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At the Feet of The Mother

Divine Mother and son Andre


It was evening. After finishing my exercise and bath, I was happily resting on our small terrace paved with shining glazed tiles and waiting for our routine medical visit to Nolini. The service tree gently swayed above my head in the mild and cool sea breeze. The air was balmy with the faint perfume of the golden flowers. I was almost in a Wordsworthian frame of mind when Dyuman, one of our Trustees, stepped out on the terrace. Startled, I stood up. It was such an unusual visit! “Don’t get up,” he said. “I have come to give you some information. André passed away on the 29th, midnight.” I received a shock and exclaimed, “Oh!” The sad look in André’s eyes during our last meeting flashed before me. Dyuman continued: “A telegram has come. Naturally, I have put it in Mother’s room and made all other necessary arrangements.” He said all this in a quiet, grave and matter-of-fact tone.

“Has Nolini been informed?” I asked.

“Yes, the telegram came to him and he sent it to me.” he answered and left me to my reverie. Not for long, though; for it was time to go down to see Nolini. There the same news was waiting for us and it was delivered with a certain emotion by the attendants. When I came back and was alone with myself, thoughts and memories began to flow in, but other immediate activities called for my attention and the past was forgotten.

Morning came and brought Jugal who is in charge of our Higher Course students. He broached the subject, and I, confirming the sad news, said, “Yes, Jugal, he has left. Those of early days are now leaving us one by one. Pavitra, Amrita…” “Yes, Sisir, too”, he said, adding, “What a blow that was!” “Quite true,” I rejoined, and continued, “They have all gone into the world of Light and now who is there of the old times with whom we can share some exchanges of the heart? Amal and, of course, Nolini and just a few others, that’s all. It is as it should be perhaps. We are getting on in years. The young generation is coming up. They will be in your charge and perhaps things will take a better shape.” “Let us hope the transition takes place smoothly,” Jugal said pensively and left.

Some time later, Manoj, a member of our bright young generation, came and asked me to speak a few words to the students of our Centre of Education, who knew very little of André. He said Nolini had approved of the idea. If I agreed, the meeting could be held at 11 a.m. It was already 10 a.m.; I was preparing to have my usual cup of tea after the morning class. So there was very little time; still I accepted. He sped out to make the necessary arrangements. Meanwhile I went to Nolini, wanting him to help me with a few points, for he and André had been very closely associated. He said, “You know what André has done for the Ashram vis-à-vis the Government?” “Yes, that I know,” I affirmed. “About the School, also?” When I replied that I didn’t know much about it, he said, “Ask Manoj.” I came away, noted a few points in my mind and headed for the school.

The School was packed. Remembering the Mother, I started to speak in brief what follows in a fuller version:

“Children of the Mother, our elder brother, the Mother’s son by birth, passed away on the 29th March at midnight. We used to call him André-da. It is to offer our deep love and respect and gratitude to his departed soul that we have gathered here.

“29th March is a very significant day in the calendar of our Ashram, perhaps of the world. For, as you know, it was on this day the Mother met Sri Aurobindo for the first time and that meeting put the seal on their common divine destiny. For André-da to leave his body on that very day cannot but carry an inner import.

“I believe very few of us know much about him. I had the good fortune to have a cordial relation with him. Every time I met him — the times were not many — I had a feeling that here was a gentleman whose appearance and talk bore all the signs of a refined culture — a true French gentleman. In our talks on various Ashram topics, he was always impersonal; never a strong word of criticism or disparagement came out of his mouth. Nobility, dignity and sweetness breathed through his demeanour, and one always felt the presence of the Mother in his quiet company. It would seem that in this respect the son fulfilled in himself what the Mother had wanted of him, for she did not crave any greatness either for herself or for her son. Like her own mother, her aspiration for her child was that he should be noble and true. Every time I met him I came away with this impression.

“This son whom the Mother had left behind as a child grew up, knowing perhaps very little of the Mother or having only a dim recollection of her. The first time he visited India, we heard that he had given a talk on the Mother at the request of the people of the Calcutta Path Mandir. Hearing the news, the Mother remarked with a laugh: ‘What does he know of me?’ When she was told the gist of the talk which contained his childhood reminiscences, I believe she was satisfied and said, ‘Then it is all right’. We have seen a painting in which the portrait of André-da was done as a child of about five years old, along with the Mother. The same child grew up, as I said, in the absence of the Mother, to be a man who passed out of the French Polytechnique, a most prestigious institution, a highly qualified engineer, just as Pavitra-da and the Mother’s own brother had done. He married and established himself well in Paris’s cultured society and came into contact with the Mother by correspondence. We are quite sure that the Mother, though she had left him behind, had always sustained and protected him throughout his worldly life by her spiritual power. A series of letters beginning in 1927 and ending in 1938 have come out in Prochain Avenir (The Near Future) of April 1978, in which the Mother informs him of the growth and development of our Ashram and the life of Yoga pursued by the sadhaks under her charge. In one letter the Mother is pleased to learn from him that he considers the Ashram to be an ideal place of repose. The Mother sends him a very beautiful reply to the effect that people who are agitated and excited could have here a cure of perfect repose. She also tells him there is the beautiful sea, the vast country-side and the small city at whose centre is the Ashram, an energetic and active condensation of peace so that those who come from outside have an impression of finding themselves in another world.

“In the last letter the topic of Hitler is raised. André asks the Mother if it was a question of a dangerous bluff or if ‘they have averted the catastrophe’. Giving a long explanation, the Mother ends the letter saying that at any cost war must not be and that is why it has been averted by Sri Aurobindo and her… for the moment. We catch here an echo of Sri Aurobindo and her.. for the moment. We catch here an echo of Sri Aurobindo’s voice. He said to us also that the war was pushed back because it did not suit their purpose.

“Now, the son was coming to meet the Mother for the first time in the late forties after a separation of more than 30 years. It was sensational news, and the Mother seemed quite excited about it. Often she spoke of him to Sri Aurobindo. As the arrival day was approaching, she said to him that she wanted to meet André all alone, but couldn’t find a suitable place. Finally it was decided that Golconde would be the best place and a room was made ready there for the purpose. She also doubted whether her son would be able to recognise her after so many years! However, on the appointed day Sri Aurobindo’s lunch was finished earlier than usual, since the Mother had to get ready and be on time. There was plenty of time in hand, but she liked to go much in advance and wait for him. That was very typical of the Mother in all cases where she had some important thing to do. In fact, she waited for more than three or four hours before André arrived. We don’t know what passed between Mother and son during that first dramatic reunion. I am sure she hugged him close and kissed him as well. I was strongly reminded of Buddha’s famous meeting with his son, of which there is a lovely picture — one that Sri Aurobindo has marvellously interpreted. Buddha the great spirit meeting his son whom he had left at his very birth and the Mother, also a great soul, leaving the world and meeting her son after so many years! The parallel need not be drawn further. Strange it is that the call of the imperative Unknown made such a demand throughout the ages after the Vedic times on our great seekers to leave their hearth and home to pursue their luring quest. Fathers and mothers have left their children, husbands and wives each other. But we see Sri Ramakrishna’s making his wife live with him after his great realisation. And now the Mother has pulled down the traditional iron bars behind which women had to be confined with the most humiliating label stuck on the walls: ‘Woman is the gateway to hell.’ The Divine had to come in the form of a woman to undo it. She has made the Ashram a home for all, irrespective of sex, caste, nationality so long as there is a real urge in them for the Divine.

“To come back to the point. The Mother made all possible arrangements for André’s comfort. He was to take his meals with Nolini, Amrita and Pavitra. Some houses which were well known for good cooking were asked to invite him for lunch or dinner. In this and many other ways which the Mother’s inventive genius could find, she made him feel at home: Champaklal has recorded how the Mother in glowing terms introduced him to André. The visit was a short one, I believe. I came to know him long afterwards. We had heard that the Mother was doing through him her work in France, which gradually expanded and became a distinguished centre for radiating the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s Light.

“I became familiar with him only later on, though he was paying frequent visits to the Ashram after Sri Aurobindo’s passing. In fact, it was when the Mother fell seriously ill that my contact with him started. I have recorded the incident in my book, The MotherSweetness and Light. He had by that time become an important figure in our Ashram life. He was working in close contact with Pavitra and they were really like two complementary souls. When Pavitra fell ill and could hardly walk, he would go to the Mother’s room with André’s support. More than once I have seen him coming down after seeing the Mother, leaning on André’s shoulder. It seems that when he fell seriously ill, he was very anxious that André should come and take up his work as Director of the Centre of Education and he could not leave his body unless he was assured of the fact. This is how André became the de facto Director of the Centre of Education and the Mother gave all directives through him. He was also the channel of communication between the Mother and Auroville. We used to observe the Aurovilians holding regular sittings with him. His days were thus kept very busy whenever he visited the Ashram. He had to go back once a year to look after his own affairs in Paris. He was a Director of many business concerns, we were told.

“My closer contact with him started in the very last years of the Mother’s life on the earth when I was given the opportunity of reading to her the manuscript of the book Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo every evening. In fact, it was after I had finished reading it and resumed reading the correspondence or Talks with Sri Aurobindo that we started going together to the Mother. I used to observe the Mother enquiring about his health and whether the seat he had taken was comfortable, etc., etc. All these minor touches I noticed avidly. Sometimes she would draw his attention to some remarks of Sri Aurobindo in my book and they would appreciate them together. Later on the Mother suggested to me that if I had no objection I could come to her on alternate days since André had to leave soon for France and he would like to discuss and settle many problems with her before he left. Naturally I agreed. Here André proposed that on his days I could come, do my pranam and go. This consideration on his part touched me deeply. In 1973, the Mother’s last year when all the interviews had come to an end and none was allowed to be with her except the attendant, André still had daily access to her, but it was mostly a silent visit. There was hardly any talk. I used to inquire from time to time about the Mother’s condition but answers were not hopeful. He said that she seemed to have given up the fight. On last day, as is well known now, things in the Mother’s room were very tense indeed. I noticed André coming down, a grave silent picture of sadness at about 8 p.m. His health in those days could not bear much strain. I wondered why he was leaving with a heavy countenance. Was everything over then? I could not believe it, but it was so.

“The story now changes considerably and runs a different course. Our internal condition was none too bright for the moment. André used to come from France once a year; his work now becoming less and less, he would go back after a few months’ stay. But his presence brought fresh air to many of us, as if he carried the Mother’s atmosphere with him. I had occasion to meet him and discuss our school problems. As Kireet had left he had much to do with them. He kept us on the right path. (Over Auroville affairs he had no control and was very sad indeed.) Once he was requested to speak about his early life to the students. An extract from the report Prochain of his speech is very revealing. He says:

It was in 1904 or 1905 when Mother was living in Paris. The house was sufficiently big. It had a garden which was very rare to have at that time and in this garden there was an artist’s studio where Mother and my father used to do their paintings. At this time she had also gathered a small group of friends and philosophers. The group was called ‘Idéa’.

Every week they met and talked on a particular subject, exchanged ideas and arrived at conclusions which would be useful to the group. Paroles d’autrefois she had started writing at that time. This studio was connected with the first floor of the house by a kind of very pretty wooden bridge so that one could easily pass either way. I was five or six years old and was made to sleep in the room, which opened to the bridge. I was very much piqued to know what was going on in the studio in the evening. I was supposed to be asleep. One day I could not sleep. I got up in my night-dress and crossing the bridge reached in front of the studio at the top of the staircase. I was quite hidden by the banisters but could observe the people talking inside the room. Naturally I could understand nothing, but it amused me a lot. All of a sudden someone saw me and, pointing me out to Mother, said: ‘Hallo! who is there?’ Then I ran away like a hare, entered my room and tried to sleep.

Later, I don’t remember if it was that night or the next morning that Mother came to see me. She said: ‘Oh, you had no need to get up to know what was going on there; you had only to go out of your body and come.’ Ah, it appeared to me something extraordinary. Then she explained in brief that a human being is not limited by his body, there are parts from which one could come out and specially one could go for a walk and see what was going on elsewhere. I did not understand very well, of course, but all the same I was sufficiently struck by it to remember it even after 70 years.

“Whenever André came, he used to keep close contact with Nolini and discuss various things. Nolini’s word was to him final in all matters. I had heard that he had been doing a good deal of work in Paris for the Ashram, particularly regarding the Agenda imbroglio. We know that he was not at all happy over the way the Agenda was coming out. He told us that the Mother had entrusted him with its publication and had wanted that nothing should go to the press without his or Nolini’s supervision.

“He had already suffered a stroke and a heart-attack. The former affected one of his legs and the Mother used to take much care of his health. His penultimate visit to us ended with a mild visit attack of influenza. He had to go back to France before he was completely restored. At this time our position with the Government was strained. As he was to go via Delhi, Nolini wanted him to meet the Prime Minister and explain to her our internal situation. He gave him a letter of introduction. As a result the Prime Minister was very pleased to meet him, especially as he was the Mother’s son. She is said to have been much impressed by his refined and cultured manners and his unassuming personality. Our tension was smoothed out and a cordial relation established. This was one of the great services that André rendered to the Ashram.

“During his last visit a few months back we heard that he was not keeping well and preferred to confine himself to his daughter’s house for the time being. After recovery he came to see Nolini once a week. When I went to meet him I found him very weak; the quiet glow in his face was replaced by signs of pallor, he asked me about the school and matters in general. ‘Well, whatever the condition may be you people are there’ — this was the note on which he ended. My farewell meeting was rather sombre. Very little talk, his eyes wearing a calmly sad expression. Now I understand what it meant.

“There are some persons in this world who bear outwardly no insignia of greatness or brilliance. But as soon as you meet them their deep composure, refined deportment and the serene glow on their faces speak of their soul-purity and you never forget them. Their contact and memory are a cool bath to our souls.

“Such was André, such was Pavitra and such is Nolini.

“Let us now observe ten minutes’ silence as the expression of our love and gratitude to our elder brother, the Mother’s worthy son, André.”

(Mother India, May 1982)

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