I can begin with the second day in my primary school. How long can it wait? It has already waited too long. The second day was my real entry into the school, because Kantar Master had been thrown out and everybody was joyous. Almost all the children were dancing. I could not believe it, but they told me, "You did not know Kantar Master. If he dies we will distribute sweets for the whole town, and burn thousands of candles in our houses."
I was received as if I had done a great deed. In fact I felt a little sorry for Kantar Master. He may have been very violent, but after all he was human too, and with all the weaknesses a human being is prone to. It was not at all his fault that he had only one eye and an ugly face. And I would even like to say something which I have never said before because I never thought anybody would believe it...
but I am not seeking believers, believe it or not.
Even his cruelty was not his fault. I emphasize his fault: it was natural to him. Just as he had only one eye, he had anger, and very violent anger. He could not tolerate anything that went against him in any way. Even the silence of the children was enough to provoke him.
He would look around and say, "Why so much silence? What is going on? There must be a reason for you to be so silent. I will teach you all a lesson, so that you will never do this thing again to me."
The children were all amazed. They had just been keeping quiet so as not to disturb him. But what could he do? Even that disturbed him. He needed medical treatment, not only physical, but psychological too. He was, in every way, sick. I felt sorry for him because I was, apparently at least, the cause of his removal.
But everybody was enjoying the occasion, even the teachers. I could not believe it when the headmaster also said to me, "Thank you, my boy. You have started your school life by doing something beautiful. That man was a pain in the neck."
I looked at him and said, "Perhaps I should remove the neck too."
Immediately he became serious, and said, "Go and do your work."
I said, "Look, you are happy, rejoicing, because one of your colleagues has been thrown out; and you call yourself a colleague? What kind of friendship is this? You never told him to his face how you felt. You could not have done it, he would have crushed you."
The headmaster was a small man, not more than five feet tall, or perhaps even less. And that sevenfoot giant, weighing four hundred pounds, could easily have crushed him, without any weapon, just with his fingers. "In front of him why did you always behave like a husband before his wife?" Yes, these were the exact words.
I remember saying, "You behaved like a henpecked husband; and remember, I may by chance have been the cause of his removal, but I was not planning anything against him. I had only just entered school, there was no time for setting up a planning commission. And you have been planning against him your whole life. He should at least have been sent to another school" - there were four schools in that town.
But Kantar Master was a strong man, and the president particularly was under his thumb. The president of that town was ready to be under anybody's thumb; perhaps he liked thumbs, I don't know, but soon the whole town realized that this holy cow-dung was not going to help.
In a town of twenty thousand, there was no road worth calling a road, no electricity, no park, nothing.
Soon the people realized that it was because of this cow-dung. He had to resign, so that at least for the remaining two and a half years his vice-president took his place.
Shambhu Babu transformed almost the whole face of that town. One thing I must say to you: that through me he came to know that even a small child could not only remove a teacher, but could create a situation in which the president of the town had to resign.
He used to say laughingly, "You have made me president." But there were times afterwards when we disagreed. He remained president for many years. Once the town saw his work during those two and a half years he was elected unanimously again and again. He did almost miracles in changing that town.
He made the first cement roads in the whole province, and brought electricity to our twenty thousand people. That was very rare. No other town of that size had electricity. He planted trees at the side of the roads, to give a little beauty to an ugly town. He did much. What I am preparing you for is that there were times when I did not agree with his policies. Then I was his opponent.
You cannot believe how a young child of perhaps twelve could be an opponent. I had my strategies.
I could persuade people very easily - just because I was a child, and what interest could I have in politics? And certainly I had no interest at all.
For example, Shambhu Babu imposed the octroi tax. I can understand that; without money how could he manage all his beautifying projects, and roads, and electricity? Naturally he needed money.
Some form of taxation was necessary.
I was not against taxation, I was against the octroi tax, because it goes on the head of the poorest.
The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. I am not against the rich becoming richer, but I am certainly against the poor becoming poorer. You will not believe it, and even he was surprised when I said, "I will go from house to house telling people not to vote for Shambhu Babu again. If the octroi remains then Shambhu Babu has to go. Or if Shambhu Babu wants to remain, then the octroi has to go. We will not allow both together." I not only went from house to house, I even spoke at my first public meeting.
People enjoyed seeing just a small boy speaking so logically. Even Shambhu Babu was sitting nearby, in a shop. I can still see him sitting there. That was his place. He used to sit there every day.
It was a strange place for him to sit, but the shop was in a very prominent place, at the very center of the town. That's why all the meetings used to be held there, and he could pretend that he was just sitting at his friend's shop and had nothing to do with the meeting.
When he heard me - and you know me, I was always the same. I pointed to Shambhu Babu sitting in that small shop, and said, "Look! He is sitting there. He has come to listen to what I am going to say. But, Shambhu Babu, remember: friendship is one thing, but I am not going to support your octroi tax. I will oppose it even if I have to lose your friendship. I will know that it was not worth much. If we can still remain friends although we may not agree on some points, or may even come to public conflict, only then will our friendship have any significance."
He was really a good man. He came out of the shop, patted me on the back and said, "Your arguments are worth considering. And as far as our friendship is concerned, this conflict has nothing to do with it." He never mentioned it again. I had thought that someday he would bring it up and say to me, "You were hitting me very hard and it was wrong." But he never even mentioned it. The most wonderful thing was that he withdrew the tax.
I asked him, "Why? I may oppose it, but I'm not even a voter yet. It was the public who voted you in."
He said, "That is not the point. If even you can oppose it, then there must be something wrong with what I am doing. I am withdrawing it. I have no fear of the public, but when a person like you disagrees, although you are very young, I respect you. And your argument is right that whatsoever taxation one applies, it has finally to be paid by the poor, because the rich are clever enough to shift it."
The octroi tax is taxation on any goods that enter the town. Now, when those goods are sold they will be sold at a higher price. You cannot prevent the taxation that the shopkeeper has paid being taken out of the pocket of a poor farmer. Of course, the shopkeeper will not call it taxation, it will just become part of the price.
Shambhu Babu said, "I understand the point and I have withdrawn the tax." As long as he was president the taxation was never again brought up, or even discussed. But he never felt offended, rather he became more respectful towards me. I felt awkward that I had to oppose somebody who I can say was the only person in that town I loved.
Even my father was surprised, and said, "You do some strange things. I heard you speaking in public. I knew you would do something like that, but not so soon. You were speaking so convincingly and against your own friend. Everybody was shocked that you were speaking against Shambhu Babu."
The whole town knew that I had no friend other than this old man, Shambhu Babu - he must have been around fifty. This would have been the time for us to have been friends, but the gap was not in our hands, so we did not take any notice of it. And he too had no other friends. He could not afford to lose me, nor could I afford to lose him. My father said, "I could not believe that you would speak against him."
I said, "I never said a single word against him. I was speaking against the taxation that he is trying to bring about. My friendship certainly does not include that; octroi is excluded. And I had told Shambhu Babu beforehand, by way of making him aware, that if anything is disagreeable to me, I will fight it, even against him. That's why he was present in that shop, just to listen to what I was saying against his tax. But I did not say a single word against Shambhu Babu."
The second day at school was as if I had done something great. I could not believe that people had been so oppressed by Kantar Master. It was not that they were rejoicing for me; even then I could see the distinction clearly. Today too, I can remember perfectly that they were rejoicing because Kantar Master was no longer on their backs.
They had nothing to do with me, although they were acting as if they were rejoicing for me. But I had come to school the day before and nobody had even said, "Hello." Yet now the whole school had gathered at the Elephant Gate to receive me. I had become almost a hero on just my second day.
But I told them then and there, "Please disperse. If you want to rejoice go to Kantar Master. Dance in front of his house. Rejoice there. Or go to Shambhu Babu, who is the real cause of his removal. I am nobody. I did not go with any expectation, but things happen in life that you had never expected, nor deserved. This is one of those things, so please forget about it."
But it was never forgotten in my whole school life. I was never accepted as just another child. Of course, I was not very concerned with school at all. Ninety percent of the time I was absent. I would appear only once in a while for my own reason, but not to attend school.
I was learning many things, but not in school. I was learning strange things. My interests were a little uncommon, to say the least. For example I was learning how to catch snakes. In those days so many people used to come to the village with beautiful snakes, and the snakes would dance to their flute. It really impressed me.
All those people have almost disappeared, for the simple reason that they were all Mohammedan.
They have either gone to Pakistan or been killed by the Hindus, or perhaps changed their profession because it was too much of a public declaration that they were Mohammedan. No Hindu practiced that art.
I would follow any snake charmer all day asking him, "Just tell me the secret of how you catch snakes." And slowly, slowly, they understood that I was not one who could be prevented from doing anything. They said among themselves, "If we don't tell him he is going to try on his own."
When I said to one snake charmer, "Either you tell me or else I am going to try on my own; if I die you will be responsible" - he knew me because for days I had been bothering him, and bugging him - he said, "Wait, I will teach you."
He took me outside the town and started to teach me how to catch snakes; how to teach them to dance when you play the flute. It was he who told me for the first time that snakes don't have ears.
They cannot hear, and almost everybody believes that they are influenced by the snake charmer's flute.
He told me, "The truth is they can't hear at all."
I then asked him, "But how do they start swaying then when you play your flute?"
He said, "It is nothing but training. When I play my flute, have you ever noticed that I sway my head?
That is the trick. I sway my head and the snake starts swaying, and unless he sways he remains hungry. So the sooner he starts swaying, the better. Hunger is the secret, not the music."
I learned from these snake charmers how to catch snakes. In the first place, ninety-seven percent of snakes are harmless, non-poisonous. You can catch them without any problem. Of course they will bite, but because they don't have any poison it will just be a bite, you will not die. Ninety-seven percent don't have poison glands, and the three percent who do have a strange habit: they bite just enough to make a place available for their poison, then they turn over. The poison gland is upside down in their throat, so first they make the wound, then they turn over and pour in the poison. You can catch them either before they make the wound... and the best way is to grasp their mouth really tight.
I had not known that you need to grasp the mouth, but that has to be the first thing. If you miss, and they make a wound in you, don't be worried: keep tight hold and just don't let them turn over. The wound will heal and you won't die.
I was learning, and this is just an example. Unfortunately all those snake charmers had to leave India. There were magicians doing all kinds of unbelievable things, and I was certainly more interested in the magicians than in my poor teacher and his geography or history. I followed these magicians like a servant. I would not leave them unless they taught me a little trick.
I was continuously amazed that what appeared so unbelievable was nothing but a small trick. But unless you knew the trick you had to accept the greatness of the phenomenon. Once you knew the trick - it is like a balloon losing its air - it becomes smaller and smaller, just a punctured balloon.
Soon you have just a little piece of rubber in your hand and nothing else. That great balloon was simply hot air.
I was learning in my own ways things which were really going to help me. That's why I can say that Satya Sai Baba and people like him are just street magicians - and not even very good ones, just ordinary. But these magicians have disappeared from the streets of India because they also were Mohammedans.
In India you have to understand one thing, that people for thousands of years have followed a certain structure. One's profession is almost always given by your parents; it is a heritage, you
cannot change it. It will be difficult for a westerner to understand, hence so many problems arise in understanding, in communicating with the easterner.
I was learning, but not in school, and I never repented for it. I learned from all kinds of strange people. You cannot find them working in schools as teachers, that is not possible. I was with Jaina monks, Hindu sadhus, Buddhist bhikkus, and all kinds of people one is not expected to associate with.
The moment I became aware that I was not supposed to associate with somebody that was enough for me to associate with that person, because he must be an outsider. Because he was an outsider, hence the prohibition - and I am a lover of outsiders.
I hate the insiders. They have done so much harm that it is time to call the game off. The outsiders I have always found a little crazy, but beautiful - crazy yet intelligent. Not the intelligence of Mahatma Gandhi, he was a perfect insider; nor is it the intelligence of the so-called intellectuals - Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, Karl Marx, Hugh Bach - the list is endless.
The first intellectual was the serpent who started this whole thing. Otherwise there would have been no trouble. He was the first intellectual. I don't call him a devil. I call you the devils: this company.
You may not follow the meaning I give to the word. To me "the devil" always means "divine." It comes from the Sanskrit root deva, meaning "divine." So I have named your company "the devils."
But the serpent was an intellectual, and he played the trick that all intellectuals do. He persuaded the woman to purchase something while her husband was at the office, or maybe somewhere else, because offices came later - must have been fishing, hunting, or you can imagine what the husband was doing. At least he was not fooling around, that much was certain, because there was nobody to fool around with. It all had to come, but later on.
The serpent argued that, "God has told you not to eat the fruit of the tree of life..." and it was nothing more than an apple tree. Sometimes I think nobody could have sinned more than me because I must be eating more apples than anybody in the world. And apples are so innocent that I wonder why the apple had to be chosen - what wrong had the apple done to God? I cannot figure it out.
But one thing I can say: the man called serpent must have been a great intellectual, so great that he proved eating apples to be a sin. But intelligence to me is never of the mind.