I was to attend a lecture of Swami Rangnathananda, at Kanyakumari. He was probably then the President of Ramakrishna Mission, I am not sure. He was a very famous scholar and authority on Indian Religion and Spirituality. Even then I was not much of 'Atman-Brahman' – listener. By that time I had closely seen enough saffron clothed guys, watched them with objectivity and came to conclusion that I was not interested in listening to them. I had realized that I loved rain, I loved literature, I liked people, I loved sea, I loved trees, I loved sky, I loved India, and I love almost everything around me. I knew I will never be able to withdraw from this world in its real sense.
I easily get bored of mechanical things, hypocrisy and show of authority. I do not keep quiet if someone tries to threaten me with any kind of power – may be money, may be designation, may be education, whatever. I do not fight and I do not surrender. It is the art of fighting without fighting. So in every phase of my life, people have accused me of 'not respecting the system'. I have always wondered how people can live with various rotten systems and never ask 'why' or 'why not'? I am not against systems, but when you know the system is not working, you don't need much courage or wisdom to change it, if you are open to suggestions. May be every system gives power to few, and those few want to exercise their power in the name of system. People generally are not ready to exercise naked power – they cloth it with systems, culture and traditions.
Given a choice, I would have dropped out of Swami Ranganathananda's lecture. But attendance to this program was mandatory. So with couple of friends I sat in the last row… with the idea of chatting, cutting jokes, laughing – a usual back bencher business. The Swami came. Everybody rose and welcomed him. He asked people to sit. Before the program was to start, he looked at the crowd. Then before anybody realized what was happening, he just asked the audience to turn around. So, those of us who were leisurely sitting in the last row, found ourselves in the first row. We could not play any mischief. The Swami delivered his lecture – he was a very good orator.
I don't remember what the Swami said. I never had any communication with him again – I regret it now. On that day I admired (and I still admire) Rangnathananda for understanding my mind and treating me with dignity. If he wanted, he could have just ridiculed us – he was famous, he had the authority and we were just non-entities. But he involved me in the proceedings without insulting or offending me. He took care to respect my dignity. He challenged me, but at the same time he took a challenge to present a superior example to me. He did not allow me to feel inferior – I smiled at the failure of our plan and listened to him without grudge. He knew how to motivate reluctant people without threatening them, a very important trait of great leadership. He was the kind of person who used his power with humility, again a great leadership style. He did not give me lecture on 'importance of following system'; he was flexible enough to change the system to accommodate people like me.
Don't know why I suddenly remembered this experience after about 25 years! May be, I am facing a wall; I do not want to hurt myself (again) by trying to cross (leave aside breaking it!) the wall. May be, what I need is just to 'about turn', and there will be new life, and even new me. On that day Swami Ranganathanada unintentionally taught me that even if you 'about turn', if your self esteem is intact, you loose nothing in life, on the contrary you reach new depths.