Nevil Shute Norway Foundation


Connie Shak Lin

By Zia Telfair at OZ2001

I had not known Dan long before he introduced me to Nevil Shute. I have to admit I wasn't the instant Nevil Shute fan that many of you were. I found the first two books that he offered to me to be excellent stories, but they didn't speak directly to me. Then I read "Round the Bend" and was completely captivated by Connie Shak Lin.

I know that many of you have read Nevil Shute's books more than once. And I imagine that you have found each successive reading to be a totally new experience. The characters take on greater depth, the circumstances take on new meaning in context. That has certainly been the case with me and Connie Shak Lin. After a first reading, I remembered Connie primarily as a great Teacher who was able to tap into the underlying unity of all religions, who could bring men of radically different faiths together in complete harmony.

Since then I have read "Round the Bend" again and again. With each reading I get to know Connie better, yet he is endlessly intriguing. You might in fact get the impression that I have gone round the bend a bit myself, because I have real difficulty remembering that Connie was a creation of Nevil Shute, that he did not actually work and speak in the hangars of the East. Connie feels quite real to me, as if he does exist in an alternate reality, not very far removed from our own.

Preparing for this talk has been a pleasure, because it has given me the excuse to get to know Connie even better. I went back to the book with a specific focus on Connie's character, on what he actually said and did and on how other people responded to him. I expect that for many of you it has been some time since you last read Round the Bend. For that reason I would like to spend most of this first hour bringing Connie's story back into focus for you. Then I would like to open up the second hour for general discussion of who Connie really was.

Even after Tom Cutter had spent three months writing down everything that he could think of related to Connie - and meditating - he had lingering questions and doubts concerning who Connie was. So I have no doubt that this group will have plenty to discuss. But to prepare the ground a bit, I'd like to suggest some questions for you to be considering while I review Connie's story.

The overriding question, I believe, is - Was Connie Shak Lin divine or was he, as Tom at one point said simply a "very good ground engineer with a bee in his bonnet"?

A related question is - What does it mean to be divine, anyway?

Or alternatively did Connie perhaps start out as an ordinary man and then become a prophet (as his sister Nadezna feared that he might do if he didn't fall in love and get married)?

Or was he perhaps a man of extraordinary character and unusual ideas who inadvertantly became a slave to the thing that he had started? Quite human, perhaps, but unwilling to disappoint those who had come to depend upon him.

Why were people so quick to treat Connie as if he were divine? Were they responding to Connie's actual characteristics or to their own need or desire to believe in someone or something?

That's enough questions for starters. On with the story...

Tom Cutter first met Connie when they both were teenagers working with Sir Alan Cobham's air circus. Everything was new to Tom at first, and it didn't strike him that there was anything unusual about Connie despite his slightly foreign appearance. He simply valued the fact that Connie was "a darned good friend to him, right from the start".

Later, Tom became intrigued that Connie had a habit of going to any old church that happened to be nearby on Sunday mornings. It might be Anglican or Methodist or Presbyterian or Roman Catholic or even a synagogue or a mosque. Tom described Connie's church-going in this way - "He collected churches like another boy might collect cigarette cards or matchbox covers.

When Tom asked Connie what religion he was, Connie answered, "Blowed if I know". He explained that he had been born and partly raised in Penang, where his father was a Buddhist. But after his father died, they went to England, where he was Church of England in school. His mother, however, was Greek Orthodox. All of this sounded quite exotic to Tom. He saw Connie as a person who knew a good bit more of the world than other people he had met.

After four years the circus closed down and Connie went to California to be near his mother; to work in an aircraft factory; and to continue working toward his ground engineer ticket. It was thirteen years (and fifty pages) before Tom met Connie again, in an aerodrome dormitory in Batavia in Java.

Connie had not served on a aircrew during the war because he thought it was wrong to kill. Instead he went to Canada to serve as an engineer fitter with the Royal Canadian Air Force. After the war he went to Bangkok to work as a ground engineer. He went there because he felt compelled to learn much more about the Buddhist faith. As he put it "There was no alternative except the bughouse". At first he had worked for Siamese Airways, and then he took a job working for Dwight Shafter, a gunrunner who supported the Indonesian Republicans in their struggle against the Dutch.

Shafter had noticed how extremely thoroughly and carefully Connie did his work, and offered to hire him at an excellent salary. It wasn't the money, however, that convinced Connie to take the job. What appealed to him was the opportunity to go out into the wilderness around Damrey Phong for a few months to meditate on what he had learned of Buddhism. He made it clear to Shafter from the start that he took no part in wars and would not fly with him anywhere to deliver a load.

New aspects of Connie's character came to light when Tom asked him to become his Chief Engineer. Connie hesitated, saying he still worked for Dwight Shafter and needed to look after his aircraft. Even though Shafter was now in jail, Connie remained loyal to the man he liked and respected. Connie also showed vision and ingenuity at this point by proposing that Tom take over the Carrier on charter and operate it out of Bahrein. That way Connie could ask Shafter if he might go with the Carrier and work for Tom.

Tom liked the idea, but was worried that the Carrier was ten times heavier than any aircraft he had flown before. Connie assured him "I know this, that you will fly it, and you will not crash it. They are easier to fly as they get bigger, provided you are not afraid of them. And you will not be afraid." Tom saw that Connie was quite serious and noted that "he spoke almost as if it were a prophecy."

In their meeting the next day, Dwight Shafter mentioned to Tom that Connie was a good, highly trustworthy engineer, but that he had "some mighty strange ideas for an engineer - about religion and all that." When Tom asked if this affected Connie's work, Shafter replied, "I'll say it does. It makes his work a whole lot better." He told Tom that Connie had set up a Buddha near the runway at Damrey Phong and that he led a sort of Buddhist prayer meeting there each day for the engineers and local labor. Connie had explained to Shafter that men worked better when they prayed. And Shafter told Tom that the engineers working for Connie were indeed much more responsible and trustworthy than other Asiatic engineers in his experience.

When Tom flew to Damrey Phong to pick up the Carrier, he saw for the first time how the Asiatics regarded Connie. He noted that the people payed little attention to him or to Gujar Singh, his Sikh pilot, but that when Connie spoke or even turned his head, they touched their right hands to their foreheads and bowed to him. That evening Tom witnessed one of Connie's prayer meetings for the first time. Connie was leading the prayers and the people were repeating a Buddhist mantra with him. Tom was surprised to see that Gujar was kneeling among them. Then Tom himself felt moved to kneel down as well. Connie switched to speaking in English and said, "It is written in the Dhammapada, 'You yourself must make the effort. Buddhas only show the way. Cut down the love of self as one cuts the lotus in the autumn. Give yourself to following the Path of Peace.' "

The next day Tom saw how grieved the people were to see Connie go. A large crowd of over 200 came for the final prayer meeting. Three monks were in the group and they made the same obeisance to Connie as the others, touching their fingers to their foreheads and bowing low.

Back in Bahrein, Connie very quickly got Tom's engineering staff organized. He chose to take up residence in the Arab souk, and got himself a bicycle to ride to work. He immediately started learning Arabic. Tom saw that Connie had an amazing facility with languages and seemed able to become fluent in any Eastern language within about 3 months.

Before long Connie had gained a reputation for "talking religion" in the hangar. Tom went one afternoon to check things out and found Connie up on a platform working on an engine and at the same time talking to the engineers, who were all working, but had moved close so that they could hear him. Because this was an Arab crowd, he based his message on the requirements for prayer as dictated in the Koran. The gist of the message was that although ordinary men were required to pray but five times a day, engineers were different. They were called to a higher task than common men. They were men of education and understanding on whom was laid the responsibility that other men might travel safely. Therefore, God would demand that they pray fifty times a day. Connie explained how this would be possible. After every small task, such as tightening a nut on an engine, the engineer should humbly ask God in prayer to put into his heart the knowledge of whether he had done the work well or ill. If the work was done well, the engineer could proceed. If not, he might do it over again, or ask for assistance. In this way each engineer would easily pray fifty times a day.

It was this day that Tom first noticed that Tarik was writing down (in Arabic) in a penny notebook everything he could that Connie said.

Tom continued watching as it was time to knock off, and the Moslems went out beside the hangar for their afternoon devotions. He saw that Connie knelt in prayer a little apart from the group, presumably because he was not a Moslem.

Tom's had no objections to Connie having introduced this new discipline into the hangar because the results were obviously good. He was concerned, though, that this all could lead to some sort of religious conflicts, and he consulted Gujar Singh. Gujar put Tom's mind to rest, telling him that Connie had become great friends with the Imam, the local orthodox Moslem leader.

Tom then asked Gujar - "What is he, Gujar - Is he a Moslem?" Gujar replied, "He is not a Moslem. When I met him first I thought he was a Buddhist. Now I don't know what he is. Perhaps, he is just an ordinary man like you and me, who has the power to make men see the advantage of turning to God. As you have the power to make men see the advantage of sending new tracks for a bulldozer by air."

It was not long before Connie's reputation spread, and so many people began to come to prayers that it was necessary to rope off the hangar to keep them out of the workspace. At first Tom was worried that they might steal tools. Connie assured him that they wouldn't do that - "They wouldn't steal things from a mosque". This put Tom at a loss. He had to get used to the idea that the engineers had begun to think of the hangar as a holy place.

Tom was even more taken aback when, about a month later, the elderly Sheikh from the nearby island Sheikdom of Khulal, and his Wazir, Hussein showed up for prayers. Hussein explained that the Sheikh wished very greatly to hear the Teacher. From then on Connie made occasional visits to the island to visit the Sheikh.

Some months later, while on an extended trip to Burma, Tom became aware of the great extent of Connie's reputation and impact. In Rangoon, Burma the Chief Engineer, Moung Bah Too had many questions about Connie, among them the now familiar question of what Connie's religion was. Tom replied that he didn't know what Connie was. He wasn't a Buddhist, because he talked about God. But neither was he a Moslem or a Christian. Bah Too observed, "I have heard it said, that he has the power to make men of any religion bring that religion to their daily work upon the aircraft, and the results are very good." Tom agreed that this was the best possible definition of what Connie did.

Bah Too said that his men had asked permission to set up a Buddha in the hangar. Before and after each shift they would spend a few minutes in prayer. They used a prayer of Connie's about the aircraft, that "Right Thinking is indicated in Right Work, and Right Work in Right Thinking, because both are One." Connie had taught that "Right Meditation, which leads to Nirvana, is only attained by the exercise of Right Work. No man cumbered with error in his Work could reach the state of Right Meditation." Bah Too said that the standard of maintenance had improved enormously since these ideas had been introduced in his hangar. His only complaint was that workers from other companies had been coming to join in the prayers so that they had to deal with a crowd in the hangar. Connie's ideas had taken root and were flourishing even apart from his physical presence.

During this same stopover, Tom was told that an Englishman who had become a Buddhist monk, and who was considered to be a very holy man, wanted to hear more about Connie. So Tom went to visit U Set Tahn. The monk asked him whether Connie was indeed such a remarkable man. Tom replied, "Probably not, to you. In England people would say that he is mad. I say that he's a fine engineer, who makes men reliable by bringing religion to their daily work."

U Set Tahn was very involved in astrology, and was keen to know when and where Connie was born. The monk spoke at some length of the periodic necessity for great Teachers to come to earth to help set things right. According to his astrology, a final teacher was imminent. He would have been born somewhere in the part of Asia where Tibet, Russia, and China meet. He was to be of mixed Eastern and Western stock, and would be the Savior of the World. His ministry was to last for four years and twenty-three days.

As an aside, I would like to refer to the single paragraph in Nevil Shute's Flight Log that provides insight into his inspiration for the character of Connie Shak Lin. Nevil Shute actually met with a well-known English monk in Rangoon on October 25, 1948. His journal entry for that day reads "He is still very much alert mentally and was very pleased to see us, and talked for about an hour. He said that a new Teacher would commence his teaching in about 1960 or 1970: he would be of Tibetan-Russian-Chinese stock, educated in America. He would teach mostly in California and in Switzerland." So that's where the creative seed was planted that became Round the Bend.

Upon his return to Bahrein, Tom discussed a dilemma with Connie and Gujar. He had more business than he could cope with, but to purchase another airplane he would need to secure financing from strangers in England, a prospect he did not relish in the least. A week later Tom was surprised by a visit from the Wazir Hussein. It turned out that the Sheikh of Khulal was distressed that Tom was considering securing a loan to buy another airplane. He wanted to loan Tom the considerable sum of money interest free. Gujar explained later to Tom that the Sheikh considered the hangar where Connie worked to be a holy place, which must not be defiled by the sin of usury.

Tom was delighted by the prospect of getting the loan, yet disturbed by the implications of the offer. He was particularly struck by the fact that Hussein had referred to Connie as El Amin. In Arabic, "El Amin" means "he who is worthy of trust". This in itself seemed a fine name for a chief engineer. The disturbing part was that El Amin was also one of the names of the Prophet.

When he went back to England to purchase the airplane, Tom spent time with his parents' neighbor Doris, and found himself confiding in her. He described Connie to her in this way, "He believes in God. He teaches engineers who work with him to turn to God in everything they do upon aeroplanes, and he gets people to believe that that's the sensible way to set about the job of aircraft maintenance. He's obviously going round the bend."

Doris commented that surely this wasn't wrong. Tom only replied wearily that he didn't know whether it was right or wrong, only that it was liable to make a packet of trouble.

His concerns were not unfounded. Tom soon learned in a letter from Gujar that the British officials in Bahrein were angry about the loan for the airplane because they thought that religious influence had been used to make the old man lend his money. Gujar also told Tom that Salim, one of the ground engineers, was leaving to go back to Karachi, presumably to teach the ground engineers there Connie's way of doing things. Tom couldn't sleep then, as he envisioned the possibility of religious riots in Bahrein, which could spread to the other far-off places where Connie's teachings were taking hold. He later was to learn that the crisis had been smoothed over by the local Imam, the Moslem leader, who had come to the aerodrome and conducted the prayers at the hangar himself.

When Tom returned to Bahrein, Connie's sister Nadezna had arrived from California. As she got to know Tom, Nadezna talked to him about the way Connie was treated in the hangar and in the souk. She commented that in the souk it was as if he were a prophet - when he walked by people would rise and do a sort of salaam. It disconcerted her that occasionally they did the same for her.

The British officials would not let matters rest. The liaison officer came to tell Tom that they could not tolerate a British subject who gained influence in the country by starting a new religous sect and that Connie would have to leave.

Tom was deeply disturbed by this, but Connie took the news lightly. Tom reported that he simply smiled "that wonderful comforting smile of his" and said that no harm had come to him and that it was time for him to move on anyway. He said that he would be happy to go to Bali, as Tom proposed, to start up the new operation there.

The next day Tom and Nadezna talked about the whole phenomenon of the spread of Connie's teaching. Tom asked Nadezna her opinion of what this thing was, whether it was a new religion or what. She replied, "As I see it, it's a way of life that brings men to worship through their work, who wouldn't worship in the old-fashioned way. If that's what a religion is, I suppose this is one. But does it matter what we call it?" The two agreed that it didn't matter what it was called, that it was something to be accepted, that it did no harm and a lot of good.

During the trip to Bali, Tom witnessed how much Connie's following had grown. On a layover in Karachi, Pakistan, the local engineers asked if they might have an hour with Connie during the refueling. Quite a crowd had gathered to see Connie, and they treated him with reverance. The head of operations there told Tom that his engineers had become quite devout and that the work had greatly improved. At the end of the hour Connie returned without ceremony, paused at the door of the airplane "with that wonderful smile of his", then disappeared into the airplane.

In Rangoon, Tom stalled his work a bit so that Connie would have a full day to see his followers and to visit with U Set Tahn, the European monk. The Chief Engineer there had arranged a holiday for everyone when he heard that Connie was coming. Tom took a moment to watch Connie in the hangar as he addressed a large crowd, including some yellow-robed monks. Tom commented, "He was impressive, standing there on the Anson wing, speaking quietly, with that wonderful smile he had."

For this talk, Connie had taken a Buddhist theme. He reminded his listeners that the Buddha had taught that a man ought to hear and see much to acquire knowledge, to study all science that does not lead to sin. Connie pointed out that by studying the stresses and forces in the structure of an aircraft, the thermodynamics of an engine, or the functioning of a radio transmitter, they were following the injunctions of the Buddha. "The world is full of suffering and pain caused by our wrong desires and hatreds and illusions," he said, "and only knowledge can remove these causes of our suffering." Connie stated that airplanes do not crash of themselves. Accidents and pain and suffering and grief come because of the sloth of men.

Tom noted that this was the same message that Connie had so often preached in Bahrein, that the maintenance of airplanes demanded men of a pure and holy life who would turn from temptations of the flesh to serve their calling first. Tom felt that Connie had achieved something quite remarkable by impressing both Moslems and Buddhists with the same message, transcending the narrower boundaries of the religions.

During this trip the extent to which Tom had begun going out of his way to support Connie in his teaching became quite evident. He obviously had been deeply touched, both by the type of man that Connie was and by the impact that he was having on so many people.

Meanwhile, back in Bahrein, things weren't so calm. A crowd in the souk had tried to stone the British Liaison Officer, whom they felt was responsible for sending Connie away. Nadezna interceded to stop the stoning, saying that "the Teacher would be angry to hear of it." She later went to see the Wazir Hussein to smooth things over with the Sheik.

Tom found upon his return that the crowds coming to the hangar had grown, rather than decreased with Connie gone. Now there were strings of busses and taxis bringing people to evening prayers.

Fortunately, the Liaison Officer who replaced the one who had been attacked in the souk, was quite a different sort of person. He invited Tom for a private dinner at his quarters, and the two talked frankly. Captain Morrison asked Tom what he really thought about Connie, what sort of person he really was. At first Tom said simply, "I think he's a very good chap." Cpt Morrison replied, "I know. But there are a large number of people who think that he is divine." (This was the first time in the book that the word "divine" had actually been used in reference to Connie.")

Tom replied, "He's not. He's just a very good ground engineer with a bee in his bonnet. If I thought he was divine, I couldn't very well dictate my letters to his sister. I can assure you, there's nothing like that."

That may have been what Tom consciously thought at the time. But on another level he obviously was less certain. Much later, when writing about this incident in the Book of Cutter, Tom commented - "That was the first time that I denied him."

Only a few minutes later, Tom belied his own ambivalence when Cpt Morrison broke the news to him that the R.A.F. was planning to expand at the aerodrome and wanted to build over the vacant land to the south of the hangar. Tom said, "They can't possibly do that. That's where the people come to say their prayers."
When Morrison pointed out that it was all R.A.F. land, Tom retorted, "It's holy ground. Honestly, you've got to put a stop to this."
Morrison, who was quite a decent perceptive sort, smiled gently, and asked, "And yet, you don't think Shak Lin is divine?"
Tom said, "Of course I don't. But other people do." Later he came to think of this as the second time that he had denied Connie.

The two men went on to discuss alternatives. Morrison pointed out that any decision concerning how to manage the "holy ground" would be predicated on whether Connie's following was likely to die out or grow in the years to come. Tom's stated emphatically that he felt this thing would continue to grow.
Morrison replied quietly, "You're saying, in effect, that we must work on the assumption that Shak Lin is divine."
Tom replied angrily, "God damn it. I tell you he's not. I know him, and he's a damn good engineer who's going round the bend a bit. That's all there is to him." Later, Tom noted that this was the third time he had denied Connie.
Morrison made an interesting comment then, "A damn good engineer who's going round the bend a bit. It wouldn't have been a bad description of the Prophet Mahomet, only he was a damn good merchant."

Meanwhile, down in Bali, Connie was quickly making an impression on the population, learning about the religion, spending a great deal of time talking with the old men, receiving visits from the Buddhist priests. The attractive young woman, Madé was "taking care" of Connie. Tom wondered whether there was any chance of greater intimacy between Connie and Madé, and he questioned Gujar Singh about this after Gujar's next trip to Bali. Gujar reported that, although it was evident that Madé was in love with Connie, the relationship was platonic, and was likely to stay that way, because, as he put it "the Teacher is different to other men."

Nadezna had high hopes that Connie might fall in love with Madé. She felt that he had gotten so heavily into his religion to compensate for never having been in love. She told Tom that she hoped that if Connie could fall in love "he might snap out of all this prophet stuff, and come back to us as a normal man." She felt so strongly about this that she entreated Tom to do what he could to push Connie in that direction. She felt that this was Connie's last chance at a normal life and that if it didn't happen he would, in her words, "turn into a prophet".

During this period, the Wazir Hussein came to see Tom to tell him that the Sheikh, who was now quite old and frail, very much wanted to see Connie once more to receive his blessing before he died. Rather than having Connie come back to Bahrein, the Sheikh wanted to travel to see him as a pilgrimage. Tom was taken aback by the implications of this request, but immediately set to work doing everything in his power to fulfill it.
Gujar too was quick to note the significance. "This is the next phase, then. This is the first pilgrimage to visit Shak Lin."

Tom traveled to Bali soon thereafter and was able to spend a good bit of time with Connie. In the course of their conversations, some interesting aspects of Connie's attitudes concerning religion and his own mission emerged.

First, when Tom told him about the dilemma of the R.A.F. wanting to expand the hangar onto the prayer spot, Connie commented that the spot itself wasn't important. He didn't consider it to be holy ground, but said it was "only sentiment". He even offered to go back to Bahrein for a week, if necessary, to see to it that the people started praying somewhere else.

Later Tom asked Connie about the religion in Bali. Tom's impression was that the religion there appeared quite primitive and debased. Connie said that he wasn't so sure. The end result of all the elaborate ritual that Madé routinely went through was that it kept her praying. He asked Tom, "Does it matter much if they believe in Jesus, or Shiva, or Mahomet, or Guatama, so long as the results are good? I only know that the results here are good, and I like to see it."

When Tom worked up to saying that he thought Connie should settle down and marry Madé "like an ordinary man", Connie unexpectedly turned the tables on Tom and asked why he didn't ask Nadezna to marry him. Connie then remarked that he and Tom were in the same boat. The power of their jobs prevented them from living like ordinary men. In his case, by speaking in the hangar of the things that he believed in, Connie had brought others to believe in those things too, and to depend upon his words. Connie saw that if he were to relax his endeavors to teach men proper ways of work and life, he might destroy the faith he had created, and throw them back into an abyss of doubt and fear and degradation. Thus both he and Tom had become slaves to their jobs.

Tom's response to this was that as he saw it both of them were going round the bend a bit. Connie replied, "Yes. Perhaps the road has a curve in it. Perhaps it is necessary to go round the bend a little before you can see clearly to the end."

Then Tom told Connie about the Sheikh's request to come visit him and Connie responded, "You see the workings of the job. Once you start something, you must see it through. I am as enmeshed in my net as you are in yours. Only by an act of treachery to those who believe in us can either of us escape."

During this visit Tom witnessed once more how strongly Connie influenced the local people and how greatly they valued his advice. He saw that Connie never sought this influence. When simple people came to him with their troubles, "he gave them straightly what advice he could, and his manner of doing it encouraged them, so that they came back with more important and more intimate matters for his ruling."

The Sheikh's pilgrimage dramatically illustrated the extent to which Connie's following had taken on a life of its own. At every stop along the way ten or fifteen engineers asked if they might join the party to come listen to the Teacher.

After the Moslem party arrived in Bali, Connie prayed with them, then went home to rest. Tom found it quite extraordinary that Connie was in a position to dictate to these Arab princes, who had traveled 6000 miles, when he would see them and when he would rest.

The Sheikh was troubled by Connie's appearance and health and insisted that Connie receive medical care at his expense. As soon a the word got out that Connie was ill, the surge of pilgrimages began. Engineers all over the East wanted more than any earthly thing to see Shak Lin before he died, to hear his voice, and hear his blessing on their work. Normally the cost of such a trip would have been prohibitive for an engineer. But the engineer pilgrims serviced the airplanes for free and the pilot pilgrims flew without pay. Employers were willing to pay advance wages to assist the pilgrims because the maintenance was so superior among Connie's followers.

The Dutch didn't take kindly to the arrival of pilgrims though and informed Tom that Connie would have to be replaced in Bali by "another engineer with neutral religious associations."

After leaving Bali, Connie asked Tom for the use of a Proctor for a few months. He was concerned that already some people had started writing and saying things about him based on hearsay. His plan was to spend a day or two at as many airfields as possible, just talking to people so that they would see him as a real man, not as a kind of God or even as a preacher. He wanted to be remembered as a first class engineer and then if people wanted to pay attention to the things he believed in, they would do it on grounds of solid competence, not just emotion.

While Connie was thus traveling, the Sheikh of Khulal died, leaving half of his considerable wealth to El Amin Shak Lin. The Sheikh had felt that the new Teacher's ideas were refreshing the old tenets of Islam without in any way destroying their original purity. He was convinced that this new teaching would spread through the Asiatic world and bring men back to God and that with the support of a great legacy the Teaching would be placed on a firm footing to the greater glory of God.

When Connie was presented with this news, he carefully considered it, then declared that he must refuse the legacy because he felt that the power of money corrupted, and that no teaching would survive a campaign of paid advertising. Gujar Singh protested that other creeds had found good uses for money, like building schools and orphanages. He pointed out that the power of money had been used to do good things in the name of Jesus. Connie responded, "I hope you're not comparing me to Jesus."
Gujar Singh said defiantly, "I know that it is not the same. He was a woodworker."
At that Connie smiled and said, "OK, have it your way. But Jesus didn't need five hundred lakhs to spread His word."

Connie again insisted that he could not take the money, but directed that schools and orphanages be built and that there be a school for engineers, and an airstrip with hangars where men could learn his calling and his way of life, and find their way to God by doing first-class work. He asked that all of these be established to the honor of the Sheikh and "his friend" (Connie).

Gujar commented following this pronouncement, "Everything has now been renounced. No more temptations can be left. This was the final one, the temptation of Power to do Good."

When Connie was no longer able to travel, he returned to the airstrip at Damrey Phong, where Tom had gone to great lengths to prepare a comfortable home for him and where Madé was waiting to take care of his needs. Within a week, large numbers of pilgrims began to arrive. With Connie's blessing, the Buddhists and Hindus built small temples by the airstrip and the Moslem's built a mosque. Thus the various groups were all able to worship according to their respective beliefs, with never a clash between them.

During Connie's final days, Tom was able to spend long periods sitting with him on the veranda, and Connie liked to talk about their early days together and how things had developed. To the end Connie appeared to consider himself to be an ordinary man who had inadvertantly taken on an extraordinary role. From the time that he had assumed the role of Teacher, he had taken this responsibility very seriously, and would do nothing to disillusion his followers. It bothered Connie that people seemed determined to portray him as being something more than he believed himself to be. He said to Tom, "They're making legends about me already. Try and tone that down. They're paying far too much attention to what that English pongyi, U Set Tahn, has been saying."

Connie was referring to the astrological prophecy that a great Teacher would be born. He refused to admit that the prophecies could refer to him. He claimed that they didn't actually match his birthplace or the amount of time that his teaching was apt to last. He asked Tom to please put a stopper on that sort of thing. He stressed again that he wanted to be remembered "as a good ground engineer with both feet on the ground. Not as a legendary mystic or anything like that".

Tom promised that he would do his best, yet he privately thought that Asiatics might have a different view of exactly when life began and that Connie's teaching could have been considered to have started upon his arrival at Damrey Phong, which would have given the predictions credence.

Nadezna, who had been at Damrey Phong with Connie since he had moved back there, had been profoundly influenced by seeing the many planeloads of people who had come from far away at great expense just to hear Connie say a few words, or simply to see him, or to touch something that he had touched. She compared it to people in the Bible wanting to see Jesus because they believed in Him. She saw that they understood that he was a man, not a god, but that many of them thought he was a man who had attained perfection as Guatama had attained it. She recognized that Connie was venerated as an example of what any man might attain to if he could be as wise, and thoughtful, and self-sacrificing, and good as Connie.

Nadezna admitted to Tom that until she came to Damrey Phong she had thought of Connie as an ordinary brother who happened to be nuts about religion. But now, she wasn't so sure. Tom realized that he wasn't quite so sure himself.

Nadezna understood how important it was for people to believe that Connie was a man touched by the hand of God. They needed evidence that God cared enough to make one man a perfect example. Nadezna therefore refused to marry Tom for fear that people would see Connie's sister leading an ordinary life and conclude that he must not have been so special after all.

As he finished writing the Book of Cutter, Tom still wasn't sure what to think of Connie. To him Connie had always been an ordinary person, a good friend, a fine engineer, a very good man. But after spending three months meditating and writing about Connie, Tom wondered if he had been right. He witnessed how so many men were moulding their lives on Connie's example, praying that they might be made as he was. Tom asked himself, "Could any human man exert such influence after his death? What makes a man divine?"

Tom could not answer his own questions. After all of his meditation and analysis, Tom said, "I still think Connie was a human man, a very, very good one - but a man." Yet he admitted willingly to the possibility that he was wrong. "If that should be the case" he mused, "it means that I have had great privileges in my life, perhaps greater than any man alive today. Because it means that on the fields and farms of England, on the airstrips of the desert and the jungle, in the hangars of the Persian Gulf and on the tarmacs of the southern islands, I have walked and talked with God."