In the Matakoil Street, called Mission Street, Sri Aurobindo lived for six months in a house with a tiled roof. That house has at present undergone a radical change; the very spot is unrecognisable. It was in this house that I had Sri Aurobindo’s Darshan. There I had the first opportunity of seeing him but from a distance.
During his stay in this house I had the habit of meeting Ramaswami Iyengar every evening on the beach, as I have already said. His heart started melting in my favour little by little even as ants slowly and persistently leave a trail on granite. The result was: he began to welcome me to his room. The school remained closed two days in the week, Sundays and Thursdays. Those days I could meet Iyengar in Sri Aurobindo’s house at about 4 p.m. From 4 to 5 p.m. we would be alone conversing with each other. Our relation thus began to ripen. After 5 we would go straight to the beach and join other friends.
Because of my friendship with Iyengar, Sri Aurobindo’s house appeared to me as my own. That is why I felt no timidity or shyness to go to Iyengar’s room; whether he was at home or not, I would go there. But I never took courage to go farther than his room; to do so seemed improper.
As I got more and more familiar with Iyengar, the names of the inmates of Sri Aurobindo’s house came to be known to me. Only one of them is still here. His name is Nolini Kanta Gupta.
Of those who are no more, Bejoy Kumar Nag was one — his name became Vijayakantan in Tamil. In order to escape from the clutches of the British Government he had assumed the pseudonym Bankim Chandra Basik. Likewise, Suresh Chandra Chakravarti was known to the people of Pondicherry by one name alone: “Sakra”. Sourindranath Bose went by his own name. Nagendranath Nag and Biren Roy came later to stay in Sri Aurobindo’s house.
Among the inmates Nagendranath was laid up with tuberculosis. Some evenings when engaged in conversation with Iyengar on the verandah outside his room I would see Sri Aurobindo come out from the back portion of the house to the hall in front, take his seat on the same mat with the sick man, put to him some questions and return to his room. I was lucky to have Sri Aurobindo’s Darshan in this manner several times without going near him. At that time I could not speak English well. On his way to the front part of the house and back from there, Sri Aurobindo’s preoccupation seemed to be wholly with what he had come for. He would pay little attention, as it were, to any other thing around him. And yet, I was told, nothing could escape his notice.
During this period I requested Iyengar once or twice to introduce me to Sri Aurobindo. But my requests seemed to carry no weight with him.
Sri Aurobindo’s birthday was drawing near — August 15, 1913. I requested Iyengar once more. I appealed to him to take me to Sri Aurobindo on his birthday. He replied, wonderful to say, in a consenting tone. I felt an immense joy.
On the 15th August Iyengar asked me to come at about 4.30 p.m. I reached there slightly earlier. All the invitees started coming one by one from all sides. By about 5 or 5.15 all of them had arrived. It was probably one hour before sunset. This I surmised by the dimness of the light inside the house.
In the hall of the front portion of the house some twenty or twenty-five banana leaves were laid out on three sides just as it is done during a marriage feast.
As far as I can remember, no sooner was the main gate bolted from within than Sri Aurobindo came into the hall and stood on one side; some one garlanded him with a rose garland; all present clapped their hands and Sri Aurobindo spoke something in English. All this I can recollect but vaguely. This vagueness of memory is due, I suppose, to an overwhelming joy and palpitation in me on that occasion.
All of us sat down before the banana leaves as we do at a collective dinner. I was one of the guests; with eyes full of delight I saw Sri Aurobindo as he stood before each banana leaf, looked at the person seated there, gently passed on to the next and thus to the last person — meanwhile someone walking by his side served various kinds of sweets and other preparations.
In the courtyard a big jar full of water was kept and by its side a small tumbler. We took some refreshments and after washing our hands we gathered together and kept chatting for a short while. In the meantime Sri Aurobindo had gone to the verandah of the middle portion of the house and sat there in a chair kept for him before a table covered with a cloth. Evidently he was waiting for some other item in the programme. By then it had become dark. In each section of the house one or two lighted hurricane-lamps were put up. The guests took leave one by one or by twos and threes and went home.
I kept on waiting, not knowing what to do. As soon as the guests left, Iyengar came and told me that three big persons, namely, Bharati, Srinivasachari, V.V.S. Aiyer, would see Sri Aurobindo to pay their respects to him. If I could wait till they left, there would only be the inmates of the house, five or six, alone with Sri Aurobindo. He had a mind to take me then to Sri Aurobindo. But for that Sri Aurobindo’s permission was required, he said finally. I nodded assent immediately. It might have already struck seven or gone on to seven-fifteen. A fear lurked in me that I would be questioned at home, “Why this delay?” But still I ventured to give my consent.
Iyengar once again asked me, “Do you intend to see Sri Aurobindo with Bharati and others? Or with the inmates?” I could not make out what answer to give. Whether in the midst of Bharati and others or in the midst of the inmates of the house Sri Aurobindo would be the same Sri Aurobindo. I began to revolve in my mind how there could be any difference. A little while, it might be less than a minute, I wavered in mind and replied, “When the inmates are there.” “If so, you must wait for some time,” said Iyengar and left.
I had to wait till 8 p.m. Bharati, Srinivasachari and Aiyer, at the time of going out of Sri Aurobindo’s house, looked closely at me with a view to recognise me. They did not expect me there so late. They at once doubted and wondered if I had become an inmate of Sri Aurobindo’s house. Their faces betrayed this mixed feeling.
At about 8.15 p.m. Iyengar came to me and said: “You may get Sri Aurobindo’s Darshan as you pass before his table. Go with folded hands. But no permission to speak with him. While passing by his right just stand in front, stop awhile, join your hands, silently take leave of him and go home.” Iyengar’s words were imprinted upon my mind.
I was soon called in. I got up and approached Sri Aurobindo’s table. From the ceiling hung a hurricane-lamp that served to dispel the darkness only partially. Going round Sri Aurobindo by way of pradakśhinā I stood in his presence with joined palms and made my obeisance to him. Sri Aurobindo’s eyes, it seemed, burned brighter than the lamp-light for me; as he looked at me, in a trice all gloom vanished from within me, and his image was as it were installed in the sanctum sanctorum of my being. Nothing was very clear to me. I went behind him, stood again in front, offered my homage to him and not knowing whether to stay or go I staggered perplexed. Sri Aurobindo made a gesture with his heavenly hands to one of those who stood there. A sweet was given me once again. I felt within that he had accepted me though I did not quite know it. I left Sri Aurobindo’s house and proceeded towards my own.
When I reached home, it was 9.30 p.m. What happened at home? What trouble befell me? All this is of little importance. Students of my age of that time can easily imagine all the hubbub that took place in my house!
For long my heart had been in a state of suspense thinking that I might or might not attain the goal; my life drifting in distress on the shoreless ocean had somehow come to perceive the light-house. In the midst of gathering despair my being had found a new life and I allowed it full freedom.
On one hand trouble at home; on the other trouble in studies. All this did not touch me to the extent of upsetting me. At times it appeared to me as if no relation existed between anything and me. There was a screen within; all desires known to me and others unknown were outside the screen. Behind the screen there existed incalculable possibilities, innumerable things happened not within the range of my vision. Something non-human, something strange and bodiless had been shaping my being and consciousness. That is how I think now.
I had been familiar with Bharati since 1910 or 1911; I had imbibed from him, without understanding, a distaste for the old and a boundless attraction for the new. When I look at it now even this revaluation — this mere rejection of the past and acceptance of the new — seems to have had its origin not deep within but meant simply a surface attraction. For the real reality was quite different. It was not the old or the new, it was not the snare of the old or the temptation of the new but the opening of something else behind or within or above that gave form to everything and touched me profoundly without my knowing it.
I started now frequenting Sri Aurobindo’s house. My family members knew nothing of it. I became acquainted with one or two of the inmates — mainly Bejoy Kumar. He used to send letters twice or thrice per month by registered post — called Poste Recommandée in French — to Chandernagore. As intimacy with him grew, he began to send letters through me. There was no fixed hour for this work. He used to send me at any time between 12 and 3 p.m. He ordered me not to disclose this posting of letters to anyone.
In Pondicherry there were two types of post-offices in those days: one was French, the other British. The bundle from the French post-office would be carried in a small hand-cart with a French policeman escorting it. The bundle would be secured under a seal. It would then be entrusted to the British head post-office. Nobody was authorised to handle it until it was delivered to the French post-office at Chandernagore. That was why all correspondence of Sri Aurobindo’s house would pass through the French post-office. The duty of posting letters of Sri Aurobindo’s house luckily fell upon me. Now and then, however, the British Secret Police would persuade the French postal authorities or their subordinates, and procure letters addressed to Sri Aurobindo or those coming to V.V.S. Aiyer from Europe, open them and after scrutiny seal them back before handing them over to the postal authorities. At least a strong rumour was current then to this effect.