It was during my school days (1916-1920) that I came to know of Sri Aurobindo, as a national leader who believed in Yoga. To see his photograph was to convince oneself for ever. Earlier I had been reading Vaishnava literature under the guidance of my grandfather and was of course drawn to Shri Krishna. Then came the works of Rama Tirtha, Ramakrishna Kathamrita and sadhana of sorts, asanas, pranayama, concentration, meditation observing chakras etc. Through Puraniji and under his care, I began turning to Sri Aurobindo and his books like Yoga and Its Objects and biographical sketches appearing in magazines, especially Uttarpara Vyakhyana and Letters to Mrinalini.
In 1924 I went to Hrishikesh and stayed at Ramashrama on the Ganges following a certain system of concentration and japa of OM according to Swami Rama Tirtha, also reading Ramakrishna Kathamrita, but with Sri Aurobindo as the guiding star.
During college days, I had been giving up studies off and on and joining as a volunteer in the National Movement first in Anand Taluka and later in Borsad Taluka. It was about this time I went to see Vishnu Bhaskar Lele at Anand and Paul Richard at Patan. I was getting restive with Gandhiji’s insistence on Spinning-wheel as a cure-all for India’s ills and I felt a strong need to get away from the rut in which the national movement and its workers, among whom I lived, had bogged down. Thus I decided to go overseas for further studies and before going out came to Pondicherry and had Sri Aurobindo’s Darshan and blessings in the beginning of 1926.
On the approved day, going up the staircase all thoughts seemed to have been wiped out of my consciousness except a feeling that it was being opened out by some unseen power fold by fold, petal by petal and was being searched inside out. I went up to Sri Aurobindo, put the rose garland round his neck and bowed down at his feet. He looked steadily on. I spoke about my plans to go overseas and asked for his blessings for spiritual progress and he indicated a minor looking programme which has not yet been satisfactorily completed though 45 years have since elapsed.
It was 12 years later (in 1938) that I came again to Pondicherry. In the interval I had been to Kenya for a year, where I was assured of financial help for further studies, then in London for nearly four years studying law, started practising as a barrister in 1932, and took to Kenya politics in the East African Indian National Congress as a Member of the Executive, then as a General Secretary and led a delegation to India on Indians’ Rights.
In England I had come into contact with political Radicals of all kinds and Pacifists and Vegetarians and Theosophists and Revolutionaries and of course the Communists who showed interest in and all but took me into their fold except that they could not take in a confirmed theist.
It was in 1934 that I had further experience of the Grace. I had an attack of pneumonia. Medical treatment did not help much. The illness continued for weeks. Then I started pranayama and concentration, repeating OM and remembering Sri Aurobindo. One day I had a vivid vision. There was the Divine Mother smiling and assuring protection with Purani standing in the background. As I saw this I clearly felt some obstruction in the chest dissolving. And from that moment I started recovering. This incident had an interesting sequel. As I continued to get temperature in the evenings, a heart specialist, a renowned English doctor was called in. On examining me he asked how I had managed to keep the lungs clean. By pranayama, perhaps, I answered. He expressed his pleasure and said that I was lucky that my own doctor had not diagnosed the disease. For, he added, there had been a patch on the lung which had cleaned up as the lungs were clean.
Another experience in which inner help by Sri Aurobindo played a decisive part relates to my political life.
In 1938 the Government of Kenya was putting pressure on the Wakamba tribe to sell away their cattle on a false plea that the land in their reserve could not support their increasing stock. The truth was that the British Authorities were starting a meat factory in that area in order to build up meat reserves for the army should war break out in Europe, as expected. They had planned to slaughter the cattle compulsorily acquired from Wakamba tribe for this purpose. Naturally the tribe refused. And some six to seven thousand of them came and camped on the outskirts of Nairobi asking to meet the Governor. The Governor declined to accede. The Wakamba would not return home. There was much tension and their camp being adjacent to the Indian part of the town, Indians were naturally exercised about it. But no Indian leader would think of taking any kind of action. As Secretary of the Indian Association, I felt I could not shirk responsibility and sought guidance from Sri Aurobindo in silent concentration and on a clear indication, I set out to meet the leader of the tribesmen. This step was fraught with grave consequences but on the strength of the inner light I proceeded. I assured the leader of our active interest and set in motion a series of events which ultimately led to the Governor agreeing to meet the Wakamba tribe in their own reservation. A new chapter was thus opened between the Indian settlers and the tribesmen.
I may add that one of the follow-up actions of this turn was the joint movement launched by Indians and the Kikuyu people against the reservation of Highlands for Europeans, in which Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru was to figure much later along with Maharaj Singh, H.S.L. Pollock and Malcolm MacDonald.
Another notable incident that I must record is my visit to a waterfall in 1941. While moving half way along the narrow ledge of the rock behind the falling cascade, I began losing my balance and was about to fall down the ravine. I closed my eyes and thought of the Supreme Being and Sri Aurobindo. Instantly I regained balance and moved further along to safety.
I came for a long stay at Pondicherry in 1942. While staying in the Ashram I received telegrams from friends in Kenya asking me to contest the election for a seat to the State Legislature which had fallen vacant. In fact they had already proposed my name and they were only asking me for a formal confirmation. I was not inclined to accept and had once refused the offer but thought it better to seek Sri Aurobindo’s advice on the point when the offer was repeated. He sent word of advice that I should accept it. That decided the issue and I was elected while I was still in India.
It was in the third week of November that year that I started from Pondicherry to return to Nairobi. When I sought the Mother’s permission to leave through Nolini, she asked him whether there was any particular hurry. I explained matters to him and asked if there was any spiritual reason for Mother to say so. He said that Mother saw some danger in that area. However, I left and reached Bombay on the day the steamer was to sail. Imagine my surprise to find that one of the vaccination certificates required was missing. Someone offered to get me the needed certificate by improper means. But I declined; it was 18th November and Darshan day being so near, I travelled back to Pondicherry. I had Darshan on the 24th and left for Bombay on the 25th reaching there on the 27th. I went straight to the offices of the Passenger Agent and there I learnt that the steamer by which I was to have sailed had been sunk in the ocean.
I was saved from certain disaster. I did not know how to swim and more than two-thirds of passengers and crew of that steamer had lost their lives.
One or two political events come to my mind for the part the Mother’s Grace played in the developments.
It was in 1962 that the Mau-Mau movement in Kenya gathered force. It was a kind of armed revolt by the Africans against the British Rule. Many of the leaders were clapped in jail. Many escaped abroad and the rest went underground. When things were rather bleak some followers of one of the leaders, who on his return from England in 1937 had brought a letter for me from Pandit Nehru asking the Indian Congress to render whatever help was possible to the Africans, came to my house when I was away at Mombasa in the middle of the night. When my wife opened the door she was greeted by four African men and a daughter of Kenyatta who is presently the President of Kenya. They asked to see me and on being told by my wife that I was away they asked for food. They were given what was available. A message was left for me to be sent to me and on my return the party again called on us. They said they were helpless and did not know what to do. They had come to me as their leader Mbiyn Koinange’e who was away in London, had told them to come to me when help or advice was needed. I thought for a moment and then took them to our prayer room. I asked them to sit before the photographs of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and suggested they might pray to them for help. They all broke into sobs and stayed for quite some time praying.
As this was going on a feeling — almost a certainty — rose in me that now that they had submitted their prayer to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, their cause would not fail. They prepared a letter there and then praying to the Mother for help in their dire need which was sent to the Mother.
And I was not surprised at all later on at the turn of history when the very same leaders who were then imprisoned came to power.
One afternoon in Pondicherry, in January 1938, as a swarm of mosquitoes had as usual set up humming and buzzing almost like a live orchestra of their own all around the mosquito net, I was fidgeting more and more inside, in unbearable heat. I threw over the net in desperation inviting them as it were to do their worst. And lo! their music stopped. The army of mosquitoes seemed to have received orders to move out; they disappeared; never to trouble me again.
One night in Golconde, the first time I was there in 1942, I had a dream in which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother appeared in surgeon’s garb around me on an operation table where I was lain out and performed some surgery in the area of my stomach and intestines. Since then the chronic constipation and its brood I suffered from my childhood seemed to have left me for ever.
In passing I may mention that in 1957 a false case was foisted on me at the instance of one of the unsuccessful parties whom I had sought to help in a family feud. Political elements in the Government were ranged against me and wanted to make capital out of the case. However, I had firm faith in the Divine Grace and it happened that I was totally innocent in the matter. The judge held there was no case to answer; he refused again when a further charge was brought and the chapter ended. Of course, we had informed the Mother of the episode.
It was in 1958 that there was an impasse in the political situation in Kenya. The British Government had announced their intention to transfer power to the Africans gradually but they were faced with opposition from the European settlers on the one hand and the African leadership on the other. The African leaders had taken an extreme position and refused to enter into negotiations. Kenyatta was in detention and the other leaders had to take an uncompromising position for fear of losing their leadership. Odinga had ranged himself firmly on the side of die extremist section and Tom Mboya was known to have been more moderate, though in appearance he gave a different impression. As the President of the Kenya Indian Congress, I was approached by the British authorities to persuade the Africans to enter into negotiations without conditions. It was difficult. I waited for guidance from within. And wonder of wonders one day Tom Mboya himself walked into my office. He was tense and did not know which way to proceed. The national movement was showing signs of cracking and the extremists were trying to isolate him and he had no one else to consult. He agreed to enter into discussion with the Government unconditionally. And when it was announced that the African leadership was willing to join the discussion, it was considered nothing short of a miracle.
I should recall another episode which occurred towards the end of 1959.
As the time for the transfer of power came nearer, there was a worked up tension among the European population regarding the safety of the citizens. Rumour was spread that the moment the Africans came into power they would simply wipe out the unwanted elements which meant the European settlers.
To disabuse the public of this fear, myself and a few of my colleagues contacted Kenyatta and explained to him the position. He was bitter and told us how cruelly he had been treated while in detention. We heard him patiently and sympathetically. But he accepted our suggestion to issue a statement assuring safety to all. In fact he asked us to draft the statement and he put his signature thereto. When this statement was splashed in the press the effect was electric.
During these talks Kenyatta took me aside and asked me what was the main teaching on the theory of non-violence and violence in the Gita. I explained that it was not nonviolence on all occasions but use of violence also to resist evil when the occasion demanded.
Throughout these talks I was aware of the Presence and Grace within my heart.
During the days of transition from colonial rule to freedom of Kenya, I had learnt from some of my British friends that in order to ensure that the transfer of power was orderly and peaceful and the period thereafter free from upheaval, the British authorities were planning to start new industries in Kenya. Their idea was to create a middle class of Africans who could be absorbed in these industries and hence would be interested in maintaining a peaceful transition even when the British left ultimately. For otherwise troubles were sure to follow, there being practically no African middle class in the political set up. They honestly wanted to create a substantial element which would be interested in safeguarding law and order. But they were afraid that Pandit Nehru might condemn this move of the British as imperialism by the back-door, and thus destroy whatever prospects the project had. It was in this frame of mind that I came to Pondicherry in 1960. It was the year when Chou-en Lai had finally broken with Pandit Nehru and things were dark indeed. When I mentioned to Mother that I had to go to Delhi to see Nehru she asked me why. I explained the whole position and my mission to acquaint Nehru with the background of the situation in East Africa and to plead, with him not to hustle the British and the French unduly. The Mother nodded and said, “all success”. She also mentioned the World Union movement which she had launched and asked me to speak of it to Nehru.
My appointment had been fixed and accordingly I went to Pandit Nehru’s Office to meet him. But the atmosphere there was totally different from what it used to be before, during my previous visit. The tension with China had made deep indent everywhere and the Prime Minister had cancelled most of his appointments, especially as he was due to leave for London for a conference of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers within a few days. When the Secretary told me that the interview had to be cancelled, I naturally demurred that it could not be so and told him that I had come all the way from Africa only for that interview. He asked me to wait and take a chance. As I was waiting, the Prime Minister arrived. He was walking alone to his room. I was struck by the sudden change in his gait and his sad aspect. He swayed from side to side and carried himself with effort. No one dared to go near him. Slowly he entered as one weighed down by his burdens.
After some time I was called in. It was depressing to see him. I opened the interview saying: Indians overseas rejoiced in India’s success and shared her sorrows also, and that I had brought to him their love and admiration and best wishes. His face changed. He brightened up and began to take interest. I explained to him the purpose of my visit and was to impress on him that there was no further need to hustle England and France in regard to African stand on the transfer of Political Power and that industrial development was necessary. He promised not to do anything at the Prime Ministers’ conference that might unduly push the British and the French in Africa or obstruct industrial developments.
Then I mentioned to him the launching of the World Union movement and that the Mother had desired him to take interest in its work. At the mention of the Mother’s name his whole face lit up and he sat up, as it were. He looked happy and told me although he might not be able to take active interest in the World Union, he was certainly interested in it. On this happy note the meeting terminated.