Swami Vivekananda said of J.J. Goodwin, “Those who think they have been helped by any thought of mine, ought to know that almost every word of it was published through the untiring and most unselfish exertions of Mr. Goodwin…a disciple of never-failing devotion, a worker who knew not what tiring was….”
In life as well as in death, some people stay young. These people take up one thing and pour the last drop of blood coursing through their veins over it. Their life becomes a relentless pursuit of that one object. Nothing can distract them. No force can deter them from their chosen path. They keep at it until one day life stops and death gives them their much deserved rest. Irrespective of their age, at work and in rest, they stay young.
I got introduced to Josiah John Goodwin as a child when I was introduced to Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature. If not for this man, most of Swami Vivekananda’s talks and lectures might have become the food of oblivion. I have known that this man of only 23 was noting down some of the most vital messages ever passed on to humanity. I have known that he refused to take payments in just about a week’s time at work with Swami Vivekananda. I have known all along that Mr. J.J. Goodwin came to India with Swami Vivekananda as the most faithful devotee and friend. He recorded in shorthand, Swamiji’s lectures from Colombo to Almora which became the bedrock of Indian nationalism, socialism, humanism, and most importantly a reinvigorated ignition switch for the Indian freedom struggle. I have known that he was only 28 when he died due to fever in the year 1898 in Ootacamund (Ooty). I have known that his death was perhaps the dearest of losses for Swami Vivekananda. I knew that he rests somewhere in Ooty listening to the poem his Master dedicated to him on learning of his demise.
In the book, The Life of Swami Vivekananda by His Eastern and Western Disciples, a passage on Mr. Goodwin explains, “Mr. Goodwin would take down a lengthy address in the evening, work through the night in typewriting off his stenographic reports, and then hasten towards midnight to the newspaper offices, the conductors of which were anxious to print the Swami’s lectures, and this continued day after day, The Guru loved his disciple with infinite tenderness and initiated him into the practices and ideals of the Vedanta philosophy, so that he became an expert in grasping its contents and faithfully reporting them. It is needless to say that the Swami was grateful beyond words to his disciple. He could not speak too highly of him ; he saw in him a great Karma Yogin, one who could unselfishly perform work for the sake of work and who could live the life of ideals. Mr. Goodwin, of course, refused any remuneration as soon as he understood the Swami and had been with him for a fortnight. Though he came from the ordinary classes of society and his education was not of a scholarly type, he exhibited remarkable intellectual adaptabilities with reference to the Swami’s work. His youth and his enthusiasm proved valuable stimuli. The Swami often spoke of him, saying, “He is chosen for my work. What would I do without him ! If I have a mission, he is indeed a part of it.””
Goodwin was born on 20 September 1870 at Batheaston, England. His father Josiah Goodwin was a stenographer and an editor of the Birmingham Advertiser, the Wilts Country Mirror and the Exeter Gazette. Goodwin worked as a journalist from the age of fourteen, and had an unsuccessful journalistic venture in Bath in 1893. He left Bath and travelled to Australia, and later on, to America.
As I stood before his memorial in the cemetery of CSI St. Church in Ooty on 3rd March, 2021, I was overwhelmed with emotions not much of surprise or disbelief but of the familiarity of the moment. It was as if I was there to see someone specially dear to me. I felt I was standing before a man whose absence I had been mourning ever since I read about his death at a tender 28. Whether you know it or not, J.J. Goodwin is the guide who is always by your side when you are reading Swami Vivekananda’s words. His words are here for us to read because there was a young British stenographer who was skilled enough to take down those extempore outpourings of the great teacher verbatim when others failed as well as dedicated enough to work tirelessly to produce printable copies night after night and lecture after lecture.
I sat there looking at the tombstone and all the things written on it and I felt that my mourning was complete. It was as if I was preordained to be there to pay my respects to him. I sat there as I would sit for the dearest of my kin and friends. As he rested in a corner in the cemetery, I kept wondering if he died so young only because it was time for him to rest. I don’t know many people who deserve to rest more than he did. I hope that when I and you rest, our rest too will be equally well deserved.
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