In India he was named Dream and he's had one most of his life, and never mind whether it makes any practical sense or not.
"I'd like to see a world society for peace, a religion in which it wouldn't make any difference about Hindus or Moslems or Jews or Christians."
But in the meantime Swapan Kumar Chatterjee has been hiking around the world, and says he has visited 56 countries since 1975, armed largely with a few letters which try to hint he's not crazy and which do indeed look official with diplomatic flourishes.
Once in Zaire, he said, he was tied up to a tree by unfriendly (needless to say) folk who proposed to kill him.
"Why were they going to do that?" he was asked.
"They figured I was the enemy. We couldn't talk each other's language, and I wasn't the right color."
They left him tied hand and foot to the tree all night, he went on, but the next morning a village baby started crying and Chatterjee indicated by facial gestures that he wanted to hold the tot. They untied his hands, he held the baby and soothed it into silence, greatly impressing the village ladies. When the village males returned from whatnot, the village women wouldn't let them kill the Indian youth.
Which shows there is good in everybody.
"Are there countries you wouldn't want to visit again?" he was asked.
"No. I love all countries. In Arabia it's dangerous to travel in the desert, and once I went 22 days without food there. At the last I ran out of water, too, and I was senseless. I woke up with two Arabs standing over me. They nursed me back to health. They were robbers, but they saved my life.
"They said, 'If you tell anybody we're robbers, we'll kill you.'"
The 26-year-old walking marvel from Calcutta poured his bowl of curried cauliflower over some saffron rice (an exquisite dish, by the way) at Siddhartha, an Indian restaurant, and did various professional-looking things with the bread and yogurt with cucumbers.
"Let me guess. You decided not to tell anybody they were robbers."
"No," he said. "Some people call them robbers, but I call them people of God," and he leaves judgment of them to God.
Among other people of God he has encountered was a fellow with a knife on 42nd Street in New York, whom he met informally a few days ago. Chatterjee had $48 in his pocket and was stuffing in another $15 when the fellow proposed a transfer of the funds.
"This is all I have," Chatterjee said. "Without it, I have no shelter, and without it I have no money for food. But if you must take it, then take it, but put away the knife. I am not afraid of your knife and not afraid for my life. God will provide food, even without money, and I can sleep on a park bench."
The knife-bearing loon listened to the little sermon, as Chatterjee explainted how God provided.
"So he put away the knife and left you alone?"
"Oh, no, he took all my money," Chatterjee said. But he was right. God does provide, the same One who feeds the ravens that cry.
"Well," he was asked, "here you are a former machinist for Remington Rand in India and member of the Explorers Club of India and it took you a whole week to walk to Washington from New York, and you don't have anything but a knapsack and I see you don't eat much, but even so you have to have some money. How do you get it?"
"I can sing folk songs of India and I know Yoga, and I can read palms. I also can make little paintings -- I'm not much of an artist -- and those ways I make a little money, enough to launch me the next leg of my trip. My first name means Dream, and I used to dream of America when I was a boy. The promise of democracy was wonderful, I mean in this way, that in American if you have any talent it is allowed to flower."
At lunch he looked at his plate when it came and said:
"It's too much. Too much food. Take it back. This [and he pointed to some poori filled with lentils and some other things] and that, too."
"I can't take it back, once it's prepared on a plate," said the woman in charge of explaining the facts of life.
"Yes you can. It's too much."
The cafeteria line backed up a bit as negotiations advanced, and they took back the poori.
"But I still can't eat all the rest," Chatterjee said.
"Eat what you want and don't worry," his companion said, growing a bit nervous as the line stayed halted.
"We can pack what you don't eat here and you can take it with you," the woman said.
"But I still --"
"Here. They say this green sauce is splendid," his companion said, and one way and another Chatterjee was lured to a table with more food than he wanted, and sure enough, he left about half, but eagerly devoured the rest.
The African folk -- to show you how customs vary -- decided they might as well feed him, once they decided not to kill him, and offered him a bamboo tube full of milk in a bamboo vessel, mixed with black blood drawn from the ankle of an ox. Chatterjee is a vegetarian, no ox-blood and milk as a general rule, but then there's no point stirring up the natives, and he has learned to eat virtually everything the world eats.
He speaks English "haltingly," a person at the Indian Embassy said, arranging a meeting with the young man, and you feel safer getting him to say everything several times, then suggesting a few words of your own, to which he nods pleasantly. You are fairly sure you have it right about the Arab robbers and the ox-blood among the unfriendly villagers of the Zaire, but you don't guarantee world peace and universal religious harmony since you aren't sure what the hell that was about, precisely.
"If you're walking down the road and a car stops, do you accept a ride?"
"No. Except in cities. In cities if I have to be somewhere I may take a bus, but usually I walk and between cities I always walk." Here he is staying with a "god-brother" in Alexandria. If anybody would like to talk with him about a world religious society for peace, he said, they can reach him through the embassy.
His companion thought of offering him a bit of cash to read his palm, but thought baloney is baloney even if a saint is purveying it.
"You're going to be late for your Voice of America appointment," he was warned. "Here, get in this cab."
"I have money," he said. "I can pay for it."
"The Post made you late. Get in and stop arguing."
He sailed off smiling, fumbling with the envelopes full of addresses and phone numbers (most of them in the Zaire and the Great Arabian Desert, it is thought) and may have got to VOA eventually.
His companion (to show how civilization is transmitted) has not been seen since then, but left his employer a note:
"Saw this Indian guy that's been bumming around the world for five years in 56 countries and got fed ox ankle blood in Africa. Know it sounds dumb, but I'll be in touch with the office in a few years. Wind of the world in one's face and all that. We don't have enough of that around this office. Everybody sitting on his tail, don't you know. Shall go first to see the Arabs. Don't know how you tell which ones are robbers. Never mind. Farewell. God bless. Please send drawing materials and handbook on bel canto singing (for now I must work for a living) to general delivery, Muscat. Thanks."