Let me, now, describe in short my first Darshan of Sri Aurobindo. My reader can easily imagine how with trembling feet and a heart all aflutter I crossed the threshold of the hall. I had my eyes closed. At the time when I faced the throne, I opened my eyes and had just one glimpse of a face, sky-blue in tint, a shadowy peacock feather on the head. A beautiful benign face, but I could not bear to look at it again. I averted my face and walked away. My one thought, if I had any thought at all at the time, was that I must not break down. A couple of days later, Puraniji, an old sadhak, came to see me and said, “Charu Babu, I asked Sri Aurobindo — ‘How did you find your old friend, Sir?’ — He laughed and replied — ‘Charu would not let me have a look at him.’” It was perfectly true. How could I look him in the face! Thus began my sadhana. Who knows, probably I am still going round and round the starting point! But one thing is quite clear to me. It is that I have received His Grace and that the end is certain.
The very first time that I had the chance I submitted to the Mother that I was absolutely ignorant of things divine and that my sole spiritual observance was the nightly recital of a very short prayer that my own mother had taught me in my infancy. The Divine Mother solemnly looked into my eyes and assured me that my prayers would be guided in future. And guided they have been, steadily and effectively. That earnest look of the Mother was my initiation.
There are one or two tales to relate in this connection. For several years, I had the habit of reading the whole Gita daily, — the kind of reading known as Parayana, where the words and their significance flow side by side spontaneously. But this was a habit cultivated within the last 25 years. During the first decade of this century, when I came within Aurobindo’s orbit, I was a casual Gita student, reading that scripture with the help of the commentaries and thinking out the meaning in the usual way. I never, however, studied it with Aurobindo. He discussed history and politics with me, read poetry and drama to me in many languages, but never attempted to teach me religion or philosophy. As I have mentioned already, he had given some spiritual instruction to a couple of friends in Baroda; but when, one day, I put him one or two questions about sadhana, he put me off summarily by saying, “Not yet”. But, really speaking, he had never been indifferent to my spiritual welfare. He gave me only as much as I was capable of receiving at the time. I understood the mantra “Bande Mataram”. So he tacked me on to the realisation thereof, in Karma. Still, my being was not satisfied, subconsciously it craved for subtler gifts. In 1906, I said one day to him, “You give so many nice things to others. I have a request to make today for myself. Let me have an old copy of the Gita, one that you have handled for some time.” He said nothing at the time but when he came to me again he brought me a very well-thumbed copy of the Gita. He gave it to me very lightly and I took it from him very lightly too. But the real meaning of this giving and taking appeared to me forty years later. When, in 1908, I burnt all his letters and destroyed all books bearing his name, I managed to preserve this Gita, though it has in it some writing in Devanagari. The book is very old and the pages brittle. So we have never touched it except just to do a pranam occasionally. In 1946, one morning, I don’t know why, I said to the Mother, “Ma Mère, Sri Aurobindo gave me a copy of the Gita forty years ago. I want you to keep it.” Next morning I handled the book over to her. Soon after this, there came on a Darshan day. After the ceremony was over, at 5 P.M., Nirod came to our house carrying something inside his scarf. He called out from the gate. “What will you give me, Sir?” I replied, “Anything you desire.” He came forward and put the old Gita in my hand saying solemnly, “I am repeating Sri Aurobindo’s words, Sir — ‘I gave you the Gita in 1906 and asked you to keep it. I give it to you again today and ask you to keep.’” Thus he gave me this priceless book twice — once as my friend, the second time as my Lord and Master, showing clearly that both were the same.
In that remote age, there was another thing, a very subtle thing that Aurobindo gave me. It is still with me, secretly installed in my heart. It was of great use to me at one time; but ever since the Master and the Mother have taken up abode in the recesses of my heart, its work has become secondary. Still there it is, ever ready to help me. Let me explain more clearly. In those days, I had a very strange faculty (not Yogic, because I knew no Yoga). If I sat still absent-mindedly, especially in the dark or half dark, I felt clearly my blood coursing in my veins and arteries and consequently I could count quite easily the beating of my pulse. Still more strange was my power to look inside my thorax and abdomen and see clearly my internal organs — heart, lungs, liver, etc. I had only to concentrate for a little while to be able to do this. Aurobindo knew of this queer faculty of mine, but never encouraged me in any way. One day, in ordinary conversation, I said to him, “Aurobindo, why don’t you give me some nice object on which I can concentrate more easily.” This time he did not say, “Not yet”, to put me off summarily. But he did not give any assurance either. He went back to Baroda in a couple of days. Soon afterwards I had this peculiar experience. It was a dark drizzly evening. I was stretched in my long chair with eyes closed. Suddenly my gaze turned inwards. I visualised not only the inside of my chest but saw clearly inside my heart, seated in Padmasan, an entrancing figure, all made of light, — a Yogi In meditation. The face was beautiful but resembled no face that I had ever known. That luminous image has been with me ever since, and, at all times, I have found it absolutely easy to be concentrated on it. Latterly the face of the image has sometimes got mixed up with the Master’s face, but not often. Aurobindo never admitted that he had given any such image to me. Whenever I questioned him, he replied in an offhand way, “O! That image of yours? I know nothing about it.” Of course, there is no longer any need for speculation. A direct path of approach has been opened up by the Mother in my heart.
It was at this same period that Aurobindo wrote to me once from Baroda, asking me, “When you sit in silent concentration (or absent-mindedly, as you call it), do you see any colours? One colour or many colours?” I replied, “Always one colour, a beautiful rosy light, but, why this question?” There was no reply. When he came to me again. I chaffed him saying, “You had better not let me see anу colour other than blood-red, Chief; otherwise your work is likely to suffer.” He mumbled in a preoccupied way, “My work! True.” Thus we met from time to time and again parted. But he knew always that I was his devoted and faithful friend. For, as I came to realise in 1940, he had never really forsaken me. The parting in 1910 was, for me, indeed hard to bear. The pain of that separation I nursed in my mind for thirty whole years. At the very first opportunity, I laid bare my lacerated heart before the Mother. She asked me in all tenderness, “Do you understand now, why Sri Aurobindo came away here in 1910?” I answered gaily, “Yes, I do, Mother. As soon as I understood it, I ran up to you.” My bark had at last reached its haven and I was indeed happy.
There has been, till very recently, a lot of discussion about the Master’s move from Calcutta to Chandernagore and again, from the latter town to Pondicherry. Some malicious people have been deliberately spreading lies to belittle him and to cast dirt on his character. In this connection I had the great good fortune of receiving a long letter from Sri Aurobindo. He stated clearly therein people did not believe this and continue to put their own interpretation on his movements. The least offensive was what his friend Shyamsundar once said (in imitation of the cowherd of Brindaban) — “My Kanai has gone to Mathura and put on a royal head-gear.”
Let that be. I found my Kanu again in 1940. He was wearing the divine peacock feather on his head. But, as I have stated already, I could cast but one stolen fleeting glance at him, during the first Darshan. In the August Darshan my wife was with me. We gazed at him to our hearts’ content. On the morrow, Purani came to us and said, “Do you know what Sri Aurobindo said yesterday? — ‘This time I had a good look at Charu, and I recognised Lilavati quite easily’.”
I have omitted to relate an experience which I had on my return to Calcutta after the first Darshan. Let me tell the story fully. It may have a subtle meaning. As I saw Sri Aurobindo, that first time, there was a sky-blue radiance about him and he had a peacock feather on his head. I have already mentioned this. Everyone does not see him like this, but I certainly did. And there was a subtle reason for it. In 1937, I was in bed, for several weeks, with severe pain in my knees. When I recovered, a sister-in-law of mine said to me, “Brother, during your illness, I made a vow to my Govindaji, that you would after recovery put a Bakul garland round his neck twice a year — on Dol Purnima and Ras Purnima. Have I acted wrongly?” I said with some hesitation, “You should have taken my permission first, sister. But never mind. I shall fulfil your vow in your name.” Accordingly, I garlanded the deity several times on the specific days. To my knowledge, I did it mechanically without even bowing down to the image. But who knows what was happening subconsciously! In another way, too, I was in close touch with the image of the divine Flute-Player. At that period, for some years, I used to paint Dhyan images of our Gods and Goddess, in the Indian way. I never got to be good at it, but I pursued the art very diligently. My favourite subject was Krishna the flute-player, and I had done over twenty-five pictures of Him. All this might have something to do with my first view of Sri Aurobindo in February, 1940. My understanding is too crude to account for it. But what happened a few days later cannot, by any means, be called an affair of the mind. My nephew received me at Howrah on my return from Pondicherry in March and took me straight on to their shrine of Govindaji, saying that it was Dol Purnima day and I had to garland the Deity. As usual, I approached Govindaji with the garland of bakul. But it was no earthen image that I saw this time. Govinda opened his eyes with a gentle smile, and looked at me, exactly as Sri Aurobindo had done at Pondicherry. The resemblance was truly striking! I took two handfuls of the festive red powder and smeared his cheeks saying “If this is what you willed to do, why did you make me wait so long!” There was a crowd of devotees present who shouted out “Jai Govindaji”. I did not, however, continue garlanding our household deity for long. My sister, the devotee of the God, gave me my release a year later, saying, “You have now got your own Govindaji, Dada!”
And, truly, Govinda had become mine definitely. There is no doubt about it. The beautiful face of the blue boy of Brindaban, with his bewitching smile, is ever present in my heart. I am not a learned man; in all probability I am not even a true lover of learning; the God of wisdom is, to me, a distant divinity. But the charmer of my heart I know and understand, by the very force of my love. I cannot resist the temptation of recounting a rather childish tale. It was not long ago. On the morrow of our Darshan, while receiving the flower garland from the Mother, I said to her, “My Mother, how beautiful Sri Aurobindo was yesterday!” The Mother replied with a benign smile, “Wasn’t he magnificent (magnifique)?” Something prompted me to say, “Not magnificent, Mother! He was charming (charmant).” Later on, when I heard that the Mother had repeated this bit of childishness to the Master, my heart was full. I felt as if my tribute of tender love had reached Him.
Let me tell one or two very short tales about a sadhak’s contact with his Master. I have already recounted how I smeared Govindaji’s image with the festive red powder in Calcutta. Subsequently, I was, once, seized with a keen desire to put some red Abir on the feet of my living Govinda. How could it be done? We discussed the question again and again at home. At last, when the day of the festival arrived, my wife solved the problem by going straight up to the Mother and laying our earnest desire at her feet. The Gracious Mother agreed at once to put some red Abir, on the Master’s feet, on our behalf. Next morning she gave us the powder sanctified by the touch of His feet.
The other story also indicates the Mother’s great compassion. In those days I had been, for some years, in the habit of turning the rosary, while meditating on the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. One morning, I said to the former on the staircase, “My Mother, I am in the habit of turning my rosary daily. May I bring it up tomorrow and place it at your feet? I am very keen on it.” Needless to say, I got her permission immediately. Next morning, as I touched her feet with the rosary, I was prompted to say, “Mother, is it possible to place this rosary at Sri Aurobindo’s feet?” The Mother smiled benignly and replied, “Why not? Give it to me. I shall do it today.” On the morrow, I got my rosary back. The Mother said, “I told Sri Aurobindo that it was yours.” I was in raptures.
During these last few years, when, like so many others, the only glimpse I had of him was for five or six seconds at Darshan time, the heart was ever thirsty for closer contact with him. I shall not recount here, my visions of him in sleep and in meditation. Many of these I have brought to the Mother’s notice, from time to time, and that has given me intense satisfaction. But I have had contact with the Master in my waking moments too. Of a few of these, I shall tell my readers here. Contact with a Divine personality does not occur through the eyes alone. The ears play a very important part, at times. For several months, I, along with a few others, used to sit at the head of the main staircase, early every morning, to receive the Mother’s blessings. Almost invariably we used to hear the Master doing his exercises in bed and felt his presence almost tangibly. Then, when he came to stay in the Darshan hall for a few weeks, we could sometimes hear from downstairs, a gentle cough or a word uttered, now and then, during Nirod’s perusal of the papers. Also, sometimes, standing in Amrita’s room, I would hear the Master’s footsteps as he walked upstairs. All these were invaluable experiences in the path of Yoga. But, one particular experience which I had some three years ago, is well worth recounting. I was having an afternoon nap one day when, all of a sudden, feeling a tremendous upheaval of some sort inside me, I sat up in bed, bathed in perspiration. Five minutes later, I went into the next room and stretched myself in a long chair still feeling rather dazed. Dr. Nirod appeared unexpectedly and said that the Master had sent him to ask me a particular question. The question was very unimportant, and yet such as could be answered by me alone in this place. I asked Nirod when Sri Aurobindo had given him the mandate. He replied, “Just about a quarter of an hour ago.” It was, then, at that precise moment that I had felt such a tremendous tug inside. My response to the Master’s recollection of me!
I have said already that Sri Aurobindo wrote a letter to me on the subject of his visit to Chandernagore. He had said to Purani the evening before, “I have got to write to Charu tomorrow morning; remind me of it, Purani.” Again, at midnight, he called out to Purani from his bed, “I have to write to Charu early in the morning, don’t forget.” Before I left for Calcutta the next day, I received the letter from Nolini Babu. After thirty-five years, a letter in his handwriting came to my hand. It thrilled me. But he, too, as Purani told me in the morning, was thinking of the letter, the previous evening, off and on. Herein lies the infinite Mercy of the Divine towards his humble devotee.
[Reprinted from “Sri Aurobindo Circle”, Eighth Number, 1952. Art Works: Ritam Upadhyay, Ratlam.]