This life sketch is written by Mona Sarkar, son of Sudhir, and was originally published in 1989 as part of the book “A Spirit Indomitable”, now out of print.
Sri Sudhir Kumar Sarkar, “one of the bravest and most fearless sons of the Motherland,” as Sri Nolini Kanta Gupta put it, was among the first batch of revolutionaries that, at the turn of this century, became active under the leadership of Sri Aurobindo.
Born in Faridpur (Bogra, now in Bangladesh) on 21st February 1889, he was the son of Dr. Prasanna Kumar Sarkar (Bagchi), an eminent medical practitioner, who was also a close associate of Dr. K. D. Ghosh, Sri Aurobindo’s father in Khulna.
Sudhir was endowed with a strong body; it was a natural gift from god. He could not bear the inequality by which the Europeans enjoyed a high-nosed superiority. Once at school a British inspector’s son, a fellow student insulted Sudhir. Quick to react, he beat the boy up badly and was summoned to court, though he was not yet in his teens. Luckily for Sudhir, the judge was sympathetic and pooh-poohed the whole issue saying: “Perhaps next time you will bring babies in their cradles into the court-room because they quarrel with each other.”
The dauntless and irrepressible youngster could not be moulded into the narrow pattern of the prevailing system of education. Dejected and revolted by its dreary method of teaching, he set fire to his school with the help of a friend. Fortunately not much damage was done. The authorities threatened to remove him from school, but relented.
Sudhir began to absent himself from school, instead he often went to the outskirts of the town to help the poor. This social work gave him ample opportunity to mix with these illiterate villagers and become a part of their life. Hardly fourteen years of age, he was already striving to relieve his countrymen from the agony of subjugation. All his life he would pursue this work with steadfast diligence.
Then came the turning point when in 1905, Bengal was divided by the rulers. This blow struck off, as it were, the Mother’s limbs from Her body and left Her maimed. In the unrest that followed it seemed that a new nation was struggling to break forth from the turmoil and rising to challenge the mighty authority of the British Raj. Sri Aurobindo held the helm of the rising nation and demanded unqualified freedom for India. His speeches and articles inspired the youth of the country to undaunted courage. They felt one with the Motherland, worshiped Her as the Mother and offered their life at Her feet. They were ready to sacrifice all for Her sake. Nothing was dearer to them than the Motherland.
Sudhir was naturally drawn to this new credo. He involved himself fully in the drive for independence. How could he devote his time to studies? His mind was enmeshed in the throes of the revolution. The desperate boy failed in school. Sudhir’s father hoping to keep his son out of the Swadeshi movement sent him to study with his elder brother, who was living in Sahebganj. The year was 1907. This was precisely the opportunity that Sudhir was waiting for. He ran away and joined the staff of Jugantar, a revolutionary newspaper, in Calcutta. There he met Barindra K. Ghose, the younger brother of Sri Aurobindo, who assigned him work on the newspaper. Later he was chosen by Barin to train in revolutionary warfare at Manicktala Garden. He thus became one of a select few in an intrepid group moulded by the laws and rites of Ma Bhavani. Sudhir was initiated into the group only after he had pledged himself with a solemn Oath: Voluntarily drawing blood out of his chest he wrote in red before the image of Mother Kali: “I hereby promise to abide by the laws and rules that govern the revolutionary party, and to follow its strictest norms even at the cost of my life.”
Now for Sudhir nothing was greater than the imperative need to serve the Motherland, to adore Her, even to die for Her. This was the clarion call that Sri Aurobindo had sounded and Sudhir’s inner being responded to it unhesitatingly. Urged on by that inner call, Sudhir plunged into the cauldron of revolutionary activity with fearless determination, brushing aside all comforts of life. He denounced all that resisted the liberation of India. Inspired by the lofty ideals of freedom he found himself amidst some of the most valiant sons of the Motherland, whose courage, devotion and sacrifice for Her have been unparalleled. Although just eighteen years of age, he became a trusted colleague of such notable revolutionaries as Barindra Kumar Ghosh, Ullaskar Dutt, Hemchandra Das, Profulla Chaki, Khudiram Bose, Kanailal Dutt and Satyendranath Bose. Thus was forged the link that shaped Sudhir’s destiny.
An occasion arose when Sudhir with six other revolutionaries were sent to Jamalpur to punish the anti-social elements who had disturbed the age-old communal harmony of the region. The revolutionaries confronted a huge crowd of rowdies. The police came and arrested the revolutionaries; Sudhir alone managed to escape. When he returned to Calcutta he was lauded as a hero. In the eyes of the leaders he was a brave and dependable fighter. As if in recognition of his capability he was given the opportunity to attend upon Sri Aurobindo. Thus Sudhir lived, studied and worked with Sri Aurobindo as a member of the family. One of his tasks was to deliver letters from Sri Aurobindo to several people in order to raise funds for the revolutionary cause. Sometimes he was entrusted with plans and programmes of the revolution to show them to sympathisers and potential patrons.
In December 1907 Sri Aurobindo went to the Indian National Congress session at Surat. Sudhir accompanied him as his personal attendant and served him as his bodyguard. After the break-up of the Congress he went with Sri Aurobindo in the latter’s lecture tour of Western India.
On April 30th 1908 an attempt was made to assassinate the Muzzafarpore magistrate — Kingsford. The Government decided to crack down on the revolutionaries. On May 10th, Sudhir was arrested in Khulna. Sri Aurobindo and many others had already been apprehended. Finally, thirty-eight were indicted and spent one year in jail as undertrial prisoners in the celebrated Alipore Bomb Case. Their attitude towards life puzzled the jail authorities. They had no fear of punishment or death.
For much of his time in jail, Sri Aurobindo remained in trance, unconcerned about his outward needs. This was a great opportunity for Sudhir, to accomplish the work assigned to him. Faithfully he served his Master.
In August two revolutionaries shot an approver, Naren Goswami in the jail precincts. With the result the swadeshi prisoners were put in solitary confinement. The only place where they could meet and speak with others was the courtroom. Here, Sudhir once threatened to assault a sentry who dared to manhandle Sri Aurobindo.
When judgement was delivered in May 1909, Sri Aurobindo and eighteen others were acquitted; Barin, Sudhir and seventeen others were convicted of waging war against the King and they were sentenced to transportation for life to the Andaman Islands and their property was to be confiscated. Upon appeal to the High Court, this sentence was reduced to seven years, for Sudhir. In the Andamans, the Swadeshi prisoners were subjected to inhuman tortures — the jail officials tried to crush them physically, with compulsory hard labour, tormenting them mentally and morally. Unpalatable food, scarcity of drinking water, a host of abuses, a heap of unthinkable punishments, such was their daily lot. But nothing could break their inner strength; these valiant warriors were sustained by an inner fire. Had not Sri Aurobindo written thus?: “When a young worker in Bengal has to go to jail… he goes forward with joy. He says: ‘The hour of my consecration has come, and I have to thank God now that the time for laying myself on this altar has arrived and that I have been chosen to suffer for the good of my countrymen. This is the hour of my greatest joy and the fulfilment of my life.’ ”
The political prisoners put up a strong resistance. Many tried to escape, some even prepared a time-bomb in those trying conditions. Sudhir was among them. All these movements kept the officials at the Devil’s island busy and worried.
Finally in 1914 Sudhir was transferred to jails on the main land. Four years later on May 22, 1918 finally he was released, having spent ten full years of his blossoming youth in those putrid dungeons. Though free he was a mere breathing skeleton sapped of all vitality. It was a miracle that he survived the ordeal… What sustained him was his undying patriotism, his experience of the Motherland as a living being. This was the source of his inspiration and strength; it gave him courage to make unlimited sacrifices.
In the following years, the Government never left Sudhir alone; their eyes were always on him. To avoid harassment he sometimes went into hiding. But he could never abandon his urge to liberate the Motherland; that was the centre around which his life revolved. Bound by the conditions of his release Sudhir could not openly express his feelings, but secretly he instilled them into the hearts of the next generation of young revolutionaries.
In 1918 when Sudhir got out of prison, the freedom movement had petered out due to Government repression. Almost thirty, Sudhir had to make a living. But he was too independent to work under anyone. He sought to build his life in a different way. With the help of a family friend in Khulna, who provided him with a small amount of capital, he tried his hand at several business ventures, and achieved considerable success. He had the mind of an innovator and pioneer, and the deft hand of a practical man. He went to the forests of Assam to extract Catechu from Accacia trees; he was one of the first to manufacture it on a large scale. He also manufactured large size reinforced concrete pipes for carrying water, a rare enterprise at that time. He also experimented with the constructions of flush toilets with septic tanks. Though he never studied civil or mechanical engineering nor received proper training, many of his projects were highly fruitful. But in these activities Sudhir was not worldly minded nor motivated by profits. Much of the money he earned was channalised towards helping young revolutionaries. He himself always sought to live a simple life.
Sudhir did not marry until he could stand on his own feet. He agreed to marry because an enlightened Kapalik had advised him to do so; it was also a condition laid down by the Government for his release. In the early 1920s he wedded Suniti Devi of Pangsha, Faridpur. In her he found a true friend and guide. It was an extraordinary blessing for him. Highly gifted and a source of inspiration to Sudhir in his dangerous revolutionary activities, she was also a patient mother and a comrade in his spiritual quest.
Suniti Devi often had visions of mystic realities in a state of trance. She was in contact with the Mother and it was the Mother who guided her inwardly although she never came to Pondicherry. The Mother once said that she was a being from a higher plane. She passed away in 1940.
After her passing Sudhir’s only wish was to bring his family to live at the Mother’s feet in Pondicherry. For it is here that he found the culmination of his highest ideals. From 1938 he started coming regularly to Ashram once or twice a year and started many new ventures. In 1943 She granted him his cherished wish to join Her with his family. He surrendered everything to the Mother and settled down in the Ashram with his children.
As the need of the Ashram grew, Sudhir’s professional talents found many expressions. Among his enterprises over the years he introduced were the constructions of flush toilets with septic tanks, the manufacture of hand-made paper, washing soap, lime, dyeing of clothes and the establishment of the pottery. A tireless worker with an indomitable will and an adventurous spirit he became a willing and humble instrument in the Mother’s hands.
In character, Sudhir was simple, unassuming and rustic. What he said he believed and what he believed he practised. There was no division in him, no sense of high and low. Sudhir was always independent in temper and chose to be different from others.
Sudhir was a warrior to the core, but there was also a tender side to his nature, he had the sweetness of heart and childlike disposition that belong to the simple and spiritual. Loving and generous he was always ready to help others. Precisely for this reason he practised homoeopathy; indeed from his childhood he had a passion for homoeopathy. Had Sudhir not been dragged into the Swadeshi movement he was planning to go abroad to learn homoeopathy. During the last years of his prison life, when he was confined alone in the jungle island, he studied books on homoeopathy and learnt the system all by himself. People who were treated by him clearly felt that his diagnosis was always intuitive. The medicines he gave were charged with a power of love and a trust in the triumph of the Grace.
Sudhir was endowed with a fine bodily strength which kept him healthy and joyful. He was a great believer in physical fitness. His solid hands which could easily chop wood with an axe could also skilfully darn a piece of silk.
His intense love for the Mother, in whom he saw the embodiment of his Motherland, and his sincerity and integrity made him Her worthy child. Of him the Mother once said, “Sudhir is my true Bhakta”.
Sudhir’s thoughts, dreams and actions all concerned Mother India. He was one of those visionaries who saw India not merely as a geographical or political entity, but as a spirit that was an emanation of the Divine. For him the concept of Mother India as a Divinity was not a figure of speech but a living experience. Sudhir fervently believed in Sri Aurobindo’s vision of a united India. His ardent wish was always to see a strong India and the Mother’s kingdom established on earth.
Sudhir passed away on April 27th, in 1974 at the age of 85. He was at once a yogi and a Bhakta; he was as Jayaprakash Narayan observed “a lion among men”. May his life inspire the youth of today. To remember him is to remember the idealism and spirit of sacrifice that once inspired a chosen few and through them electrified the multitudes of this country. To remember him is to remember the faith they had in India’s greatness, in her mission of the spiritual regeneration of mankind. To remember him is to remember the noble vision for which they lived and died, the vision of their Master, Sri Aurobindo.
Some Photographs of Sudhir K Sarkar