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 and Part 2)
Now let me narrate Sri Aurobindo’s “anger”, of which I learnt during my long stay with him.
One day Didi had asked our cook to make some hot water for her. The cook, being disturbed during his cooking, replied with some irritation and annoyance. When we all sat down for lunch, Didi complained against the cook. Sri Aurobindo listened attentively. But when the cook came to serve us two times, three times, and Didi saw that her Sejda did not say so much as a word to him, she could not contain herself. She exclaimed “If you don’t say anything to the cook, he will become more and more insolent!” Sri Aurobindo looked surprised, as if he had not grasped the thing before and only when Didi alerted him could he understand its seriousness! When the cook appeared again, Sejda said, in an even tone, “You don’t listen to Didi? Cook, this is very bad! Do you understand? You must never do it again, — Never!” After he had repeated this verbal disapprobation a few times, the cook started to justify his own case in his native tongue. “Didi had ordered hot water while I was frying fish — how could I manage both? So I had objected to her, but later I made the hot water, etc.”… And so the matter ended.
His Tenderness and Consideration
After the Pujas, having spent a month in Baidyanath, we returned to Calcutta. My parents had become anxious, not receiving any news of my whereabouts and had sent my elder brother to enquire at the Yugantar office and take me back home. I mentioned all of this to Sri Aurobindo. He gave me some money and asked me to go home to Khulna. I asked him the reason — for I thought he had had enough of me and wanted to get rid of me. But he gave me those instructions: “Visit your mother once every week. When you go away, inform her the first time about your departure. The next time you go, tell her two or three days before your departure, then leave without any further message.
On subsequent visits, go to your house after a fortnight, stay for two or three days, then leave the house, letting someone else inform your mother about your departure. When you go the next time, don’t put up at your own house, stay in some one else’s house, but visit your family. When you leave, don’t inform them at all. In this way, after you have paid visits to your home five or six times, your absence will be taken as natural, and there will be no anxiety.” Such a tender-hearted and considerate person Sri Aurobindo was at the same time the main figure in a secret revolutionary conspiracy!
At Alipore Jail
The next phase was one of searches and arrests. At Narayangarh, there was a bomb attack on the viceroy’s train; the engine was damaged and the train derailed. Then came the Muzaffarpore bombing; there were searches, bombs and pistols were found, and arrests made.
I escaped to Khulna, my object being to hide in the forests of Sunderbans. But as a result of Naren Goswami’s treachery, Samsul Rahaman came to Khulna with a warrant of arrest. Out of consideration for my father and others who were in service, I surrendered myself voluntarily. There were about ninety of us lodged in Alipore Jail, all arrested in connection with the Alipore Bomb case. Besides us there were some others brought from Bombay and Madras. The jail became a veritable den of high spirits and amusement. Sri Aurobindo went into meditation in the evening and in the early hours before dawn. On days when there was no court to attend, he would often spend the time with us, sometimes we played word making games for learning the Bengali language; sometimes there would be a mock court in which Ullaskar would be the judge and Sri Aurobindo himself would become the Public Prosecutor imitating the arguments of Norton. He would expound on subjects like the philosophy of British law and justice, the morality and immorality of Anarchism, Imperialism, revolution, the morality of political dacoity, bombing, killings etc., he spoke with such lucidity, arguing on both sides, that it seemed he had a map of all these topics spread out before him.
A certain speaker from the student community of Harrison Road arrived after surrendering. His name was Probash Deb. The subject of discussion was Formula of the Bomb. Probash’s habit of speaking, eating and moving was always brisk. His features were short for his body, his face was shaped in conformity with the close-cropped hair on his head. When giving an oration he would throw his arms and legs about just like a boy of ten, though he was twenty-five or more. At times when the orator became grave, we would tease him in order to lighten things. Here is an example.
Seeing Sri Aurobindo meditating, we also started to meditate at night. Bijoy Bhattacharya was arrested while making bombs. He used to join us in these activities. Everyone liked him. One day, seeing Probash, the orator, deep in meditation at midnight, Bijoy took a palm-leaf fan in hand, held it like a flute in the pose of Krishna, stood before Probash and whispered “Here I have come!” What insolence! How dare he make fun of spiritual emotion! Pandemonium broke out! Probash jumped up and chased the fake god through the whole length of the big hall. The noise of the stampede woke all of us up. Finally Bijoy Kanta took shelter under Sri Aurobindo’s wings. The complainant then and there demanded justice from Sri Aurobindo. He threatened that if the case was not dealt with, either Bijoy Kanta would be annihilated or the sadhak himself would commit suicide! So a court was set up at two in the morning! At the orator’s request, Ullaskar was made the judge and Sri Aurobindo agreed to take upon himself the role of counsel for the defendant. The court began. The counsels for the accused were Upen Bandopadhyaya, Hemchandra Das and others. The rest of us became witnesses for one side or the other.
Yoga in the Jail
Every morning after taking his bath Sri Aurobindo selected a corner in the hall as his living space. There, with his head on the floor and feet in the air, he spent hour after hour. One day the Governor of Bengal, Mr. Baker, came to see our ward. Sri Aurobindo was then suspended in that pose with his feet upwards. Baker remained standing there for about half an hour without uttering anything. When Sri Aurobindo did not respond in any manner, he left, thinking the posture to be another instance of the occult and unintelligible performances of Indian mystics. We were filled with apprehension: “Now”, we thought “we are finished. The Governor surely came to speak with him. He must have felt that he was being ignored. Obviously they will shoot us now. Perhaps a little conversation would have softened him.”
On the day Naren Goswami was killed by Kanai, the sound of the firing brought cheer to our hearts. For, it had been decided beforehand that we would make an attempt at Jail-break by forcing our way through the main gate of the prison as soon as help in the form of bombs and pistols arrived from outside. We thought that help had come. But those repeated sounds of firing seemed to come not from the direction of the main gate, but from the hospital. By and by news reached us that Kanai had overpowered and finished off Naren Goswami in front of the jail hospital. We felt like dancing out of sheer joy. The alarm bell had already started ringing following the sound of the shots.
Sri Aurobindo was then taking his bath and he went on with it as if he had heard nothing. I was wiping his body. At that time I used to bathe Sri Aurobindo in the presence of the guards every morning since during that period he had ceased to make any effort at doing things himself, eating, bathing or anything; he had even stopped making comments. He remained in the state of perpetual unmindfulness. Our elders, Upenda and others, finding me a strong and healthy lad, had selected me to look after him. I told Sri Aurobindo that the guards were asking people to get inside their rooms, and that the alarm bell was ringing because Goswami had been murdered. Shots could still be heard outside. Sri Aurobindo seemed to be totally unaware of all this as he slowly entered the room. Such a big event for us! He seemed hardly to take any notice of it. He never made any comment on these events even afterwards. His silence was something totally unlike that of ours, which is just the shutting of our mouths. Slowly his silence spread itself inwardly and outwardly; all became silent, as if all the inner mechanisms of his body, even the breathing, was suspended. When I could not reconcile his silence with my own feeling; I would mutter to myself: Has he gone mad? But inside myself I could not accept this. Whenever I came in contact with him, I felt a deep attraction towards him, a sympathy, such as one feels towards one’s very own.
Then Sri Aurobindo stopped speaking altogether. His eyes seemed far away, though they were not vacant, as if he dwelt in some far off twilit region. He used to go to the court wearing his dhoti tightly tucked up in the manner of working men. He would put on his cotton shawl drawing one end below his right arm and throwing it over his left shoulder. Was this the dress or manner of one who could have become a district magistrate in the I.C.S.? Rather he looked like a mendicant, a fakir! He was just like any other prisoner, a criminal, a thief, a robber. He had nothing to discuss with his lawyers, C. R. Das and Byomkesh, no comments to give them about his case. He would sit in a corner of the dock and sometimes laugh uncontrollably, becoming almost red in the face. What he saw there he alone knew. During the identification parade he failed to move aside even when he was told to do so. Was it reckless madness or some profound reliance? His black hair glistened always as if oil was dripping from it. His face resembled that of a child’s, without any lines of thought or anxiety, a tender face perpetually filled with a happy smile. His eyes were full of profound peace and tranquillity. His smile was unlike ours; it was expressed in the glance of his eyes. His body exuded a fragrance like that of a baby’s tender body. His nails grew to half an inch, his hair and beard grew longer and longer. Our hairs never had that oily sheen of his. I ventured to ask him: “Do the European warders bring you oil in secret?” He neither smiled nor answered, as if he had not heard me. At night the warders would come and tell us, “Arvind remains standing the whole night, his bedding folded in the corner.” They did not disturb him by pressing him to lie down. They did not even call him up at night as was their practice with us; in our case they called us quite regularly to make sure that we were there and no one had escaped.
From age to age, in life after life, we come down into the human body, do thy work and return to the home of delight. Now too we are born, dedicated to thy work.
— Sri Aurobindo