Man proud of his intelligence, a thinker who is able, so he imagines, to fashion and mould his life even before it unfolds, can hardly recognise the hidden Hand that infallibly guides his life from behind the veil to fulfil the destiny he is born into. Only a rare few are chosen to whom the secret of human destiny is revealed and, perhaps a small number gather around the few, urged by an inner yet vague prompting within them to discover, if they can, why they are on earth and to what purpose. The former are the Gurus and the latter the disciple-seekers. The destiny of man, as the seers from ages past have told humanity, is to fulfil the mandate it has been charged with. Over the millennia gone by, from epoch to epoch, have come the chosen of the Supreme Master to blaze the trail for mankind to choose to tread, or else, to disappear from the earthly stage.
Thus mental man preoccupied with something that lies behind the appearances, which must be discovered, forges forward or upward to find the Reality, penetrating and pervading all. This preoccupation may come to one at an early age or much later in life. The signal for the seeking, when it comes, is the sure indication of the all-compassionate Grace from Above selecting an instrument.
To a young lad of nine, the Hand hidden behind the veil touched him one evening, while listening to a song sung by Rabindranath himself, in their house. The song meant something else, but a chord in the young heart throbbed awakening him to something inside. The song he mistranslated into this: “Who has robbed sleep from my eyes during the entire night? — is it the blue Hari, the Lord of the universe?” There was, however, in truth no mention of the Lord in the song, but he cherished within his heart for many years the meaning he had stumbled upon that never to be forgotten evening. That was the beginning of his quest.
The sign that the touch of the Supreme had come to him again was there when he wrote in his sister’s autograph book, “To realise God is the only complete happiness for man”. It was long after, when he was maturer in age and in his quest, that he was struck by his childhood remarks realising how at that early age the Master had laid his infallible finger on him.
His life progressed like any other youngster’s coming from a decent and fairly well-to-do family, a family ancient and well-known and respected in the region. It was ever dinned into his ears that to be a respected member of the family was to succeed in life, that is, to pass his examinations well so that he may come by a reputation as a worthy man in society. If he could amass a fortune through his profession, so much the better, if not, his paternal heritage would see to it that he did not starve. In spite of all such remarks that came to his ears, deep within him he knew that all that was not for him. Though he knew, still rather vaguely, what he must do, yet he guarded his secret urge within himself and never let any one of his family even remotely guess it, for he was sure that one and all, the elders and the younger members too, would find him an easy target for their shafts of ridicule. Nevertheless, as he grew up, discerning eyes detected something in him different from the other young boys of the family and of the circle of friends. Yet no loophole was visible in his armour. He was ever one of the first three boys at school, in studies as well as in games, excelling at both. In him was born also a great love for open-air life in forest and field as his father was a renowned shikari of India, who fostered the boy’s leaning. The young boy’s proficiency at marksmanship was deservedly applauded when at the young age of fourteen he distinguished himself in shooting tigers, a bison, bears and leopards and other big game. But few realised his distaste in shooting animals, much less did any one guess that the hunting expeditions afforded him the opportunity to be, at least for short spells, far away from the noises and nuisances of city life. His dislike for killing animals was evident when he would often allow game to escape unmolested; — once while tracking bison he came upon a herd of about a dozen of these animals that included a huge male, worthy to be a cherished trophy of the most discerning hunter; for nearly an hour or more he watched the herd moving all around him without their detecting him; silent and still as a statue he remained till the herd moved away, as he did too, to rejoin the other members of the party, who, when they heard of his experience, roundly scolded him for not bagging the big male. His remark, “they were too beautiful to be shot” found no favourable comment from the others. Perhaps it was since that day he shot no other big game, although he yet continued to join shikar trips; the hills and dales, forests and fields, where strange and beautiful sunsets and sunrises, the moon’s soothing rays, all contributed to his inner delectation and growth. Days and nights brought him, even from the most commonplace reactions like the play of light and shade and other ordinary external touches a perennial pleasure evoking corresponding responses in his inner experiences. His father, while they were in the jungles, contributed a great deal to his education in helping him to read and recognise the intention of animals, dangerous and others, in discerning their thoughts in their eyes and their movements. This training was of immense value and help in his later life, as it enabled him to read a fellow being’s thoughts and to get an idea of his character. In this he was very seldom at fault.
As his college days came to an end he was packed off to Europe at short notice to become an engineer, the profession chosen for him by his parents without much thought about his bent and predilections, for in those days it was not considered necessary at all.
The years of his sojourn abroad rolled on as was planned. In those four years he learnt much besides his regular studies; in fact, he gained an insight into the European mind and culture and the accomplishments of the Western peoples. Music of the West, at the beginning seemingly so harsh and loud, gradually yielded the inner spirit of cadences and refinement as his ear became accustomed to detect them hidden behind the outer profusion of mathematical intricacies. It was the same with the other forms of art — painting, sculpture, etc.
The last fifteen months of his stay he earned his living through his professional work. It was in England, where it was not difficult in those days for an Indian to find work, at least for one willing to work. The last twelve months he worked in Lincolnshire, where he found, as was his wont, lodgings at a farm a couple of miles outside the town of Lincoln. The farm house commanded a grand view of the Lincoln Cathedral across the stretch of ‘fen’. The work was exacting but not too strenuous to prevent him from indulging on week-ends in his favourite games and he soon became known to the sporting circles there for his competence and sportsmanship. Here, too, the hidden Hand unbeknownst to him was guiding his steps to protect him from pitfalls of various kinds, ever a sharp warning came to his consciousness to step warily.
In summer, so far North in England, the sky becomes bright very early. Dawn with her argent feet appears at about three in the morning. Accustomed as he had always been from his boyhood days to wake up even before morning was advanced, he did not know what to do with the time in hand as none in the farm house stirred before seven o’clock. Thus, to while away, as it were, the time, he found a copy of the Gita while rummaging among his books, and began reading it in those early hours, hours so conducive to concentrated reading; days passed in this pursuit of reading at his window and watching the Cathedral, till one day a clear command came from somewhere he knew nothing about, a gentle but firm voice told him, “Why linger here any longer, go home.” The more he turned it in his mind, the command he had received, the more insistent it became, so that in the end he wrote to the firm he worked with to release him as he was urgently in need of going home on pressing matters. The release was soon granted and within a week he turned his steps homeward.
Back home he directed his steps towards his boyhood love — the forests. Once again the solitude he missed for so many years was his. One day while waiting to go out, sitting close to the fringe of a dense jungle, all of a sudden he found the entire forest of trees, shrubs and the few persons moving about, including himself were all merged in a vibrating dance of life, everything was a-throb with an inner pulsation that filled his heart with a joy he had never tasted before. Outwardly all was calm and serene but within was this exquisite dance of the Spirit of Life in all, it seemed to him. Within a few days another striking experience came to him: as he was walking alone, by and by he came to a small hill, a sudden impulse made him climb to the top. It was just before sunset and as he sat on the top and looked at the sun, the surroundings seemed to be blotted out and he saw only the setting sun. As he kept gazing on it there came out of the sun millions of suns and they all rushed towards him entering into his heart in an unending stream. Gradually the sun did set and the stream of suns too stopped flowing into his heart. He was surprised, never realising if the experience meant anything. Later, however, when he recounted the experience to Sri Aurobindo, his Guru, it was explained to him thus: “The Sun represents the Divine Truth, the same Truth in infinite form resides in the heart of man. Man in his heart has to find the infinite Truth hidden there. It is a clear indication to the seeker of the Truth.”
These two striking experiences and quite a number of minor ones gave rise in him the resolve to follow the life of an inner quest.
Pater familias were all very anxious about his taking a berth in a reputable firm and that as soon as possible. He, however, was determined to tread another avenue — the spiritual path. Once again the Supreme Master took a hand, although it may sound somewhat heartless to mention, in removing the only person who could have checked his heart’s bent — his father died suddenly in an accident. This happened within five months after his coming home from abroad.
Then as soon as the family affairs were settled, he began journeying from one religious centre to another — Dakshineshwar, Benaras and others. The urge became stronger and stronger but nowhere would his heart consent to stay, for he felt the chosen haven still eluding him. This went on for about three years, till one day he learnt that his cousin D. was coming on a visit to his home town. D. had left his home nine years ago, and was residing at Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, having taken up a life of Yoga. Even from his childhood he was greatly attached to D. admiring him very much for all his remarkable gifts.
That visit of D.’s lasted for five months and nearly every day from early morning to late at night he was constantly with D. gleaning out of him all about the life in the Ashram. A study of books by Sri Aurobindo began, heaping wonder upon wonder as he read, not only flooding his mind but his heart too, which began to stir and respond to the light of discovery rendering him very happy indeed. It seemed to him at that time a wonder why he had missed reading Sri Aurobindo’s books so far. Probably the hour had not yet struck, the striking being as ever in the hands of Him who decides all.
Since that meeting with D. it took him a year to settle his affairs, professional and familial as well. Leaving everything in his mother’s care and with her sanction, he started on his journey southwards for Sri Aurobindo Ashram. As the train was rushing forward even then he did not know if at last the haven his heart was so eagerly looking for, was at last found.
All that has been said till now is only to show the hidden Hand behind the puppet play. The puppet play was understood much later in retrospect. That the Grace was hovering over someone of the Infinite’s choice was not yet quite plain. Still, has it not been said, “One who chooses the Infinite has been chosen by the Infinite.” The choice may startle the world, no less startlingly may it come to the recipient.
On the 14th of August 1938, he reached Pondicherry, that is Sri Aurobindo Ashram. As the car coming through the market area entered the north-eastern part of the town, where the Ashram main building and other houses belonging to the Ashram were located, it strangely struck him that he had known this locality all his life — everything seemed so familiar, even the inmates he met seemed old friends. There was a cosy feeling as if one had come home at last after many, many years of absence.
The same evening he was led by D. to a first floor hall in the portion of the building where Sri Aurobindo lived, to the Mother’s presence. She was distributing leafy garlands to all, including those who had come for Darshan. The leaf, he was told, signified, “New Birth”. The very sight of the Mother and her wonderfully superb smile made him forget everything around him — a feeling of returning to his infancy, as a child to its mother, spread over him. Leaving the Mother’s presence he returned to where he was lodged, clutching the garland. There were a few sadhaks and sadhikas assembled speaking to him, as he knew some of them from before, but he was too indrawn to answer them adequately. As it was the eve of the Darshan of 15th August, Sri Aurobindo’s birthday, an atmosphere of expectancy of an event of paramount importance was poignantly felt by all and as such his somewhat inattentive condition passed unnoticed.
The morning of the 15th August came and the Ashram was steeped in a wakeful silence, the atmosphere prevailing there was solemn yet joyful. Along with D. he came to the Darshan. In the hall below he found his name in the list after D. timed at 8 a.m. He shared the expectancy and eagerness of all there and it seemed to him that all his roving, in search of the haven of his choice, was at an end. As he mounted the stairs and turned into the hall of the previous evening he saw at the end a small room and there seated on a couch he had the first glimpse of Sri Aurobindo, dressed in a silken dhoti with a chadar of the same material draped over his left shoulder leaving the right shoulder and much of the massive chest bare, as if one had tried in vain to hide the golden hue of his body with a flimsy veil. A supremely benignant smile was hovering over his lips and his eyes too were smiling, the smile trying in vain to hide the depth in them. As he came further forward he saw the Mother at Sri Aurobindo’s right, a superb smile of welcome was on her face, as if in a moment she would be too glad to gather up in her arms her children come to worship her and the Master as well. Soon his turn to approach them came — it had been dinned into his ears that his first obeisance should be to the Mother and then to Sri Aurobindo. Gladly and joyfully his head lowered at the beautiful feet of the Mother, — feet like white lotuses, sans pareil, were they, — and he felt a gentle touch as if reassuring him that to bow down next to the Master would not be much of an ordeal. Then he turned to look straight into the eyes of the Master, with a mixed feeling of joy and reverence he placed his head on the feet of the Lord, beautiful and soft they were and his whole face sank into the very softness. Then a hand of great weight pressed his head deeper still into that softness. Lingering there for a while, a short while, he raised his head and once more looked into his eyes. What he saw there words cannot describe, even an infinitesimal part of it — the entire universe was there, his universe.
Arrived at his lodgings he locked himself up in a small cubicle used as a dressing room, for several hours, in a state of total withdrawal from all external touches, although he was neither asleep nor in an all-oblivious trance. He was awake only within himself; soon on the screen of his mind words began to project themselves, curious, he took them down on a piece of paper, still more curiously a complete poem took shape in his mother tongue. The poem dealt with the dulcet singing of a lark listening to a far-off cadence, exquisitely sweet. This was the very first poem he had ever written. On being shown to D. he was all-praise and sent it to Sri Aurobindo for his comments on it, who remarked that as a first attempt it showed a turn of mind for poetry.
From that day, 15th August 1938, a new orientation of his life came into play — a swift and decisive change. His heart was aware that his haven was at last found.
After about three or four days, following the regular routine of the Ashram, he wrote a letter to the Mother offering himself to her and Sri Aurobindo, praying to be admitted as a sadhak in the Ashram to pursue the path of Yoga as laid down by her and Sri Aurobindo.
The usual practice when writing to the Mother, he was told, was, and perhaps it still is, to place the letter on a small tray kept at the top of the staircase that led to her and Sri Aurobindo’s room, in front of the door. It was perhaps an omen that coming up the stairs, as he was on the point of placing the letter on the tray, the door suddenly opened; looking up, he saw the Mother standing on the threshold with her right hand stretched forward for the letter, which was given to her at once. Her appearance there was so unexpected that he forgot to do his customary Pranams to her. When he recalled it, the door had already closed behind her — before withdrawing, however, she was all the time flooding him with her fascinating smile.
In the profundity of his heart the certitude that he would be accepted was there. The mind, however, was not fully reassured as is its wont, frolicking between opposites. All, however, was set at rest by the Mother’s answer received the next morning. The Mother said that she had read the letter to Sri Aurobindo and they accepted him as a resident sadhak.
It was thus that the young lad who was awakened by an unexpected touch of Grace from Above, found the same Grace bestowed on him and very concretely indeed by the supremely benevolent touch and compassionate blessings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.
Since that day many years have gone by as he trod and is still treading the path, which is unending, resolved to go through, cost what it may, certain of reaching the goal today, tomorrow or perhaps after many lives, whenever the Master would choose to crown his efforts, if at all they were his. His days at the Ashram are wonderfully joyful, merged in the atmosphere pervading there; grateful, eternally grateful, from the very bottom of his heart for the benedictions showered on him by the all-compassionate Gurus, the Mother and Sri Aurobindo — to him the Supreme incarnated in a dual form.