Chatting with a man from Sri Lanka

A Singhalese man came up to me. He lives in Canada and he wanted to chat with me. On that day all my guards were off duty. They were enjoying a self-imposed holiday. They did not come to my rescue. Savyasachi was the worst culprit. He saw the man approaching me, but he did not do anything. Usually Savyasachi is quite good.

The man asked me, “Do you come from India?”

I answered, “Yes.”

He continued, “Do you come from Bengal?”

I said, “Yes.”

Then he started telling me about one great man who came from Bengal.

I said, “Yes, I know.”

Then he told me that his name was Singha. I am pronouncing it the Bengali way, but he was pronouncing it the Singhalese way.

Then he went on with his questions. First he asked, “What religion are you?”

I said, “I come of a Hindu background, but I do not teach any religion. My love of God is my religion. For me, there is no other religion. I only pray to be a lover of God.”

Then he wanted to know about my interest in politics. I said, “Some of the politicians are my friends and, by the way, do you come from Sri Lanka?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “President Premadasa was so kind and compassionate to me.”

He exclaimed, “Premadasa!”

I said, “Yes, President Premadasa.”

Then he had to say, “All politicians are bad, but he was the worst possible crook!”

I was simply shocked. It was too much for me. I thought of changing the subject. I said, “My dearest friend is Ananda Guruge. He was Ambassador to the United States and in various ways he served his country. Do you know him?”

He said, “Yes, I know him.” Then he said, “I shall come back and we shall discuss religion.”

I said, “For me the only religion is love of God.”

Then he said a few other things, but by that time I was only looking this side and that side for my guards to come and rescue me. I did not have the heart to ask the man his first name. As soon as I heard that, according to him, President Premadasa was the worst possible crook, I was desperately trying to find a way to end the conversation. President Premadasa was such a lion-hero in the battlefield of life. But how can you please everybody? It is impossible. I have such fond memories of Sri Lanka and all my meetings with the President.

In Kandy, in the Temple of the Tooth Relic, the main priest took me into a special room. He closed the door and said, “Nobody should see this.” Then he put the crown on my head.

We Indians are so grateful to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka saw spiritual genius in Swami Vivekananda. Sri Lanka embraced Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy. That is why we have such love for Sri Lanka. Whoever appreciates our heroes, specially our spiritual heroes, will always be admired, adored and loved by India.

— 8 January 1998 Cancún, Mexico