My Last Visit with UG
-- Narayana Moorty
the beginning of February, 2007, when I heard (I guess from Julie Thayer and
Paul Arms) that UG had fallen again in the bathroom in his apartment in
The first morning after I arrived, Larry came to pick me up at the hotel where I was staying, after I had called UG’s place using Mitra’s cell phone.
[Photo: Courtesy of Lisa Taranto]
I entered UG’s ‘cove’ with Larry, UG was lying on the couch and sat up to greet
me. He looked frailer than even the last time I had seen him at my home in
Just as I expected, the room was filled with people. There was a constant influx of visitors, some of whom would leave after staying a while. The apartment was heated beyond normal levels – we all knew that UG liked to keep his surroundings quite warm, almost hot. The heat had the added effect of people not wanting to stay in the room too long.
UG expressed his appreciation of me: “You made me what I am today!” I replied, “Nonsense, if anything, it’s the other way round,” or something to that effect, knowing full well that he was exaggerating in his usual fashion.
Later, Guha told me that after I left the room UG had said “Moorty played a major role in my life.”
[On another occasion, I was expressing my appreciation to UG and said that I was glad to have met him and spent almost a third of my life with him. I also said that he played a major role in my life. Then I started bragging about myself: I said that I had integrated death into my life; it didn’t matter to me if I died the next day. He said that he was ready to die right then and there. I said, “Me too.” And then I started bragging again about my integrating death into my life. UG sarcastically replied, “Sounds profound!” Served me right!]
* * *
Vallecrosia is on the Italian Riviera between the towns of Ventimiglia and Bordighera and is about an hour’s drive across the border from
apartment was built for him by his friends Lucia, Anita and Giovanni in their villa in
In the ante-room there was a window overlooking the grove, a table and several chairs, and places for people to leave their belongings. People always left their shoes outside even here. They put their computers and other paraphernalia on the table. For the computers, there was a slow and tentative broadband connection which could only handle a couple of connections at a time. People sometimes had trouble getting on the Internet, but with Mitra’s and others’ help they sometimes had better luck.
A glass door let you into UG’s apartment. The red curtains to the wide glass windows on the walls were almost always closed to prevent the intense daylight from bothering the resting UG. On the right of the entrance was UG’s bedroom, with his bed and his few belongings such as some clothes, ‘archives’ and other papers.
The living room was rather small; it had a fireplace and had light fixtures which gave plenty of light when needed.
On the left was the entrance into the small bathroom and a cooking place with a microwave, a stove and a refrigerator.
* * *
hotel apartment was on the sixth floor in an apartment building with a pizza
restaurant and shops in the first floor. You had a grand view of the
Mediterranean from my bedroom and another spectacular view of the
* * *
After I arrived, I learned the details of UG’s fall in the bathroom which had happened about five or six weeks before. According to his own account, UG fell in the bathroom, got injured on his leg, his head hit the sink and was bleeding, and he fainted. When he regained consciousness, he heard knocking at the door in the living room. It was around 5 in the morning. He slowly crawled his way on the floor to the door and was able to open the door. It was Avner making his early morning call. He saw UG’s condition and helped him to the couch.
Since then UG had round-the-clock caretakers, the most constant of whom were Louis and Melissa. But many others were at his beck-and-call, performing sundry chores: minding the fireplace (Avner from Israel), taking care of accounts (Sarito from Germany), cooking and feeding (Melissa, Trisha, Larry and Susan, Anandi, Lakshmi, Kathy from Hungary, Lucia, Golda from Australia, Paul Arms and Viresha, and so on), out door chores such as transportation, airline bookings, finding places to stay for people who visited (Mitra and Mario) and last but not the least, photo and video shooting (Lisa and Avner and others). People took turns to cook. There were some phenomenal gourmet meals, all of them vegetarian, especially from Melissa (her great soup!) and our hostess, Lucia. Golda made her famous chai. It is thanks to Lisa and Avner that we a record of many of the happenings around UG in his last days. The recording abruptly stopped because for one thing, Lisa had to leave with me on March 9, and for another, about ten days before he breathed his last, UG asked Mahesh to go out of the room and announce to everyone to "go back to where you all came from, and not sneak around corners!”
In spite of the looming tragedy, there was a sort of festive atmosphere in the air. [It must, however, be mentioned that at the times when UG was resting, you could notice that people sitting around him looked quite solemn and somber.] People were joking around UG and UG never quit his ranting and raving and teasing and scolding people. His hyperboles, particularly about himself, knew no bounds. In the anteroom next to the kitchen, in the kitchen and outside on the patio, people were chatting away, e-mailing, chatting on the Internet, transferring videos and photos they had taken on to their computers and so on and so forth. The place was abuzz from morning six to evening about 8 pm.
When Louis was drawn into the scene to be asked to read something or do some other chore, he would always add his irreverent humor to whatever he did or said: he would even rock UG in the couch by holding the side of the couch up. He would do an improvisation and mimicking of Larry lying with outstretched legs on the sofa, shaking his legs, and such. He would sing the songs he composed about UG, mostly poking fun at UG, or he would show his drawings or read from the book he was currently writing on UG. Whatever he did he would sprinkle it with his creative humor.
Sometimes, Larry would be asked to do his stand-up comedy or read from Chandrasekhar’s book or something someone else had written. Or UG himself would read either from the ‘archives’ or from the Internet clippings collected by Lisa. Or, there would be an astrological reading by Nataraj. The cell phones would constantly ring asking to speak to UG. And there were daily sessions of UG’s pulse reading by ‘the doctors’: Dr. Paul Lynn, Dr. Susan Nettleton (now Morris), Ramateertha, Doris and Vibodha. There would be periodic medical consultations about UG’s condition, which were more in the spirit of entertainment than serious consultations, because UG never really consulted doctors.
of the pieces of entertainment (there were many) was done by Chin Meyer, a
German standup comedian from
add spice to the scene, occasionally Leonidas chocolates, specially brought by
* * *
There were occasions when UG would ask all his papers to be brought, including clippings Lisa made from references to UG on the Internet, he would read from them, or ask Larry or someone else to read from them. Or, Vibodha would be asked to read a piece from the UG “Archives” on the computer, UG constantly chiding for not finding a piece quickly enough. Sometimes, there is a letter or two from someone and it would be read. Once Sarito was reading a letter from someone who mentioned how UG “touched me where no one else has touched me before,” and she broke down into crying herself. Someone else had to finish her reading. She was actually crying for everyone there, for each and every one of them was touched in a similar fashion. UG had a special, albeit a different, relationship with each one of us.
And in one of those sessions, UG started tearing up many of those papers and ask people to throw them in the fire in the fireplace. Included in those papers were Yashoda’s funny “letters” from the Dalai Lama, Ramana Maharshi and other celebrities and Robert’s UG-Marilyn Monroe morphing photos.
* * *
No one could have served UG with so much devotion as Louis. It’s not that others wouldn’t have served him well. But he did it all willingly, with gusto and a great sense of humor. UG was always grateful to him for his service; he even bought him an Apple laptop with a printer at considerable expense. UG would even say that he would give Louis the remaining three hundred thousand dollars, if he would only ‘pack him off’. But neither Louis nor anyone else would do any such thing!
You could sense that UG was experiencing pain, although, except rarely, he would not express it. His cardio-spasm was acting up too, as a result of which he was eating even less than normal, which was miniscule to begin with. A small amount of rice sticks, idli or upma or a few sips of orange juice or scalding hot water. He would frequently throw up, mostly liquids. Paper or plastic cups and paper towels or napkins were always on hand to help catch the vomit and clean up. It was obvious he was losing body fluids. His energy levels were diminishing. At times, he would just lie down with his head on the arm of the couch, supported by a pillow and his arms thrown back, and practically gasp for breath. Sometimes, he would just doze off.
A couple of nights I thought his life energies were leaving him. Those two nights, I didn’t see how he could make through the night. But to my utter amazement he would pull through by the morning.
I was encouraging him to get up and take a few steps, with support, of course. He tried to do that and was even able to walk a few steps across the room. He even held Louis’s hands and pretended to make a few dancing steps, to everyone’s delight. All that seemed fine until one morning there was a major setback: apparently, around 4 am he was taken to the bathroom (he was normally transported to the bathroom by being placed in a chair and moved); he stood up and, according to Louis, Louis’s attention was distracted momentarily when he looked at Melissa trying to say something to her, and when he turned around he noticed that UG’s eyes were rolling in their sockets and he fainted and collapsed on the toilet seat. Louis had to carry him back to the couch in his arms. As far as I know, UG never took another step after that.
* * *
Right the second morning of my stay, just as I entered UG’s room, UG put me to work in his usual fashion: “Why don’t you make some upma today?” I agreed and immediately recruited Larry and Susan’s help. UG in his teasing fashion forbade Larry to cook. But Larry and Susan did go out to get the necessary groceries for the upma. Susan helped me with the cooking. I made a little upma specially for UG, as he doesn’t eat food with many spices, particularly ginger, with a little extra salt, to suit his taste, and sent to him with someone (I think it was Avner). Avner came back with UG’s comment on the upma: “Why did Moorty put so much salt in it?” I sent Avner back with my reply, a counter-question: “Since when has UG started complaining about excess salt?” Apparently, when Avner relayed my question to UG, UG smiled.
* * *
Just to stay away from the heat in the apartment, as well as not to crowd UG too much, I would sometimes get out of there and sit in the ante-room next to the kitchen, doing this and that. I helped clean up Lisa’s laptop since she was complaining about how slow it was. Soon, thanks to her publicity, I ended up doing the same for Avner’s and Paul Lynn’s laptops. I also made CD’s on request, copying some of the Indian music I had played earlier to everyone in UG’s room.
* * *
One morning, there was the talk of the “Swan Song” that UG had earlier dictated to Louis which was now only on Louis’s computer. UG wanted me to edit it (one of his ‘chores’ for me). It took me an hour or so to edit it. The English needed work and the piece wasn’t all that coherent. I tried to make it a little better. I transmitted it by e-mail to Louis who, if I remember right, printed it with the help of Sarito’s printer. I think it was read to UG and the rest of the audience. The piece is now posted on UG’s website as well as in several other places.
* * *
Another morning, UG was talking away and was trying rather unsuccessfully to remember a Sanskrit verse about Vedantins, Naiyayikas, Bauddhas and other philosophers. I told UG that it was possible to get the exact verse from the Internet. He said “Do it.” I went into the ante-room and fished for the verse on the Internet. It didn’t take long. I wrote it in Sanskrit and showed it to him. He said he would be more comfortable reading it in the Telugu script. So I wrote it in the Telugu script on another sheet and he was able to read it with ease. I told him that the verse was written by Sri Krishna Chaitanya, the founder of the Chaitnaya movement, and related the legend of a conversation between him and Raghunatha, the Navya-Nyaya philosopher who was his fellow student. Chaitanya apparently was also a good scholar in Nyaya except that he didn’t believe that logic would help one to attain liberation. So while saying this, as they were crossing the river on a boat, Chaitanya threw the logic manuscript he was holding in his hand into the river.
* * *
Mahesh came about a week or so after I arrived. When UG was asking Mario to look for a place for him, I told UG that I had a room vacant in my apartment which no one was using, so why not he stay there. UG agreed and put him up there. The night Mahesh first arrived, he kissed me on the forehead and thanked me for the fast editing job I had done for him recently (on his journal concerning UG). There was not much conversation between Mahesh and me. For the week or two he was there, (I would say about 10 days), I would make coffee for him in the mornings and offer him some cashew nuts or a little piece of bread. Then he would leave early in the morning to see UG and spend the rest of the day in the villa.
Mahesh had a central role to play around UG. He had a special relationship with UG. UG would let Mahesh touch his feet with his head, (or UG would rub Mahesh’s head with his foot), kiss him on the forehead, make violent gestures (in jest) or crack crude jokes at him, and what not. I too thought this was the time to put aside all my background and pride and prostate once and for all in front of the energy called UG. First, he tried to prevent me. But I said, “You would let Mahesh do all that, why can’t I?” and forced myself on him. After he left, Mahesh came again later, after I was gone, at UG’s behest.
* * *
UG’s daughter, arrived in the latter half of my stay, after being stalled in
Usha’s arrival was a major event. Everyone was, of course, glad to see her. (She was UG’s ‘darling daughter’.) As soon as she came in, she sat next to him and started nursing him, massaging his legs and feet with oil, as a daughter would minister to her father’s needs. She made some upma or idli for him. She wanted to give him a bath on a stool (she was going get stuff ready for it), but UG would have none of that. (UG had not had a bath in a month or so. Yet, there was not the slightest smell on him! He was clean like a whistle!).
renewed my acquaintance with Usha. (I had met her before both in
* * *
As I said before, Chandrasekhar and Suguna weren’t able come with Usha. Mario and others were pressing me to stay on. I too was telling people how sorry I was that I wouldn’t be able to see Chandrasekhar, having come that far. I had another reason to see Chandrasekhar: I just finished translating the third series of his book Stopped in Our Tracks and I wanted to give him a CD of the book personally and talk to him about both that and his Second Series. I had also finished translating the Second Series recently and brought a printed-and-bound copy of it to present to UG.
course, people had been reading passages from the Second Series to the crowd
that gathered around. Guha apparently had read the chapter on the Upanishads in
that book. UG expressed his appreciation of that chapter to me and mentioned
what a good a scholar Chandrasekhar was. (I relayed that comment to
Chandrasekhar later.) I told UG that the following chapter in the book called
“The Upanishads and UG” was even more interesting and that he should read it. I
don’t know if he ever read it or anyone read it to him. The book was going on
its rounds and people were reading parts of it. In fact, UG’s granddaughter
Kusuma, who was also visiting from the
Finally, word got around to UG, and about the 26th of February, when I went to see UG that morning, he asked me, “Could we persuade you to stay a little longer?” I said fine. I extended my stay till the 9th of March. Sarito called the British Airways, and I talked to them and rearranged my flight right then and there.
* * *
Chandrasekhar and Suguna didn’t arrive until the 8th afternoon. I and Mitra went to Nice to receive them at the airport. I only had that half-day to spend with him, as I left on the morning of the 9th.
When we arrived at UG’s, as usual there were a lot of shoes outside, and the living room was packed with people. I think first Suguna entered and then Chandrasekhar. As she went in, Suguna broke out crying, “UG, why is this happening to you?” or something to that effect, in Telugu. Then you could hear UG answering in Telugu with his own crying voice, “Why are you crying?” That was most touching to everyone around. UG’s affection to her was boundless. She is a pure soul!
* * *
One day, being tired of his talk, I asked UG, “UG, what prevents you from dying now?" UG replied, “I want to go, but the body doesn’t let me!” He made that statement several times before. I tried to interject, “If you care about what the body is trying to say, you should pay attention to it, nurture it and bring it back to full life, instead of neglecting it and letting it go!” But he reacted rather sharply, speaking of my “school-boy logic” and so on.
One thing remarkable about UG was his attitude toward his condition: You might sometimes hear him groan in his pain or gasp for breath, but he always remained unconcerned about his health and well-being. He never, ever once worried about what was happening to him. I heard him roar once: “Do you think I care about whether I live or die?” He was never the ‘frightened chicken’ which he accused people of being when they were afraid of disease or death.
giving an account of the money left with him, UG was constantly saying that he
would give the remaining $300,000 to anyone who would pack him off. Then there
was plenty of joking around that. I told him that I would do that and he could
give the money to me. He said no, I wouldn’t do it. I said, I could strangle
him or give him ‘the kiss of death’ and what not. Louis was doing his own part
in the joking: he would say he could make minced meat out of the body of UG,
make patties out of it and distribute it to everyone, to put catsup on and eat.
And so on. This joking would go on endlessly.
One morning, I had prepared a scheme for a ‘mortal combat’ with UG and was waiting for Mahesh to arrive on the scene so he would record it. (Mahesh had been taking copious notes so he could write a book on his days with UG later. Of course, he would chide UG saying, “You say you are dying, UG, but you are not going to die!”) This mortal combat would be a kind of answer to UG’s repeated statement, “I want to go, but my body doesn’t want to go.” When Mahesh arrived, I was massaging UG’s legs along with Usha (I wanted to try a certain massage, Bowen style, which I learned from Linda, my ex-wife). As I was massaging, I stood up and said “Here are the three conditions (terms) for the mortal combat: 1) It’s a combat of debating until one of us dies; 2) We only use rules of logic and nothing else; and 3) No bullying on UG’s part.” I am not sure if anyone was amused by my idea.
My complaint to UG essentially was that if he treats his body as something separate from him (or if it is the same as him, as a matter of fact), he should listen to his body and do its bidding, since he often claims that the body can take care of all its problems. I said that he as ‘UG’ was not letting his body take care of itself. (He did admit that ‘UG’ was a nuisance.) If he did, he would listen to the body’s demands. The body was demanding nourishment and freedom from pain, and wanted to get some help in that direction. It wanted to get well. I added: “It’s ‘UG’ I want to kill and let his body take care of the problems. It’s that ‘UG’ who is subjecting the body to all the diet philosophy and other kinds of ‘crap’ and screwing it up!” UG right away agreed it was ‘crap’!
I don’t think UG heard any of that. But that’s how he was. In a sense he was right. He in fact told people later that UG was already dead. He was just waiting for the body to go. And he would give no encouragement (except the minimal food or elimination) for the body to linger or carry on. And that’s precisely what happened: he let the body wither away slowly on its own. It took a long time and he was deteriorating day by day, until finally he gave up when no one was around. He made sure (as he is always known to, when he wanted people out, he could always conspire toward that end) that the three who were attending him (Mahesh, Larry and Susan) were out for about 15 minutes for a cup of coffee and then he breathed his last.
days before that, after everyone had left the room, he asked Mahesh to go out
and tell everyone to “go back to where you all came from and not sneak around
in the corners to try to see him.” Larry and Susan also left, but when they
arrived at the airport in Nice, they were called back. Usha also was sent away,
as well as Chandrasekhar and Suguna. (I believe that if I had stayed on I would
have met the same fate.) Mario and Sarito were asked to hang around in town to
do any chores that were necessary.
Guha had come back after going earlier to
gave clear instructions to Mahesh that there would be no funeral. And there was
to be no ceremony of any kind. His body was incinerated locally. Of course,
Susan was on hand to take care of any death certification process that was
needed, as she is a medical doctor. I don’t know what happened to the ashes
that were collected from the incineration. I believe that Mahesh took them with
Sometime toward the end of my stay, Yashoda collected money from those present to buy a tree and present it to Lucia and Giovanni, the hosts, in token of the appreciation of the group that had gathered there for their gracious and wonderful hospitality. They would plant the tree in their yard in memory of UG.
* * *
The night before I was to leave, I gave a little talk addressing everyone present there: I said how I appreciated everyone taking such good care of UG, especially Louis. What Louis did for UG no one else could do, including myself, I said. Everyone worked together like a family, I continued, like an orchestra without a conductor: everything got done and no one was there to tell them what to do. I mentioned the names of various people from various countries and I also made references to some who were not present, particularly Julie Thayer.
* * *
Why were all these people so attracted to UG? On the one hand, they considered him as their spiritual master guiding them in their lives. On the other hand, thanks to their belief in his ‘supernatural’ powers, they were looking to him for help in worldly matters as well, to become successful in career, money or success in other areas. Some regarded him as an invaluable friend, who was always loyal to them and who couldn’t be replaced by anyone else. Some were simply in love with him. Many of them also regarded him as a father figure, giving them that love and affection which they received from nowhere else. Their respect, love and obedience abounded to the point that they totally disregarded any apparent abuse by him.
Nothing explains better all these relationships than the one crowning factor, namely, that UG represents to many the end of a search: you feel with UG you have come ‘to the end of the road’. There is nothing beyond. No wonder he became such a ‘reference point’ (to use Julie’s expression) for many of us. Such was UG’s magical spell on those around him!
UG did ask several people, including me, to visit him one last time before he died. But some he didn’t. It’s not clear what his logic was behind this. Whatever it was, it was clear that when people didn’t come to visit him, he never showed any disappointment. You are always left with the impression that his invitations were extended to people for their benefit, and not for his, just to give them one last chance to visit him.
I cannot but be impressed by the mutual cordiality which people expressed to one another in this group. Not just respect, but affection and friendship. I know that at least some of them will remain friends with me even after UG’s death. With the others I feel that I could renew my friendship any time I might choose or when an opportunity might present itself; then it would be like I saw them only yesterday.
* * *
told UG and everyone present that whichever way he decided, whether he decided
to stay or leave, we would respect his decision. If he decided to live and
carry on, I would be glad to see him again in
I thought, in the back of my mind, that UG might want to ask me to postpone my departure further; but that wasn’t forthcoming. And, as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t so clear to me that UG was going to die; there was some possibility that he could kick back, as he did once before, a few years ago, and hang on. But, I didn’t want to sit there on my own initiative and keep a death watch. For some reason, that didn’t make such sense to me. For one thing, UG said several times he wanted to leave everyone here and ask someone to drive him to Gstaad where he would settle all his affairs and simply disappear.
the eve of my departure, I said my goodbyes to all friends. I asked UG if he
would be available at 5:30 in the morning to say good bye. He said, “Why 5:30,
you can come at 5:00. I will be up most of the night anyway.” Lisa was going to
leave at the same time and travel with me to
* * *
I feel, and I am sure that he was not unaware of it himself, that irrespective of all my ambivalences and ambiguities, there is a fundamental feeling non-separation from UG.
I can’t say I really miss UG. Sure, he is gone. But the unity I felt, the identity, the energy, they are not gone. It’s just like I always said, “Whatever real is there in UG, it is here now!” I am not real fundamentally. And what is real is always there with or without UG, and with or without me.
One could ask whether I feel the same ‘non-separation’ between myself and other people as well. The answer is, in principle, yes. But most of the time it doesn’t surface, because my conditioning and background keep operating and prompt me to react to what others say or do, thus creating a division between me and others. In UG’s case, however, these reaction mechanisms were at least temporarily, on some occasions, suspended. There was no room for them to arise, at least for that moment. Then it’s not that I actually felt that there were two ‘non-separate’ people, but rather that I felt as if there was just that field of energy, which I could feel any time I step outside of my reaction mechanism.
You could feel the same way in intense moments of love, when the separation between you and your lover is gone. Then it’s not that you feel you two are united into one, but you touch on the underlying energy field which exists everywhere and in everyone and in you and me. Of course, we can’t remain there. The world has to go on and have its play and we are part of the play. We act and we react to other people. We get involved and then we get disengaged. But fundamentally there is only that energy!
* * *
Goodbye, UG, my friend!
 And, of course, Paul Arms was always in the background, to be service whenever he could.
 Of course, Mahesh was chastised for not helping Usha, Chandrasekhar and Suguna with their visas. But Mahesh protested saying that he wasn’t asked to.
 Julie writes to me saying: “U.G. told Guha he could come back just before he died, he definitely did not come against his wishes, he would never have done that, and Mahesh told Guha he could stay on nearby until the end, just as it was Mahesh who asked Mario and Sarito to stay on, not U.G.” I stand corrected.
 Sarito has written an e-mail saying, “UG never asked me to do that!”
 I know several people did want to come, even made arrangements, but they couldn’t for various reasons.
 UG fell in the bathroom and hurt himself once before, about four years ago, and was nursed back to normalcy by Louis, Sidd, Paul Arms and other friends. Apparently, it took him five weeks then to recover.