The bare-headed photographs in the book "Swami Vivekananda's Speeches and Writings", published by Messrs G. A. Natesan & Co. give a good idea of the appearance of the Swami. But no photograph or description can give a correct idea of the power of his eyes. They were wonderful. Like the "Ancient Mariner" in Coleridge's famous poem he "held you by the eye". The voice too had an indefinable attraction. Though not ringing and silvery like Mrs. Beasant's in her prime, more soft and pleasant like Mr, Norton's it attracted you and held you. He could sing beautifully. One evening as we were sitting listening to him, a pretty little child — a daughter of Mr. Bhattacharya, I believe — toddled in. He took the child on his lap and sang a Punjabi song. He observed that the song was attributed to Guru Nanak and told us of its origin. One evening, at the time of arati, Nanak went to a temple. The Brahmin priests would not allow him to enter. So, he turned aside and sang this song in which he compares the sky to a silver plate, the stars to little lights — nirajans — in that plate used for arati, the perfumed evening breeze to incense, and so on, reminding us, students, of Moore's poem which we had read in one of the School Text Books of the time, beginning with the lines:
"The Turf shall be my fragrant shrine,
My Temple, Lord, that arch of Thine."
In person Vivekananda was not flabby like many of the Bengalis whom we see, but was sturdy and somewhat thick-set. The complexion was brown with a slight coppery hue.
In manners Vivekananda was natural, unaffected and unconventional. There was none of that solemn gravity, measured utterance, and even temper that we usually associate with a sage. At times his manners were somewhat Johnsonian and brusque when he wanted to put down one who had asked a silly question or a question intended to show off one's knowledge. One hot morning (this was after he returned from America to Madras) at the end of a long sitting when many questions had been asked and answered, a somewhat conceited young man asked pompously, "What is the cause of misery in this world, Swami?" "Ignorance is the cause of misery", blurted out Vivekananda and rose and closed the interview. On another occasion one in the audience pointed out to the Swami that the view expressed by the Swami on some point of philosophy differed from that of Shri Shankaracharya. "Well", said the Swami, "Shankaracharya was a man, you are a man, and you can think for yourself." An orthodox Pandit appears to have had an interview with the Swami and attempted to show off his learning. Speaking of that interview the Swami said.
"The fellow who cannot pronounce jnana properly has the cheek to criticize my pronunciation of Sanskrit."
From Book Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda
A. Srinivasa Pai met Vivekananda in Madras, 1893, while Pai was a student reading in the Presidency College, Madras and again when Swamiji returned to Madras in 1897.