Sri Aurobindo at Pondicherry 7

We reproduce below long passages from the Reminiscences of Nolini Kanta, as they are extremely valuable, being the only authentic record available about how the Mother lived and worked and moved about in the good old days and what the inmates of Sri Aurobindo’s house and others who were connected with them learnt from the Mother’s presence and example — a pen-picture with delicate touches, revealing the Mother’s greatness in her little acts and movements.

“The first time I heard about the Mother was shortly after our arrival here. It was Sri Aurobindo himself who told us about a French lady, an advanced Sadhika (advanced in Yoga), who was desirous of establishing personal contact with him. Whether the Great Soul she was looking for was Sri Aurobindo would be proved by an emblem she would send for him to assign its significance. The emblem was Sri Aurobindo’s own symbol in the form of a diagram, known as Solomon’s Seal. Needless to add, after the proof of identity was received by the Mother, she made preparartions for coming here. Monsieur Paul Richard was at that time much interested in spiritual thought and practice, and he found an opportunity for coming to India. He wished to stand as a candidate for election as a representative of French India in the French Parliament. In those days there used to be two elected representatives of French India — one in the Upper Chamber, the Sénat, the other in the Lower House, the Chambre des Députes….

“The first time he (Mon. Paul Richard) had come, he was alone. The next time the Mother came with him. To all outward appearances, they came here to canvass support for the election, though M. Richard did not in the end get many votes. But this provided an occasion for the Mother to meet Sri Aurobindo and attach a few faithful friends and followers to herself. In connection with the election, the Mother had to pay a visit to Karaikal. It was her first direct experience of the actual India, that is to say, what India was then in its outward aspect. She gave us an amusing description of the room where she had been put up — an old tumble-down room, as dirty as it was dark, and infested with white ants. Thus it was that the Divine Mother, she who is fairer than the fairest and lovelier than infinite beauty, has had to come down and enter into the dirt and muck of human life; how else could we, helpless mortals, have a chance of deliverance?

“When it was known that such a great lady was going to come and live close to us, we were faced with a problem:
What should be our conduct and deportment towards her? Should there be a change in our way of life? For we had been a pack of devil-may-care chaps, dressing and talking, sleeping and eating and moving about in an unconventional way which would not pass in a civilised society. Nevertheless, it was finally decided that we would stick as far as possible to our free and easy ways even in the new circumstances. Why should we let our freedom and ease be compromised or curtailed? This, indeed, is how the ignorance and egotism of man assert the arrogance of his individuality.

“The Mother arrived. She used to meet Sri Aurobindo in the afternoon sittings. She spoke very little. We were out most of that time, but occasionally we would drop in too. When it was proposed to bring out the journal, Arya, the Mother took charge of the necessary arrangements. She wrote out in her own hand the list of subscribers and kept the accounts. Perhaps those papers might still be found somewhere…. The ground floor of the Dupleix House was used as the stock room and the office was on the ground floor of the Guest House. The Mother was the chief executive in sole charge. Once a week all of us used to call at her residence with Sri Aurobindo and have our dinner there. On these occasions the Mother would cook one or two dishes with her own hands. Afterwards, too, when she came from France and settled here for good and all, the same arrangement continued at the Bayoud House…. About this time, she also formed a small group with a few young men….[1] A third line of her work, connected with business and trade, also began at about this time. Just as we have today among us men of business who are devotees of the Mother and work under her protection and guidance, so in that period also there appeared, as if in seed-state, this particular line of activity. Our Sourin founded the Aryan Stores, the chief object of which was to earn money. We were very hard up in those days — not that we are flush with money now, but still…. The Mother, even after her leaving here, corresponded with Sourin from Japan in connection with these business matters.

“Once for some time the Mother took keen interest in cats as a part of her work. Not only was she concerned with human beings, the animal creation and the world of plants, too, were equally fortunate in coming into close touch with her living presence. The Veda speaks of the animal sacrifice; the Mother has also done animal sacrifice, but in a novel sense, by helping them forward on their upward way with a touch of her consciousness. She took a few cats as representatives of the animal world. She said that the king of the cats who rule in the occult world — one might call him the Supercat — had established a sort of amicable relation with her. How this feline brood appeared first in our midst is rather curious. One day all of a sudden a wild-looking cat made its appearance at the Guest House where we lived then; it just happened to come along and stayed on. It was wild enough when it came, but soon turned into a tame cat, very mild and polite. When it had its kittens, Sri Aurobindo gave to the firstborn the name of Sundari, for she was very fair with a pure white fur. One of Sundari’s kittens was called Bushy for she had a bushy tail and her ancestress had now to be given the name of Grandmother. It was about this Bushy that the story runs: she used to pick up with her teeth all her kittens one after another and drop them at the Mother’s feet as soon as they were old enough to use their eyes — as if she offered them to the Mother and craved her blessings. So you see how much progress this cat had made on the path of Yoga. Two of these kittens of Bushy were well-known by their names and became great favourites with the Mother: the older one was Big Boy and the younger Kiki. It is said about one of them — I forget which, perhaps it was Kiki — that he used to join in the collective meditation and meditated like any of us. He perhaps had visions during meditation and his body would shake and tremble while the eyes remained closed. But in spite of this sadhana, he remained in his outward conduct like many of us, rather crude in many respects. The two brothers, Big Boy and Kiki, could never get on well together and had always to be kept apart. Big Boy was a stout fellow and poor Kiki often got a good beating. Finally, both of them died of some illness and were buried in the courtyard. Their grandmother disappeared one day as suddenly as she had come and nobody knew anything about her again.

“The way in which these cats were treated was something extraordinary. The arrangements made for their food were quite a ceremony; it was for them alone that special cooking was done, with milk and fish and the appropriate dressings, as if they were children of some royal family, — all was according to rule. They received an equally good training: they would never commit nuisance within doors, for they had been taught to use the conveniences provided for them. They were nothing like the gipsy-bedouin cats of our Ardhendu.

“In the days before the Mother came, we used to have a pet dog. Its story is much the same. All of a sudden one day there appeared from nowhere in our former residence a common street dog — it was a bitch; she too just came in and stayed on. Sri Aurobindo gave her the name of Yogini. He told us a story about her intelligence. It was already nightfall, and we did not know that she had not yet returned. She came to the front door, pushed against it and did some barking, but we heard nothing, as we were in the kitchen next to the backyard. Suddenly she recalled there was a door at the back through which she might perhaps gain entrance or at least draw our attention. She now ran around three corners of the house and appeared at the back door. From there she could make herself heard and was admitted. She too bore some puppies and two of them became particular favourites with Sri Aurobindo. I cannot now recall how they were called.

“You all know about the deep oneness and intimate relation the Mother has with plants, so I leave out that subject today. As with the world of animals and men, so with the beings of the occult worlds — from the little elves and fairies to the high and mighty gods, all have had their contacts with the Mother, all have shared in her Grace as you may have heard, but the Grace meant at times smacks too!

“Today I leave out the Mother’s role as our Guide on the path of sadhana or yogic discipline. Let me speak in a very general way of an aspect of her teaching that concerns the first principles of the art of living.

“The core of this lies in elevating our life to a cleaner level, and the first and most important need is to put each thing in its place. The training that the Mother has throughout been giving us — I am not here referring to the side of spiritual practice but to the daily routine of our ordinary life — is precisely this business of putting our things in order. We do not always notice how very disorderly we are; our belongings and household effects are in a mess, our actions are haphazard, and in our inner life we are as disorderly as in our outer life, or even more. Indeed, it is because we are so disorderly within that there is such disorder in our outer life. Our thoughts come to us pell-mell and our brains are crowded with stray bits of random thoughts. We cannot sit down quietly for a few minutes and pursue a particular line of thought with any kind of steadiness or order. Our heads are full of noise like a market-place without any peace or restraint or harmony. If the mind is in such a state, the vital being (prāṇa) is still worse. You cannot keep count of the strange desires and impulses that play about there. If the brain is a market-place, the heart is no better than a madhouse. Well, I shall not now enlarge further on the state of our inner being. One of the things the Mother has been trying to teach us both by her word and her example is that to keep our outer life and its materials in proper order and neat and tidy is a very necessary element of our life upon earth. I do not know to what extent we have yet been able to assimilate this teaching in our individual or collective living. How many of us have realised that beauty is at least half the sense of life and serves to double its values? And even if we do sometimes realise it, how many are impelled to shape our lives accordingly?

“The Mother taught us to use our things with care, but there was more to it than this. What is special about the Mother is that she uses things not merely with care but with love and affection. For, to her, material things are not inanimate objects, not mere lifeless implements. They are endowed with a life of their own, even a consciousness of their own, and each thing has its own individuality and character. The Mother says about material things what the ancients have said about the life of plants, that they have in them a latent consciousness that feels pleasure and pain, antaḥ-saṅjñāh bhavanti ete sukha-duḥkha-samanvitāh. We are all aware how carefully the Mother treasures old things and does not like them to be thrown away simply because they are old. The reason for this is not niggardliness or a spirit of conservation; the reason is that old things are to her like old friends, living companions.

“The Mother did not appear to us, — the older people, — as the Mother at the outset; she came to us first perhaps as an embodiment of beauty, grace and harmony. We received her as a friend, as one very close to ourselves, first, because Sri Aurobindo himself received her like that, and secondly because of her qualities. Now that we are on this subject of her qualities, although it is not necessary for a child to proclaim the virtues of his mother, I cannot help telling you about another thing we learnt from her, something deeper. The first time Sri Aurobindo happened to speak of her qualities, he said he had never seen anywhere a self-surrender so absolute and unreserved. He had also commented that perhaps it was only women who were capable of giving themselves so entirely and with such sovereign ease. This implies a complete obliteration of the past, erasing it with its virtues and faults. Referring to it in one of her Prayers and Meditations, the Mother has said that when she came here, she gave herself up to the Lord, Sri Aurobindo, with the candid simplicity of a child, blotting out all her past, all her spiritual attainments, all the riches of her consciousness. Like a new-born babe, she stripped herself of everything; she was to learn everything right from the beginning as if she had known or heard nothing.

“Now to come back to a personal experience. The first thing I had heard and come to know about the Mother was that she was a great spiritual person. I did not know then that she had other gifts too; these were revealed to me gradually. First I came to know that she was an accomplished painter; and afterwards that she was an equally gifted musician. But there were other surprises in store. For instance, she had an intellectual side no less richly endowed, that is to say, she had read and studied enormously, had cultivated her intellect even as the erudite do. I was still more surprised to find that while in France she had already studied and translated a good number of Indian scriptures like the Gita, the Upanishads, the Yoga-sutras, the Bhakti-sutras of Narada, etc. I mention all this merely to tell you that the Mother’s capacity for making her mind a complete blank was as extraordinary as her enormous intellectual acquisitions. This was something unique in her. In the early days, when she had just taken charge of our spiritual life, she told me one day in private, perhaps seeing that I might have got a pride in being an intellectual, that at one time she used to take an interest in philosophy and other intellectual pursuits. But although all that had now gone below the surface, she could bring it up again at will. So, I need not have any apprehension on that score! It was as if the Mother was trying to apologise for her deficiencies in scholarship. This was how she set an example of humility, what we call Divine Humility.

“As I was saying, this capacity for an entire annulment of the past has been one of the special powers of her spiritual consciousness and sadhana. It is not an easy thing for a human being to strip himself naked of all his past acquisitions, whether they are intellectual knowledge or the traits and tendencies of the vital, let alone the habits of the body. And yet this is the first and most important step in spiritual discipline, and the Mother has given us a living example of this. That is why she decided to shed all her past, forget all about it and begin anew the a-b-c of her training and initiation from Sri Aurobindo. And it was in fact at the hands of Sri Aurobindo that she received as a token and outward symbol her first lessons in Bengali and Sanskrit, beginning with the alphabet.

“However all this is simply an attempt on the part of the small to comprehend something of the Vast; it is as if a particle of sand was trying to reflect a little of the sun’s rays, a dwarf trying to catch at the high tree-top with his uplifted arms, a child prattling of his mother’s beauty.

“In the beginning, Sri Aurobindo would refer to the Mother quite distinctly as Mira. Afterwards for some time (this may have extended over a period of years) we could notice that he stopped at the sound of M and uttered the full name Mira as if after a slight hesitation. To us it seemed rather enigmatic at the time, but later we came to know the reason. Sri Aurobindo’s lips were on the verge of saying ‘Mother’, but we were not ready for it, so he ended with ‘Mira’ instead of saying ‘Mother’. No one knows for certain on which particular date, at what auspicious moment, the word ‘Mother’ was uttered by the lips of Sri Aurobindo. But that was a divine moment in unrecorded history, a crucial moment in the destiny of man and earth; for it was at this supreme moment that the Mother was installed in the external consciousness of man on this material earth.

“Let me now end this story with a last word about myself.

“I have said that so far the Mother had been to us only a friend and companion, a comrade almost, at the most an object of reverence. I was now about to start on my annual trip to Bengal — in those days I used to go there once every year, and that was perhaps my last trip. Before leaving, I felt a desire to see the Mother. The Mother had not yet come out of her seclusion nor had Sri Aurobindo retired. I said to Sri Aurobindo ‘I would like to see Her before I go’. — Her with a capital H, in place of the Mother, for we had not yet started using that epithet. Sri Aurobindo informed the Mother. The room now used by Champaklal was the Mother’s room in those days. I entered and waited in the Prosperity room, for Sri Aurobindo used to meet people on the verandah in front. The Mother came in from her room and stood near the door. I approached her and said, ‘I am going’, and then bowed down to her. That was my first Pranam to the Mother. She said, ‘Come back soon’. This ‘come back soon’ meant in the end, ‘come back for good’.”

Sri Aurobindo corrected the proofs of the Arya and saw to it that the printed copies were dispatched to the subscribers regularly on the 15th of every month. Sometimes he would make drafts of his articles and type them, but mostly he would type them off without any drafts. Sometimes he would be typing away late into the night so that the matter could be sent to the press the next morning. Sourin was in charge of the Arya office and Moni was managing the household and the kitchen.

At about this time Sri Aurobindo translated C.R. Das’s Bengali poem, Sagar Sangeet (songs of the sea) into English. It is a beautiful poem the last stanza of which we quote below:

“This shore and that shore, — I am tired, they pall.
Where thou art shoreless, take me from it all.
My spirit goes floating and can find oppressed
In thy unbanked immensity only rest.
Thick darkness falls upon my outer part,
A lonely stillness grips the labouring heart,
Dumb weeping with no tears to ease the eyes.
I am mad for thee, О king of mysteries.
Have I not sought thee on a million streams,
And wheresoever the voice of music dreams,
In wondrous lights and sealing shadows caught,
And every night and every day have sought?
Pilot eternal, friend unknown embraced,
O, take me to thy shoreless self at last.”

[1] We have spoken of it in the previous section.

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