Accommodation was in short supply at the ashram. After four days I was asked to leave to make room for other visitors who wanted to see Bhagavan. I decided to look for accommodation in the surrounding area since I planned to stay permanently. I had no intention of going back to Gudur. Before I left home my family had agreed to send me the rental income that came from my half of my grandfather’s house. The amount was more than enough to live on. Raja Iyer, the local postmaster, helped me to find a small thatched house about 250 yards from the ashram. I shared it with a boy called Raghavan who was already living there. Since I had money and he didn’t, he agreed to do all the cooking if I bought the food.
One of the first people to visit me in my new house was Venkataratnam, Bhagavan’s attendant.
On his first visit he said, ‘In all the years I have been Bhagavan’s attendant, I have never seen anyone present a note like this before. I am experienced enough in the ways of Bhagavan to know that the beaming smile he immediately gave you was proof that the claim was genuine. Bhagavan made no comment to me about your note and the message it contained, but he did ask me to check up on you to make sure that all your needs are being taken care of and that you are properly looked after.’
From that day on Venkataratnam became a regular visitor. He would come and sit with me whenever his services were not required in the ashram, and on one occasion he embarrassed me by trying to massage my feet and legs.
Bhagavan was giving darshan every day from nine to eleven in the morning and from three till six in the afternoon. At those times I would go and sit with him in the ashram. Around midday I would walk to town and eat a meal in a hotel, and at the end of the afternoon darshan I would sit for an hour on the lower slopes of Arunachala. I had no further interaction with Bhagavan, but every time I went to see him in the hall, his face would light up and break out into the same radiant smile he had given me on the afternoon I had presented him with my note.
After about three months in Tiruvannamalai, I moved to Palakottu. I found a small room I could occupy by myself and moved in. I paid one rupee a month rent to the watchman of the Ganesh Temple that bordered Palakottu Tirtham and I engaged a young girl to bring a cooked lunch to me since I no longer felt like making the daily trip to town to eat.
A woman called Marakatha Mataji also tried to feed me, but her attentions were a bit of a nuisance. She had a great liking for sadhus and she spent most of the money she earned on feeding them. When rich visitors came to the ashram, she would offer her services as a cook. She was very good at her job and her employers, including at least one maharani, were always satisfied with her cooking. She often used to make sweets for her employers, and when she did so, she would always contrive to keep a few for the sadhus near the ashram. Any cash payment she received would also be converted into sweets for sadhus. At distribution time she always tried to give the recipients a big kiss along with the sweets. I became a favourite of hers and she frequently tried to ambush me with a sweet and a kiss as I was leaving my room. If I knew she was there, I would stay in my room in the hope that she would give up waiting and go away, but she had enormous patience and sometimes I had to put up with her ministrations. She also tried to kiss Bhagavan on many occasions, but her habits were well known and his attendants had strict instructions to keep her away from him.
Bhagavan’s health was deteriorating very quickly and the darshan hours were often drastically curtailed. He had a sarcoma in his arm and the toxic by-products were spreading to the rest of his body. Several operations had failed to check the damage. After one such operation, he gave darshan lying on a couch outside the ashram dispensary. His eyes were nearly closed as I approached him, but as I stood before him, Bhagavan opened his eyes and gave me his usual radiant smile. I was so engulfed by this smile, I forgot to give the customary namaste greeting [palms together in front of the chest], and the ashram manager had to remind me to do it. After I left, Bhagavan relapsed into his former state.
This is a portion of a group photo taken at Ramanasramam in 1947. Behind Bhagavan, with a cloth draped over his shoulder, is Venkataratnam, the attendant who was on duty the day that Lakshmana Swamy spoke to Bhagavan. In front of Venkataratnam, and to his right, is Satyananda Swami, the attendant who accompanied Bhagavan from his room to the new hall on the day that Lakshmana Swamy realised the Self.
David Godman Books
Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings