JJ’s time in India
When I was a child our house had many souvenirs of India scattered around it. There were little ebony elephants with tiny ivory tusks, large elephant bookends, and most excitingly a model of the Taj Mahal constructed entirely of candles which nobody could ever bring themselves to burn and eventually disintegrated in a pile of dust. I asked my father whether he had brought the Taj Mahal home from his travels in India when an officer in the merchant navy. His reply was a disappointing no, but did he go on to say that his uncle had sent it? I wish I had paid more attention!
My father was not a very good source of information about anything. It was my mother who told me about the huge row he had had with his sister long before I was born. During the Second World War the government had made an appeal for waste paper “for the war effort” and his sister Vi had responded by donating papers “that should never have been thrown away”, according to my mother’s account. Could these “papers” have been letters from JJ to his mother during his time with Vivekananda? Or had they been discarded many years earlier?
My aunt Violet Edmonds lived with her mother, Etty, in Surrey. She was a graduate of Girton College, Cambridge in the late 1920s and worked as head of English at Wimbledon High school for Girls. Her pupils, my mother and I were all extremely nervous in her commanding presence. When she died my brother and I had the task of clearing her possessions and so most of the documents mentioned in this document were found in her Cotswold cottage.
First we have the obituary, and the comments that I wrote for Vedanta Magazine March-April 2006. The obituary was published in the "Tribune" of Lahore, which was in turn printed in the "Indian Mirror".
The Indian Mirror June 16th/1898
The Tribune of Lahoro says: - "We are deeply grieved to learn of the death from enteric fever of Mr. J. J. Goodwin who came out to India as a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, and whom many people will remember in Lahore. Mr Goodwin was quite a young man and we mourn his early death as that of a personal friend for whom we had a high regard. In Lahore, Mr Goodwin became a particular favourite with children, and hundreds of them were to be found always following him and asking him to share their simple games. Of all Swami Vivekananda's disciples that we saw here he was undoubtedly the most devoted, single- minded and capable. He was a journalist of considerable ability, and as a short-hand reporter we doubt whether he had any equal in India. Swami Vivekananda's speeches were mostly reported by him, Sanskrit and all. For some time Mr Goodwin joined the staff of the Madras Mail, where he was soon appreciated and was sent to Utacamund as its special correspondent. His pure life and gentle ways soon made him a general favourite. One of the truest and gentlest of natures we have known has been cut off in the early dawn of manhood, furnishing one more example of the saying that those whom the gods love die young"
He died on June 2nd
“JJ” was 27 years old when he joined Vivekananda in Jammu and Lahore in November 1897. There are many testimonies to his playfulness and love of fun, but few more vivid accounts than that of this slightly built young Englishman enjoying the company of the hoards of children who swarmed around him.
We do not know who wrote this piece, but JJ evidently impressed him with his devotion to Swami Vivekananda: the implication is that in this respect he excelled over all others. That he was also single-minded and capable must have made a great difference to the success of the tour as did his careful records of the Swami's word in Sanskrit as well as in English.
It is a comfort to read of his popularity in Utacamund. Swami Saradananda wrote to Sarah Bull of his distressed to hear of his lonely death far away from the friends "for whom he came to this land", but it seems that "JJ" was destined to make friends wherever he roamed. Obituaries tend by their very nature to dwell on their subject's better characteristics, but in this case “JJ" seems to have endeared himself not only to The Swami Vivekananda but to many others besides
When Vivekananda left Lahore JJ returned to his work as a reporter for the Madras Mail. But they kept in regular touch as this postcard suggests. On the 13th January 1898 JJ wrote his sister, Etty.
Dear E. I wrote to the Swami; who has been at Khati: to ask the Raja there for a tiger skin for you as a wedding present & he has just sent me a postcard to say it is waiting to my order. I am sending for it today. You may take it as coming from the Swami, or, if you wish to be still higher and mightier ,from the R.H. the Rajah of Khati. This is one of the Rajas who was in England for the Jubilee.
Yours JJ Goodwin
I am surprised at JJ’s enthusiasm for a tiger skin as he was, like all the family, a great lover of animals. I wonder what my grandparents would have made of this exotic gift!
On 6th April JJ wrote his mother a note from Conoor. He was on the way to Ooty, writing in pencil on Madras Mail headed notepaper.
Dear Old Lady, I have just reached here on the way to Ooty & have to post to catch the mail at once. I go on to Ootacamund tomorrow. It is about 7,000 feet up, in the Nilgiris.
Yesterday morning, before I left Madras, I saw a man hanged, the first I have seen, & I do not want to see another. Madras is terribly hot, & this is a great deal better. I will write positively next mail
Yours with love to both
Two tiny fragments but these are all I have in JJ’s own handwriting. “Old Lady” was a popular slang expression for a mother at the time, and suggests a warm, playful relationship between mother and son.