God in the Age of Kali
Saint, Mystic, Nihilist, or Charlatan?
I met U(ppaluri) G(opala) Krishnamurti in Suguna and Chandrashekhar's home in Bangalore in 1983. I did not then know the name of the hosts, Suguna and Chandrashekhar, and I do not remember much of what UG (as he was known to his "followers" and the cognoscenti) said that evening. I was a young, confused man, having then recently quit as an officer in a public sector bank in India, and having joined the Valley School (a J. Krishnamurti Foundation school in Bangalore, India) as a teacher. My colleague and friend who had grown up in Bangalore, and who had a better network of friends, teachers, and philosophers to guide him, had heard that UG was in town, and asked me to accompany him.
I was not sure about going to some stranger's house uninvited, and meeting someone about whom I knew little except by way of some overheard snippets of conversation between my more senior colleagues in the school. Anyway, I went, and met the then still handsome man—who looked neither Indian nor European, was silver-haired, with skin the tone of a Kashmiri or an Afghan, grey eyes that looked into yours but seemed far away, and who was uneasily quiet or vaguely cryptic but who did not seem either dismissive or careworn. I remember that there were very few others at the house that evening, and it was my more loquacious friend who tried to get some conversation going. One of the guests that evening was Dr. M. C. Modi, a famous eye-surgeon in Bangalore, who after a few minutes of trying to make sense of the conversation left quietly, realizing that his time spent self-consciously in front of UG was time away from his more urgent chores bringing some light into people's lives.
That evening, I was given a mimeographed copy of UG's interviews and commentary, collected and transcribed by his faithful, Western students or followers or whatever they called themselves. I held on to the light-blue covered booklet, printed on flimsy India-manufactured paper, because UG's utterances were strangely hypnotic to me—confused, cynical, and hopeful as I was then—and because they could serve later as a reference work that I could go back to when writing about J. Krishnamurti or about other Indian mystics, saints, savants, and charlatans. Alas, that booklet, given to a student in a fit of generosity, was never returned, and I lost track of the one I had given it to.
Thirty years after that meeting, I came to read Louis Brawley'sGoner: The Final Travels of UG Krishnamurti, which, as someone astutely noted, is like a train-wreck from which you cannot take your gaze! The UG I discovered in Goner comes across as a very different man than the one I met in 1983: he is at once impish and controlling, abusive and loving, madman and charlatan, tired and garrulous, and has hangers on from around the world in what seems a carnival of buffoons, wastrels, vagabonds, and the wealthy and disenchanted. There is Mahesh Bhatt, the Indian film director, who comes across as the pragmatic, no-nonsense, well-heeled man rescuing Brawley, the lost, confused, bored, and desperate young man in search of wisdom. There is "Yogini," the daughter of a rich man, a ballet dancer, beautiful, tempting, and juggling a few lovers. And there is Ray and his wife Shannon, who run a new age church in the American Midwest, and who spend enormous sums of money to go see UG wherever he is, and who are driven to the edge of despair as UG gives Ray ("The Reverend") the hives with confusing and conflicting commands and driving directions on their long road trips across Europe.
Ramesh Rao, Professor and Chair, DN3 Program, Columbus State University, Columbus, GA, is the author of two books on Indian politics and society and has written numerous op-eds for newspapers and magazines in India, the U.S., and the U.K. Ramesh served as Human Rights Coordinator and Executive Council member at the Hindu American Foundation between 2004-2013. He spent the first twenty-eight years of his life in India where he worked as a bank officer, a school teacher, and a copy editor. He received his MS in Mass Communication from the University of Southern Mississippi, and his PhD in Communication from Michigan State University. He taught at Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, and Longwood University in Farmville, VA, before he joined Columbus State University. He lives with wife Sujaya, and son Sudhanva in Columbus, GA.