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At the Feet of The Mother

Chapter 13. Studies in Madras

I arrived finally at Madras and was, therefore, cut off from my family. When now I look back on this event, I seem to realise how far away was the action of my own will from that of the divine Will. If I had been acting according to my own inclination, I could never have come near the divine Presence. We are for the most part subject to petty desires and feelings. My life’s course was settled without my knowing it, as soon as the Master’s glance embraced me. When I reached the crucial stage of my life, and felt pulled to and fro by the force of attachments on one side, and that of the divine Light on the other, and stood swaying in the thick of the conflict, what was it that made me give up the life of the world and turn towards that of the Spirit? Who brought about this turning? Each time that I think over it, I have the feeling that I was not an agent but a mere tool, an instrument only, nimitta mātram.

I stayed at Madras till the 3rd April, 1919. Even though I lived there, it was the Master’s presence that guided me; in my heart there was ever the remembrance of Pondicherry. The word “Pondicherry” meant to my soul Sri Aurobindo — there was room for nothing else there. I studied for a year in the Intermediate Class at Madras. I used to come back to Pondicherry once a month. Sometimes, due to unforeseen circumstances, it would be once in two months.

At Madras I was fortunate to have one or two intimate friends. One of them was V.P. Karunakaran Nambiar. He was a student of the Law College. He had a boundless love for Sri Aurobindo. He believed that it was Sri Aurobindo who had given a new life to the Indian political movement. He felt, moreover, immensely attracted to Sri Aurobindo’s writings. He made friends with me when he came to know of my association with Sri Aurobindo. He began accompanying me to Pon­dicherry without fail once a month. He used to put up at some hotel there. We would start from Madras on Friday by the night-train, get down at Pondicherry on Saturday morning, and return by the Sunday night-train. Nambiar had the good fortune to see Sri Aurobindo and speak with him on Saturday night. Sometimes, on the Sunday night also, he would have a talk with Sri Aurobindo for half an hour, solely or mostly on English literature. It was Nambiar who, for the first time, made arrangements to borrow books in his own name from the Madras University Library and Connemera Library for Sri Aurobindo! He is no more — he died a few years ago.

In Madras I passed four years in George Town, in the house No. 14 at the corner of Baker Street, opposite to the Law College. Madras was not so crowded between 1915 and 1919 as it is at present. I would go after 5 p.m. to the vast maidan of the High Court and be there all alone till 7 p.m. I would read at that time over and over again Sri Aurobindo’s magazine Arya or his book of poems Ahana, and take immense delight in them. Did I understand them or not? What was it that delighted me? How did I enjoy them? All this my soul alone knows, I know nothing.

Wherever I happened to be — on the sea-beach, in the High Court grounds, in Pachchiappa College, in Baker Street or at Triplicane — no matter where, the memory of Sri Aurobindo burnt bright in my heart. The single thought in me was, “When will the next opportunity come for me to go to Pondicherry?”

Once on my way to Pondicherry, I met an Andhra young man, Chandrasekhar Ayya by name. He enquired of me, “How can I meet Sri Aurobindo?” I told him, “You may come with me and take your chance.”

When I broached the matter to Sri Aurobindo, he put me several questions relating to Chandrasekhar — “Where does he come from?” “Why has he come to Pondicherry?” “Is it on account of some business?” etc., and then, at last he consented to meet him. The interview between Sri Aurobindo and Chandrasekhar lasted not more than five minutes.

Later on, I remember to have met Chandrasekhar Ayya once or twice in Madras. Whenever he came to Pondicherry, I would be with him. He never failed to have Sri Aurobindo’s darshan. His first interview with Sri Aurobindo for only five minutes laid the foundation of the priceless things he gleaned in future from Sri Aurobindo. Unlike the late V. P. Karunakaran Nambiar, Chandrasekhar plunged heart and soul into Sri Aurobindo for a few years. A man of intellectual attainments, he was a scholar in Sanskrit and knew English very well. He could intently open his heart without reserve to whatever he would see as the best. Sri Aurobindo kindled the fire in him.

Chandrasekhar Ayya came ten or twelve times after I had left Madras finally and taken refuge in Sri Aurobindo. He used to put up at a hotel. At times he would stay four or five days at a stretch. He gave himself entirely to Sri Aurobindo. There grew up steadily an intimacy between them. As a consequence, he started reserving a room for himself on rent in a hotel here. Can the fire so kindled ever forsake him?

Subramania Bharati learnt the Rig Veda from Sri Aurobindo. Chan­drasekhar also studied the Rig Veda with Sri Aurobindo methodically at a particular hour. He studied in this way for two or three years, not by the old traditional commentaries, nor in the old style, but in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s own revealing interpretation. I listened to the interpretation with great delight, whenever I could be present.

In Madras I had the opportunity of contacting a number of big persons, some of whom were really great, and had talks with them. I met and talked with Annie Besant several times. I approached Mahatma Gandhi through Va Ra on Bharati’s behalf. But none of them could appeal to my heart, which the Master had captured, whole and entire. I felt it had become indissolubly one with him. My Master — how great he was! An Avatar! He mixed with me as if he was one of us, and had taken hold of my soul. How could I then be drawn to others?

My friends urged me to join the Theosophical Society and, later on, some of them pressed me passionately and untiringly to join the Non-cooperation Movement of Mahatma Gandhi. My mind gave no response to such talks. How could it respond, when the Master’s command had been otherwise, even if he had expressly told me nothing?

Many great movements were, of course, going on, but they did not seem to me to reflect in any way the truth of man’s inner being. They were conceived and carried on in the rush-light of the human mind.

Sri Aurobindo had somehow put away from us all outer attractions, turned our gaze inwards and made it centre in him. Politics, patriotism and social welfare had no attraction for me. What can the outer activities express but only our inner imperfections so long as we do not change our consciousness and nature? What use then being wholly absorbed in them?

Ten or twelve days before I left for Madras, Sri Aurobindo, in response to my repeated requests, consented to say a few words about the practice of Yoga. I would go to him daily between 3 and 3.30 p.m. He would speak to me in a simple way about the practice of Yoga. I noted down the major portions of his sayings.

Many years before his passing, Sri Aurobindo took away the note­books from me. He probably did not intend that those secrets of Yoga should be disclosed to others. His sayings had been written down by me in two small pocket-books. They would be with me constantly as a guide throughout the four or five years of my stay at Madras. At night, during my sleep, they would remain under my pillow. Throughout the day they would be in my pocket. I would read them time and again.

In Madras my association with the members of the Theosophical Society began to grow by degrees. The “Home Rule” movement was in full swing. On the first floor of the house No. 2 at Broadway, almost facing the Law College, the “Home Rule” library was opened “y Annie Besant with great éclat. Dailies, weeklies, monthlies in English and a small section of them in Tamil were displayed there. The Reading Room remained open from 7 or 7-30 in the morning to 9 at night. Many people would come to read the magazines. The hall was quite spacious and a number of electric lights kept burning from 6 to 9 p.m. There were about half a dozen cupboards which got filled up within a month of the inauguration of the reading room.

By 9 p.m. the library-gate would close. I was left in charge of the vast library with its reading room. From 9 at night to 7 next morning it would be, as it were, my own home.

At night my friends, relatives and school-mates used to come and see me whenever they liked. In addition to the hall, there were a small room and, to the East, a bathroom. It was like a palace for me. I arranged for my meals at a Brahmin hotel in Tambu Chetty Street. I had not given up my room in the house No. 14 in Baker Street. I have written all this in detail because when I moved from the house in Baker Street, I made the house at Broadway my residence for nearly four years.

It is not necessary to write how I was in Madras and in what way I lived. But how, through certain circumstances, through association with some genuine and sincere persons, my soul took its course in this life, and how my life developed under their shadow by the grace of the Master — all this becomes a source of disinterested joy as I remember and describe it.

Some four or five months before I left for Madras, Sri Aurobindo would sometimes say in a casual way, “Whatever happens, detach yourself from the happenings and learn to watch them as a Witness. Do not get involved in them.” Although I could not grasp the full implications of this mantra of initiation, it left a deep imprint upon my heart.

This single mantra acted as an unfailing sustenance of my life during my stay at Madras for four or five years. How it became by stages effective in my sadhana is, however, another story into which I do not wish to enter here.

I have already mentioned that many persons used to come and read magazines in the Home Rule Library when I was there. One of them was a student of the Law College. He became intimate with me and kept a close watch over my way of life.

When I was with the members of my family I had to observe the usual religious rites and ceremonies. But in Pondicherry, out of their sight and reach, I could afford to be free. In Madras I was quite free to move about and act as I wished. No rule was binding on me. But in the heart of this freedom something within me would go on uttering in a low tone, during sleep or at odd moments during the day, something like a voice from afar, “You are in bondage. The chains are holding you tight.” I could not clearly catch the sense of it — I was drowned in the surface noise and whirlpool. I lost all discrimination of the true and the false. But in whatever condition I was, and into whatever hell thrown, the Master, the Lord of my soul, would be with me and within me, and never abandon me.

The person who was clearly observing my movements in the Home Rule Library had come to Madras from Kumbakonam to study in the Law College, as I have said above. He lived in a small rented house with his wife in Mannadi. He was a Vaishnava, and, having somehow come to know that I too was a Vaishnava Brahmin, he tried to correct my nature and my life in what he thought was the right way. He would ‘bring to the Library books of short stories in English, written in a simple style. Each story contained moral lessons to help one live religiously. Handing over one such book to me, he would say, “Keep it as long as you need it, and return when you have finished it. I shall then give you another book.” He was probably older than I by three or four years.

As he had a doubt that I was not reading the books he gave me, he proposed one day that we should read the books together. This, after a few days, I found rather boring. So far as I remember, his name was Krishnaswami Iyengar.

Once a week he would invite me to his house for meals. He found out in a few months that all his efforts to change my ways of life and make me follow religious observances had been in vain. He had failed to perceive that in my heart was ever burning the light of Sri Auro­bindo.

I have referred briefly to my initiation. It did not, however, follow the traditional way. And what I have called the mantra of initia­tion — the often repeated command of Sri Aurobindo to detach myself from all happenings and practise to be only the Witness Purusha — this mantra was not given as such. The traditional method consists in the Guru’s choosing an auspicious day and moment, and softly uttering the mantra in the sishya’s ear. But Sri Aurobindo’s way was quite different. One may intensely seek for the Guru, and seeking thus, one may, by rare luck, find him. But the Guru, so found, may keep one for years to be accepted as his disciple. waiting for years to be accepted as his disciple. This is the traditional way. But Sri Aurobindo’s way, I repeat, — was different. As we grew intimate with him, we felt within us that he had already accepted us. In silence the sadhana had begun in us. The Guru’s Grace and the sishya’s receiving it were a spontaneous development, without even the need of a single spoken word. According to their capacity and fitness — adhikāra — some disciples would make steady progress in Yoga, while others would have a sudden and, sometimes even a marvellous, out-flowering of literary and artistic talent. Each one would receive the Master’s silent inspiration in his own distinctive way, and according to the fitness and aptitude of his nature.

[end of the book]

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