I loved being friends with Subarata...
She always thought about what would please Sri Chinmoy, her Guru, and if ever there was a decision to be made, she would stop and consult her heart or have a tiny meditation about it. In her presence you could feel her spiritual intensity.
Subarata Was Always Such Fun!
It was such a joy whenever Subarata came over to The Blue Bird – our vegetarian café in Auckland, I would set up her work area – just so – with her exclusive knife, chopping board and a brand-new cloth, and woe betide anyone who would inadvertently touch them! She was hilariously funny. On Thursday evenings she and Jogyata would come and pre-prepare for the special international meal for the following night (she was the Internationale Guest Chef Extraordinaire on Friday nights!) and she would get me to play my piano accordion in the kitchen while she worked there and bossed Jogyata around.
It was fun being Subarata's neighbour as well – the Centre where they lived used to be across the road from The Blue Bird. If Gael and I ever sat down for a coffee or tea the phone would ring – and it would be Subarata. She would be shaking her fists at us out of the window – whilst on the phone – saying, "IT'S AN ELITE CLUB IS IT??" We would then immediately invite her over and sometimes she would deign to come over and sometimes she wouldn't! Whatever happened was always very funny.
Life was cool with different and exciting things happening all of the time. Sometimes she would come over and whisk me gleefully off to another café for 'competition research' These would be little cute places that she had found, for she was always on a quest for the perfect cup of tea. She would also come over occasionally and say, “I'm replacing you now so you can go for a run.” And I would have to go, then and there! In the weekends we would go to a beach or something for a run and/or swim. Once she spotted pigs in a paddock on the side of the road and said, “Oh, Stop! Stop!” She stood by the fence going, "Cooee, Cooee," and two little piggies looked up and hurtled across the paddock oinking hysterically, to be patted and scratched by Subarata. She loved pigs and used to have some as pets when they were in the bush. (See Jogyata's Puppy Power Revisited.)
Subarata would always try to start off ‘sedate’ and ‘proper’ on these trips but it usually did not work out. For instance, once we were walking down the dune path to the beach and Jogyata flicked some sand at us. The next moment he was tearing down the path, chortling, with an enraged Subarata close on his heels, out to get him! Once, even, in the Centre classroom a lady had come to buy a tape and Subarata was talking to her, and then went out the back to look for one. The next moment there was there was a terrified shriek! Jogyata had jumped out at her and given her a fright! I tried to look unconcerned and normal as I continued chatting with the surprised lady.
"Nobody knows what I have to put up with!" was something that Subarata used to say on occasion. One time she said this, she had just walked into their place and there was a bottle of milk on the ironing board. She was a little surprised so she took it to the fridge. Then when she opened the fridge she found the iron in it! (On another occasion she actually caught Jogyata opening the fridge with the iron in his hand, so there was no doubt who the culprit was!)
There is a famous anecdote in Auckland Centre that goes something like this:
Jogyata and Subarata have been for a long run and go to give a meditation class later that same day, whereupon they fall asleep in the first exercise! Both are awoken by the sound on one of them snoring – but which one?!!
This has been the subject of much discussion and conjecture for years and over time the debate has swayed this way and that in favour of one or the other. I have been to many, many classes in my time and it seemed that whoever managed to get to tell the story first would accuse the other one of snoring! Usually Subarata got in first and claimed Jogyata to have snored – but in rare circumstances Jogyata would get crafty and whip out the story first and accuse Subarata. Both vehemently denied actually being the snorer.
It seems now that Jogyata has had the last laugh by publishing his version of the story in his book 'In The Boat', confident of not being challenged. However I should like to offer the small disclaimer that if Subarata had written the book, the snore would have been on the other foot.
You never knew what Subarata was thinking... One day she received in the mail a glossy, professional brochure from a mail-order firm, advertising home appliances and accessories like stereos, microwaves, dryers, etc. There was a special sale price on a nice-looking 'ghetto-blaster' stereo for only $45!! So she phoned the firm to ask if it was a typing error on the brochure and they said, "No!" But she had to pay within three weeks, which was until the sale lasted. So she sent in her payment and waited three weeks for delivery.
When it arrived, it was a two-inch high plastic toy!! Exactly as was advertised in the brochure and life-sized!! So she phoned the firm... and found that they no longer existed!! She had (along with a lot of other people who had been customers of the firm) been thoroughly taken in – and do you know what she did? She laughed and laughed and laughed... and laughed again! Until she cried. And then she told everyone and laughed even harder!
When she was finally exhausted from laughing she said it was a really clever scam and she wished she had thought of it.
Subarata left us on the 16th of March, 2000 - I still remember the events on the day of her passing very clearly. Painfully clearly. The most amazing thing about that day is that, along with the pain there came an extremely powerful force that blanketed us in a cocoon and buffered the shock. (As a single person, I will never fully understand the extent of the hurt and anguish that Jogyata underwent at that time, but I know with full assurance that Guru was especially looking out for him.) At that time the Centre was united in grief, with all of the little petty things that happen between people being totally buried and forgotten in the face of the big unthinkable thing that had happened.
Anyway, The Blue Bird stayed closed that day with a sign on the door explaining that a sudden tragedy had occurred, and we went to the Centre to meditate (or sob uncontrollably, depending on who you were). The practicalities of life intruded before I went to the Centre and it occurred to me to get prasad, so I went to 3 Guys – the supermarket across the road – to buy it. I was in the checkout queue when I suddenly had a feeling of fullness and effulgence all inside and around me (I don't quite know how to express it!) and Subarata was there. I looked all around – I was so certain I would see her and could not believe that I could not – but of course she was a soul, so I did not. She had an extremely strong presence and stayed with me for several minutes, during which time I tried to very inadequately express gratitude, love and the utmost goodwill (Sri Chinmoy once said this is a good thing to offer the soul of someone who has departed) by feeling it and thinking it as hard as I could, and trying to stay detached at the same time (which was impossible!) I did not know at that point that she had free access to the earth plane and could come and go as she pleased.
Since then I have seen Subarata a few times. When Jogyata came back from New York, several times when I looked at him – especially in the first few months – there would be a sudden interchange, and Subarata and not Jogyata would be looking back at me! There was an instantaneous but unmistakable flicker and she would be there! My unevolved mind found this a little unnerving, and I would flush hot and cold and try to look as though I hadn't noticed anything – especially I would try not to mention Subarata's name to Jogyata, who was grieving. I am not sure if he knew she was so close! Since then I have seen unmistakable aspects of Subarata in Gael, Sophie and Alana. Also, in the progress of some of the new people in the Centre (those who did not physically meet Subarata) I can see that Subarata has been at work. Some of them have even had dreams of her and feel close to her, as if they had known her.
Nishtha's birthday came almost a week after Subarata's passing. Because she was grieving so much for Subarata, Sri Chinmoy celebrated her birthday a week or two later. On the day that I now know was her birthday in New York, I felt a strong urge to go and buy her a sari. As I did not know her very well I thought she would find it strange that I should buy her a sari (I had no idea that it was her birthday!) but the feeling became insistent, so I went to the India Emporium. Walking in, I despaired. Not being a natural shopper, there was so much choice and I felt that I knew Nishtha's tastes too inadequately to make a good decision. This is when a miracle happened.
I was running my hand over a rack of saris, telling myself that this was futile, when Subarata's voice – complete with lilting Irish accent – came from inside of me and said, "That one!" And – what is more – my hand instinctively clutched one of the saris. Drawing it out, it was holding onto a lovely white sari – simple yet elegant – with blue flowers on an embroidered border. So I bought it. In New York in April, I left it at Annam Brahma for Nishtha to open, then went to visit Vyakulata. Nishtha traced me there and phoned to thank me for the sari. The first thing she said was, "Subarata made you get it!" I was rendered speechless and was busy flushing hot and cold – Nishtha's intuition had unnerved me, and she was absolutely right! It was Subarata's birthday present to her – and she had not forgotten her dear friend's birthday even from the soul's world.
Not Scary Enough
After years of surviving Jogyata leaping out at her, doing the unexpected and giving her terrible frights, Subarata was fairly canny and it was difficult to take her by surprise. Once when she was coming back from New York Jogyata went to pick her up from the airport, leaving us in the Centre organising her surprise party. When they drove up we hid behind all sorts of things – pot plants, dividing walls, carefully placed screens, chairs, etc... – in order to leap out and give her the fright of her life. Unfortunately she came straight into the Centre looking for us because she had seen all of our cars parked outside. We would have to be much more cunning next time.
Sometimes Subarata would leave messages on my answerphone and, when she went away to New York or on the Christmas Trip, I would save the latest message and listen to it every now and then when I needed to hear her voice, until she came back. The quality of Subarata's voice was such that it had the double effect of comfortably reassuring you whilst making you pull up your socks at the same time. The last message she left was when she was in Brazil on January 31, 2000. She never came back from that trip so I still have the message saved on my answerphone, years later. Sometimes when I am feeling weary or a bit down the sound of her voice gives me the inspiration and determination needed to battle along in the battle field of life once again.
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