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At the Feet of The Mother

Kalyan “Saheb” Some Memories


Cricketer, footballer, tennis player, keen hunter, litterateur, a good translator and bon vivant, Kalyan took his exit from the play field of life like a sportsman quietly and quickly, without any fuss or regret. He was 84 when he went out this world. As I stood before his dreamlike sleep wrapped in linen I heaved a sigh and said to myself “So one of the few old guards departs!”

Kalyan came from an aristocratic family of Calcutta. Originally belonging to Bangladesh, the zamindar Chowdhury family had settled in Calcutta during British rule and became well-known in elite circles, including the Tagore family for their cultural contributions in various fields. Kalyan had been to England and Italy to study engineering and was employed for some time in a Russian firm. A cousin distinguished himself in the Indian Army in the liberation of Hyderabad and Goa and, as Chief of Staff, led the army to victory against Pakistan. He visited the Ashram.

His another cousin Dilip-da’s coming to the Ashram inspired Kalyan to follow, when he had returned from England, leaving his stately ancestral mansion, come to his soul’s spiritual home, never to go back or regret it. Dilip-da is said to have remarked that Kalyan was a Prahlad in the Daitya Kula of their family.

I don’t remember how or why exactly we came to know each other and became good friends. It may have been due to my contact with Sri Aurobindo; Kalyan’s mother too became fond of me for the same reason. She had come to the Ashram for the first time to seek peace and consolation for the loss of her brilliant second son in the last war as a flight-lieutenant of the Royal Air Force. She had an interview with the Mother and was received with great love and told that the soul of her son was with Her. That and the darshan of Sri Aurobindo consoled her and restored her peace of mind. She was given spacious room on top of the Dining Room where she lived in style and comfort. She lavished affection on me as if I were her own son. Her aristocratic demeanour could not be mistaken. Kalyan and I would often go to her for tea.

Later on, our love of sports, particularly of tennis, furnished another bond of friendship between us. The history of tennis in our Ashram life played a significant role in our sadhana as well, for we came very close to the Mother through this game. It is well known that she loved tennis very much. She played it in her younger days in Paris. It was an outdoor game which gave ample scope for physical exercise.

Kalyan was a good tennis player, the best among us at that time, the players being teenagers or beginners. He and I had learned the game before we came to the Ashram. The Mother herself took some tips from him. He also taught the youngsters the fine points of the game. He was given the great favour of carrying the Mother’s rackets as soon as her car arrived at the Tennis Ground and, at the end of the game, following her to the car with the rackets on his shoulder. There are many photographs showing him as a fine young man with a radiant face, very proud of the Mother’s favour.

When tournaments began to be held, the Mother took great interest in them. On occasion we enjoyed her divine diplomacy at the time. The Puranas abound with stories of gods and goddesses backing their own favourites, particularly Lord Shiva and his Shakti — Shiva, however, remaining rather impersonal and tolerant. We understood the reason for this belief when we saw how the Mother would playfully want one side to win against the other for no apparent reason. I have cited one instance in my book, Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo. To repeat it briefly: Kalyan and myself as partners were to play the finals against a younger couple who were the Mother’s favourites and better players. She wanted them to win, but previous to the game she employed her diplomacy, telling me in front of Sri Aurobindo that we had no chance at all to win, that they were far better players, and so on. Sri Aurobindo was listening quietly. I too; I could not utter a single word. While leaving for the game, I asked Champaklal to request Sri Aurobindo to give us force.

When the match started the Mother was present and was watching our fate with keen interest. A subdued excitement among the old and the young in the audience added to the zest of the game. We were badly beaten. When Sri Aurobindo learnt about it, he was much amused and laughed aloud.

There is a similar interesting story showing the Mother’s divine strategy. This time Kalyan and I were rivals in an athletic competition. I had every chance of becoming the champion of our group, for I had many items in my favour whereas Kalyan excelled only in tennis ball throw and putting the shot. These three items were my weak points. The Mother quietly instructed Kalyan to go and practise the two throws diligently, which he did. The result was as you would expect: he became the over-all champion. The Divine’s ways are beyond our ken.

Another incident worth recounting: we both were also good football players. Once, during the early sixties, there was a friendly match between us Veterans and the youngsters. The Mother had made Kalyan the captain of the Veterans’ Team. She was present in the Sports Ground. A photograph on that occasion was taken where She is seen kicking the ball to start the game. The play started amidst huge excitement. Suddenly something went wrong. Kalyan had fallen down and had broken his elbow, causing unbearable pain. We took him to our Dispensary. The doctor was supposed to have set right the fracture, but the fellow had no sleep for two or three nights. The pain persisted and was constant. Then it was decided to take him to Puttur, a place famous for bone setting along with herbal treatment. We started by car with the Mother’s blessings and her precise instructions. This was a big event for me as I was going out after about 30 years. Everything looked fresh and beautiful and we were in the best of spirits. Kalyan was insisting that if the bone was properly set he would like to drive the car himself. He had the reputation of being a good driver, though a rash one. Needless to say, we enjoyed the trip immensely, particularly the South Indian breakfast we had on the way, consisting of hot idlis, coffee, etc., things we had not tasted for years. There were so many restaurants on the road side, as if the entire local population had their breakfast in the shops. When we reached Puttur we were given a royal welcome. After the examination Vaidya said that he would set the bone right in no time. If I remember correctly we saw him palpating the bones; then, he applied some herbs turned into a paste and asked us to wait. After some time he called us and while he was palpating, he gave the arm sudden twist. It made a clicking sound. The bones had set. They were bandaged after a herbal medicine had been applied. Kalyan’s face wore a broad grin and we started for the secretly planned diversion to Tirupati temple.

There too we were accorded a special reception, for one of the Trustees of the temple happened to be the father-in-law of a former Ashram sadhak who had become a householder. Thus we were given V.I.P. treatment everywhere. Tirupati temple was then not so crowded as it is now. But what wonderful surroundings — zig-zag motor road, hills, waterfalls and vast terrain! Our excitement and joy were beyond imagination after a long-cloistered life. We saw grand spectacle of the Deity wakened up from “sleep” by the bells ringing and the performance of all the rituals on the occasion. We saw the Hundi filled with money and all the riches being counted. After having our fill we turned homeward next day and reached the Ashram. Kalyan enjoyed smoking all the way.

The Mother was happy to see us back, specially with Kalyan cured of pain and the fractured bones set in place. She gave me an interview and enquired about everything in detail. She listened silently, occasionally nodding approval. But when She learnt that we had made previous arrangements with erstwhile sadhak to visit Tirupati and that we had kept it secret from her, fearing her disapproval, she remarked with a smile, “Quels farceurs!” — “What jokers.”

Then our lives took different courses. After his mother’s death he received a large sum of money, much of which he offered to the Mother, but never uttered a word of it to others. If anyone referred to it, he simply answered, “Mother’s money, not mine!” He was also generous by nature. However, a farm was bought with part of that money and he was given the charge of running it. Thus he became a farmer and I a professor! He was a professor before he became a farmer. He had to give up all sporting activity while I kept it up. But there was no break in our friendship. I think it was after the Mother’s passing that he started coming to my “tea-club” and kept it up till the end of his life. It was at this time also he became familiar with two girls-sisters — who used to look after him till the end of his life.

My tea-club became famous for its good tea and Kalyan and myself were reputed to be connoisseurs. As its popularity increased, visiting friends began to frequent it, always bringing with them ‘Orange Pekoe’ tea, reported to be the best tea, from Calcutta. Even our names became familiar to the Calcutta tea-brokers. Our friends would warn them not to try to cheat them by giving inferior tea, for their deception would at once be caught by us. Kalyan himself never failed to gift me superior Orange Pekoe tea on my birthdays. My tea-club was the main diversion in his busy life as a farmer.

Here he had a chance to meet people of various types and nationalities who came to meet me, particularly Italians. Some of them knew no English and embarrassed to find that they could not communicate with me, were very happy to find Kalyan talking fluently in their language and answering their questions, interpreting between us and also entertaining them with his talk. Tea and innocent talk have been the fare of the club. Subjects ranged from sports, news, reminiscences. Politics was, however, avoided as it tended to become controversial, especially with Kalyan.

Kalyan never failed to turn up at my teas even though he had, of course, his own circle of friends who visited him in his house. One of them has written to me. “I am sorry to hear about the sudden demise of Kalyan-da. Hardly could I even imagine him having any physical problems as he looked the picture of good health and well-being. He gave his unstinted service to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Certainly it came as a shock to me who knew him only in the Ashram for brief periods and was charmed by his scintillating conversation and pleasing personality.” These two epithets sum up his cultural accomplishments at times broken by his ‘Saheb’ temper for which I used to call him ‘Kalyan Saheb’.

Lately we noticed a change coming over his jovial mood. A bit indrawn, reticent and leaving the company quietly, his gait somewhat unsteady because of a bad knee.

The unexpected happened a few weeks ago when Kalyan did not turn up for tea. I was told that he had high fever. When I went to see him the next day, I found him sitting in an armchair. He was drowsy and his speech was slurred, breathing laboured. The day after that his condition worsened and at night he became unconscious and was taken to the Nursing Home. Broncho-pneumonia had set in and his respiratory tracts, already troubled by a persistent dry cough, were choked with phlegm. In the day he recovered somewhat, only to comment to the nurses, “Why take all this trouble since I will be leaving soon?” And leave he did — all on a sudden — without any show of distress.

He left a diary in which he has expressed, in chaste English, his inner feelings and aspirations. This is indeed a find. For he was by nature very reticent about them and never allowed any glimpse of his inner life to others. This confirms what we already knew about Kalyan; it was that he was a true devotee of Mother and Sri Aurobindo. To give one example: when Golconde was built and the Mother threw all the able-bodied sadhaks into the job, Kalyan one of them. He worked day and night for years till the huge mansion stood up in in its lone majesty.

Now I shall end my reminiscence with the quotation of a prayer from his diary which he never allowed any one to handle:

“O Master Supreme,

How many times in the day one forgets the Lord and to offer to Him his actions? The offering has to be detailed and minute as well as high and vast. The action of offering is inner always although it can be also in the exterior but that must always be as a sort of projection of that which is within. To remember to offer ever with a one-pointed devotion and an all-covering love which does not come at once but in stage by stage increases all the time when it is directed exclusively towards the Divine inspiration true and sustained, never vacillating. This can only come when the aspiration is ardent to know the Lord and give ourself to the Mother’s work wholly. The Mother has to be seen as the sole guide and executrix and all belongs to Her.

Oh! Sadhak, cling to the Lord and His Shakti, the Mother, all thou mayst need will be thine but remember never to be exulted to make show.”

(Mother India, March 1994)

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It is not the personality, the character that is of the first importance in rebirth — it is the psychic being who stands behind the evolution of the nature and evolves with it.