Excerpts From Letters of C. Richard Wright
Inner Culture, April 1936
Brahmacharya, Vidalaya, Ranchi, India Jan. 5, 1936.
A THOUSAND regrets and tears for causing such alarm and fears when my pen and mind refused to cooperate as Time sped by, and I should know how much even a little word means, especially since I so selfishly and anxiously await your every letter. But believe me sincerely when I say it grieves me more to be forced to remain so silent, I, who owe it all to you. I feel so repentent for my selfish, greedy silence that I hereby and hereon command myself to sit in meditative thought and silence for one minute (an interval) . . .
Please feel with me that the more I fill the cup and the less I pour out, the more I’ll have to give you on my return.
It has been no easy task for me to adapt my awkwardness to the many strange ways and customs, and added to this the fact that I require at least two continuous, undisturbed hours to scribble a letter, two hours that are nigh impossible when Swamiji is laboriously and continuously calling: “Mr. Wright, Mr. Wright,” and Heavenly Father knows that I serve him all too briefly and stingily even now, and when India’s charms are everlastingly beckoning and enticing me by a “come here, and look, and feel,” and when my lackadaisical inertia grips my pen and thoughts, what am I to do, I ask you?
Perhaps you are wondering: “How is it that he has so much time to write so casually now?” Well, much to the joy of my writing, but much to the sorrow of myself, Swamiji found it necessary to return to Calcutta by train to attend to some details, and so I was left behind in Ranchi here at the Ashrama to help them start a series of Fortnightly Lessons, as we have the Weekly Lessons in America. So, besides feeling lonely, I’m feeling a bit relaxed, at least enough to scratch out a few lines.
A little atmosphere or background is befitting this leisurely writing. Right at this moment, as I scribble along, dragging my thoughts behind, I’m attracted by the keen pointed shadow my pen-point casts as the ghostly, yellow light flickers from one of those old-fashioned kerosene (coal oil) lamps, (lanterns) casting weird, eerie shadows on the white walls of my little den at the Ranchi Ashrama or newly acquired India Temple.
As I sit here, all is calm and quiet; most everyone is snug beneath blankets, and were I to take a stroll or stumble around through the larger rooms of the Ashrama or Vidalaya (school) at this bewitching hour of eleven, I’d chance upon 20 or more cots all filled with a bundle of bedding and a boy, just about eleven or twelve years of age, in each bed, in each room, and were anyone to study the various sleeping postures, he would find every conceivable kind of sleeping position here depicted by these boys. Why, there’s even a leg dangling out, and he’s a bit brave on this cool night, I might say.
Really, one’s thoughts can go far astray in this soothing atmosphere; this calmness is as conducive of meandering thoughts as a trip-around-the-world, if you know what I mean. I can sit here under the spell of this lamp and the calmness and coolness of the night and travel mentally to our night at the Pyramids, our night at the Dead Sea, our dip in the Sea of Galilee, our camel ride on the fringe of the desert, our pause at the Birth Manger of Christ, our dawn ride out of Jerusalem, our elephant ride, or our stroll through Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford, or Robert Burns cottage, or St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Mark’s in Venice, or St. Paul’s in London, our sojourn with Gandhi, our many visits with Swami Sriyukteswarji, (yes, he speaks English, but my opportunities of conversing are scarce, since the Swamijis have so much to exchange) and so on and on, endlessly, happily.
(To be Continued)
(Continued from April Issue)
Inner Culture, June 1936
This night is entrancing, for a moon nigh full is gladdening and enlivening the palms, the bayle, the banyan, the mango, and the sal trees with a brilliantly bluish hue like the dazzling blue-white diamond; all objects are alive or dead with the coldness of a phosphorescent bluish tinge; even the Ashrama building, mothering so many slumbering souls on her bosom, looks stark and cold beneath the moon’s icy gaze. Once seen, an Oriental moonlit night can never be forgotten. It’s iciness is as stabbing as a cold, curt word—all scenery seems to have been frozen to a pale ashen whiteness beneath its merciless gaze.
And now, through the icy stillness of this Oriental night is throbbing the drums of the natives or Aborigines, echoed by shrill-throated mongrels, and reechoed by the insistent shrill of the world-famous crickets. The slumbering hush of night is ruffled by the rolling of the drums and an occasional sputter of native chanting—only that which is caught on the crest of the night zephyrs. I daresay my pen feels like whispering, instead of scratching its way in this hush of night. A night like this is loved by all weak-voiced Nature, for then it reigns aristocratically; perhaps that’s why I like the night-nothing and no one can stifle me or my thoughts. Be that as it may, I’m tossing around in the entrancing lap of the East, and hope I’m making you envious, envious enough to make you want us to return so that we may share our experiences with you.
Everything seems quite lonely and empty with Swamiji gone. I hurried to the evening dinner quite anxiously, hoping to fill in those dull, vacant minutes at least with food, and as I cautiously hastened along, swinging a flickering lamp, thoughts dancing with the shadows, I passed just beneath the small, grated window of Swamiji’s old room when he was Acharya (principal) of the School, and just as the small, mischievous boys used to do to him, when he was meditating or sitting quietly, wrapped in seclusion, I fell a victim to such memories and stealthily and gleefully tossed a few pebbles into the room through the same small barred window, inwardly pleased with the tinkling of stone on some glass object inside, but sadness followed, for no Swamiji was there; but anyway I played as if he were there, and thus my reveries led me into an abbreviated childhood.
Well, I continued to dinner, headed for the kitchen veranda, where all the boys sit in two rows, facing each other, squatting before a brass plate the size of a round platter, with a brass cup at one; side and a brass bowl at the other side, the former for water, the latter for dhall, when I was beckoned by an old friend of Swamiji’s, Swami Shivananda, to come into his private den and eat with him as his guest.
Refusing not being my style, (especially when Indian food is concerned) I accepted and placed a two-square rug (very common as “squatting” rugs, as I call them) up on a discarded wooden bed, pre-sensing the numbness were I to squat on the cement floor, as is the custom, and, climbing aboard, I sat cross-legged awaiting food service.
First, a huge brass plate was brought, next a brass cup full of water, next an alluminum bowl with curried and spiced potatoes, and then the food was brought -a monstrous helping of rice, (bhat) warm, (garum) was served, rutis (large, dry, wholewheat cakes, like our buck-wheat cakes, and used nearly as commonly as we use bread), followed by dhall, and curried vegetables, plus several spiced dishes still quite foreign to me by name and content.
My right hand worked furiously and unhesitatingly with the food. “Scoop up with the fingers, lift to the mouth and push food into the mouth with the thumb” is the technique, and I might add, I can hold my own with the best of them in stoking my mouth thusly. I did quit finally, drank my “garum dood” (warm milk) and merely rolled off that wooden bed, for my latitude had grown to equal my longitude.
Sincerely, I intensely enjoy these strange, odd experiences. Every new experience, and the old ones too, makes my heart yearn and ache for you all to be here enjoying this wonderful atmosphere.