Mémoires of Sri Aurobindo by Sudhir Kumar Sarkar (Part 1)

Sudhir lived with Sri Aurobindo like a family member for almost a year. Later, he looked after Sri Aurobindo when they both were in the Alipore Jail in the year 1908-1909. Here are a few experiences and anecdotes recounted by Sudhir, originally in Bengali.

 

It was the year 1907. I had stepped into my seventeenth year. The idea of a University degree was extremely repugnant to me and accordingly, I gave up my studies in the wake of the great stir for National Education. This was done by me with the solemn intention of snatching my country back from the clutches of the British.

There was a mood of expectancy in the air. Rumours were floating about. It was said that all the provinces were ready for a battle and that a hundred and fifty thousand Naga Sannyasins (naked ascetics) had pledged themselves to come to the aid of Bengal and fight unto death. Such stories filled the atmosphere. I was boiling with an inexpressible excitement and was completely under its sway. Home and family comfort no longer held any charm for me. I started using pompous phrases and high-sounding words in conversation with my parents, brothers and sisters. Indeed I believed at that time that I had become an extraordinary mortal, a kind of superman, and that nothing was too great or too difficult for me to do.

 

I joined the Revolutionaries

When news reached Calcutta that idols of Durga had been smashed in the temples at Jamalpur, seven of us started at once for the place, intending to teach the miscreants a lesson. There was a big meeting, a gathering of thousands. Fighting flared up and we had to use firearms to defend ourselves. My six companions were arrested on charges of murder; I alone escaped and after going through excruciating hardships, I managed to reach Calcutta. There I received, from known and unknown alike many a pat on the back for being plucky. Detailed reports of our exploits were published in the newspapers. I was acclaimed hero. While the others had been caught, I had escaped! Till then I was doubtful about my reception; least of all did I expect any praise. Rather I had misgivings that I might face disgrace for having left my comrades in the lurch, while I escaped alone. But the leaders of those days made a lot of noise about me. Perhaps because I qualified myself through this examination, I became trustworthy in the eyes of the seniors; at any rate I was promoted to the next higher grade. I was directed to stay in Sri Aurobindo’s house and to look after him.

I continued my studies there. I felt greatly honoured for the privilege of being able to stay with such a great and learned man, one who was so gentle and quiet, one who had sacrificed so much. Perhaps I wanted to show off this privilege before my friends and relatives a little. Till then I had not been able to feel any real sense of achievement or glory unless I received acclamation from others.

Was He a God?

The house was a small two-storey building with three living rooms. There Sri Aurobindo used to translate the Mahabharata into English verse and write articles for Bande Mataram, the most prominent newspaper in those days, and at the same time he would explain things to me, such as Carlyle’s idea of the French Revolution and Hero-worship. For the first time I observed that it was quite possible to direct one’s mind towards three or four activities at the same time. Once I could not help asking how this was possible. Sri Aurobindo answered: “It is not very difficult. If the mind is sufficiently trained and cultivated, it can easily do many things simultaneously”. An innate bashfulness and seeming humility was still my wont. Sri Aurobindo’s simple and easy manner, his politeness, friendliness and equanimity overwhelmed me. I wondered at that time if he was really a being of this world or some other. Yet my mischievous mind had the temerity to test him — I had been brought up in an atmosphere of insincerity and suspicion, a life beset with want and struggle, misunderstanding and jealousy, the play of hide and seek and duplicity. I could never convince myself that a man could be of his height. Could it be really possible? Yet I could not help liking Sri Aurobindo. On how many occasions I tried to look searchingly through him with my mischievous eyes to discover some little bit of human weakness; later, I felt overwhelmed with shame and disgust at my own lowly mentality.

He called me a ‘friend’!

Sri Aurobindo used to mingle with us unreservedly, eating, sleeping, talking and joking with us! There was no barrier at all. At that time so much liberality appeared a little too much for me. One day I went so far as to protest. It happened when I found he had written in a letter to his friend Sundari Mohan Das, “My friend Sudhir Kumar is going to see you”. I asked him point blank, “How do I become your friend? You, who are so much above me in learning, age, accomplishment and fame — in fact, in every respect. Rather it is proper that I should venerate you, seek advice from you, be humble to you; instead I am described as your friend and equal. And that too while writing to someone who is much older than me, and higher in status!” But Sri Aurobindo brushed all this aside and would not let me go before convincing me thoroughly of my misconception. In his faltering Bengali which sounded so sweet in his English-accented tongue, he said, “Because our aims, our hopes and our aspirations are so much the same how can we be any other than friends? The diffidence you feel is due to the tradition of this country. At present it has gone beyond limit and taken an exaggerated form which seems so unnatural.”

(to be continued)

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