Exerpts from letters by Richard Wright
Inner Culture, February 1936
November 22, 1935.
All is well and Swamiji is being highly appreciated in India, especially in Southern India as guest of His Highness the Yuvaraja of Mysore (the brother to the present Maharaja—ruler or king—and heir-to-the-throne of the most advanced state of Mysore).
Swamiji gave an inspiring, eloquent lecture before the students of Maharaja’s College, November 18th, and another in the Town Hall on the 20th, before capacity audiences, to the wild acclamation and appreciation of his lecture and healings. And just this evening Swamiji enraptured a gathering of the elite and distinguished at the Third Princess’s Mansion, attended by His Highness the Yuvaraja, H. H. the Yuvarina, H. H. the Maharini, and a host of state and royal officials-a splendid reception of his lecture on “Art of Contacting God”—applause and praise—and so it goes, wherever we travel-and that explains our prolonged or lengthened sojourn in India—nearly three or four months more, ere America’s shores will raise tears in our eyes and a flutter in our hearts.
Important news! Visited the beautiful Chamundi Temple, with its gold and silver altars, situated on Chamundi Hills, overlooking Mysore, which was so suggestive of Los Angeles with its blinking lights and brightly illumined gold dome of the Palace-and imagine, I entered the sacred portal of this shrine, bowed on hands and knees before the Goddess Chamundi (goddess of the Maharaja’s family-every family has its patron god or goddess), and received the blessed flowers and rose water from the altar, just as the others did. And it was in this Temple that Nila Cram Cook (former disciple of Mahatma Gandhi) was refused admittance, and for which reason she launched her fast, which lasted for three weeks or so, and was refused only because she was an European—and here I went in, without any question or hitch, by Swamiji’s side—just realize the importance of it—one out of thousands who have tried.
Another rare privilege—my first elephant ride yesterday. His Highness, the Yuvaraja, at whose invitation we are in Southern India, invited us to his summer palace to have a ride on one of his elephants—a huge one. There is a ladder provided to climb aloft to the “howdah,” or elephant’s saddle, which is a silk-cushioned box-like saddle, and then for a rolling, tossing, swaying and heaving down into a gully, hanging on for dear life, but too thrilled to worry or exclaim. Thus, I was initiated into the ranks of an elephant rider-a strange, thrilling experience, especially in the atmospheric setting of India.
This coming Monday we have an invitation from one of the officials of a London Film Company to attend a jungle location, where elephant scenes are going to be shot-and so, my life is gradually absorbing new experiences. The four enclosed leaves were picked from the famous Banyan Tree under which Ramakrishna meditated, when we visited his sacred ground at Dakshineswar just six or seven miles from Calcutta.
Have spent most of the day strolling in the India markets and pricing and handling valuables just as if I owned them, and enjoying them just as much. This market is an India market catering to English clientelle and it is housed in a huge red structure covering an entire block, and the inside is literally packed with stalls or shops; one making picture frames, one selling flowers, one selling books; another selling ivory and sandalwood objects, still another displaying sweets, another selling shoes, another jewelry, another saris, another trinkets of all kinds, from razors, knives, combs, toothpaste, shaving brushes, wristwatch straps, toys to coat hangers, belts, while another sells fruits and vegetables, and another cameras. Each stall is conspicuous because the merchant sits on the floor, no chair except for English customers. Later on I’ll describe the Indian market for Indians.