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At the Feet of The Mother

My Friend and My Master (pt. 3)

In speaking of Divine Mercy, can we differentiate between the Mercy of Sri Aurobindo and that of the Mother? In truth, we cannot think of the one separately from the other. In my first Darshan, I made two pranams, one to each. But it was only just that once! I never committed the mistake again. Even today, when apparently the Mother alone sits and receives our pranams, do we not all know that the Master is always behind her? Has he not taught us this external Truth again and again, in words and action! In 1940, when, I came to Pondicherry first, I was much feebler physically than I am today. By whose grace, have I grown stronger? Of Sri Aurobindo alone? Of the Mother alone? I shall relate a short tale by way of reply. About five years ago, one morning, as I was doing my pranam to the Mother, I was suddenly prompted to say, “My Mother, I have one great sorrow in my life. Being something of a cripple, I cannot put my forehead on your feet, like the others.” The gracious Mother replied, “That is easily remedied! You can sit two steps below where I stand, and put your forehead on my feet”. Two mornings in succession I did this and I was in raptures. On the third day, I said to the Mother, “Mother, you have fulfilled my heart’s desire, and satisfied me completely. I shall not trouble you again. From tomorrow I shall touch your feet with my hands as usual.” Two days later came the Darshan. I did not know if the Mother had told Sri Aurobindo anything. But I saw that he looked me all over from head to toe as I approached and, as I learnt from my wife and one or two others who were just behind, the Master’s eyes followed me as I walked away, as far as I was visible. From that day the stiffness of my knees went on decreasing rapidly. This sort of thing is happening constantly here, as everyone knows. Call it a miracle or not, as you like! I call it Divine Grace — the Grace of the Master and the Mother.

But that people outside are constantly asking is this, was there anything miraculous visible in Sri Aurobindo’s actions before he came to Pondicherry? I shall not in reply say either yes or no, but relate certain small incidents directly within my knowledge, and leave the reader to draw his own conclusions. I am not claiming for my Master any occult powers. I shall be satisfied with recounting my experiences. There will always be traducers like Sisupala to challenge the divinity of an embodied divine Person! First, comes the story of Sri Aurobindo’s marksmanship which I once told in the pages of the journal Parichay, fifteen years ago. It has since been retold in many languages, even in authoritative biographies of the Master. It was many years ago that Aurobindo had come to me in Thana on a short holiday. A dark, dull, drizzly evening; we had nothing particular to do and were amusing ourselves with a little saloon rifle. My wife said to Aurobindo, “Come, Ghose Saheb, take a hand.” He would not at first agree, giving as excuse that he had never touched a gun and that he knew nothing about shooting. As we refused to let him off, he picked up the rifle at last. I tried to explain to him the technique of aiming over a V-sight. But he turned to my wife and said, “You stand by me, Lilavati, Charu is too hasty.” Then he started firing, and after just one or two slight mistakes, got the target again and again. The target was the head of a match stick at about twelve feet! Fifteen years ago I said, by way of joke, “If realisation in Yoga does not come to such a man, will it come to bunglers like you and me!” I say the same thing even now.

Another time, when Aurobindo came to us at Thana, my brother-in-law, Subodh Mallik, was staying with us. We had a great time together. Aurobindo and Subodh became very friendly during their stay in Thana, and this friendship of theirs ripened into close association, when Subodh entered into political life a year later. At his insistence, Aurobindo accepted the direction of the National College and of the newly started daily paper, “Bande Mataram.” During this period he lived mostly in Subodh’s Wellington Square house — not only as an honoured guest, but practically as a member of the family. Our mother he addressed as mother and she addressed him as either Aurobindo or simply as Baba. It was indeed marvellous — a vastly learned man, a great political leader like him, dropping his formidable personality and becoming one with, another family, in love and affection! In the Calcutta house Aurobindo became to my wife, even more of a brother than he had been in Bombay. Ordinarily he was averse to accepting personal service. But it was by no means an uncommon sight to see Lilavati wiping the sweat and combing his head tenderly after his return from work, and he protesting, “But why? I have got no lice in my hair!” The ladies of the house cooking little things for him was a daily occurrence, both in Thana and in Calcutta. He never objected to that, as he was a connoisseur of good food. But be it remembered that he was always a small eater. Let me relate a short tale: It was an evening in my Thana bungalow, when both Aurobindo and Subodh were staying with us. My wife asked, “Will you people have melon ice?” Aurobindo replied with enthusiasm, “Excellent idea! But let us have plenty of it.” The Sherbat was duly made and put into the freezer. As it was going to take a little time to be ready, Subodh proposed a game of cards to pass the time. Aurobindo said, “Most certainly, only I do not now any of the games you people play. I used to play whist a little in England, as a boy.” Subodh cried out, “All right, whist let it be.” We started to play — Subodh and I against Aurobindo and my wife. Aurobindo said to his partner, “We are going to beat them hollow, Lilavati. But you must explain things, a bit, to me.” He said, he remembered the names of the four suits and also that there were thirteen cards in each suit. That was about all. His partner told him that the objective was to take tricks and explained to him how this was to be done. Then began the game. It was very one-sided, for he managed to rope in most of the high cards and seemed to know, for certain, what cards each player held. Quite innocently, without an effort, he did all this and won game after game. After a little while, I threw my cards down on the table saying, “How do you expect us to play, O Tyagarajan! if you take the best cards yourselves, the whole time?” Why I called him Tyagarajan that evening, I don’t recollect now, but he mentioned the word to Purani only a couple of years ago. I don’t think I shall be wrong if I say that his card-playing was on a par with his rifle shooting, which I have already described. It was gramarye of some sort, as the medieval people called it. My wife said graciously, “All right, you quarrelsome people, we shall forego all we have won. Now, go and get ready for the ices.” Her partner said, “We have certainly won by superior skill, and we give away our winnings out of sheer generosity, Lilavati. Well, I shall get through my Ahnik and come back in fifteen minutes for my ices.” But he did not return in fifteen minutes, nor even in half an hour. When about forty minutes had passed, the servant said, “The ice has set so beautifully, madam. In another ten minutes it would begin to go soft again.” I said to Subodh, “Come, let us call him.” We carried a couple of brass cups each and threw ourselves on his closed door. Subodh and I weighed full twenty seven stones, so my reader can imagine the racket we made. But it had no effect. We went back to my wife and reported that her guest must have fallen asleep. We had two fat helpings of that delicious melon ice. When we had finished, Aurobindo came along rubbing his eyes. We made profuse, but insincere, apologies for having taken our share of the ice before him. He smiled and said, “Greedy fellows! Never mind, Lilavati, give me my share. It has gone soft, you say? Well it could not have lost its sweetness.” Then I asked, “While you were meditating, were you not upset by some big noise?” He replied glibly, “Big noise! No. But something seemed to disturb me for a moment, then I went off again. But I have enjoyed this Sherbat immensely, Lilavati.” Rightly did I bestow the name of Tyagarajan on him, that evening!

Many stories have been told of Sri Aurobindo’s wonderful memory in his old age — specially those that we have heard from Nirod in connection with his literary work. But his memory was astounding even when he was a comparatively young man. In 1906-7, sometimes, when he returned from his college he found us engaged in playing poker or dice. As he did not take any interest in these gambling games, he would pick up some book and go through it rapidly while waiting for his tea. We had noticed this, and had resolved to test him and find out if he really read through the whole book or merely glanced at a page, here and there. One day, he found a six-penny novel — utter trash — lying on the divan, and plunged into it forthwith. He read the book rapidly and, at the end of half an hour or so, threw it down. Subodh was looking at him through the corner of one eye. He took up the book promptly and asked, “Have you really been through the whole book?” “Yes.” “Can you repeat to us any portion of it?” “Yes.” Subodh called out to me, “Now, Charu, for the viva voce examination.” I opened the book at a certain page at random. It began this way: “The Man and I went out into the moonlit garden.” I read the line and said, “Now go on, Chief.” Well, with very little alteration he repeated the whole page. This is a more striking feat of memory than any that I have ever come across. Yogic power? I don’t say so. But it is marvellous concentration!

It would be superfluous to narrate any more tales of this sort. For the average unprejudiced reader it should not be necessary. Who but an absolutely wooden headed man would say that the Master wrote “The Life Divine” and “Savitri” by the power of his intellect alone? His powers in his more youthful days were but forerunners of his later Yogic realisation. They were indications of his innate spiritual capacity. Otherwise, no ordinary man, who had never handled a gun, could suddenly display the kind of marksmanship that I have described. Nor could such a man take up casually a book of a hundred pages and in half an hour practically know it by heart. Nor could he, an absolute novice, play such a game of whist where he knew beforehand what cards each player held. All these things are certainly not logical according to our way of thinking. But they can all be explained by what he himself has called the “logic of the Infinite”.

The course of Sri Aurobindo’s life has undoubtedly been mysterious. He himself said in a letter that it has not been visible on the surface and therefore it has been beyond the ken of the ordinary man. Then again, he had always been, even in the days of his political activity, averse to pushing himself forward. He had been ever inclined to work from behind other people. He said once, by way of joke, that it was the British Government who dragged him out into publicity.

When he was arrested the first time, for sedition, I was in Thana. Barin was staying with me. Suddenly a wire came to the effect that Aurobindo had been arrested for sedition and that he was disinclined to make any defence. I sent Barin back that very day with a strong letter that we must defend the case and that I was coming to Calcutta as soon as possible. Rabindranath published his famous poem, “Aurobindo, accept the salutation of Rabindra.” There was a great commotion in the country. The main point in the case was, whether Aurobindo Ghose was the Editor of the Bande Mataram, or not. In the office we found the press copy of a letter written to some correspondent to the effect that “our editor, Aurobindo Babu, is out of town just now and that we shall send a reply to your letter as soon as he is back.” As this press copy was most damaging to our case we destroyed it. Ultimately, the prosecution failed to prove that Aurobindo Babu was the editor, and the magistrate, Mr. Kingsford had to acquit him. A couple of days later, one afternoon we were celebrating the happy event very noisily — when a sepoy came and said, “Rabi Babu has come.” We rushed out to the front door. The poet spread out his arms and held the Chief in a close embrace, saying with a tender smile, “You have deceived me, Aurobindo Babu.” The latter replied, “Not for long, I assure you.” Then the poet sat and talked with us for a while. I said to him, “We did not allow our friend to go to jail, Sir. There were one or two papers of a damaging kind, which we destroyed in good time. But, this is only the beginning! Your poem will be justified in the end.” Manmohan, Sri Aurobindo’s brother, laughed, “Sir, this man Charu, is always saying — we are out to kill, not to offer ourselves to the demon!”

In his now famous letters to his wife, Aurobindo made his relation with her perfectly clear. I did not know of these letters till they actually appeared in print. One day I had asked him in the course of conversation, “Chief, you knew that you were going to plunge into the vortex of revolutionary politics. Why did you marry? Don’t tell me if you don’t want to.” He thought for a moment and replied very slowly, “Well, Charu, it was like this. Just then I was very despondent and felt that I was destined to lead the life of a pedagogue. Why, then, should I not marry?” Aurobindo married, be it noted, in April 1901. And, in 1903, he initiated his Bhavani Mandir movement, and pushed it vigorously.

One afternoon, subsequently to Rabindranath’s visit to Aurobindo, above described, Bhupal Babu, Aurobindo’s father-in-law, came to see us in the Wellington Square house. The Chief had not as yet returned from his college. Bhupal Babu said to us, “Charu, Subodh, I have come to ask Aurobindo to come and dine with me this evening. My daughter, Mrinalini, has come to Calcutta to meet him, if possible. So I would like Aurobindo to stay the night in our house and return to you tomorrow morning. Do send him along.” We were all tremendously excited over this invitation. When Aurobindo came home about 5 p.m., he could see that something out of the common had occurred. We gave out a loud yell on seeing him and all spoke together. He laughed and said, “One at a time, please.” Then I said, “My dear fellow, this sort of gala occasion comes but once in a blue moon! Aurobindo is going to visit his spouse this evening. He said with a suppressed smile, “Yes! go on.” It was Subodh’s turn to speak. He said, “Bhupal Babu came to invite you. You are to dine with him this evening and spend the night in his house. It appears that Mrs. Ghose has come down to Calcutta expressly for the purpose of congratulating her lord on his acquittal.” Aurobindo said merely, “I see.” Then my wife started, “There is nothing to see. Please get ready quickly and put on the clothes I have laid out for you. They have all been properly pleated and crinkled by Subodh’s bearer.” No reply from the other side; nothing but a shy twinkle in the eye. My wife, encouraged by the twinkle, went on, “And, look here, Ghose Sahib, Subodh’s wife and I are weaving two beautiful garlands of Jasmine — one for you and one for our Didi. I shall instruct you about them, later on.” The poor philosopher quietly capitulated. He had not a chance of speaking. After tea, he was hustled into the dressing room for being valeted by Subodh’s bearer. He did not protest. After all, who was going to listen to him that evening, our great Chief though he was. When he came out, he looked gorgeous in his fine dress, but there was also a simple shy smile on his face. We had all been waiting to greet him. Lilavati stepped forward with the two garlands and said, “One of these you are going to put round Didi’s neck and the other she is going to put round yours. Please don’t forget.” The Chief with a tender smile replied. “It shall be done, Lilavati.” As he was getting into the carriage Subodh called out, “And, please don’t come back till tomorrow morning.” Turning to the Durwan he ordered. “Lock the gate at 10 p.m. Ghose Saheb is not coming back tonight.”

Next morning, quite early, a servant came upstairs and said to Subodh, “Ghose Saheb wants to know, sir, if you are all coming down to tea.” “Ghose Saheb? When did he come back?” “He returned about 11 p.m.” We all trooped downstairs. There he sat in his arm-chair, quietly smiling to himself. We fired a volley of questions at him. He replied calmly, “Well, I had a superb dinner and returned here about 11 p.m. Lilavati, your instructions regarding the garlands were carried out to the letter.” Lilavati asked plaintively, “But why did you come away so soon?” The Chief’s reply was, “I explained things to her and she allowed me to come away.” I suppose these explanations were later on, embodied in the famous letters.

There are people who often ask, what happened to Mrinalini, spiritually. I shall quote but one sentence from Sri Aurobindo’s letter to me dated 5-12-1944:

“I did not take my wife for initiation to Sri Saradeshwari Devi; I was given to understand that she was taken there by Sudhira Bose, Debabrata’s sister. I heard of it a considerable time afterwards in Pondicherry. I was glad to know that she had found so great spiritual refuge, but I had no hand in bringing it about.”

C.C.Dutt, “Sri Aurobindo Circle” Eighth Number, 1952

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