Michelle: What was the attraction? What made you decide to stay, and
stay so long?
David: First of all, I felt his power and I felt his peace. Here was a man in
the Ramana lineage, promulgating his teachings and radiating a kind of tangible
sakti that shut up the
minds of the people around him, and in some cases gave them temporary experiences of the Self. It was a
heady, intoxicating environment in which people were having amazing experiences almost every day. On top
of that there was the promise of getting more extraordinary stories from him. My first trip there had
been a kind of smash and grab raid. I had come with very limited time. With all the funeral events going
on I had had to remind him constantly that our time was limited and that I wanted to talk to him about
his life. Second time round I waited for him to take the initiative, but strangely enough he didn't.
Having invited me there to tell stories, he never showed any interest in doing so.
Within two weeks of my arrival I was given a book project that someone else couldn't deal with. A
German doctor, Gabby, had been asked to collect interviews that Papaji had had with various visitors
and arrange them in book form. She was struggling a bit with this because she wasn't a native English
speaker. I was asked to help her, and when she left Lucknow a few weeks later, I inherited the whole
project. I wanted to take my time and do it properly, but Papaji wanted it to be brought out in a hurry.
He didn't seem to have much patience with long, drawn-out projects. His motto seemed to be 'Do it, and
do it now!'
I gave him samples every day to read and it took me a while to work out what kind of style
he liked. I finally succeeded when I gave him a manuscript just before he ate his lunch. He took it back
to his bedroom after lunch and read it in his room. When I went to the house again around four, there
was a big water melon waiting for me with my name on it, and when I next saw him he exclaimed, 'This is
just what I want! Where's the rest of it? I want to read the rest of it.' He seemed disappointed that
I couldn't suddenly produce a whole book out of thin air at a moment's notice.
After that, knowing what
he wanted, the work was easy. I think I finished it in about two months, which was probably still
too slow for Papaji's liking. This was Papaji
Interviews, by the way.
One other reason for the slowness
was that Papaji also got me involved in a film project. An American film-maker, Jim Lemkin, arrived
in Lucknow and asked if he could make a documentary about Papaji and his teachings. Papaji agreed and
sent me along as a kind of advisor, interviewer and general consultant. I don't know why I got this job.
I had never worked on a film before in my life. Within about three months we had the film ready. I had
spent my first three months in Lucknow finishing somebody else's book and helping Jim with his film.
There was no sign however, that Papaji was willing to start talking about any of the incidents he had
promised to tell me. I dropped several hints, but no business resulted.
After a few months I suggested
that he could just sit in front of a camera and tell all the main stories of his life. I didn't know
what else to do to start him talking.
I couldn't do that,' he replied. 'I would need some notes to
remind me which stories I wanted to tell.'
This sounded like another excuse to put off the answering,
so I decided to push the issue a little.
'No problem,' I said. 'I'll make the notes for you. I'll make
a list of every story I have ever heard you tell, and every incident I have heard about your life,
and I will arrange them in chronological order. You can go through the list one by one and answer
any that appeal to you.'
I got no answer to that one, but I went ahead and made the list anyway. I gave
it to him one afternoon while he was having his afternoon tea. He seemed to be very excited by the first
few questions, saying what good questions they were, and how much he would enjoy talking about them.
Then he turned the page and realised that it wasn't two pages he had to go through. It was sixteen.
His face dropped and his enthusiasm vanished. 'This is a very long list,' he said, all excitement
'Well,' I said, 'you have had a very long life, and it has been full of interesting incidents.'
was hoping I hadn't blown my chance by overloading him with questions.
'I'll have to go through it,' he
said. 'I'll make notes in the margins about what I want to talk about.'
That seemed to be good news.
At least he was going to try.
The list of questions stayed in his bedroom for several months,
completely unread so far as I could ascertain. I would occasionally mention it to him and he would
reply that he was working on it. Whatever he was doing, he wasn't doing it with the papers in his
In 1994 I received news that Annamalai Swami wanted me to print his book. I approached Papaji
and asked him what I should concentrate on. I should mention at this point that I had unofficially
inherited another project that was known as the ''Om Shanti'' book. In 1992 and early 1993 Papaji began
his daily satsangs with a brief talk on whatever he felt inspired to speak about that day. These had
been transcribed and there was a plan to make a book of them. At one point Catherine Ingram was supposed
to be doing this, but when she wrote to Papaji, saying that she couldn't do it, she added 'Maybe David
can do it instead'.
Papaji read out the letter and said, 'Yes, David can do it'. I was sitting in a
far corner of the room at the time, but he never looked at me, and he never officially asked me to
start the work. Since I didn't particularly want the job - I had enough on my plate already - I never
asked him about it myself until this meeting I had with him in 1994.
I explained to him, 'I have been
asked to go to Tamil Nadu to make sure this Annamalai Swami book gets printed properly. You said
indirectly that you wanted me to edit this ''Om Shanti'' book, and the questions about your biography
are all still pending. What do you want me to do, and in what order?'
'How near is the 'Om Shanti'
book to completion?' he asked.
'There's one version available,' I answered, 'but no one likes it. If
I took up that work, I would probably have to start from scratch and do it all again. It would
probably take several months.'
'OK,' he said. 'we don't want that project any more. It's not necessary.
Go back to Tiruvannamalai, print your new book, and when you come back we will start on my biography.'
This was just what I wanted to hear. I had permission to go away and print Annamalai Swami's book, I
had got myself out of a job that I didn't really want to do, and I had received a promise that he
would start work on my main project as soon as I returned from the south.
That's not what happened
though. Things rarely go according to plan when Papaji is concerned. As soon as I left the house to
go to South India, he sent someone out to buy a big foolscap notebook. He took my questionnaire from
his bedroom, blew the dust off it, and began to answer all the questions by writing them out in this
book. The people who were there said he spent several hours a day patiently going through all my
sixteen pages of questions. It must have been very uncomfortable for him. It was summer, there were
frequent power cuts, and he had a brace on his neck because he was suffering from spondylitis. That
made it hard for him to look down and see the page he was writing on. He stuck at it, though, day
after day, and when I finally returned he had written almost 150 pages. The moment I walked in the
house, he put his pen down and wouldn't write any more. I have thought about this many times, but I
still can't come up with any sensible conjectures. Why did he have to wait half a year until I was out
of town to start writing his memoirs, and why did he stop the moment I returned? He had asked me to be
his official biographer, but he seemed to be incapable of answering questions when I was around. I
should add that no one would ever accuse him of being shy or diffident. If he wanted to do something,
he did it, and if he wanted to say something, no social convention on politeness would prevent him from
saying exactly what he wanted to say. He was a bulldozer in everything he did.
stories were just what I needed to start my book. There were many incidents I had never heard before,
along with good versions of stories that I already knew. I got myself organised. I found myself a
computer; I recruited volunteers who were willing to listen to all the old satsang tapes in order
to find all the different versions of the stories he told; I started collecting letters from all the
people he had written to over the years; I wrote to everyone whose address appeared in his address book;
and I started interviewing everyone I knew who had been connected with him. It was a long, long job,
but it was immensely rewarding. I discovered so many people from all over the world who had been
utterly transformed by Papaji, sometimes after only a single meeting with him. Whenever I needed
supplementary information, I would write out a list of questions and he would give me written answers.
He seemed to prefer this format when he dealt with matters pertaining to his life story. However,
whenever I asked him questions about his teachings, he would take the list to satsang and give answers
there so that everyone could immediately benefit from what he had to say.
For most of his life Papaji
forbade his devotees from talking about him. He wanted a high level of secrecy to guard his privacy.
When I started writing to old devotees, asking for their stories, they immediately wrote back to Papaji,
asking what they should do. I had told them all in my letters that I was doing this with Papaji's
permission, but, quite rightly, they all felt a need to check. Papaji encouraged and in some cases
even ordered these people to tell me their stories. Some people told me about incidents they hadn't
even mentioned to other members of their own family.
Every time I finished a chapter, I would give it
to Papaji to read and check. At first he would go through it in his house and then later take it to
the morning satsang and read it out there. Later, though, he would just say, 'Put it in the satsang
bag. I'll read it tomorrow.' I have to say that I was touched by the faith he showed on these occasions.
I don't think I would volunteer to read out a biography of myself in front of 200 people without
first checking to see what was in it. In the beginning he would make a few corrections, but once
I got the hang of how he liked to have his stories presented, he rarely touched any of them.
He even stopped reading with a pen in his hand. In the last few hundred pages the only things
he changed were the spellings of the names of a few Indian devotees that I had misspelled because
I had never seen them written down before. He finished the last portion about a month before he
passed away in 1997.
Sometimes I wish that I had worked a bit harder so that I could have presented
him with a copy of the first book, but that wasn't ready until the middle of 1998.
After Papaji passed away in September 1997 I finished work on
Nothing Ever Happened and came back to
Tiruvannamalai, and I have been here more or less ever since.
Michelle: What work did you start when you came back here? What are you
working on now?
David: I did nothing for a while. I took a break from writing. I didn't feel
like doing anything new. Until the middle of 1998 there were proofs of Nothing Ever Happened to go
through, but after that I had a complete break from book work for about a year. Papaji had asked me to
edit his Lucknow satsangs for him and bring them out in book form. He even told me what format to use.
That's a big job and I have only just started on it.
In 1999 I suddenly remembered the reminiscences
project I had started in the 1980s. Two books on Annamalai Swami and four books on Papaji had
sidetracked me for a decade, but when one of my friends here asked to have a look at one of the
unpublished chapters, I took everything out of its folder and read it for the first time in maybe
ten years. Realising that I still had plenty of good material that deserved to be printed, I started
to organise it into book form. That particular project, The Power of the Presence in three volumes,
started about two years ago and ended quite recently when I finally received the last volume from
Michelle: You are now publishing your own books. What made you take that
David: In the middle of 2000 I approached Penguin in Delhi to see if they would
be interested in bringing out the series that later came out as The Power of the
Presence. I also wanted
to see if they might be willing to bring out an Indian edition of Nothing Ever Happened since it is far
too expensive for most Indians to buy. Right now, only the American edition exists. Its $45 price
translates as over Rs 2,100 in this country. Hardly anyone can afford that kind of price here.
When I went to see the commissioning editor for spiritual books in the headquarters of Penguin India
in Delhi, the woman I spoke to claimed that Be As You Are was not a Penguin book, and that the office
had no record of either the book or me. I couldn't believe she was serious, but she was. The book has
been continuously in print in its Indian Penguin edition for more than ten years but there was no trace
of it, she said, either in their catalogues or on their computers. I decided I didn't want to deal with
a company that could lose titles and authors so completely that no record of them showed up on their
computers. It wasn't just the English edition she had lost. She didn't know anything about the versions
that had been brought out in several Indian languages.
I have always had bad experiences with
commercial publishers. When Be As You Are first came out in the mid-80s, the original publisher didn't
tell me it was out, and didn't even send me a copy. The first copy I ever saw came from a friend of
mine who bought it in a second-hand bookstore.
I decided in the end to publish
The Power of the Presence
myself. I find it quite rewarding to be involved in everything from the original idea to distribution
and marketing points several thousand miles away.
Michelle: Other than the new Papaji books, is there anything else in
David: I am working on a new presentation of Bhagavan's teachings that I hope
will come out around the end of the year. It will be based on teaching statements by Bhagavan that
were recorded by Muruganar in a Tamil work entitled Sri Ramana
Padamalai. That will probably be the
title of the book when it comes out. There are also a few other possibilities, but they are so vague,
I don't really want to start talking about them. I think I have said enough for one afternoon.
I haven't talked this much for months and I think my voice is going. Come back in a year and ask me
'What's new?' and I might have something more to tell you. That's enough for now…