(Retired two-star major general in the Indian army and in charge of the Auroville Archives)
I first met Kamla and Krishna Tewari in Santa Cruz, California in 1990 while attending an Auroville meeting there. They were visiting from Auroville and I thought they were just about the most charming two people I had ever met. They are warm and open and highly enthusiastic; so full of wit and ideas and sparkling youthful energy. They immediately made me feel as though we were old friends and that’s the way it remains. General Tewari’s presence evoked in my memory a song from one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s famous light operas called “The Pirates of Penzance”. The song goes: “I’m the Very Proper Model of a Modern Major General with Information Vegetal and Animal and Mineral. I know the Kings of England and Quote the Fights Historical, from Marathon to Waterloo in Order Categorical.” Krishna’s dignified and disciplined military bearing and his handle-bar moustache just made me think of that song and I could not stop singing it in my mind each time I saw him during that visit to Santa Cruz!
Krishna joined the Indian army after his graduation in 1941. His two army awards consisted of the Param Vishisht Seva Medal and the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal. During World War II he was twice mentioned in despatches by the British for his services in Burma and Malaya.
His wife, Dr Kamla Tewari, joined the army after he was captured by the Chinese in the 1962 war to be able to support the education of their three children. At that time the Government of India had not yet finalized the scheme for payments to the wives of prisoners of war and widows of those killed in action. Kamla’s father was Major General A. N. Sharma, who was the retired Director of Medical Services of the Indian Army. Her eldest brother, Major Som Nath Sharma, won the highest gallantry award of free India in 1947 posthumously during Pakistan’s attack on Kashmir. Another brother, Lieutenant General S. N. Sharma retired as the Engineer in Chief of the Indian Army and the youngest brother retired as the Chief of the Army Staff. It was quite a distinguished army family indeed! Their two families were long known to each other and Krishna knew Kamla when she was studying medicine in the Lady Hardinge Medical College in New Delhi. They got married soon after her graduation and both retired from army service in 1976 after which they moved to Pondicherry with their family.
The following are some questions that I put to Krishna and his answers:
Where were you born?
I was born in Jullundur City in Punjab on October 2, 1922.
What was your family life like? Were your parents spiritual or religious people?
We were a very well-knit family with seven children. My father was the Medical Officer of Health in the city. He was a strict disciplinarian and set a fine personal example for us children. He had a devotion to duty and a strong sense of responsibility. My mother was deaf from childhood but had mastered lip reading. She was the life of the family while our father was of a more serious nature. She was a scholar in Hindi and never had a shortage of stories to tell us from our ancient scriptures and other tales. One could say that we were a religious, God-fearing family and there was a special prayer room in all the houses in which we lived. Our grandfather and my father’s widowed sister lived with us and her children were also brought up with us. We had regular kirtan and bhajans [Hindu religious services and songs]. My sister, who was the eldest among us and my elder brother and I studied under private tutors at home until I went to a public school at the age of fifteen.
What were your special talents or childhood ambitions and dreams?
I was a sickly child and received some special attention from my elders, but the discipline of my father was imposed on all of us equally. Perhaps I was also a bit too sensitive by nature, but I was very considerate of others and did not invoke any jealousy among the other brothers and sisters even though my elder brother was a bit of a bully.
Were you aware of a spiritual presence in your childhood? When did you first begin to recognize and aspire for the spiritual life?
I am not conscious of any special spiritual presence in my childhood but, as I have said, we were brought up in a deeply religious atmosphere. I do not know when I started aspiring for a spiritual life. Maybe it was during World War II in Burma when I saw death and senseless destruction and experienced a number of narrow escapes personally. That obviously set me thinking of Divine protection when so many of my friends were dying in battle. There is a Hindi couplet which says “One who enjoys Divine protection, cannot be killed by anyone.” One heard the word “yoga” from early childhood but there was no attempt at any practice of it, except for regular prayers, until I moved to the Ashram on retirement from the Army at the end of 1976.
When did you learn of Mother and Sri Aurobindo and when did you come to the Ashram to live? Can you describe your darshans with the Mother?
I was introduced to the Mother (and Sri Aurobindo) in 1971 while I was posted in Calcutta. We were preparing for the war with Pakistan that resulted in East Pakistan becoming an independent country — Bangladesh. I have given a comprehensive account of this in the book I have written under the title “A Soldier’s Voyage of Self Discovery” in two chapters under the titles “War for the Liberation of Bangla Desh” and “Divine Intervention in 1971”.
It happened while the crisis was building up before the actual war and after I had been told of the top-secret plans. I was deeply involved in the preparation for war with limited resources at my disposal. One morning in my office, I must have been in a reflective mood in the light of the immensity of these impending operational challenges, when one of my officers, a Lieutenant Colonel who worked in the same headquarters, came to me and asked with a smile, “Sir, why are you so pensive these days, which is so unlike you?” I told him in a friendly tone, “Chum, you would be more pensive if you had some of the problems I am facing these days which I cannot share with you at present.” He had come prepared (I had no idea that he was a long-time devotee of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother) and he promptly said, “Sir, you are my old instructor and I should not be advising you, but I have a humble submission; whatever your problems, write to the Mother for her blessings.” I hesitated for a couple of days. I had heard of Sri Aurobindo but knew little about the Mother in Pondicherry. Then I wrote a few lines just to seek her blessings for some problems I was facing in my work which I could not specify. I received her blessings in a few days and the rest is history. Most of the top brass at the Eastern Army HQ had received the Mother’s blessings prompted by the same source. It is amazing how successful the operation against Pakistan was when over 93,000 regular Pakistani army soldiers surrendered to the Indian Army.
From my point of view, it was clearly a Divine Intervention. The Mother had shown a great deal of interest in the developing situation in West Bengal. So, as soon as I could, I travelled to Pondicherry with my family. On February 22, 1972 we were granted a very powerful and special audience by the Mother. One by one we sat at her feet and gazed into her eyes as we were told to do. Not a word was uttered as each one of us received her blessings. She looked deeply into our eyes pouring her Force into us. She put her hand on our heads and gave each of us a rose and a blessing packet.
This meeting is what brought about the major change that was to take place in my life. Independently all the members of my family — my wife and our three daughters and I — decided to settle in Pondicherry in the Ashram and we moved there permanently in November 1976 after my retirement from the Army.
The biggest regret in my life has been that I never went to Pondicherry to see Sri Aurobindo during the intensive training we did in South India. It was 1943 before we were sent to war in Burma. We were involved in exercises within close proximity to Pondicherry but I never even thought of going there to receive Sri Aurobindo’s darshan. Perhaps I was just too involved in the preparation for war.
Can you describe the Ashram atmosphere since the Mother left her body? How has your sadhana changed since Mother left her body? What new forms, if any, has your sadhana taken at this stage?
I met the Mother only twice, once described above on 22nd February 1972 and a second time later that year. Both times not a word was spoken but her powerful presence was so deeply registered in my mind that I can still feel that presence any time it is invoked in all sincerity. This has happened many times in my life.
That beautiful formula given by the Mother, “Remember and Offer”, can be applied to any facet of life’s activities to one’s advantage. One misses her physical presence but it hardly makes any difference to the Sadhana. If one’s faith is unshakable, there is little difference. This is so even though I met her only twice in my life, for brief periods. No words were exchanged. There was only her physical presence.
[Krishna had told me earlier that he had been advised to put any questions to the Mother that he liked but he was so overwhelmed during his time spent in her Presence and so overcome with psychic emotions that he could not speak.]
What changes do you see taking place in the Ashram in the future and will it be different from what it is now? In the same manner, what do you foresee for Auroville’s future? Will the two institutions work more closely together in the future?
I am not in a position to talk about what changes I can see in the near future in the Ashram. In her physical absence, I expect there are problems faced by those entrusted with the task of running the Ashram. In Auroville there are numerous challenges and problems as well. There are problems connected with the international status and development of the city for a capacity of 50,000 inhabitants (at present there are only about 1700 people from over thirty-two countries). There are also challenges of all kinds such as no hierarchy, no rules and regulations, acquisition of land from individual holdings and speculators’ activities, relationship with the local population, financial constraints, developmental approaches. There are also the kind of difficulties Auroville went through late in the 1970s and early in the 1980s, which resulted in intervention by the Government of India — just to name a few.
Aurovilians have to go through deep introspection in the light of the four-point Charter of Auroville given by the Mother in order to truly move forward. One has to constantly remind oneself that Auroville will be built by invisible forces as she had hinted and remind oneself that the Mother acts quietly, unseen, if one’s personal ego and ambitions are kept in check.
The very concept of the Auroville project is a challenge and difficulties come constantly to prove the validity of the Mother’s statement, “Difficulties are opportunities for growth” — each difficulty is a step in which to move forward if faced with the right attitude.
It is my belief that Auroville is poised for a breakthrough but the present 1700-odd Aurovilians (which includes children) as well as those likely to join in the future, have to be true to the ideals and work consciously for a true human unity.
Would you give advice to new spiritual aspirants that would help in their development and help them to integrate their lives in the world with its focus on materialism and the vital life, or is each better off seeking his or her own way?
The only advice one can share is to work for a true surrender and control of one’s ego, for devotion and full faith in the success of Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s vision. This should be done, whatever the odds, and one must consciously observe these ideals particularly in the midst of day-to-day life in the external world with all its challenges.
Is there a disadvantage in never having seen Mother and Sri Aurobindo in their physical bodies?
It is certainly my deepest regret that I never had darshan of Sri Aurobindo in 1943 while we were training for war and moving around in South India. I consider it very fortunate that I had darshan of the Mother with my family. That was certainly the most unforgettable moment for each one of us. I may add that the Grace we have all received since then has been a definite advantage to us.
Now that you are eighty-one years old, what has yoga done for you at this stage in your life?
I must correct you. I am not “old”. You could say “almost eighty-one years young”. I had previously led a very active and adventurous life. I believe this unique yoga sadhana of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother has kept me young with a capacity, energy, will power and confidence to carry on actively the work in their Auroville which has been called a “living laboratory” by her. We are the so-called “guinea pigs” on whom experiments are being made by the Divine.
One difficulty always occurring in sadhana is straying from the path doing what one knows not to do and becoming discouraged. Did this happen in your own sadhana? How is one to guard against this and what to do if and when it does?
One does get shaken when difficulties and disappointments come in life but I have always kept alive in my mind the assurance by the Mother that difficulties are opportunities for one’s growth. There is little doubt in my mind that when one has truly surrendered to them these so-called difficulties are deliberately created by the powers that be with the intention of helping us to move forward and make progress.
Could you share any special stories or anecdotes that you remember of the Mother and any advice she gave you for your sadhana?
After my first meeting with her on February 22, 1972 and after our return to Calcutta, I had decided to seek a premature retirement from the Army and move to Pondicherry to be close to her. Worth mentioning is the fact that this decision of wanting to move to Pondicherry at the earliest was spontaneously taken by all of us in the family independently.
I had informed one of the Mother’s secretaries by telephone of my decision to seek premature retirement. I was called by telephone in Calcutta a couple of days later with a categorical disapproval by the Mother of my intention. In fact I am told that four times she said, “He is not to leave the Army. He must continue in service. He must not leave the Army. We shall decide when he is to leave.” I had to withdraw my application even at the cost of being laughed at by my bosses. I had no idea at the time that I would receive my promotion to the General’s rank so soon after and be decorated as well with the second highest service awards of PVSM and AVSM.
After retirement in 1976, I had to stay in Pondicherry for a couple of years before moving to Auroville where I had set up a farm on thirty-five acres of barren Auroville land. There a well was bored and a house was built. In addition to the farm, I quite spontaneously became involved in the problems Auroville was facing. These problems called for the Government of India’s intervention through an Act of Parliament to be followed by legal battles. When the Act was challenged the case was taken up by a five judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court based on the petition signed by me on behalf of Aurovilians. In 1982 the decision came through in Auroville’s favor with an Act of Parliament called the Auroville Foundation Act.
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Krishna and Kamla continue actively in their work for Auroville along with their family. Krishna is in charge of the Auroville Archives and can be seen in the Bharat Nivas offices of the Archives on a daily basis.
Kamla helped to organize an Auroville Health Centre in the early 1990s (previously there was nothing of this calibre in Auroville) and she continues her practice of medicine there.
Krishna and Kamla have four daughters. Uma, the eldest, who retired as a Lt. Colonel from the Army Medical Corps two years ago, is now working in the Auroville Health Centre. She and her doctor husband have not joined Auroville as yet. He is working in the Pondicherry Institute of Medical Sciences and they have two sons who are studying in the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.
Deepti, their second daughter, is married to Arjun Puri. She is involved in education and writes the Matrimandir Journal and Arjun works at the Matrimandir. Abha, their third daughter, runs an Auroville unit called Shraddhanjali that manufactures handmade stationery and pressed flower art objects. Her husband, Claude Arpi, is in charge of the Tibetan Pavilion. Their youngest daughter, Shubha, is married to Narayanan Menon. They both hold Ph D. degrees in physics and teach at Amhurst University in Massachusetts. They have two children.
On my last day in Pondicherry, January 4, 2003, before returning to the United States, Uma and General Tewari paid me a visit at the Seaside Guest House. They drove in from Auroville and Krishna had been very ill with a persistent fever. He was still weak and not fully recovered, but they drove all the way into Pondicherry to see me. It was such a lovely visit. We sat and talked and of course the conversation turned towards the Mother and his darshan with her. His eyes filled with tears (those same tears of psychic emotion) and I took his hands in mine and we sat silently in one of those precious moments when two souls are simultaneously turned in adoration towards the Divine.