Friday 23 June 2017

Swami Vivekananda - Josephine MacLeod : 4

Swamiji's knowledge was prodigious. Once when my niece, Alberta Sturges, later Lady Sandwich, was with him in Rome, showing him the sights, she was amazed at his knowledge of where the great monuments were. And when she went to St. Peter's with him, she was still more amazed to see him so reverential to the symbols of the Roman Church — to all the jewels, all the beautiful draperies, put upon the saints. She said, "Swami, you don't believe in a Personal God; why do you honour this so much?" He answered, "But Alberta, if you do believe in a Personal God, surely you give it your best."

That autumn he went from Switzerland to India with Mr. and Mrs. Sevier and Mr. J. J. Goodwin, where a great ovation awaited him by the entire nation. This can be read about in the discourses called Lectures from Colombo to Almora. Mr. Goodwin was the stenographer who had been engaged at 54 West 33rd Street to take down the lectures of Swami Vivekananda. Mr. Goodwin was a court-stenographer, which meant two hundred words a minute, and he was very expensive; but as we did not want to lose any of Vivekananda's words, we engaged him. After the first week Mr. Goodwin refused any money; when they said to him, "What do you mean?" he said, "If Vivekananda gives his life, the least I can do is to give my service." He followed Swami around the world, and we have seven volumes (nine now) hot from his lips that Mr. Goodwin took down.

I never wrote to Swami after he went to India, waiting to hear from him. Finally I had a letter, "Why don't you write?" Then I sent back, "Shall I come to India?" And his answer was, "Yes, come, if you want filth and degradation and poverty and many loin cloths talking religion. Don't come if you want anything else. We cannot bear one more criticism." Naturally I went over by the first ship; I sailed on the twelfth of January with Mrs. Ole Bull and Swami Saradananda. We stopped in London. Then on to Rome. We arrived in Bombay on the twelfth of February where Mr. Alasinga met us, who wore the vertical red marks of the Vaishnavite sect. Later on, once when I was sitting with Swami on our way to Kashmir, I happened to make the remark, "What a pity that Mr. Alasinga wears those Vaishnavite marks on his forehead!" Instantly Swami turned and said with great sternness, "Hands off! What have you ever done?" I did not know what I had done then. Of course I never answered. Tears came to my eyes and I waited. I learnt later that Mr. Alasinga Perumal was a young Brahmin teaching philosophy in a college in Madras earning 100 rupees a month, supporting his father, mother, wife, and four children, and who had gone from door to door to beg the money to send Vivekananda to the West. Perhaps without him we never would have met Vivekananda. Then one understood the anger with which Swamiji met the slightest attack on Mr. Alasinga.

To be continued.... (Memoirs of  Josephine MacLeod)

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