Chapter 8. Learning English with Sri Aurobindo

I do not quite remember after how many days I next saw Sri Aurobindo. I think it was after ten or fifteen days. The second time also it was Bejoykanta whom I asked as to when I could see Sri Aurobindo. He said he could give a reply only after asking Sri Aurobindo. On the fourth or fifth day, he told me one morning that I could see Sri Aurobindo the same evening. When I requested him to take me to Sri Aurobindo that very evening he thought for a little while and said rather hesitatingly, “All right.” The hesitation was natural because he could not readily consent to my request without having asked Sri Aurobindo first. But, as he had a firm belief that Sri Aurobindo would not say “No”, he replied, “All right.”

That evening as soon as the school was over I hastened to Sri Aurobindo’s house like an arrow flying from the bow. It might be five-fifteen. Bejoykanta was waiting for me. He was in uniform ready to go out for football at Odéonsalé. As I reached there he took me up straight to Sri Aurobindo’s room and without a moment’s delay started for Odéonsalé.

I saw Sri Aurobindo the second time thus:

He was in his room seated in a wooden chair beside a table, writing something in a book, facing west. He moved his book a little, faced south and welcomed us both with a gleam of kindness in his eyes. I looked at him and when after a minute I turned I found Bejoykanta was no longer by my side. He and I alone! None else! Solitude! Seated he kept on looking at me and I too drowned myself in his sacred look.

In those days I could not speak English well. With Bejoykanta I had to talk in English. He struggled to speak Tamil. His knowledge of Tamil was, however, confined to a few words like rice, salt, tamarind, pulse, some names of vegetables. A few verbs in addition such as “come, go, take” he had picked up for his purpose. He employed these for all purposes while instructing the cook to make purchases. I saw him manage other needful things by gestures.

I endeavoured to speak in English with Sri Aurobindo as I used to do with Bejoykanta. At that time even one or two English words that I knew well would get stuck in my throat. With a Herculean effort I could just say:

“I want come daily see you!”

This I struggled to finish with bated breath. I was able at that time to read and understand short stories written in easy English. But I had no habit of speaking English. I could follow others when they spoke simple sentences in it. This reminds me of a small experience at school. A teacher named Mariat was appointed to teach us History and Geography. He was in charge of giving lessons in these two subjects in the Fifth and Sixth Forms. He made it binding on his students to speak only English and with this end in view he gave one of us a small wooden block, about two inches thick, with the following order:

“The one who holds this block of wood should be alert to pass it on to the student who starts speaking Tamil, and he in his turn should pass it to another student indulging in the same habit.”

In this way the habit of speaking some English grew in us. The habit of using English, even if imperfectly, acquired in this way stood me in good stead when I had to express myself to Sri Aurobindo.

He complied with that request of mine for seeing him daily and asked me to come after five in the evening. His compliance filled my heart with joy and I did not know then if I were on earth or in heaven.

From the very next day, I began going straight from school at 5 p.m. to Sri Aurobindo’s house to see him. Before I reached there – a little later than five-fifteen – Sri Aurobindo would come out of his room and sit on the west side of the southern terrace. I used to stand before him and go on talking. I would forget then that I knew little English. Day after day I would tell him fluently and unwaveringly my home-story, etc., trying to make the details as vivid and elaborate as possible. I knew no halt. In his presence my heart would flow out like an undammed flood either out of deep love for him or inspired by his supreme grace. It cast aside all human measures of what ought to be said and what ought not to be said. Today I may venture to call it bhakti. At that time I did not know its name. My heart was full to the brim with the rasa of sweetness.

Every day I talked with Sri Aurobindo from five-thirty to six-thirty and returned home.

I played the role of the speaker. I poured out to him everything without exception. He would hardly ever put in more than a word or two. In this way days passed into weeks, weeks into months. The feeling that, because of this intimacy, his unfailing grace would hasten the change that had already been taking place in me cheered me up. Does ego possess any sight? It is indeed blind. I realised afterwards that his grace was equal, impartial, pure, as constant as an eternal truth.

In a month or two, without my noticing the fact, it became easy for me to speak English. I acquired also a confidence in myself. I got into the habit of speaking English, right or wrong. As its proof, I had only a very few occasions to get the wooden block in the school.

One day almost in playfulness I asked Sri Aurobindo if I could stay with him. It was probably during November or December, 1914. I had practically prepared myself for the Matriculation examination. It was to take place in March 1915. The day of submitting my name and depositing the examination fee drew near.

Instead of giving a direct answer to the above question Sri Auro­bindo simply said he expected it of me to pass the examination and make arrangements for further studies.

I was at my wit’s end. History I had not read attentively. Chemistry seemed to me difficult. Mathematics was quite interesting: I had attained a proficiency in it. In English, though I was fairly strong, I had not reached a high standard. So a doubt that I might not come out successful pinched my heart.

All this apart, I had an opportunity to observe the lives led by the inmates of Sri Aurobindo’s house. I saw no trace of care and worry on anyone’s face. This was a matter of surprise to me. I had worries due to poverty, due to the coming examination, etc. nibbling at my heart. The inmates led a care-free life.

What it was I cannot say but a small thought had taken birth in my heart. This thought had an infinite power — I realised this fact much later. A tree out of a seed!

One day I told Sri Aurobindo in passing that I wanted to practise Yoga and I asked him to show me the way to its practice.

He put me a counter-question, “Do you know what is meant by Yoga?”

I replied, “I don’t know.”

That much only. No further talk about it for a long time.

But whenever I approached Bejoykanta he would without fail raise the subject of Yoga. By Yoga, he would say, one could fly in the air, walk over water, remain free from death, be immune to disease, conquer old age, etc., etc. In addition, he said finally, one could drive away all English feringees from India.

Mention of these miracles, however, gave rise in me to other thoughts, other hopes. By Yoga my family’s poverty would disappear; we would no more feel the pinch of hunger; I could score high marks in the examination; I might procure a good job, etc.

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