At about 8 p.m one day, Dr. Anantanarayana Rao brought a ripe guava fruit to Bhagavan, saying it was the first produce from his garden. Bhagavan asked for a knife, a plate and some chili powder to be brought. He cut the fruit into small pieces, sprinkled the chili powder over them, took a piece himself and asked the rest to be given to those around him. That was the only dish prepared by Bhagavan which I have eaten. I was not lucky enough to be with him when he participated in the cooking. It was the most delicious titbit I have tasted.
Once Bhagavan had a mild attack of jaundice. As part of the treatment, his diet was reduced to bare buttermilk and rice. Dr. Shiva Rao of the Ashram dispensary felt that Bhagavan was getting weaker. He wanted some protein foods and vitamins to be taken, but Bhagavan declined. I happened to be in the Ashram then. One day as Bhagavan came out of the bathroom, I prostrated myself before him and said, “Dr. Shiva Rao and others in the Ashram are very anxious about Bhagavan’s health and want him to take some protein foods and vitamins. At least for their satisfaction I entreat Bhagavan to agree.” He smiled and said, “Yes, you may arrange whatever is necessary.” I came and told Dr. Shiva Rao. Vitamins were available in the dispensary, but not protein food. I returned to Madras immediately and searched in all prominent drug stores. Since it was wartime, drugs were scarce and it was available only in one shop. It was a special American preparation made out of milk protein and chocolate. I bought all the seven bottles available and took them to the Ashram. I left six bottles in the office, took one with a spoon and went to Bhagavan; it was 8 p.m. There were a few devotees seated in front of him. I gave one spoonful to each first and then gave one to Bhagavan. He took it and asked what it was. I said that it was protein food and that he could mix one spoonful with the food, thrice daily. He asked me to give the bottle and the spoon to Sama Thatha with instructions. After a few days some overzealous devotee served two spoonfuls on his leaf. He immediately stopped taking it and asked the bottles to be given to the dispensary for the use of the patients.
At one time some devotees used to massage the legs and feet of Bhagavan for sometime every night. After a few days I joined the party with some hesitation. I continued for two days. The third day Bhagavan suddenly asked us to stop. He got up and began massaging his knee, saying, “You have all been gathering so much punyam (merit) all these days. Let me also acquire some punyam.” That had the effect of stopping the massaging altogether.
On one of my early visits I went on giripradakshinam with some friends. When I returned, my feet were blistered and I entered the hall limping. Bhagavan elicited the cause of the limping and said that I should bathe the feet in warm water for a few minutes and repeat the pradakshina the next day and the day after. I did so; the feet gave no more trouble.
Bhagavan used to go up the hill for a short distance after midday meals. One day he did not return to the hall. When we found it empty at 2 p.m., we were nonplussed. T. P. R., Rajagopal, and I went up the hill towards Skandashram without telling anybody. Half way up we met his attendant coming down. He told me that Bhagavan was in Skandashram, but had warned him not to give this information to anybody. We went up and saw Bhagavan sitting on a platform in front of Skandashram. We hesitated to go to him remembering his warning to the attendant. He noticed us and made a sign asking us to come. We had a delightful time as Bhagavan was narrating reminiscences of early days in Skandashram.
Another trip to Skandashram, which lasted a full day, was arranged by the devotees about a month later, but I could not join it. Over twenty-five photos were taken during the trip by Dr. T. N. Krishnaswami. I got some copies made of all the photos and prepared four albums. I had one album to spare, and Dr. V. Srinivasa Rao wanted it. I promised to give it if he would pay the price for it. He was prepared to pay and asked what the price was. I said that it was seventeen thoppukaranams (genuflexion, with hands holding ears usually performed in the presence of Ganesa) to Bhagavan. He took the album and ran to the hall. He placed it at Bhagavan’s feet and began to ‘pay the price’. Bhagavan laughed and asked him why. Then he told him the joke and showed him where I had marked the price on the album cover.
After the first operation by the Madras surgeon, Bhagavan’s arm was healing well. Only a plaster dressing was applied once a day for some time. This used to be done in the bathroom soon after Bhagavan had his bath. One day Dr. Shankar Rao, Dr. Srinivasa Rao and I went in with the dressings. I dipped a wad of cotton in spirits and was cleaning the wound. The excess spirit flowed down his arm to his leg and down to the feet. Bhagavan exclaimed, “That is good. Spirit snanam (bath). Everybody must do Spirit Snanam, must be immersed in the Spirit always.”
In the later days of the illness, a feeling of despair crept into everyone’s mind. Many were imploring Bhagavan to cure himself. There was a small story in the jokes column of the Sunday Times. It ran somewhat as follows:
“A girl about four years old had been taught by her parents to utter a small heartfelt prayer to the Lord daily before going to bed. Once the family was travelling on board a steamer during a potent storm. The girl prayed, ‘Please, God, take care of yourself! If anything happens to you, we will all be left in the lurch’!”
I read the story before Bhagavan the next day. He smiled in appreciation of the appropriateness of the story at that time.
In the final stages of the illness, the tumour growth was like a huge cauliflower and was in need of constant attention. Bhagavan himself used to lift his left arm on to the rubber sheet. I once asked him how he managed to lift so easily such a large and painful arm. Bhagavan’s reply was, “What is there in it? Four persons are needed to carry this body after death. I am now carrying it single-handed.” What a complete absence of the feeling ‘I-am-the-body!’
Some time in early February, 1950, the correspondent of the P. T. I. interviewed me in Madras about Bhagavan’s health. I indicated that the medical opinion was that the progress was bad and life might last only for two or three months more. This news, issued by the P. T. I. to all newspapers in India, caused a stir in the minds of devotees far and wide, and they all began to come to the ashram for a last darshan of Bhagavan. Such a large influx of visitors was naturally a strain on the Ashram resources. In one of my weekly visits, Chinnaswami told me that I should not have given such news to the Press. I apologised and went to see Bhagavan. Chinnaswami came and stood at the doorstep and again took me to task. I stood listening calmly, looking at Bhagavan’s face all the time. Bhagavan gave me a very gracious smile in full approval of what I had done.
The third operation was done in the dispensary room. Bhagavan took some time to get out of the anaesthesia. Visitors were prohibited. Dr. T. N. Krishnaswami alone remained with Bhagavan. Crowds of devotees gathered outside and filled the open space in front. They were all anxious to see Bhagavan and know his condition. Despite doctors’ instructions, Bhagavan insisted on being helped outside to lie on a bench on the verandah. Devotees were asked to pass in a single file before him. He continued on the verandah despite a drizzle and asked devotees to be allowed to see him at any time. Bhagavan showered his Grace on his devotees profusely and gave darshan till the last day.