I was talking about my primary school. I rarely went, and it was such a relief to everybody that I wanted to give it to them as much as possible. Why could I not give them one hundred percent relief? For the simple reason that I loved them too - I mean the people: the teachers, the servants, the gardeners. Once in a while I wanted to visit them, particularly when I wanted to show them something. A little boy, anxious to show everything he has to those he loves... but those things were sometimes dangerous. Even now I cannot resist laughing.
I remember one day very vividly. It has always been waiting there for its moment. Perhaps the moment has come, and it has to be told and shared. It is a series of events....
I had just learned how to catch snakes. Snakes are poor people, innocent too, and beautiful; very alive. You cannot believe what I am saying unless you have seen two snakes in love. You may wonder how snakes make love. They don't make it - it is only man who makes everything - they do it. And when they are in love they are just flames. And the reason I am saying that it is surprising is because they have no bones, yet they still stand up to kiss each other! Stand on what? They have no legs either, they just stand on their tails. If you see two snakes standing on their tails kissing each other, you will never bother to see any Hollywood film again.
I had just learned how to catch a snake and how to make the distinction between the poisonous snake and the non-poisonous. A few are absolutely so poisonless that you can perhaps call them another kind of fish, because many of them live in water. The water snakes are the most innocent, even more than fish. Fish are cunning, but water snakes are not. I had tried my hand at all kinds of snakes, so when I say it, I am not just telling somebody else's story, it is my story.
I had just caught a snake. Now this was the day to go to the school. You will say, "Strange...?"
Otherwise I was so busy, there was no time to waste with stupid questions, answers, foolish maps.
Even then I could see that maps are all nonsense, because on the earth I don't see lines anywhere, either for the district or the municipality. So all the nations are just cow-dung, and not holy either - unholy cow-dung. If anything like that exists, it is politics - unholy and cow-dung, both together. It is politics that has created the maps.
I was not the one to waste my time there. I was exploring real geography; going to the mountains, disappearing for days. Only my Nani knew when I would come. And for days I would not be heard or seen, because I was not there. And everybody, I think, except my Nani, was happy. You will come to know why... and they were right, about that I have no doubt.
I had caught a snake, my first success. Naturally, I wanted to go to school immediately. And I didn't bother to wear the uniform, and nobody can expect me to. I never did, even in primary school. I said, "I have come to learn, not to be destroyed. If I can learn anything, good, but I won't allow you to destroy me, and the uniform - chosen by you who don't know a thing about beauty and form - I cannot accept. I will create great trouble if you try to impose it on me."
They said, "Keep it ready just in case the inspector comes, otherwise we will be in trouble. We don't want to trouble you because we don't want trouble ourselves. It is a costly affair," my teacher said, "to create trouble for you. We know what happened to Kantar Master; it can happen to anybody. But please keep the uniform just for our sakes."
And you will be surprised that my uniform was supplied by our school. I don't know who contributed its cost, nor do I care. I kept it, knowing perfectly well that it was almost a mathematical impossibility that my visit to the school, and the inspector's visit to the school, could fall on the same date. It was not possible, that's what I thought, but I kept the uniform. It was beautiful: they had done their best and they were not insisting that I should come wearing it.
I was always a foreigner. Even now among my own people, I am not wearing the uniform. I just cannot. Even a uniform that I have chosen for you, I cannot be in it. Why? That day there was the same question. Today again, it is the same question. I just cannot conform. You can think of it as a whim; it is not whimsical at all, it is very existential. But we will not go into that, otherwise what I was saying to you will be missed. I will never come to it again.
I had caught my first snake. It was such a joy, and the snake was so beautiful. Just to touch it was to touch something really alive. It was not like touching your wife, your husband, your son, or even your son-in-law, where you touch and bless them, and you don't have any feeling - you just want to go and watch T.V., particularly if you are in America, or if you are in England, go to the cricket match or the football match. People are crazy in different ways, but crazy all the same.
That snake was a real snake, not a plastic snake that you could purchase in any store. Of course, the plastic snake may be made perfectly but it does not breathe; that's the only trouble with it, otherwise it is perfect. God could not have improved upon it. Just one thing is missing - the breathing - and for just one thing why complain? But that one thing is all. I had just caught a real snake, so beautiful and so clever that I had to put my whole intelligence into catching him, because I was not in any way interested in killing him.
The man who was teaching me was an ordinary street magician. In India we call them Madari. They do all kinds of tricks without any charge. But they do so well that in the end they simply spread their
handkerchief on the ground and say, "Now something for my stomach." And people may be poor, but when they see something so beautifully done they always give.
So this man was an ordinary Madari, a street magician. That is the closest translation I can manage, because I don't think that anything like the Madaris exist in the West. In the first place, they won't allow a crowd to gather on the street. The police car will immediately arrive saying that you are blocking the traffic.
In India, there is no question of blocking the traffic; there are no traffic laws! You can walk in the middle of the road; you can follow the golden mean - literally. You can follow the American way, you can go to the extreme right, or to the very extreme left. The extreme right is the American way, the extreme left is the Russian way; you can choose - or you can choose any position anywhere in between. The whole road is yours; you can make your house there. You will be surprised to know that in India you can do anything imaginable, or unimaginable, on the street. I include even the unimaginable because one never knows.
The Madaris were certainly causing a traffic jam, but who was to object? Even the policeman was one of the admirers, clapping at the tricks the Madari was playing. I have seen all kinds of people gathered there blocking the whole road. No, Madaris could not exist in the West, in the same sense - and they're really beautiful people; simple, ordinary, but they "know something," as they say.
The man who was teaching me told me, "Remember, this is a dangerous snake. These snakes should not be caught."
I said, "You are freed. These are the only snakes I am going to catch." I had never seen such a beautiful snake, so colorful, so alive in every fiber of his being. Naturally I could not resist - I was just a little boy - I rushed to the school. I wanted to avoid relating what happened there, but I will just because I can see it again.
The whole school, as many as were possible, gathered in my classroom, and the others were standing on the verandah outside, looking through the windows and the doors. Others were standing even farther away just in case the snake escaped or something went wrong - and this boy, from the very first day had been a trouble-maker. But my class, just thirty or forty little boys, were all afraid, standing and shouting, and I really enjoyed it.
The thing that you will also enjoy and I could not believe, was that the teacher stood on his chair!
Even today I can see him standing on his chair and saying, "Get out! Get out! Leave us alone! Get out!"
I said, "First you get down."
He became quiet, because the question of getting down was dangerous with such a big snake. The snake must have been six or seven feet long, and I was dragging it in a bag, so that I could suddenly expose it to everybody. And when I exposed it there was chaos! I can still see the teacher jumping on his chair. I could not believe my eyes. I said, "This is just wonderful."
He said, "What is wonderful?"
I said, "You jumping up and standing on the chair. You will break it!"
First the children were not afraid, but when they saw him so afraid - just see how children are being impressed by stupid and wrong people. When they had seen me coming in with the snake, they were just joy, "Allelujah!" But when they saw the teacher standing on his chair... for a moment there was complete silence, only the teacher was jumping and shouting, "Help!"
I said, "I don't see the point. The snake is in my hands. I am in danger, you are not. You are standing on your chair. You are too far away for the poor snake to reach. I would like him to reach, and have a little talk with you."
I can still see that man and his face. He met me only once after that experience. By that time I had renounced my professorship and become a beggar... although I never begged. But the truth is I am a beggar; but a special type of beggar who does not beg.
You will have to find a word for it. I don't think a word exists in any language that can explain my situation, simply because I have not been here before - in this way, this style. Neither has anybody else been this way, with this style: having nothing and living as if you own the whole universe.
I remember him saying, "I cannot forget when you brought that snake into my class. It still comes into my dreams, and I cannot believe that that kind of boy has become a Buddha, impossible!"
I said, "You are right. 'That kind of boy' has died, and what is after the death of that boy, you may call Buddha, or you may choose something else, or you may choose not to call it anything. I simply don't exist the way you knew me. I would have loved to, but what can I do? I died."
He said, "See? I'm talking seriously and you are making a joke out of it."
"I am doing my best, but," I told him, "it is not only you who remembers. Whenever I have a bad day or the weather is not good, or something - the tea was not hot enough, the food was as if prepared for food poisoning - then I remember you jumping on your chair and calling for help. And that cheers me up again - although I am dead, it still helps. I am tremendously grateful to you."
I used to go to school only for such moments. There were certainly only a few..."occasions" I should call them. It was necessary for everybody's happiness that I should not be present there regularly every day. You will be surprised that the peon, the man whose duty was.... What do you call him?
Peon? - or don't you have any word for it: p-e-o-n, peon? But we in India call him peon. Whatsoever the word is, it is the lowest servant in every office.
Devaraj, what is it?
No, that is a different thing, but comes close to it. I thought "peon" must be an English word; it is not of Hindi origin. I may not be pronouncing it rightly. We will find out, but it is spelled "peon."
The peon was the only person who was unhappy when I was not there... because everybody else was happy about it. He loved me. I have never seen an older man than him. He was ninety or
perhaps more. Perhaps he had made the century; in fact, he may have been even more because he tried to reduce his age as much as possible so that he could continue in service a little longer...
and he continued.
In India you don't know your birth date, and particularly if you were born one hundred years before, I don't think there would be any certificate or record; impossible. But I have never seen a man older than him and yet full of juice, really juicy.
He was the only man in that whole school for whom I had some respect - but he was the lowest, nobody even looked at him. Once in a while, just for his sake, I used to visit the school, but I only went to his place.
His place was just by the corner of the Elephant Gate. His work was to open and close the gate, and he had a bell hanging in front of his cabin, to hit every forty minutes, leaving just ten minutes twice each day for tea breaks, and one hour for lunch. That was his only work, otherwise he was a completely free man.
I would go into his cabin, and he would close the door so that nobody disturbed us, and so that I could not escape easily. Then he would say, "Now tell me everything since we met last time." And he was such a lovely old man. His face had so many lines that I had even tried to count them, of course not telling him. I was pretending to listen to him while I was counting how many lines his forehead had - and it was all forehead because all his hair had gone - and how many lines were on his cheeks. In fact his whole face, howsoever you divided it, was nothing but lines. But behind those lines was a man of infinite love and understanding.
If I did not visit the school for many days, then it was certain that the day was coming closer when if I didn't go, then he would come to find me. That meant my father would know everything: that I never went to school, that attendance was given to me just to keep me out. That was the agreement. I had said, "Okay, I will keep myself out, but what about my attendance, because who is going to answer my father?"
They said, "Don't be worried about your attendance. We will give you one hundred percent attendance, even on holidays, so don't be worried at all."
So I was always aware that before he came to visit my house, it was better to go to his cabin, and somehow - again I have to use the word "synchronicity" - he knew when I was coming. I knew that if I didn't go that day he would be coming to inquire what had happened to me. And it became almost mathematically accurate.
I would start from the very morning with the feeling, "Listen" - I am not saying it to you, I am just telling you how I used to get up - "Listen, if you don't go today, Mannulal" - that was his name - "is going to visit by the evening. Before that happens, somehow at least make an appearance before him."
And except once I always followed my inner voice; I mean in concern to Mannulal. Only once... and I was getting a little tired of the whole thing, it was a kind of torture - I had to go. I went out of fear, otherwise he would tell my father and mother, and would create havoc. I said, "No. Today I'm not going. Whatsoever happens I'm not going."
And who did I see? Nobody but Mannulal, the old man, coming. Perhaps he was more than a hundred and just pretending he was not. To me he always looked, and I still insist that he was, more than a hundred - perhaps a hundred and ten, or even a hundred and twenty. He was so ancient- looking you would not believe it. I have never seen anything so ancient. I have visited museums, all kinds of collections of old objects, but I have never come across anything more prehistoric than Mannulal.
He was coming! I ran out just in time to prevent him from entering the house. He said to me, "I had to come to find you, because you were trying not to come to see me. And you know that I am an old man. I may die tomorrow, who knows? I just wanted to see you. I am happy that you are healthy and as alive as ever." Saying that, he blessed me, turned, and went away. I can see his back, with the strange uniform that the peon had to wear.
Now this will be really difficult for me to describe. First the color: it was khaki - I think you call it khaki, am I right? Second: up to his knees there was a strap running around his leg, also khaki, but a separate thing. It was just to make the man look more alive, alert, or better to say "on alert." In fact it was so tight, what else could you do other than be alert?
It is strange but your dress can even change your behavior. For example, wearing a very tight robe, or tight dress I mean, not robe, or tight pants like the teenagers are using - so tight that one wonders how they got into them... I could not get into them, that much is certain. And even if they were born into them from the very beginning then how will they get out of them? But these are philosophical questions. They are not worried. They just sing pop songs and eat popcorn. What else to do in the world? But dress can certainly change your behavior.
Soldiers cannot have loose uniforms, otherwise they cannot be fighters. When you wear something tight, so tight that you want to get out of it, then naturally you want to fight with everybody. You are simply angry. It is not objective - directed to anybody in particular - it is simply a subjective feeling.
You simply want to get out of it. What to do? - have a good fight. It certainly makes people feel a little relaxed. Then, naturally, the tight clothes get a little looser.
That's why every lover, before making love, first has to go through the ritual pillow fight, argument, and say nasty things to the other. Then of course it is a comedy; everything in it ends well. Alas, can't people start loving from the very beginning? But no, their very tightness prevents it. They cannot loosen up.
Just three minutes for me.... There was much to say, but I have something else to do. You can see the tear... please remove it. But it was beautiful, thank you.
This is great...(CHUCKLE) you go on. Ashu, you are doing well. You go on your way, he goes on his way; ways differ and I don't think they will meet anywhere.
It is finished? Good! (CHUCKLING.)