As there are no facilities for visitors to stay
in any of Ma’s Ashrams I took a room in a nearby dharamsala. It was empty
except for a string bed. Someone gave me a broom of twigs and a candle. Parvati(1)
, whom I used to know as Janaki before she met Ram Alexander, gave me a mattress.
After the Vijayananda Interview, Parvati made
me a late-night mint tea which may have helped cancel my resolve to make an
early morning escape and to abandon further work on this book. The morning pale
sun is filling me with resignation and hope, and anyhow, what has a channel
to fear? Absorb what there is to be absorbed and swing along.
I am swinging into the next Interview — Ram has
again put in another good word for me — with such renewed spirits that
at the end of listening to a breath-taking 45 minute saga, when it comes to
turning over the cassette, I find nothing has been recorded. Oh, no —
not another sign: brother, go home! And Atmananda, my latest Interviewee whom
I have known and admired for several years from the time when I lived near her
in Rajpur, is saying coyly: I told you I didn’t want to talk into that
machine! Frustration and incompetence met by even more confusion.
But Atmananda is not heartless, and she knows her story
is unique: She says, if you can come to see me in Rajpur next month, may be…?
And to give me another boost she points across the courtyard, saying: Look,
there’s Melita — she’s a bit difficult, but once you get her
to talk it will be fascination.
I am running, but Melita won’t speak. She is
in a bad mood. She is also a writer, and writers don’t always feel like
spluttering out gems they can use themselves. Instead she gives me a published
article she says I can use…but... No, you can’t take it with you:
copy it, dear, copy it!
I am really definitely — and right now —
about to take the bus back to Mussoorie. But Melita is snatching back the papers,
saying: All right, you be here at 1:15 — my bad mood, it MAY change. Melita
is so volatile, who can tell?
So now there’s time for lunch with friends, and
like sweet and true devotees they are telling me all about Ma and they are stretching
it out, and I am 10 minutes late. And Melita is in a worse mood. She has written
me a note saying: ”TOO LATE!” She is pinning it to her dharmasala
door. But the sight of a hopeless breathless incompetent trembling interviewer
(dharamsala stairs are steep and many) makes her roar with laughter —
the bad mood, it changes. She lets me in. We start, and quick....
First… I never came to India looking for
gurus. Ma I met accidentally. How? —
you will ask. Then it is for you to listen. In 1962 I was working in Afghanistan
as a journalist. Journalists have holidays, so I wanted to spend three weeks
with a German family in Mussoorie — that’s where you live, right?
Right. We started from Kabul — all fine — but by the time we reached
the nice Himalayan foothills, the rains washed away the road. That meant their
fat Mercedes couldn’t move. I got out, took my bundle and went to Dehra
Dun, making myself independent. After passing a boring hour there I asked somebody
what would be interesting to see. He said: Take this bus standing at the corner,
it goes to Hardwar — that’s a lovely place of pilgrimage. I looked
round Hardwar… not so interesting, so I asked someone else on the street.
Is there something really nice to see? Much, much — I was told —
take a rickshaw to Kankhal: it has an old Shiva
temple, and today a fair is going on.
O.K…Right…Fine. There I found a children’s
picture-book temple: it is near Ma’s Ashram. I remember this was the first
impression of Indian poverty. The fair was going on but there were hundreds
of beggars sitting along the lanes, among them many lepers. A little time before,
I had changed a 100 rupee note into a clean bundle of one rupee notes; I started
This caused five thousand beggars to jump at me. I felt as if my last minute
had come, oo-ha! Later someone told me that in the same place two years before
a Rani had been mobbed to death by these violent people. With their half-eaten
faces and hands they were pulling at my bag — they spat in my face: it
was shocking. But suddenly two ladies from south India jumped into the crowd,
and with great energy howled and pushed and beat these people. They saved me
and my handbag — I suppose the poor things thought there must be millions
in it. The ladies scolded me terribly — yes, quite terribly — not
to give money, otherwise they run after you.
Anyway, they had saved me. Then as they had just
come to Hardwar we stayed in a nearby hotel together. We had a nice talk —
not too long — they jumped up saying: We have to quickly go to our Ashram
to see our guruji — wait for us, we shall be back
in an hour. They pointed to the Ashram — in those days it was the nucleus
of today’s Ashram. I had never even heard of an Ashram or a guruji: I thought may be it’s a dentist
or something like that.
You live in India so you will know whenever anyone
says ‘wait for me one hour’, it means between one and four hours:
it does not mean sixty minutes. After waiting one hour and ten minutes I became
worried so I went to the door through which my lovely ladies had vanished. I
knocked hard till an unfriendly young man came out and chased me away by banging
the door against my nose. After another twenty minutes I knocked again —
I thought perhaps they were in trouble, so late they were. This time one of
my ladies saw me and made them let me in. So now although I was inside, I could
see everyone was quite content to wait a few more hours, but at least I found
out they were not waiting for the dentist but their spiritual teacher. I was
One very old lady then came out and offered me a
glass of water; someone told me she was the mother of the guruji, Didi Ma — but by myself I would
not have been able to make out if it was a man or woman so old was she with
a shaven head, sannyasi
clothes and toothless smile — a sweet smile. Eventually we were allowed
to go up to the roof where we again prepared ourselves for more lovely waiting.
We were about twenty-five people.
Then suddenly Ma came out and went up and down, up
and down. It was my first intensive impression of this type of people I had
ever had — they were a category of entities I had not met before. They
started bowing down — pranaming
— ecstatic, and Ma chatted with them, laughed with them. Someone forced
me to put a question — I had no desire to ask anything — but somehow
something came out. The reply was translated by one of the sadhus.
It was in such a nice Indian-English that even one syllable I did not understand:
to this day I do not know what Ma said to me at this first meeting.
What I did know was that I was absolutely fascinated
by what I saw although I had no idea of its significance. I am from a Protestant
background, and that anyone saintly is moving amongst us in a physical body
seemed to me quite out of the question.
When we got back to the hotel, the two ladies asked
if I had an alarm clock: they explained they had to go back to the Ashram so
they must be up by 4 a.m. I laughed and said: I will be your alarm clock because
I hardly sleep. The fact is that for years in spite of taking heavy drugs I
was unable to sleep soundly. That night after seeing Ma was a great turning
point for me in many ways, and one of them was that the annoyed ladies had to
wake ME at 6. Since then I have never had to take anything to encourage sleep.(3)
Now I had nearly 3 weeks before I had to go back to Kabul, so I decided to circulate
round this saintly phenomenon and study it.
I was told to carry out the process at Ma’s
Ashram in Dehra Dun where she was to arrive in 3 days. Here I would be able
to look at her closer for, they said, fewer crowds come. By then, Atmananda,
who is Ma’s oldest Western devotee, had given me some information and
said: “You ask Ma questions and you will see how wonderful are the answers!”
I had no desire to do this but when I started I made a list of 15 philosophic
Then a funny thing happened: when I came into Ma’s
room, there was a lady and a boy involved in an intense angry talk – it
seemed to me a non-problem: should the boy drink tea or coffee? I thought….Oo-ha!...all
this fuss about so little. But I sat down with Atmananda; Ma was lying on her
cot watching everything, but she said to Atmananda: What’s all this?
Atmananda showing all the question-papers said: Ma,
she has a long list of questions. Ma said sweetly: Bolo, bolo! (Speak up!).
So it started. By the way, this was all eighteen years ago so I don’t
remember any of those questions, but Atmananda prepared, held the papers up,
and out came number one question! (4)
When Ma heard it she started roaring with laughter.
I was slightly irritated, but anyhow… Atmananda read on. Number two question.
Then three and four, but not one got answered — Ma just laughed loud,
played with her hair, her toes, looked out of the window; she was just laughing,
laughing, laughing. This went on from question to question. I got more and more
angry until about question number nine… I thought: Either they are fools
or I am — I’m not in the right place here, let me go!
Taking my unwanted questions from Atmananda, I said
bye-bye, and out of the room I went straight for the Dehra Dun railway station
where I made a reservation for the night train to Delhi. It was a long wait,
so by the afternoon I thought: Let me go back and see what is going on with
these laughing people? I slipped in a bit shy as I didn’t want to get
nailed down, but I found Ma sitting with a crowd in front of her — she
was giving darshan. She saw me, made intensive movements:
Come here, come here! She pushed the people away and made me sit down. So I
sat for some time and I must say I again found it as fascinating as before:
the way she was with the people. Their devotion and bowing down was strange
to me, but I was caught again. From time to time Ma threw a quick glance at
me from the corner of one eye, and each time, out came the laughter again.
In spite of this I never took the night train: I
stayed the full three weeks with Ma. Now although she must have seen me several
times each day, every time it was like my appearance caused a button to be pressed
and burrrr… here was the laughter again! Well, I thought, it can’t
be helped. I couldn’t understand why I produced all this merriment in
her and I have never asked her. In course of time — Oo-ha! — this
stopped being our only form of communication.
When my three weeks were up I decided to wind up
all my work in Germany for some length of time — one or two or three years,
to be near this exciting phenomenon.
I believe you have written
a book in German on Ma.
Yes. I was a journalist for long years and had written a few books. After I
had stayed a year with Ma I found my daily notes just required a little editing
and they were published in that form.(5)
When did you decide to
I never decided. After one year I said it’s too little, after two years
I stayed three. Then after about four years I didn’t think about it —
it just happened that I am here now eighteen years.
Can you speak about the
Everyone is given their own form, but Ma stresses that we are not to speak about
it, not even among ourselves — it’s secret.
I see you haven’t
adopted any special form of dress.
I have met so many crooks in religious robes, in the West as well as in India;
I have no desire to share their uniforms. I have a great aversion to uniforms.
In the generation which grew up with Hitler we were all pressed into uniforms.
In the beginning I did wear a white saree here, but I found them unpractical
— I always fell about on the staircases. I just wear clothes that are
comfortable now. Anyway, I do not live in the Ashram but in this nearby dharamsala.
Only two or three Westerners are permitted to live inside. I have never been
fully identified with any community — I am not fully identified with this
one either. I am an outside insider.
You have now lived here
all these years, is it because you are still fascinated by Ma?
That wouldn’t last eighteen years. It’s something deeper, something
impossible to describe. After I had been with Ma for some weeks, one day I said
to her: I did not come here to love you, I came to learn how to love God —
to love God better through you. At that time — yes, of course —
I was very fascinated by her, so much so that it tortured me to part from her
at night to go to my hotel room. For anyone in her middle forties, such an experience
is confusing. But I have seen this happen to newcomers of all ages and both
sexes from East and West. It takes time to understand Ma’s irresistible
power of attraction; it has only one purpose: to draw towards God those whose
lives have but one center of gravitation.
A friend once said to me after having a first darshan from Ma: You are all like fish
struggling on her line. Well, that was not a nice comment, but true in a certain
sense. I have often thought Ma has thrown a hook into my heart — if I
try to get away, it tears painful wounds. If I follow, its pull draws me nearer
to her. Suddenly the point is reached when the external senses recognize Ma
unchanged and the inner sense sees only the presence of God.
Perhaps one can say she awakens the ability to love
in people’s hearts with the purpose of turning them towards God. I found
this turning caused by her as a revelation within me, a liberation. Fascination
freed me from its compulsion. To love becomes a source of inner peace, of joy
and hope which is free of fear.
Ma is so beautiful because her body is transparent
due to the divine light which is the source of all beauty. Years ago I said
to her: I am such an extrovert that I cannot see God within myself, but sometimes
I see Him in your face. That night I made a note in my diary: During the evening
darshan, Ma glanced at me; suddenly her
face which had looked tired became radiantly beautiful, irradiated by the inner
light. For an hour she sat silent without moving on her couch. No one dared
to talk. Each cell of her body vibrated in the joy of mysterious Presence. Is
it allowed to try and interpret such a situation? But perhaps when Ma glanced
at me she remembered my remark that morning: Sometimes I see God in your face.
And there He was, called by my loving longing to see Him.
Can you give a brief
description of Ma’s teaching?
She wants everyone — inside or outside Hinduism — to follow their own
way but to follow it to the ultimate goal. She is keen that Christians should
become better Christians, and many find through Ma they understand the Bible
better than before. This makes her happier than someone saying he wants to become
a Hindu. She is very conservative, so there is no possibility of this —
you have to be born into a Hindu caste.
Are you ever lonely living this new life?
What are the advantages
of being with Ma?
As we progress we begin to see there is more peace, more joy, one is able to
control desires, fears, the naughty mind — that is some proof that you
have the right teacher.
Are you still interested
in literature and the arts?
The interest is there but there is no time, and the intensity of interest has
left me. If I see some modern painting — yes — I look, but the interest
is on the periphery, that’s all.
Do you keep up with what’s
happening in the world?
Only superficially — it’s enough. Months go by without me seeing
a newspaper. Perhaps you can tell me what’s going on?
Me? Oh, I don’t
know either. I live 1,000 ft. above Mussoorie — that’s 7,000 ft.
up in the Himalayas — so I never know anything. We don’t even have
a radio, but somehow one can live without the news. I am wondering with your
temperament if there have been difficulties in your life since you came to live
How can one answer that? We don’t know what would have happened had we
remained in our old habits. The difficulties depend on the community in which
we live, and ours is especially difficult because as you know Ma follows to
a high degree the laws of the Bengali orthodox Brahmins. This makes communication between
Indians and non-Indians, the caste and the non-caste….we Westerners are non-caste….most difficult. There are
always little miseries which hurt through these laws and we get angry and there
are tensions. For me there is only one difficulty, and that is that I cannot
have such a close relationship with my guru as those born inside caste. It is the cause of much pain at
times. But it may also be Ma’s way of rubbing our egos, and I think she
makes nice use of it.
Anyway, I sometimes taste a joy unlike anything else
I have ever tasted — and I have gone through all the scales of taste.
For many years it was a source of suffering that I was not allowed to live in
the Ashram, but this dharamsala is only five minutes away so I am outside all
the involvements. I am an explosive person so it is possible I would have created
trouble for them as well as for me if I had lived inside the Ashram.
One last question: have
you done much travelling in India?
Oh, yes — lots — but only following the procession of Ma; she travels,
we travel. I have done no sightseeing, though. When I came to India, you see,
my time for sightseeing was over.
In the mid-ninties Melita had to leave India through ill health and deteriating
memory. She returned to Germany after having been in India for over thirty
years. She now lives in an old-folks home in Darmstadt.