I have bowed before only one sanyasi in my life, and that is Sri Chandrasekhar Saraswathi, known to the world as the Parmacharya. It is not that I am arrogant or that I have no respect for sanyasis and sadhus. In fact I respect many sadhus in this country for their learning and social services. But my upbringing, first in an English convent school, and then ten years in USA had created a distance between me and traditional Hindu culture of bowing and prostrating before any elder, or anyone in saffron clothes. Therefore, I was the “modern” Indian, believer in science, and with little concern for spiritual diversions.
In fact till the age of 30, I had not even heard of a god like human being called Sri Chandrasekhar Saraswathi. It was a chance meeting with an Indian student at Harvard in his room in the university hostel, that I saw a picture of Parmacharya on top of this student’s TV set. I asked him: “Who is he? And why are you keeping his picture?” The student just avoided the question. I also forgot about it, except that Parmacharya shining smiling face in that photograph got etched in my memory. Six years later, as my Pan American Airways plane was about to land at Delhi airport during the Emergency, I saw that smiling Parmacharya’s face reappear before me for a brief second for no reason at that time. I was coming to Delhi surreptitiously to make my now famous appearance in Parliament and subsequent disappearance, while a MISA warrant was pending for my arrest in the Emergency. At that moment, as the plane landed, I resolved that whenever the Emergency gets over, I shall search for Parmacharya and meet him.
In 1977, after the Emergency was over, and the Janata Party in Power I went to Kanchipuram to see the Parmacharya. It was in sheer curiosity that I went. Some friends arranged for me to come before him. It was a hot June evening, and Parmacharya was sitting in a cottage, a few kilometers outside Kanchipuram. As soon as he saw me, he abruptly got up, and turned his back on me, and went inside the cottage. My friends who took me there were greatly embarrassed, and I was puzzled. Since no body including the other sadhus at that ashram had any idea what went wrong, I told my friends that we should leave, since Parmacharya was not interested in giving me “darshan”.
From the cottage, we walked a few hundred yards to where my car, by which I had come to the ashram, had been parked. Just as I was getting into the car, a priest came running to me. He said “Parmacharya wants to see you, so please come back”. Again puzzled, I walked back to the cottage.
Back at the cottage, a smiling Parmacharya was waiting for me. He first asked me in Tamil: “Do you understand Tamil?” I nodded. In those days, I hardly knew much Tamil, but I hoped the Parmacharya would speak in the simplest Tamil to make it easy to understand.
He then asked me another question: “Who gave you permission to leave my cottage?” The Tamil word he used for “permission” was of Sanskrit origin, which I immediately understood. So in my broken Tamil with a mixture of English words, I replied: “Since you turned your back on me and went inside the cottage, I thought you did not want to see me.” This reply greatly irritated the priest standing in attendance on the Parmacharya. He said “You cannot talk like this to the Parmacharya”. But Parmacharya asked him to be silent, and then said that when he saw me, he was reminded of a press cutting he had been keeping in store inside the cottage and he had gone inside to fetch it.
“Here it is” he said. “Open it and read it. I opened the folded press cutting, and with some difficulty, I read the Tamil question answer piece printed in Dinamani Kadir, a magazine of Indian Express group. The press cutting had a photograph of me and below it the question asked by a reader: “Is the hero of the Emergency struggle, Dr.Subramanian Swamy a Tamilian?” And the answer given was, “Yes he is a native of Cholavandhan of Madurai District.”
Parmacharya asked me, “Is this your photograph, and is the answer given to the question correct?” I nodded. Then Parmacharya said: “Now you may go. But in the future when you come, you cannot leave till I give you permission to leave.” Everyone around me was naturally very impressed, that Parmacharya had given so much special attention especially since in those days, he often went on manuvvat (silence vow). As I left a sense of elation at the meeting with Parmacharya. I wanted to come back again. I could not understand why a “modern” person like me should want to see a sanyasi, but I felt the urge strongly.