It is finished, the dread mysterious sacrifice,
Offered by God’s martyred body for the world.
Savitri, Book VI, Canto II
In the chapter on Talks I have indicated that in the late forties we began to notice a change coming over Sri Aurobindo. He was becoming more and more silent, aloof, as if deeply preoccupied with some problem and the talks were less and less frequent till they ceased almost completely. Many were the days when we hardly exchanged a word. We were attending on a god who had suddenly become aware of his true identity and would now escape from his human bondage. The contrast between the past years of abundance and the present years of famine was so striking that our minds were rife with all sorts of speculations as to the reason of this ominous silence. Was it a terrestrial problem or a supraterrestrial one? Could there have been any possible dereliction of duty on our part? Was it due to the increasing symptoms of the disease that had now lodged in his body? As regards terrestrial affairs, the War had come to a successful completion, India had gained her freedom, for both of which he had worked incessantly. The supraphysical was out of our ken; so we could lay our finger only on the physical world. But that would be a very tenuous ground indeed on which to build our conjecture, for Sri Aurobindo certainly was the last Person to be perturbed by mere physical troubles, however serious they might be. Besides, he had cured this disease when it appeared the first time. Surely he could do it again, if that was the real issue! What ailed him then? Or was the disease more serious?
Let us go back to the origin of his illness and follow the sequence of events that ended with his leaving the physical sheath and were apparently its cause and try to discover the truth behind the appearance. One day we came to notice that Sri Aurobindo’s urination had increased in freqency. He wanted to know the reason. The urine was examined and found to have an excessive amount of sugar with a trace of albumin. I reported the result to the Mother in Sri Aurobindo’s presence and said, “It looks like diabetes.” The Mother sharply retorted, “It is not diabetes.” “What is it then?” I asked myself. The Mother, however, reduced considerably the amount of starchy food, particularly rice and sweets for which Sri Aurobindo seemed to have a liking. For his age and his sedentary life, so much carbohydrate was surely bad. He could hardly now walk 6-7 hours a day as he used to. I was asked to examine the urine every week and apprise him of the result. In a few weeks’ time it became sugar-free but the frequency did not altogether disappear. Sri Aurobindo too had noticed it. It made me suspect some mild prostatic enlargement. When Dr. P. Sanyal, F. R. C. S., England, paid a visit to the Ashram, I consulted him and at my request Sri Aurobindo saw him. After an enquiry he confirmed my suspicion, but added that it was just at the initial stage. He told Sri Aurobindo of the nature, course and complications of the disease, ultimately operation being the only radical cure. After a few months, on Sanyal’s second visit, Sri Aurobindo told him emphatically, “It is no more troubling me. I have cured it.” Our faith in the action of the Force was fortified and we felt no anxiety.
We could not say then that this change of mood had any connection with the disease. Not only with us, but with the Mother too, he became very reticent. However, with regard to his work, there was no flagging. Even when a little time was at our disposal and I was reluctant to bring out the numerous files containing the Savitri manuscript, just for half an hour, he would say, “We shall work a little.” This provoked my other colleagues, particularly Champaklal, to an impish mirth, for they loved work and I did not, at least I did not then. And almost till his withdrawal the miscellaneous literary works and the labour on Savitri were carried on in full swing in spite of the discomfort caused by the gradual increase of the symptoms. In addition to these, when at this stage an importunate call came from an outside sadhika in Northern India to save her life from a dreaded and strange illness, he took great pains to cure her, especially as she was an intimate friend of an old sadhak who had made a desperate appeal to Sri Aurobindo’s compassion. The story is rather long but intriguing. The doctors, as usual, differed about the diagnosis. Cancer, ulcer, T. B., none was found to be the case. One prominent symptom was profuse bleeding through the mouth but without any definite lesion of any organ. All kinds of tests and treatment failed. At last the patient gave up all treatment and said that she would depend entirely on Sri Aurobindo, even if she were to die. Sri Aurobindo then took up the responsibility at the supplication of the sadhak-bhakta, I believe, but on one condition that regular news must be supplied to him. The bhakta himself went from Pondicherry to the patient’s place with a view to fulfil the condition. News began to stream in by letters, wires about her daily progress. Suddenly it stopped. Sri Aurobindo became anxious and enquired again and again if any news had come. I tried to plead on their behalf and give the usual excuses for the delay. At last he remarked, “How am I to save her if I have no news?” After two or three days, information began to flow in and very soon the patient recovered completely and came to settle in the Ashram. Her illness turned out to be a case of black magic. That is why the symptoms were erratic and there was no definite lesion in spite of their gravity. That was what probably made Sri Aurobindo so anxious about the case. We modern people may scoff at such unscientific superstition, but in this case, there was very solid ground in favour of such a belief. Though Sri Aurobindo took charge of the case, at each fresh arrival of news, he would ask me to keep the Mother informed. “Have you informed the Mother?” he would repeat. I did not understand why he was so insistent on the point; it was not his nature. Did he suspect that I might not, and I really felt no necessity, such was my human stupidity, trying to be wiser than the Guru! The reason for it became clear when he left the body. He had already taken the decision and wanted the Mother to know all about the case in anticipation of possible future developments.
The revision of Savitri was going on apace with regular unabated vigour. Book after Book was getting done and fascicules of them released for publication. Some 400-500 lines of The Book of Everlasting Day were dictated on successive days, since we could not spare more than an hour a day for the monumental work and that too had often to be cut short to meet other demands. We were, nevertheless, progressing quite steadily. I marvelled at the smooth spontaneous flow of verse after verse of remarkable beauty. Once I had complained to him in my correspondence why, having all the planes of inspiration at his command, should he still labour like us mortals at his Savitri. Why should not the inspiration burst out like the “champagne bottle”? Now I witnessed that miracle and imagined that it also must have been the way Valmiki composed his Ramayana. At this rate, I thought, Savitri would not take long to finish. On everyone’s lips was the eager query, “How far are you with Savitri?”
But Savitri, as I have mentioned, was not his sole preoccupation. Many other adventitious tasks were thrust upon him and he did not say “No” to them out of the magnanimity of his divine nature.
During his last months the symptoms of prostatic enlargement reappeared and began to increase slowly. It was like a tiny dark cloud on the horizon and I fancied it would be blown away by the action of his Force, since he had been made aware of the serious consequence of the disease. Synchronous with this advance, we observed a noticeable change in his mood. Our talks, the only occasion when the Divine would become human and play with us, diminished. He was no longer expansive; humour, wit, sally, fun, all had shrivelled up and we were in front of a temple deity, impassive, aloof and indifferent — udāsīna. However much we tried to draw him out from his impregnable sanctum of silence we were answered by a monosyllabic “yes” or “no” or at most a faint smile. Naturally, such a radical change made us uneasy and set us speculating on its probable causes.
One day taking courage in both hands, Dr. Satyendra asked, “Why are you so serious, Sir?” Sri Aurobindo answered gravely, “The time is very serious.” The answer left us more mystified; we could not probe further. This would mean that, as we will see later, he had taken the decision to leave his body and that was the first and last verbal indication of the gravity of the situation, not that he could be attached to his own personal existence in the body — no Yogi is — but there were vaster issues connected with the decision and demanded attention.
Meanwhile, urinary symptoms were worsening and now a trace of albumin was detected. He was informed, but made no comment. Then acetone appeared, a grave signal. He heard it in silence and said, “Tell the Mother.” The Mother too heard it quietly. It all seemed so terribly mysterious. I was perplexed by their seeming indifference as compared with their former concern. Something must have gone amiss, surely. The mystery was too deep for my plummet to fathom, but I had faith that everything would turn out all right in the end.
The work on Savitri proceeded as usual, but slowed down in pace, especially when we came to a mighty confrontation with the two big Cantos of The Book of Fate. Revision after revision, addition of lines, even punctuations changed so many times! It seemed like a veritable “God’s labour” against a rock of resistance. At this time the Press sent up a demand for a new book from him. The Future Poetry was given preference and some passages which were meant to be dovetailed into the text of the chapters were written. But since he wanted to write something on modern poetry and for this works of modern poets were needed, orders were sent to Madras for them while whatever few books were available from our small library were requisitioned. As I read them out, he said, “Mark that passage,” or “These lines have a striking image” — (once the lines referred to were, I think, from C. Day Lewis’ Magnetic Mountain). He himself read out a poem of Eliot’s to me — I don’t remember exactly which, and remarked, “This is fine poetry.” In this way we proceeded. Since we had to wait for the arrival of the books, he said, “Let us go back to Savitri.” His whole attention seemed to be focussed on Savitri, but again, the work had to be suspended owing to the pressure of various extraneous demands. They swelled up to such an extent that he was obliged to remark, “I find no more time for my real work.” When the path was fairly clear and I was wondering what his next choice would be, he said in a distant voice, “Take up Savitri. I want to finish it soon.” This must have been about two months before his departure. The last part of the utterance startled me, though it was said in a subdued tone. I wondered for a moment if I had heard rightly. I looked at him; my bewildered glance met an impassive face. In these twelve years this was the first time I had heard him reckoning with the time factor. An Avatar of poise, patience and equanimity, this was the picture that shone before our eyes whenever we had thought or spoken about him. Hence my wonder. We took up the same two Cantos that had proved so intractable. The work progressed slowly; words, ideas, images seemed to be repeated; the verses themselves appeared to flow with reluctance. Once a punctuation had to be changed four or five times. When the last revision was made and the Cantos were wound up, I said, “It is finished now.” An impersonal smile of satisfaction greeted me, and he said, “Ah, it is finished?” How well I remember that flicker of a smile which all of us craved for so long! “What is left now?” was his next query. “The Book of Death and The Epilogue.” “Oh, that? We shall see about that later on.” That “later on” never came and was not meant to come. Having taken the decision to leave the body, he must have been waiting for the right moment to go, and for reasons known to himself he left the two last-mentioned Books almost as they were. Thus on Savitri was put the seal of incomplete completion about two weeks before the Darshan of November 24th. Other literary works too came to an end.
And significantly The Book of Fate was the last Book to be revised. What I deemed to be minor flaws or unnecessary repetitions, and thought that a further revision would remove them, appeared, after his passing, to be deliberate and prophetic:
A day may come when she must stand unhelped
On a dangerous brink of the world’s doom and hers
In that tremendous silence lone and lost
Cry not to heaven, for she alone can save.
She only can save herself and save the world.
We know how true these words have proved.
There were now ten days or so for the Darshan. Owing to the onset of winter, the symptoms increased. At this time Dr. Satyabrata Sen F.R.C.S., England, paid a visit to the Ashram.
He was consulted. He confirmed Dr. Sanyal’s previous diagnosis and said that the gland had enlarged. Sri Aurobindo remarked that he too had the same feeling. “But what is the remedy?” he asked. Surgical intervention was the only radical cure, but Dr. Sen knew that the Mother and Sri Aurobindo would not approve of it. Not to speak of an operation, the mere use of a catheter was not favoured. One night the urine flow stopped altogether. I ran in a panic to call Sen, as there were signs of some distress. In my absence, the urine had started flowing. He seemed to have asked for me and on learning that I had gone to fetch the doctor, he remarked, “Why? Has he lost his head?” I was so happy to learn of the release of the obstruction that even my “loss of head” did not matter. Then he said to me, “Why have you unnecessarily troubled this poor fellow? You see, I had a dream in which I was freely passing water, but when I woke up, I found this obstruction. Nothing more. Do you understand?” His tone was very sweet. Then I understood that it was his look of surprise and concern that had given me the impression of distress. But obstruction was obstruction and one had to relieve it. Nevertheless all of us were happy. Next day when the Mother learnt the story, she too made a remark to the same effect. She said, “Having passed so many years with Sri Aurobindo, you still get frightened?” “What to do, Mother?” I replied humbly. “We are dealing with no other person than Sri Aurobindo.” “That is exactly why you should never be afraid. Don’t you know that his mighty Force is always with you and helping you? No, fear has no place at all, especially among you who are serving him.” I felt ashamed but uplifted as well.
The Darshan was now upon us. A letter had arrived from an astrologer stating that Sri Aurobindo would be subject to a grave malady which might even threaten his life. We simply pooh-poohed the idea, but Sri Aurobindo did not pass it off so lightly. He asked, “Will you enquire what exactly he has written? I feel that he has caught some truth.” Sometime previously Dr. Manilal was also told by an astrologer that Sri Aurobindo was going to leave his body and if Dr. Manilal wanted to see his Guru, he had better rush to Pondicherry. When he reported this prediction to Sri Aurobindo, he simply smiled. There were quite a number of predictions about this time to the same effect. Surendra Mohan Ghose has narrated a similar one published in Mother India which I have already described at some length in the previous chapter. Still, I was not a little surprised to find Sri Aurobindo giving credence to such seemingly wild forecasts. For his view with regard to astrology was that its predictions were often uncertain, more especially about the Yogis, since they can change their own and others’ destiny. The predictions of Narayan Jyotishi, a famous astrologer of Calcutta, about him had all come true, except the one about a serious illness at the age of 63. But that too, it was said, would be overcome by his yogic force, and he would live up to a ripe old age. Sri Aurobindo writes in Savitri,
Nature and Fate compel his free-will’s choice.
But greater spirits this balance can reverse
And make the soul the artist of its fate.
The latest prediction was found, on enquiry, to have been misreported. It did not have such an appalling import, but that import proved to be true.
The Darshan was on. A vast crowd had gathered. Unaware that it would be the last Darshan, some people were drawn in by an unknown force and later thought themselves specially blessed. There were others who missed it and nourished a lifelong regret. It was mooted at one time whether the Darshan should not be postponed, since it might cause a considerable strain and exhaustion leading to further aggravation of the disease; But the proposal was brushed aside out of compassion for the devotees. Everybody, even persons quite ill, was given permission. Everything went off well, the atmosphere was charged with a solemn silence. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo were love and compassion incarnate; light, joy, peace, sweetness and strength emanated from them as from the sun and moon. After about two hour’s an uneasy stir, a nervous tension was felt in the crowd. A whisper had gone round that the Master would like the Darshan to finish as soon as possible. Then in quick steps the long queue passed and everyone received the last memorable blessings from him.
He came back to his room somewhat tired. It was about 5 p.m. He had eaten practically nothing the whole day. The first utterance he made was, “I am very hungry.” We had never heard such a frank personal note from him before. The meal was quickly served by the Mother and taken in grave silence.
In the week following Darshan, one day when Sri Aurobindo was taking his bath, Purani read out an astrological forecast predicting that Sri Aurobindo would undo himself and that “his manifestation would come about in his 93rd year”. Sri Aurobindo heard it quietly and remarked, “So late as that!” We, of course, took it as, one of the Bickerstaff prophecies. But how true was the first part!
The symptoms grew more serious and a partial obstruction to the flow of urine made us think of mechanical intervention. When it became complete and was causing distress, Dr. Sen and we had no other alternative but to pass a catheter, much against his will. It was followed by immediate relief. We felt light and cheerful. Then a wire was sent to Dr. Sanyal to come down at once. He had been forewarned to be ready for such an emergency call. Our joy was unfortunately short-lived, for in the wake of the intervention crept in the dark shadow of the fever, a not unusual complication, but all the same it brought a cold shiver. At this juncture, Sanyal’s arrival acted like warm sunshine.
We apprised him of the whole clinical picture since his last visit. He approached Sri Aurobindo, did pranam but found him “seemingly unconcerned, with eyes closed, like a statue of massive peace”. Then he opened his eyes, recognised him and gave him a serene smile. The doctor asked him regular professional questions to which he answered, “Trouble? Nothing troubles me, and suffering — one can be above it.” I mentioned the urinary difficulties. “Well, yes; I had some difficulties, but they were relieved and now I don’t feel anything,” he replied reassuringly. Sanyal told the Mother that there was a mild kidney infection, but nothing serious. We were consoled. But he wondered how, after Sri Aurobindo had cured himself, there could be this recrudescence.
Then came the 1st and 2nd December programmes for the School Anniversary. The entire Ashram was busy and bustling. The Mother also had no rest. Nobody suspected that a profound tragedy was being enacted in the closed chambers of Sri Aurobindo. His ailment had been kept a guarded secret. On 1st December, some improvement was noticed; the temperature was normal. He was in a more cheerful mood and even joked with Sanyal. When the doctor suggested that a detailed blood examination would be advisable, Sri Aurobindo smiled and retorted, “You doctors can think only in terms of disease and medicine, but always there is much more effectual knowledge beyond and above it. I don’t need anything.” We were very happy with the answer, but missed its ambiguous import and thought that it carried a consoling assurance. Next evening the temperature shot up. It had been a heavy day for the Mother because of the Annual Physical Display in the Playground where more than two hundred people took part. The function went off well. When Sri Aurobindo was informed of it, he remarked with a contented smile, “Ah, it is finished!” As soon as the activities were over, the Mother came to Sri Aurobindo’s room, placed the garland from her neck at his feet and stood there quietly. Her countenance was very grave. He was indrawn with his eyes closed. Later Sanyal expressed a desire to use some drugs in order to fight the infection. The Mother warned him against the use of any violent drugs or drastic methods not only because Sri Aurobindo would not like them, but they would be, on the contrary, positively harmful. “He will work out whatever is necessary. Give some simple medicines,” was her instruction.
On 3rd December, the temperature again dropped to normal. Thinking that Sri Aurobindo was improving, Sanyal proposed to leave that evening. The Mother heard him gravely, but gave no reply. He took the hint and added quickly, “I would rather stay for a few more days, Mother.” A smile lit up her face. In the afternoon the picture rapidly changed. The temperature shot up, respiratory distress showed itself for the first time. Sri Aurobindo refused to take any liquid. At the Mother’s persuasion he sipped some fruit juice and immediately lapsed into a trance. Almost the whole day he remained in that condition. The Mother, owing to this set-back, did not go to the Playground.
Then, for the first time, the Mother said, “He is losing interest in himself.” To our request for some energetic measure, she now replied, “It all depends on him.” The long night passed in distress alternating with an indrawn condition. He would wake up, however, only when we wanted to give him a drink. Sometimes he even expressed a choice in the matter.
On the next day, he emerged from the depth and wanted to sit up. In spite of our objection, he strongly insisted. We noticed after a while that all the distressing breathing symptoms had magically vanished and he looked his normal self. We were so happy at this sudden change and thought that at last our prayer had been heard. Then he moved to the chair. We boldly asked him now, “Are you not using your force to cure yourself?” “No!” came the stunning reply. We could not believe our ears; to be quite sure, we repeated the question. No mistake! Then we asked, “Why not? How is the disease going to be cured otherwise?” “Can’t explain; you won’t understand,” was the curt reply. We were dumbfounded.
At last the clue to a part of the enigma was found, the reason why the disease had come back and progressed. But the big mystery as to his strange attitude and non-intervention still remains. The increasing gravity of the disease was visible in three clear stages concomitant with the completion of Savitri, the Darshan and the School Anniversary, each progressive stage followed by a deeper and deeper trance. It was probably at the second stage that the Mother remarked, “Each time I enter his room, I see him pulling down the Supramental Light.” Evidently, he had fixed the date of his departure and was pulling down the highest Light before the curtain fell. We misinterpreted the Mother’s words to mean that the descending Light was meant to cure him. After an hour in the chair he went back to bed, serene and majestic in poise. Sanyal even held a brief talk about Bengal’s pitiable plight. But the Mother knew the truth behind the appearance.
Since midday the symptoms were on the increase, particularly the breathing difficulty; urine output definitely diminished. That was an alarming signal. We decided to make a thorough blood analysis. Sri Aurobindo consented after a great deal of reluctance. Our poor human vision! It was a Sunday; the General Hospital was closed. Dr. Nripendra and I hunted out the laboratory assistant; he took some blood from Sri Aurobindo’s imperceptible vein. The punctures were painful to the sensitive body which was getting transformed. The result of the examination staggered us. All the signs of imminent kidney failure and nothing to be done! As a last resort we had to give some drugs. He was now always indrawn, and only woke up whenever he was called for a drink. That confirmed the Mother’s observation that he was fully conscious within and disproved the idea that he was in uraemic coma. Throughout the entire course of the illness he was never unconscious.
By 5 p.m. there was a respite and he called for the commode. In view of the distress, we requested him not to move out of the bed, but he firmly insisted. He knew evidently what he was doing while we always looked through our medical glasses. There was a thorough purposive clearance of the bowels though he had taken very little food for many days. He then walked to the big cushion chair; again a self of calm repose. Alas, but for a brief instant. The respiratory distress returned with redoubled force. He went to his bed and plunged deep within himself. It was during this period that he often came out of the trance, and each time leaned forward, hugged and kissed Champaklal who was sitting by the side of his bed. Champaklal also hugged him in return. A wonderful sight it was, though so strangely unlike Sri Aurobindo who had rarely called us even by our names in these twelve years. We knew that Champaklal particularly longed for some tender outward expression. But Sri Aurobindo’s impersonal nature kept at bay all personal touches except during our birthday or Darshan pranams when he would pat and caress our heads. Now Champaklal had his heart’s yearning gratified to the full extent. But on what grounds? Was it the repayment of God’s debt to his “servant” for his lifelong dedicated service without the expectation of any other meed than perhaps some occasional look or touch or word? For my part too, I can count a few glowing touches that shine like stars on a dark night. First of all, soon after the completion of Savitri, as I would enter his room in the morning, he would cast a moment’s quiet glance at me leaving me in wonderment but happy. Then, when I did pranam on my birthday, 17th November, and the last Darshan day, he was unusually tender and caressed and pressed my head for a long time. But the climax of the wonder came when I was massaging his right leg. He was quietly lying down in bed; I was within the reach of his right hand. As I bent down, I suddenly felt a quick touch of his palm on my head. At once I looked up; all was as before. His gaze was elsewhere as if he knew nothing about it. I was utterly mystified. That these were indications of his imminent withdrawal became clear only after he had left the body. I am sure my other colleagues also received either vivid or veiled tokens.
Even a non-attendant, Amal Kiran, reported a last act of Grace that was his good fortune: “My turn to go up to the Darshan of November 24, 1950, came. As soon as my wife and I appeared at the door of the long Meditation Room upstairs, at the other end of which was the small room where Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were sitting, the Mother leaned towards Sri Aurobindo and said something. At once he started smiling. All through the Darshan the smile was on his lips, and my wife tells me that until I disappeared into the next room on my way out, he was looking in my direction and smiling. Such a thing had never happened at any other Darshan I had attended. This was just eleven days before he passed away.
“When I had an interview with the Mother after December 5, I asked her what she had whispered to Sri Aurobindo. She replied, ‘I told him, Amal is coming.’ I inquired why she had to give the information. Her answer was, ‘Sri Aurobindo’s eyes had gone very bad. He could not see people clearly. Of course he could contact the consciousness of whoever was before him but could not recognise the outer being and form. The moment he heard me, he began to smile.’
“From these words I realise that the Grace was as much the Mother’s as Sri Aurobindo’s. For it was through the one that the other had come.”
To go back to our account, the Mother returned from the Playground after her usual attendance in the evening. I have said that she did not go there on the previous day. As a result the activities of the Playground were suspended. A deep gloom fell upon the hearts of the young group members. The Playground which used to bustle with energy and noise became ominously still. It was the first time an apprehension had loomed over the people that Sri Aurobindo’s condition was serious. The Mother must have felt the poignant despondency of her children and the next day she had to appear in the Playground. As soon as she stepped in, everything changed: there was sunshine on every face and people were lulled into the belief that all was well. Some of them said, “We could never imagine that things were so bad. For the Mother had such self-composure and a look of detachment that it was only when on the 3rd of December she did not come to the Playground that we fell from the sky. But when on the next day she came into our midst, the nightmare passed and we forgot everything.”
On returning to Sri Aurobindo she laid her garland at his feet and stood and watched him. She again remarked, “He is withdrawing himself.” At 11 p.m. she helped him take a drink. At midnight she came again. This time he opened his eyes and the two looked at each other in a steady gaze. We were the silent spectators of that crucial scene. What passed between them was beyond our mortal ken, but Sri Aurobindo’s look seemed to bear a touch of unusual softness. At 1 a.m. she came back, her face was calm, there was no trace of emotion. Sri Aurobindo was indrawn. The Mother asked Sanyal in a quiet tone, “What do you think? May I retire for an hour?… Call me when the time comes.”
It may appear strange to our human mind that the Mother should leave Sri Aurobindo at this critical moment. We must remember that we are not dealing with human consciousness. The Mother’s consciousness always being united with Sri Aurobindo’s, the physical nearness is not indispensable at all times. Besides, we know that at this particular hour she had very important occult work to do. Personal motives do not exist, as the Mother has said, for those who are conscious with the Divine Consciousness.
Even after the Mother’s broad hint before she left the room and despite clear signs of impending tragedy, I could not really believe that he was going to leave us. We hoped against hope and expected a miracle, knowing very well that such spectacular miracles were not in accordance with the process of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga. If he wanted to save himself, he would not have allowed the disease to run its course and then dramatically reverse the fatal decree. But one fondly clings to one’s delusions. That is why we did not inform anyone of the imminent danger. About ten minutes before the grand end, he called me by my name from his indrawn state, inquired about the time and said, “Nirod, give me a drink.” This was his deliberate last gesture. The quantity he drank was very small and there was no apparent need of calling me by name. Those last words still ring in my ears and remain inscribed on my soul. Apparently they express nothing more than a physical need. But to us who look upon the Mother and Sri Aurobindo as the incarnations of the Divine, one word, one look, one touch are rare gifts added to the treasures of the soul. And to me, especially, these few words carried an assurance that he had not forgotten me even in his last moment. They were a reminder of the pledge he had given before that he would never forsake me.
After this utterance, followed the final plunge. At 1.26 a.m., leaving his physical sheath, “the Colonist from Immortality” departed from the earthly habitation, in the presence of the Mother who stood near his feet with an intense penetrating gaze, an incarnation of divine strength, poise and calm. Champaklal broke down completely and began to sob. He could not accept the hard fact. The Mother made him quiet with a stern look. After half an hour, she left us alone.
Immersed in silent, incommunicable grief we sat by his immobile body. From that stupor, Sanyal woke me up and said, “A lot of things to do; get up.” Yes, the body had to be prepared for public view. News had already gone abroad. The Ashram photographers who had no chance to take photos of the Living would now take them of the Maha Samadhi. “In the morning twilight of the gods,” the sadhaks came one by one and saw the Marvel and the Mystery, the body of the Golden Purusha in eternal sleep. And with tears of joy and grief they offered their prayer to the One who had sacrificed all for them.
I also saw, to my utter wonder and delight, that the entire body was suffused with a golden crimson hue, so fresh, so magnificent. It seemed to have lifted my pall of gloom and I felt light and happy without knowing why. When the Mother came, I asked naively, “Mother, won’t he come back?” “No!” she replied, “If he wanted to come back, he would not have left the body.” Pointing to the Light she said, “If this Supramental Light remains we shall keep the body in a glass case.” Alas, it did not remain and on the fifth day, on the 9th of December in the evening, the body was laid in a vault.
Before this, for four days, the disciples, the people of the town, Ashram employees had the unique Darshan and paid their homage. Bhaktas had come from different parts of India for the benediction of the last Darshan of the Guru. Many of them felt the room surcharged with peace, force, light or bliss. Some saw Sri Aurobindo sitting on the bed and saying, “I am here, I am here!” as if to falsify Nature’s decree. Dilip happened to be away. On receiving the news, he arrived posthaste and utterly broke down. The Mother tenderly consoled and assured him, “How can I not love someone whom Sri Aurobindo loved? What do you think we are here for? Only to please Sri Aurobindo.” He told me, “You don’t know, Nirod, what I have lost.” Amal Kiran too was not there. He had just left on the night of 3rd December for Bombay after meeting the Mother. He flew back as soon as he got the news. He was in the Ashram on the morning of the 6th. He has written in his reminiscences entitled The Grace of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother:
“I who had depended so much on Sri Aurobindo in all my writing work — when he had woken to inspiration the labouring poet, stirred to literary insight the fumbling critic, shaped out of absolute nothing the political commentator — I who had almost every day despatched to him some piece of writing for consideration felt a void at the thought that he would not be in that room of his, listening so patiently to my poetry or prose and sending me by letter or telegram his precious guidance. A fellow-sadhak, Udar, spoke to the Mother about my plight. On December 12, the inmates of the Ashram met her again and each received from her hands a photograph of Sri Aurobindo taken after his passing. It was dusk, as far as I recollect. She must have seen a certain helplessness on my face. Smiling as she alone can do, she looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Nothing has changed. Call for inspiration and help as you have always done. You will get everything from Sri Aurobindo as before.’”
Champaklal remained sitting at the foot of the bed day and night. The Mother gave him a good quantity of milk to drink at night — that was all for physical sustenance.
The Mother paid her visits to the room twice or thrice a day, clad in a white robe and with a scarf tied over her hair. Her face calm and grave, yet softened with a maternal sweetness, she looked like Maheshwari of transcendent glory. She would stand silently before the body, look at it for some time and quietly retire. Sometimes she was accompanied by Nolini, Pavitra, Amrita and others. She did not want the body to be touched and wished that an utter silence should prevail in the room at all times.
On 9th December, the Light faded and signs of discoloration here and there were visible. Then, according to the Mother’s direction, the body was put into a specially prepared rosewood casket lined with silver sheet and satin and the bottom made comfortable with cushions. Sri Aurobindo’s body was wrapped in a gold-embroidered cloth. At 5 p.m. the body was carried by the sadhaks to the Ashram courtyard under the Service tree where a cement vault had been under construction from 5th December. Udar climbed down into the vault to receive the casket and put it in its proper position. As the box was lowered a friend of mine said that a prayer sprang spontaneously from his heart: “Now that you have gone physically, assure us that your work will be done.” Something made him look up at the Service tree and suddenly he saw against it Sri Aurobindo; his undraped upper body was of a golden colour. He said firmly with great energy and power in Bengali, “Habe, habe, habe” — “It will be done, it will be done, it will be done.” Then, as wished by the Mother, Champaklal came first to place a potful of earth upon the slate of the vault, followed by Moni, Nolini and other sadhaks. The ceremony was quiet and solemn. The Mother watched it from the terrace above Dyuman’s room. Hundreds of sadhaks stood in the courtyard in silent prayer and consecration. The most blessed Service tree amply fulfils its name by offering the Samadhi day and night, a cool shade and sweet-scented flowers.
Thus came to a close the physical life of the One who, without the world knowing it, worked unceasingly for the world and will continue doing so, careless of human reward of any kind and accepting the success of his mission as the only recompense. Of the latter he was absolutely sure, but were it to end in failure, he said that he would still go on unperturbed, because “I would still have done to the best of my power the work that I had to do, and what is so done counts always in the economy of the universe.” Was it the sacrifice that he called, “paying here God’s debt to earth and man”? Never has there been recorded in earth-history a phenomenon where a person of Sri Aurobindo’s supreme eminence has lived secluded from the world-gaze and quietly and unobtrusively passed away. Such a complete self-effacement can be thought of only of one who is a god or has become a god. It is certain that one day the world will wake up to realise who he was and what it owes to him as it becomes more and more enlightened in its consciousness. Already, some faint glimmerings of that recognition are visible in the Eastern sky, “a long lone line of hesitating hue”. His Birth Centenary is knocking at our door. Rabindranath’s salutation to him in his political days will turn into a salutation of the whole of humanity as its lover and saviour. The long lone hue will be transformed into a full blaze of the living Sun.
I need not add that the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo is not just a conventional place of pilgrimage. Every part of it is vibrant with the Consciousness-Force that the Master embodied during his unparalleled lifelong sadhana. From the oldest to the youngest, devotees see his glorious face, hear his ethereal voice, receive his answer to their prayers and become filled with something that cannot be mathematically proved, but subjectively apprehended. Yogis, saints and sadhus through the ages have done miracles; the Samadhi does the same in a different way; it is a Presence that radiates a constant stream of Peace, Light, Force, and responds to all our soul-needs when we approach it with faith and devotion.