In the Presence of Krishnamurti:
Mary’s unfinished book
Krishnamurti asked Mary Zimbalist to write a book about what it was like to be with him, a task for which Mary was uniquely suited. Mary started to write this book in 1986, soon after Krishnaji’s death, and she worked diligently at it until about 2007, twenty-one years. In 1994, after eight years of writing, it was clear that Mary was struggling to convey all that she wanted, and she was worried that she would never finish her book and would therefore fail to meet Krishnaji’s request. Consequently, in 1994, thinking it would help her, I suggested that she and I discuss our memories of Krishnaji, and I would record these discussions on audiotape. She liked this approach to conveying her memories, and to my surprise, she began to read out to me the daily diaries she had kept as a basis for our discussions. The diaries had always been kept strictly private. Our discussions continued almost until she died in 2008, and their transcription form her memoirs that most of you have already read.
Mary wanted her book to be titled In the Presence of Krishnamurti, so I added the subtitle The Memoirs of Mary Zimbalist for her memoirs. It seems only correct to use the title she created for her book as well, so we are calling her book In the Presence of Krishnamurti: Mary’s Unfinished Book, and hope that it doesn’t cause too much confusion.
Mary stopped her writing partly because she felt our recorded conversations made her continued attempts to write a book unnecessary, but also because she was by then ninety-two years old, and writing was a strain; however, it is a pity she never finished her book. Our conversations are indeed more detailed than her book—what Mary called the first two chapters of her book cover seven pages, and the same material in her memoirs requires thirty-seven pages. But the differences between Mary’s memoirs and her book is not just a matter of details, and elucidating the differences may explain why I believe both Mary’s memoirs and her unfinished book work well together to fulfill Krishnaji’s intention: conveying what it was like to be with him.
Mary’s Unfinished Book is clearly intended for a general audience of people who had met neither her nor Krishnaji. Mary’s memoirs, on the other hand, are her discussions with a close friend who was familiar with most of the people in the story. Consequently, there is an intimacy in the memoirs that is not present in her book. But the greater objectivity carries some advantages.
Mary’s Unfinished Book also does not have the intrusion of an interviewer; it is really just Mary talking to her audience, and that is valuable. My participation increased as Mary’s memoirs progressed, as Mary wanted me to contribute to our discussions of events at which I was present; she was adamant that our discussions for her memoirs were collaborative in nature. Mary’s Unfinished Book, however, is blessedly free of any voice other than Mary’s, and so her narration has a flow and continuity that a collaboration doesn’t allow.
Another difference between Mary’s memoirs and her book is that, in our discussions, Mary would frequently say things and then add that what she had just said must be edited out of any public version of these discussions until people had died and could therefore no longer be hurt.
These sections were edited out of her memoirs, but this gives us a clue to a difference in purposes that Mary saw between her memoirs and the book she was writing: The memoirs are the full historic record, the complete “warts and all” presentation of what Mary witnessed. When all of us in the story are dead and gone (which is not so far away) and our feelings can no longer be hurt and our self-images no longer need protecting, then the full account of Krishnaji’s last twenty years will be there for the world. Mary’s Unfinished Book was not for that.
There is also the inevitable difference between what is spoken and what is carefully written. Mary’s writing is very beautiful and very evocative, and in her writing she takes the time to describe events, places, and things. Unfortunately, all we have is Mary’s first rough draft, and we can be certain that had she had the energy and time to finish and polish this work it would be even more beautiful and evocative. Nevertheless, it seems only right that people who are interested are able to see the result of Mary’s efforts, unfinished and unpolished though it is.
Of course, readers already familiar with Mary’s memoirs will recognize the people, places, and events Mary describes in her unfinished book, albeit in abbreviated form, but this will probably suit many people who didn’t want all the details of her memoirs. I’m also sure that as her unfinished book is just Mary’s own sweet voice, many readers will feel that they come to know her better, and that is wonderful in itself.