monkeys, but they used to bite. When a monkey starts running towards you, you have to fall down and pretend you are dead. If you act as if you are dead, if you lie down and stop breathing, then it will never, never bite you. So many times I did that when I was six years old, but a few times I was caught and the monkey would bite me. Nobody in my family escaped except my mother.

My mother was not bitten even once because the monkeys felt kindness in her. When monkeys are tame, they show affection. Always when my mother was sitting down doing something, the monkey would go and sit on her lap in a mischievous way. No matter what she was doing, the monkey would be with her, without biting. Only my mother escaped.

Who wants to study?

When my father became the owner and manager of a bank, he used to spend all week in town. He slept in the bank building, where there were many rooms. He came home on Friday evening, stayed for the weekend, and went back to work on Monday morning. From time to time I used to get inspired to go with him.

My brother Mantu and I had a private tutor in addition to our school lessons. The tutor used to give us our lessons near a little temple we had for the goddess Lakshmi. From the corner of my eye I would see my father go to the temple for blessings and then start walking to the small dock to catch the ferry. Quite a few times I tried to follow him in secret. I used to watch him for two blocks and then run after him. I wanted to do it secretly, but my brother and the tutor used to shout at me, so I was always caught.

When my father saw me, I would start crying that I didn’t want to study. He would say, “How can I take you with me all the time? You have to go to school!” My brother would tell my mother what had happened. She also felt that I should study, but she knew it was a hopeless case. So she would send a servant with extra clothes for me to wear in town, since I would be wearing only shorts and a T-shirt.

Like this, many times I used to go to town instead of going to school. Who wants to study? For seven or eight years, very often I did not go to school. I would learn from my brother and my tutor. Then, when the examinations came, I always stood first. Of course, my teacher was also very, very indulgent to me because my father was a big shot in the village!

When I was in town, the whole day I would just roam. I was fascinated by the thieves, so I used to go to court to watch them. I also liked to go to the Karnaphuli river to see the boats and ships.

My maternal uncle lived in town, and I would also stay with him. His wife was an excellent cook and could make delicious meals out of absolutely nothing. Often I would spend a whole week there. But if I insisted on staying in town for more than one week, either my mother would come to town herself, or she would send someone else to bring me back. When I visited my aunts in the villages, my mother would not allow me to stay for more than two days at a time. She did not like it when I stayed away too long. I was her dearest child, and without me she used to feel miserable. But quite a few times she allowed me to stay at my uncle’s house for a week.

I would always cry when I had to go back home. Why? I was very fond of my mother, but at home I had to study. Studying was too much, too much!

My mother in the eyes of a lion

When I was ten years old, I went to visit my maternal uncle who lived in the village of Kelishahar. There was a chain of mountains nearby, about a mile away. I was extremely fond of roaming in these mountains.

About two o’clock one afternoon, my friends were all in school, so I decided to go for a walk alone on one of the mountains. I had been to that mountain many times accompanied by my friends and relatives. This time, being alone, I got more joy from my adventure, so I roamed further and further until I was in the thick of the dense forest which covered the mountain. Formerly, when I had gone with my friends and relatives, they had wandered only through the outskirts of the forest, as these were more accessible.

I was very fond of a certain kind of fruit called jujub. There were many jujub trees in the forest, so I climbed one of them and ate to my heart’s content. When I climbed down — Lo and behold! — facing me, only ten feet away, was a mountain lion! The lion and I were face to face.

My immediate reaction was that the lion, far from showing a ferocious look, was all mildness. Furthermore, I saw my own mother’s face reflected in the lion’s eyes, although my mother was in our home village, Shakpura, six miles away.

This scene lasted for several minutes. Seeing my mother in the eyes of the lion, I felt no fear and raised no cry. I was calm and serene. The more I looked into the lion’s eyes, the greater was the affectionate feeling I was receiving from the lion.

After about five minutes, very slowly I started to move away, turning my back to the lion and walking toward my destination. When I had covered a reasonable distance, perhaps a quarter of a mile, at a slow and cautious pace, I turned back to see if the lion was following me. There was no sign of the animal. Then I ran for dear life.

I covered a mile in a short time, crying and shouting for help: “Save me! Save me! I saw a lion!” When I finally came to my aunt’s house, I was trembling and screaming. My aunt felt as though I had died and had come back to life by some miracle. Some of the villagers showed sympathy while others scolded or mocked, but my aunt was holding me with such affection, as if I had really been killed by the lion.

Although it had been decided that I would go back home after spending four days at my uncle’s house, my mother arrived quite unexpectedly that same day. While she was having her siesta, she had seen in a dream that her youngest son was attacked and killed by a lion. She came with her servant to her brother’s home, practically insane with grief, assuming that her son had died.

I was literally bathed in the sea of tears shed by my mother and aunt in their joy at seeing me alive and safe.

Tales of the kitchen

Before I accepted the spiritual life, I used to eat fish and meat to my heart’s content. The Western world eats mainly chicken and beef, but we ate duck, goat, lamb, turtle and pigeon.

My sisters used to cook. A brahmin servant and one other servant also cooked. God alone knows what my mother cooked! Her cooking was sitting in the temple for hours and hours praying and meditating. I do not think she ever cooked.

Normally we would all eat together, but on Saturdays and Sundays, when my father was home from town, my mother would not eat with me or my brothers because of her respect for my father. She would eat all by herself or with my sisters while the father and sons were eating together.

On my mother’s side of the family everyone was thin. My grandmother and grandfather were both thin. On my father’s side they were all fat. I was blessed by my father. He was stout. All of my brothers and sisters were also like my father, except Mantu, who is very, very thin.

Reminiscences

My mother hated to listen when people used to criticise others. In one of my recent Bengali songs dedicated to my mother, I mention that my mother would not tolerate criticism of anybody.

Another thing I remember about my mother is that she was adverse to drinking water, even a glass of water per day. The doctors used to beg her, but she would not.

Faith in God, not in doctors

My mother’s faith was always in her worship, in God, never in doctors. Whenever anybody in the family was sick, my sisters and brothers were responsible for calling the doctor and nursing the patient. My mother would immediately go into the temple. Day and night she would pray, but she would hardly come to see the patient. She was with her God, inside the temple, praying because she did not believe in medicine. She was worried like anything, but she thought that medicine could not help; only her prayer to God and God’s Compassion would cure us.