What separates great and extraordinary people from the rest of us is their ability to stay humble and rooted to their values all their lives. Greatness does not affect them and they never lose sight of their convictions. It is only people who are insecure and are constantly seeking affirmation from society try to project themselves as great. We have our own share of political masters who demand that their cars carry the symbolic red beacon light and that they are always accompanied by a pilot police car. It is as though they are constantly seeking to showcase their position and are demanding respect from people around them because of this position. This need for self-aggrandizement has not spared some of our traditional religious leaders too.

Swamiji was an example of how he had not allowed his greatness and popularity to affect him at all. I would like to mention two specific incidents that happened when he visited Alwar in today’s Rajasthan after his return from America. He was now popular and well-known and he had come to Alwar to meet his intimate friends and disciples. Many of them had assembled at the railway station to accord him a grand welcome. The people in the crowd were well-known personalities who were jostling with one another to receive him. Swamiji’s attention fell on one person, apparently a man of no significance standing humbly at the edge of the crowd. The man was shabbily dressed but he was beaming with joy on seeing his Swamiji after such a long time. He too wanted to be in Swamiji’s company, but did not have the courage to force his way through the crowd of such eminent people of the town. Swamiji noticed him and called out, ‘Ramasnehi! Ramasnehi!’ The crowd made way for this simple looking man who then came forward and greeted the Swami. Swamiji affectionately chatted and spent some time with him.

This was not just an isolated incident. During his stay at Alwar, many of the rich and powerful kept inviting him to lunch or dinner. But before he accepted any of their invitations, Swamiji first accepted the invitation of a poor old woman who during his wandering days had offered him food when he had nothing to eat. Swamiji did not forget her kindness. On reaching Alwar, he had sent a message to her saying that he wished to be treated to some of the thick chapattis he was offered years before and which he relished very much. The old woman was beside herself with joy. She prepared the chapattis with great care and waited eagerly for Swamiji and his disciples. When they came, she lovingly served them the simple meal. Swamiji enjoyed the food and told his disciples, “See how devout, how motherly, this old woman is! And how pure and simple the food is!”

These incidents reflect how Swamiji could remain unaffected by the adulation, name and fame that he received. His concern for the poor and the marginalized was something that was integral to his nature and he always made sure that they had a special place in his heart.

Kannada version in Prajavani (27-Dec-12)