Nirodbaran was born on November 17, 1903 in Chittagong (now in Bangladesh). He lost his father when he was five years old. After passing Matriculation Examination, he participated in the famous Non-Cooperation Movement and was punished with two months’ imprisonment. After passing Intermediate Examination in the first division, he decided to go to England to qualify for the Bar. In 1924, he went abroad, but finally went in for Medical Studies at Edinburgh. After a long six-year course, he took the M.B.C.H.B. Degree and then went on a tour of Europe with his niece. His meeting with Dilip Kumar Roy, the famous musician, in Paris, sealed his fate. His niece, having heard about Sri Aurobindo from Dilip Kumar Roy, met the Mother and was highly impressed. On her repeated requests, Nirodbaran, after coming to India in 1930, met the Mother and was overwhelmed and had a spiritual experience. After some vacillation he finally felt the call and joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1933, leaving behind the prospect of a highly lucrative career. In the Ashram he entered upon a new life and had many experiences and realizations. With Sri Aurobindo’s help and inspiration he flowered into a wonderful poet, (see “Swapnadeep” and “Fifty Poems of Nirodbaran”) His correspondence with Sri Aurobindo is an invaluable treasure. In 1938, when Sri Aurobindo broke his leg, he was drawn into the inner circle of Sri Aurobindo’s personal attendants. He served Sri Aurobindo till his passing away in 1950. He had the extraordinary good fortune of being Sri Aurobindo’s scribe when the latter dictated “Savitri” to him. He had been also engaged with Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education as a teacher of English, French and Bengali. He has been a prolific writer, in English and Bengali, having to his credit quite a few beautiful books (“Twelve years with Sri Aurobindo” and “Memorable contacts with the Mother” deserve especial mention) and numerous articles which will not only rank as fine literature, but also serve as an invaluable guide for knowing Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, their teachings, their many-splendoured personality and also about the Ashram and the disciples. Nirodbaran is now 98, but he has been carrying on with his usual radiant smile, good humour and incomparable sweetness, candour and humility.
My friends have resolved to bring out my old compositions in book form and have requested me to write an introduction to them. It is a matter of regret that I have lost the power which enabled me to write so many books that the readers still remember me. Of course, the power behind my composition was not mine, but of the Guru.
My former capacity by which I am still remembered is lost like the river Falgu and perhaps its current flows in the world and will revive in the next life.
I live in their memory alone.
Nirodbaran needs no introduction. To his ever-expanding circle of friends he is best known as ‘Nirod-da’, a dear elder brother and warm-hearted friend, ever ready to receive you with his winsome smile and scintillating humour. His long association with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have invested his life with a magnetic charm, quiet grandeur and simplicity. A simplicity shorn of all pretensions. Age has not withered his mind; he is ever awake, ready to crack jokes and listen to anything interesting, corrects you when you quote wrongly or omit something while narrating some incident connected with the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. His deep intimate knowledge of the Master and the Mother and their disciples have endeared him to all; and to us he brings not only knowledge, but breathes the very atmosphere of his Guru, Sri Aurobindo, though apparently everything seems to be simple.
The idea of the present volume occurred to my mind as I stumbled upon, in the pages of “Mother India”, some old writings of Nirodbaran from time to time. As I read them, I was thrilled by the sheer beauty of his prose, the coruscating wit, the rich allusions, the iridescent poetry and the hidden depth of yearning; vision of a world within world, a sweetness that beckoned; and above all, his overabounding vitality, his sure eye for a significant detail, common sense and intuitive flashes; and a fine distillation in prose of the sweetness and light, of the eternal wonder that is Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I have been reading his books for long, but in these writings I found something more intimate, more striking, more informative and revealing, and a splendid variety that grips you and lures you on. You have the feeling, while you read these pieces, of gliding along a smooth, flowing stream with its haunting smell and sound.
And not only that. In these writings, one gets a panoramic view, as it were, of the old Ashram-life, the beautiful lives of the disciples, an intimate picture of the unpretentious dedication of their life to the Master and the Mother, their little foibles, the experiences of their salad days, their tireless labour, courage and equanimity in the face of adversity, quiet wisdom, insight from their sadhana, and above all, their love and loyalty to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. There are serious topics too, like the brilliant pieces on Sister Nivedita. There we get a glimpse of another facet of Nirodbaran’s talent: his analytical power. We have known Nirodbaran, the poet and Nirodbaran, the narrator; but in these pieces on Nivedita, the critic and analyst takes over and brings us rare insights. There are also light, charming pieces, like his description of a picnic where we discover Nirodbaran as one of those eternal children of whom Tagore said in one of his immortal poems: “On the seashore of endless worlds children meet…. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.”
These writings — some of them are essays and some were recorded as talks — were published in “Mother India” over a long period of time. We are grateful to Sri Amal Kiran, the Editor of Mother India and also to Sri. R. Y. Deshpande, Associate Editor, for giving us permission to reprint these writings and bring them in a single volume. We also thank Gabriel of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Miss Manali Chakrabarty, Lecturer in French, St. John’s Church College, Secundrabad and also Mrs. Gopa Basu, Librarian, Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Calcutta for helping me in ferreting out materials for this volume. Sri Dilip Chatterjee of Sri Aurobindo Pathamandir, Calcutta also deserves our thanks. Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Barrackpore, decided to publish this volume on the memorable occasion of the bringing of the sacred relics of Sri Aurobindo to the Barrackpore Bhavan in early January, 2001. We are grateful to many other friends, particularly to Dolly, Bani and Jhumur of Sri Aurobindo Ashram; to Dr. Hriday Ranjan Haider, a long-time friend of Nirodbaran and a Senior Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Barrackpore, and also to Sri Dipak Gupta, a never-failing friend to us from the beginning.
These writings keep alive for us the voice of an old friend; these are published at the auspicious moment when Sri Aurobindo comes to Barrackpore in January 2001, the beginning of the new Millenium. May these wonderful pieces deliver us from the pale cast of thought, charge our mind with sparks of the imperishable fire and energy, open up new path-ways and vivify us with our Guru’s parting assurance:
“I shall leave my dreams in their argent air,
For in a raiment of gold and blue.
There shall move on the earth embodied and fair
The living truth of you.”
Sri Aurobindo Comes To Bengal
One cannot think of Bengal without thinking of Sri Aurobindo. India may try to ignore or forget him, the present-day Bengal may be far removed from what Sri Aurobindo’s Bengal was, but he who came and left a white trail blazing across her firmament remains for ever enshrined behind her surface consciousness in spite of the conjoint efforts of various forces to obscure the silver line within. So, as time passes, we find a frequent reference to his name and a re-emergence of his light in the cultural and spiritual life of Bengal, though probably not yet in her political field. True, we hear from all sides tales of woe and cries of lamentation, “Bengal is dead, the Bengal of Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo is moribund.”
Is Bengal really dead? Can a country whose soil has been the Lilabhumi of God with his chosen playmates ever fall into impotence? We must look a little deeper. Though it is no longer that fiery Bengal, neither is it something that has undergone a change beyond recognition. The change is only on the surface and is a temporary phase. For Sri Aurobindo’s Force works, very often so invisibly that none can perceive the subtle current, and it produces an unexpected result illumining all darkness and years of patient waiting. Such is the import behind the journey of Sri Aurobindo’s relics to Bengal and its sudden electric effect.
Sri Aurobindo came away from Bengal as suddenly as he had chosen her for his field of activity. So one might say that he completely forgot his past, a greater spirit have called him to a higher mission. One might declare that his consciousness saw the world as a battlefield to be conquered for God, and Bengal could be no more than a faint dot on the map of his new dynamic vision. I do not view these things in that light. Sri Aurobindo did not easily forsake anything that had once touched his heart and drawn out of it the hidden divine spring. He became the God-man, but the man in him never ceased to nourish, however dimly, the child-flame that he had himself kindled. He always kept in touch with Bengal’s destiny and followed closely her passage through a long tunnel of darkness and despair, never failing to respond to her soul-call in times of dire peril. His casual remarks bear testimony to the fact. When, after the partition, somebody apprehended a great calamity facing the Hindus of Bengal, Sri Aurobindo said, “Do you think that a population of three and a half crores can be wiped out from the earth?” At another time when the Hindus were submitting meekly to all sorts of repressions and became panicky before the orgy of massacre, his spirited comment was, “Since when has Bengal become so weak and effeminate?” Soon after this, an unseen Force came into play. He had seen Bengal’s plight, her division, the demoniac communal upsurge and, even before that, the war-cloud threatening her with invasion, betrayal, destruction, famine and starvation. Prayers for help had incessantly poured in from the representative souls of the mighty race fallen into disgrace. He had sent ungrudgingly his potent spiritual force to the people in distress.
But how many have perceived his invisible Hand? Sceptics may be found who will declaim, “If the hand was there, it was most ineffectual, for the burden of our misery has piled up instead of going down.” Miseries have increased because Bengal has turned her back on her dharma, has denied her Saviour and fallen upon the flesh-pots of power as her true sustenance. No doubt, various factions with their inevitable fruits of bale have brought down the high crown to the mire. When Sri Aurobindo was asked, “Why is Bengal so much in travail? In the forefront of all battles and new movements, why today is she the battle-ground of parties and leaders?”, he remarked, “Because there is no leader.” “So long as there is no leader, will she go on in this way? Is there no prospect of any such leader coming up? Where is he to come from?” “If there is an aspiration for it, the leader takes birth,” was the surprising reply.
No leader seems to have been born, since the aspiration was wanting. And Bengal has no longer turned out heroes and Fiery dreamers but self-seeking men who have claimed power and enjoyment as the reward of sacrifice. Hence the country’s decline. The Shakti withdrew behind the veil and, working imperceptibly, began to prepare, from within, the silent change. The aspiration that had died has revived and grown under the harrow of suffering and a new Dawn has burst upon the horizon. For, behind this huge mass-rally, we see once more the heaven-ascending call of the Swadeshi days, and Sri Aurobindo has responded. We see before our mind’s vision Bengal leaping triumphantly towards another new birth, not by any means a political, but a spiritual renaissance. Behind Bengal’s apparent decadence this was the secret divine purpose and we firmly believe it was Sri Aurobindo’s invisible and right guidance that has led Bengal to this hour of God.
Whatever the appearance we must bear,
Whatever our strong ills and present fate,
When nothing we can see but drift and bale,
A mighty Guidance leads us still through all.
Therefore the Divine Shakti, the Mother, sends with her own hands of radiant Power Sri Aurobindo’s relics to Bengal, and Her inspired children pay homage to them in an unprecedented manner. These relics are Bengal’s leader, master and saviour. For what are relics? A piece of bone, a piece of nail or hair simply to be kept in a casket and worshipped like an image? Is it not said that out of the bones of Dadhichi was made the thunder of the gods? The relics of the Avatar are charged with that divine thunder which is sure in its work and tremendous in its self-effectivity. It will work slowly or fast as the instruments handling the power will allow it to move in its cosmic field of action. But work it must, bringing to birth a “New Island” — Navadwipa — in the heart of the old Bengal. Once a primitive island was transfigured by Buddha’s relics thousands of years ago and it has since remained faithful to his teachings. In this “New Island” of Sri Chaitanya appear Sri Aurobindo’s relics, rays of the apocalypt Sun. Bengal has found her Leader.
Reproduced from “Hindusthan Standard”; Reprinted in Mother India, February, 1959; this piece was written on the auspicious occasion when Sri Aurobindo’s sacred relics was brought to Navadwipa (in the district of Nadia, West Bengal, the birth place of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu – Editor)
 Savitri p. 59
Sri Aurobindo as Guru
The Upanishads and the Gita have compared the path of yoga with the sharp edge of a razor-blade and have established as an absolute rule that it should not be practised without the help of a guru. With a few exceptions, this strict injunction has been obeyed even to this day. One seeks, waits, prepares oneself, and if one is sincere, the guru comes at the proper time. The traditional experience and teaching have confirmed that “he who has chosen the Infinite, has been chosen by the Infinite.”
The guru once found, many relations are possible between the guru and the disciple, as with the Divine. In effect, for the disciple, the guru is the representative of the Divine on the earth: the relation can be that of father and son, master and servant, lover and beloved, etc. This relation is indissoluble and can cease only with death or with the guru’s permission. The guru takes entire charge of the disciple; he loves him, guides him, protects him like a mother. His only reward is the accomplishment of his sacred trust. Also, not to discuss the master’s directions but to obey him to the letter was an absolute rule to be followed by the disciple.
To illustrate the responsibility of the guru Sri Aurobindo recounted to us an anecdote. A disciple, wanting to be a guru, sought his own guru’s advice in the matter. He got the reply: “To your already heavy burden you are going to add another one; for you have to take upon your shoulders all your disciple’s faults, and his sins.” Such was in particular the case of Sri Ramakrishna.
Sri Aurobindo has given to the hoary but still continuing tradition of the mystic tie between guru and disciple a new character. The practice of yoga, while losing nothing of its essential spirituality, has become much more supple. Sri Aurobindo’s yoga being new, the methods and means too must be adapted to the modern spirit. Thus, first of all, Sri Aurobindo allows each disciple a great liberty. He should himself find out his own path, that which suits his own nature. Sri Aurobindo believed that without liberty the soul cannot attain its full development. “You truly give us a long rope!” I told him. “Even if we make grave errors, you simply observe silently, expecting us to approach you for advice.” To which Sri Aurobindo replied, “A long rope is necessary!” And the Mother spoke to the young people in these terms: “All of you, my children, live here in exceptional freedom: no social constraints, no normal constraints, no intellectual constraints, no principles. Only a Light is there.” Rabelais also gave this freedom in his Abbaye, but there was no Light.
At the same time Sri Aurobindo accorded to us the privilege to ask him questions, to have intellectual, literary and yogic discussions with him and follow Ramakrishna’s advice to Vivekananda not to accept anything blindly. The mind has its need to be satisfied. Sri Aurobindo understood the modern mind, its doubts, its intellectual curiosities, because he himself was agnostic for a certain time and suffered from doubt. He never imposed his ideas, but considered everything with largeness, tolerance and sympathy. When somebody behaved badly, we would suggest that he should be either sent away or put in quarantine. Sri Aurobindo would answer with a smile, “Yes, it is a simple remedy, no doubt, and in the outside world it would be fitting. But here we can’t apply it.” On another occasion a sadhak was asked why he did not listen to the Mother; he said, “That is my weakness.” The same sadhak dared to write to Sri Aurobindo a letter of sixty pages — on a different subject! Sri Aurobindo never lost his temper. “Anger is foreign to my nature,” he said. His relation with each individual varied in tone, accent and style according to the nature and each felt the Master near to him. It can be said in passing that when the Mother accepts a disciple, she accepts him as he is, and cannot abandon him for his weakness, because he also has left the world for the sake of sadhana.
It was my great good fortune to have Sri Aurobindo as my guru. In my exploration of spiritual history I have not come across any other guru who can be compared to him. He was not only guru, but also the Divine in a human body, the last Avatar, the supramental Avatar according to the Mother. A synthesis of two cultures, oriental and occidental — poet, philosopher, politician, linguist, literary critic — he was also the yogi who might well say: “I have drunk the Infinite like a giant’s wine.”
My relation with him seemed exceptional to other disciples. None could imagine he would behave with a young novice like an intimate friend.
A medical man, materialist by education, I cared very little for God and had no faith. I started the sadhana without having any idea about it, as Stendhal’s Fabrice joined the army in utter ignorance of what war was like. And out of this raw and sceptic fellow Sri Aurobindo has made a fighter for the Divine. I am going to tell how it was done and, if possible, give at the same time a glimpse of Sri Aurobindo’s life as I have come to know it.
I came to the Ashram at a period when the sadhana was going on in the subconscient, as Sri Aurobindo said to me. The subconscient is like a dense virgin forest; we find a superb description of it in his God’s Labour. From his retreat he was corresponding with all disciples, writing every night for about five to six hours. This period which I have called the correspondence-period lasted about twelve years. Each one related his inner and outer life, asked very often quite ordinary questions, and to all our human follies Sri Aurobindo replied with the patience and solicitude of a god. One day he wrote, “An avalanche of correspondence has fallen on my head.” Another day when I asked back my “hibernating” typescript of a poem, he replied, “My dear Sir, if you saw me nowadays with my nose to paper from afternoon to morning, deciphering, deciphering, writing, writing, writing, even the rocky heart of a disciple would be touched and you would not talk about typescripts and hibernation. I have given up (for the present at least) the attempt to minimise the cataract of correspondence; I accept my fate like Raman Maharshi with the plague of prasads and admirers, but at least don’t add anguish to annihilation by talking about typescripts.”
All were surprised to find that Sri Aurobindo took up this familiar and humorous tone with a fresher, and were even shocked, for was not Sri Aurobindo the incarnate godhead, majestic and grave and serene, and should he not therefore be without any taint of humour? During the Darshan his ‘immobility’ inspired an august fear. This was the prevailing conception of a god.
I did not fail to grasp my good fortune with both hands. When the Divine gives himself, one has only to accept Him to the full. I asked him all sorts of questions from the most profane to the sublime, and he satisfied them in a simple, familiar style, always with an incomparable indulgence as if I was a prodigal son, though most of these questions had already been answered in his works. Thus our correspondence swelled up, striking many notes, sometimes sounding like a trumpet, sometimes murmuring sweetly like a stream, often bursting with a divine laughter. When I had a headache, I wrote:
My head, my head,
And this devil of a fever!
I am half dead!
Sri Aurobindo replied: “Cheer up! Things might have been so much worse. Just think if you had been a Spaniard in Madrid, or a German communist in a concentration camp. Imagine that, and then you will be quite cheerful with only a cold and headache. So
Throw off the cold,
Damn the fever,
Be sprightly and bold
And live for ever.”
Another time I asked him what Brahmic consciousness was. In a light vein he explained to me a profound truth:
“Eternal Jehovah! you don’t even know what Brahman is! You will next be asking me what Yoga is, or what life is, or what body is or what mind is, or what sadhana is!….
“Brahman, Sir, is the name given by Indian philosophy since the beginning of Time to the one Reality, eternal and infinite which is the Self, the Divine, the All, the more than All, which would remain even if you and everybody and everything else in existence or imagining itself to be in existence vanished into blazes — even if the whole universe disappeared, Brahman would be safely there, and nothing whatever lost. In fact, Sir, you are Brahman, and you are pretending to be Nirod; when Nishikanta is translating Amal’s poetry into Bengali, it is really Brahman translating Brahman’s Brahman into Brahman. When Amal asks me what consciousness is, it is really Brahman asking Brahman what Brahman is. There, Sir, I hope you are satisfied now.
“To be less drastic and refrain from making your head reel till it goes off your shoulders, I may say that realisation of the Self is the beginning of Brahman realisation — the Brahman consciousness — the Self in all and all in the Self etc. It is the basis of the spiritual realisation, and therefore of the spiritual transformation, but one has to see it in all sorts of aspects and applications first….”
Thus from these letters were born two small volumes of Correspondence, containing side by side literary, medical, spiritual and even political questions. Audaciously, following Vivekananda’s example, I tried to argue with him and even dared to differ on points about which my knowledge was as much as that of a village schoolmaster. But he suffered all my foolishness, my impertinence and never uttered a hard word or showed bad temper, only a sun-like magnanimity. I wanted to have with him the father-relationship — as particularly the lady-disciples did. But he refused sharply, saying, “Let the ladies father me as much as they like. The ‘father’ has a Jewish and Hebrew odour, that I don’t like much.” Later on when I asked him why I was exceptionally favoured, he said, “Find out for yourself.”
It seemed he wanted to “intellectualise” me, but alas, he must have found that my grey matter was no better developed than a rabbit’s. But he did succeed, thanks to this special relation, in drawing me out of the chronic pessimism and doubt from which I suffered quite a lot. I wrote to him, “Your grandeur, your Himalayan austerity frightens us.” To which came the vibrant reply: “O rubbish! I am austere and grand, grim and stern! every blasted thing I never was! I groan in an un-Aurobindian despair when I hear such things. What has happened to the commonsense of all you people? In order to reach the Overmind it is not at all necessary to take leave of this simple but useful quality. Commonsense by the way is not logic (which is the least commonsense-like thing in the world), it is simply looking at things as they are without inflation or deflation. Not imagining wild imaginations — or for that matter despairing ‘I know-not-why’ despairs.”
This magnanimity, this sunny humour at last chased away the Man of Sorrows who had taken shelter, like the Panis of the Vedas, in my subconscient. The force was of course there working constantly, but what I felt was the joy of rasa of life engendered by the inimitable humour. I was tempted one day to ask how two incompatibles, humour and yoga, could so unnaturally combine in him. His reply was the Upanishadic: “He is indeed the veritable rasa.”
This relation, however, did not mean that I was dearer to him than the others. He would not be divine in such a case, for the Divine is samam Brahman, equal and impartial to all, He gives himself entirely to all, only the relation differs according to each one’s need, like the relation of the mother with her own children.
My intellectual preparation glided insensibly into creative activity. I wanted to be a poet. I had started writing in Bengali, then in English. There too my talent was green as a cucumber. But this didn’t matter, for Sri Aurobindo said that in the Ashram atmosphere a creative force was in action that could serve anyone’s aspiration to be a poet or artist. Every day he not only sent me inspiration but corrected my poems, gave concrete suggestions, explained the meaning of the poems which I composed without understanding what they meant. Strangely enough in both Bengali and English I wrote, medium-like, many such poems, some of which Sri Aurobindo called surrealist-mystic. Many times I was on the point of throwing up the sponge since the inspiration got blocked or the result was not to my taste! But always his letters, persuasive like the wind, pushed me on till one day he cried out, “The poet is born. What about the yogi?” And he wrote to me this letter:
“As there are several lamentations today besieging me, I have very little time to deal with each separate Jeremiad. Do I understand rightly that your contention is this, “I can’t believe in the Divine doing everything for me because it is by my own mighty and often fruitless efforts that I write or do not write poetry and have made myself into a poet?’ Well, that itself is ‘patient, magnificent, unheard of. It has always been supposed since the infancy of the human race that while a verse-maker can be made or self-made, a poet cannot. ‘Poet a nascitur non fit,’ ‘a poet is born, not made’ is the dictum that has come down through the centuries and was thundered into my ears by the first pages of my Latin grammar. The facts of literary history seem to justify this stern saying. But in Pondicherry we have tried not to manufacture poets but to give them birth, a spiritual, not a physical birth into the body. In a number of cases we are supposed to have succeeded — one of these is your noble self — or if I am to believe the man of sorrows in you, your abject, miserable, hopeless, ineffectual self. But how was it done? There are two theories, it seems — one that it was by the Force, the other that it was by your own splashing, kicking, groaning, Herculean efforts. Now, Sir, if it is the latter, if you have done that unprecedented thing, made yourself by your own laborious strength into a poet (for your earlier efforts were only very decent literary exercises) then, Sir, why the deuce are you so abject, self depreciatory, miserable?”
We see then that Sri Aurobindo was not only a poet but a creator of poets as well.
We were at this stage of our collaboration when, in 1938, a grave accident happened to him and we were brought face to face. In the small hours of the morning we found him lying on the floor of his room. He seemed to have been in that condition for about an hour without having called any one. He had tried all sorts of manipulations with the leg, but all in vain. The Mother felt in her sleep the vibration, and came up to find Sri Aurobindo in this state of immobility. She perceived at once what had gone wrong and sent for the doctors. After a series of examinations it was decided that the right femur had got badly fractured and that Sri Aurobindo should be kept in bed for some months. One can understand how the news shocked the whole Ashram. What struck me most was that while the Mother was discussing with the doctors all about the accident and its treatment, Sri Aurobindo listened in silence and accepted meekly like a child all the necessary medical prescriptions approved by the Mother. That was a lesson in submission to all of us. The doctors had observed that Sri Aurobindo was an ideal patient.
The accident compelled him to abandon his solitude and accept the help of his disciples for medical reasons. Even after his cure, our services were retained.
Truly speaking, I had nourished in my secret heart a desire to see him from near at hand, hear his voice, talk with him and if possible serve him. Perhaps our correspondence pushed me to this utopian reverie. But when we actually met, no sign of recognition on his face! It was as if we had been unknown to each other — or too well known? His attitude towards all of us was most impersonal to start with.
During the two or three months of his illness, he kept his unperturbed calmness and good humour. Neither the gravity of the accident nor its inconveniences affected him in any manner. He told us later on that before the accident he could change pain into joy, but the suddenness of the accident and the intensity of the pain made him powerless for the moment…. He did succeed afterwards. He said also that the accident, the illness etc. were for him only a phase of the inner battle.
We heard very little complaint during the long months of hospitalisation. Not only did he obey all the medical restrictions and physical discomforts with equanimity but lightened our own burden by cheerful talks. The Mother used often to ask, “Are they making you talk?” And his smiling reply was, “Oh, that’s nothing!” For over a year he had only a sponge bath; hunger did not seem to gnaw him; nor did heat unnerve him; he did not seem to live in the body. But he was far from being dry or austere, he was not an ascetic. He enjoyed good food, witty words and slept like all of us. He was not a “puritan god who had made of pleasure a poisoned fruit”; he read newspapers (but not books, for — in Mallarmé’s words — he ‘had read all books’!). He was not lost in meditation, eyes closed and legs crossed. In short, no external evidence would proclaim to us, “Here is the yogi who has reached the Supermind.” People were surprised to hear that his external life differed in no way from that of a common man, simple, natural and healthy. “To be transformed radically within, remaining apparently human without,” such is in effect the principle of his yoga.
And this was amply illustrated by the calm and serenity he maintained even in moments of great disturbance. He taught us that one must be able to keep a perfect equanimity even in the midst of massive destruction. We saw how, during the troubled period of war, he went on with his usual daily activity, never changing the normal rhythm of his life. He attended to his intellectual work. He started rewriting a good deal of The Life Divine soon after his convalescence and finished it in two years. We used to see him sitting on his bed with his pen, papers on the table, but no books. He had forgotten the world with its devastating war-thunder; the words came ‘flowing direct to his pen, as from a hidden silence.’ Now and then he would stop, look in front and dive again. The Mother would come with a glass of coconut water, and wait till he would look up. He needed no books, no thinking. He had stopped thinking long ago — after his Nirvanic experience in 1907 and since then all that he wrote or said or did had come from the higher silence. “To be free from the responsibility of thinking is a great relief,” he used to tell us.
About the second or third volume of The Life Divine, when it came out, he remarked, “It is a huge elephant.” All three volumes, neatly bound in polished white cloth, were sent to him to be blessed with his autograph. On each one he would write the name of the purchaser, add his blessings and his own signature. More than three hundred such copies have conserved his autograph as an act of Divine Grace.
The Life Divine over, Sri Aurobindo took up his epic Savitri. I had the unique opportunity to follow its growth and development from a tiny seed into an ashwattha tree. With an infinite care, exacting at each step a flawless perfection, he worked and worked, slowly, silently like a god in labour. One would gape with wonder to see how many versions he had made of some cantos! At the end when his vision was affected he had to dictate the verses like Milton. I remember that he dictated in successive sittings near about four hundred lines of The Book of Eternal Day. He had made about twelve revisions of the first Book. And he would certainly have done the same for the entire Savitri had he had sufficient time. Many other incidental tasks like correspondence with sadhaks, answering letters from outside, reading of theses, essays, poems and other miscellaneous intellectual tasks took up much of his time till one day he had to speak out: “I find no time for my important work!” Then he began systematically the work on Savitri and we were proceeding finely when again all of a sudden I heard him utter, “I want to finish Savitri soon.” That struck my ear like a sharp slap! It was in 1950, a few months before his passing away. Such an accent was most foreign to his nature. In everything that he did, his talk, his walk, his eating, his dictation, there was not the least haste; he would give the impression as if “all eternity was before him.” “Well then,” I asked myself, “what imperious need could make him impatient, he who was an example of patience and equanimity?” The work was, however, finished somewhat hurriedly and even so some parts were not revised. Afterwards of course we could see in a clear light what had pressed him inordinately.
One can imagine then that his seclusion was neither that of an ascetic’s refusal of the world nor an absorption in samadhi away from life. One might, on the contrary, reasonably ask, “Where in the midst of so much activity was the yogi? In what way was he different from other great men?” Here some understanding of the principle of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga is necessary. It is radical departure from most of the traditional yogas. For Sri Aurobindo all action depends on the consciousness from which it is done. Firmly seated in the divine consciousness one can do any kind of work which will be the reflection or translation of that divine consciousness. So whether in work or in activity, one is always united with the higher consciousness. And Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga demands that there should be no division between the external and the internal life. All life is yoga. “Do you imagine that when I write to you these letters, I lose the divine consciousness?” he wrote to me. He has also said that so long as one cannot undertake any work with a perfect equality, one is not a yogi. The Mother too says that so long as this division remains in the mind, transformation of life is impossible. Similarly when Sri Aurobindo used to give us inspiration for writing poetry, it was not to make us poets but that it might help us in our sadhana.
Even so, Sri Aurobindo reserved a big part of his daily life for what he called his personal work of concentration. Generally, the whole morning till the time of breakfast, which was gradually pushed to three or four o’clock in the afternoon, he passed in complete silence. None but the Mother was supposed to ‘disturb’ him except for exceptional reasons. We kept ourselves ready behind his bed, talking merrily or reading, while he was seated at ease in the bed, with eyes wide open, absorbed or concentrated God knows on what! His consciousness was “voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.”
During this period, he was quite a different person, far remote from that of the Correspondence or of Evening Talks.
This period was perhaps the most mysterious part of his life. Nobody except the Mother had any idea of what he was occupied with. Was he drawing down the supramental Force or concentrating on cosmic problems or even some individual cases needing some special attention? At these moments we were strangers to him: we might be crossing his presence many times, but we had no apparent identity. If he needed something, it was an impersonal voice calling somebody impersonal, as it were, for he would call by any name, and the voice would come from afar, the tone grave, the look elsewhere; the noise, our chatter fell into a vacancy. Even the explosion of a bomb would have left him serene and silent.
On this point the Mother has told us a story. One day when a storm was raging outside, she entered Sri Aurobindo’s room to find that a complete silence was reigning inside. This side of Sri Aurobindo I called the impersonal aspect of his person. People believed that we were all the time talking with him and that his radiant humour was pouring in a cascade and bathing us in its exultant flow. What a surprise to hear that such moments were numbered when he descended from his inaccessible heights to become ‘human’. And this short time was our divine moment. Like bees to the flower we would gather round him. The supramental cloak would slip down from his shoulders to reveal a friend who talked with us without any conventional constraint. Philosophy, literature, politics, yoga, even the most common jokes about snoring or the Sunday-Times trivialities were our fare. No ethical distinction between high and low, right or wrong ostracised any topic, only it must have some rasa in it. On one side his vast knowledge, his prajna was at our doors, on the other many small incidents, hitherto guarded secrets came to us in the form of reminiscences seasoned with light humour. One day he said, “All that I see in this room, these walls, these tables, the books, etc, etc., and yourself, Dr. Manilal, I see all as the Divine. No, it is not an imaginary vision, it is a concrete realisation.” Another day, Dr. Manilal having stopped his own meditation from fear, Sri Aurobindo scolded him mildly and said, “Oh, this fear! Even if you had died at that moment, it would have been a glorious death!” To another who had come out of his meditation he remarked with a smile, “I see your face beaming with a supramental ananda!” Such humour, sweet, refined and restrained, put us on a footing of equality.
But there too, as in all other things, he kept his tranquil spirit, his impersonal way. He never raised his voice, looked down or in front when he talked, and he talked very slowly, did not insist on his point, while a benign sweetness softened his countenance. When he criticised men or countries, there was no contempt or malice in his expression. He saw the Forces of which men are nothing but poor puppets. His divine compassion was over all. The impersonal again saw all with an equal eye.
I have often asked myself how such a division was possible. How could he be both personal and impersonal at the same time? Did he not lose his universality when he became an individual with us in his talks? It appears that one can be the transcendent, the universal and the individual simultaneously. Similarly he could keep an absolute silence in the midst of full activity. His luminous verse, “Force one with unimaginable rest,” gives a glimpse of what was a baffling mystery to me. All his activities, political, literary or otherwise, emerged from this Nirvanic silence and none knew it. All the volumes of the Arya had their source in this sovereign silence. And it was this force of silence that caused Hitler’s downfall and India’s independence. “There are two great forces in the universe, silence and speech…. Infinite is the power of this calm and silence, in which the great forces prepare for action.” Let us remember Buddha whose prodigious activity welled out from the ineffable silence of Nirvana!
In this modern age of feverish excitement and dizzy speed, Sri Aurobindo was never in a hurry, he remained calm and unperturbed even in the face of darkest calamities. He had an unshakable faith. His room was, as it were, packed with a concrete silence, but the force, the peace, the joy, the light were also there for anybody to feel and breathe them. During the first years of our stay with him, we were working almost twenty hours a day and yet there was no fatigue! Whence came all that joy and energy, I used to ask myself. I understood only after I had read Kalidasa” epic Kumarsambhava, “The Birth of the War-God.” There the poet describes how Shiva’s two servants were filled with inexhaustible energy that streamed from Shiva’s third eye. Very often we had the feeling that Sri Aurobindo was himself Shiva, or rather Shiva was an aspect of his personality. His total abnegation, his non-attachment to material things, his liberality, universal compassion, childlike attitude, distaste for physical work, his complete surrender to the Mother who looked after him, all these are features that we associate with Shiva. His very body had a likeness.
One can say then that impersonality was the essence of his nature. All that he did, all that came from him, his ease, reserve, calm slowness, even certain aspects of humour gave me that impression. We know that in his political activities he preferred always to remain in the background: one day he said, “The confounded British Government spoiled my play.” He was not even calling us by names when he needed something!
Though impersonal, he was a person and his personal body was so sweet, so tender! A perfume like that of a child’s body emanated from it. His small feet supporting a massive frame were warm like the down of a bird, and his palms were soft and velvety like those of a woman. When he lay down on the bed, his body covered the entire bed, and the trunk, lightly powdered after bath, hair plaited or loose falling down the neck reminded us again of Shiva. Sometimes the body was radiant with a white light. At other times when, seated on the edge of the bed, he waited for the Mother’s coming, his majestic posture evoked the figure of Moses. The portrait of his last days is nothing but a travesty of this supreme grandeur. Sri Aurobindo has said that the Supreme is both personal and impersonal at the same time. His own life is a luminous example of this truth and has given me a small insight into the working of the Divine in the world. We had the unique opportunity of seeing two personalities together, the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, the Shakti full of energy, dynamism, Shiva, impassive, immobile; the Prakriti, the Purusha, two-in-one.
This impassivity was, to my shocked surprise, one day suddenly snapped when he uttered, “I want to finish Savitri soon.” It is true that during the last phase of his life he became very grave and withdrawn. One of us dared to ask him the reason. He gave an enigmatic reply: “Things are getting very serious!” The meaning was clear only after he had left his body and this he did in a normal manner. An extraordinary phenomenon was observed the next day: the entire body was suffused with a golden light. The Mother said that if the Light remained the body would be preserved in a glass case. But alas, after five days the Light vanished, which is quite in conformity with Sri Aurobindo’s mode of life for he never wanted to capture the world’s imagination by miracles; he was not a thaumaturgic magician.
One can imagine the enormous void created in the Ashram by his unexpected departure. It was a thunderstroke. And if the Mother had I not absorbed the shock I do not know what a formidable chaos would have reigned in our world! She filled the void by her Grace, her power, by her very person. Sri Aurobindo’s absence has brought into the world-gaze the greatness, the supreme power of the Mother. She has, by her love and care, rebuilt the nest badly shaken by the storm. Before his passing, Sri Aurobindo had written in Savitri, “She alone can save the world and save herself,” which clearly pointed to the Mother’s future role.
If Sri Aurobindo is physically absent his subtle presence is yet very near us, alive and active, and as before it is continuously working on to establish the supramental kingdom on earth, “In Death to repatriate Immortality.”
Such was the Master’s life, and such it abides even now, always silent and impersonal, a total self-effacement. We lived the last twelve years of his life following him like a shadow. We saw how much the Divine in the form of Guru, the Avatar, works, suffers for our ‘confounded humanity.’ He has said, “My yoga is not for myself, I need nothing, neither salvation nor anything else, but precisely for the earth-consciousness, to open a way for the transformation of the earth-consciousness.”
We have also watched the tragedy of his passing away in a normal tranquil manner like a common man, not like some yogis who give up the body in meditation. Like Sri Ramakrishna, he took up the disease, allowed its natural course and reached the natural end. His whole life was an extraordinary phenomenon, but its external form so simple, natural and human, so to say, concealed the inner miracle. What we have seen are nothing but a few waves, small and big, on the surface, while his true life was ‘never on the surface’. The depth of that life will always remain unfathomable. The Mother alone knows what he was and what he has done for the world. One day the world will wake up to a recognition and accept him as the Avatar, the World-Teacher.
(Mother India, February 1967)
It was about ten years ago that we assembled in this historic playground of hallowed memories on the occasion of the Mother’s passing and it was Pranab who addressed you at that time. Most unexpectedly it is on the occasion of another departure that we have assembled again tonight. It is the passing of Nolini-da who was, to borrow a happy phrase, one of the first and foremost disciples of the Mother, her collaborator and our eldest brother. The sanctity, solemnity and beauty of this occasion my poor words cannot express though my mind can envisage it without fathoming it. His “unhorizoned” consciousness is too wide for human measurement and it never ceased to climb towards the heights even when he fell ill. At that time I was once called at night. He said, “You see, I went out of my body and when I came back, the body received a jerk. Hence this minor disturbance. You will understand. I don’t need any medicine.” The tone reminded me somewhat of Sri Aurobindo. I had come to know that often Nolini-da used to go out of his body and had to keep his hold on somebody’s hand in order to keep contact with the earth. I had read also the Mother saying that he could easily go out of his body to the Sachchidananda state. Well, these superconscious things are beyond me; I know a bit of the subconscious ones. Nevertheless I feel it my humble duty to present a few glimpses of his vast-visioned life to you so that you may have a rough idea of a person who rarely spoke of himself and to whom you may offer you gratitude and love for having quietly done so much for us. I must confess that most of what I shall say is based on my observation, reflection and conviction.
I had a moment’s sight of him when I met the Mother for the first time. She came to see me accompanied by Nolini-da, Amrita-da and Dilip-da. It was Dilip-da who had arranged the interview. Later, when I came to settle in the Ashram for good, I used to hear that Nolini-da was an enigma; he was a man of few words. People would not dare to assail his sanctum except on strict business. He was the secretary of the Ashram, but they all respected his aloofness. Often he used to be brusque with them and there were quite a number of anecdotes current in the Ashram about his abruptness. He had acquired the knack of upsetting people without himself getting upset. I shall quote two such stories. Once a sadhak complained to the Mother for what he considered Nolini-da’s rude behaviour to him. Sri Aurobindo wrote to Nolini-da about it. As a result he called the sadhak and apologised to him. On another occasion the hair-cutting saloon was to be opened. Nolini-da was approached; he flatly refused. The person wrote to the Mother and proposed another name instead. When, next day, Nolini-da went to see the Mother, she asked him why he had refused. On coming down, he hastened to the saloon and opened it. Therefore I used to avoid him. There you can see two traits in his nature, the outer somewhat jerky and the inner obedient to the Mother. Amrita who was his close associate used to say that Nolini-da was like yasti madhu. You have to chew it before you taste its sweetness. What a conversion took place in the later phase of his life! I marvelled at it. But let me not anticipate.
Though I kept myself at a distance, his learning and writings had a great attraction for me. I admired and respected him for them as well as for his personality. His passion for knowledge, which made buying books his one hobby, could be summarised by a verse from Savitri: “He sought for knowledge like a questing hound.” If the small can be compared with the great, I had also such a passion, but a minor one and I tried to satisfy it at Sri Aurobindo’s expense. You know the way I provoked, pestered, even bothered him with a host of questions. While I did this, Nolini-da gathered him in the vast cathedral of his mind and seated him on its high altar as the supreme deity. You know how Sri Aurobindo initiated him in the esoteric lores of the Vedas and Upanishads as well as in the secular knowledge of various literatures and languages. Sri Aurobindo’s heart must have been gladdened to find such a worthy young mind. Thus his approach to Sri Aurobindo was through the mind. I need not dwell at length upon this aspect, since his erudition is quite well known. Perhaps I can summarise it by quoting another expression from our Shastra. Both para vidya and apara vidya were at his command and they have all gone into 10 volumes of Bengali and 8 volumes of English works. They can make a side-stream running along with Sri Aurobindo’s vast Brahmaputra-like productions, fed and nourished by them and flowing into oneness with them. Sri Aurobindo has said that Nolini-da had a remarkable mind. But some people have found its works an echo, a shadow of Sri Aurobindo. Even if they were a shadow, they were a luminous shadow.
I have often wondered how he could contain such “infinite riches in a little room.” For except his broad and high forehead, the other parts of his body were frail. His forehead often made me think of Shakespeare and Einstein. In fact, often during our medical visits in the morning when he had just come down from the inner empyrean as if with the gold dust of trance-land still on his body, a few locks of hair disarrayed, eyes dreamy, he looked very much like a mystical Einstein. But after he had had his wash, combed his hair and brushed his pet moustache, he was the elegant incarnation of Virgil.
Still, he was by no means a book-worm, recluse. He had his hands full. He had to manage the bulk of the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s correspondence, distribute their letters to sadhaks and carry on other work. His domestic chores he did himself: washing his own clothes, making his bed, bringing his kuja-water, preparing his own tea, polishing his shoes, etc. He had a weakness for shoes. When Sri Aurobindo wanted to get rid of a pair of Vidyasagari shoes, having no further need for them, he said they could be given to Nolini since he was fond of shoes. He was a bit of a dandy. He was doing regular athletic exercises and taking part in competitions. Mass drill was his favourite item and he participated in it till his late seventies.
Every fraction of his life was disciplined and methodised. That is the external reason of his keeping fit and being capable of a huge output in a single life. I wonder if mere is any world-figure today with so many facets combined and harmonised to such a degree of perfection. But where is the key to be found for such various accomplishments? It was certainly his inner development that was the secret of his outflowering. He practised yoga with one-pointed concentration and took up his literary and other activities as a part of it. As in Sri Aurobindo’s own case so in Nolini-da’s and in other cases of outer flowering in art, literature, etc. in the Ashram, yoga and the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s force were mainly responsible for success. It seems that during the most brilliant period of the Ashram in 1927, when the Mother was bringing down the gods into the sadhaks, there came down into Nolini-da’s adhara the consciousness of Varuna, the Vedic god of Vastness. Hence the vastness in his writings. One could never achieve such an amplitude and integrality by mere mental labour. The work of the mere mind would be lop-sided. Nolini-da’s later productions, like those of his Master, must have been written from a silent mind. I would say transcribed rather than written. I would have doubted such a process, had not Sri Aurobindo convinced me by his thundering words and logical arguments during our correspondence.
Now I enter a terra incognita. To talk of the inner development of a Yogi is like a layman perorating on the theory of relativity. Fortunately I can draw upon some casual hints given by the Master and the Mother. Once when someone complained that Nolini-da was not doing Sri Aurobindo’s yoga since he kept aloof, was unsociable, etc., Sri Aurobindo replied, “If Nolini is not doing my yoga, who is doing it? Is sociableness a part of yoga?” Secondly, it was alleged that the sadhaks here would count for nothing in the world outside. Hearing which, Sri Aurobindo remarked, “The quality of sadhaks is so low?… There are at least half a dozen people here who live in the Brahmic consciousness…” This statement excited my curiosity and I surmised that Nolini-da must be one of these. I began to study his outer life. I could not get any clue. He was a closed shell, would not expose his pearls to an outsider. Besides, I was just a novice and had not the ghost of an idea of what the Brahmic consciousness was. Apropos of my query I received another sweetly castigating letter from the Master. None the wiser, I went on merrily without caring about Brahman, for Sri Aurobindo was my Brahman till he passed away. And then the Mother filled his place. In the sixties came a startling disclosure from the Mother. She wrote on Nolini-da’s birthday card — “Nolini en route towards the superman.” The years that followed brought a succession of revelations: “Nolini, with love and affection for a life of collaboration” …. “For the prolonged continuation of this happy collaboration” …. and lastly, in 1973, “With my love and blessings…. for the transformation. Let us march ahead towards the Realisation.” These are very big words indeed. I don’t know if any other person received such encomiums. I could now understand to some extent what these expressions meant and I was struck speechless. But Nolini-da swallowed all calmly and with ease. The coming superman did not undermine the natural man. I could not glean his ample inner field. Perhaps he was marching ahead with the Mother and when there was “one more step to take and all would be sky and God,” the greatest calamity befell the earth. The Mother passed away. There was an overclouding gloom, dejection, consternation.
It was then that Nolini-da came forward and took the lead as it were. When the Mother’s body was brought down and laid in the Meditation Hall, the Trustees came and Nolini-da was called from his room. He was requested to say a few words. Keeping quiet for a moment, he stood up straight like a column of light and said some words whose purport is: “Let us stand together and go forward in harmony and collaboration. The Mother has said she will be with us in our consciousness.” He felt perhaps that a vacuum had been made and he must do his part.
From that time a new life began for Nolini-da and a new phase for us. He had to come out of his shell. All eyes were turned to him for guidance, for help spiritual and mundane. He was invited to witness many functions; his approval was sought in many activities. In other words, he was called to shoulder a big part of the Mother’s spiritual work. A plethora of visitors asked for his touch. His writings were continuing in the same way and he used to read some of them in the School, in the Playground and in the Meditation Hall in front of his room. The idea, I believe, was to hold the Ashramites together and bathe them in the spiritual Presence. The Mother had assigned to him a French class for the elders and he continued it. In this manner, he was coming out more and more and his presence and nearness were available. It will not be an exaggeration to claim that he held the divisive tendencies together and saved us from falling apart. His hold particularly on the youth was of very good augury. When he had to undergo an operation for a cataract, the young boys kept vigil over him for about three months. Strange enough to observe that people operated upon along with him or afterwards got cured in two or three weeks while he took three months or so owing to a number of complications. He remarked jocularly that because he was given so much attention Nature took revenge.
In 1977, he had an apocalyptic vision of the Mother. He writes: “The Mother says, ‘Just see. Look at me. I am here come back in my new body — divine, transformed and glorious. And I am the same Mother, still human. Do not worry. Do not be concerned about your own self, your progress and realisation nor about others. I am here, look at me, gaze into me, enter into me wholly, merge into my being, lose yourself into my love, with your love; you will see all problems solved, everything done. Forget everything, forget the world. Remember me alone, be one with me, with my love.”
It was after this vision probably that he began to talk more and more about the Mother. To the departing students of the Higher Course he used to repeat that the Mother would be with them wherever they went. They were bound to her by a golden chain.
In 1978 either due to overstrain or some other reason he fell ill. Dr. Bose, Dr. Datta and myself formed a trio. I was the zero of the three, for my presence was more of a personal nature than a professional one. Now we enter the last phase of Nolini-da’s long career. It is a sweet song telling of sad things. His heart had gone wrong; to use Sri Aurobindo’s words, it was misbehaving. The blood pressure was high. The doctors succeeded in stabilising them. Satisfied with the progress Dr. Bose went to his home-town for about a month. After he had returned, there was a recrudescence of the symptoms and the condition took a serious turn. Consultation with an outside physician was thought of but Nolini-da had confidence in his doctors and vetoed the idea. However, things were becoming critical. Nolini-da himself said that he was passing away. The Calcutta people were informed. Somehow the faith and energetic intervention of the doctors, particularly of Datta, called down the Mother’s Grace and Nolini-da was sent back form the threshold. A slow recovery followed and along with it he took up gradually his previous work, but naturally modified according to his measure. His movements were now confined to the Ashram precincts. Apart from the recording of Savitri, translating it into Bengali, seeing visitors and various other minor activities, most of the time he used to keep to his bed. We were visiting him as usual. At this time or even before, I do not remember, my stock shot up with him, though I was only a pulse-taking doctor. He used to call me by name, “Nirod”, which had an Aurobindonian ring, and, stretching his hand, ask me to feel his pulse. Often he used to do that and ask: “All right?” When all of us had examined him, his query was again: “All right?” “Yes, all right, Nolini-da,” we would answer and depart.
No superfluous talk. Sometimes he would simply give a steady look and then utter, “Bonne nuit.” From Datta he would inquire about his patients or he would himself speak of some patients who had approached him. Monique, the French Ballet teacher, had a very bad fracture and had to be sent to France. Nolini-da used to inquire about her almost three times a day.
After that massive attack he never enjoyed sound health and was kept on drugs which he used to swallow without any murmur. Anima would exclaim that she had not seen any other person taking 4 or 5 bitter drugs a day as if it was a habit. When the symptoms increased, I being near at hand was called at night and, if necessary, the others were informed. At times all the three medicos were present. In addition to his own troubles, occasionally Nolini-da used to groan in sleep as if in pain over the ailments of his friends. Once he cried out repeatedly a person’s name. That person appeared to have been in a very critical condition that night and Nolini-da’s body received the vibration. There are numerous instances to show that he was sensitive to other peoples’ inner and outer condition and perhaps sent help to them in the yogic way. I know how in one case he cured an “incurable” malady or at least arrested it completely. He had given peace and taken away deep sorrow from people.
A woman had come from London and wanted to have Nolini-da’s darshan. She was asked to take my permission. I saw her coming back from the darshan with tears streaming from her eyes. I wanted to know the reason. She said that when she had got up after pranam, she was flooded with light coming down upon her. She was permitted to do pranam to him every day from a distance. This was the first concrete proof I had of his spiritual communicative power and my solar plexus was knocked out.
A few months before his passing, Dr. Bose suddenly passed away. Nolini-da was deeply moved. With tears in his eyes and a choked voice, he murmured: “What a fine soul! what a fine soul! He should not have gone before me.” Such human expression of feeling from him was something new to us. I believe that the loss made a dent in his heart. Once Bose had seen in a dream Nolini-da’s upper body full of golden light: the lower part had been absent. Nolini-da commented that, it was an overmind vision. A few days later, as he was lying in his bed, I asked him through Anima where his consciousness could be. He answered: “Why, with the Mother!” I wanted more precision. Then he answered: “In the Overmind.” I was simply swept off my feet. Though the Mother had indicated it, the information coming from Nolini-da himself had a tremendous effect upon me — I don’t know how people in general would understand the significance of that large utterance. Quietly I went away and tried to absorb the impact, for I knew by that time what it meant and at once in a flash many of his actions or decisions which had puzzled us were revealed in a new light. He was suspected to have some weakness for his family. He replied: “Great souls are beyond such ties.” For the first time in our knowledge he had made a personal reference. We were also baffled by his attitude towards those who were known to do harm to the Ashram. Then, when I saw him distributing his own photos to selected people, I was piqued. Now all these bizarre-looking movements troubled me no more and every question was set at rest. The mystery and mystique of all his actions became clear to me. Later I learned from Anima that Nolini-da had confided in her that he was mostly in the Overmind but at times a little beyond it.
To resume, yet cut our story short: Bose had gone from the doctor-group, two were now in harness, Datta’s being the main labour — I was an adjunct. Nolini-da was comparatively well and we expected that he would score his century. Anima and Matri Prasad, his two closest attendants, were regaling him with many stories and he too was indulgent to them. They were very free with him and would cut jokes again and again. I myself used to feel embarrassed at times; for this image of Nolini-da was a new development and I kept always my old attitude of respect towards him. In this period, which was a little before Bose’s departure, his most memorable action was to go and see Vasudha on her last birthday. We were somewhat alarmed. She had been bed-ridden. Nolini-da would often inquire about her and Datta kept him informed. I think Nolini-da had realised that Vasudha’s days were numbered. So he took this opportunity, though he could hardly walk even a few steps. We had great difficulty in putting him in a car and getting him just across the road. He sat before Vasudha with his chest heaving from exhaustion, took her hands into his own, blessed her and then came back.
His Bengali translation of Savitri had been completed and was expected to come out before his next birthday. Since the last months of 1983 things had begun to take a bad turn. His old pain in the heart re-appeared, stringent measures had to be taken regarding seeing visitors and other activities. His birthday on January 13 which had been expected to be a day of jubilation passed quietly, but he did not fail to meet the out-going students and give his blessings. Pain and distress were now on the increase. All modern measures were adopted, but only with momentary relief. Again the question of consulting a known heart-specialist was thought of, but met with disapproval. Distress and agony pervaded the general picture. We were at constant call and the attendants were ever vigilant, particularly at night. Less than a week before the last act, Nolini-da said to Anima that he would like to distribute his Savitri translation to all the attendants. Books were a bit late in coming. He ordered: “Get the books quickly and call the people.” This was the last gesture. As Savitri was Sri Aurobindo’ last composition, its translation has added a large dimension to the Bengali language. When more than once doubts were raised about the exactness of some words, Nolini-da said with force: “One has to read the Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata, Sanskrit literature before questioning their use.” He surprised me by this unusual self-estimation.
On the 7th February the closing scene was enacted. We had examined him in the morning. The condition, though bad, was not critical. At noon, I heard that he had taken his usual meal and relieved himself. Datta was by his side. I was suddenly called at 4 p.m. and informed that after the motion Nolini-da had collapsed. When I came down, Datta said with a gloomy air that there was a sudden fall of blood pressure. Nolini-da had gone within; his eyes were shut; the pulse was thready and he was sweating profusely. The end was near. I sat by his side and called “Nolini-da!” his opened his eyes, gave a look of recognition as if from the Beyond and closed his eyes. Slowly, quietly, the breathing stopped at 4.42 p.m. — the grand finale of the long epic story.
Once I had collapsed due to a sudden fall of blood-pressure. Nolini-da was informed that I was passing away. He came to see me and found that I had revived. He seems to have remarked later that I couldn’t go away, I had still a lot of work to do. I suppose, one of the assignments was to help in his departure.
The day after the event, his body was laid out in the Meditation Hall. Hundreds saw his chiselled face embalmed in a Nirvanic peace.
The rest of the story is well-known. One thing to be observed is that his body was taken to the Casanove garden in royal splendour. The procession of cars was something new in the history of Pondicherry. And almost the entire Ashram and group of visitors made their pilgrimage to the burial place as a token of their love and respect. That too was something unprecedented in our experience. A man who had lived a quiet, unassuming life and earned the veneration of thousands. The body was laid to rest by the side of his old friends and colleagues. Amrita-da and Pavitra-da, fulfilling his last wish.
Now when I ruminate over what I was given to observe of the last phase of Nolini-da’s life, a few rare qualities remain impressed upon my memory and reveal to me his true soul. First, his freedom from the taint of personality: ego was dead. He had love for all and sundry. Enemy he had none, not even those who were considered to be doing harm to the Ashram. He accepted them all as the Mother’s children and left it to her to judge them. In consequence he gained universal respect and confidence. The government also had trust in him and the Prime Minister stated that he radiated peace.
Secondly, he always preserved a strong strain of impersonality even with those people who were close to him. That was his natural genius. This was a typically Aurobindonian stamp. The other Aurobindonian stamps were: he would not push himself to the front and never interfered with what people did, even when they happened to be his near ones, unless approached for advice. He never criticised anyone and did not approve of anyone making criticisms and using strong language. A large liberality, sweetness and compassion crowned all his actions and movements. Even children used to love him. If he did not approve of anyone’s actions, he did not confuse the man with his actions. He could invite the man to sit by his side.
These were the later manifestations of his hidden nature. Once somebody complained to him about life and its difficulties. He answered: “Why am I here?” Then the person who had complained said: “You are needed for the Ashram. Therefore the Mother has kept you here.” In a grave tone Nolini-da declared: “I am here for a particular development. So far in my evolution there was the sattwic consciousness: the element of knowledge. Now a new element has been added: love, ananda. For that new growth I am here. But no use saying all this. People won’t understand and they will distort it.”
Some of his last utterances are worth recording. I was once called at night and found him sitting on the edge of his bed. He said: “You see, this body is of the earth earthy and will mix with the earth. But the realisation will remain.” Then in the last days he used to be in-drawn. We thought he was sleeping. When he came out of his absorption he had the appearance of an ever-joyous child and he also spoke and behaved like one. I said: “Perhaps you are in the Sachchidananda state” — to which he replied with a smile: “It is in an Anandamaya region.” On another occasion he was heard to mumble in an absorbed way: “Sat-yogi, Sat-yogi.” Asked whether he was by any chance referring to himself, he softly whispered: “Yes.” After that he withdrew almost wholly into himself, and when he spoke, it was to tell many that he would be leaving his body. On his 95th birthday he remarked. “This new year will be very critical for me.” When he was once asked where he would be after he had left his body he stated very clearly: “A little beyond the Overmind.” During those days he had also visions of three goddesses Chamunda, Kali and Gauri. About Chamunda, he said that she was trying to do mischief with his heart and he had detected it. Kali was all dark: everywhere there was darkness. In another vision he saw that he had gone away to a solitary place, all alone: there was no sign of life anywhere around. Then he saw Matri, following him.
When I try to assess his contribution to the sum-total of the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s work, I feel that, short of the Supermind, he realised in himself a true synthesis of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga and proved that this many-sided, complex, comprehensive Yoga is not an insane chimera. Further, he has made the path easier and smoother for posterity, as he has himself said that his realisation will remain. He serves as a bridge, an intermediary between us and the Mother. I can illustrate this point by citing the experience of a young sadhika the very night Nolini-da passed away. She went home with a heavy heart after seeing Nolini-da. She read a few pages from The Yoga of Sri Aurobindo before going to sleep. She dreamt that Nolini-da’s body had been shifted beside the Mother’s room on the second floor. People were going to see him in batches. When she arrived, she saw Nolini-da standing at the door radiant, youthful and full of zest. He called her in and cried loudly: “Come, come, today is my Bonne Fete.” Then he made her sit down and talked a lot on the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Simultaneously she saw his dead body lying beside the wall, as it had been in his room. She was very much astonished. Then she read a chit from Counouma, asking her to go to Cazanove, since she was one of the attendants, and a vehicle had been arranged for the purpose.
Let us try, therefore, to be Nolini-like, to quote K.D. Sethna, if the Mother and the Master seem far beyond our reach.
Finally, my story will be incomplete if I fail to recognise the inestimable service rendered by our young people to whom we cannot be too grateful for what they have done night after night, specially Anima and Matri. Anima’s devotion and self-abnegation will be a matter of history. For years she looked after Nolini-da-his secretary, nurse, mother, sister all in one. As soon as he called “Anima”, she was there. She gave him all the royal comfort and ease he deserved. She may have her faults — who is free? — but, without her, Nolini-da would have left us long ago and in a very lamentable condition. Our admiration for her knew no bounds. She kept her eyes upon the comfort of the attendants as well. She was full of life and cheer and had a fund of tales, anecdotes, reminiscences by which she tried to enliven Nolini-da’s mood and mitigate his physical distress though she herself had high blood-pressure and was subject to headaches, pains and other ailments.
In conclusion let us hear a part of the recorded voice of Nolini-da where we get a clue to his true being. (svarupa):
“The story is after all the story of our adventure upon earth, a common adventure through centuries — not only through centuries but perhaps from the very creation of the earth. It is the story of the adventure of a group of souls, souls who were destined, who were created for the advent of a new creation. I will speak of only just a few bits and some important episodes of this adventure in which I participated, because you wanted to hear my life.
“We came, all of you, all of us who are here, most of them, in different epochs at the crucial stages of our evolution. In different periods, whenever there was a necessity of an upliftment or an enlightenment, we all came together, each in his own way. So one or two episodes like that I can tell. For example, in Europe a crucial turning-point of its history was the Renaissance, the new light. At the time of the Renaissance we all know that the creator of the Renaissance was Sri Aurobindo — Leonardo — and the whole Renaissance was his consciousness and all those who flocked around him, each one did his own work. You know that Amrita was intimately connected with that work — he was Michael Angelo. And Moni was also there — Suresh Chakravarty. He was one of the chief artists. I have forgotten his name…
“But all… the work they actually did, you know, the important thing, the consciousness they brought — expressed some sad event, some not so, but living concretising the consciousness…. My contribution in that age of Renaissance was in France. The Mother always said: ‘Your French incarnation was very prominent, even today it is very prominent.’ That little bit of evolution is still living. The consciousness at that time in France — that was also the beginning of the Renaissance and… the new creation, new poetry — I was a poet of that time and introduced the new poetry in France. At that time the king of France was Francois Ier. was in the political — also in the general life of the people he introduced this new light, new manner of consciousness. So I was with him. And who was Francois Premiere you know — Duraiswamy!
“The consciousness of the reality of that country was so strong that when I started reading or writing French — I wrote French — then sometimes I noted down some lines…. later I found that I had noted down exactly some verses of this poet of France, Ronsard…”
I may add an incident of recollection by Nolini-da of a past life. One day when he went to inspect our School garden, he was very much interested in observing the plan of the garden, the trees, the lotus pond and he remarked: “I was the gardener of Louis XIV, Le Nôtre.”
(Mother India, April 1984)
“Old Long Since” – Some Memories of Amrita
In this month falls the birth anniversary of our unforgettable and incomparable Amrita whose sudden passing away was felt as a sharp stab from the hand of the unseen forces. What we miss most in his absence is his Birbal-like wit and humour that used to ‘scatter like sparks from an unextinguished hearth’ at all moments and in any situation, either while plunged in his managerial work, talking business with people, going for a bath, on the way to the Bank, while waiting for the Mother, or even in Her presence. He was the one person we knew who could cut jokes with her while the rest of us were petrified into reverential silence. The Mother allowed him that liberty, and enjoyed his humour, sometimes with an appreciative smile, sometimes with an assumed gravity, and even provoked his playfulness.
We used to have much fun on the first day of every month on our way to “Prosperity” to receive our monthly supplies. The Mother used to distribute toffees in the long corridor leading to Pavitra’s room to all those who would accompany her. Some-times she would throw them to us. Most of us were good catchers, but Amrita had never been a sportsman and the Mother would purposely bring that out by either, throwing the toffee at great speed or tossing it up or hurling it beyond his reach. Poor Amrita would invariably miss it. Once she threw the sweet with some force and Amrita made a violent comic gesture with both arms as if he was trying to embrace someone. “Oh Amrita,” the Mother cried with a smile, “to catch a small thing you make such a violent movement?”. “Douce Mere,” he replied, “I was trying to catch what was behind it.” Everyone burst into laughter.
Again, after the business sittings which used to take place on the first floor where the Mother’s chair is at present near the staircase, people, on getting up, would now and then get a knock on their heads from the plank-ledge of the adjacent almirah. Udar, it seems, proposed to remove it, but the Mother protested, saying, “No, it will make them conscious.” One day Amrita received a good bump. The Mother enquired, “What’s the matter?” “Getting conscious, douce Mere,” was Amrita’s repartee. The next joke was in the presence of a big gathering. The Mother was taking her usual French translation class in the Playground. Amrita came late and was waiting to enter. The Mother asked him, “You can’t enter before answering a question. What is the relation between the Divine and Art?” Naturally the whole class was in a hushed suspense. Amrita kept silent for a while, replied gravely, “Good relation, Douce Mere”, and quietly walked in. A peal of laughter, and the Mother smiled. Such was Amrita and such was the sweet relation between the Divine and Amrita.
But at the same time the Mother didn’t spare him at all for any negligence, mistake, carelessness and other minor or major fault. He accepted all these knocks and shocks bravely, since he knew them to be expressions of her love.
As with the Mother so with all others, particularly when they too were witty persons like Amal or Wilfy. I used to wonder whence came such an endless stock of mirth, wit, such divine levity. Had he found the rasa from his contact with his Guru? With so heavy a burden of work upon him, how could he remain the Sadananda Purusha at all times? This was my inner query, specially when I was a chronic sufferer from the attacks of the opposite Purusha. His contact therefore was salutary, not for me alone but for all who approached him, for — to adapt the Poet of the Daffodils —
A sadhak cannot but be gay
In such a jocund company,
and one would look forward to the next meeting.
What was Amrita’s heavy burden? Whenever you entered his room, you saw him at his bureau, a small figure with somewhat stooping shoulders, smooth broad forehead, sharp slightly curved nose, black eyes twinkling with mischief — a typical Brahmin face of the South. You would observe on his table bunches of keys and handfuls of pens and pencils; almirahs and chests of drawers stood all around him along the walls, packed with files and files. Entering his small elongated bedroom, smaller than mine, you would notice how he had managed to put every necessary toilet thing, shoes, dhoties, etc., etc., in beautiful order. There was a small peg for the toothbrush, another for the shaving brush, a small bracket for toilet articles; a mirror, a washbasin, a clothes stand were placed with perfect precision, so that even a blind man could pick them out. The Mother has remarked that the state of the wardrobe of a person will give you the clue to his mind. Had Amrita’s wardrobe been examined, I am sure Amrita would have passed this test with Honours. Also, he himself made his own bed, smoothed out all the creases of the white bedsheet and lay on it with a clear conscience. I saw him doing all the operations with my own eyes, and felt like lying down on the cosy bed. He would take off the mosquito curtain himself and fold it carefully. When most of us used our servants for doing these jobs and washing our clothes, Amrita had washed his own clothes from the very beginning — and so have Nolini, Dyuman and Bula. In the days before illness overtook him, he would get up early in the morning, go to Padmasini’s place for a bath, wash his clothes, attend to the servant department and come back at 5.30 or so.
From early in the day his work would start, and continue till 9-10 p.m. with a short break at noon. The Bank business, money order accounts, house hiring, servant supervision, etc., etc. — multifarious activities were his daily chores. And a stream of people poured into his room and went out, with their complaints, demands, questions, answers to be carried to the Mother. To deal with them was his main occupation. If one just stood at his door, one would see the fun of it all! Some people were sitting, some standing in the small room crowded with chairs, tables, almirahs, some others waiting outside and himself sitting in his chair, talking with some clients, giving them the Mother’s answers or signing a cheque, while the typewriter went rattling away on the next table, money order accounts were being written on another one, he was busy as if with a hundred hands, a hundred mouths, and cracking jokes in between, receiving some people with a smile, sending away others all contented, half contented but rarely grumbling. ‘What? servant trouble? don’t like the room? not well? blessings?’ In all problems minor or major one answer was often repeated: ‘I will ask the Mother’. It sounded like Sri Ramakrishna. If you wanted to know what was Karmayoga, you had just to watch him. No fatigue, no leisure, no irritation, affable, amiable with all! it is because of this amiability and kind consideration that most people, Europeans and Indians alike, flocked to him. ‘Amrita-da, Amrita-da’ was the call you would constantly hear echoing all around. And when he came down from the Mother with the tray full of papers, letters, flowers, people lay in wait for him. ‘Oh, I have forgotten, tomorrow, tomorrow!
‘Here are your blessings!’ ‘No, Mother was too busy, no time. These were the usual answers. Sometimes the answers also were misplaced; after a hurried search, found or not found! Yet none complained, his sweetness acted like a balm. He was rightly called Ajatasatru, one with no enemies. As I was not familiar with him at the beginning I did not know that he was such a witty person. When I knew, I wondered how it was possible to be so jolly with so much botheration on one’s shoulders! I myself had to approach him often with what I used to term my Padmasini trouble, i.e., servant trouble. As soon as I entered, ‘What, some trouble again?’ he would ask, and would uphold my appeal. Somebody complained to the Mother that Amrita and some others were not very practical people. The Mother replied, ‘But they are very faithful.’ Faithfulness, love and devotion and entire dedication were the very essence of Amrita’s nature. Whatever the Mother said was law unto him. He would not do anything small or big without having first the Mother’s sanction. In his illnesses too he had relied entirely on the Mother, and in his last illness when he was advised to go to Madras for an operation, he refused because the Mother didn’t approve of it. In the early thirties we used to enjoy the sight of his pranam to the Mother; he and Chandulal, Vasudha’s brother and his brother by adoption, both would do pranam together, one at each foot. While Chandulal would almost hang down holding the Mother’s foot, Amrita would bow down, giving the impression of an obedient and devoted child.
Though Amrita’s efficiency and industry in the various activities under his supervision were not in doubt, I did not fail to notice his ignorance or absence of body sense. In this respect, he was the complete antipodes of Nolini, though they were like counterparts, ancient friends living side by side — antipodes also in one being of divine levity, the other of divine gravity. Amrita did not seem to know what he was suffering from, what restrictions he should observe as regards diet, work, rest, etc. I was very much surprised to learn that just a few days after his first heart attack, he climbed a three-storey building staircase just to inaugurate its opening ceremony, a thing, I am sure, Nolini wouldn’t have done with his keen sense of body science. We were also amused to see him taking part in physical exercises in the playground. After Sri Aurobindo’s passing away, a great pressure was felt by all of us, calling for a change in our way of life. Among the older disciples, Nolini, Amrita, Dilip and others joined in the physical exercises as a part of the integral yoga. I have heard that when Amrita proposed it to the Mother, the Mother refused twice, replying, ‘Stupid idea!’ But when, encouraged by the example of the rest, he made his third appeal, it was conceded. His enthusiasm, however, did not last for long. That is why the Mother had been reluctant, for she knew his nature and habits very well. The spectacle of Amrita and Dilip doing collective exercises in the playground attracted crowds to enjoy the Harry Lauder fun. Both of them marching in blue shorts with others, hardly keeping time, or both falling behind and running to catch up, or right foot falling in place of the left, turning to the left instead of the right and, particularly when commanded to sit on the ground, their inability to rise up promptly — all these at once were an eloquent testimony to the fact of physical exercises being foreign to their nature. In this respect they resembled very much their Master. In his case too, when he was advised by Dr. Manilal to take some exercises in bed in order to tone up his muscles, one could see that he was practising a para dharma. Unlike Amrita, Nolini could apply himself most naturally to make his body a perfect instrument. When, in the latter phase of Amrita’s life, I drew his attention to his developing paunch, he asked me in Bengali, ‘Oh, is it so?’ It was very sweet to hear his hesitant, stumbling Bengali; so was his French speech, though he had a good command over the language and was once a teacher of French. Sri Aurobindo told us a humorous story about his teaching. A student complained once that what he was teaching was not according to the book and pointed out the apparent mistake. Quick came the retort: ‘That is old French!’ It was Sri Aurobindo, it seems, who induced him to learn Bengali in the early dawn of the Ashram — a training which became so useful for his work. And it was Sri Aurobindo, again, who was behind the loss of his stately shikha, his prized Brahmin tuft. The story is both amusing and revealing.
Sri Aurobindo is said to have put two or three young men to nipping off his shikha at any cost, and it was done by no one else than Nolini at 2 a.m. when Amrita was guarding his shikha in his sleep, at Sri Aurobindo’s place. “I had an apprehension,” he writes, that night that the shikha would be no more on my head and next morning having got up, as I felt for the shikha I found it non-existent.” Why did Sri Aurobindo play this prank? Can we imagine Sri Aurobindo doing it, even out of fun to strike at his orthodoxy? It was in accordance with Sri Aurobindo’s decision and order, Amrita writes, that the ‘shikha’ was cut off. Well, the sequel will explain the meaning of the irreligious practical joke. He went to Madras soon after offering the shikha ‘at the altar of the temple at sacred Pondicherry in which Sri Aurobindo is the deity’. One day his father came to his room. Astounded at Amrita’s appearance, bereft of the shikha and other traditional marks, he stood fixed like a statue. Tears then streamed down his cheeks. After about an hour he said: ‘A girl has been chosen for you. She belongs to a rich family…. They are likely to give, as dowry, fifty thousand rupees in cash. I have just seen the girl. Yes, she is quite dark in complexion with pock marks on the face. Her family is extremely orthodox…. But you have pulled down the whole edifice.’ Was it Sri Aurobindo’s prophetic vision that caused its downfall? Did he anticipate the catastrophe falling on Amrita’s head and intervene in time by getting the precious tuft sheared off?
The incident shows at any rate the intimacy that had developed between the guru and the young shishya. His reminiscences further disclose that this closeness was not of our earthly making. Discarding the three big leaders of the Swadeshi days, Lai, Bal and Pal, a boy in his teens to fall in love with simply the name “Aravinda Ghosh” sounds almost like the spell cast by Krishna’s flute in the gopis. Afterwards his meeting with his beloved Krishna, the tears, the palpitation, the embrace, the adoration — all these love symptoms attest to his heart’s allegiance borne through many lives. Then, his strange vision while standing by a village pond at eventide is a corroboration of my bright surmise, and sends our memory back to the vision of the Magi in the Bible. In later life I had occasion to see him in Sri Aurobindo’s presence. Once he had come with papers and documents to be signed by Sri Aurobindo. He was waiting at the door for permission to enter. Sri Aurobindo sat up on the bed, Amrita sat on the floor by the side, put the paper before Sri Aurobindo showing him the place where to sign. ‘What shall I write?’ asked the Master. ‘Your full name.’ Then on two or three pages he indicated with his fingers the places, and said, ‘Now only the initials.’ ‘Any more?’ Sri Aurobindo asked with a smile. ‘No,’ he replied in a grave tone, disappointing my expectation of a witty reply. But I felt that each time he was putting his fingers on the papers, they were eager to have a touch, but the Master did not give the poor fellow any chance. His supramental nature fought shy of any demonstration. Even with regard to the Mother, Sri Aurobindo was very restrained in any external physical exhibition of his feelings. The Mother would come, and do pranam on darshan days, take his hand and kiss it, but he would just lightly place his hand on her head, though his heart was “full of the warm South”. In Champaklal’s case, at the end of his term, it was astonishingly different; for, as we have mentioned elsewhere, he heaped embraces upon him as if the last seal and sanction of his eternal love for his devoted servant. We did not realise till then that Sri Aurobindo was capable of so much emotion. I was wondering, ‘Do I wake or sleep?’ The Divine is not limited by any human notions or rules or canons. The word ‘embrace’, like Keats’s unusual word ‘forlorn,’ brings back the happy vision I had of Amrita some months back. He entered Sri Aurobindo’s room, taller than his normal stature, more robust, quite muscular, clad in his usual white dhoti and Punjabi. Sri Aurobindo was sitting on the bed. Amrita said in a deliberate tone, ‘I will do pranam.’ Sri Aurobindo answered quietly, ‘Very well.’ ‘No, not only pranam, I will embrace you.’ Then Sri Aurobindo stood up and clasped him with such Bhima-like vigorous affection that he appeared to be simply crushed and absorbed into Sri Aurobindo’s bosom. This was Amrita, the hungry heart! Here again I was wondering at the unusual manifestation, and thinking: ‘Is it a vision or a waking dream?’
This hungry heart had some spiritual vital sustenance with the arrival of his nieces. But let that come at its right place. I was told that in the early period Amrita was given the exceptional privilege of washing Sri Aurobindo’s hand by pouring water on it after he had finished his meal. Once when he was late, Sri Aurobindo kept on waiting. Another anecdote of the early days, recounted by Sri Aurobindo which I have recorded elsewhere, runs like this. Amrita was suffering from an incessant hiccough, became panicky and said to Sri Aurobindo, ‘Sir, I am going to die?’ ‘What does it matter if you die?’ was the brutal reply and at once the hiccough stopped!
As I have just hinted, Amrita’s loving heart was pining for some channel to express itself, and that was fulfilled when in later days his two young nieces came to seek shelter under his old wings. Those who have witnessed his ‘weakness of heart’ — not in the Gita’s sense — have realised what a warm spring of love lay hidden in the deep cave of the heart of a yogi! One day most unexpectedly I entered his room to see him holding the hand of one of his nieces who seemed to be in a mood of abhiman. He at once dropped the hand and I came out with a delighted smile! It looks as if all old sadhaks have to pass through such emotional experiences in order to give a completeness to their integral yoga (as did Shankara), through a renewed contact with either their daughters, sisters, adopted or real, nieces or various other relations. This niece took some lessons in English from me. Amrita used to inquire about her progress, but what he stressed most was that I should try to make her write correctly so that she might be of use in her work. I don’t know how far she fulfilled that role, but during his illness, she poured out all her tender heart in his service. Her sister also helped. Speaking of his illness, I was a bit concerned when I first heard about its being an affection of the heart. I knew that he had prostate trouble, perhaps high blood pressure too, but both were kept in check. During the last days his growing pale complexion was a topic of frequent discussion. When he had the second attack, I felt very uneasy, but the crisis passed and he was slowly recovering. He used to be seen sitting up in his chair in the early morning in front of his central door. One day I enquired, ‘How are you?’ ‘Fairly well; but my sweet heart gives me trouble now and then.’ I smiled. That was his last joke. But I came away with a very bad prognostic impression. He looked ash pale, extremely weak, even though cheerful. Two or three days later I was as usual at my evening desk when Bula ran up and cried, ‘Doctor, quick, quick! Amrita has fainted.’ I ran down to find everything over. The bird had flown away! Soon Dr. Sanyal arrived and gave the same verdict.
The news outwinged the wind, and the rush of visitors followed in a calm mourning procession. One was compelled to close the door with a promise to open it the next morning. From morning till about 4 p.m. the stream of people, the Ashram members, all Ashram servants, officials and respectable men from outside, heaps of garlands, flowers, made a sight bearing witness to his immense popularity and lovableness. Most of the people were in tears. They had lost a true brother. Revealing had been also the occasions of his birthdays — memorable fetes. Flowers and fruits, garlands and presents filled the whole room and in the midst of them all was seated the King of Spring, face beaming, lips cracking jokes, hands distributing sweets, a veritable Anandamaya Purusha. Like Lamb among the essayists, Amrita undoubtedly was the most lovable of our old sadhaks.
Questions may rise in our minds: ‘Why, if Amrita had made a complete surrender to the Divine, did he leave his body? Could not the Mother prolong his life?’ If the old sadhaks who have advanced far on the path and on whom we have built our hopes, leave us in the lurch, we cannot but presume a power of darkness still dogging our steps and trying to annul our long sustained efforts; we have no certitude! The answer is that there is no certitude below the Supermind; until it has completely established its victory over the forces of darkness and death, such casualties cannot be ruled out. In Amrita’s case, however, the Mother seems to have said that even at the age of fifty his soul wanted to leave the body and it was kept earth-bound by the Mother for fifteen years to do work for the Divine. Had that work come to a ripe end or was his body so worn out by disease that the soul decided to discard the tattered rags? Whatever it may be, we learn from the Mother that he is always with her, moving about and freely just like a child. He must also be contented to see his two nieces partly filling his place and called to the Mother’s presence.
I have said nothing about his spiritual attainment, firstly for want of any personal knowledge, secondly because it is ‘as plain as a pikestaff’. A man who had clung to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother since his first young promptings, following their footsteps wherever they led him, to whom the only rasa in life was entire dedication of self to them with joy and making everyone else who came in contact with him happy, hasn’t he found atma-rati, a supreme status? And his ‘Reminiscences’, aren’t they vibrant with his yearning for the Unknown to be known, the Unclutchable to be clutched? His wonderful early vision, does it not speak of his age-old tie with Sri Aurobindo? What more do we want? Ripeness is all, and that ripeness he attained, whatever technical terms you may apply to his inner status.
I must, however, end on a note of melancholy, from my Man of Doubt. The Ashram rings no longer with ‘Douce Mere’ from Amrita’s lips. The courtyard doesn’t shine with his figure, clad in white, no ‘Bonjour’ from him is echoed by the trees and pillars, walls and pavements. His office is there working efficiently, though perhaps a bit lacklustre, but, the constant humming, the ananda-mela has come to a close. There has passed away from us a presence which will be difficult to replace. Still, as a consolation for what we have lost, we have among us our staunch elders, Nolini, Champaklal, Dyuman, pillars planted by the Mother herself.
(Mother India, Sept. 1970)
Pradyot – The Evolution of a Soul
“I need you as my instrument” — The Mother
True friendship is an act of Divine Grace. I had such a friendship with Pradyot. Everyone in the Ashram was aware of it, but few knew about its nature, depth and duration. Some remarked that ours was a strange relation, for we hardly expressed any emotion, met very rarely, exchanged very few words. Nobody could realise that we were so close together.
Well, our friendship was about seventy years old. Passing boyhood, youth, adult state, it had arrived at a mature old age, when he suddenly took his leave. In this fashion a number of Ashram friends have gone, one by one, but Pradyot’s going was a deep unkind cut, perhaps because of a long time.
The tale of this tie cannot be told and finished within two words. Its romantic background and classical development demand a story with a deeper meaning. I shall portray only the classical picture, in short the period of our combined Ashram-life. One must remember, however, that his life was the consequential development of his previous growth. I have seen him and known him as a young boy of character endowed with a fine brain calm and collected; at a later stage, as a courageous, kind, liberal, unpretentious and active lover of work. Concealed behind all these attributes, was the soul of a child who had love and good will for all, capable of sacrifice for a cause. He had drawn the far and remote near by his magical charm. In one word his life was the history of a progressive unfoldment and its last was spiritual.
For the spiritual, I had a small part to play. After our return from Scotland, we were posted at far-away places, but very soon I became a member of the Ashram. Naturally, my gravitational pull tried to draw him towards the Ashram from the Jamshedpur Tata factory where he was serving as an electrical engineer. He answered and came only for a short stay. The pull did not appear to be very strong. I told him only one thing, that he should try to send some regular offering, however small it might be. He responded, but evinced no further interest. I thought that perhaps he had come to meet me and Jyotirmoyee whom he had known in Scotland and used to call didi. I wrote to Sri Aurobindo, “Pradyot does not show any interest. Is there any use communicating with him?” He replied, “I don’t know. Some people say that everything one does in this world is of some use or other known or unknown. Otherwise it wouldn’t be done. But it is doubtful…” Pradyot seems to have said afterwards that when he had appeared at Sri Aurobindo’s darshan he could not move. Sri Aurobindo had to make a sign.
After Sri Aurobindo’s reply, his interest revived and he even sent a long poem in Bengali for his perusal. “It has a Tagorean influence,” Sri Aurobindo remarked, “but otherwise quite good.” His poetic venture ceased after this, for by nature he was a man of practical imagination, though as a student he had known English and Bengali very well indeed. Perhaps he composed the poem because I used to send him my poems and they may have made him try his own hand.
Meanwhile he suddenly got married to a Bengali Christian Lady, who was a School Inspectress and whom he had known through Jyotirmoyee and me in England. He informed Sri Aurobindo about his marriage. Slowly his interest in the Ashram began to take shape and he formed a centre in Jamshedpur with the local Bengalis. He earned their love and respect because of his position and loving nature. In his job too his worth began to be recognised and he rose to the position of a Superintendent and even acted for the Chief Engineer in his absence. Here a house was taken on lease and named Jamshedpur House for the visitors from the centre. I was very happy to see his growing interest and he surprised me once by asking if he could get a used pen of Sri Aurobindo in exchange for his new Sheaffer pen. The Mother told Sri Aurobindo about it in my presence and had the wish granted.
Now he was paying occasional short visits, but not during the Darshan times. I could meet him only in the evening, since I was serving Sri Aurobindo. Then he, Sisir Mitra and I would spend some hours together, and after his dinner with me we would part. For the rest of the day, we did not see each other. I observed that his meal was restricted and very sparing, for he was suffering from gastric trouble about which he had already written to Sri Aurobindo. Once at Jamshedpur he had an acute pain. He dreamt that Mother Kali had taken him on her lap and was rocking him like a baby. He used to come in European dress; I supplied my dhoti and shirt with which he used to go and see the Mother. I had no farther contact with him during the day. His wife also came twice or thrice and stayed for some time. They were financially well off, for both of them were in service. Once the Mother lodged her in the Sri Aurobindo Society present centre and I used to be invited there from time to time. She was a very fine lady, motherly, quiet and generous. I used to call her Rani-di. She loved Pradyot very much and was proud of his high abilities and name in Jamshedpur. While there, his father wired to him to come to his native place, he wanted Pradyot specially, for he was the father’s darling. Reaching there they entered the temple for the Goddess’s darshan and puja, but Pradyot would not. He was averse to public shows. He sat outside the temple in the courtyard, reading a newspaper. Suddenly an elderly woman in a sari accosted him and said, “My son, I want to have the Mother’s darshan. Will you come with me?” He was astonished but could not refuse. He obeyed her, but when they came out, he lost trace of the lady: she had vanished. Long afterwards, he got the truth of the matter, that it was the Mother-Goddess herself who had appeared before him. There was a traditional belief that none could return without having the darshan of the Mother.
Now Pradyot’s intimacy with the Ashram Mother began to grow. He wanted to leave Tata and take up a government job at Calcutta which had fallen vacant. The reason was that the authorities at Tata were not willing to consider his just claim, for though he first officiated as Chief Engineer and then held that post he was not given the salary assigned to it. The Mother, on hearing about it, asked Pradyot to give them an ultimatum. It had no effect. Perhaps the authorities were not very pleased with him for his being too popular with the workers whose fair demand met with his sympathy. Once there was a big strike in the factory over the pay. Violence broke out causing injuries and bloodshed. Pradyot rushed to the scene; the workers came forward and cried, “Babu, don’t come here, don’t come here.” They simply lifted him bodily, put him into a car and sent him away. When later Pradyot narrated the incident to the Mother, she remarked, “They love you.” He replied, “Mother, they love me today but they will hate me tomorrow” The Mother smiled and added, “Yes, that is true.”
As the ultimatum had failed, Pradyot applied for the Calcutta job. On the interview day, he saw that many candidates were his own assistants. So he kept apart and was pacing in the corridor. When his turn came, the interview passed off splendidly. He was certified as being of outstanding merit. It so happened that on the eve of the interview he found a book on Electricity on his table, but he did not know how it had come or who had placed it there. He began, however, to peruse it. After the interview he realised that all the questions he had been asked had been fully answered in that book and so it had been an easy ride for him. When he returned home from the interview, the book hand vanished! He had also some qualms about his health. But all barriers fell down before the unseen Power that acted. Afterwards he was given the job of the Chief Engineer in Damodar Valley. It was a new project. It seemed that all the officers of the Damodar Valley wanted Pradyot to be appointed as their chief. His fame had gone abroad. They had already heard of his ability and efficiency.
After he had settled in Calcutta with his wife who had now retired from service, he came in contact with Ashram disciples and was made Chairman of the Patha mandir some years later. He came to know Dr. Sanyal as well. A special feature of his chairmanship was that the members of the Pathamandir often used to be invited to his house and the deliberations ended with light refreshments. Pradyot was fond of having a circle of friends and enjoying diversion with them. Otherwise he avoided so-called socials as far as possible. I had marked this trait in him in Glasgow and of course here in the Ashram his evening entertainments were a well-known feature. His birthday was a festive occasion when even the workers of his departments were treated liberally. In his household the servants used to receive special treatment on that day.
In 1950, when he heard the news of Sri Aurobindo’s passing, he, Himanshu and Navajata flew to Pondicherry in a chartered plane. On bearing about it, the Mother seems to have said, “My three faithful ones are coming. What shall I give them?” Three gold pins with Sri Aurobindo’s symbol attached were the reward. I have heard that the Bokaro Power House was constructed according to Pradyot’s plan and he was in entire charge of it. Once Pandit Nehru visited the Plant and was very pleased with the whole organisation. Pradyot was always in contact with the Mother and sought her advice in various matters. One such example is still imprinted on my mind. Pradyot had come for an urgent consultation. The Mother said to me, “My programme has all been fixed beforehand. Do one thing. Bring him to the Tennis Ground. After the game, I shall see him there.” I did as I had been directed. Pradyot was in his suit and with his valise. The Mother Selected a place a little away from the base-line of the court though there was enough room at the corner, and sat for consultation. Both of them started their deliberations while we went on with our tennis. But I was terribly nervous lest a ball should strike her. I had therefore to abandon the play and like a good boy take my seat by their side to listen to their jargon. And this was precisely what the Mother had wanted and the way she did it was typically hers. She could be very naughty at times. The interview over, we returned. The next day, I believe, she arranged a talk to be given by him from the Projector Room in the playground on his own subject. The Mother was herself present. Pradyot spoke on the construction, management, etc. of the Power House. The Mother was very much impressed and said that it was a fine delivery, clear, lucid, distinct, always to the point and never too much.
Once, it seems, Pradyot had a confrontation with the Central Government regarding the extension of their line at some place. The Committee at Delhi made a strong objection saying that Bengal had been given sufficient advantage. The Governing Body was called to Delhi. They wanted Pradyot to accompany them; he was not very willing. At last he said, “Then let me go to see the Mother first.” He came to Pondicherry; the Mother heard him and said, “Pray for time.” Well prepared and armoured, the party went to face the big guns; Deshmukh was at that time the Finance Minister. The officials simply would not hear the arguments and raised technical counterpoints about some grades to which the opponents found no effective reply. They waited for Pradyot and egged him on to reply. Pradyot quietly asked, “What are these grades you are talking about?” Poor big members, they were nonplussed and felt small. The petition was granted. That was Pradyot. He was really excellent in deliberations and people used to be afraid of him and confessed their failure to meet his points.
There was a talk of his going to France. The Mother remarked, “Oh, he wants to go to France?” Hearing her comment, he came to see her. She kept some papers and files ready for him, but he said at once, “Mother, I am not going.” He had felt in the Mother’s question vibrations of her disapproval. “All right,” she said, and in interview at the Playground she explained at length why she disapproved: she said that in such instances it entailed for her a lot of inner work, for she had to guard and protect the person all the while against the subtle influences of various dark forces of which the person is not aware. One loses much that one has received of spiritual refinement. Thus Pradyot had to beat a retreat and go back to his work. But he began to feel that he should retire and settle in the Ashram. He could not do that either, so long as his wife was not inclined to take the plunge. He wrote to the Mother about his intention to engage himself in the Mother’s work in the Ashram. She sent a sharp reply, saying, “But who says that you are not doing my work?” The Mother told some of us of his intention and observed, “What work can I give him here befitting his position? Here there is hardly any scope for his talent.” It took, however, a few years before the Mother herself finally called both Dr. Sanyal and Pradyot. Perhaps the inner field was ready. Sanyal preceded Pradyot. Thus two distinguished and well-known professional experts left Calcutta, leaving their respective circles of friends and admirers in complete bewilderment. It seems Dr. Bidhan Roy, who was the Chief Minister, had to meet a barrage of questions in the Assembly over Pradyot’s resignation and he was in a way made responsible for losing the service of such a competent and honest engineer. Dr. Roy had a hard time convincing the members that if Pradyot was going to Pondicherry to serve the Mother very little could be done by Dr. Roy and there was no way to prevent it.
Now that the merger had taken place, the Mother had envisaged the possibility of the Ashram technicians taking part in the Pondicherry administration. Pradyot, Sanyal, M. André (the Mother’s son) would be very useful in their own fields. Already Pavitra’s service had been requested for planning the Pondicherry Park. Pradyot came in 1955 and stayed for two years in a house by the sea-side till his present “Consul House” was made ready. The house was so called because the British Consul in the old days used to stay there. Now it was fully renovated and the upstairs was allotted to Pradyot, a lovely spacious apartment with a big room to serve as his office. Sanyal was settled in another palatial building overlooking the sea. The Mother knew how to give due consideration to people according to their status and their past.
The Ashram: Pondicherry — The Mother’s Instrument
Soon after Pradyot had become an inmate of the Ashram the Mother formed two committees: A.C.C. and T.C.C, — agricultural and technological. All the members concerned were called by the Mother and she herself inaugurated the meeting, introduced Pradyot to them and said that he had acquired a vast experience and his technical knowledge and constructive wisdom would be of great help in their collective work. She asked them to meet regularly and discuss their problems with him as their chairman. The Mother was the President. As I was not directly involved, I cannot go into the intricate problems associated with the work. I noticed that Pradyot used to meet the Mother every day for some months. When the Committee’s hundredth sitting was completed, the Mother came and congratulated the chairman for the fine role he had played in conducting their affairs.
Long afterwards, when “Sri Aurobindo’s Action” was formed, the Mother made him the chairman of it. On another occasion, when Pradyot reported that he had been made chairman of an outside body, she remarked, “You are a born chairman.”
In addition to the Ashram work which was not really much, considered in proportion to his ability and efficiency, he became with the Mother’s approval Consultant Engineer to the Bengal and Bihar Governments. He had to pay them regular visits, for which a handsome allowance was accorded to him. He used to offer all that sum personally to the Mother on the day of his arrival. The Mother had given instructions that he could see her with the money at any hour of the day. Even at other times before he departed on his visits he used to consult her on the various relevant problems of the country — political, social, technical. His questions were short, precise and direct and similar were the answers of the Mother. I have published some specimens in my book Sweetness and Light.*
Once a leader of a political group had gone on a sham hunger-strike before the Ashram gate. It continued for several days, and the Mother seems to have instructed people that they need pay no attention to him. One fine morning, he was conspicuous by his absence. What had happened was that one day Pradyot went to see the Mother and asked her, “Why don’t you stop the hunger-strike?” She replied, “The Divine alone can do it.” “But are you not the Divine?” he retorted. “Yes, but I am telling you what people say.” The next day the Divine acted.
So this was Pradyot’s way with the Mother. About his reports to her on people’s problems, she once said, “When you report, you become transparent; I see people speaking through you. You are one of the few who say things without colouring them.”
Now he was made a special instrument for collecting funds for the Asharam. We were passing through difficult times after Sri Aurobindo had left his body. In 1958, the Mother called Pradyot and said, “I have no money. I shall have to go to the Himalayas.” “How much do you need, Mother? How long will the crisis last?” he asked. The answer: “I need ten lakhs. Will you be able to get five lakhs at least?” “I shall try, Mother.” “But how? If people become paupers as a result?” She queried. “What of that? What if they get broke? Can anyone become a pauper on the score of offering money to the Divine?” he added. The Mother smiled, “No!” Pradyot left for Calcutta, assembled all friends and devotees and placed before them the predicament. There was a generous response. Somebody even sold his car. Thus the crisis was averted. When he returned, the Mother said, “I was thinking how you could go on such a bold venture. I looked into your past and got the answer.”
During a second crisis, the Mother had to sell her saris, ornaments, etc. Dyuman appeared one day before Pradyot with a box of these ornaments for disposal. He went to Calcutta and disposed of them to his familiar associates at whatever reasonable or unreasonable price struck him as fitting. On another occasion, Sri Aurobindo himself said to the Mother, “Ask Pradyot.”
Pradyot helped Dr. Sanyal to meet part of his expenses for his treatment in America for Parkinson’s Disease!
At another time an Australian who had worked for many years in an Ashram garden wanted to return home, but he was short of adequate funds. He had a costly shawl in exchange for which he wished to get a big sum. The Mother called Pradyot and said, “Look at this shawl. How pretty it is!” She was going to spread out its beauty. He understood the Mother’s motive and said, “Don’t unfold it, Mother. Tell me how much you want.” “Ten thousand rupees, he says.” “Very well, Mother.” He got the money. The Mother obviously wanted to recompense the man for his long service to her; the shawl was an excuse.
Whenever Pradyot brought these offerings, he noted the names, amounts, addresses of all the people, however small the sums contributed, and sent the Mother’s blessings to every donor. Once, back from Calcutta with offerings, he said to Gargi, his adopted daughter, “Now I can sit in my easy-chair and enjoy rest.” Hearing of this, the Mother remarked, “You can’t change the world sitting in an easy-chair.”
Here the questions likely to be asked is: “From where did Pradyot get his power? How could he hold such power?”
There are many reasons. But the main one, I believe, can be found in Sri Aurobindo’s book, The Mother. The Sri Aurobindo says about money, “When you ask for the Mother, you must feel that it is she who is demanding through you a very little of what belongs to her and the man from whom you ask will be judged by his response. If you are free from the money-taint but without any ascetic withdrawal, you will have a greater power to command the money for the divine work…” I believe Pradyot fulfilled this condition admirably.
The second reason is to be discovered in the history of his past which the Mother indicated.
The third reason, is of course, the Mother’s occult Force acting through and behind him. She once gave him what looked like an old coin with the figure of a snake carved on it. She effaced this figure as the snake is a symbol of the sex-power. She gave also a talisman. Both these represented the money-power. She said, “Keep them with you.”
In this context Pradyot told the Mother, “Mother, where lies any credit for me in all this? It is your Force which is doing everything. Anybody can be your instrument.” The Mother smiled and replied, “It is so, but you can’t play the piano on a log of wood.”
On another occasion the Electric Board at Calcutta encountered a difficulty in establishing electric communication across the Ganges, for each time they tried to drive in the poles on the banks of the river the banks gave way. In this quandary, they appealed to the Mother for help. She asked Pradyot, “Who are these people? Do they believe in the gods? Have they worshipped Ganga Devi before they ventured on this project? However, take this stone with you. Throw it into the water without anyone perceiving it.” Pradyot carried out the direction and the project came through.
Pradyot’s second commission was of a different kind and more serious. It was during the Indo-Chinese War. The Government had opened a War-fund. The Mother sent a few of her ornaments to Nehru through Pradyot, saying that the box must reach him on 1st November. Pradyot delivered it accordingly, mentioning the date selected. Nehru opened the box and said, “Give it to Indira.” She was sitting there. Indira looked at the ornaments and told her father, “They mean that the Mother’s help is with us.” Then she asked Pradyot, “Why was the 1st November chosen?” Pradyot replied, “I don’t know that.” On his return he narrated they story to the Mother. The answer she gave about the date is now forgotten.
The third commission was more delicate. Once Pradyot told me that the Mother had been asking him about the political condition of the country and if he knew anyone who could be a leader. She had added, “I want a man with your understanding and with the body of a Kshatriya.” Pradyot always kept himself informed of the political situation of the country as well as movements in other fields. He had quite a bit of insight regarding the trends of events and persons. He was always up-to-date in his general and technical knowledge, which gave him ascendency over other people. I have seen him reading journals on electricity till his last days. After a lapse of months, a person of the Mother’s description was supposed to have been found. A contact was made with him; he came to visit the Ashram incognito and interviewed the Mother. But it transpired that he had no intention of entering politics. He had done a very strenuous and responsible job and he desired a quiet and peaceful life. That was the end of Pradyot’s political mission. Soon after, Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister and we know what followed: the Mother considered her an excellent instrument. During her visit to the Ashram, when Pradyot was introduced to her, she said, “Yes, I know him.”
I need not speak here of his constant help to the Ashram in various ways due to his contact with people of influence outside.
On one of his birthdays in the 1960’s, the Mother said to Champaklal, “Tomorrow is Pradyot’s birthday. Prepare a card for him with that picture of me which signifies ‘Realisation’. On the left side of the picture, near about my chest, fix the head of a lion.” The next day, the Mother, wishing Pradyot “Bonne Fête”, gave him the card. From that day, his house was converted into a quiet den of lions pictured in various poses: they were hanging in the curtains, sitting on the tables watching from above the staircase and protecting Pradyot in his bedroom. Once the Mother sketched a lion surrounded by smaller animals and presented the picture to him, saying, “it is a symbolic image of your action.”
In 1972 I went to see him. H gave me a letter of the Mother to read. I was very happy to note that the Mother had appointed him one of the Trustees of the Ashram. In this capacity he rendered invaluable service with his rich knowledge and experience, and he developed a natural insight which helped him in taking a correct decision in many matters. He used to say that he was needed most when a decision was in question. At a time when the Ashram had opened itself to a subtle attack from outside forces, his shrewdness and firmness stood it in good stead and made it tide over the difficulty.
At times people complained that he was harsh and even rude. But this aspect of him was more of a show. Of course he could roar too. Then he would ascribe it to his Brahmanic blood which could not bear any falsehood. All this does not mean that he made no mistakes. To my mind, he committed quite a few serious blunders but always from a sense, however, misapplied, of justice. At times the ways of the outside world to which he had been long accustomed dominated his conduct, but I must avow that in the latter part of his life he had become much chastened and tolerant. He had displeased people and people displeased him, even disappointed him, but he did not bear any ill-feeling towards them and rarely criticised anybody. In many ways he could be called a true gentleman.
As I have already said, Rani-di was Pradyot’s wife, and a very devoted one too. At first she was not quite well-disposed towards the Ashram, because she thought we were a band of sadhus who had given up all contact with the world. If Pradyot took up such a life, the country would lose a very fine and capable worker when it was in dire need of such people. In one of her visits afterwards she spoke highly of Pradyot’s technical acumen and proudly of his being called to an eminent post at the Centre. On her account Pradyot could not make up his mind to come away to the Ashram and he said that as long as his wife was not willing he could not do so. Things changed, however, after a few visits by her to the Ashram. At one Darshan, she seems to have felt that Sri Aurobindo was Christ come back. When both she and Pradyot had settled here, one day the Mother told Rani-di, “I want you to be happy here.” She was not keeping in good health. She had a cataract in one eye and a tumour in the uterus. Pradyot was rather concerned. One thing I had noticed in him was that the suffering of anyone near to him caused him much anxiety. The tumour-trouble was referred to the Mother. She frowned upon the idea of an operation and it was decided that the tumour had to go. I witnessed myself its gradual disappearance. The cataract on the other hand was less amenable and, according to medical opinion, it turned towards glaucoma. The Mother advised Rani-di to remain quiet. One evening she had a fall. So someone had to look after her, Pradyot being constantly away in Calcutta. Fortunately, Gargi had by then become a member of the household.
One evening I was called to see Rani-di. She was moaning from pain in the back. I took it to be a muscular ache and, prescribing a sedative, came away. After 2 p.m. I was called up from sleep and told that she had passed away. It was a shock indeed, and Pradyot in Calcutta! It turned out to have been a heart-attack which ended in an agonising departure. This was on 22nd November 1962. And on the same date of the same month 22 years later Pradyot himself departed after a painful heart-attack.
In the morning the Mother was informed of Rani-di’s death. A telegram was sent to Pradyot, but since the body could not be kept for him, the decision was taken for cremation in the afternoon.
Pradyot arrived. I accompanied him to his house and gave him the details of the sad event. As soon as he reached home he threw himself prone on Rani-di’s bed for a while and then came out, calm and composed, to meet a number of friends. He remarked afterwards that she had not liked his going so frequently to Calcutta and that she had taken advantage of his absence to slip away.
The “Home of Grace” and Another Institution
Hitherto, whenever Pradyot had visited Calcutta he had stayed in premier hotels. Now the Mother asked him to take up residence in the “Home of Grace” along with Arun Tagore. The “Home of Grace” is a very big edifice in Regent Park, belonging to one Lakshmi Devi and called Lakshmi’s House after her name. She had offered the house to the Mother in memory of her dead husband. The Mother wrote, “We shall call it Lakshmi’s House and it will be the Home of Grace.” Arun Tagore, attorney and friend of the family, was invited by the lady to come and settle there and look after the house. Arun was a great friend of Pradyot’s. Pradyot thought that the house could be turned into a Centre of the Ashram and utilised for the Mother’s work. So the Sri Aurobindo Institute of Culture came into existence. It started with opening a Nursery School. The Mother named it “Arun Nursery.” Arun died soon after and the entire burden of its maintenance and supervision fell upon Pradyot’s shoulders.
Pradyot had taken up a tremendous responsibility which needed above all a big monthly expenditure for the upkeep of the House. On the other hand, his creative genius saw for itself a vast scope which was not available in the Ashram. Difficulties and obstacles never daunted his spirit when he had undertaken some work. He relied on the Mother’s help and on his confidence on himself. Sri Aurobindo’s relics were placed in a beautiful setting in the “Home of Grace”. Besides the Nursery School, cultural training in music, singing, dancing, medical treatment, a printing press, lectures on the Mother and Sri Aurobindo were set going one after another. Recently, saris, gamchas, napkins have been supplied free of cost to the Ashram from this establishment’s own weaving machines. Pradyot’s eye was constantly fixed on how to be of service to the Ashram. Most opportunely, he found an admirable and efficient organiser in Jaya Mitra who is in charge of the administration. Pradyot also built up a group of friends who were ready to do whatever he requested of them.
Those who have visited the Institute have showered praise on Pradyot for his creative ability in many directions and for the quiet atmosphere, the meticulous care in keeping the place spotlessly clean so that one could at once feel the presence of the Mother as in a temple. Of late he had engaged the service of Sanjukta Panigrahi, the premier Orissa dancer, to train students in her art. Pradyot gave shelter to society’s unwanted and lost members and reoriented them to a better way of life. Uday Shankar, the famous dancer of Bengal, had lost grace with the public and it seemed he was jobless, fallen on dark days. He heard of Pradyot and came to him seeking a job. Pradyot employed him at once, in return for which Uday Shankar exclaimed, “I now believe that there is God!” This story was narrated to me by Pradyot himself. A grave problem facing him was that the quarter in which the Institute was located was a den of Naxalites. Gradually it has been cleansed of all bad influences and transformed into a respectable place, I have been told.
Another heavy responsibility Pradyot had taken up was the consultantship of the Development Consultant Committee Private Ltd. to which was added the Kuljian farm of America. Its proprietor is one Sadhan Datta, a young engineer-friend of Pradyot’s, whom later Pradyot regarded as his son. Datta’s enterprise had spread far and wide all over the world, but behind it was Pradyot’s brain, guided as always by the Mother’s Light. At this time the Mother told him, “I saw in a vision that you were building countries after countries and I told you, ‘You are indeed busy.’” Pradyot was utterly nonplussed at the moment but later on when Sadhan Dutta began to get offers of huge contracts in America, Japan, the Middle East, the Phillipines, etc., besides India, Pradyot understood what the Mother’s vision had implied. He advised Sadhan to take them up as the Mother’s work.
Apropos of this, there was an occasion of dissension caused by one of Pradyot’s close associates. Pradyot dictated these strong words to him: “Co-operate wholeheartedly without mental reservation with Sadhan because he is doing all these jobs inside and outside the country for which the Mother gave me the responsibility and he is helping me to materialise the Mother’s vision. Always remember you are invited to do the Mother’s work and in doing it faithfully and sincerely you will realise your highest good in this life and beyond.” Sadhan flew all the way from America when he heard the news of Pradyot’s death.
This in short is the story of the origin, growth and development of two Institutions, both of which — particularly the “Home of Grace” — are attracting the public eye.
In order to fulfil the demand of these external organisations, Pradyot had to visit Calcutta every month. I believe it must have exacted from him much more energy than he could afford.
Since his boyhood, Pradyot had enjoyed good health. Though he was not physically robust, he did not suffer from intercurrent diseases, as I did for instance. I came to know that his father had trained him in simple austerities regarding the outer and inner conduct of his life. He was disciplined in all respects. Among all his brothers and sisters he was the son of promise and every care was taken to mould him into a boy of firm character and bright intelligence. He was even precocious, it seems. He used to correct the mistakes of his brothers and given them counsels for which he was nick-named “Munsef”. His father was a moral and religious man. When Pradyot could not appear in the Matric Exam along with us owing to his being under-age, his father would not sign, as others did, any affidavit to declare his eligibility. In Glasgow he had no physical trouble as far as I know. Only at Jamshedpur the first symptoms of a stomach ulcer were heard of and he attributed its origin to a phase of rigorous fasting during the Non-co-operation movement. He informed Sri Aurobindo about it and for twelve years he was free from further symptoms, but he was always careful about his diet. When he had settled here, I noticed that he used to have what he termed colitis which would subside with drugs. In 1960, there was a recurrence of the ulcer symptoms and the Mother was informed. In 1962, there was a moderate attack and I spent two or three nights in his house. Dr. Sanyal was treating him. In this year his wife passed away and Gargi became a member of the household and looked after her “Daddy” with the same care as bestowed by Rani-di.
In 1967 the Mother wrote to Pradyot à propos of his illness, “Pradyot, my dear child, I need you as my instrument, and you will remain so. Be very quiet — endure with courage. I am with you in love and in victory.”
Along with this ailment, he developed symptoms of prostatic enlargement in 1968. Dr. Sanyal recommended an operation. Pradyot wrote to the Mother, “I pray for your decision, whether or not to undergo an operation for the prostate. At present, I am wearing a catheter which can only be removed if the flow is restored. Life with a catheter is not specially attractive. I should like to serve you. Kindly grant this without an operation if possible; with an operation if necessary.”
The Mother, of course, vetoed the operation and he was free from the trouble. As an auxiliary measure, he took homeopathic drugs for some time. Again in 1969 he wrote, “Mother, grant that I may collaborate entirely with you so that only what you will happens to me and nothing else.” The Mother replied, “It is already granted and for ever.”
In another interesting letter in 1968 he wrote, “In a dream I met someone whose business seems to cause breakdowns in machines and plants. He and I came to an understanding, and he agreed to spare the works in which I am or may be interested. I do not know how seriously I am to take it, but it suggests a prayer, ‘Grant that this is true as long as I work for you.’” “Very good,” was the reply.
But it is not known when he developed the blood disease. It was in 1979 that the ailment was detected quite accidentally. He had gone to Calcutta in uncertain health to attend to his business. After a week or so he suddenly felt weak and uneasy and began to perspire without any apparent reason. Fortunately a doctor-friend of his was near to hand. He transferred him at once to a nursing home of another intimate doctor-friend. There the doctor, when he examined the patient’s blood, was startled beyond words to discover that the haemoglobin rate was very high. He was in extreme anxiety and wanted to send Pradyot back to the Ashram at the earliest, for the responsibility was too great for him. There was only one drug that could be effective; and after a mad hunt all over Calcutta he found it. Pradyot remained unperturbed throughout, as if it were nothing serious. As soon as the condition had slightly improved he was sent back with a detailed account of his disease to our doctor. Here the blood was examined again and the diagnosis was confirmed. It was Dr. Bose who first told me the story with some alarm. Dr. Datta said that the condition was serious, no doubt, but it could be kept under control with the specific drug. The disease itself was beyond cure. I was really shaken, but the marvel of it was that the patient was as happy and cheerful as ever. He used to crack jokes and make fun of our medical science, but did not fail to abide by the medical directions. He had elicited from the doctor the truth about the nature, course and sequel of the disease. Every month the blood used to be examined and the treatment regulated accordingly. I could not but admire Pradyot’s sang-froid in this predicament. I am almost convinced that any other patient would have been half dead out of fear. But Pradyot had a well of strength in him and faith to boot.
With this ailment he had carried on his work from 1979 to 1984. There was no relaxation, no abatement of his industry, not a moment’s gloominess. He paid regular visits to Calcutta once a month. Two big responsibilities had settled upon his frail but resilient shoulders — the D.C.P.L. and Lakshmi’s House. The proprietor of the former, Sadhan Datta, was most of the time abroad leaving Pradyot to look after the firm in his absence. Then the palatial Lakshmi’s House or Home of Grace as it came to be known had to be maintained and developed. It began to flourish in many directions. Pradyot used to relate with an inner pride the various activities going on and the functions held there, and showed us their various colourful photographs. One could realise that he was the head and crown of the institution. The Bengal Government used to consult him from time to time regarding their engineering problems. Besides all these occupations, a constant stream of visitors approached him about various personal problems of health, family troubles, business concerns, etc. etc. After a late dinner, he would chat with his close associates before retiring to bed. He was even looked upon as a guru. When the Mother heard about it she said, “Not as a guru, but a demi-god.”
In short it was a life of hectic activities. At times he used to return to the Ashram quite fagged out, but before he had recuperated he was ready for the next visit. We were really worried and the Trustees said once, “Pradyot’s life is more precious to us than these occupations.”
Complaints from Lakshmi’s House used to reach us that he was eating less, but it mattered little to him. We noticed that his complexion was turning ash-grey. He was unusually harassed by mosquito-kisses. “They must have found the taste of honey in my blood.” Indeed, scattered stigmata of dark blood were visible in exposed parts of his body. Probably the increased haemoglobin content, and therefore the increased density of the blood had a special attraction for mosquitoes. His light manner and jovial temper made us forget the lurking shadow and even believe that there was nothing seriously amiss. But at times I could not suppress my apprehension that he was living under the harrow of doom. He was, however, free from these ominous musings; he thought that there was no imminent danger. He would often repeat, “Man never dies from a disease. He dies because the soul decides.”
On 6th November, he received the news that one of our close friends had died. When he had not been keeping well, Pradyot had him brought over to Lakshmi’s House from Jamshedpur since there he had nobody to look after him. This friend’s sudden death was a sore loss to Pradyot. He then came to see me and giving me the news in a grave tone said, “I have got his last offering. Can I go and give it to the Mother upstairs?” It was arranged accordingly. I observed how he tried to control himself.
“I am Going to My Work”
He had returned from Calcutta a few days before 17th November. We were having tea on his spacious terrace and were talking about things in general. The talk turned to politics and Indira Gandhi. He was visibly moved and said, “Tears are very rarely seen in my eyes. But when I heard of Indira Gandhi’s death, two drops rolled down.”
Jaya, Pradyot’s secretary and “daughter” in Calcutta who was in charge of Lakshmi’s House, had accompanied him, for she feared that everything was not well with him. She had noticed that Pradyot was suffering from a certain kind of malaise in his throat and was covering his neck with a piece of cloth. This was an ominous sign for her, for on the eve of his first heart attack she had observed the same symptom. Hence she did not dare allow Pradyot to come alone, though he did not like that she should take any trouble. He said to her, “Mother is my doctor and faith my medicine.” On reaching the Ashram, Jaya at once apprised Dr. Datta of her misgivings. Dr. Datta, heart specialist and Pradyot’s physician, took his blood and sent it to the General Hospital for examination. The report was not bad. The E.C.G. taken by Dr. Datta showed only signs of ischaemia; the heart was all right. When I went to see Pradyot, he had a cloth wrapped round his neck. He said, “Some uneasiness is there in the heart-region, but more than that this feeling of compression around the neck is rather unpleasant. What is it due to?” “Some congestion, probably,” I replied, but I was not sure. “The heart is all right, the doctor says,” he said, and repeated it more than once as if to give reassurance to himself. Since there was no relief, Dr. Datta had his blood examined again, in our Laboratory. Now it was discovered that the haemoglobin content had gone up to a frightening degree. The doctor prescribed the specific drug, but its effect, he said, would be visible after a week. The other way was to let out a certain quantity of blood. This was, of course, turned down.
Gargi related to me that one day when she and Pradyot were returning from their usual visit to the Ashram, Pradyot started sweating and was on the point of collapse. At once a car was fetched and he was put into it. She asked the driver to take a few rounds along the seaside. When they returned home, Pradyot asked, “What happened to me?” It seems he had been in the habit of going out of his body, and had now been totally unconscious of the surroundings.
The 17th was Darshan Day. As others, he visited the Mother’s Room. On the afternoon of the 18th he was to come to my birthday part. Suddenly at noon he turned up with Gargi and asked me to excuse him from attending the party, for he wanted to avoid the crowd. This was not his way. Naturally I protested saying, “How can that be? Come then at the very end.” I missed the hint that he needed rest. He came, however. There were a few people. He took very little food. Somebody proposed to take our photograph. That was the last one of us together. Next day, when I went to see him, I learnt that the doctor had advised him not to move out of the house, particularly not to climb stairs. That meant he should not come to the Darshan of the 24th. He was discouraged.
To buck him up I said, “There are still a few days to go. Besides, it doesn’t matter much.” On the afternoon of the 22nd I went to see him; I found that Gargi and Jaya were chatting with him and gently massaging his feet. In the lulls of the conversation it was as if he were trying to control his pain. He asked Gargi to show me the Mother’s letter telling him, “An unshakable faith in the Divine’s grace and no disharmony can resist that action.” Datta arrived and took his blood pressure. After a short while, Pradyot went to the bathroom; Gargi followed him. I was told later that since the afternoon he had been taking a drug for heart-pain almost every hour. From the bathroom he went back to his bedroom and sent for us. I found him tired but he said he was free from pain. Then, surprisingly, he added, “But if pain recurs at night, I don’t know if I shall be able to bear it.” Datta replied, “No, no, there won’t be pain. I am sticking this new medical plaster below your heart-region; it will prevent the pain. You can take also the tablet if needed. I shall come back at 9 p.m.” As I had to come away, I said, “I’m going, Sahib. Keep well.” He stretched his hand and gripped mine. That was not his habit. It was I who always would say, “Sahib, give me your hand. Your hand is so soft!” Truly so; it was the small hand of a child. Who would say it was an engineer’s hand? Did his gesture mean that it was farewell for good?
Next day, the 23rd, I had finished my Samadhi work at 4 a.m. and was going back to my room when I saw Dyuman waiting for me. I thought he wanted news to Pradyot’s condition. Instead it was he who delivered the dreadful news: “Pradyot passed away last night at 11.30.” “What?” I cried. “Yes,” he repeated. I was stunned. I felt my eyes grow moist. Dyuman continued, “I was called at night. They asked me to inform you. I said that you must be sleeping and I would give you the news on my return. I saw that Datta was giving intravenous saline or glucose. Suddenly at one time Pradyot started up restless and the next moment everything was quiet.” Dyuman and I went at 4:30 a.m. to see the body. Pradyot was lying calmly on spacious bed, like a prince, the Mother’s picture with the lion at his head. A martyr to the Divine Cause!
Later on, I was told that when Datta had arrived he had noticed Pradyot’s blood pressure going down. He had given an injection and a saline transfusion. He had not given up hope. But Pradyot woke up from sleep in an agitated condition and was as if looking for something or somebody. Gargi was called. She sat by his side; He opened his lips and made an inaudible movement and breathed his last.
In the first part of the night, that is around 11 p.m., while I was sleeping in Sri Aurobindo’s room, I had a dream. Through a window I saw in the eastern sky in the midst of clouds a bright gold sun. I wondered what it meant. It happened to be the time when Pradyot’s soul had left.
The previous night Pradyot had chatted with his intimate circle till midnight. He was in a self-revealing mood and reiterated his conviction that one does not die unless the soul decides. He confided that though he had been able to change his pain into ananda, transformation had not been possible; that is, he had tried but could not cure his disease. He also said to Gargi that the coming night would be critical for her. Then in a somewhat dreamy tone he recalled that the Divine had given him name, fame, friends, position, money — things that man desires. He had nothing to complain of. He had been taken care of by some invisible Hand in all his ventures. However, he had quite his fill of disease: gastric ulcer, colitis, prostate-enlargement and lastly blood-cancer. Then, I don’t remember in what context, he embraced Gargi and exclaimed, “I shall sell you at such a price that nobody will be able to buy you.” This is à propos of a story told by a friend on the 18th during my birthday party. Pradyot liked it very much. It runs thus. A small boy was playing some pranks. His mother, vexed, slapped him gently. The boy was hurt and said, “Ma, I shall sell you off.” She replied, “Come, do it. Let’s go.” She made herself ready. The boy got frightened at her seriousness, pondered a moment and added, “All right, but I will set such a price on you that nobody shall be able to buy you.” The mother embraced him and covered him with kisses.
The body was to be taken for cremation in the afternoon of the 23rd. Gargi heard clearly her Daddy’s voice, “You people must not go there. I am going to my work. The sadhak always looks forward, not backward.”
This was Pradyot’s true soul-scripture: work, service. Instead of dragging on with a disabled frame, to come back equipped with a new body was the secret of his departure. So, when he had realised that his illness was incurable and there would be a painful existence, he was not sorry to go.
Very few, except his most close ones, will miss him in the Ashram, for his services to the Ashram are not known so well. To quite a number he figured only as one of the Trustees. But Lakshmi’s House and the D.C.P.L. at Calcutta (including the Kuljean firm) bear the seal and signature of his creative genius. His unwavering faith in the Mother’s Force was the key stone of his success. And no sacrifice was too much — even the sacrifice of his life. His self-effacement used to come out so well even in his childlike pranam at the feet of the Mother. The Mother has showered on him many compliments. I have mentioned some. Another was, “You don’t suffer from amour-propre.”
Daddy’s children and members of the Sri Aurobindo Institute of Culture at Calcutta paid their respectful homage with love and gratitude to their beloved “Daddy” and Chairman of the Institute at Lakshmi’s House on 2nd December, 1984. On this occasion, we have been told, there was a large gathering; all the front-rank engineers of Calcutta, besides other notable persons, had come to offer their tribute. Sadhan, his manasaputra, said that he could never repay what he had received from Pradyot. Let us hope these devoted children of their “Daddy” will hold aloft the torch he had lighted, burning and mounting for ever.
Finally, as I look back in my reminiscent mood, I see this pageant passing across my mind’s screen. Two boys get admission into the Government School of the town in the same class. A romantic friendship grows up between them, though they are different in every way: nature, character, complexion, intelligence and religion. One vital, the other mental and moral. And that friendship is devoid of any outer expression. Five years they grow together yet hardly five words do they exchange. After the Matric Exam, one friend joins the Gandhi movement, and goes to jail, the other obtains a scholarship and joins the College. After a year both meet in the same College — one studying Arts, the other Science. Passing their Intermediate, they sail for England, one to Edinburgh, the other Glasgow. There their barrier of reserve and shyness falls down and the foreign climate knits them closer. The engineer takes up, after his return, a job in Tata. The doctor goes to Burma, the bond almost forgotten. After three years the doctor comes away to the Ashram and tries to draw his friend there. The friend responds, but the root is not deep yet. A sudden change intervenes; he inclines towards the Mother. From then, the sleeping child-angel in him awakes and he comes closer to her, the other is hooked on to Sri Aurobindo. The child-angel, nourished by the Mother’s love, develops like the arc of the moon and when on the verge of becoming the full orb the moon sets to rise elsewhere. The other remains behind to write his reminiscence. He asks himself, “What mystery bound us together?”
(Mother India, February, March and April, 1985)
* Revised edition under the title “Memorable contacts with the Mother”
Within a few months we have lost two of our dear elder brothers, both of them early pioneers of our Yoga and pillars of strength to us: Amrita-da and Pavitra-da. Pavitra-da, to whom I offer my humble homage today, will be especially remembered by you since he was the Director of our Centre. Though many of you had no close contact with him, you must have often observed him coming to the Centre with a serene smiling face, walking with long firm steps, a tall and slim figure not likely to be missed by anyone old or young. You have also heard him calling out your names at the Playground during the prize distributions before the Mother.
When I first arrived at the Ashram, I was very much impressed by his appearance and bright complexion. I used to meet him every Prosperity Day, on the first of each month, when, standing by the Mother’s chair, he would distribute our respective “necessaries” with a friendly smile and an affectionate look. He would be clad in dhoti, punjabi and chaddar, and had a well-trimmed squarish beard. He looked like an apostle. To me, he seemed much more handsome with that beard and in that dress than in his later clean-shaven aspect and his return to European costume. But it made no difference to his bearing, by which one could easily make out that he came from distinguished European stock. In fact he belonged to an aristocratic French family and was a noble representative of French culture.
How and when from a distant land, leaving like Buddha his home, his relatives, his brilliant worldly prospects as a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnic, and wandering through Japan, China, Mongolia and Tibet in quest of the Unknown, he came at last to the land of Buddha and took permanent refuge at the feet of Sri Aurobindo — this strange saga you have already heard from his own lips. What I am going to tell you today are my own impressions of him that have been formed through a span of about thirty years. Though my contact with him was not very close, still I had ample occasion to see him from far and near, to hear about him now and then from Sri Aurobindo himself, and always to maintain a high regard for him. During the later years, as my contact became closer, since I was living in the same house, my regard increased and I found in him a man who rang true in every fibre of his being, a Yogi indeed of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga. To be able to say that is not a small thing. You are still young, and to be young is “very heaven”, but to us old people at least to me, Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga has at times given a good dose of hell. I am consoled only by his statement that hell is the shortest cut to heaven.
The Mother is reported to have remarked that from the very first day Pavitra-da kept on the right path, without vacillation. You might find here an echo of what Sri Aurobindo said about his own self, that he never turned to the right or to the left after he had settled himself in Pondicherry. I am reminded also of a Mantra in the Rig Veda. Aditi, the infinite Mother, cries in the ancient hymn to Indra, the divine Power about to be born from her womb: “This is the path of old discovered again, by which all the gods rose up into birth, even by that upward way shouldst thou be born in thy increase; but go not forth by this other to turn thy mother to her fall.” And Pavitra-da, a true son of Aditi, kept to this upward way all through.
Who is Aditi? I will make a short digression. Champaklal once, on his birthday, made two paintings: one of a white lotus, the other of a red lotus. Don’t think that because he is now preparing for you only birthday cards or has been doing ‘marble painting’ he knows no other art. The Mother has called him ‘master of cards’. We used to call him ‘master of lotus painting’. When he offered those two paintings to the Mother, she said, “I will show them to Sri Aurobindo and ask him to write on them his blessings.” Champaklal replied, “Mother, you can then ask him to write something on them.” Champaklal added to me, “On the white lotus Sri Aurobindo wrote ‘Aditi’, and on the red one Mother wrote ‘Avatar’, and she asked me not to show them to anyone.” “Why not?” I asked. “She said people would not understand,” Champaklal replied.
Now we may come to the main point of interest. What was Pavitra-da’s relation with Aditi, the divine Mother? Champaklal again tells me that the very first time the Mother saw Pavitra-da, she said to Champaklal, “I have told Sri Aurobindo that he will do my work of foreign correspondence.” Champaklal added, “Mother founded a small carpentry where I was asked to do some carpentry work Mother asked him also to work there and he made a table to iron clothes on.”
You know that the part of the building in which Pavitra-da lived is connected through a long corridor with the Mother’s quarters. It was so designed in order that she might have free access to him and he could be at her call at all times. She would visit him at any hour of the day for one thing or another. More than once Sisir was surprised in his talk with him on School matters by her sudden appearance. She gave Sisir some advice and left. Another day, long after, I heard her coming out of her bathroom at about 6 a.m. shouting, actually shouting, “Pavitra, Pavitra!” I got a bit alarmed. God knows what he was doing, shaving or taking coffee. He cried back, “Oui, Mère!” and came almost running. She scolded him about some School matter and he quietly and submissively listened. I have heard also that the Mother on her way to the Balcony darshan would pass through his bedroom and if she found him still sleeping, would rouse him out! These are small instances, but it is the small incidents that reveal the intimacy of the relation between the Mother and the child. You also know that Pavitra-da was the driver of the Mother’s car from the beginning of the Ashram. She would not trust anyone else. He would take her to the Tennis Court, back to the Playground, wait long hours if necessary, and then bring her back home. Even on all her excursions, in the early days of the Ashram, it was he who acted as the driver. Sri Krishna was the charioteer of Arjuna in the battle of Kurukshetra, and Pavitra-da was the driver of the Divine Mother in the highways of the world! My friend Nishikanta, who had the faculty of occult vision, told me that once as Pavitra-da was taking the Mother out in the car, he saw that the car was being pulled by several pairs of spirited horses (I don’t remember their number or colour) with a sovereign galloping speed. It was at one time Pavitra-da’s part too to call the Doctor whenever the Mother felt a need for him. All of which means that, to adapt a verse from Savitri, she could bring out the relation so truly and profoundly. I have also seen him kneeling in a quiet simple manner before the Mother, receiving a flower from her. This intimacy did not make him forget that she before whom he knelt was no other than the divine Mother Herself. When on the Mother’s 80th birthday, the Pathamandir of Calcutta asked Pavitra-da to write something on his experiences in Sadhana with her, he replied that this was a matter too intimate to be disclosed to the public.
To be so near and intimate, what a wonderful boon! you might say; but it is not so easy a boon to keep. For, the Mother being the Shakti, there is an automatic pressure for change on those who are near her and there are very few who can bear that pressure. I shall tell you of my own experience. When I came near to Sri Aurobindo to serve him, I was like a green leaf. Basking in the golden rays of the morning sun, I became fresh, strong and blithe, but as years wore on, the green turned, not “one red”, but a mixed patchwork of red, brown and grey: the rays were too bright!
Now I will give you another example to show how the Mother’s very presence acts. Once Sri Aurobindo, lying like Lord Shiva in his bed, was amusing us, his pramathas, with the story of his student life in England. His voice was soft and subdued and we were listening raptly, lest a single word should be missed. Suddenly he said, almost in a whisper, “The Mother is coming!” All at once turning our backs and sides to him, we sat straight like so many good boys and waited for her arrival. She sized up the situation and said, with a gracious smile, “They are making you talk?” and went back.
I needn’t multiply instances to prove the dynamic, almost electric effect of her presence. All of you are familiar with it. Pavitra-da and others who were near her had to bear the full current of that power and, I am sure, they bore it well, for, first of all, they had a long period of preparation before the blessed “subconscient” started working when we came; and then, they were greater adharas who “saw, felt, knew the deity,” and “She held their hands, she chose for them their paths.”
What was Pavitra-da’s relation with us? His closeness to the Mother did not make any difference to it. Both Amrita-da and Pavitra-da were so much like us in their outer ways, manners and behaviour, that their “exterior semblance very often belied their soul’s immensity.” Pavitra-da, when he first came to the Ashram, was supposed to have said that he was a brother to all, and indeed he ever maintained the French ideal of equality and fraternity with all, high and low, young and old. You must have noticed that at the Theatre he used to sit with all of you on the ‘parterre’ instead of on a chair. One never came from a meeting with him without carrying away some sweetness, light and purity. Purity, sweetness and light were indeed his inborn psychic qualities. The name “Pavitra” given to him by Sri Aurobindo could not have been more appropriate. One could feel a white light wrapping him like a fine vesture wherever he went. I often saw him sitting in meditation on his terrace, and on moonlit nights the moonbeams filtering through the leaves of the Service Tree bathed him with a light “that never was on sea or land,” as if a Japanese Buddha had been sitting there, deep in trance.
About the prodigious amount of work he used to do, I think many of you have heard; and everything was done methodically down to the minutest detail. I never saw his light going out before 11 p.m., after which he would always come down, do pranam at the Samadhi, pace for a while and go back. The worker side of his personality has been described very well in the article in the Mother India of June. I can only add that the hair oil, eye lotion, tooth powder, shaving cream, etc., that make you spick and span, were prepared according to his instructions. He was a Polytechnician in both the senses. You can see then how indispensable he was to the service of the Mother. When the vacuum cleaner was used for the first time, it was he whom the Mother called to clean Sri Aurobindo’s room, and the radio was also set-up there and operated by him. You may argue that there are plenty of people who could do so much work, but to do it all with a constant calm and dedicated spirit would not have been possible unless one had walked on what Sri Aurobindo has called the sunlit path. And how thorough he was! Once when I took to him an article written in French, he verified all the references, corrected the small slips and, to my surprise, even corrected my lavish use of el ceteras instead of, at most, two at a time, and of commas before or after the brackets! I was reminded of the Guru’s practice in such minor matters. We had occasions to break lances with Pavitra-da in connection with our School work but that did not affect our spiritual relationship. He always maintained his poise and equanimity and sweetness. I don’t mean that he had no inner difficulties, but he never allowed them to intrude upon his outer nature and I would go further and assert that without a considerable inner development such an outer conquest is not possible. Sri Aurobindo’ stress on “change of the outer nature” found in him an exceptional response.
I shall relate to you a striking instance of Pavitra’da’s equanimity and submission to the Divine Will. You have been told of his entering the First World War and going through its terrible ordeal. Now when the Second War broke out, he was supposed, as a French Citizen, and ‘un ancien combattant’, to take part in it. An order came to the effect that he must resume military training in Pondicherry, preparatory perhaps to going to the battlefield. The Mother had to consent to it, since there was no way out. My colleague said that on the eve of his joining the parade, the Mother brought a garland to be offered by Pavitra-da to Sri Aurobindo, and Pavitra-da followed and did pranam to him, seeking his blessings. Every morning he would go out in his uniform and return after a few hours with a smiling face and a cheerful spirit. But the development that we all awaited with apprehension was not long in coming. There was a rumour that he would soon be called to the Front. The Mother was very much loth to let him go. In our talks with Sri Aurobindo he would refer to the Mother’s strong unwillingness: Pavitra-da had become a part of their being and was so indispensable that the Mother could not do without him. Though she was rather vexed, she found no normal way out of the impasse. We were all sore on his account and were waiting with fear for the order to come, but at the same time hoping that some miracle would happen preventing his departure. The Mother asked him to get ready. She did not take any chance. We did not hear of any perturbation on his part. Since the War had already been named the Mother’s war, and our people were taking part in it, Pavitra-da also must have accepted it in the same spirit. But to leave the Ashram-home, after spending the best part of one’s life in close association with the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, for an uncertain, even perilous, future, is, to say the least, not easily done. He began to prepare himself and, among external things, what he was particular about taking with him was a stove which, it seems, he had designed himself and got made in his atelier.
At last the order arrived that he would leave by such and such a steamer that would touch Pondicherry on such and such a date. We were counting the days. But the ship never arrived! We were startled to learn that the ship had been torpedoed somewhere along the way. Was it the hand of Providence that acted in so drastic order to save a yogi from a calamitous end? Na me bhakta pransyati. My bhakta does not perish, says Sri Krishna. No other ship arrived either, for, very soon after this, Pondicherry declared itself for De Gaulle. Whatever the reason might have been, we saw Pavitra-da employed here to transmit War news from his radio to Sri Aurobindo four or five times a day!
This was somewhere in the early forties, I believe. Since then much water has flown under many bridges and many a change has come about in our life here. Youngsters invaded the Ashram in a flood and a school had to be started, of which Pavitra-da was made the Director. From a very small beginning the Centre has grown steadily to its present distinguished stature and acquired an international status. Behind this distinction, there was in no small measure the incessant activity and living interest of Pavitra-da who always kept in his dreams and in his wakeful moments the thought of the Centre in the forefront of his mind, consulted the Mother at every step and carried out her wishes. Things were moving splendidly. Many Government Commissions came and went; we received partial recognition, and some grants. Various changes and experiments took place in our educational system and the Centre was ever expanding. There was every reason to hope that it was going to be a unique institution embodying the ideals of Sri Aurobindo, and all of us were working towards that ideal when one day we heard that Pavitra-da was not well. His movements and his meeting with us and with others became gradually more and more restricted: finally he was confined to his own room and to his contact with the Mother.
There is a darkness in terrestrial things
That will not suffer long too glad a note.
Now I will touch upon the last and most painful episode of Pavitra-da’s life and the supreme example of his equanimity. At first we thought it was just a passing illness. He seems to have come to know from the doctor about its nature nearly one year after the initial onset and, thereafter, it was a strictly guarded secret. Vague forebodings crossed our minds, but these were dissipated when we saw him carrying on his work cheerfully and always meeting us with a glad smile. We were deceived by the restricted movements of the joints and took them to be symptoms of some kind of rheumatism. Besides, there followed a period when we used to see him walking briskly in the corridor, even running and doing many other minor exercises. Every morning we would greet each other with a bonjour or a silent nod. The rigidity that had rendered the movement difficult and painful seemed to have gone and we were all so happy to anticipate a complete cure. But the symptoms came back and took their unrelenting course. Gradually he had to stop all exercises and we used to see him moving about with a stick, dragging his affected leg. Later on, he was moving almost like an ant, taking half an hour or more to reach the staircase of the Mother’s room from his own. Still with this extreme incapacity and, I am sure, constant gnawing pain and other sequelae, he went on doing all his duties till the last day. His personal servant said that he would take about half an hour to cross a few yards in order to reach his bureau. Yet there was no dark shadow on his face. Sri Aurobindo always used to urge upon us the lesson of equanimity, such an equanimity that nothing in the world could disturb it. It is the very rock basis of sadhana and I am certain that Pavitra-da achieved it in great measure. In the later phases I tried always to avoid him, the pale face and creeping-like walk were too painful for me, but sometimes I would be caught while he, along with André, was on his way to the Mother. Greetings were exchanged and he was as calm, as tall and upright as before.
I have said that the nature of the malady was kept a secret, but when I came across the truth just by accident a few days before his passing, I simply gasped. To know very well the character and progress of the disease for so many years, and to remain still undisturbed, calm and ungrieved, doing all his daily work — shall I not call this a victory of what Wordsworth terms “man’s unconquerable mind”? Was this not a heroic soul, a Vibhuti, a Yogi? I was told that when he learnt for the first time what his ailment was, he did not seem in the least perturbed, and he kept a graphic record of his symptoms till the last day. I could not but compare what I believe would have been my reaction if I had been in his position, but the less said about it the better.
Pavitra-da fought the battle of Kurukshetra in his body for five long years against an adversary who remains still unconquered in the medical world. He may have failed, but I am convinced that he fought not only for himself but for the world, and half the battle has been won by his superb effort. An unprecedented yagna is being performed; it demands priceless sacrifices. The first Greek king who touched the Trojan soil had to lay down his life. Great souls, mighty adharas, have to bear enormous burdens, not for themselves alone, but for us mortals too. “… must fire always test the great of soul?” It is they who help to lift the weary weight of this unintelligible world and make life bearable to us. From Pavitra-da’s luminous example we can learn what true greatness is like. Indeed the Mother has given an exceedingly high place to his spiritual achievement.
Presences like his amongst us serve as a steady light on the voyage of our soul. Why not give the example, I might be asked, of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo? The Mother is the light of a thousand suns, and through such as Pavitra-da she shines tempered and transparent. They are nearer to us as our elders. One who says that even in her cradle she was conscious of belonging to another world, “the child remembering inly a far home”, and the other who had the Nirvanic experience in three days — they are too great for us mortals as examples. In spite of many beatings from the Guru on this point, I remain still unrepentant and incorrigible, feeling a gap between such beings and ourselves. But people like Pavitra-da are near us, are our kindred, for all their high attainments. Sri Aurobindo once wrote to me that there were at least a few here who have had the Brahmic experience. I fell that Pavitra-da was one of them. His total surrender to the Mother, his wide self-giving, were surely the result of major spiritual experiences. These must have laid the ‘shining axe of God’ at the root all doubts and perplexities and annihilated all denials and oppositions — bhidyate hrdaya-granthi, cchidyate sarvasamsayan. Sri Aurobindo told Pavitra-da at their first meeting that he could realise what he was seeking — liberation — but there were also many other things besides that in Yoga. Seeing Yogis like him and moving among them we too can hope for the Highest and, adapting Francis Thompson, say:
О Invisible, we view thee,
О Intangible, we touch thee,
О Unknowable, we know thee.
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee.
(Mother India, August 15, 1969)
 Savitri p. 17
“I have been waiting. He will come straight to me.”
This profoundly mystical statement uttered by Sri Aurobindo and heard inwardly by a disciple when Champaklal’s health was deteriorating and there was no hope of recovery, startles and thrills us. His long period of ailment and suffering would end in his soul’s union with the Supreme, his beloved Master and enjoy eternal bliss. Who else could deserve such a wonderful consummation of his earthly life?
When we look far back, we notice in his early youth how in his first meeting with Sri Aurobindo he lay prostrate at his feet for nearly an hour and his entire face was bathed in happy tears. Then we find Sri Aurobindo enquiring about him and asking his friends to bring him back with them. Lastly, Sri Aurobindo’s surprising ecstatic embrace of his devoted disciple as a parting gift of his undying love — all these woven together prepare us in a way for the mystical utterance from Sri Aurobindo we have quoted. Add to them the Mother’s equally sublime statement: “Champaklal, you have become a part of me.”
Of such a sadhak I have been asked to speak a few words by virtue of my long association with him in the service of Sri Aurobindo, and thereafter.
There is much to speak and much also not to speak. We have seen, enjoyed, suffered, and shared so much in common of the Lila of the double Divine incarnation — the supreme Purusha — and — Prakriti on the earth.
It was in early morning when I was working at the Samadhi that somebody came and whispered to me that Champaklal had passed away. There was a moment’s shock though the end had been expected. The Samadhi too heard the news. What Sri Aurobindo had waited for had happened. Time began to move on. Similar was the shock when the sudden news of Dyumanbhai’s passing arrived. That was an unexpected blow.
Champaklal had endeared himself to all of us, young and old, by some inborn psychic quality that cast a spell and attracted people. His external features added to it in no small measure.
He was conscious of the truth that he was engaged in the service of the Divine, that the Divine was his Father and Mother, but he made no ado about it.
How did I come into a close contact with such a dedicated soul, a man in many respects my contrast? Our first contact was, however, not pleasant; it was rather a confrontation. When I came to the Ashram, my attention was drawn to him by friends saying that he was Sri Aurobindo’s personal attendant. His half bare robust body with a smooth shining skin, a brahminical thread across his chest, his flowing hair and beard — in a word he was an embodied High Priest. And of course everyone was whispering the awe-inspiring phrase that he was Sri Aurobindo’s personal attendant. I had no occasion to meet him till a few years later. One day he came to the Dispensary for medical help. I happened to be in charge of the Dispensary. Suddenly on some flimsy excuse both of us burst into hot temper, almost an explosion. In my medical report I narrated the incident to the Mother. At that time I enjoyed some intimacy with Sri Aurobindo. He wrote back: “Outbursts of that kind are too common with him. And when heat meets with heat… it is almost midsummer now.” The breath of the Master’s humour made me burst into a hearty laugh and all was quiet.
Now I was thrown into the company of such a man by an adverse fate when Sri Aurobindo broke his right thigh in 1938. But the adversity turned into golden opportunity by the alchemic touch of Sri Aurobindo’s Grace and we became sweet friends for long decades. I felt as if we had been together for many past lives in spite of our outer differences in nature and temperament. We served Sri Aurobindo for twelve years, slept together in the same room and shared our services amicably without any serious interruption by our egos. I have paid genuine tribute to him in my book, Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo. So I need not repeat it. Throughout these long twelve years, one thing I have learned from him which has come as a revelation: it is his deep love for the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, a love which is rare to find in this material world of ours. Perhaps it was quite a common feature in the Vedic and Upanishadic days when the disciple was an integral part of the Guru’s life. An utter self-abnegation and sacrifice obviating all physical necessities, and a single dominant note in his consciousness — how to serve the Divine Guru who needed nothing, asked for nothing yet was pleased with the bhakta’s service of love and devotion? When I used to go away after my duty for hours in the evening, it was he alone who remained with Sri Aurobindo and enjoyed the beatitude of his silent all-sufficing company. It was not without reason that he prided himself on being called Hanuman.
What he did at this time was revealed to me long after Sri Aurobindo has passed away. He was taking notes of many significant casual remarks made by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo on various topics. The daily routine work appeared to him important but for me it was trivial and therefore to be left out of our ‘Talks’. Now it appears in a different light. Of these notes I shall supply a number of instances which will give the key to the sealed heart of the bhakta.
Here are some of the Notes made by Champaklal. They bring us rare truths of both his inner and outer life.
1926 — While giving Sri Aurobindo’s dish to me Mother said: The Being which we want to manifest in you demands complete surrender. They are four brothers: one of them wants to manifest in you and he is waiting for you to be ready. He wishes that I should work in you.
Another day she said: The Being has entered in you.
The Mother was seated on a chair… Meditation started and an occult workup commenced. What was standing in my way was removed. When everything was finished I got up and embraced Mother. She took me in her arms and held me for a long time. I surrendered myself completely to her. She held me pressed like a child and made me a divine child.
Later I was told that when she mentioned it to Sri Aurobindo, he said: Champaklal has become a demigod.
1928 — Mother said this afternoon: When you were coming with the tray of fruit juice, Sri Aurobindo saw you coming through the shutters of the Meditation Hall and said, “Champaklal looks magnificent; he looks like a priest.”
It was before 1938. I used to wash Sri Aurobindo’s dhoti every day and dry it. Once it so happened that I need clips to hold the cloth for drying it. That day Purushottam had presented my chit to the Mother for signing. She asked me: “Why do you want so many clips?”
“You can come and see my cloth.” I said with some force.
She kept quiet. But the next day, she told me very sweetly “Champaklal, you know people were saying, ‘How can Champaklal talk to the Mother like that?”
I did not realise what was wrong at all and exclaimed “What is there?”
Again she remained quiet. It was much later that I realised that something was wrong in my attitude.
I wanted to offer something to the Mother, I got the idea of painting two lotuses one white and the other red. Curiously I received two beautiful lotuses that day and took up the painting. When it was finished I took them to Mother with great joy on my birthday: 2.2.40
She received the painting and said, “Oh, very pretty! Very pretty!” Then she said with a broad smile, I give it to you Champaklal! Take it, it is for you.”
I did not answer, then said, “Mother, I have done it for you.”
She gave another broad smile and said slowly, “Champaklal, I will take it to Sri Aurobindo and ask him to write upon it.”
I said, “Mother, if so, how nice it would be if you ask him to write its significance. He will write on the white lotus and you will write on the red.”
Mother brought it to Sri Aurobindo. I was there. She showed it to him and said “See, how nice it is! Today is his birthday, he has done it for me. If you write the significance on it I will give it to him. He also wishes that you write on the white lotus and I on the red.
With a beautiful affectionate smile he wrote on the top of the white lotus:
The Divine Mother
and below the red lotus
After writing he looked at me and gave a sweet smile.
On the top of the red lotus Mother wrote
Mother asked me not to show them to anybody.
Champaklal: Mother, can I show the painting now?
After seeing it Mother said: That is the best.
Champaklal: Is that so?
Mother: I think so, Sri Aurobindo was the artist.
Champaklal: Leonardo da Vinci?
Mother smiled sweetly and said: Yes
Champaklal: Mother, it seems this is yours?
Mother: Yes, don’t you see the resemblance?
Mother put her finger on the lips and showed also the lower portion of the face.
Mother: I am very much pleased with your work.
I like your faithfulness.
I like your sincerity.
I like your steadiness.
I like your regularity.
I like your courage.
Sri Aurobindo said about injection
Yatha buddhistatha gatih
Yatha injection tatha gatih
(As is the mind so is the course.
As is the injection so is the course.)
Dr. Manilal: Sir, when will the first transformed man appear? I am not asking of the last man.
Sri Aurobindo: Who is the first?
Manilal: I don’t know. Sir; you must be knowing.
Sri Aurobindo: I don’t try to know. I was not born for Sadhana Siddhi. I was born only for doing Sadhana. So I must remain ignorant of what you ask. Perhaps an unexpected person may come first!
Sri Aurobindo used to sit on his chair in the passage outside his room late at night after his dinner and write. He would place chit pads on the handle of the chair and write. After writing he would repeat the lines to himself. I would sit outside in the hall listening to his voice. It was so beautiful. One day he saw me there. For a moment he looked surprised but immediately afterwards he smiled and proceeded with his work.
Sri Aurobindo used at times to write on small chit pads and pin them together. One day I saw him having some difficulty with the pinning because the sheets were too many and it was not easy to pin them all together.
Pussh: he made a sound. I saw that the pin had slipped. I ran to him. It was difficult indeed to do in that way. Somehow I succeeded and I received a broad smile, and a look. Oh, what a look!
After that day, whenever it was needed, he would call me by name, “Champaklal” How sweet to hear the name from his mouth! I remember I had even kept a record of how many times day and night he had called me by name.
So it was when Mother called me by name. Once Amrita told me: How lucky you are. Champak! How sweet it is to hear Mother when she calls you by name!
When Sri Aurobindo was on his bed, I showed him my palm and pointed out one of the lines there and told him that I wished to see how far his line had gone.
He smiled, gave me his hand to see. Then he asked, what? I said, it is very long and it is exactly what X has asked me to see. He smiled and said, oh!
It was my birthday. I was indeed very happy when the Mother came to Sri Aurobindo’s room, she looked at me with a broad smile and told Sri Aurobindo: Today is Champaklal’s birthday. Sri Aurobindo’s response was immediate and he said “UMM” with prolonged emphasis.
(Then Champaklal gives here a long account of how he managed to take Sri Aurobindo’s footprint without inconveniencing him in any way. We saw the whole operation: how cleverly he manipulated it! After drawing the feet, he took the paper to Sri Aurobindo for writing his name and blessings. Which he did gladly. We are indeed grateful to Champaklal for preserving Sri Aurobindo’s footprints in this way.)
Mother used to receive some persons at night…. Today it was past eleven p.m. and yet she had not finished. Sri Aurobindo enquired who was there with Mother. Half an hour passed, still the person continued. Sri Aurobindo asked “Why is Mother keeping him so long? He is still there?”
Today Mother was not well. A notice had been put on the board to that effect. And yet she went down, gave pranam. She was so tired that I could bear to see her. Tears rolled out of my eyes. I went and informed Sri Aurobindo about it. He said, “She ought not to go down.” Next day also she went down.
This was not the only occasion when she did so. People have no idea how much she exerted herself and in what conditions.
I was always at my best with Sri Aurobindo. With Mother it was different; my behaviour with her was exactly as it was with my physical mother whom I had served in the same way. I remember her saying that only a girl could have served like that.
Mother has trained me orally. Sri Aurobindo through look and smile. I have served Mother but I have not known her.
Mother said this morning: People think I am sleeping but I do not sleep, I go deep inside. But all the while I know all about my surroundings. I hear even the clock.
Á propos of cure of diseases Mother said that the contemporary biggest doctor of France had told her that only strong will cures human diseases. Medicine only helps and increases one’s faith. Her own experience corroborates the doctor’s view. She said that physiologically some kind of white cells form and fight against diseases. These cells increase when a strong will is exerted.
Mother said that once she did not take anything — not even a drop of water for ten full days. Since then she got acidity and it was still continuing. In another context she said: The most important thing is not to fear at all under any condition.
…Even if the heart be bad, there be appendicitis or liver trouble, the way to cure is to have absolutely no fear and have a strong will.
Sri Aurobindo’s dinner started at 12.52 a.m. and lasted till 1.15 a.m.
At one time, there were lots of mosquitoes in Sri Aurobindo’s room and he was bitten by them. He would rub an ointment on the bitten places. Afterwards he would call me by name and I would rush by his side. He would show me the places and I would rub the ointment there.
The joy at the touch of his body, the joy while rubbing the ointment is indescribable. So, too, what I felt when he would put his arm around me while walking: it is unimaginable.
She has brought a picture of Durga and shown it to Sri Aurobindo. He said: Very living image, very spirited image. It is full of life, especially the lion biting the hand of the Asura is very living and also the posture of the goddess. That was one quality about the Indian sculptors that they could put spirit into the things and life and expression which the European sculptors could not do. The posture of Durga is very natural and also the hands.
Today it was 11. a.m. when Mother came with Sri Aurobindo’s lunch — very unusual. She had brought with her one small dish with a small bowl on it — some bread slices and a knife.
This was the first and last time we saw them taking food together. It was a rare event.
I once asked Mother: You say I am your child and I was so in my previous birth also. But I have a strong feeling that I was the son of a Rishi.
Mother replied: How do you know that I was not the Rishi?
I mentioned to Mother that I wished to donate one eye for anybody who needed it. If Mother did not approve of it, then both eyes would be donated after death.
On hearing it, the Mother said, “No, no, no. Your eyes belong to me. This is a hostile suggestion. I do not approve of this giving of eyes at all.”
In the course of some remarks Mother said: I want three kinds of people: those who can work, those who do Sadhana, those who have money. At least one of these things must be there. When I say sadhana, it is not a nominal sadhana, but the true sadhana.
I have read out to you Champaklal’s Diary Notes, an extensive record that he had kept for so many years. Some of these records may appear to us modern disciples very trivial and superficial. But read carefully they appear in a different light and prove to be very significant indeed. You find there three significant illustrations about which we have heard and read theoretically, but which here we see in a living form as it were. First the relationship between the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Second, the extent of sacrifice the Mother has made for our sake — e.g. letting the sadhaks do pranams at midnight; in the day time seeing people while standing on the doorsteps hours together, with Sri Aurobindo keeping an invisible eye on her all the time. Next we are astonished to see that Sri Aurobindo had his dinner at midnight just because the Mother could not manage it earlier due to the pressure of her work. Lastly, Champaklal’s own relation with the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. With the Mother he is so free and natural like a child asking questions, correcting her, and the Mother indulging his whims and views. None of us would dare to take so much liberty with her and he did it because he loved her as his own mother.
We also get a glimpse of the Mother’s mysterious dealings with people. Lastly, we see his deep genuine love for Sri Aurobindo, so much so that a simple touch of his body, hearing his name pronounced, and to be merely near him always etc. etc., give him a heavenly ecstasy.
One can realise then the consciousness in which he was living, where no earthly recompense had any lure for him.
Is it for nothing that Sri Aurobindo, his father, his Lord, embraced and kissed him as his farewell boon on this earth?
You will also remember Champaklal’s heart-breaking grief and loud lamentation when Sri Aurobindo breathed his last.
Let me add here one small but very meaningful event in which Champaklal was involved and the Mother was much concerned about him. He happened to contract a serious disease in one eye. I was asked to take him to the eye-specialist in the local hospital. The doctor diagnosed the case and said, “It is iritis, he has to be confined to his room and make as little movement as possible. It may take a serious turn unless proper steps are taken now.” The doctor bandaged Champaklal’s eye and asked us to come next day. Not to be able to attend on Sri Aurobindo or see him even was for poor Champaklal a severe punishment. I had to do his part of the job. I used to visit him in his room and bring the report. He presented a picture of utter dejection and lay down in bed almost lifeless. Two or three days passed in this manner without any improvement in his condition; it was rather getting worse. The Mother went to see him and reported with a grave tone to Sri Aurobindo while he was taking his meal that Champaklal’s condition was taking a serious turn. Unless he came out of his seclusion and jointed his work, he would lose his eye. Sri Aurobindo simply listened and made no comment. I was alarmed. The remedy suggested by the Mother seemed to me very risky and unorthodox. Next day, however, he appeared and joined the work without any bandage. The Mother asked me to put some simple eyedrops. The iritis disappeared in two or three days and Champaklal was again Champaklal with a beatific smile. Now, here is a miracle I saw with my own eyes. The Mother flouting all medical wisdom presented the patient before the All-healer’s silent Presence and cured him.
There is another example of how we enjoyed a forbidden delight that might meet your strong disapproval. Uday Shankar, the famous dancer, visited Pondicherry with his troupe. I think his new film Kalpana was being shown in the town. Naturally the whole Ashram was caught in a wave of excitement. The Mother’s notice that no member should attend the show cooled down the simmering expectation. Myself and Champaklal, however, conspired to go out stealthily after our work was over and Sri Aurobindo had retired. Another attendant would do our duty. So, almost at dead of night, we slipped out. Everything was arranged for us. The cinema was shown in an open field and we were given an honoured place. But unfortunately we could not appreciate the film. I think it did not meet with success. The Mother must have heard about our escapade, but she gave us no hint.
I am starting the second part of Champaklal’s life with a long digression. Its purpose will be obvious to those who know that Leonardo da Vinci was no other than Sri Aurobindo himself in a past life. And the boy who became so fond of him could only be Champaklal. The audience will find ample traits of similarly between Champaklal and the boy. I’ll start quoting from the famous book, Romance of Leonardo da Vinci:
On the evening before Leonardo had set out for the villa of Melzi in Vaprio, Girolanno Helzi had forsaken his service at the court of the Sforzas after the death of his young wife and had settled with his son in an isolated villa at the foot of the Alps. There he had formed a group of friends, philosophers esoteric scientists, alchemists. Leonardo used to visit them and give Helzi the greatest joy.
Timid, as bashful as a girl, the boy for a long while fought shy of him. But once, entering the artist’s room on an errand from his father, he saw the varicoloured glasses with the aid of which the artist was studying the laws of supplementary colours. Leonardo invited him to look through them; the amusement was to the boy’s liking.
In the village school of the old abbot of a neighbouring cloister, Don Lorenzo, Francesco studied but lazily, — he memorized Latin grammar with aversion; at the sight of the ink-smeared, green covers of his arithmetic book his face would lengthen. (It reminds us of Champaklal’s bitter school-days). But Leonardo’s science was such that it seemed to the boy as interesting as a fairy-tale. The appliances of mechanics, of optics, of acoustics, of hydraulics, attracted him just as though they were living, magic toys. From morn till night he would not tire of listening to Leonardo’s stories. With grown-ups the artist was secretive, inasmuch as he knew that every careless word might draw suspicions or a sneer upon his head. With Francesco he spoke of all things trustingly and simply; not only did he teach him, but, in his turn, learned from him. And, recalling the word of the Lord: “Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven,” he would add: “Nor shall ye enter into the kingdom of knowledge.”
On one occasion the boy asked him if it were true of the stars, that they were like diamonds, set by God within the crystal spheres of the heavens, which revolving, draw them along in their progress and produce music. The master explained that, according to the law of friction, the spheres, revolving for the duration of so many millennia, with unbelievable rapidity, would have fallen apart, their crystal edges would have been eroded, their music would have ceased, and the “irrepressible dancers” would have ceased moving.
Having pierced with a needle a sheet of paper, he allowed him to look through the opening. Francesco beheld the stars devoid of their rays, resembling radiant, round, infinitely small dots or globules.
“These dots,” said Leonardo, “are enormous; many of them worlds hundreds, thousands of times larger than ours; which, however, is by no means worse, nor more insignificant, than all the other heavenly bodies. The laws of mechanics, — mechanics, discovered by the intelligence of man, and sovereign on earth — govern world and suns.”
Much of what he said Francesco did not understand. But when, throwing back his head, he would contemplate the starry sky, he was overcome with awe.
“But what is there, — beyond the stars?” he would ask “Other worlds, Francesco, other stars, which we see not.”
“And beyond them?”
“Yes, but in the end, — in the end?”
“There is no end.”
“There is no end?” repeated the boy, and Leonardo felt Francesco’s hand tremble within his; in the light of the unmoving flame of a lamp burning on a little table in the midst of the astronomical instruments he saw that the child’s face had become covered with sudden pallor.
“But, where,” asked he, slowly, with growing amazement, “where paradise then, Messer Leonardo, — the angels, the martyrs, the Madonna, and God the Father, sitting on His throne — and the Son and the Holy Ghost?”
Leonardo would keep quiet.
In the last days of March, more and more alarming tidings began to arrive in the Villa Melzi. The troops of Louis XII had crossed the Alps.
Rumours of war (with France) and of politics reached like faint, muffled rumbling to the villa at Vaprio.
Thinking neither of the French king, nor of the Duke, Leonardo and Francesco rambled over the neighbouring knolls, dales and groves. At times they climbed upward, following the current of the river, into the wooded hills. Here Leonardo would hire labourers and make excavations, searching for ante-diluvian sea-shells, and petrified marine animals and water plants.
On one occasion, returning from a ramble, they sat down to rest under old linden-tree on a cliff over the steep bank of the Adda. The endless plain with its ranks of wayside poplars and elms, was spread out at their feet.
He indicated the plain spreading out before them with an all — embracing gesture.
“All that you see here, Francesco, was at one time the bed of an ocean covering a great part of Europe, Africa and Asia. The marine animals which we find in these mountains bear witness to those times when the summits of the Apennines were the islands of a great sea, and over the plains of Italy, where the birds soar now, the fishes were swimming…”
Not far from the settlement of Mandello, near the foot of Monte Campiont there was an iron mine.
A subterranean passage, steep, dark, resembling a well, with half-ruined slippery steps, descending in the direction of the lake, led to the shafts. The guide went on ahead with a lanthorn, Leonardo, bearing Francesco in his arms, followed him. The boy, despite the supplications of his father and the dissuasion of the master, had won his way after much imploring to be taken along.
The passage constantly grew narrower and steeper. They had counted up to two hundred steps, but the descent still continued, and it seemed as if it would never end.
“Afraid?” he asked with a kindly smile, feeling Francesco snuggling up to him.
“Nay, tis naught — with you I am never afraid.”
And, after a silence, he added quietly:
“Is it true Messer Leonardo, what father says — that you are going away soon?”
“To Romagna, to serve Cesare, Duke of Valentino.”
“To Romagna? Is that far?”
“Tis several days’ journey from here.”
“Several days!” repeated Francesco. “That means we shall never see each other again?”
“Nay, why should that be? I shall come to you, just as soon as I can.”
The boy grew pensive; then, with both arms, in impulsive tenderness, he embraced Leonardo’s neck, snuggled up to him still closer, and said in a whisper:
“Oh, Messer Leonardo, take me, — take me with you!”
“Whatever art thou saying, lad? How can it be? A war is going on there…”
“Let there be war! I tell you that I fear naught when I am with you!… I shall be your servant, I shall clean your clothes, sweep your rooms, give the horses their feed, and also, as you know, I can find sea-shells, and imprint plants on paper with charcoal. Why, you yourself were saying but the other day that I do it like a grown-up. Oh, do but take me. Messer Leonardo, — do not forsake me!….”
“But what of your father Messer Girolamo? Or dost thou think that he will let thee go with me?”
“He will let me go, he will! I shall wheedle it out of him. He is kind. He will not refuse me if I cry… Well if he will not let me go, then I shall slip away on the … sly. Only do you tell me that I may… Yes?”
“Nay, Francesco, I know that thou dost but say so; yet thou thyself wilt not leave thy father. He is old, poor fellow…”
“Poor fellow, yes — I am a poor fellow… And yet you too… Oh, Messer Leonardo, you do not know — you think me a little fellow. But I know everything! Aunty Bonna says that you are wizard, and the schoolmaster, Don Lorenzo, also says that you are wicked, and that I may send my soul to perdition with you. Once, when he spoke ill of you, I answered him so that he almost gave me a beating. And they all fear you. But I fear you not because you are better than all of them and I want to be with you always! …”
Leonardo stroked his head in silence and, for some reason, there came back to him how several years ago he had been carrying in the very same way the little lad who had taken the part of Golden Age at Moro’s festival.
Suddenly the clear eyes of Francesco dimmed, the corners of his mouth drooped, and he whispered:
“Well, what can I do? Let it be so, then — let it be! For I know why you do not want to take me with you. You love me not… Whereas I…”
He burst into uncontrollable sobs.
“Cease, lad. Art thou not ashamed? Better listen to what I shall tell thee. When thou art grown up, I shall take thee as a pupil, and we shall live gloriously together, and shall never part again.”
Francesco raised his eyes to him, with the tears still glistening on his long lashes, and looked at him with an intent, prolonged gaze.
“Is that true — you will take me? Perhaps you do but say so, in order to console me but will forget about it later?…”
“Nay, I promise thee, Francesco.”
“You promise? But after how many years?”
“Well, in seven or eight, when thou shall be fifteen…”
“Seven…” Francesco checked up on his fingers. “And we shall part no more?”
“Never, till very death.”
“Tis well, then, if it be for certain, — but only if it be for certain in seven years?”
“Yes, for certain.”
Francesco gave him a happy smile, caressing him with an especial caress he had invented, — which consisted of rubbing his cheek against Leonardo’s face, as cats do.
“But do you know, Messer Leonardo, — tis amazing! I had a dream once, — it seemed I was descending in darkness down long, long stairs — just exactly as we are doing now; and it seemed as if I had always been doing so and would always be doing it, and there was never an end to them. And someone whose face I could not see, was carrying me. But I knew that this person was my mother. And yet I do not remember her, — she died when I was very little. And here, now is this dream, in reality. Only it is you, and not my mother. But with you I feel just as well as I did with her. Nor have I any fear…”
Leonardo glanced at him with infinite tenderness.
In the darkness the child’s eyes shone with a mysterious light. He offered lips to Leonardo trustingly, as though really to a mother. The master kissed them, — and it seemed to him that in this kiss Francesco was surrendering his soul to him.
Feeling the heart of the child beating against his, firm of step, with insatiable inquisitiveness, following the dim lanthorn, down the fearful stairs of the iron mine, Leonardo descended lower and lower into the subterranean murk.
Champaklal’s Collaboration with the Mother
One can write a small volume on the second chapter of Champaklal’s life spent with the Mother, from Sri Aurobindo’s passing to her passing, and his vigilant collaboration with her in her multiform physical, material, even occult activities concerning the inmates, visitors, bhaktas, etc.; but since much is known about it, I shall bring to focus only the important episodes which are known to me. Some of them have been recorded in my book: Memorable Contacts with the Mother.
Sri Aurobindo’ sudden departure left us forlorn. Our close golden bond for twelve years with the One who was our Master, Friend, Guide — our Immortality — was cut asunder. “Shall we (at least myself) have to go back to the old world to resume our duties?” That was the question. Days dragged on, we two, Champaklal and myself, still holding together, but without any communication, as if we were strangers to each other moving about like shadows — this was our inner condition. I had a fear that I might be sent back to take up some other work; but we were not kept long in suspense. When the Mother resumed her work after twelve days, she out of her compassion allowed me to continue my life as before, while Champaklal was restored to his original service with the Mother. She said to me one day, “Along with Nolini, you have a lot of work to do on Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri.” And allocating the corner which she had used as her sitting room, she added, “This is your study.” And she asked Udar to prepare whatever furniture I would need for my work. Later on, when I had settled down, she said, “This new typewriter is imported from Germany for your Savitri-work.”
Thus I was installed as a member of the divine family, neighbour to the Mother, as it were, with Pavitra-da on the one wing, Champaklal and myself on the other. I could see her moving about and was at her beck and call, so to say, though she rarely called. It was my unique privilege to be in her atmosphere, and breathe her divine fragrance from a distance, then whenever called, to approach her with timid yet exultant steps.
Champaklal, on the other hand, who became her lion and her Hanuman afterwards, began with a modest but useful work as a preparation for a more serious one in her Presence. A room was given to him on the landing place leading to the Mother’s new room which was constructed somewhere in 1952 or 1953. There he was to receive the parcels, offerings, presents etc. meant for the Mother while Nolini and Amrita used to visit her for their daily work. He was also given the charge of controlling the visitors to the Mother. He was quite strict in this respect. He would see to it that the visitors had really obtained a genuine permission and that they did not take too much liberty with the Mother misusing her time. His cross-questioning of the visitors was an ordeal for them. It was as if they were put in the witness-box in a court facing the interrogations of the counsel. There is a verse in Savitri:
None can reach Heaven who has not passed through Hell
which I parodied thus:
None can go to the Mother who has not passed through Champaklal.
When the Mother heard it while I was reading Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo to her, she smiled. I think one of the sadhikas, later an admirer of Champaklal, has written about her ordeal in this regard. In this way he performed his duties faultlessly albeit somewhat harshly.
However, soon he got his legitimate promotion when the Mother’s work increased in her room. Her many-sided activities: interviews with visitors v.i.ps., inmates, presents, post parcels pouring in after Sri Aurobindo’s passing. Who else but Champaklal could put this motley assortment of activities in a harmonious order? Thus he made himself indispensable to her and served her for years till her passing.
Among all this plethora of duties I will select a few to give a rough idea of their nature. For example, his preparation of birthday cards — which was one of the most elaborate and impeccable works of art he accomplished, putting his heart and soul into it. I observed once how much meticulous care; sense of beauty and perfection he concentrated on them! — all the instruments and materials — scissors, knives, cutting machines, gums, pastes, colours, papers, cardboards, the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s pictures of various sizes, ready by his side — to prepare each card. It was verily a divine passion with him. And for hundreds of inmates, children and disciples! Those who have still preserved them as souvenirs of the Mother’s blessings, messages inscribed in the Mother’s excellent handwriting, will bless Champaklal for this precious gift. And he earned on the other hand the Mother’s encomium: “Champaklal, Master of Cards.” We used to vie with each other to see our respective cards and appreciate the beauty of the artifacts. Once Amrita-da came to see one of my birthday cards because he had learnt that something special had been written on it by the Mother.
He used also to be present during the Mother’s work with Huta and the recording of her talks with Satprem which has now come out as the Agenda. Two copies were made of the Agenda, one of which was in Champaklal’s custody in the Mother’s room. After her passing that copy was found missing. Somebody must have innocently given it to Satprem on demand by him for some plausible reason.
Champaklal had a number of almirahs at his disposal to store the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s books, and photos of various sizes, for her to distribute to the inmates on their birthdays in her divine largesse. One interesting instance comes to mind. A young boy, who had no interest or capacity to understand Sri Aurobindo’s works, was given as his birthday present a number of Sri Aurobindo’s more difficult books. He protested to her saying, “Mother, you know I can’t read. I have no use for these.” She argued, “Keep them with you, all the same.” Surprise of surprises! Later when I came to know him somewhat intimately, I saw that he had become a different man, and he confessed that now Sri Aurobindo’s books alone interested him and in his special work he has found many practical suggestions, guiding intimations from them. He is now bringing out a book on the working of the five elements in our system, based on Sri Aurobindo’s observations in his book The Life Divine.
Another hobby Champaklal took up was marbling. At one time the Mother evinced some interest in this art. People were explaining and demonstrating to her its technique and place in this Art of Painting. Champaklal was taken up by its newness. He was always attracted to new things.
After finishing his work with the Mother and coming down at night, I saw him doing all kinds of experiments in his room with this art of marbling with various colours sprinkled on the surface of the water collected in a broad vessel, forgetting his food and sleep until he achieved success. He showed them to the Mother. We have seen some of these paintings bearing the significances given to them by the Mother.
His service was, however, interrupted by a sudden attack of an uncommon malady in our atmosphere. He had a hereditary tendency to arthritis. His backbone was particularly vulnerable, which often made him suffer from a backache aggravated by his long sitting position. He used to ignore it. Once he consulted our doctors about it, but their advice did not meet with his approval. At that time a pamphlet on urine therapy fell into his hands. It claimed to be a panacea for all kinds of diseases. Champaklal, always an experimenter, now utterly desperate, wanted to give it a chance. We may remember the former Prime Minister of India, Morarji Desai, had also recourse to his therapy which he claimed yielded splendid results. Champaklal also found relief from the use of this remedy and he was extremely happy that he could continue the Mother’s work. But, as he continued the treatment without taking sufficient precautions about its use, he fell seriously ill. Pain in the joints, high fever and other toxic symptoms confined him to bed for quite a long time. Dr. Sanyal, the Mother’s doctor, used to treat him, and Kamala and myself attended upon him. Sanyal kept the Mother informed about his condition. His recovery took time. When, after a long absence, he met the Mother he was moved to tears. The Mother’s Presence and caress soon restored him to his normal health. I got the chance of accompanying him for some days to have the Mother’s darshan. At that time she said to me: “Nirod, take care of Champaklal’s health.” Unfortunately I could not fulfil that obligation in spite of my best intentions, due to various factors that intervened in the last period of Champaklal’s life.
Before I close this subject let me speak about a fairly long interlude during which I had a chance of reading to the Mother my recently finished book Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo. Champaklal was always present on these occasions. Once I told the Mother that my chapter on Her was very short and I felt very sad about it. Then suddenly Champaklal shouted, “Ask Mother for inspiration.” She simply smiled. I did as I was told and, to my utter surprise, inspiration came down in full force and it became the longest chapter. Strangely enough all the facts I had written there were known to me, but a veil seemed to have shut them from my vision. The Mother simply removed that veil as it were and I could see. It was a novel experience indeed. Even while writing poetry under Sri Aurobindo’s inspiration I did not feel such a prolonged outflow.
I wind up my story with the Mother’s last days when She was suffering from a mysterious ailment and her condition was deteriorating. It was the most painful phase of her life. Since we have written at length on this painful phase in our books, I shall here mention only briefly Champaklal’s exemplary service to the Mother at that time. For days and days, Pranab and Champaklal had to forgo their sleep, rest, even food, for one of them had to be constantly at her side. Champaklal used to come and lie down on the terrace for snatches of rest, when there would be a sudden call from Pranab, and he would have to spring up and rush to her side, till one day the tragic drama came to an end. The last living memory we cherish is of her final Darshan on Sri Aurobindo’s birthday.
The Last Chapter
After the Mother’s passing in 1973, the last part of Champaklal’s life took a complete somersault as it were. Now he no longer had an occupation. It was apparently a dreadful come-down from the significant role he had played in the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s long heavenly drama on earth, for more than a half-century.
I have said that after the Mother’s passing he was one of those who were in charge of the Mother’s room and were looking after it from day to day. The room was packed with many precious things offered by the disciples and devotees over the years. He used to go regularly in the morning and evening to put her bed, articles, papers etc. in order. That was his main work, while he employed his free time for his various hobbies. One day, however, we found that he had stopped going to the Mother’s room. He would not tell us the reason. Then we suggested that he should take up some other work, for without work life here would be difficult for him or anybody else. He tried to adjust himself. For one who had given his entire life to the service of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo it was not easy to divert his attention in other directions. Finally he turned his gaze outwards, to the vast external world. He thought perhaps that the Mother had given him uncharted freedom to turn his ample free time to the best account. He had no regrets, for had he not served the Gurus every minute of his life for many decades, till his old age? The vast natural beauty of God’s wonderful world now opened wide before him, particularly the snow-covered mountain ranges of the Himalays with their floral and faunal grandeurs for which he had cherished a subconscious attraction for long. Thus he went on a pilgrimage to holy Badrinath, Kedarnath. Kashmir and other places in the North. He assumed that the Mother’s approval was behind it and felt at places her Presence.
As soon as people came to know that they could have his rare darshan, he was invited to various places, particularly by Tara Jauhar of Delhi, who used to arrange trips to Nainital and the Himalayas. She would always send him an invitation. We have seen exquisite slides showing “Maharaj” in various poses and dresses, trekking through the Himalayan woods, streams, and waterfalls, meeting sannyasins and seeing multitudes of variegated flowers. He used to bathe in very hot or very cold fountains, quite immune to their effect. I need not expatiate on the beauty, grandeur and splendour of the Himalayan valleys and the tremendous attraction that an artist like Champaklal would feel, that made him visit them more than once when an opportunity presented itself through the invitations of Tara Jauhar. And he always had groups of people who were only too glad to accompany him because of their ‘Dadaji’s’ natural charm.
Once, I remember, he was not in the best of health when a call came from Tara. In later life, he had developed high blood-pressure and prostate trouble. We advised him to postpone his trip, but he was most reluctant to do it. We persuaded him to consult a doctor and took him to the JIPMER hospital. A urologist examined him and advised him to abandon his trip since his blood pressure was too high, and his prostatic condition could give him trouble in the cold regions. He would not listen, particularly because he did not want to disappoint the group which had made all the arrangements. As it turned out, he did have prostatic trouble on the way. This was Champaklal, a man of a very strong will and an adamant adherent to his way of life and full of softness for ‘bhaktas’. It was while returning from another of his trips that he suffered a mild heart attack and had to send a wire from Madras for a car to fetch him. This was the first signal to him to be careful.
We noticed another strange happening at this time. He suddenly began to observe silence and stopped talking. I came to know that he had visited a throat specialist at Madras for some throat-trouble and, following his advice, began to observe mauna (silence). He never sought my advice in these matters. Unfortunately he extended this precaution over such a long period that ultimately he lost his power of speech altogether, and could not regain it in spite of exercise in voice training. It seems he made this extension in order to control his outburst of temper.
When his Himalayan journeys came to an end he turned his attention to the vast plains and visited almost all the places in the North, South, West and East of India. From among all of them three places attracted him the most: Orissa, Baroda and Hyderabad. The bhaktas of Orissa in particular gave him a royal reception, looking upon him almost like a demi-god. Many used to fall at his feet, and some even craved his blessings for their various ailments. There are stories that he had cured people’s diseases, solved their problems and performed other miracles. One particular bhakta looked upon him as a god. I myself have seen him prostrating himself before him. Every time he came, he offered him big sums of money and bore, it seems, the greater part of the expenses of his travels.
I cannot but mention here an incident showing Champaklal’s calm courage. As recounted by some bhaktas, there was a park in Orissa quite far from the city where a tame tiger had been set free to roam. Champaklal was very curious to visit the place. There he entered the enclosure against the objections and persuasions of his friends not to do it. Then he fed the tiger. I, for one, would not dare to do it though the tiger was a tame one.
During Darshan days, the darshan of “Maharaj” was also a regular feature, people from Orissa especially, more than a hundred at a time, would line up for his touch and blessings.
About doing pranam at his feet, Champaklal said that in the beginning he did not like people touching his feet, but later when he saw that people were happy doing it he relented. Since then, it happened that when certain people touched his feet he got for an instant a pain similar to a scorpion bite. Sometimes when certain people stretched out their hands to touch his feet, his feet themselves rejected the touch by an automatic withdrawal. Each time when people would touch his feet, or pray to him, he would pass on consciously the person’s prayers to the Mother and seek Her Grace and Love, he said. He acted only as a mediator. However, sometimes, he said, when people carried within themselves vital and hostile forces they attacked his body. Once when he was distributing grapes and other fruits to visitors at Hyderabad, one lady caught hold of his hands tightly and stared into his eyes. Champaklal too looked back at her with a quiet but intense gaze. It was as if a veritable battle of forces was taking place and the lady’s dark force was being absorbed by the Divine Force in Champaklal. At the end of the distribution, when Champaklal was going to rest after his lunch, he suddenly sat down and slowly collapsed on the ground. He did not allow anyone to touch him. He said he would take five minutes to become all right. His lips moved as if intensely calling the Mother. He got up exactly five minutes later. As he clarified afterwards, it was an attack of a hostile force on his body, and he took some time to throw it out and offer it at the Mother’s feet.
Champaklal used to go out twice a year but return by December. At that time we had the pleasure of his silent company in the Ashram. He would also accompany us on our annual group picnics. We visited quite a number of places of natural beauty or historical fame: the temples of the South, Shivaji’s Gingee Fort, the Ashram of Ramana Maharshi, and so on. Though he kept mostly silent, his rishi-like presence among the young group members sanctified the atmosphere.
Two incidents from the picnics are still fresh in my memory. Once we were climbing the hill at Tiruvannamalai at Ramana Ashram. Our destination was the famous Skanda Ashram near the summit where the Maharshi lived many years alone, doing tapasya. The morning sun grew scorching as we trekked uphill, and we noticed that “Maharaj” was beginning to feel the heat. His gait became unsteady, his face and the bare part of the chest flushed. But he would not allow anyone to help him. What we feared finally happened: he started sweating and his breathing became laboured, alarming all of us. It looked like a mild sunstroke. We brought him a few metres down the hill, sought for shade and managed to lay him down under a tree almost denuded of leaves. After an hour’s rest and whatever treatment we could give him, he came to and resumed walking without our support. He had given us some anxious moments indeed. He would not allow anyone to touch his body even if he stumbled. I had to be always behind him as a shield of protection!
On another trip we had a contrasting experience with him. A river in the South had dried up. At places there were pools. Champaklal and myself and a few others simply rushed towards one of these and plunged into it. Champaklal’s joy was a thing to be seen. How he splashed, sprinkled water all over his body, tried to float and submerge himself! Just like a bird splashing in scanty water! I paint this picture to show how “Maharaj” was a completely different person at times, just like a child.
I have said that Hyderabad was one of Champaklal’s favourite places where he had some significant visions. Ananda Reddy of Hyderabad has given a very attractive account of his mystic visions and other experiences there in his book on Champaklal. He begins: “I had a dream in which Sri Aurobindo said to me, ‘She has brought down with Her the Aura of Her Manifestation.’ I understand the aura to mean the intimate circle of persons who have closely served the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.
During one of his last visits to Hyderabad, Champaklal had a unique experience at Aurodarshan, one of the places given names by Madhusudan Reddy where some foundations were to be laid. He went to visit the spot of Auromandir of which he himself had laid the foundation stone in 1984. After watching the spot for a while he suddenly sat down in padmasana and went into a trance followed after some time by the performance of many mudras. The photographer recorded his different poses, while the persons around him stood motionless in wonder and awe. Champaklal wrote later, “I have seen many places in the world including the Himalayas, but I have not found anywhere a unique place. Previously there was an Ashram here. And what they have achieved is still there undisturbed.” On another day he wrote: “Since the beginning, I had a feeling that I knew this place. Mother had revealed to me what it was, but not what it will be…. It will be like Auroville, but of a different character. Matridarshan is beautiful and has a lot of possibilities for the future but Aurodarshan has a beautiful spiritual background and it is unique.” (Matridarshan is a hilly spot about seven kilometres from Jangaon.)
Visits to Auroville and the Matrimandir
These visits were more often to the Matrimandir than to other parts of Auroville, after Auroville had been taken over by the Government of India. Westerners were in charge of the Matrimandir and were slowly building it up. In the early stages of its construction there were few workers and we were not very familiar with them. We enjoyed our visits there mainly for the scenic beauty and quiet atmosphere, both “Maharaj” and myself being lovers of Nature. We spent part of the evening with a few chosen friends before returning home.
We visited the Matrimandir at various stages of its construction. If I recall rightly, our first visit was when the outer frame of the globe was up and the Central Hall was under construction. In the book, Visions of Champaklal, he mentions our visits and the wonderful experiences and visions he had there. Their meanings and interpretations are also attempted in the book. These visits took place in 1978 and 1979, before his trips to the West.
Maharaj would very often go into meditation or trance with eyes closed for quite some time, and the rest of us would walk around leaving him in that blissful condition. Unfortunately for us he could not then communicate to us the visions and experiences he had during his meditations owing to his vow of silence. Now when we read about them in his book, we cannot but marvel at their beauty and grandeur, the wonderful mysterious beings present there, and the Mother and Sri Aurobindo enveloping with their mighty Presence Auroville and the Matrimandir.
It was after one of these visits that, impressed by the colossal structure hanging as it were in space, I was inspired to write about it. Mine was only poetic expression of my feelings while Champaklal’s visions were concrete experiences to which I had no access. These experiences assure us that the Mother and Sri Aurobindo were and are still actively behind their own grand visions of the future of Auroville.
A tragic event that took place during the construction of Matrimandir is still vaguely alive in my mind. A young Western woman while working at a great height fell from the scaffolding and was so badly injured as to be reduced to a wheelchair existence. She expressed her desire to see Maharaj. Piero, the Italian architect, knew us, and communicated to us her wish. What we saw was extremely pathetic. She was a huddled figure lying in bed, and could hardly speak. Only with her eyes she gazed at Maharaj and seemed to implore his blessings. Maharaj, as was his nature, caressed her with his touch, consoled her with silent love and blessings. She was taken care of very lovingly by friends and by one in particular for the remaining 11 or 12 years of her life.
Another visit that was memorable was to the Plant Nursery of Narad, an American Aurovilian. Maharaj speaks about it in his book. On p. 91 he says, “Our brother Narad had arranged on 21st February 1979, the Mother’s birthday, a flower show at his place in Auroville… For me to go to his garden would have been a joy even on any other day, to see brother Narad with his plants as if he were near the Mother. The plants speak to him… When he is near the plants, his face beams. It is happy sight to see him and the plants together… As soon as we reached his place, we entered into a joyful and devotional atmosphere… All the flowers were expressing themselves and it was very difficult to move away from their presence.”
That was Maharaj, lover of man, lover of beauty and perceptive of the inner reality.
We had been to the Meditation Hall of the Matrimandir in its early stages of construction. But by the time it reached its final phase, Champaklal had lost the use of his limbs due to a stroke and was almost confined to his room. Even in this condition he visited the Matrimandir a few times. All arrangements were made to take him there by car and then carry him up in a chair to the Meditation Hall by the workers of the Matrimandir. By then he had become very well known to the Westerners there and every time he paid a visit all of them, even the children, would gather to sit or stand silently around him in an attitude of great respect. There are quite a number of pictures they took on these occasions: Maharaj in his lovely gown, with glowing face and flowing beard surrounded by an assembly of over a hundred people. He was present too when the Matrimandir crystal was ceremoniously installed. It is a pity he did not leave any description of the experiences he must certainly have had on these last visits.
Visits to the West and the East
Maharaj toured widely in the West. I can only give a brief sketch of his journeys, drawn from conversations with his companions, and from his books. England, France, Austria, Germany, Italy, Geneva, Mont Blanc, New York, California, Mata Giri: wherever he went he was accompanied and looked after by a few young people who regarded him as their “Dadaji”, and they met Indian and Western devotees of the Mother who were extremely happy to have him in their midst. Though the meetings were silent ones — as Maharaj was under a discipline of silence — he kept a notebook and pencil with him and communicated with all in writing, as well as noting down his own observations and experiences.
In Germany he visited the Berlin Wall and meditated there. I am tempted to surmise that our Maharaj may have contributed his mite with an occult push to the notorious Wall. People soon gathered around him, attracted by his extraordinary appearance: his bright calm face, flowing white beard, silken grey hair, a noble figure robed in a silk gown, looking like a splendid patriarch of old. In Paris, near “Leonardo da Vinci Palace”, when he innocently picked up some coloured pebbles and began examining them, some children excitedly pointed to him and exclaimed, “Look, look, Leonardo!”
In Paris, he was overwhelmed with joy when he went to the Mother’s home at Val de Grace. In the garden of the famous French painter, Claude Monet, he had a vision and lay down on the lawn, arms fully stretched, hands together eyes closed in an obvious deep trance. There is a lovely picture of this pose in his book.
In Montreal, Canada, he met our people from India settled there who had established Centres and taken Sri Aurobindo’s relics to install in them.
In South Carolina, U.S.A., a wonderful thing happened. He was in his element in a place of scenic beauty, far away from human habitation, amidst hills, trees, fountains and groves, when he felt a pressure on his head and sat down under a magnificent tree and went into spontaneous meditation. His companion took a photograph of him then and when he developed it a beam of white light falling over him and enveloping him became clearly visible.
His journeys to the East included Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Japan, recorded in many photos, specially of the cultural aspects of these countries. He saw in Indonesia Hindu and Muslim architecture flourishing side by side without any sectarian spirit. Unfortunately, his vow of silence deprived us of any living description of his experiences, except for some spontaneous expressive gestures of delight at times.
One peculiar feature of all these wanderings was that he returned with a log of baggage containing gifts and offerings given to him by the people wherever he went. It was as if a conqueror had returned with booty of all sorts! A good bit of the money from the offerings he received he gave for the project of greening the arid places of the Ashram’s Lake Estate, carried out by the students and teachers of our Centre of Education. The successful development and growth of plants and flowers at “Merveille” was partly due to his contributions.
On the night of his return from every trip, he would unpack the gifts in his room, separate them, classify and make lists of them in his meticulous way, till the wee hours of the next morning, oblivious of time, space and, unfortunately, me, who would be trying to get a decent night’s sleep in Sri Aurobindo’s room next to his. A few times he very considerately drew the curtain between the rooms, thus reducing my hardship. He never forgot to give us some presents from the booty.
We divided Champaklal’s life in the Ashram into three parts: 1) from his youth to Sri Aurobindo’s passing; 2) from Sri Aurobindo’s passing to the Mother’s departure; and 3) from then on to his own exit, all the parts making up about 73 years, which is the longest period of stay in the Ashram after Nolinida’s, I believe.
I have described the first two parts from my own personal contact with him and from other sadhaks.
Now comes the last part, a very dolorous denouement to the life-long dedication of a sadhak in the devoted service of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. I shall content myself with giving only the salient points of this part so that the readers and admirers of “Maharaj” may have a fairly rounded picture of his life — a part which is not very widely known but which adds a significant aspect that completes the personality of the man.
Well, after this preamble, I must confess straightaway that the readers may find the following very sad reading and may ask themselves many questions about it without finding satisfactory answers.
I have said that Maharaj had finally returned home after his long globe-trotting during which he spread the Mother’s message to the world through his unique way of Silence. I don’t know if he intended to resume his journeys later, but his long peregrinations in the late seventies and eighties with a frail body had taken their toll. Whenever he returned, he had always a few admirers who would attend on him and give him bath, massage, etc. One morning we found to our shocking surprise that he was lying on the floor of his room in a kind of trance. There were no movements of his body, his eyes were closed. I suspected a mild stroke. I told the attendants that we should let him remain lying down and request Dr. Datta to come immediately. I had to go somewhere for a while. On my return I learned that Dr. Datta had found that Maharaj had had a mild stroke affecting the right side of his body. He could not move his right arm and leg. He had to be confined to bed. Now a systematic regime was started consisting of massage and walking with the help and support of volunteers to serve him and they were mostly young men from Gujarat and Orissa. Neither was there any lack of money. To nurse a paralytic patient is not an easy job, because of his loss of ability to make voluntary movements. Muscles had to be re-educated by regular artificial exercises. For a man who had been used to leading an active life, it was indeed a severe physical and psychological tapasya which Maharaj endured in the best of spirits. He would not express to anybody his inner condition even in writing, but we noticed that he always kept a cheerful expression, and a sweet smile greeted close friends who came to see how he was. There were plenty of visitors from Gujarat, Orissa and other places coming regularly to see their Dadaji in the morning, afternoon and even at night. They would sit by his bedside, sometimes for hours. Many suggestions were followed by way of treatment but none seemed to produce any substantial effect. On the contrary, the limbs gradually began to lose their power of movement. My role was very small — to keep a regular watch over his daily movements and enquire about his health. As I was busy during the day, I would spend some time in the evening with him. Maharaj had kept a chair reserved for me and, when I came, he would greet me with a smile and ask about my health by means of gestures.
Kamala attended to his diet. Here she had to face a big difficulty, for his food intake began gradually to diminish. In spite of her ingenuity in cooking various dishes he liked he would eat very little. I would see every day how much she had to coax him to eat some more with hardly any effect.
One very invaluable service that was rendered by his admirers and devotees at this time was to draft a number of books during this illness. I don’t know exactly what method was employed to bring out his experiences in book form. Did Maharaj scribble them with his left hand on a slate or in pieces of paper which the scribes transcribed to make books. At any rate, I would see some sadhikas attending on him regularly and reading to him from some texts, and we must be grateful to them for having done an excellent job. Otherwise so much of his inner life would have remained unknown to us. But, typically, he never mentioned anything about his physical troubles.
Of his various ailments, one was noticeable to all: he would groan with pain from time to time and press his head with his usable hand as if it was the seat of the pain. At night too he would cry out with the pain. When I would ask him about it, he would not give any reply. I would wonder if the Force was acting upon his body, which he could not bear. Much later the agony subsided.
Another curious sign of his ailments was that at times he would cough up thick sticky phlegm. The doctor found congestion in the lungs, due probably to his flat position. The drugs were not of much help. At times during his meals bouts of cough would suddenly seize him and he would bring out thick phlegm.
This symptom continued without any improvement, in spite of various treatments. The patient was finally confined to bed most of the time. But throughout his illness a stream of people used to come and seek his blessing which Maharaj gave unstintingly. A striking feature was that quite a number of people saw a golden light coming down on him from above, or they found his body suffused with it. This made me hope against hope that eventually by some miracle, the Force would cure him. But one day I heard our Guru’s voice saying, “I’m waiting for him. He will come straight to me.” Maharaj also had realised that he would not recover and he indicated from time to time that his end was nearing.
Then, for some mysterious reason, he made up his mind to once again leave the Ashram even though, in my view, things had gone beyond hope.
The way it happened was like this. Some Naturopath from Gujarat known to Maharaj had come to see him and had suggested that since the improvement was visible his treatment could be given a chance, but he did not promise a cure. Maharaj consented to go out and undergo the treatment. When I heard of it from one of his attendants, it shocked me and I doubted if he would be able to come back. When I asked him if it was true that he was leaving, he nodded his head in assent. I knew that nobody could stop him. His decisions were always abrupt and he would not listen to anyone. So, I simply told him, “My heart is going with you.”
He must have thought: “Since no other system of medicine was having any effect, why not give a chance to this new treatment?” He was almost resigned to his fate, and dying outside had not much importance to him because, for him, the Mother and Sri Aurobindo were not confined to the Ashram alone. He had felt their Presence everywhere. I, for one, would presume that inwardly he had the Mother’s sanction for it. We bade him farewell. His servitors had gathered who had received tokens of his love in kind.
The rest of the story has come out in Mother India. I need not repeat it. I will only add this much that when some improvement was noticed after the treatment had succeeded in bringing out a copious amount of phlegm, Maharaj seemed to have expressed his wish to return, but friends persuaded him to stay and improve further. Sadly, it did not work out as they had wished.
Thus after a long span of ideal service a great soul quietly passed away in his native province, but Destiny brought his mortal remains to the Ashram. My friend Amal Kiran tells me that when the ashes arrived in the courtyard around the Samadhi he felt a sudden uplifting of the whole atmosphere for some time, a very remarkable experience testifying to the Mahatma that our Champaklal was. The ashes were given a sacred burial by the side of other lofty sadhaks in the bosom of the Cazanove garden.
Maharaj by all means was an extraordinary man. Few could have refrained from shedding silent tears when they heard the sad news. His only aim in life had been service to the Divine, and who will question the one-pointed aim and fulfilment of his soul? He was not a dreamer of big schemes for the Ashram like Dyumanbhai nor did he have a zeal like Madhav to spread the Great Message all over the earth, but to be like Hanuman, an absolute servitor, was the raison d’etre of his existence. And when that had been fulfilled, life lost its meaning and he was biding his time to hear the call to depart. He himself has said that he was happy and he had achieved what he had come for in this world.
A man, I should say, of a psychic type, he was balavat in his nature. Pure and candid, loving, simple, generous, free from all attachment and always living in the inmost consciousness — this is how he has appeared to me since I came to know him in the growing years. He had indeed a hot temper of which he repented but it was like the outburst of a child that was forgotten the next minute.
Two sadhaks of recent time stand apart from all others, whose image will always remain untarnished in our memory. One is Nolini-da and the other Maharaj Champaklal, two true yogis — one predominantly a “homo intellectualis”, the other essentially a “homo psychicus”. Both of them attained rare heights of consciousness, each following his own path indicated by his swadharma.
(Mother India, March – Sept. 1993)
Kalyan “Saheb” Some Memories
Cricketer, footballer, tennis player, keen hunter, litterateur, a good translator and bon vivant, Kalyan took his exit from the play field of life like a sportsman quietly and quickly, without any fuss or regret. He was 84 when he went out this world. As I stood before his dreamlike sleep wrapped in linen I heaved a sigh and said to myself “So one of the few old guards departs!”
Kalyan came from an aristocratic family of Calcutta. Originally belonging to Bangladesh, the zamindar Chowdhury family had settled in Calcutta during British rule and became well-known in elite circles, including the Tagore family for their cultural contributions in various fields. Kalyan had been to England and Italy to study engineering and was employed for some time in a Russian firm. A cousin distinguished himself in the Indian Army in the liberation of Hyderabad and Goa and, as Chief of Staff, led the army to victory against Pakistan. He visited the Ashram.
His another cousin Dilip-da’s coming to the Ashram inspired Kalyan to follow, when he had returned from England, leaving his stately ancestral mansion, come to his soul’s spiritual home, never to go back or regret it. Dilip-da is said to have remarked that Kalyan was a Prahlad in the Daitya Kula of their family.
I don’t remember how or why exactly we came to know each other and became good friends. It may have been due to my contact with Sri Aurobindo; Kalyan’s mother too became fond of me for the same reason. She had come to the Ashram for the first time to seek peace and consolation for the loss of her brilliant second son in the last war as a flight-lieutenant of the Royal Air Force. She had an interview with the Mother and was received with great love and told that the soul of her son was with Her. That and the darshan of Sri Aurobindo consoled her and restored her peace of mind. She was given spacious room on top of the Dining Room where she lived in style and comfort. She lavished affection on me as if I were her own son. Her aristocratic demeanour could not be mistaken. Kalyan and I would often go to her for tea.
Later on, our love of sports, particularly of tennis, furnished another bond of friendship between us. The history of tennis in our Ashram life played a significant role in our sadhana as well, for we came very close to the Mother through this game. It is well known that she loved tennis very much. She played it in her younger days in Paris. It was an outdoor game which gave ample scope for physical exercise.
Kalyan was a good tennis player, the best among us at that time, the players being teenagers or beginners. He and I had learned the game before we came to the Ashram. The Mother herself took some tips from him. He also taught the youngsters the fine points of the game. He was given the great favour of carrying the Mother’s rackets as soon as her car arrived at the Tennis Ground and, at the end of the game, following her to the car with the rackets on his shoulder. There are many photographs showing him as a fine young man with a radiant face, very proud of the Mother’s favour.
When tournaments began to be held, the Mother took great interest in them. On occasion we enjoyed her divine diplomacy at the time. The Puranas abound with stories of gods and goddesses backing their own favourites, particularly Lord Shiva and his Shakti — Shiva, however, remaining rather impersonal and tolerant. We understood the reason for this belief when we saw how the Mother would playfully want one side to win against the other for no apparent reason. I have cited one instance in my book, Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo. To repeat it briefly: Kalyan and myself as partners were to play the finals against a younger couple who were the Mother’s favourites and better players. She wanted them to win, but previous to the game she employed her diplomacy, telling me in front of Sri Aurobindo that we had no chance at all to win, that they were far better players, and so on. Sri Aurobindo was listening quietly. I too; I could not utter a single word. While leaving for the game, I asked Champaklal to request Sri Aurobindo to give us force.
When the match started the Mother was present and was watching our fate with keen interest. A subdued excitement among the old and the young in the audience added to the zest of the game. We were badly beaten. When Sri Aurobindo learnt about it, he was much amused and laughed aloud.
There is a similar interesting story showing the Mother’s divine strategy. This time Kalyan and I were rivals in an athletic competition. I had every chance of becoming the champion of our group, for I had many items in my favour whereas Kalyan excelled only in tennis ball throw and putting the shot. These three items were my weak points. The Mother quietly instructed Kalyan to go and practise the two throws diligently, which he did. The result was as you would expect: he became the over-all champion. The Divine’s ways are beyond our ken.
Another incident worth recounting: we both were also good football players. Once, during the early sixties, there was a friendly match between us Veterans and the youngsters. The Mother had made Kalyan the captain of the Veterans’ Team. She was present in the Sports Ground. A photograph on that occasion was taken where She is seen kicking the ball to start the game. The play started amidst huge excitement. Suddenly something went wrong. Kalyan had fallen down and had broken his elbow, causing unbearable pain. We took him to our Dispensary. The doctor was supposed to have set right the fracture, but the fellow had no sleep for two or three nights. The pain persisted and was constant. Then it was decided to take him to Puttur, a place famous for bone setting along with herbal treatment. We started by car with the Mother’s blessings and her precise instructions. This was a big event for me as I was going out after about 30 years. Everything looked fresh and beautiful and we were in the best of spirits. Kalyan was insisting that if the bone was properly set he would like to drive the car himself. He had the reputation of being a good driver, though a rash one. Needless to say, we enjoyed the trip immensely, particularly the South Indian breakfast we had on the way, consisting of hot idlis, coffee, etc., things we had not tasted for years. There were so many restaurants on the road side, as if the entire local population had their breakfast in the shops. When we reached Puttur we were given a royal welcome. After the examination Vaidya said that he would set the bone right in no time. If I remember correctly we saw him palpating the bones; then, he applied some herbs turned into a paste and asked us to wait. After some time he called us and while he was palpating, he gave the arm sudden twist. It made a clicking sound. The bones had set. They were bandaged after a herbal medicine had been applied. Kalyan’s face wore a broad grin and we started for the secretly planned diversion to Tirupati temple.
There too we were accorded a special reception, for one of the Trustees of the temple happened to be the father-in-law of a former Ashram sadhak who had become a householder. Thus we were given V.I.P. treatment everywhere. Tirupati temple was then not so crowded as it is now. But what wonderful surroundings — zig-zag motor road, hills, waterfalls and vast terrain! Our excitement and joy were beyond imagination after a long-cloistered life. We saw grand spectacle of the Deity wakened up from “sleep” by the bells ringing and the performance of all the rituals on the occasion. We saw the Hundi filled with money and all the riches being counted. After having our fill we turned homeward next day and reached the Ashram. Kalyan enjoyed smoking all the way.
The Mother was happy to see us back, specially with Kalyan cured of pain and the fractured bones set in place. She gave me an interview and enquired about everything in detail. She listened silently, occasionally nodding approval. But when She learnt that we had made previous arrangements with erstwhile sadhak to visit Tirupati and that we had kept it secret from her, fearing her disapproval, she remarked with a smile, “Quels farceurs!” — “What jokers.”
Then our lives took different courses. After his mother’s death he received a large sum of money, much of which he offered to the Mother, but never uttered a word of it to others. If anyone referred to it, he simply answered, “Mother’s money, not mine!” He was also generous by nature. However, a farm was bought with part of that money and he was given the charge of running it. Thus he became a farmer and I a professor! He was a professor before he became a farmer. He had to give up all sporting activity while I kept it up. But there was no break in our friendship. I think it was after the Mother’s passing that he started coming to my “tea-club” and kept it up till the end of his life. It was at this time also he became familiar with two girls-sisters — who used to look after him till the end of his life.
My tea-club became famous for its good tea and Kalyan and myself were reputed to be connoisseurs. As its popularity increased, visiting friends began to frequent it, always bringing with them ‘Orange Pekoe’ tea, reported to be the best tea, from Calcutta. Even our names became familiar to the Calcutta tea-brokers. Our friends would warn them not to try to cheat them by giving inferior tea, for their deception would at once be caught by us. Kalyan himself never failed to gift me superior Orange Pekoe tea on my birthdays. My tea-club was the main diversion in his busy life as a farmer.
Here he had a chance to meet people of various types and nationalities who came to meet me, particularly Italians. Some of them knew no English and embarrassed to find that they could not communicate with me, were very happy to find Kalyan talking fluently in their language and answering their questions, interpreting between us and also entertaining them with his talk. Tea and innocent talk have been the fare of the club. Subjects ranged from sports, news, reminiscences. Politics was, however, avoided as it tended to become controversial, especially with Kalyan.
Kalyan never failed to turn up at my teas even though he had, of course, his own circle of friends who visited him in his house. One of them has written to me. “I am sorry to hear about the sudden demise of Kalyan-da. Hardly could I even imagine him having any physical problems as he looked the picture of good health and well-being. He gave his unstinted service to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Certainly it came as a shock to me who knew him only in the Ashram for brief periods and was charmed by his scintillating conversation and pleasing personality.” These two epithets sum up his cultural accomplishments at times broken by his ‘Saheb’ temper for which I used to call him ‘Kalyan Saheb’.
Lately we noticed a change coming over his jovial mood. A bit indrawn, reticent and leaving the company quietly, his gait somewhat unsteady because of a bad knee.
The unexpected happened a few weeks ago when Kalyan did not turn up for tea. I was told that he had high fever. When I went to see him the next day, I found him sitting in an armchair. He was drowsy and his speech was slurred, breathing laboured. The day after that his condition worsened and at night he became unconscious and was taken to the Nursing Home. Broncho-pneumonia had set in and his respiratory tracts, already troubled by a persistent dry cough, were choked with phlegm. In the day he recovered somewhat, only to comment to the nurses, “Why take all this trouble since I will be leaving soon?” And leave he did — all on a sudden — without any show of distress.
He left a diary in which he has expressed, in chaste English, his inner feelings and aspirations. This is indeed a find. For he was by nature very reticent about them and never allowed any glimpse of his inner life to others. This confirms what we already knew about Kalyan; it was that he was a true devotee of Mother and Sri Aurobindo. To give one example: when Golconde was built and the Mother threw all the able-bodied sadhaks into the job, Kalyan one of them. He worked day and night for years till the huge mansion stood up in in its lone majesty.
Now I shall end my reminiscence with the quotation of a prayer from his diary which he never allowed any one to handle:
“O Master Supreme,
How many times in the day one forgets the Lord and to offer to Him his actions? The offering has to be detailed and minute as well as high and vast. The action of offering is inner always although it can be also in the exterior but that must always be as a sort of projection of that which is within. To remember to offer ever with a one-pointed devotion and an all-covering love which does not come at once but in stage by stage increases all the time when it is directed exclusively towards the Divine inspiration true and sustained, never vacillating. This can only come when the aspiration is ardent to know the Lord and give ourself to the Mother’s work wholly. The Mother has to be seen as the sole guide and executrix and all belongs to Her.
Oh! Sadhak, cling to the Lord and His Shakti, the Mother, all thou mayst need will be thine but remember never to be exulted to make show.”
(Mother India, March 1994)
Pujalal – The Mother’s Poet
One of the oldest sadhaks, Pujalal passed almost his entire life-span in the Ashram except for a very short spell when he had to go back to Gujarat on some business. He was one of the few fortunate sadhaks to be present on 24th November 1926, the Victory Day as it is known now.
At the beginning we were acquainted with each other only by name. Our spheres of activity had nothing in common. I had heard that he was a Gujarti poet and Sri Aurobindo once mentioned his name to me regarding his poetry. I remember one early incident. Some of us had gone for a sea-bath; Purani and Pujalal had joined the party. We thought of swimming back to the shore from the further end of the old Pier — quite a long distance to cover. Midway from the Pier Pujalal found himself in great difficulty. It seemed both his arms had come out of the sockets of his shoulder-joints and could not, as a result, make swimming movements. Purani came to learn of his precarious condition and, swimming back, carried Pujalal on his back to the shore. That was the end of the poet’s outdoor pleasures. Since then he had to confine himself to intellectual pursuits and the daily jobs assigned to him by the Mother. One of them was sweeping the rooms on the first floor of Sri Aurobindo’s building or, as it is called, the Meditation House. He was also given the charge of the Mother’s bathroom which he kept meticulously clean.
It was at this time that I moved close to him. Coming in and out of Sri Aurobindo’s room I would see him sweeping the corridor and exchange smiles. We were then attending on Sri Aurobindo. Strange it was to find Pujalal composing short poems in English in the midst of his sweeping work. He would suddenly stop the sweeping, take up pen and paper and dash down an English lyric while the Mother was seeing visitors at the door-way nearby and wishing them bonjour, au revoir, bonne fête, etc. His compositions were woven round these themes, among others. The poems were handed to the Mother and she would carry them to Sri Aurobindo. I had to read them to him. They were very simple, sweet and spontaneous. The choice of words, the rhythm, all had a definite psychic touch. I believe it was because of these qualities that the Mother took a special interest in them and had them seen by Sri Aurobindo. For Sri Aurobindo had stopped seeing any poetry by sadhaks at that time except by Dilip and Amal. At this time I came to know that Pujalal was considered the Mother’s poet. These poems were later on published in book-form.
He carried on his ‘upstairs’ duties for a number of years till he had to give them up due to some physical trouble. He was given a room in the main Ashram compound. Now he devoted himself exclusively to literary pursuits. For a short time he was teaching Sanskrit in the Centre of Education. Now our contact became more frequent. I used always to see him sitting neatly dressed before his desk and busy writing away. Now and then I was tempted to drop in and ask him what he was composing. I was surprised to hear that he was occupied with the gigantic task of translating Savitri into Gujarati. On my inquiry, he told me that he was doing it in many metres, not in one single metre as in the original, for that would sound too monotonous in Gujarati and that the moods of the different books of the epic suggested different rhythms. Occasionally he would drop into my room or call me to explain to him some intricate verses of Savitri.
While on the subject of literature, I must admire his complete dedication to it, either composing original poems or translating Sri Aurobindo’s poetical works, eschewing all other physical enjoyments. He had been pushed to it because of his physical disabilities. He began to suffer from one ailment after another, but no suffering could stop him from writing nor affect his ever-cheerful temperament. As soon as he became all right we would see him at his old desk. Luckily for him, he had a good doctor-friend in Dr. Sourin Bose who was always at his service and took no end of care and trouble for his sake. Pujalal had also a brother’s love for him and was ever grateful for his loving ministry. In this context I cannot but recall my poet-friend Nishikanto who also fell a victim to a host of maladies but never lost his jovial mood. Death had no sting for him.
Pujalal had a number of children for friends who would flock to him to learn simple Sanskrit slokas by heart and recite them before him. At one time I also tried to take Sanskrit lessons from him, but I frankly made a condition that grammar and conjugation would be too onerous a task for me. I could not, however, proceed very far.
As years rolled on, his ailments increased. Dr. Bose having passed away he was taken care of by Dr. Raichura and Dr. Datta, and his unfailing sisterly nurse Sarala. I wonder how the Divine Mother arranges everything marvellously administering to our comfort and well-being. I don’t know how Sarala came to him, they being strangers to each other. It was the Mother’s sheer act of Grace that made it possible. Lallubhai was another stand-by and an ever-ready help. He was also surrounded by Gujarati friends in the evening to give him company.
Pujalal has been an object-lesson to me and to many others. He had shown how in spite of serious physical disabilities one could endure, keep up a serenely sweet spirit and go on with one’s vocation till the last. The great Samata that he had attained in his soul was certainly no mean achievement and was the result of his life-long sadhana and devotion to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. His name Pujalal meaning worship is amply justified.
In conclusion, I have heard it said that during the French Revolution he had helped the Mother at some critical point. This throws a significant light on the pilgrimage of his soul towards the supreme Light embodied on earth by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.
(Mother India, November 1986)
Sunil, The Mother’s Musician
“Gem of the purest ray serene”
Today Sunil is known as the Mother’s musician among her devotees in India as well as abroad. Jhumur, Sunil’s niece, has written a short article about him in Mother India June 1998. Also Huta has given her account of Savitri painting and music in the issue of the monthly.
My intention is to write some unknown episodes of his early life when his family came to the Ashram and settled here. He had finished his studies in Calcutta. These episodes have nothing striking about them, but for celebrities every detail of their life becomes interesting, even though not important.
Similarly, my close association with Sri Aurobindo for several years has made my life interesting to others and gained me many friends. Earlier I was just “a fellow”, according to the Master!
Among all my friends, I cherished most Sunil’s friendship. It was genuine friendship, simple and candid, though he was much younger than I.
Our first meeting was quite unexpected. When I heard that a young Bengali musician had come to the Ashram, I felt an inner urge to hear his music, though I did not have a keen ear for instrumental music. I invited him to my place to hear him though it might have been a pretext to meet him. He however accepted my invitation perhaps because he had heard about my closeness to Sri Aurobindo. His face and appearance and demeanour had some inner charm. We parted quietly after the music to meet again only much later after Sri Aurobindo left. I do not remember exactly how our meeting was renewed. Both of us were teaching in our Centre of Education perhaps, while on our way to our classes, we used to exchange smiles.
As a teacher he had become very popular. His teaching of mathematics and botany specially appealed to the students.
Now our friendliness took a more intimate turn. He began to invite me to Sunday morning picnics. A small group of young friends used to go out on cycles or by car with a basketful of eatables kindly supplied by Gauri, Sunil’s wife. It became regular feature for some time. I need not mention that Bengali cooking after some lapse of time tasted like manna to me. We used to visit various beautiful spots of Pondicherry. From among these scenic memories the one that had a special attraction was the garden known as Le Faucheur. It was the Mother’s property, vast in space, varied in its botanical treasure: all kinds of trees, old and young, flowers of various kinds, rich in colour, strange in their growth, making the garden look like a fairy-land. A special attraction for Sunil was the opportunity to make acquaintance of various species of plants, new and old, and in various stages of growth. He used to say that even the dying trees could be regenerated by medical fluids. My medical knowledge increased to a great extent. At the end of the inspection a lovely tasty meal awaited us! Sunil always saw to it that I had the best of all the dishes.
My next attraction for his company was his love of sports, specially football. He would invite me to some special matches of the town club and pay for my ticket. Matches between our Ashram team and local players used to take place now and then. Games were at times very rough and Sunil being a good runner had to face strong opposition. Once he fell down and fractured his right hand, which affected his playing on the harmonium. Finally, games with the outside teams had to be abandoned.
Our third attraction was learning French. We were a group of four or five elderly people. Our teacher was a local Tamil and a high Government officer who knew French well. He was also a devotee of the Mother. He was very strict, made us learn the conjugations by heart, held tests and reported our quantum of progress to the Mother. Once he even showed our test papers to the Mother. Naturally, Sunil fared very well.
Later, when our athletics group were formed, Sunil and myself came together again. One day the Mother said she would inspect our group. Sunil and I were standing side by side. As the Mother walked past us, she asked me what the French expression “razed to the ground” was. I knew the word but could not recollect it. Quickly she asked Sunil and he answered promptly. The Mother said jokingly, “He knows French, you don’t.”
The last time we were together was in the Mother’s French class which used to be held in the Mother’s small room in the Playground. Here too Sunil and I sat side by side having made a pact that, should he miss something I would pick it up — for the Mother generally spoke very fast.
In the days when the Mother played tennis with us, Sunil used to come regularly to play with her and pick up the balls. At first the sports programme used to take place in the Tennis Ground and running races started early in the morning on the sea-beach. Sunil was made the referee. He used to take his seat on the street and keep a place for me beside him.
Now suddenly came a big change in Sunil’s life and thereafter we rarely met. We were living in two different worlds, mine being the world of literature, creativity, sports while he devoted himself to the Mother’s music. He composed music for the New Year.
Once he asked me if I could prepare for him a summary of Savitri, so that he could render it into music. Alas, that was too big a demand for me and I had to decline. I heard that a big organ had arrived from Europe. Its functioning was rather complicated. One day I asked him if he would explain to me how it worked. He took a good deal of trouble to make me understand it.
Sunil was very fond of his mother and when she had left her body he had a photo taken. He showed me how in the picture Sri Aurobindo’s photo could also be seen. After this, we met very rarely and we seemed to have moved away from our closeness. Anyhow, when once we met by chance, he was returning from the market in the afternoon. I noticed some difficulty in his walking. We talked about various topics and parted. Now came a long period of separation till I came to know that he was not as strong as before and was walking with difficulty. One day while he was crossing the bridge that connects the music chamber with his main residence, his eyes suddenly fell on me down there in the Playground. He stopped to look at me with a sweet smile. Jhumur was following him.
My next contact was after two or three months when I heard that he was not keeping well. I went to see him with my nephew who was one of his favourite students. We saw him lying in his bed, he was well-dressed and was being attended on by some of his relatives. His room was rather small and crammed with musical instruments. He used the room for his music as well as for other purposes. He was very happy to see me, caught my hand and caressed it. I enquired about his illness and noticed that his abdomen was somewhat distended and that he had a slight swelling of the feet. I did not go into the medical details and came away giving some general directions. Since then I used to visit him now and then. Once he fell ill with fever and had to be taken to the Nursing Home where I found him drowsy and running a temperature. When he came back home he had to remain in bed; otherwise he was cheerful and chatted with us on various topics. Once during the talk he reminded me that he had preserved a drop of Sri Aurobindo’s blood and it was still there: During Sri Aurobindo’s illness when we had to examine his urine, to draw the urine we had to use a catheter. Some drops of blood came out which Sunil along with his chemist brother had to examine. At that time Sunil kept a drop of blood and preserved it. Some attendants were always there since he could not get up without help or support. He walked in the mornings and evenings with attendants by his side. His legs seemed to have lost their strength and mobility. I came to know that once when he had gone out he had a fall. I could not make out what he was actually suffering from. Swelling of the legs indicated trouble with the kidneys or the heart. I did not interfere with treatment of the illness. It was the attending doctor’s business, I thought. At any rate, a patient lying in bed for so many months without any improvement made me somewhat uneasy. I came to know that the doctors were doing their best. He had to be removed from time to time to the Nursing Home, but he would insist on coming home to finish the New Year Music composition. And when it was ready he returned from the Nursing Home to hear it. His young friends would always help to drive him to and fro. Thus it went on for some time till he breathed his last.
It appeared to be a very mysterious illness — that’s all I can say, I need not dilate further on it.
Two untimely deaths in the Ashram have left a deep scar in my memory. Both were geniuses — one a musician, the other a poet, Nishikanto.
(Mother India, October, 1998)
Divine Mother and son Andre
It was evening. After finishing my exercise and bath, I was happily resting on our small terrace paved with shining glazed tiles and waiting for our routine medical visit to Nolini. The service tree gently swayed above my head in the mild and cool sea breeze. The air was balmy with the faint perfume of the golden flowers. I was almost in a Wordsworthian frame of mind when Dyuman, one of our Trustees, stepped out on the terrace. Startled, I stood up. It was such an unusual visit! “Don’t get up,” he said. “I have come to give you some information. André passed away on the 29th, midnight.” I received a shock and exclaimed, “Oh!” The sad look in André’s eyes during our last meeting flashed before me. Dyuman continued: “A telegram has come. Naturally, I have put it in Mother’s room and made all other necessary arrangements.” He said all this in a quiet, grave and matter-of-fact tone.
“Has Nolini been informed?” I asked.
“Yes, the telegram came to him and he sent it to me.” he answered and left me to my reverie. Not for long, though; for it was time to go down to see Nolini. There the same news was waiting for us and it was delivered with a certain emotion by the attendants. When I came back and was alone with myself, thoughts and memories began to flow in, but other immediate activities called for my attention and the past was forgotten.
Morning came and brought Jugal who is in charge of our Higher Course students. He broached the subject, and I, confirming the sad news, said, “Yes, Jugal, he has left. Those of early days are now leaving us one by one. Pavitra, Amrita…” “Yes, Sisir, too”, he said, adding, “What a blow that was!” “Quite true,” I rejoined, and continued, “They have all gone into the world of Light and now who is there of the old times with whom we can share some exchanges of the heart? Amal and, of course, Nolini and just a few others, that’s all. It is as it should be perhaps. We are getting on in years. The young generation is coming up. They will be in your charge and perhaps things will take a better shape.” “Let us hope the transition takes place smoothly,” Jugal said pensively and left.
Some time later, Manoj, a member of our bright young generation, came and asked me to speak a few words to the students of our Centre of Education, who knew very little of André. He said Nolini had approved of the idea. If I agreed, the meeting could be held at 11 a.m. It was already 10 a.m.; I was preparing to have my usual cup of tea after the morning class. So there was very little time; still I accepted. He sped out to make the necessary arrangements. Meanwhile I went to Nolini, wanting him to help me with a few points, for he and André had been very closely associated. He said, “You know what André has done for the Ashram vis-à-vis the Government?” “Yes, that I know,” I affirmed. “About the School, also?” When I replied that I didn’t know much about it, he said, “Ask Manoj.” I came away, noted a few points in my mind and headed for the school.
The School was packed. Remembering the Mother, I started to speak in brief what follows in a fuller version:
“Children of the Mother, our elder brother, the Mother’s son by birth, passed away on the 29th March at midnight. We used to call him André-da. It is to offer our deep love and respect and gratitude to his departed soul that we have gathered here.
“29th March is a very significant day in the calendar of our Ashram, perhaps of the world. For, as you know, it was on this day the Mother met Sri Aurobindo for the first time and that meeting put the seal on their common divine destiny. For André-da to leave his body on that very day cannot but carry an inner import.
“I believe very few of us know much about him. I had the good fortune to have a cordial relation with him. Every time I met him — the times were not many — I had a feeling that here was a gentleman whose appearance and talk bore all the signs of a refined culture — a true French gentleman. In our talks on various Ashram topics, he was always impersonal; never a strong word of criticism or disparagement came out of his mouth. Nobility, dignity and sweetness breathed through his demeanour, and one always felt the presence of the Mother in his quiet company. It would seem that in this respect the son fulfilled in himself what the Mother had wanted of him, for she did not crave any greatness either for herself or for her son. Like her own mother, her aspiration for her child was that he should be noble and true. Every time I met him I came away with this impression.
“This son whom the Mother had left behind as a child grew up, knowing perhaps very little of the Mother or having only a dim recollection of her. The first time he visited India, we heard that he had given a talk on the Mother at the request of the people of the Calcutta Path Mandir. Hearing the news, the Mother remarked with a laugh: ‘What does he know of me?’ When she was told the gist of the talk which contained his childhood reminiscences, I believe she was satisfied and said, ‘Then it is all right’. We have seen a painting in which the portrait of André-da was done as a child of about five years old, along with the Mother. The same child grew up, as I said, in the absence of the Mother, to be a man who passed out of the French Polytechnique, a most prestigious institution, a highly qualified engineer, just as Pavitra-da and the Mother’s own brother had done. He married and established himself well in Paris’s cultured society and came into contact with the Mother by correspondence. We are quite sure that the Mother, though she had left him behind, had always sustained and protected him throughout his worldly life by her spiritual power. A series of letters beginning in 1927 and ending in 1938 have come out in Prochain Avenir (The Near Future) of April 1978, in which the Mother informs him of the growth and development of our Ashram and the life of Yoga pursued by the sadhaks under her charge. In one letter the Mother is pleased to learn from him that he considers the Ashram to be an ideal place of repose. The Mother sends him a very beautiful reply to the effect that people who are agitated and excited could have here a cure of perfect repose. She also tells him there is the beautiful sea, the vast country-side and the small city at whose centre is the Ashram, an energetic and active condensation of peace so that those who come from outside have an impression of finding themselves in another world.
“In the last letter the topic of Hitler is raised. André asks the Mother if it was a question of a dangerous bluff or if ‘they have averted the catastrophe’. Giving a long explanation, the Mother ends the letter saying that at any cost war must not be and that is why it has been averted by Sri Aurobindo and her… for the moment. We catch here an echo of Sri Aurobindo and her.. for the moment. We catch here an echo of Sri Aurobindo’s voice. He said to us also that the war was pushed back because it did not suit their purpose.
“Now, the son was coming to meet the Mother for the first time in the late forties after a separation of more than 30 years. It was sensational news, and the Mother seemed quite excited about it. Often she spoke of him to Sri Aurobindo. As the arrival day was approaching, she said to him that she wanted to meet André all alone, but couldn’t find a suitable place. Finally it was decided that Golconde would be the best place and a room was made ready there for the purpose. She also doubted whether her son would be able to recognise her after so many years! However, on the appointed day Sri Aurobindo’s lunch was finished earlier than usual, since the Mother had to get ready and be on time. There was plenty of time in hand, but she liked to go much in advance and wait for him. That was very typical of the Mother in all cases where she had some important thing to do. In fact, she waited for more than three or four hours before André arrived. We don’t know what passed between Mother and son during that first dramatic reunion. I am sure she hugged him close and kissed him as well. I was strongly reminded of Buddha’s famous meeting with his son, of which there is a lovely picture — one that Sri Aurobindo has marvellously interpreted. Buddha the great spirit meeting his son whom he had left at his very birth and the Mother, also a great soul, leaving the world and meeting her son after so many years! The parallel need not be drawn further. Strange it is that the call of the imperative Unknown made such a demand throughout the ages after the Vedic times on our great seekers to leave their hearth and home to pursue their luring quest. Fathers and mothers have left their children, husbands and wives each other. But we see Sri Ramakrishna’s making his wife live with him after his great realisation. And now the Mother has pulled down the traditional iron bars behind which women had to be confined with the most humiliating label stuck on the walls: ‘Woman is the gateway to hell.’ The Divine had to come in the form of a woman to undo it. She has made the Ashram a home for all, irrespective of sex, caste, nationality so long as there is a real urge in them for the Divine.
“To come back to the point. The Mother made all possible arrangements for André’s comfort. He was to take his meals with Nolini, Amrita and Pavitra. Some houses which were well known for good cooking were asked to invite him for lunch or dinner. In this and many other ways which the Mother’s inventive genius could find, she made him feel at home: Champaklal has recorded how the Mother in glowing terms introduced him to André. The visit was a short one, I believe. I came to know him long afterwards. We had heard that the Mother was doing through him her work in France, which gradually expanded and became a distinguished centre for radiating the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s Light.
“I became familiar with him only later on, though he was paying frequent visits to the Ashram after Sri Aurobindo’s passing. In fact, it was when the Mother fell seriously ill that my contact with him started. I have recorded the incident in my book, The Mother–Sweetness and Light. He had by that time become an important figure in our Ashram life. He was working in close contact with Pavitra and they were really like two complementary souls. When Pavitra fell ill and could hardly walk, he would go to the Mother’s room with André’s support. More than once I have seen him coming down after seeing the Mother, leaning on André’s shoulder. It seems that when he fell seriously ill, he was very anxious that André should come and take up his work as Director of the Centre of Education and he could not leave his body unless he was assured of the fact. This is how André became the de facto Director of the Centre of Education and the Mother gave all directives through him. He was also the channel of communication between the Mother and Auroville. We used to observe the Aurovilians holding regular sittings with him. His days were thus kept very busy whenever he visited the Ashram. He had to go back once a year to look after his own affairs in Paris. He was a Director of many business concerns, we were told.
“My closer contact with him started in the very last years of the Mother’s life on the earth when I was given the opportunity of reading to her the manuscript of the book Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo every evening. In fact, it was after I had finished reading it and resumed reading the correspondence or Talks with Sri Aurobindo that we started going together to the Mother. I used to observe the Mother enquiring about his health and whether the seat he had taken was comfortable, etc., etc. All these minor touches I noticed avidly. Sometimes she would draw his attention to some remarks of Sri Aurobindo in my book and they would appreciate them together. Later on the Mother suggested to me that if I had no objection I could come to her on alternate days since André had to leave soon for France and he would like to discuss and settle many problems with her before he left. Naturally I agreed. Here André proposed that on his days I could come, do my pranam and go. This consideration on his part touched me deeply. In 1973, the Mother’s last year when all the interviews had come to an end and none was allowed to be with her except the attendant, André still had daily access to her, but it was mostly a silent visit. There was hardly any talk. I used to inquire from time to time about the Mother’s condition but answers were not hopeful. He said that she seemed to have given up the fight. On last day, as is well known now, things in the Mother’s room were very tense indeed. I noticed André coming down, a grave silent picture of sadness at about 8 p.m. His health in those days could not bear much strain. I wondered why he was leaving with a heavy countenance. Was everything over then? I could not believe it, but it was so.
“The story now changes considerably and runs a different course. Our internal condition was none too bright for the moment. André used to come from France once a year; his work now becoming less and less, he would go back after a few months’ stay. But his presence brought fresh air to many of us, as if he carried the Mother’s atmosphere with him. I had occasion to meet him and discuss our school problems. As Kireet had left he had much to do with them. He kept us on the right path. (Over Auroville affairs he had no control and was very sad indeed.) Once he was requested to speak about his early life to the students. An extract from the report Prochain of his speech is very revealing. He says:
It was in 1904 or 1905 when Mother was living in Paris. The house was sufficiently big. It had a garden which was very rare to have at that time and in this garden there was an artist’s studio where Mother and my father used to do their paintings. At this time she had also gathered a small group of friends and philosophers. The group was called ‘Idéa’.
Every week they met and talked on a particular subject, exchanged ideas and arrived at conclusions which would be useful to the group. Paroles d’autrefois she had started writing at that time. This studio was connected with the first floor of the house by a kind of very pretty wooden bridge so that one could easily pass either way. I was five or six years old and was made to sleep in the room, which opened to the bridge. I was very much piqued to know what was going on in the studio in the evening. I was supposed to be asleep. One day I could not sleep. I got up in my night-dress and crossing the bridge reached in front of the studio at the top of the staircase. I was quite hidden by the banisters but could observe the people talking inside the room. Naturally I could understand nothing, but it amused me a lot. All of a sudden someone saw me and, pointing me out to Mother, said: ‘Hallo! who is there?’ Then I ran away like a hare, entered my room and tried to sleep.
Later, I don’t remember if it was that night or the next morning that Mother came to see me. She said: ‘Oh, you had no need to get up to know what was going on there; you had only to go out of your body and come.’ Ah, it appeared to me something extraordinary. Then she explained in brief that a human being is not limited by his body, there are parts from which one could come out and specially one could go for a walk and see what was going on elsewhere. I did not understand very well, of course, but all the same I was sufficiently struck by it to remember it even after 70 years.
“Whenever André came, he used to keep close contact with Nolini and discuss various things. Nolini’s word was to him final in all matters. I had heard that he had been doing a good deal of work in Paris for the Ashram, particularly regarding the Agenda imbroglio. We know that he was not at all happy over the way the Agenda was coming out. He told us that the Mother had entrusted him with its publication and had wanted that nothing should go to the press without his or Nolini’s supervision.
“He had already suffered a stroke and a heart-attack. The former affected one of his legs and the Mother used to take much care of his health. His penultimate visit to us ended with a mild visit attack of influenza. He had to go back to France before he was completely restored. At this time our position with the Government was strained. As he was to go via Delhi, Nolini wanted him to meet the Prime Minister and explain to her our internal situation. He gave him a letter of introduction. As a result the Prime Minister was very pleased to meet him, especially as he was the Mother’s son. She is said to have been much impressed by his refined and cultured manners and his unassuming personality. Our tension was smoothed out and a cordial relation established. This was one of the great services that André rendered to the Ashram.
“During his last visit a few months back we heard that he was not keeping well and preferred to confine himself to his daughter’s house for the time being. After recovery he came to see Nolini once a week. When I went to meet him I found him very weak; the quiet glow in his face was replaced by signs of pallor, he asked me about the school and matters in general. ‘Well, whatever the condition may be you people are there’ — this was the note on which he ended. My farewell meeting was rather sombre. Very little talk, his eyes wearing a calmly sad expression. Now I understand what it meant.
“There are some persons in this world who bear outwardly no insignia of greatness or brilliance. But as soon as you meet them their deep composure, refined deportment and the serene glow on their faces speak of their soul-purity and you never forget them. Their contact and memory are a cool bath to our souls.
“Such was André, such was Pavitra and such is Nolini.
“Let us now observe ten minutes’ silence as the expression of our love and gratitude to our elder brother, the Mother’s worthy son, André.”
(Mother India, May 1982)
In Memory of Dr Indra Sen
Dr Indra Sen, I was told by his daughter Aster, would often think of me and remember me during his last period of illness. I cannot figure out the reason that made him do so. Of course, we had known each other for decades. To be exact since 1938, when I had begun to serve Sri Aurobindo. But our relationship was not deep, at least outwardly, and I did not know much about him except that he was a cultured man and a noted psychologist. In fact there was nothing much in common between us. He was an intellectual and his interest therefore lay in studies and seeking for knowledge, and his association too was with an intellectual circle of friends. We had not met even once for talks on any subject. Still whenever we met or passed each other, he had always a sweet smile for me. Quite a number of notable men used to come to him in the early days. He would bring them and introduce me to them as being in the personal service of Sri Aurobindo. He was always affable, sweet and courteous, in a word, a gentleman.
During his last protracted illness when I went to visit him, he was in indrawn condition. Aster, his daughter, called to him saying that I had come to see him. He opened his eyes and gave me a sweet smile of recognition.
I don’t understand why the older sadhaks are now subject to a long period of illness before they pass away. I believe, however, that some inner work goes to prepare them for a greater new birth. That was the impression I had in the case of Dr. Indra Sen.
I was very touched indeed by his kind remembrance of me. Perhaps it was for one reason alone — that I was in close contact with Sri Aurobindo. That shows again his deep love for the Master. I may mention that his love for the Mother and Master was very genuine indeed and he has helped the cause of the Ashram in whatever way he could. Apart from spreading the Master’s teachings by way of organising seminars, lectures, etc., most of the summer fruits like apples, pears, plums which are distributed in the Ashram and which we enjoy so much are from his orchard in Tapogiri which he has offered to the Mother.
His wife is also a very sweet and educated lady. She enjoyed the company of the Mother in the Playground. At the Mother’s behest she took up Social Service and was awarded the Padmashree title for it. Their daughter Aster took the Ph.D. in Philosophy at Sorbonne and is now an important member of the Auroville Committee.
On March 19, 1993, Aster brought me a message from her father: “I wish to convey to him that, spiritually, I am ascending to meet the Divine and unite with Him.”
May the Lord and the Mother bless this noble soul.
(Mother India, June 1994)
Bula-da, who expired in the early hours of April 28, was one of the oldest sadhaks. He joined the Ashram in 1934, soon after his stepmother and stepbrother had settled there. He never went out of Pondicherry. He came from a respectable family. His father was a barrister practising in Burma and his stepmother was a niece of the famous Nationalist leader C.R. Das. His early education was at Shantiniketan under Tagore’s influence.
As soon as he arrived here, the Mother gave him the work of the Electricity and Water-supply Department under Pavitra’s supervision. It was his tireless effort, organising power and efficient service that turned it into one of the most thorough and sound units of the Ashram. The Mother had entire trust in him.
Pondicherry electricity was very unstable in the early days. The current would go off at any time, due to which the Mother and Sri Aurobindo had to undergo a good deal of inconvenience, especially in their almost night-long labour of answering the letters of the sadhaks. Bula-da took the initiative to install generators in the Ashram and we know today what a relief they are.
Service was Bula-da’s motto. He gave up all kinds of diversions, would not even leave the Ashram compound during his off-time lest electricity should fail and the Mother be in trouble. He was also always ready to see to the comforts of the Ashram inmates. He had a simple childlike nature and always tried to help others turn towards the Divine. His devotion to his stepmother who was as if his very own mother was exemplary. He passed away shortly after she had done so. Did his soul feel that this life’s mission was over? At any rate he won our hearts and earned our regard by his sweetness and selfless love.
(Mother India, June 1986)