“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)