In golden moments of creation, great souls descend to earth surrounding the Avatar. There is a high oestrus of divine Conscious-Force at wide play. Like the breath of divinity or the Supreme’s largesses, these forerunners of superhumanity come to help in hewing the ways of immortality as the playmates, servants, comrades and the true children of the Lord.
“The great creators with wide brows of calm,
The massive barrier-breakers of the world
And wrestlers with destiny in her lists of will,
The labourers in the quarries of the gods,
The messengers of the Incommunicable,
The architects of immortality.”
Surely one such was our Nolini-da. What was he to those around him? — a link with infinity; a touch of eternity; a breath of divinity; a presence of godhead; a realised embodiment of our highest aspirations.
Austere and aloof on his Overmental-Superman heights: such is the picture of Nolini-da a casual visitor might have conceived. But though dwelling on the heights he was kin to and intimate with our clay up to the end. An adept of inner and outer austerity, high purposefulness, great endeavours, sky-scaling ascensions and soul-touching inwardnesses, yet at most times he was so near and accessible, so sweet and loving.
Once a young lady, prey to a mighty emotional turmoil, in the grip of her despair stopped eating. Like a loving father Nolini-da sent her a message: “Tell her I too will not eat if she does not.” Needless to say the fathomless love behind these words lessened the heartache and thus by love and not by admonition he brought her out of the abyss of suffering.
Outwardly he seemed indifferent to our ills but it was a misleading appearance. Specially in his later years time and again he would ask the doctors attending on him about the condition of even the most insignificant Ashramite if it came to his notice that the person was ill.
A young vivacious girl of five or six came to the Ashram. This child instantly won every heart and became very dear to Nolini-da. She combed his hair, made his clothes ready, whatsoever she could do. He would have liked her to study in our Centre of Education but he knew that her parents would not agree. Though she did not want to, the girl had to go back and after a lapse of time came the shocking news. The girl was suffering from a dreaded disease and had been already given four blood transfusions. There seemed to be no hope. In a dazed shock, the girls’s aunt went to Nolini-da and cried out, “No, no. It must not be so.” She at once left for Calcutta.
That whole night Nolini-da kept calling and whispering the girl’s name every few minutes. Such was his power, like that of the Rishis of yore, that the impossible happened. The girl recovered and is today preparing for a professional career. By his powerful touch how he cured or at least kept in effective suspension Anima’s tumour is known to all in his circle. Once I told him about a generous and self-effacing lady whose only son was now suffering from T.B. The boy had had the inestimable privilege of daily darshan of and pranam to Nolini-da when his mother had brought him here. This tale moved Nolini-da deeply — I saw his eyes shine with tears of compassion. The upshot was that the symptoms of T.B. disappeared from the body of the boy in spite of the earlier diagnosis. Nolini-da’s compassion was so deep that once when I was ill and in JIPMER, on his evening drive he came there and asked the person accompanying him to locate my room — his companion did not succeed. I feel eternally grateful for his grace.
He who surely knew the mystery of life and death and lived in a timeless consciousness, for whom the beyond was as familiar as the here and now, or maybe more so, once told me, “Yesterday you mentioned X. Very bad news. His son has died in an accident.”
On another occasion, a young man of the Ashram had a nervous breakdown. On recovering somewhat he came to visit Sri Aurobindo’s room. His mother had informed Nolini-da in advance. Having finished his lunch, Nolini-da was proceeding to his bathroom when the boy met him in front of Madhav Pandit’s office. He simply, clung to Nolini-da and said, in French, “I have need of you.” Nolini-da’s eyes became moist with love and compassion as he reassured him.
Day by day his realisation must have become deeper and higher as is evident by the messages given by the Divine Mother on his birthdays. But what was obvious to everyone around him was the intensity of his love for all, more so for the young people facing the harsh trials of Yogic life.
Once a young mother living alone with her child was asked to vacate her house. This girl could not find a house and wept before Nolini-da. When I told him of a vacant house I knew about, he almost pleaded in moved tones, his face reflecting her pain, “Help her. Today she was weeping.”
He was above all attachment, yet was deeply attached, this was the paradox which baffled all those who could not measure his heights. His attachment was divine. If the Calcutta Pathamandir people were on their way here, he kept asking about them till he was informed that they had arrived safely because he was holding them within himself. In this sense only, he was attached to people. In that small suite filled with numerous things, he conducted the business of the Ashram and maybe directed the universal forces with a divine calm. When all around him raged petty emotional strifes he remained aloof but in our moments of need he was always with us. There was always a high purpose behind his words and an even greater force in his silence. The fathomless depth of his look could sear with its severity all that stood in the way of spiritual progress of those whom he graciously allowed in his presence. And many a time the infinite compassion of his eyes and the lightest touch of his hand on the head, eased the most crushing burden of life. He was “Vajrādapi Kathorāni, Mṛdūni, Kusumādapi”
He always talked of old Sadhaks as “Old Friends.” On one birthday of Albert’s father, Nolini-da saw him in the meditation hall and embraced him. Later he remarked to me, “These are old friends.”
In the same way he used to look benevolently on Savitri Agrawal and Jagat’s mother sitting in the meditation hall, again calling them “Old Friends.”
One day he asked Dr. Bose to bring Mrs. Sanyal to the Ashram by car on rainy days, saying, “She will find it difficult to walk in the rain.”
These were not isolated incidents. Many times I witnessed his love and compassion. It was not pity, “the emotional inability to bear the sorrow of others” but the compassion and care of a universal consciousness. In his quiet way he kept track of the destiny of the young and old children of the Mother.
A young lady well-known to and loved by Nolini-da has a retarded child. She wanted to have a normal child. I conveyed her prayer to Nolini-da. He gave his blessings. After receiving the blessings the lady conceived, though previously she could not. Now the doctors suggested that since the risk of having another retarded child increases if the first one is so, they should take some fluid from the womb to decide if the baby would be normal. At that time, this process was more hazardous than it is now. Nolini-da consulted the doctors and gave his consent. However, the test was inconclusive and could not be repeated. The lady asked for instructions. Nolini-da consulted Sanyal-da and in one day I had to send three telegrams to the lady. Such was his love. When a normal baby was born to the lady, Nolini-da remarked, “That is good news.”
In 1978, a young girl, X, and her friend came with their families. Nolini-da liked the girls and told the father about one of them, “You have nice daughters.”
He specially chose and autographed for them his photograph with a cap. Later X married and gave birth to two children. Once while going to her father-in-law’s place, her husband accidentally fell under the wheels of the train and was killed. The girl got a terrible shock. Doctors said she would either die or become insane. Most of the time she was in a coma. Her father, a devotee and in-charge of a Sri Aurobindo Centre, wrote to me. I related the incident to Anima who was moved and told it to Nolini-da. Gravely he said, “Send blessings for the boy’s soul. For her, I will give blessings when she recovers.” This remark meant her recovery was sure and by his intervention the girl recovered indeed and got a good job.
One day, a young girl of five or six who was very close to Nolini-da kept on weeping. Nolini-da inquired about the cause. It was found that while playing on the beach she wanted a big balloon. Her grandfather had brought no money and could not buy her one. Nolini-da at once gave him money to go and buy her the balloon. He deeply cared for this child and wanted that three or four types of soft drinks be kept ready for her. He bore with love and patience all her mistakes, for she had little understanding. It can be testified to by all those around him how deeply he cared for every one. His heart went to all those children of the Mother who were in trouble.
His care was not the care of an ordinary being. He could cure, he could turn our woe into weal. I will end with one incident. Manish Rai was an intimate friend of Nolini-da’s during his college days. But Nolini-da gave up his studies to join the fight for freedom and later followed in the footsteps of Sri Aurobindo to Pondicherry. Manish Rai could not turn towards the divine life but his deep love for Nolini-da remained undiminished. Later on he helped in many ways Nolini-da’s wife Indulekha who was left alone to bring up her three sons. People coming from Calcutta would regularly inform Nolini-da, “Manish did this for Indulekha-di, Manish did that for her.” Nolini-da, as was his nature, would listen quietly. Years passed and one day the news came that Manish Rai had died. Nolini-da became serious, but did not say anything. Later he narrated to someone, “I went into the dark world of Death where there was no air. I searched room after dark stifling room till I found his soul. Then I picked it up and went and dropped it at the feet of Sri Aurobindo.” This is how Nolini-da paid his debt of love and gratitude and except him who else could have done it?
Very impressed by the display of a lady’s paintings, I asked Nolini-da eagerly, “Will you like to see her paintings?” Looking grave, and with his hand spread out in a wide sweep, Nolini-da answered, “I do my own paintings.” Later when I saw instances of people’s life changing and new-oriented by his compassion I knew what he meant by, “My own paintings.” He was working on many points on the earth and changing and redoing others’ lives so as to make them shapely and God-oriented.
II His Aspect of Humour and Ananda
“Are you continuing here because the Ashram needs you?” someone asked Nolini-da. Nolini-da replied, “Not necessarily… It is for my individual sadhana. I am staying here for some new development in my evolution. Up to now my consciousness was Sattwic, my way was that of Knowledge. But now a new element is added — love, Ananda…” And it seems in the fitness of things that the principal disciple of Sri Aurobindo who was Incarnate Ananda Brahman should also manifest something of that aspect.
In his later years Nolini-da’s awe-inspiring Himalayan heights were coloured with the rainbow tints of smiles, banter, and laughter. Here in a small way I have attempted to bring out some glimpses of the heavenly joy that suffused and balanced the natural gravity of this life-long Tapaswin, the Sage, Philosopher and Thinker, though people like Anima and Matriprasad could write in much greater detail and depth for they were with him constantly.
All of us have seen the serious, indrawn and ingathered personality aspect of Nolini-da which repelled unwelcome intrusions. But with those, whom he accepted in his inner circle, he became like a friend — dādu, grand-pa to youngsters and dādā or dā, elder brother to the adults. And they witnessed a continuous flow of light movements, full of carefree laughter. It seems the less the pull of gravity, the lighter and happier sits the burden of divinity.
According to X who was close and dear to him, “He was a most humorous man. Only his humour was of a different kind and could change the very nature or personality of a man.”
X told me about Y, an old, sincere and much respected sadhak. He had a grave nature and never laughed, Sometime X would tease him, “Why don’t you laugh?” Y would invariably reply, “I have no time.” One day a visibly shaken and perturbed Y came to Nolini-da and blurted out, “Nolini-da, I am in a fix.” “Why?” asked Nolini-da. “I will have to leave the Ashram,” with apparent anguish the man replied. “What happened?” inquired Nolini-da. Y related his tale. Though it was serious for Y, Nolini-da laughed and said, “Only this? All right, I will ask the Mother.”
Y was stunned. He wonderingly said to X who was present, “Look, he is laughing at my calamity.” Nolini-da went and reported everything to the Mother. The Mother, saying, “It is all right,” also laughed. Y knew that Nolini-da cared for him. Nolini-da’s attitude made a deep impression on him. After that his nature changed. He who never laughed often laughed heartily and sometimes even without any apparent cause.
K was overwhelmed by her problems and one day went and poured them out in front of Nolini-da. Nolini-da replied, “You should be full of joy and ananda.” “How to do it when problems besiege and overwhelm me?” she asked. “Remember that you are a child of the Divine Mother, that she has taken entire charge of you. This should make you full of gratitude and delight.” When he said this, Nolini-da’s whole being was filled with ananda and joy and K too felt a lightening of her sorrow and a joyous uplift or mood.
Once there was a heated discussion between two Ashramites. They claimed that Nolini-da had told them different things about the same subject. Each stuck to his guns. In the end they decided to go to Nolini-da to get at the truth of the matter. Nolini-da heard them out and then remarked, “What Nolini-da said is not so important. What he didn’t say is much more important.”
Nolini-da had a quaint and humorous way of putting things. In those days X used to come on his cycle to the Ashram and then Nolini-da and he would go to the Sports Ground on their cycles.
One day when X came as usual to accompany Nolini-da the latter said, “I will not go. I am promoted.” “How do you mean?” a puzzled X demanded. “The Mother has said, ‘Nolini! No more cycling for you. You can take a car.’” It seems the day before, some children had dashed against his cycle and hence the ‘promotion’.
A young girl came to the Ashram hoping to get admission in our Centre of Education but being above fifteen was considered too old. Nolini-da advised her to take up work, “The mother loves those of her children much more who choose to serve her,” he told her. Accordingly she started work in some department and became dear to Nolini-da. Every day she would call to him from the road. He would then go to the window and hear her carefree chat. One day she pouted and said, “What is this? Is it fair that you are inside, while I have to remain outside on the road?” Nolini-da laughed outright and said mischievously in Bengali, “It is the way of love — one is inside, the other outside.”
In 1969, a young boy of three came to the Ashram with his mother and went every day to Nolini-da. Nolini-da played football with him in front of Madhav Pandit’s office. First the boy would run and kick the football, then Nolini-da would run and kick the ball. This master player thoroughly enjoyed himself playing with the tiny tot. When one is only five a pair of chappals is no ordinary thing. They are taken quite seriously. This boy’s mother bought him a new pair of chappals. He proudly took them to Nolini-da and exhibited them seriously, “Look, I have new chappals.” Without a word in answer Nolini-da got up from his chair and went into his inner room. The boy’s mother was taken aback by this abruptness. She saw Nolini-da bend and take out a pair of chappals from under his bed. He brought them out and, showing them to the boy, remarked, “Look, I have new chappals too.” Every day while doing pranam this child pinched Nolini-da. On inquiring, Nolini-da found out that the child did this to everyone. He remarked, “I see, it is his way of expressing his love.”
The above-mentioned boy was very fond of Ramayana and Mahabharata stories. One day he was found walking in the meditation hall with closed eyes. Nolini-da asked his mother, “Why is he walking with closed eyes?” “He is pretending to be Dhritarashtra,” said his mother. “If you are Dhritarashtra, then I will give you an iron Bheem to embrace,” joked Nolini-da.
One day, this boy and a lady of the Ashram were discussing who should play which part in a Mahabharata drama. All the parts were distributed to different Ashramites to the boy’s satisfaction but the question remained, “Who should play Krishna?” The lady suggested Nolini-da’s name. The boy at once retorted, “What? Do you think Krishna had so little hair, or had such a big moustache? If we have to make Nolini-da something we will make him Bhishma Pitamaha.” Nolini-da enjoyed this very much and, laughing heartily, remarked, “The boy is right.”
A venerable old, renowned author came to the Ashram. Before returning to Calcutta he came to take leave of Nolini-da and started to talk in an affected and pompous way, “Nolini-da, the whole of my life, I wanted to come to this holy place. At last I have the great opportunity. Now I am going back. What should I tell the people? What have I brought? How should I go?” For several minutes the man went on in the same vein. When he repeated, “How should I go?”, Nolini-da answered in two words, “Empty-handed.”
One day Nolini-da put on a shirt which was rather the worse for wear and a little yellowed with age. The dhoti was sparkling white. Everyone remarked that the two did not match. Nolini-da answered, “Nothing can be done to improve the shirt, so I should roll in the dust to make my dhoti match the shirt.” Everyone burst out in merry laughter.
In his later years, Nolini-da had to lie down in his bed for the greater part of the day. Sometimes I would rub his back to relieve him. Naturally, I rubbed very gently. “X and Y rub me like a horse. So you can also beat me freely,” he remarked.
Somebody had a quarrel with a person very close to Nolini-da. In a fit of anger, he came to Nolini-da, spewed out his tale of woe, fully expecting Nolini-da to take some action against the person. Nolini-da laughed softly and holding out two toffees, asked the person, “What do you want me to do? Here, take these toffees.”
Our petty human passions made him smile. One day a young lady came to give him a sweet on her birthday. Nolini-da, instead of taking it in his hands, opened his mouth wide. The girl was so happy at the opportunity to feed him.
Somebody was asked to help in serving him. In the beginning, this person was naturally over-awed and diffident. She would hold out the glass of juice or water to Nolini-da from a distance, not daring to approach too near. Nolini-da would say, “She holds out the glass at a distance as if I am an untouchable.”
A trainload of miners came to visit the Ashram. The Mother had left her body. They had heard of Nolini-da and requested that Nolini-da give them darshan from the balcony, a request that Nolini-da turned down. Later, they formed a tight queue for going to Sri Aurobindo’s room. They were jostling each other and were not ready to let anybody cut across their queue. At that time, Nolini-da used to use the toilet in the Ashram courtyard. To reach it, he had to cut across this long queue. The miners thinking that he wanted to join the queue would not let him through, little realising he was the great Nolini-da for whose darshan they were so eager. Later, with eyes twinkling with mischievous laughter Nolini-da remarked, “I have given them darshan but they didn’t recognise me.”
One Saturday night on my way to the Playground I went to see Nolini-da. He asked me, “Are you going to the film?” His tone clearly meant, “Do not go.” I went anyway. It started raining and all of us at the playground were thoroughly drenched. I came to the Ashram to get an umbrella. Nolini-da asked me most mischievously, “How did you enjoy the film?” and then burst out laughing. Then he told Anima, “Give her a big umbrella. She has to go far.”
I was desperately searching for a house. Someone suggested a plot with a hut. I told Nolini-da all about it. He asked me, “Who has seen the house you propose to buy.” “Nobody, except myself and K.” “Who else can see it?” he remarked thinking whom to send. He thought for some time and then suggested, “Take X to feel the atmosphere of the place.” Then he added with a twinkle in his eyes, “You see! Don’t take people who are too intelligent.”
An old Sadhika was leaving Pondicherry for a few months. She came to do pranam to Nolini-da. Later I asked him, “Even old sadhaks are going out nowadays. Is it correct? How can it be?” “They have retired,” Nolini-da said, laughing.
This lighter hue of his nature increased till in the last few months of his life he became truly Anandamaya. He would sing songs in which he mixed lines from Dwijendralal’s songs with those of Rabindranath. Often, from the road outside his room, I heard him sing.
Thus Knowledge and Ananda were now equally balanced, a sangam — a union of both took place in his personality.
 Savitri, pp. 343-344.