Sri Bhagavan was not always the same. Most of the time he was a very pleasing person with a fascinating welcome smile. However, on occasion, he could be stern and look forbidding. At such moments people were struck with awe and a deep searching of the heart.
One hot Sunday afternoon an old devotee placed before Sri Bhagavan some palmyra fruits (nongu). Bhagavan severely remarked: “Why do you do this daily? You are a sannyasin. You must beg of others the wherewithal to procure these. You must say that they are for me. You know that I cannot eat them without others present sharing them and so you have to get some quantity, and this you do using my name, as though I desire it. Can’t you keep quiet and mind your own business? You prostrate before me and think that you have won me over. Every prostration is like a blow on my head. All sorts of things are done outside these four walls with impunity, as though these walls hide and protect them. Who likes these prostrations?” And on and on he went in a tirade against all and sundry who posed like pious men but were hiding a lot of impurity. It was not one individual that was attacked. The atmosphere in the hall was tense, and one by one, the devotees sneaked out.
But such moods were only momentary, and he could switch to his wonted geniality the next instant. Once Sri T. P. R. and I decided to ask Sri Bhagavan for an explanation of the sixth stanza of “Arunachala Ashtakam,” and went to the hall after Sri Bhagavan returned from his usual walk on the Hill. In the meanwhile something moved us. Sri Muruganar prostrated before Sri Bhagavan and went out on his usual round for begging food from the town. We had just then ground in the mortar jack fruit for a sweet dish for the midday meal, and Sri Muruganar had given some donation for biksha since it was his mother’s death anniversary. He was not there to taste the dish and we were sorry. The fact that he was going out after giving something for biksha in honour of his mother was brought to the notice of Sri Bhagavan. Instantly there was a change in the face of Bhagavan. He knew that Sri Muruganar was not a favourite with the Ashram management. “Who is to invite him to stay for meals? Chinnaswamy does not like him. He is the master here”, said Bhagavan. There was tension in the atmosphere. T. P. R. and I whispered to each other that we would choose some other time for the exposition and closed our books. Sri Bhagavan saw us doing so and asked us what the matter was. We replied what we had come for. Instantly Sri Bhagavan said, “Why not now?” and started explaining. It was wonderful! Every sentence started a mighty current. It didn’t stop there. Wave after wave of the same exposition came to us unsolicited for a day or two more whenever we sat before him.
Sri Bhagavan had his head shaved once a month on the full moon day. Natesan was the barber who used to do this service. Bhagavan sat on a stool and Natesan would stand and shave him. Once Sri Bhagavan suggested to Natesan in all seriousness that it would be more comfortable for the barber to sit on the stool while he himself would sit on the floor!
It was past 8.30 one night when I came to the Ashram on one of my visits. Everyone had retired to rest after the night meal. I went to the office. Chinnaswamy was sitting in his place talking to some Ashramites. When he saw me enter he said, “Narayana Iyer, don’t go near Sri Bhagavan’s couch. He is resting on the veranda near the well. He had a fracture of his collar bone and a plaster has been put on it. He should not be disturbed. Prostrate at a distance and come away noiselessly.” I was shocked to hear the news. If any other reason had been given it could have restrained me, but the mention of a ‘fracture’ made me eager and anxious to see Sri Bhagavan. I went on tiptoe and prostrated quietly. He evidently saw me and said, “Narayana Iyer, come, sit by my side on the couch. Only then can I see you and talk. Otherwise the bandage they have put might be disturbed and there might be pain.” Implicitly I obeyed when he said this, notwithstanding my fear of Chinnaswamy’s reaction if he should happen to see me there. He said, “I was going up the steps. A dog was chasing a squirrel. I barred its way by putting my walking stick in front of it. The stick slipped and I fell down and got hurt on the collar bone. They say it is a fracture and the native bone-setter of the village, an old devotee, was sent for. He has put this bandage with some green leaves and black gram paste and I am enjoined not to move lest it be disturbed.”
He narrated the incident as though it was some one else’s body that was injured and was suffering!