“BECAUSE YOU and my son think so highly of Swami Sri Yukteswar, I will take a look at him.” The tone of voice used by Dr. Narayan Chunder Roy implied that he was humoring the whim of half-wits. I concealed my indignation, in the best traditions of the proselyter.
My companion, a veterinary surgeon, was a confirmed agnostic. His young son Santosh had implored me to take an interest in his father. So far my invaluable aid had been a bit on the invisible side.
Dr. Roy accompanied me the following day to the Serampore hermitage. After Master had granted him a brief interview, marked for the most part by stoic silence on both sides, the visitor brusquely departed.
“Why bring a dead man to the ashram?” Sri Yukteswar looked at me inquiringly as soon as the door had closed on the Calcutta skeptic.
“Sir! The doctor is very much alive!”
“But in a short time he will be dead.”
I was shocked. “Sir, this will be a terrible blow to his son. Santosh yet hopes for time to change his father’s materialistic views. I beseech you, Master, to help the man.”
“Very well; for your sake.” My guru’s face was impassive. “The proud horse doctor is far gone in diabetes, although he does not know it. In fifteen days he will take to his bed. The physicians will give him up for lost; his natural time to leave this earth is six weeks from today. Due to your intercession, however, on that date he will recover. But there is one condition. You must get him to wear an astrological bangle; he will doubtless object as violently as one of his horses before an operation!” Master chuckled.
After a silence, during which I wondered how Santosh and I could best employ the arts of cajolery on the recalcitrant doctor, Sri Yukteswar made further disclosures.
“As soon as the man gets well, advise him not to eat meat. He will not heed this counsel, however, and in six months, just as he is feeling at his best, he will drop dead. Even that six-month extension of life is granted him only because of your plea.”
The following day I suggested to Santosh that he order an armlet at the jeweler’s. It was ready in a week, but Dr. Roy refused to put it on.
“I am in the best of health. You will never impress me with these astrological superstitions.” The doctor glanced at me belligerently.
I recalled with amusement that Master had justifiably compared the man to a balky horse. Another seven days passed; the doctor, suddenly ill, meekly consented to wear the bangle. Two weeks later the physician in attendance told me that his patient’s case was hopeless. He supplied harrowing details of the ravages inflicted by diabetes.
I shook my head. “My guru has said that, after a sickness lasting one month, Dr. Roy will be well.”
The physician stared at me incredulously. But he sought me out a fortnight later, with an apologetic air.
“Dr. Roy has made a complete recovery!” he exclaimed. “It is the most amazing case in my experience. Never before have I seen a dying man show such an inexplicable comeback. Your guru must indeed be a healing prophet!”
After one interview with Dr. Roy, during which I repeated Sri Yukteswar’s advice about a meatless diet, I did not see the man again for six months. He stopped for a chat one evening as I sat on the piazza of my family home on Gurpar Road.
“Tell your teacher that by eating meat frequently, I have wholly regained my strength. His unscientific ideas on diet have not influenced me.” It was true that Dr. Roy looked a picture of health.
But the next day Santosh came running to me from his home on the next block. “This morning Father dropped dead!”
This case was one of my strangest experiences with Master. He healed the rebellious veterinary surgeon in spite of his disbelief, and extended the man’s natural term on earth by six months, just because of my earnest supplication. Sri Yukteswar was boundless in his kindness when confronted by the urgent prayer of a devotee.
It was my proudest privilege to bring college friends to meet my guru. Many of them would lay aside—at least in the ashram!—their fashionable academic cloak of religious skepticism.
One of my friends, Sasi, spent a number of happy week ends in Serampore. Master became immensely fond of the boy, and lamented that his private life was wild and disorderly.
“Sasi, unless you reform, one year hence you will be dangerously ill.” Sri Yukteswar gazed at my friend with affectionate exasperation. “Mukunda is the witness: don’t say later that I didn’t warn you.”
Sasi laughed. “Master, I will leave it to you to interest a sweet charity of cosmos in my own sad case! My spirit is willing but my will is weak. You are my only savior on earth; I believe in nothing else.”
“At least you should wear a two-carat blue sapphire. It will help you.”
“I can’t afford one. Anyhow, dear guruji, if trouble comes, I fully believe you will protect me.”
“In a year you will bring three sapphires,” Sri Yukteswar replied cryptically. “They will be of no use then.”
Variations on this conversation took place regularly. “I can’t reform!” Sasi would say in comical despair. “And my trust in you, Master, is more precious to me than any stone!”
A year later I was visiting my guru at the Calcutta home of his disciple, Naren Babu. About ten o’clock in the morning, as Sri Yukteswar and I were sitting quietly in the second-floor parlor, I heard the front door open. Master straightened stiffly.
“It is that Sasi,” he remarked gravely. “The year is now up; both his lungs are gone. He has ignored my counsel; tell him I don’t want to see him.”
Half stunned by Sri Yukteswar’s sternness, I raced down the stairway. Sasi was ascending.
“O Mukunda! I do hope Master is here; I had a hunch he might be.”
“Yes, but he doesn’t wish to be disturbed.”
Sasi burst into tears and brushed past me. He threw himself at Sri Yukteswar’s feet, placing there three beautiful sapphires.
“Omniscient guru, the doctors say I have galloping tuberculosis! They give me no longer than three more months! I humbly implore your aid; I know you can heal me!”
“Isn’t it a bit late now to be worrying over your life? Depart with your jewels; their time of usefulness is past.” Master then sat sphinxlike in an unrelenting silence, punctuated by the boy’s sobs for mercy.
An intuitive conviction came to me that Sri Yukteswar was merely testing the depth of Sasi’s faith in the divine healing power. I was not surprised a tense hour later when Master turned a sympathetic gaze on my prostrate friend.
“Get up, Sasi; what a commotion you make in other people’s houses! Return your sapphires to the jeweler’s; they are an unnecessary expense now. But get an astrological bangle and wear it. Fear not; in a few weeks you shall be well.”
Sasi’s smile illumined his tear-marred face like sudden sun over a sodden landscape. “Beloved guru, shall I take the medicines prescribed by the doctors?”
Sri Yukteswar’s glance was longanimous. “Just as you wish—drink them or discard them; it does not matter. It is more possible for the sun and moon to interchange their positions than for you to die of tuberculosis.” He added abruptly, “Go now, before I change my mind!”
With an agitated bow, my friend hastily departed. I visited him several times during the next few weeks, and was aghast to find his condition increasingly worse.
“Sasi cannot last through the night.” These words from his physician, and the spectacle of my friend, now reduced almost to a skeleton, sent me posthaste to Serampore. My guru listened coldly to my tearful report.
“Why do you come here to bother me? You have already heard me assure Sasi of his recovery.”
I bowed before him in great awe, and retreated to the door. Sri Yukteswar said no parting word, but sank into silence, his unwinking eyes half-open, their vision fled to another world.
I returned at once to Sasi’s home in Calcutta. With astonishment I found my friend sitting up, drinking milk.
“O Mukunda! What a miracle! Four hours ago I felt Master’s presence in the room; my terrible symptoms immediately disappeared. I feel that through his grace I am entirely well.”
In a few weeks Sasi was stouter and in better health than ever before.1 But his singular reaction to his healing had an ungrateful tinge: he seldom visited Sri Yukteswar again! My friend told me one day that he so deeply regretted his previous mode of life that he was ashamed to face Master.
I could only conclude that Sasi’s illness had had the contrasting effect of stiffening his will and impairing his manners.
The first two years of my course at Scottish Church College were drawing to a close. My classroom attendance had been very spasmodic; what little studying I did was only to keep peace with my family. My two private tutors came regularly to my house; I was regularly absent: I can discern at least this one regularity in my scholastic career!
In India two successful years of college bring an Intermediate Arts diploma; the student may then look forward to another two years and his A.B. degree.
The Intermediate Arts final examinations loomed ominously ahead. I fled to Puri, where my guru was spending a few weeks. Vaguely hoping that he would sanction my nonappearance at the finals, I related my embarrassing unpreparedness.
But Master smiled consolingly. “You have wholeheartedly pursued your spiritual duties, and could not help neglecting your college work. Apply yourself diligently to your books for the next week: you shall get through your ordeal without failure.”
I returned to Calcutta, firmly suppressing all reasonable doubts that occasionally arose with unnerving ridicule. Surveying the mountain of books on my table, I felt like a traveler lost in a wilderness. A long period of meditation brought me a labor-saving inspiration. Opening each book at random, I studied only those pages which lay thus exposed. Pursuing this course during eighteen hours a day for a week, I considered myself entitled to advise all succeeding generations on the art of cramming.
The following days in the examination halls were a justification of my seemingly haphazard procedure. I passed all the tests, though by a hairbreadth. The congratulations of my friends and family were ludicrously mixed with ejaculations betraying their astonishment.
On his return from Puri, Sri Yukteswar gave me a pleasant surprise. “Your Calcutta studies are now over. I will see that you pursue your last two years of university work right here in Serampore.”
I was puzzled. “Sir, there is no Bachelor of Arts course in this town.” Serampore College, the sole institution of higher learning, offered only a two-year course in Intermediate Arts.
Master smiled mischievously. “I am too old to go about collecting donations to establish an A.B. college for you. I guess I shall have to arrange the matter through someone else.”
Two months later Professor Howells, president of Serampore College, publicly announced that he had succeeded in raising sufficient funds to offer a four-year course. Serampore College became a branch affiliation of the University of Calcutta. I was one of the first students to enroll in Serampore as an A.B. candidate.
“Guruji, how kind you are to me! I have been longing to leave Calcutta and be near you every day in Serampore. Professor Howells does not dream how much he owes to your silent help!”
Sri Yukteswar gazed at me with mock severity. “Now you won’t have to spend so many hours on trains; what a lot of free time for your studies! Perhaps you will become less of a last-minute crammer and more of a scholar.” But somehow his tone lacked conviction.