Chapter Nineteen: SRF’s Treatment of Master’s Humor

Why has SRF removed so many examples of Master’s engaging sense of humor—both from his writings and from his recorded talks? I wonder whether their editors have not deliberately tried to make him seem magnificently dignified—to the point of pomposity! I give you here one example of ways they have tried to “sanitize” him.

a)  On Master’s last birthday, January 5, 1952, Dr. Lewis said to him, in joking reference to the single candle (symbolizing eternity) burning on Master’s birthday cake, “Do you think you can blow out that candle?”

Master retorted in a similarly light vein, “Oh, I think I have a little breath left in me. I just have to be careful I don’t blow the cake away!”

When the recording of that verbal exchange was released to the public, the last sentence had been removed. I suppose it was feared that some people might consider it egotistical. For me, such hypersensitivity is hard to believe! If robust humor has no place in saintliness, I think there may exist another heaven from the one I fondly imagine.

b) I still remember the delight with which Master told jokes. Here is a small sampling of them:

1.  With glee he repeated to me, personally, a compliment that had “tickled his funny bone”:

“Your teeth are like stars: they come out at night!”

2.  Three men were drinking whiskey: an Irishman, an Englishman, and a Scotchman. A fly flew into each of their glasses. The Irishman tossed the fly out of his glass, losing half the whiskey in doing so. The Englishman carefully flicked the fly out of his glass. “But the Scotchman,” Master concluded with a pleased chuckle, “squeezed the fly!” I still remember the delight with which he pronounced that word, “squeezed.”

3.  Three Scotchmen went to church. When the collection plate approached the row in which they were seated, one of the men fainted and the other two carried him out!

4.  Those last two jokes had probably been told to him by Harry Lauder, a Scottish singer and composer whom Master went to visit in Scotland on his way to India in 1935. The very fact that he took the trouble to visit Harry Lauder says much regarding the pleasure he himself took in good humor.

c)  His own expressions were often charmingly funny. When he described a confrontation he’d had with a few pundits, he said, “I could see they were ready for a theological bullfight.”

d) The only time I was with Master and Tara together—just the three of us—he told us a comical story of how, at his Ranchi school, he had once caught three dogs that had been chasing the horses and generally making a nuisance of themselves. I think Master said they were greyhounds—fast runners, in any case. Master, when he was young, was himself a very fast runner. On this occasion, pursuing those dogs, he had caught each one of them in turn, put it into a gunny sack, and later had the sacks removed to a safe distance before their contents were released.

Master, in telling this story, was laughing so hard that I had (I must confess) some difficulty in understanding everything he said. Nevertheless, the exuberance of his recital was so infectious that I, too, was laughing in sheer delight.

Tara, by contrast, gazed impersonally into the middle distance throughout this recital. Not once did she laugh, chuckle, or even smile. Indeed, her only reaction was to state with distant politeness, “Well, well! Fancy that!” The humor of the story, and Master’s energy in telling it, seemed to be leaving her completely untouched.

Indeed, I am not really sure Tara even had a sense of humor—at least, of kindly humor. On the occasions when I did hear her laugh, it seems to me, in retrospect, that it was always at someone else’s expense.

e)  Tara was in many ways a genius. However, she gave some evidence of the madness to which genius has often been closely related.

One time, I’d heard, she had predicted that Disneyland would be a financial failure. Tara practiced astrology (contrary, as I wrote earlier, to Master’s advice), and was convinced that, because Disneyland had opened on the dying moon, the whole enterprise would end in disaster.

Some years after Disneyland had become one of the great financial success stories in history, I asked her whether she had actually made that prediction.

“Oh, yes!” she replied in her usual exclamation marks. “Just think of all the money they’ve poured into that place!”

To her, Disneyland was a failure already, because she had so decreed it.

f)  Tara once said to me, as if marveling at her own goodness: “I have never said an unkind word in my life.”

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