Baba never allowed me to sit with other people. I had to sit on his pillow, above and behind him. You know that in India a particular round pillow is used, only by very rich people or by very respected people. Baba used to carry very few things, but his pillow was always with him. He had told me, “Do you know, I don’t need it, but to sleep on somebody else’s pillow is so dirty. I should at least have my own private pillow, even though I have nothing else. So I carry this pillow everywhere I go.”
Do you know? When I used to travel – Chetana will understand – because one pillow is not enough for me, I use three pillows, two for my sides and one for my head. That meant a very big suitcase for only the pillows, then another big suitcase only for the blankets, because I can’t sleep under anybody else’s blankets; they smell. And the way I sleep is so childlike – you will really laugh – I simply disappear under my blanket, head and all. So if it is smelling I cannot breathe, and I cannot keep my head out, because then it disturbs my sleep.
I can sleep only if I cover myself totally and forget the whole world. That is not possible if there is some smell. So I had to carry my own blanket, and one suitcase for my clothes. So I was carrying three big suitcases continuously for twenty-five years.
Baba was fortunate, he used to carry his round pillow under his arm. It was his only possession. He told me, “I carry it especially for you because when you come with me, where would I tell you to sit? I will be sitting on a higher platform than anybody else, but you have to sit a little higher than me.”
I said, “You are mad, Pagal Baba.”
He said, “You know, and everybody else knows, that I am mad. Does that have to be mentioned? But this is my decision, that you have to sit higher than I do.”
That pillow was meant for me. I had to sit on it, reluctantly of course, embarrassed, sometimes even angry, because it made me look so awkward. But he was not the man to be bothered by anything. He would simply pat my head or back and say, “Cheer up, my son. Don’t be so angry just because I have made you sit on the pillow. Cheer up.”
This man, Pannalal Ghosh, I neither liked nor disliked him. I was almost indifferent to him. He had no salt, so to speak, he was just tasteless. But his flute…he brought the Indian bamboo flute to the world’s notice, and raised it to be one of the greatest instruments of music. Because of him, the more beautiful flute, the Japanese, has completely faded out. Nobody bothers about the Arabic flute. But the Indian flute owes immensely to this very flat Bengali Babu, this fishy smelling government servant.
You will be really surprised that the word babu has become a name of great respect in India. When you want to respect anybody, you call him babu. But it simply means “one who stinks” – ba means “with” and bu means “stink.” The word was created by the Britishers for the Bengalis. Slowly, slowly, it spread all over India. Naturally, they were the first British servants, and they rose to the highest posts. So the word babu, which cannot be in any way respectable, became respectable. It is a strange fate, but words do have strange fates. Now nobody thinks that it should be thought ugly; it is thought very beautiful.