Mémoires of Sri Aurobindo by Sudhir Kumar Sarkar (Part 2)

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 (continued from Part 1 )

 

The Mahabharata — is it all true?

Seeing Sri Aurobindo absorbed in his work on the Mahabharata, I asked him one day, rather with a motive, “Do you really believe everything that is written in Mahabharata? I have heard that there is much in it that was added later.” That day I was caught quite off my guard and I exposed myself openly. Sri Aurobindo seemed to be extremely surprised at the question, as if he never expected it from me. I felt very ashamed and my words became confused. But Sri Aurobindo seemed to understand and was pained at my feeling of embarrassment and went on to explain in his gentle and halting Bengali, so sweet to hear; the story of Vasuki supporting the earth on its head is as true as our existence — but the vision which revealed it has been lost to us. And the vision through which we observed the modern scientific world, which has evolved through a long process of action and counteraction, is not the whole of man’s vision. Vasuki represents vital power and is a symbol of total Life-energy. Man becomes conscious gradually after passing through all the gradations of evolution, organic and inorganic, animate and inanimate. All those multitudinous expanses of innumerable lives journeying through which we have attained to our present human consciousness, lie embedded in us fold upon fold, in deep kinship with us. Because of that, the snake and the jackal, the tiger and the lion are all our old relatives. Man’s kinship with the snake is indeed very close. Behind the body of all creatures lies the subtle body of the great creative Energy in seed form. That subtle body becomes veiled upon taking this gross body. The ideas and beliefs of the Hindus were not false. We have now to regain that Vision. Because of our present state of ignorance, there is so much suffering and want, so much stress and anguish for awakening.

 

Read the Mahabharata

Out of Sri Aurobindo’s remuneration for the post of principal of National College, which was 75 rupees, 23 rupees had to be paid for house rent; the rest of the amount was spent for the maintenance of four or five persons in the family. One day he suddenly told me that I should read the Mahabharata translated by Kaliprasanna Sinha. The price of the book was 18 rupees. I reflected. He ordered the book without ever thinking of our household expenses. Moreover, I have neither the patience nor the inclination to read such a big volume. I went to a bookshop and found a Mahabharata by Sourendra Mohan Tagore, a neat and smaller edition for seven and a half rupees. I bought it and read it. A few days later when the topic of the Mahabharata came up again I brought out the book with some diffidence and placed it in Sri Aurobindo’s hands. Seeing the book he glanced at me and said with a little smile, “There is no profit in reading this Mahabharata. It is written according to the modern historical ideas, these are but the outer husk. It is like taking out the kernel of its spirit and leaving only the husk. Return this translation and get the translation of Kaliprasanna Sinha instead.” As if I would be able to follow Sanskrit even if I read it! I thought of raising the question of domestic expenses. Anyhow, I did not return the book and considered many a way out if asked a second time. I pondered over something which I could offer as an excuse in order to acquit myself.

 

Nothing ever perturbed Him

Our bomb factory was located in a garden house belonging to K. D. Ghose in Manicktala. In those days cheap pistols could be bought from Chandannagore. The armoury of the bomb factory was kept in a small underground room beneath the garden. No one was staying in the garden at that time except Sachin Sen and Bijoy Nag. Our leaders had gone to the Vindhya Hills to arrange for the opening of Bhavani Mandir — (a temple to Mother Bhavani) — and were busy there. A police inspector frequently visited the garden to cultivate holy men’s company — Sadhu-sanga! We regarded him as a spy, but later he was sacked from service because of this very association with us. At last the visits of the alleged spy were reported to Sri Aurobindo; hearing of them, he said, “Tell him, please do not come here. The police cannot enter someone else’s garden without a proper warrant.” I was taken aback at this instruction. I thought, “Was it for this reply that I approached him?” Anyhow, I acted on my own counsel. I got four or five carts, filled them with all the armoury and transferred the lot to a friend’s house. After finishing the whole operation, I came back and reported to Sri Aurobindo what had been done. He listened quietly and at the end said only this, “All right!” I did not find the least trace of anxiety or worry on his face.

 

His Kindness and Nobility

I got malarial fever from my frequent visits to Chandannagore. Sri Aurobindo took me with him to his maternal grandfather’s house in Baidyanath (Deoghar) along with his wife, sister and a cook. A large thick cotton carpet was spread on the floor and we all slept on it. Sri Aurobindo used to type on long foolscap paper; his rendering of the Mahabharata in verse form. Dr. Prankrishna Acharya treated me. One day I had an acute attack of fever. I shivered very much and felt thirsty and nauseous. The typed sheets lay nearby and I spewed on them. Sri Aurobindo’s serene face did not betray any sign of dismay at what had happened, nor did he come hurrying to save his manuscripts. Slowly he rose and was about to clean up the mess. I felt mortified beyond description. My soul melted in gratitude and at the same time I felt terribly embarrassed. Never had I experienced such love and kindness. At least, I expected to hear some kind of exclamation such as “Oh! now he has spoiled everything!” But no, nothing came out of him. Nothing perturbed his serene face, not a line moved on it. Previously I had been roundly rebuked by others on so many occasions for unintended mischief. But all the while I was with Sri Aurobindo more than a year I never heard from him, even on a single occasion, so much as a “Don’t!” Not even an order or admonition. If I went beyond the limit, Sri Aurobindo would just keep silent, but it was not that gravity of silent disapproval, he just remained unmindful, as if he had not heard what I was saying, being immersed in some other thought. Even that unmindfulness was not due to any indifference or neglect; he repeatedly found out if I persisted in some sort of mischief, but he always remained outwardly the same as ever. Now as I reflect upon it, I seem to see the truth of it. A high and noble mind develops a large outlook and vision, while a small mind seeing defects everywhere, becomes blinded by them.

 

His Infinite Compassion

One day I was about to go for target practice, and took a shotgun with me. Nearby in a small hut with mud walls and a thatched roof lived Sri Aurobindo’s maternal uncle. He always kept his doors and windows shut and sat on a thick pile of old newspapers. Through this eccentricity, he persisted in his silence and seclusion, never coming out of his room. I resolved to have a look at him. I gathered information about him from Didi, Sri Aurobindo’s sister, and learnt that he was very much scared of the sound of a gun. So on this day I crept under his window and fired the gun. A terrible howl came from inside the room as if I had fired right at him. A pitiable groan was heard. I became very perplexed and also anxious. I would truly have been happy to escape, so ashamed did I feel. I saw his mother approach. Then a face pale as a candle with a thin overgrowth of black beard appeared at the window. Before granny could ask anything I blurted out, “I never thought it would turn out like this!” She seemed to grasp the situation and was relieved. She went towards her son with some words of comfort, such as, “Oh, what has happened!” In no time I saw Sri Aurobindo, his wife and sister coming. I grew thoroughly frightened and mortified at this development. Taking cover of the rooms in a big house, I ran away as fast as I could to the farthest corner of a wrestling ground belonging to another uncle. To him I unburdened the gist of the event. But this uncle, being a wrestler and a daredevil, paid little attention to what I said and started on some topic of his own which had nothing to do with it. Gradually it became midday and as I failed to appear for lunch, Didi came out in search of me. Standing in that wrestling ground, I tried to explain what happened and exonerate myself of the crime. But the more I persisted, Didi turned the talk to other topics and kept on saying, “It’s getting late, Sejda (Sri Aurobindo) is waiting for you for lunch.” I entered the house feeling like a thief apprehended. I decided I would admit my mischief at the first opportunity. But I failed to detect any sign of disapproval or concern on anyone’s face. I felt as if my eyes, my face, my whole body was bending low towards the floor in shame. How a boy like me with such an insubordinate and misbehaving nature could be disciplined was perhaps known only to him. I felt as if I were dead, Sri Aurobindo took in my sorry plight with a single glance and said nothing.

In this way I indulged in one mischief after another and received inner blows. This made me reflect: “Such a man, he is really like a god! I will never, never hide anything from him or speak a lie to him. To disturb such a godlike being is the worst of sins!” His never saying anything, never reproaching me, only looking on as if he neither approved of my wrong-doing nor ignored it, as if he never gave any place to them in his thought, this silence tormented me and filled me with indescribable anguish. I longed above all that he should say something. I even went so far as to speak to him of my weaknesses. He only said: “Human beings are weak. It is not good to make them still more weak by dwelling on their weaknesses. Rather one should think only of that which gives strength to the mind.”