We were six regular attendants: Purani, Dr. Becharlal, Dr. Satyendra, Champaklal, Mulshankar and myself. Dr. Manilal was an occasional visitor; he used to come, twice or thrice a year and after some weeks’ stay he would go back to Baroda. About Dr. Rao and Dr. Savoor I need not mention more than I have done in their proper context. Three of us had the opportunity to serve the Master in our medical capacity. Champaklal had been in the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s personal service since his arrival in 1923, and about Purani and Satyendra, I will state later what relates to them. Though collected from different fields, we made a harmonious bouquet tied together by the thread of Divine Grace. Four of our number have passed away, one in a most tragic manner during the Master’s lifetime, and the other three at a fairly advanced age. As for the rest of us, we are engaged in our individual activities, each serving the Divine Mother in his own way. There is no longer the common centre of union, and each being busy with his sadhana, we meet rarely, but, the memory kindles up of our old, far off days whenever we join for a talk, and even when we exchange looks or smiles, the Master seems to be still with us holding us as before by the magnet of his gracious personality. Some of us were not able to give of our best, human as we are; even our worst surged up now and then, for to be constantly in the physical nearness of the Divine Sun with the unregenerated human body is to feel the heat that burns as well as purifies. Nevertheless, each offered, as far as he could, his mite and received the royal blessings.
Purani was already known to Sri Aurobindo from the twenties and had enjoyed his closeness during those years. It was thus with him a resumption or the old relation after a lapse of many years. Compared with him, we were youngsters and had the passport of entry by virtue of our medical profession, but some individual contact was established with the Master through correspondence so that he knew each one of us by name at least. In my own case, perhaps, I can go a little further. Had our written contact not been so intimate and various, I do not know if I could have been so free with him and of use to him in diverse ways. I have always wondered at and failed to probe the mystery of that intimacy. I have even imagined that Sri Aurobindo must have seen in his timeless vision that one day this humble self might be physically of some service to him. He prepared me for that eventual day, initiated me into love for poetry that I might at least transcribe his epic Savitri from his dictation, gave some intellectual training that I might be useful to him in his literary work. He even made me familiar with his often baffling handwriting so that I could read his manuscripts and decipher them. These may be all weavings of fancy, but if I have been of any help in his intellectual pursuits, most of it was undoubtedly due to his previous coaching through voluminous letters, literary training and above all, his patient and persuasive manner. This long preparation had put out all fear of his awe-inspiring personality and made my approach to him free and almost unconventional, sometimes leading to an unpardonable abuse of that unstinted freedom. Things went on like a song and life would have made itself a transformed vision of the Supreme, but alas, after the novelty of the soul-contact had worn off, the other face of our nature, the subconscient, came to light and the pressure of the physical nearness began to tell. Work was no longer a joyous offering, but a duty; service alone was not a sufficient reward, it needed more concrete spiritual touches, failing which other lesser joys and satisfactions were regarded as legitimate recompense. My old maladies doubt and depression renewed their hold and transfused into the act of service their bitter stuff. The Master could at once feel the vibration, even though no word was uttered by the lips. Quite often by a look, by a quiet pressure of hands, he would communicate his understanding sympathy and the affliction would withdraw for a time. Never have I seen any displeasure or loss of temper at my delinquency, no harsh word of disapproval though he was quite aware of all inner and outer movements. A largeness, compassionate forgiveness and divine consideration have made life’s stream flow through an apparently trackless solitary journey towards the ultimate vastness.
I do not know if I have the right to speak of my other colleagues, but of Champaklal particularly I must write a few heart-felt words, for his spirit of service has left an indelible impression on my soul and taught me what true service is. Let me prelude it with the Mother’s opinion about him when she introduced him to Andre, her son, in 1949. She said with great warmth: “He came here when he was very young. I taught him many kinds of work. He has himself taken up Sri Aurobindo’s personal service. He looks into practically everything with regard to Sri Aurobindo. He is extremely careful, meticulous and very particular about details. He has no regular time for food; he takes it when he can. So it is with his sleep. That is why he cannot join the sports activities. He works with joy and devotion. He collects all our little things and keeps them with great care — our clothes, nails, hair, etc.”
By the very mould of his nature a bhakta, he came into our midst by his innate right, as I have said. Not a bhakta of the traditional type, but one who has chosen service as the means of self-expression and fundamental realisation. Even the word realisation may not be correct, for self-giving alone is what counts with him. Service is his very food. If any of us did his part of the job, he would get annoyed and exclaim, “You are depriving me of my food; I can remain without food but not without work.” That sums up Champaklal and that is exactly the spirit he maintained unflinchingly throughout the long decade that we lived and worked together. The Mother had entire trust in him and putting him in Sri Aurobindo’s service along with us, felt quite at ease. Sri Aurobindo also relied on him for all necessary information regarding the Mother and other particulars. Once the Mother came to Sri Aurobindo’s room and sat as usual on the couch opposite. We were just watching. Sri Aurobindo signed to Champaklal turning his glance towards the Mother. Champaklal understood and jumped up and put some cushions at the Mother’s back. That is their way!
I am firmly convinced that through the ages he has been closely connected with the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, otherwise how could he have been selected as Sri Aurobindo’s personal attendant, even as a young man, as soon as he arrived? When he came to see Sri Aurobindo for the first time, he lay prostrate at his feet for an hour, all bathed in happy tears! And when he was leaving, Sri Aurobindo asked one of his older companions to bring him back with him! It is he who first accepted Sri Aurobindo as the Divine Father and called him Father, accepted the Mother as the Divine Mother and began to call her Mother. When he offered to wash the ‘Father’s’ clothes, Sri Aurobindo warned him that he would be mocked at, but that did not deter him. He had gone without food and sleep, had not moved from his place lest the Master should need something or should even have to wait a minute more. To serve Sri Aurobindo was in one way quite easy, for he would never make any demands on us, was content with the main necessities being met and would never express any displeasure if we failed him. This very easiness kept us alert, for one who didn’t ask for more than the bare minimum, needed a careful, vigilant watch so that he could be given a little more comfort and ease. Champaklal kept that vigilant eye always. He was more familiar with Sri Aurobindo’s nature and temperament by love and long experience and felt his needs on his very pulse. If he saw that Sri Aurobindo needed some side pillows, he got them made; if his footstool was a bit high or low, he adjusted it to the required height. He put a time-piece by his side, for he knew that Sri Aurobindo was in the habit of frequently seeing the time. Such small things that would pass unnoticed because our imaginative perception was perhaps dull, were caught by his sensitive insight and he tried to make “happy and comfortable” the life of the impersonal Brahman. Sri Aurobindo, when he sat on the edge of the bed and had to wait long for the Mother’s arrival, seemed to feel drowsy; his body would lean backwards and would then right itself. Still, he would not ask for any assistance — but this, not from any sense of egoism. He would put up with any inconvenience but if we offered him some help, he did not refuse it. We simply looked on without knowing how to meet the situation, but Champaklal rose to the occasion: he made a pile of pillows to serve as his back-rest and to prevent them from tumbling down, supported them from behind. To observe economy due to the War, the Mother advised us not to change Sri Aurobindo’s bed-sheets too often, but if there was a tiny stain on an otherwise clean white sheet, Champaklal would hesitate to use it, saying, “How can we use anything unclean for the Lord?” His making the bed was a sight worth seeing. I wonder if even an expert housewife would do it so perfectly! The bed-sheet had not the slightest crease anywhere, it shone with a marble smoothness. In everything his aim was to be flawless. Thus it put others who had to work with him into a very difficult corner. He claimed to have acquired this thoroughness under the apprenticeship of the Mother. I sometimes got my share of rebuke from him if I was not tidy or clean enough: “You are a doctor and you still don’t wash your hands?” he would say. The fact in his case was that over and above his own training he belonged to a very orthodox Brahmin family and had meticulously observed all the practices ordained by the Shastras and enjoined upon the children by his orthodox priest-father. We were quite modern people having our own ideas of things, so sometimes clash and conflict would arise. Besides, he was in some parts sensitive like a child. We had to be very careful not to upset him and to spare his feelings as much as we could. He could not understand jokes or any round-about manner. He told me that Sri Aurobindo had once spoken about this to the Mother. It was just after he had settled here. His father wrote a letter to Sri Aurobindo saying that Champaklal’s marriage had been fixed; he had only to go, undergo the marriage ceremony and then come back. Sri Aurobindo gravely said, “I suppose we have to send back Champaklal.” He was much perturbed to hear it. Then Sri Aurobindo added, “He doesn’t understand jokes.” He knew, however, how to get things done by the Divine, — blessings written on a book, for instance, an autograph on a photo. If asked by Champaklal, Sri Aurobindo would not refuse. The Mother too has to accede to the wishes of her bhakta, her “most faithful child”.
One day he conceived the idea of getting Sri Aurobindo’s footprints; but how was he to do it without troubling him in any way or without informing him in advance? He had a brain-wave. He kept a white sheet of paper and pencil ready. As soon as Sri Aurobindo sat on the chair, he pushed the sheet of paper under his feet and asked, “May I draw your footprint?” Sri Aurobindo not only consented but later wrote “Love and Blessings” on the drawing. Let us not forget, by the way, that Champaklal is an artist. Whenever he saw Sri Aurobindo in what seemed to him statuesque poses his heart would go into rapture and he would call us to share his joy. He would exclaim, “Ah, if a photograph could be taken of this marvellous pose!” The Mother has said that he has “a natural talent already developed to an unusual degree”. On one of his birthdays he painted two lotuses, white and red, and offered the pictures to the Mother. She was very pleased and said she would take them to Sri Aurobindo and ask him to write something. He wrote under the painting of the white lotus: Aditi, The Divine Mother. And the Mother wrote on the other: The Avatar. But she forbade Champaklal to show them to anyone, for people would not understand what they meant.
Champaklal is the custodian of all their relics such as hair, nails and teeth. He has even stored up all the ashes of the burnt mosquito-coils. Here is a humorous incident in connection with the ashes. Once during our evening talks, the Mother came in with a telegram asking Sri Aurobindo to send “ashes” for someone’s marriage. We were perplexed for we could not make out the meaning. Purani had an intuitive flash and said, “It may be the Indian word āsīs for benediction.” “Oh, I see!” exclaimed Sri Aurobindo, “I was wondering how I was supposed to carry ashes with me, perhaps on my head! Of course I can give them some from Champaklal’s mosquito-coils. If I had not given up smoking, I could have given some cigar-ash.”
I may as well narrate how I was made the recipient of a favour. Champaklal and I used to attend on Sri Aurobindo when he washed his face and mouth. Once in the course of doing it, he made a gesture of giving me something as I was holding the bowl for gargling. I immediately stretched out my left hand and he softly deposited something without any look or comment. I felt a sudden thrill and drew back into the light to see if it could be a tooth. Yes, it was indeed a whole side-tooth. I showed it to Champaklal who was busy doing some work. His eyes rolled in astonishment. Then he extracted from me the story of how I received the extraordinary present! Of course I handed it over to him for safe custody. Later several times he commented on my unusual luck! Or perhaps how he had missed it! Truly speaking, these things belonged to his domain, but the Divine sometimes oversteps our human rules and rights. Many such instances come to our notice but since they are more a question of inner perception, no rational proof can be adduced as to their truth. Only the person involved knows that his inner aspiration has found an answer. I will give an illustration. I have stated that when Sri Aurobindo resumed walking, instead of using crutches he leaned on Purani and Champaklal. After a few months Champaklal alone was retained. He stood on the left side while Sri Aurobindo used a stick on the right. Champaklal would of course never miss his chance as well as his duty. He would not be Champaklal if he did! Now, a desire was growing within me to hold, like him, Sri Aurobindo’s arm on my shoulder, at least once. But being by nature a bit shy and fearing that my unsubstantial body would be too weak to bear the divine weight and substance, I stifled my desire before it raised its head. It so happened that one day the Mother came for Sri Aurobindo’s walk long before the appointed time and Champaklal was not present; only I was there. What to do? To my excited surprise the Mother said, “You can give the support!” Very cautiously and almost palpitatingly I sat by his left side on the couch and put my right hand around his waist; he put his left arm over my shoulder and stood up. We had hardly taken a round or two when Champaklal arrived running. I could guess what must have been his feeling at that momentous sight! Then I withdrew and he took his place and the Master must have felt an immense relief! But a minute’s soft velvety touch is unforgettable. If such was my experience, I don’t know what Purani and Champaklal, who had supported the Lord for months, must have felt! Somebody rightly appreciated the value of the touch when he said that Champaklal’s shoulders should be wrapped in gold! Each one of us had his chance, as we called it; whatever we had inwardly aspired for had its proper response and he who received it could alone testify to the truth of the phenomenon, ye yatha mam prapadyante. This is the divine play between the devotee and the Lord!
I shall quote another instance at the risk of being mocked at by the rationalists and being dubbed an apostate, for was I not once a materialist myself? As I have said, Sri Aurobindo used to take a peppermint pastille while he was dictating Savitri and Champaklal’s role was to offer it, when wanted. He would wait and wait — even if not called at the due hour, he would sometimes hurry his meal so as not to miss the occasion. I thought, “Why should I not get one chance, at least?” But my friend would hear the call even if it was whispered and would run from wherever he might be in the room. Here again, Sri Aurobindo consciously or unconsciously responded to my silent wish by asking one day for the pastille much earlier than the usual time, when Champaklal was not present. He came up and waited for the call. I put on a very innocent face though now and again a mischievous smile tried to betray it. Then at last, very much piqued, Champaklal asked me, “What’s the matter? He is not asking for the pastille?” I could not help breaking into laughter. He understood but enquired exactly when he had asked, who had given it, etc., etc. All these incidents were our little pranks played among ourselves and between us and the Master. I shall not protest if anyone calls me too credulous and finds these as nothing but sentimental outpourings of bhaktas. These instances do illustrate why I call Champaklal a real bhakta and have looked upon his service as having the true spirit. No wonder that the Lord, during his last hours, amply recompensed him by repeatedly embracing him, to our great bewildered delight.
Some critics might find this a very rosy picture of Champaklal, drawn, as one would expect, by a colleague who would keep the thorns out of their sight. Thorns he has, who has not? In 1935, when I knew very little of him, I wrote to Sri Aurobindo, “Champaklal came to the Dispensary and had an outburst with me. I am sure he will tell the Mother about it.” He replied, “Champaklal does not usually tell Mother about these things — outbursts of that kind are too common with him. And when heat meets heat — It is almost midsummer now.” Champaklal is himself aware of his defects and repents them very much. Sometimes on the verge of despair, he confesses that complete change of nature is impossible except by the Divine Grace. More than once after losing his temper with me, not always without cause, he regretted his explosion and said, “I hope you won’t mind; you know my nature,” and became his old sweet self. He has a streak of Bholanath in him, and says that he must have been an avadhūt in his previous life. He has prayed again and again to the Mother for the removal of this weakness in his nature. He is outspoken, very straightforward — the Mother has vouched for it — he cannot bear any kind of insincerity. He cannot make or even see any compromise made with falsehood; his nature is alien to the ways of the world. Much of his apparent rudeness and ill temper stems from this uncompromising spirit. This, of course, does not save him from misjudging people at times, but when shown his fault, he never tries to cover it up. I believe that there should be someone who is upright and unsparing, and as firm as steel when all around there is such a mixture of motives. He serves as the gate-keeper of Heaven. Parodying Sri Aurobindo’s verse, “None can reach Heaven who has not passed through Hell,” I would mutter, “None can go to the Mother who has not passed through Champaklal!”
To make the path easy to Heaven, or at least to get Heaven’s blessings more easily, is also possible by his intervention. If the Mother is at times reluctant for some reason to give a birthday card to someone or write a person’s name or “love and blessings” on it, if she refuses to see another on his birthday, Champaklal appeals to her divine compassion and makes her rescind her decision. The Mother sometimes asks him, “What shall I write?” “Why, love and blessings, Mother!” is his reply. He says that he suffered a lot in his childhood because people could not understand his nature. He now wants to distribute the Divine’s largesse whenever and wherever he can. Many people are grateful to him for procuring the Mother’s blessings for them, especially her physical touch. Only one must be frank and straightforward. Sometimes he has gone out of his way to help even an unknown and unpresuming person to get the Mother’s touch if he thought that he had been overlooked. To sum up, his soul’s mission is to serve the Mother, to look after her and to make her love and compassion available to all, rich or poor, worthy or unworthy, young or old, without any distinction. I shall now conclude my “rosy picture” of Champaklal by quoting Sri Aurobindo’s estimate of him: “All have their defects, but Champaklal has great qualities to atone for them.”
Mulshankar, youngest of the group, was the brother of Esculape, alias Dayashankar, at one time in charge of the Ashram Dispensary. He also worked as an assistant in the Dispensary after Esculape’s retirement and came to serve Sri Aurobindo as a medical aid. An excellent worker, he had the privilege of massaging Sri Aurobindo’s body for a certain period. He was no masseur and in fact knew nothing about it, but he picked it up from some casual lessons and was gifted with the natural lightness and suppleness of finger movements. During the short interval that Sri Aurobindo had to wait for the Mother to come, before he started walking, Mulshankar would sit behind and apply a good massage to his back. It was really as if an expert masseur was at work; his hands moved so lightly and fast, up and down the back and spine; sometimes using delicate finger strokes or the edge of the palms and swinging and bending the body as the various movements demanded and then finishing off with very gentle touches of the fingertips. One was tempted to take a photograph of his agile figure and beaming face visibly moved beyond measure by the unique privilege of touching the Lord’s body, while Sri Aurobindo kept on sitting like a statue looking downwards as the massage proceeded, or in front, sometimes smiling by himself, perhaps oblivious of all the hundred kinds of fleeting, fluttering, striking movements being made on his back. Both the figures supplied us food for a good deal of merriment, the Guru sitting on the edge of the bed, the shishya briskly massaging his back. But the poor fellow had to miss his service because of an intractable headache that crippled him often. And every time that happened we would report to Sri Aurobindo; his comment would be: “Again?”, or an exclamatory expression; we could feel at the same time that the inner help was being given.
What could be more heart-rending than that he lost his life at the hands of an assassin during the riot of 1947? When the news was brought to Sri Aurobindo that he had been fatally stabbed, the air was filled with gloom. Sri Aurobindo listened quietly and his face bore a grave and serious expression that we had not seen before. The dark forces seemed to have achieved a perilous victory in snatching away one of the personal attendants of the Divine. Such is the grim occult struggle between the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness. For days we were under a pall of gloom and none of us referred to the incident in our talks.
Such appalling mist could only be dissolved by counterbalancing incidents like the one of our old doctor Becharlal, a true bhakta by nature. Sri Aurobindo remarked that his bhakti was genuine. How many times he was on the point of shedding tears on seeing his “Bhagawan suffer”! Apart from his age, his emotional nature rendered him incapable of doing anything but light work and we gave him only such work. Neither would he ask for more, since he knew himself quite well. If he could just breathe the nearness of the Lord, that was all he wanted. That was his lifelong aspiration, it appeared, and it was fulfilled. He was called Dadaji by us and given his due respect. During the early days of the accident, in the tranquil atmosphere of the room, we would hear some sudden sobbing trying in vain to control itself. It was our doctor who had been moved to sorrow by the “painful condition” of his beloved Lord! Or sometimes there were tears of spiritual fervour.
When after his bath Sri Aurobindo lay down for a little rest, our doctor would squat behind or beside him and gaze on the reclining god who was in serene repose with both hands locked above the head. Becharlal said that at those moments especially, Sri Aurobindo appeared to him just like Lord Shiva and he felt a great impulse to embrace him. Stretched at full length on the bed, his well-formed body almost filling it without any covering on the upper part, the large full head and the radiant face, caring nothing for earthly vanities, yet the Lord of the world, captured not only Dr. Becharlal’s heart but ours as well. Dr. Becharlal would be full of peace and rapture in his presence but could not stay long because of his old-age infirmities. Dr. Manilal remarked to Sri Aurobindo that among all of us Dr. Becharlal profited most from his association with Sri Aurobindo.
Coming as a sharp contrast to Dr. Becharlal, Dr. Manilal was in every way a sound practical man. Since he spent most of his time away in Baroda, his personal service had to be limited. Both the doctors had been connected with the Ashram for a long time and Dr. Becharlal had served under Dr. Manilal in Baroda before he came here. There is no doubt that Manilal’s devotion was also genuine, though of a different kind; less emotional and more practical, his approach to Sri Aurobindo was easy and spontaneous and his manner with us was always sweet and affable; it had none of the superior airs that one is accustomed to meet in a senior colleague. He took our playful jokes and banterings with good grace and was ever inquiring when the Supermind was going to descend. I have stated in the chapter on ‘Talks’ that he had a child-soul in him and in my book Talks with Sri Aurobindo there are quite a number of glimpses of that trait. I will quote here one or two examples: apropos of a discussion on sadhana Sri Aurobindo said, “You want an easy path?”
Manilal: More than an easy path; we want to be carried about like babies. Not possible, Sir?
Sri Aurobindo: Why not? But you have to be a genuine baby! (smiling) Meditating?
Manilal: Trying hard, Sir…. Many undesirable things come to disturb me.
Sri Aurobindo: What are they?
Manilal: Some nonsense.
Sri Aurobindo: Some extraordinary nonsense like thoughts of perpetual attendance on your Maharaja patron or of the likely successor to Mussolini?
Manilal: No, Sir, thoughts of the Maharaja come very rarely….
Another example: Sri Aurobindo asked the doctor, “Do you always have to try to meditate?”
Manilal: Not always. I have told you that sometimes it visits me all of a sudden…. But was I right in saying that I was able to reject thoughts?
Sri Aurobindo (smiling): How do I know?… I was only making comments on your statements.
Manilal: You don’t know? We consider you omniscient.
Sri Aurobindo: You don’t expect me, surely, to know how many fishes the fishermen of Pondicherry have caught….
Dr. Satyendra is an unassuming and nice person, did his part of the job in a quiet and steady way. He was cleaning, for a time, the windows and furniture in Sri Aurobindo’s room. Ready to serve but never pushing and not over eager, he kept a closeness and happy relation with all. He used to express very often that he was more of a retiring nature and more intent on personal realisation through Bhakti. Karmayoga did not suit his temperament very well. Whatever might be his particular bent, we saw that he did his own work like a karmayogi, in a genuine spirit of service to the Master whom he always addressed as Sir. His talks with Sri Aurobindo showed his sense of humour, his insight into philosophy, politics and mysticism. Sri Aurobindo seemed to like his company, his quiet devotion, in spite of his constantly grumbling against the integral Yoga and the Supermind. While cleaning the Master’s nails as he lay in bed, he would start his old unvarying tale about the necessity of the personal touch, his close contact with his former guru. Sri Aurobindo would listen quietly to his nostalgic monologue. There must be some expression of love, was his constant burden, to which Sri Aurobindo once replied that unity of consciousness is the root and love is its fine flower. A shrewd observer of human and divine nature, it was he who made the pertinent remark that in this Yoga only two persons have achieved complete surrender: the Mother to Sri Aurobindo and Sri Aurobindo to the Mother! As an example he related this story: Sri Aurobindo was lying in bed one day, and the ceiling-fan was revolving at full speed. Satyendra felt that he wanted something, so he approached the Master and asked, “Are you looking for something, Sir?” “Oh, no…. Is Nirod there?” “No, Sir. But can I do anything?” he asked. “I was wondering if the speed of the fan could be reduced,” he replied. “I can do it, Sir.” “Oh, can you?” he asked. Sri Aurobindo enquired about me because I was given charge of the fan by the Mother, and he would not violate the rule. As for the reduction of the speed, that too was in deference to the wishes of the Mother, for once on entering Sri Aurobindo’s room, she saw the fan turning at full speed and remarked, “Oh, what a storm!” To give another instance: when we wanted to move the table-fan a bit nearer him, he said, “No, Mother has kept it there.” This is how we learnt submission and obedience — not only in big matters, but even in small trivialities.
The Mother told Satyendra recently on his birthday that Sri Aurobindo had come to her on the eve of his interview with her and said that he had taken good care of Sri Aurobindo’s body. What a touching recognition from Sri Aurobindo! Even after leaving the body, the Guru remembers a kind act, some help rendered to him by his disciple! What a Divine Magnanimity! We know also that all those who had served him during his accident period have had their reward in some form or other, in the material and spiritual life.
Purani, the last to be mentioned of our group, was one of the old guards associated with Sri Aurobindo from the twenties. I shall not speak much about him because his own books tell in every line what profound love and adoration he bore for the Master for whose sake he would do anything. Full of life and gusto, he added a liveliness to our company. His choice of the unearthly hours from 2 a.m. to 6.30 a.m. for service was a great relief to us. He would surge up from the bosom of the night and say, “Here I am!” He had the entire period to himself and kept awake while we were contentedly sleeping and snoring by his side. Now and then we used to hear, as if in a dream, Sri Aurobindo’s soft voice asking for something and Purani with military steps advancing and responding to the call of the General. If you happened to wake up by some inadvertent noise, you would find a different figure altogether, moving in the penumbra. No longer that lively, youngish spirit, but a very serious face that does not recognise anything else but the work, and brooks no meddling in his duty when Sri Aurobindo is his sole monopoly. I realised then why he chose that hour for service. He could be concentrated, watchful and all alone with the Master. The midnight surely affects all of us with its portentous weight. Another distinctive feature in his service was his physical strength without which it would have been difficult to lift or carry Sri Aurobindo during the early days of the accident. We have seen how he served as a solid human crutch on Sri Aurobindo’s right side and later on, his giant manipulation of the large hand-fan was no less an achievement.
His tremendous vital energy would take little account of things big or small. It would either dash against the door or kick at a poor matchbox! The noise would make Sri Aurobindo remark, “What’s the matter?” “It is Purani!” we would reply in fun and evoke his smile. He knew Purani’s nature very well. Once when Purani hurt his big toe Sri Aurobindo remarked, “You are always dropping things or knocking against them!” He even referred our jokes to the Mother at Purani’s cost.
But see him again sitting on the floor with big volumes by his side. How serious his whole demeanour is! An erudite Sanskrit scholar at work! Sri Aurobindo sitting on the bed, leaning against the back-rest, asks him to find out the root of some Vedic word and its various derivative meanings. Purani forages through the dictionaries or Sayana’s commentaries, reads them aloud and notes them down. The Master dictates the interpretations of a hymn in a low voice, sometimes looks at him or makes some further enquiry, resting his left elbow on the side-cushion which is tending to slide down, and he puts it back in its position. Meanwhile if he needs anything, he casts a glance behind to see if anyone is nearby, and resumes his dictation. The disciple, serious and docile, obeys the Master’s bidding.
Apropos of Sayana, Sri Aurobindo said in a talk, “Sayana in spite of his many mistakes, is very useful, though it is like going to Ignorance for Knowledge.” I added, “Purani with his shining bald head, some locks of white hair, his glasses resting on the tip of his sharp nose and fat volumes by his side, looks very much like Sayana!” Sri Aurobindo replied, “O Sayana came back to undo his mischief?”
At another time he is like a press reporter: bubbling with news gathered from all quarters, particularly from the town. He arrives and Sri Aurobindo, looking at him, asks, “Any news?” Then the talks begin. Sometimes Purani is late and the Master enquires, “Where is Purani?”
Often forgetting his gravity, Purani becomes a child and joins us in a plot, when there is nothing to talk about, to draw out Sri Aurobindo who might himself be waiting for the occasion. The ball is set rolling by Purani reporting for instance, “Nirod says that his mind is getting dull and stupid!” On other occasions he starts serious discussions on modern painting, modern poetry, philosophy, politics, history, science and what not. There is hardly any subject on which he cannot say something — a versatile man indeed, and a very interesting personality. Once in the evening the Guru and the shishya had a long talk, for more than an hour, on an old legal case (Bapat case?) that must have taken place during Sri Aurobindo’s stay in Baroda, and must have been famous for Purani to remember it and discuss it with Sri Aurobindo. He was lying on one side and Purani was sitting on the floor leaning against a couch opposite. It had the air of a very homely talk, as between father and son. Anybody who had seen the Master only during the Darshan could never conceive of this Sri Aurobindo who had put off his mantle of majesty and high impersonality. I stood for a while to listen to the discussion, but found it so dull that I began wondering how they could drag on ad infinitum! It was Purani’s versatility that enriched much in our talks with the Master. If, however, by any chance you stepped on his toes, the old lion growled and roared! But wherever Sri Aurobindo’s interest was involved, he would not spare himself. The Guru’s name acted on him like a Mantra. The Aurobindonians are ever grateful to him for his yeoman service in bringing out so many valuable documents on Sri Aurobindo’s early life in England and for trying to get his genius recognised by the English intellectual circle.
One other casual attendant whose name I should include was Dr. Sanyal. He was an eminent surgeon in Calcutta and his active service was called for when Sri Aurobindo’s condition became critical in the first week of December, 1950. He was sent an urgent wire to come immediately. Before this he had Sri Aurobindo’s private darshan twice. The first occasion was when I consulted him in the beginning about Sri Aurobindo’s illness. Next year, when again he visited the Ashram, his contact with Sri Aurobindo was renewed for the same reason. Each time he stayed for about a week and every day he had the Guru’s darshan. He would come dressed in simple white dhoti and punjabi with a big bouquet of lotuses or roses and offer his pranam to the Guru in quiet devotion. Then, as Sri Aurobindo sat on the bed, he, kneeling on the floor, massaged his leg and held long talks with him at the same time. Sri Aurobindo’s manner was affable and engaging, bearing a smile that egged on the speaker. Once I heard from a distance the Mother talking to Sri Aurobindo about him. From a few words that caught my ear it seemed she was very much impressed by his deportment and physiognomy. I felt that she had already marked him as one of her future instruments. All these paved the way to his last service to his Lord and permanent service to the Mother.
Besides Pavitra and Dyuman who used to come to clean the carpeted floor, the former at the beginning only, I might mention another sadhak, Udar, who came daily to clean the new furniture in Sri Aurobindo’s room since 1947. He had also helped us greatly in procuring medicines for Sri Aurobindo during the last days of his illness and he was present at the moment of his departure. Here is his own account regarding his attendance:
“Now, in 1939, after Sri Aurobindo’s accident, it was felt that the furniture He was using had to be replaced by something better. It was mostly made of boxwood. So the Mother gave me the great privilege of designing and making the furniture for His room which was done in Rosewood but the bed in Teak wood. It is the furniture that is there today.
“Then, when the furniture, well polished with wax (not French Polish) was installed, the Mother gave me another great privilege — that of cleaning and polishing the new furniture. I was permitted one hour a day for this. This is how I came into personal contact with Sri Aurobindo, except for the Darshans we had before.
“These were happy days for me. I chose the daily hour differently — sometimes when the Mother and others were with Him — sometimes when He would be dictating Savitri to Nirod. This was really a great thing for me and I treasure the memory very dearly.
“Sri Aurobindo did not speak much or often but I heard Him on several subjects. He did not speak to me directly except a few times and the memory of this is very precious. I had, however, the great good fortune of being able to make my private pranams to Him on Darshan days and lay my head in His lap and look closely into His eyes. But otherwise, except for being in His immediate presence for an hour each day, I did not have close contact with Him.
“One day, however, a few days before His passing I found him looking at me very closely and intensely with such a love and compassion that passes all description. I was alone with Him at the time. I did not know why He was looking at me so, but I was so carried away with joy by the love He showered on me in His look that I did not bother about the reason for it. It was only later, when comparing notes with the others who served Him personally, that I discovered that He was bidding me a physical good-bye. He had done the same to others — to each differently and, it seems, each one was puzzled at the time. But when He left us physically soon after, we guessed the reason.”