Many times in the past as well as recently some serious physical problems have affected a few of the older sadhaks, making me wonder what the occult reason for this might be. Material science would scoff at such a concern. But, in the Ashram, spiritual science must take the occult into account, particularly when it is a question of sadhaks who enjoy a fair measure of divine protection.
A case in point is that of K.D. Sethna (Amal Kiran), the editor of Mother India. He himself has written of his experience, describing it so lucidly that I need only touch upon it. He tells he had fallen so many times in his life that he had become used to it. But none of his falls was such a grave and unusual nature as his latest one. Being such as might have been nearly fatal because of possible arterial damage, it confined him for months to a hospital bed and then to a wheelchair most of the time.
The second case is my own. It has not been as serious as Sethna’s. But because my condition has occurred at a very advanced age and in a most unexpected manner, I cannot help pondering on the inner forces involved. After all, we are all aware of the definite occult factor in the fracture of Sri Aurobindo’s right thigh-bone. Years ago in a different context, he wrote to me that when the Force started working in the subconscient, no one could predict what the consequences would be among the sadhaks. He meant spiritual consequences, but the turmoil and disturbances one sees in the world would indicate that the physical effects would be no less serious. It would have to be so if the Force were to clear up all the past karmic accumulation in the subconscient of mankind so that a new creation could be built up. I will not probe further into this misty occult domain.
Returning to my own case. I find that the events leading to my operation make a story worth recording. The decision to perform a prostate operation was not a simple or straightforward one. It came about so suddenly that it surprised everyone. Ashramites had been under the impression that I enjoyed excellent health. For years, I had been riding around on a bicycle, and exercising regularly in the playground, even though I was on the way to being a nonagenarian. I did not bother to listen when some friends warned me about cycling, in the hectic traffic that now prevails throughout the town. Despite quite a few falls, I still persisted in cycling because each time I fell I escaped with a few scratches.
No wonder the news of my impending operation came to everyone as a bolt from the blue. There were those who advised me not to undertake the risk, but to rely on the Mother’s Grace instead. I myself was averse to drastic surgery particularly as I was aware of the Mother’s views. According to her, surgery was an act of violence that deranged the whole system psychologically as well physically. Bearing this in mind, I tried first to avoid, then postpone the operation by taking homeopathic and ayurvedic drugs. All this while, so far as I could see, I had no urgent symptoms calling for surgical intervention.
Looking back, it is interesting to note how the first seemingly insignificant symptom appeared when I was serving Sri Aurobindo over forty years ago. He had developed a minor eye ailment, and the Mother had asked me to wash his eyes in a simple boric lotion at night. Once while I was doing this, I suddenly felt a pressure to urinate. I called Champaklal to hold the eye-cup, and ran out of the room in precipitate hurry. So abrupt was my departure that it seemed Sri Aurobindo asked Champaklal what was wrong. Thus started the first traces of my incipient prostate trouble. Yet the problem was of such a minor nature that it did not interfere with my service to Sri Aurobindo.
Even after his passing, I was fairly free from the aggravating symptoms that overtake many patients. Nevertheless, I consulted my senior colleague and eminent surgeon who had treated Sri Aurobindo: Dr. Sanyal. After examining he pronounced that my prostate was palpably enlarged, but that it was in such a position that it was not likely to cause me much trouble. Thus assured, I went on merrily with my normal life untroubled by any discomfort except the need for immediate relief when I felt any pressure on my bladder.
Only recently some new symptoms drew my attention to the malady though I could not assess their significance. My medical knowledge was inadequate for such a diagnosis; but I did know that the well-known scourge of old age had caught up with me. I now asked Esha to pray to Sri Aurobindo to rid me of the problem or, if that was not possible, to at least save me from cancer of the prostate a not so rare complication in cases such as mine.
Sri Aurobindo answered with his usual taunting humour that the next time I would ask him to protect me from the onset of leprosy. I had on other occasions in the past requested Esha to ask Sri Aurobindo about my physical troubles, as she was so closely in touch with him. For instance, last year when she asked him about my need for a cataract operation he replied, “I wish I had known about it earlier, because I could have prevented it. However, it is a simple operation, and he need not be afraid.” Then during the operation I actually saw him sitting in a chair in the room, watching the show. Afterwards, when my other eye began to be affected, I appealed to him again, but this time he gave an entirely different answer. He said that, if he intervened and tried to cure, it might produce harmful effects on other organs in the body. (Here some sceptics may ask, “if, as we have heard, Sri Aurobindo was always so concerned about you, how is it that he did not know about your physical problems without having to be told?” I must admit this is a puzzle, but I am reminded of his reply to my suggestion that he should develop some medical knowledge, and so dispense with human help in the medical sphere. He replied that he had no latent medico in him, and had no time or need to develop one.)
To return to my recent problem: my symptoms in the beginning were of a nuisance than anything else. About a year ago. I noticed that I was wetting my bed at night. I used to empty my bladder before retiring, but the incontinence would occur all the same, though intermittently. It would even happen during the day while I was meditating. But the night incontinence was more trouble — some because I was sleeping in Sri Aurobindo’s room and was afraid of spoiling the carpet.
I now had no choice but to consult an experienced doctor, a good friend of mine. He examined me and found that my bladder was enlarged due to unsuspected retention of urine. This was what was causing the overflow at night. He recommended an ayurvedic drug he had found very helpful in other prostate cases. But when I tried it it did not do much good, and I turned to some homoeopathic doctors I knew. But their medication was only slightly more effective.
Somewhat alarmed, I went to a well-qualified surgeon, who was able to diagnose my condition precisely. He told me that my bladder had become distended due to an obstruction of urine-flow from the enlarged prostate. After further investigation and testing, he advised that I go through with the operation. Now I got a bit scared, for though this procedure had lost all its previous seriousness owing to advances in surgical technique, I still shied away from hospitalisation and all the inconvenience it would entail. For a man who had a long and active life, being confined to bed for an indefinite period seemed disagreeable.
So once again I took Esha’s help and asked her to appeal to the Guru for his intervention. The Guru gave his verdict in favour of an operation, and observed that otherwise I might lose the use of my legs. In spite of this unhappy prognosis, I could still not persuade myself to take his advice. I felt I had not given homoeopathy a fair trial.
Meanwhile, my doctor was already planning to send me to Madras where he knew a leading surgeon. But I did not favour the idea, and much preferred to be operated upon in Jipmer, if an operation turned out to be the only recourse; for the doctor who would perform the surgery, we came to know that there was a very good young surgeon in attendance at Jipmer — though not as experienced as the Madras specialist — but that he was on leave. In this event I was directed to another Jipmer surgeon for his opinion. He confirmed the diagnosis, but advised that scanning be done before taking a final decision regarding an operation.
When the scan was completed, it revealed quite an enlarged prostate and bladder so distended that it occupied almost half of the lower abdomen, and a fair amount of residual urine. It was indeed quite a serious picture indicating as early an operation as possible.
In spite of everything, I continued to be hesitant, even though I knew a friend of mine who had his prostate removed about two years ago by eminent surgeon and was discharged from hospital in a few days.
On the other hand, I recalled the case of another close friend with a sudden prostate obstruction. In his case, Dr. Sanyal advised an immediate operation. The patient referred his case to the Mother and affirmed that he would abide by her decision as he was a strong believer in her power. She advised him against any surgical intervention, and told him he would be protected if he had unshaken faith in the divine power.
I thus found myself in a dilemma. On one side, Sri Aurobindo had given his clear verdict and on the other the Mother had been known to oppose any surgical interference with the body. I had no alternative but to refer my problem again to the Guru. But this time his reply was enigmatic. He said that he would concur with whatever I decided.
SRI AUROBINDO’S communication through Esha that he would concur with whatever I decided about my operation, threw me into perplexity. The only solace I could draw from his message was that whatever I did, even though wrong, he would ultimately take the responsibility for it.
As I mentioned previously, I started by trying homoeopathy, but upon finding that the treatment of even eminent homoeopaths had no effect in my case, I resorted once again to the surgical alternative.
Meanwhile, Esha became so concerned about me that she began praying fervently to Sri Aurobindo at the Samadhi to cure me. She saw two or three visions in response to her prayers in which the Samadhi became full of light. On another occasion, she saw me sitting beside the Mother, in deep meditation. These visions brought her some consolation.
Now that I had finally settled upon an operation, I was admitted to Jipmer. The two surgeons in attendance began by informing me that they could not do anything until my greatly distended bladder had been drained by catheter. The catheter was duly inserted, and I remained in the hospital for the next week, in which time my bladder did indeed regain its normal size. I was now finally ready for the operation. In the early hours of the appointed morning, a young sadhak who was attending on me saw in his dream that Sri Aurobindo had come to my room, accompanied by Champaklal who approached me and with the gesture of his hands was advising me to remain quiet. The doctors gave me a local anaesthetic as well as sleeping pills, and told me that they would decide on their course of action in the operation theatre. The problem of the prostate could be dealt with either by a conventional operation, or by the modern method of intraurethral entry. It was the latter that they finally adopted. The operation took about one hour and a half and was disturbed by hiccoughs on my part.
When I was brought back to my room the day after, from intensive саге, I was told that the operation was over. I could hardly believe it, because I had neither known nor felt anything of what had been done to me. I was just the same normal Nirod I had been two days before with the minor difference that I now had a catheter attached to my bladder. The whole process had been completely smooth and trouble-free. The prostate was found to be very big indeed, but the surgeon managed to remove it without any complication. He was highly appreciated for his skill by the other doctors. Now all that remained to be seen was how long I would have to stay in the hospital. This would depend on how quickly my bladder regained its normal state after its long period of distension. The possible consequences of my advanced age along with my long neglected condition would also have to be kept under observation, though fortunately my other organs were quite healthy.
I now had to learn to be patient, in addition to being a good patient. But this task was greatly lightened by a team of young friends who attended on me day and night and brought a plentiful supply of nourishing food, so that I quickly found that the time did not weigh on me at all. In addition visitors and friends began to pour in, all adding to my inner jollity, and I don’t know how, but my mind remained unusually calm throughout this period of waiting. I enjoyed my daily reading of Savitri. Another of my pleasures was in walking around the campus. In the early mornings and late evenings, I took promenades along the lovely avenues lined and hedged by trees, and delighted in the various songs and cries of birds, among which my favourite was the call of the koel.
The friends were surprised to see me quite fresh and smiling. The sisters and nurses seemed to have observed that I was a very good patient, always smiling and giving them no trouble. Esha when she came to visit me was much relieved and pleased to see me so cheerful. Sri Aurobindo seems to have told her that he had taken away all my pain, that I would be all right but it would take some time and I had to be very careful in every way.
WHILE I was in the hospital, the nurses were very pleased with me. They began to shower compliments on me for my good behaviour and cheerful temperament. From my side, I was just as pleased with the gentle and smiling way in which they took care of me. I used to call one of them the Kanyakumari nurse because she came from Kanyakumari.
Even my friends were surprised to find me so bright and free of pain. In fact, I learned that Sri Aurobindo had told Esha he had removed all my pain.
Nevertheless, after a week or so, the doctors’ examination revealed that my bladder had still not regained its normal tone. It was not voiding itself completely and so I would have to keep the catheter for a longer period. Now I had no other alternative but to submit to further hospitalisation. I was not prepared for this new turn of events. I had enjoyed perfect health till this illness and had carried on my daily life in the best of spirits. Then suddenly all that had changed. What a reversal it was of my expectation that a prostate operation nowadays was a matter of a mere two weeks, as I had been given to understand!
The hospital routine resumed as before, with two assistant doctors paying me regular morning visits and cheering me up with their warm smiles. They still found me quite sportive. My Ashram attendants too were angels and made me feel as though I was at home still. Esha on her part used to pray fervently to Sri Aurobindo that my catheter should be removed so that I could go back to the Ashram. He answered that though he could get it done, it would harm my recovery. He assured her that eventually I would be cured and that she should not be impatient.
It turned out that mine was not a simple case, I was farther warned that even after the removal of the catheter I would have to be very careful, so that no complications might develop due to my age and prostatic abnormality. All these problems had resulted from my having waited too long; and now my ignorance could not save me from the consequences of my neglect. Fire burns your hand; ignorance of this fact does not save you. Such was the burden of the Guru’s argument. Doubtless I could have picked some holes in it, but since he was out of reach I had to submit calmly to my situation.
After about a week, however, I was discharged from the hospital, with the catheter in place, as they could do nothing further for me by keeping me there. (I attended the April Darshan.) I was to come back a week later for a check-up.
Then the time came, I duly presented myself for examination. A junior doctor examined me and did not find sufficient improvement in my condition. But when the surgeon arrived, he examined me and removed the catheter and made me drink plenty of water. Then he said he would return after a few hours during which time I should try to urinate normally. I made frequent attempts without success at the start, and began to pace up and down the room. Finally after about two hours, the bladder was able to eject a thin streak of urine. When the doctor came and heard about it, he told me it was all right, and that I could go home. If I drank a lot of water my bladder should begin to function normally. He assured me that everything would be all right.
I did as I was told. My surgeon was due to leave for America the next morning. I was happy that my catheter life was over, and that I could once again move about freely in the Ashram. I had no inkling whatever of the dark catastrophe that was waiting for me, which reminded me later of a verse in Savitri: “O soul, it is too early to rejoice.”
Meanwhile my friends and acquaintances were glad to see me back, well and active without the catheter appendage. Now my bladder began to function hourly, though the flow was still small, and in the evening I went to the Playground for meditation. Later that night till about 10 p.m. I passed small quantities of urine three or four times. Then all at once the pressure on my bladder increased. It tried to empty itself more frequently — every half hour or so — but found that it could do so only with great difficulty. Something seemed to be blocking the flow, and I began to feel acute distress. Now I discovered to my consternation that there was blood in the urine. Thoroughly alarmed, I tried to calm myself. It was now 11.00 p.m., and all had gone to bed and I did not want to disturb them. I was living in the Ashram compound which was kept locked from within. As my situation began to worsen I woke up an Ashramite and phoned the Ashram doctor. But he could give me no comfort. He only told me that it couldn’t be helped, and that I would have to endure the pain and distress. He would come at six in the morning and have me taken to the Nursing Home.
Now my trial truly began. From eleven p.m. to six a.m., I went through hell. I had never had such a harrowing experience in my life. I had to void urine every half hour under great pressure and paroxysmal pain. As I went on passing bloody urine, I was crying in agony and praying desperately to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. There were even moments when I thought I would collapse and pass away. I had to exert my will to bear the crisis. At about three or four a.m. I couldn’t bear it any more and sent word to Sudha, one of my intimate friends and assistants, regarding my pathetic condition. She was living outside the Ashram. She came in the early morning to ease my suffering, but by then the gravity of the crisis had passed. The urine flow was now less obstructed, and I had just fallen asleep out of sheer exhaustion. The doctor too came at six a.m. as he had promised and said that he had informed the surgeon about my condition. The surgeon had replied that what had happened to me was a possibility to be expected, and his assistant would come in the afternoon to do what was required. I informed Esha and asked her to pray to the Guru.
I was removed to the Nursing Home. When the surgeon’s assistant came later in the evening, he explained that blood clots must have obstructed the passage, and the bladder as it tried to void itself could not push them out. It was this that had caused my distress. The presence of blood showed that there was a haemorrhage in the bladder, which had caused the clots. The bladder, distended as it was, lacked the force to clear the passage. He washed the bladder and did whatever was needed. Then he said that it was best to replace the catheter for some time and that he would visit me after a week.
Catheter or no catheter, the fact that I had come out of one of the worst nightmares of my life could not but be due to the palpable intervention of the Grace. But why the nightmare at all? Only my Guru can say if he wants to.
According to the doctor’s instructions, I had to continue my “catheter life” for some time longer till the bladder regained its normal tone. It was not a happy life by any means, though I was free from any physical complaints. My movements were restricted. I had to walk about carrying a bag concealed under my clothes. For an active man like me this was a severe punishment. I kept wondering how long I had to endure such a cumbersome existence, when all the other parts of my body were crying out for a healthy vigorous life. Sri Aurobindo had said that I must be patient.
Then one day, early in the morning, I had a curious dream. I saw Sri Aurobindo sitting on my bed. His complexion was rather dark and he was sweating. I clearly saw beads of perspiration all over his chest. I got up from my bed and said to him, “You are sweating. Shall I fan you?” He kept silent. I do not remember if I tried to wipe away the sweat or not.
That very evening, my former assistant doctor, who had returned from his leave, came to see me at an appointed time in the Nursing Ноmе. Не examined me, tested the capacity of my bladder, and informed me that the catheter treatment should stop. The bladder was not getting any chance to act on its own because it was being drained mechanically. This would make it more atonic, not less. “Let us try a new method which is now being practised whenever possible,” he said. “I have been thinking about it since this morning for your case. It is very simple if you are prepared to take a little trouble.” Then he demonstrated the method before our ashram doctor and nurses. “It is called self-catheterisation,” he explained. “You have to use the catheter only four times a day. You must observe antiseptic precautions. Even so there might be minor infections at times, but they can be kept under control. Are you prepared for this?” he asked me.
I assented immediately. It would certainly be a heavenly boon for me because then I could enjoy all my usual activities like a normal person, participate in group, run, cycle and so on.
The doctor was pleased and said, “I am relieved. I was afraid that you might not want to go through with it, because it would entail some trouble and risk.” He left after assuring me that he would be ready to visit me whenever I might need his help. He gave me hope that this catheterisation also would be dropped with the improvement of my general health.
Later on, I asked Esha to inquire why Sri Aurobindo had been sweating when he came to me in my dream. She told me that he had said it was because he was working on me… an enigmatic answer indeed.
Such is the story of my blessed operation. All’s well that ends well.
(Mother India, July, August, Sept, Oct. 1992)