Chapter 3. Friendship with Ramaswami Iyengar (Va Ra)

It became a habit with me to meet Ramaswami Iyengar on the beach every evening at about 5.30 just after leaving school. It was natural for my school friends also to accompany me.

How did Ramaswami Iyengar come to Pondicherry? How did he meet Sri Aurobindo? I did not know well then. I heard that it was he, Ramaswami Iyengar, who had secretly invited K. V. Rangaswami Iyengar, of whom more presently, and arranged a meeting between him and Sri Aurobindo.

The story is this. A Siddhapurusha — a Yogi — called Nagai Japta was the Kulaguru (family preceptor) of K. Rangaswami Iyengar and a close friend of his. My uncle used to tell me of many a miracle which the Yogi had done. It was rumoured that when paddy fields went dry for want of water, Japta’s power would bring down the needed rain and make the withering paddy plants shoot forth again.

This great man had also said to the family members of Rangaswami Iyengar to this effect: “A great saint will come to the South from the North; he is a great Yogi and will show the way not only to our country but to the whole human race; he will be indeed your Kulaguru after me, you should accept him as such.” This he said and after a few days disappeared, one did not know where.

On learning of Sri Aurobindo’s arrival at Pondicherry, Rangaswami came here secretly with the help of Ramaswami, to see Sri Aurobindo and talk to him. Secrecy was necessary at that time to avoid suspicion of the British Police.

Rangaswami came several times afterwards to meet Sri Aurobindo openly. But it was during the earlier secret visits Sri Aurobindo wrote — apparently — the book Yogic Sadhan for him and gave it to him.

In the company of some close friends like Srinivasachari, Ramaswami and Rangaswami, there used to be now and then what is called “automatic writing”, that is to say, writing by spirits, as they are named. I am not sure whether the persons mentioned were the only ones present, there might have been a few others too. I gathered different versions from different people on the matter. It is said that Bharati also used to be in those meetings.

Now, what does automatic writing mean? It is usually done at night only. In the dim light of a lamp sits a man — the right sort of man, it goes without saying — in deep quietude in a chair beside a table, with pencil and paper in front. He invites or awaits the coming of a spirit, most often the spirit of a dead person. The spirit enters into the quietly expectant medium and taking hold of his hand writes down answers to questions put by the people assembled or sets down whatever it pleases the spirit to say for the amusement or enlightenment of the assembly. I myself witnessed such a phenomenon when Sri Aurobindo did the writing and I was full of wonder. Of course it is truly interesting when the medium is a qualified person; everyone is not a Sri Aurobindo.

The book Yogic Sadhan had its origin in this way. It is said that it was written through the medium of Sri Aurobindo by some great spirit, probably Rammohan Roy; for it seems Sri Aurobindo said that he saw the figure of Rammohan as he was doing the writing. The spirit entered into him, that is to say, into his hands and wrote down the book. That is why the book, printed at Srirangam Vani Vilas Press, at the instance of Rangaswami Iyengar, was ascribed to an Uttara Yogi as author or editor: that is to say, a Yogi who had come from the North gave form to the book.

As I already mentioned I used to go to the beach after my school hours and stay there till seven or seven-thirty in the evening. Among the persons I met there the most important one was, of course, Ramaswami Iyengar. There I met also Subburattinam, who became famous later on as the writer Bharatidasan. The young Swaminathan, whose traces I have now lost, was also there and a few school-mates.

All of us used to sit on the sands and, as is the way with youngsters, left no subject undiscussed.

At that time naturally I did not realise what was the new and precious thing which Sri Aurobindo’s active presence was shaping in me. Not that even now I have the full knowledge of it. It was, however, Sri Aurobindo’s dynamic presence that accounted for the indescribable joy experienced by me. And it was through Ramaswami that the great riches of Sri Aurobindo came down to me as Grace from the Divine, and also spread in a somewhat formless or informal way among all. My thought remained absorbed in whatever Ramaswami would say about Sri Aurobindo, his message, his talk, his jokes, everything.

One day all of a sudden a thought arose in me; I told Ramaswami while on the beach, “I would like very much to dine with you once.” I could make out from his face that this proposal of mine came to him like a thunderbolt. The proposal was not made in the presence of others, I whispered it into his ears, when I found myself alone with him; very clearly there was but one motive behind it. I hoped that if I dined with him, Sri Aurobindo also would be there. Ramaswami, evidently bewildered, thought for a moment and then questioned me, “But it is no vegetarian meal in Sri Aurobindo’s house; how do you propose to dine there?” He said this somewhat hesitatingly and hoped it would put an end to the matter. But I was not to be baulked so easily. A little perplexed, I too retorted, “What if there be no vegetarian meal? I am ready to dine with you all.” He must have been terribly vexed to get such an unexpected reply and in such a categorical manner, without a moment’s hesitation. He however gave no expres­sion to his surprise, but asked me to come next day straight from the school at 12 noon and join him. I was beside myself with joy.

Next day the closing bell at the Calve School went ding-dong at 11.30 sharp. Along with the other students, I too walked out of the school. I went straight home to Muthialpet, took my bath — rather hurriedly — and reached Sri Aurobindo’s house at 12 noon precisely. Plunged in the thought that in a little while I would be seeing Sri Aurobindo, I became forgetful of everything else.

The main door in Sri Aurobindo’s house in Mission Street was left open. As soon as I entered, Ramaswami came and received me. There was none else. The house lay dead silent in the intense heat of broad daylight. My heart too was motionless.

Ramaswami made a move and said, “Let us go to the hotel.” On hearing these words I felt as if I had suddenly been thrown down from a height to which I had been lifted up. I could not understand anything. I was then almost dying with hunger. The citadel built by me was cast down by one breath as it were. Well, I started trudging, in that excessive heat, with Ramaswami towards a hotel more than a mile away; I walked the distance with bare feet, without sandals. The meal was served for me alone. Silently, without uttering a single word, I swallowed the food and then proceeded towards my school, Ramaswami accompanying me. I entered the Reading Room of the School, the classes were to start at 3 p.m. And I tried my best to attend to my lessons. In the same street, just a little to the south, lay Sri Aurobindo’s house and Ramaswami moved towards it.

So far as I remember this happened in the first week of July in the year 1913.

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