Sri Ramakrishna as We Saw Him – Narayan Chandra Ghosh
Narayan Chandra Ghosh lived in Alambazar near Dakshineswar. He was a brother-in-law of Mahendra Nath Pal, a devotee of Ramakrishna. Narayan met the Master when he was in school and wrote these reminiscences much later.
When I was six years old, I was admitted to Tinkari Pandit’s elementary school in Alambazar. The pandit taught me how to read and write, but I didn’t care for arithmetic. I used to draw pictures instead of doing my arithmetic lessons. This angered my teacher, and he complained to my father. Although my father was irritated, I continued to draw. I then entered the Hindu school at Baranagore and my father engaged a private tutor to teach me mathematics in the afternoon. But I had no interest in learning mathematics, so I had to leave the school. My father then hired Jadunath Brahma to teach me at home full-time. Finally, observing my passion for art, my father enrolled me in the Government Art School in Bowbazar, Calcutta.
While I was in the Art School, I met Navin, a fellow student who came from Jessore [now in Bangladesh]. One day he asked me, “How far is Rasmani’s Kali temple from your home in Baranagore?” I told him that it was nearby.
Navin replied: “Today we shall not attend class. I want to visit your home.” I agreed. At noon we took the train from the Sealdah railway station and got off at the Belgharia station. We then began to walk towards Dakshineswar, taking a path through the meadow. When we saw Rasmani’s Kali temple from a distance, Navin said, “First we shall see the Divine Mother Kali and then we shall go to your home.”
We reached the Kali temple but could not see the image of the Mother because the temple was closed. The guard told us that the temple would be open at four o’clock, so we sat in the Panchavati grove to wait. It was then about three. Navin and I were singers, so we began to sing.
O Lord, my eyes cannot see you, but you are in my eyes.
My heart cannot know you, but you are hidden in my heart.
When Navin finished his song, I started to sing:
Except you, O Lord, who can save us from danger and distress?
Tell us, who else can be our helper in this gloomy world?
Just then someone shouted: “Who are you? Who are you?” I saw a man coming towards us from the eastern side of the pond near the Panchavati. He seemed strange, and I thought he was mad. Standing in front of us, he said, “‘Who else can be our helper in this gloomy world?’ Wonderful! You are right — ‘Who else can be our helper in this gloomy world?’ Tell me, who else can help us except God? Sing — sing that song again.”
Then the man asked us: “Where do you live? What are your names?” We were convinced that he was mad because of the way he spoke. Perhaps he had come to the Kali temple for prasad. Navin asked him, “Where is your home?”
He replied: “My home? It is very far away. But I live here. I call on Mother and I see Her day and night. Please sing that song again: ‘Except you, O Lord, who can save us from danger and distress? Tell us, who else can be our helper in this gloomy world?’”
Navin whispered to me: “Madman!”
I said, “I think so.”
That man did not pay any attention to our conversation. He said: “You have come to see the Mother! Come, come! Come with me!” We were mesmerized by that madman’s words and got up to follow him. He led us to the Kali temple, and the door opened as we approached. Standing near the door, the man said, “Come in and see the Mother.” When we saw the Mother, he said, “Sit down here.” We obeyed. The madman gave us flowers from the feet of the Mother and sanctified water from the copper spoon used in worship. Then he said, “Come, come to my room.” We got up and again followed him like pet dogs.
I was puzzled. I thought: “Who is this madman? Is he truly mad?” He took us to a room at the northwest corner of the temple complex. He then served us cucumber, papaya, and sweets, and said, “Eat. This is prasad from the Mother.” Spellbound, we ate the prasad. He then took us to the western veranda of his room and poured water over our hands to wash them. He said: “You sang very well — ‘Except you, O Lord, who can save us from danger and distress?’ Now you can go home.” We left for home, but I still did not know who that man was. By that time we were both convinced that he was not mad, but we continued to wonder, “Who is that man?” Navin left for Calcutta and I returned to my home. I lay down on my bed but could not sleep. ‘Who is that man?’ This question was continually pounding in my mind. Finally at daybreak I rushed to the Kali temple and went straight to the man’s room. I saw him seated on his bed. With tears I bowed down and took the dust of his feet. He affectionately raised me up, took my hand and asked, “What is your name?”
I replied, “Narayan Chandra Ghosh.”
At this his face brightened up, and he said: “Narayan! Very well! Always remember these lines from the song you sang yesterday: ‘Except you, O Lord, who can save us from danger and distress? Tell us, who else can be our helper in this gloomy world?’ Never forget those words. Whenever you have time, come here.”
I again bowed down to him and returned home — but I still did not know who he was, and he had not introduced himself. However, from then on I visited him often. Whenever I went, he always gave me fruits and sweets — the Mother’s prasad. He would then ask me to sing, and I would sing. One day the store manager of the Kali temple [Pitambar Samanta] told me that he was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
Thus time passed. I was attending the Art School and drawing pictures, but my mind dwelt on the Dakshineswar Kali temple. Every Friday after school I would catch the five o’clock train from Calcutta, get off at Belgharia, and go to visit the Master. At night I walked home. On Saturdays I visited the Master after lunch, but I did not go on Sundays. On that day he had many distinguished visitors from Calcutta, and I had no opportunity to be alone with him and talk to him freely.
At eight o’clock one evening during the month of Ashad [mid-June through mid-July], shortly after the vesper service of the Divine Mother, the Master returned to his room from the temple. He said to Pitambar: “Well, it is raining heavily today. Whenever it rained like this in Kamarpukur I would eat some puffed rice. Could you bring some puffed rice for me?”
Pitambar told someone: “Go to my home and bring some puffed rice quickly.” He obeyed. There were five or six people in the Master’s room. Pitambar and I sat near the Master because we felt very close to him.
The Master put the puffed rice in a basket and shared it with everyone. While giving some to me, he said, “Narayan, take this prasad.”
I said, “Sir, you will have to have some first and then I shall eat the prasad.”
The compassionate Master touched the puffed rice onto his tongue and then said in an ecstatic mood, “Now, eat this prasad.” I cupped my hands to receive that puffed rice from the Master and ate with great satisfaction.
Thus one year passed. I left the Art School and got a job as a scene painter in the National Theatre, but I never forgot the Master. Often I would go to the Kali temple after five o’clock in the evening and return home after nine o’clock. Thus another eight or nine months passed. Then I quit that scene-painting job and began to study acting under Ardhendu Mustaphi. After a while I became a regular paid actor in the theatre. This job made it difficult for me to visit the Master, but I did not forget him. Whenever I had time I went to Dakshineswar to see him. He also asked Girish Ghosh to teach me acting. Thus another year passed.
One Saturday in the month of Jaishtha [mid-May through mid-June] I stayed the night at the Kali temple. Sometime after nine o’clock Pitambar, Mahendra Pal of Sinthi, M., a couple of devotees, and I were in the Master’s room, listening to him speak. Suddenly the Master said to me: “Narayan, you are now acting in the theatre. Please sing a song and let us listen.”
Seeing me silent, he again said: “Don’t be shy. Please sing.” I began to sing:
Where are you Lord? I am poor and lowly;
I have no home in this ever-changing world.
After I had sung a few lines, the Master affectionately caressed my head and said: “Why do you consider yourself ‘poor and lowly’? He is near you.” After saying this, the mad Master began to laugh. What a wretched man I was! I could not then understand what he meant. Even when the Master passed away two years later, I did not understand what he had said to me. But now I understand. I was very close to him but could not recognize him. Considering him to be mad, I carelessly lost him. This life has gone in vain. What strange fate!
[From: Udbodhan (Udbodhan Office: Calcutta, 1996), vol. 98, no. 9]