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At the Feet of The Mother

Nishikanta: Poet in Crisis

 

Nishikanta
(24.03.1909 – 20.05.1973)

 

News arrived that Nishikanta had fallen ill. I must go and see him. There was nothing unusual in this. Illness has been his constant companion since many years and in case of necessity he calls for my non-medical help, though I have long given up medical practice. Two serious maladies seemed to have made a permanent lodging in his physical tenement: gastric ulcer and diabetes. Their virulence had been checked by the Guru’s force, but they could not be dislodged, as personal cooperation is needed to achieve that object. They had not, however, broken down the inexhaustible vital energy of this human asura. He had bled red and dark blood profusely through two natural channels. And he had composed poems on the dark blood which seemed to him symbolic of the torrential bleeding from the decapitated body of Mother Bengal during the Partition in 1947. These poems were read out to Sri Aurobindo. From the date of this illness I used to carry his health bulletins to the Guru.

Here I might just mention the story of another ulcer patient. He too was vomiting blood by buckets. My dark face grew pale white, but the patient gave me hope and said, “Have no fear, Doctor. I won’t die.” And he didn’t, by the Guru’s Grace.

It would not be irrelevant to trace back my past connection and friendship with Nishikanta. Though somewhat long, the story would be highly interesting, even illuminating from human, Yogic and occult points of view, and would justify my title “human asura” for him. Some twenty-five years ago, a young man carrying a small suit-case came to see me. His dress was simple, a bit dirty, the chaddar folded across the shoulder, bobbed hair, big dreamy eyes and of dark complexion. The build seemed to be heavy compared to the age, the gait self-conscious and the nature apparently calm. Since no stranger was allowed inside the room, I offered him a seat in the verandah. The facts that I gathered from him then and afterwards are as follows:

Since childhood, he had been brought up in Shanti Niketan. Poet and artist, he became at once Tagore’s favourite. Tagore initiated him into the subtleties of Bengali literature with care and affection. In Art, Abanindranath and Nandalal were his masters. What a unique opportunity indeed! He had also the innate capacity to see visions. The secrets of the occult worlds in the form of light and colour, gods and goddesses were flashed upon his inner eye, even the figure of the Mother was familiar. The novelty and wonder of these visions wove an unearthly beauty and originality into his poems. Tagore, utterly baffled by their mystery, remained fascinated by their spell and bade him show all his poems to him.

One day, on being asked by Tagore to give a name to one of the heroes of his novel, Nishikanta blurted out, “Nirodbaran!” Even as he uttered it, a bright face loomed before him. The face was mine, not the brightness. Tagore pleased with the name said, “Very fine, but not baran; I will change it to ranjan, for Nirodbaran means dark cloud whereas Nirodranjan means lightning.”

But all these faculties and favours failed to satisfy his inner yearning. The Poet tried his best to keep him in Shanti Niketan, but good counsel falls fiat on a madman’s ears. He has been touched by a mystic fire, he would set forth in search of that flaming star. So, making a bonfire of all his poetical works, he flew away from the golden cage of Shanti Niketan. His blind wanderings led him to Bodhgaya where he met a distant relative of mine and came to know about me. “Nirodbaran is his name? Is he whom I have seen in my vision? Then I am bound for Pondicherry”. My relative also added fuel to his desire, as if Pondicherry Yoga hospital was the best asylum for anyone who was distracted by a vairagya mania. No permission nor consideration of adhikara was needed! It was hardly known to the outside world that the Ashram was a sanctuary where none could stay, not even enter without a previous permission. With peace in his soul, one day he went to meditate on the banks of the river Niranjana. Plunging deep for hours and hours, he saw the luminous figure of Buddha appear and tell him, “Though I have obtained my realisation here, I am not confined within its four walls.” When he spoke about this vision to the local Buddhist priests, they refused to believe it on the ground that one who had attained Nirvana could not return to this earth. He started now for Saranath. The pundits were very hospitable to him and offered him a permanent abode. But if Tagore’s spell could not bind him, how could the pundits’ maya succeed particularly after Buddha’s solemn utterance? No, Sri Aurobindo’s spell was drawing him on. Thus he was in Pondicherry at Nirodbaran’s door!

But I fell into a dilemma. A novice myself, I did not know what arrangements to make about him. After a talk with the secretary, it was decided that Nishikanta could hire a room outside and stay there. Meanwhile word went round that a ‘big’ poet had come to the Ashram; his poems had been published in the Vichitra. Dilip Roy and Suresh Chakravarty went to see him. N’s fortune was made. For Dilip Roy took him under his large wings. He wrote to Sri Aurobindo about Nishikanta’s accomplishments and sent up some of his poems.

The Mother used to walk on the terrace in the evening. One day she observed Nishikanta standing on the road while he too seeing her cried out, “Why, this is the Mother I have seen in Shanti Niketan!” He saw also an aura of blue snakes around the Mother’s head. Dilip Roy communicated all these details to Sri Aurobindo and asked permission for his stay. Sri Aurobindo replied in effect, “This Yoga is not his path. He will have to face tremendous difficulties here. It will be better if he goes elsewhere.” But he did not. Dilip advised him to stay on till the Darshan, hoping perhaps that after seeing him Sri Aurobindo might relent and grant him the boon. The Mother for some reason sent the secretary to enquire from him if he had lived with any sannyasi. Surprised by the question he divulged that at the age of about fourteen he had left his home in search of sadhus and sought initiation from a sannyasi. The sannyasi stoutly refused, saying, “Child, I can’t accept you. My hearth is not meant for you. I see distinctly behind you your Gurus, a mighty Person and the mighty Mother. You are their disciple, not mine. You will meet them in time. Now, my child, go back home.” Sri Aurobindo wrote to Dilip that since the poor fellow had undergone so much tapasya he might be given a chance but at the same time he should be warned that he would come to know and see many things, as he had the eyes of a visionary but he must be on his guard.

Thus began his Ashram life and he was given a room. It was on the ground floor of the house on whose first-floor lived Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, then in the full flood of his poetic inspiration, composing a dozen poems a day on the typewriter itself, while Nishikanta writing in Bengali was almost a close rival. The Ashram was humming with admiration of these two phenomena. Sri Aurobindo’s Force had undoubtedly touched Nishikanta and unsealed some hidden spring, for his poetry was alive with a spiritual beauty in thought, feeling and rhythm which had not been there before. This was the creative period of the Ashram, in music, art etc. Apart from Dilip Roy, there were many who with the help, direct and indirect, of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s Force were creating for the first time. They used even to correct our raw exercises. It would perhaps sound poetic to say that the blind had blossomed into an artist, the dumb into a musician and the dumb and blind into a poet, but it is true. On this singular achievement I quote Sri Aurobindo’s own words: “It has always been supposed since the infancy of the human race that while a verse-maker can be made or self-made, a poet cannot. Poeta nascitur, non fit, a poet is born, not made, is the dictum that has come down through the centuries and millenniums and was thundered into my ears by the first pages of my Latin grammar. The facts of literary history seem to justify this stern saying. But here in Pondicherry we have tried not to manufacture poets, but to give them birth, a spiritual, not a physical birth into the body.” Wonderful were those days!

Nishikanta’s genius made me cap him with the title of “kavi, kaviraj” and the name caught the popular imagination. But I was not yet intimate with him, I was just then a versifier. He was more in contact with Dilip, passed most of his time in his house, writing, reading, even cooking, for he was also an expert in that art. By and by, circumstances brought us together, Sri Aurobindo serving as the catalytic agent. I was his physical doctor, he was my poetry physician. Above this mundane relation was the spiritual one which brought him through my mediumship into a closer contact with Sri Aurobindo, for it was my exceptional delight to have his poems sent, commented on, sometimes explained by Sri Aurobindo. His poems had taken a mystic spiritual turn which was more in my line. Thus our days were winging with bright colours through the poetic world, no thought of “pain or separation anywhere” crossed to mar our glowing flight. That there was something more to do or achieve did not enter our passionate heart. Strenuous Yogic efforts were left to the care of the Guru. He kept us for the time being absorbed in the joy of creation. Moon-lit promenades on the sea-shore or sleepless nights on the terrace, though not a part of Yoga, were a creative relaxation of the poetic life. What a prodigious quantity he had composed in the first few years of his Ashram life! Much of it is still unpublished. Sri Aurobindo wrote: “He got a touch here which brought out in him some powerful force of vital vision and word that certainly had not shown any signs of existing before…. Nishikanta came out in much the same way, a sudden Brahmaputra of inspiration.”

The divine inspiration from Sri Aurobindo and the human help from Dilip and Nishikanta brought my own Muse a little more to the front. Sometimes Nishikanta’s corrective zeal left nothing of my own stuff and I could hardly pass it off as my creation. Of course, a few touches here and there cannot disturb anybody’s poetic conscience — but where the emendations are too flagrant? Our Guru would then cry out: It is too Nishikantonian! About one such sample he wrote: “My God, he has pummelled you into pieces and thrown away all but a few shreds. No, you can’t call it yours. Perhaps you can label it, “Nirod after being devoured, assimilated and eliminated by Nishikanta.” On another occasion he wrote: “It is certainly difficult to keep them together, specially as Nishikanta’s stanzas are strong, and fiery and yours are delicate and plaintive. It is like a strong robustious fellow and a delicate slender one walking in a leash — they do not quite coalesce.” Defining our poetic characters he said: “Yours is a flute, Nishikanta’s is a drum.” But these excesses apart, Nishikanta is really a master in correction too, a worthy disciple of Tagore. Poets there are many but poet teachers like Tagore and Sri Aurobindo are few. We know how slight touches from Sri Aurobindo changed the whole complexion of a poem and yet left our original stamp intact.

Nishikanta now aspired to be an English poet, though his knowledge of English was limited. He translated as a first attempt one of his Bengali poems. After getting it touched up by Amal I sent it up to Guru. He replied: “It is very beautiful. Amal has much worked upon it, so it is so surprisingly perfect. The original form is very poetic, but it is only the first two lines of it and the first two also of the second stanza that are quite successful. All the same it is a remarkable endeavour.” With this push he started writing original poems. Here, too, the power of expression and imagery combining the poet and the artist astonished us. As Guru had said: “His poetry comes straight from the vital vision and knocks you in the pit of the stomach… He does not repeat his images… and they are exceedingly striking and powerful.” He knew nothing of English metre and rhythm, but his ear was remarkable. With some knowledge of English and so much blood, sweat and tears we could scarcely get two verse-petals from the lotus grove of the Muse, while to him, an unlettered man, came “Inspiration from her lightning tops” in thousand-petalled glory. My rational mind, always perplexed by such mysteries, applied to the Guru for an explanation. “Nishikanta says,” I wrote, “before painting or writing he just bows down once before the Mother and, yourself. If that is the trick, why, I will bow a hundred times!” Guru’s reply covered the mystery with a greater one. He said: “It depends on how you bow.” Either for knowing the trick or for being a foster-child of the Goddess his peacock-boat began to glide along with dream-white sails, charged with the cargo of English poems, and in no time a book entitled Dream-Cadences glowed into our vision, each one of the dreams shaped into an artistic whole by Guru’s masterly touches. And we were still turning bends and eddies, our sails torn, boat and rudder worn out.

Not satisfied with poetic achievements, he now assiduously took up painting, driving sometimes two horses together, sitting in one place, for hours on end. Wash after wash was given to a piece till everything was washed away and quite a new piece emerged. What struck me most was his intense sadhana in this field too. Once the demon settled upon his shoulder, he must be given total satisfaction. Nishikanta would then sit in half padmasana with his Ganesh-like paunch darkly shining, half discarding the artificial beauty of the worn dhoti and applying the brush with brooding eyes while the glossy jet-black curls were rhythmically swaying like tender infant snakes around his neck. At about three or four a quick splash-bath, some hurried morsels of food and then again water-colour till the colour of the day lasted. Then perhaps at midnight a hearty Gargantuan meal cooked by himself. This was his sadhana in art. I heretically branded it art-disease, and prophet-like I warned him that if he did not mend his ways he might flower into an artist, but it would be a sick rose, a diabetic rose. Who cared? The demon takes away our reason. He had decided that within a fixed time he must finish so many paintings of many different sizes, some of card-size, others bigger etc., etc., and show them to the Mother. The job was accomplished, so was my prophecy. About that anon.

 

 

II

 

Now, something really revolutionary took place in my Bengali poetic composition. So far it was a real sadhana with me, as dry as the licking of a bare bone though here and there a few spots of taste, as it were, could be found. As a reward of my sadhana or bothered by my constant whining. Guru turned on a hidden tap. Since then, it was not I who used to write; the images, language, thought were foreign to my mind and imagination. Floored by my own symbols, I had at every step to ask Guru for enlightenment or suggestion. He labelled these queer productions as mystic surrealism.

Nishikanta, however, was strangely moved by them. He is always open to novelty. Though he could not understand much of this new stuff, his poetic insight felt at once that here was a field of treasure lying to be explored and it would pay enormous dividends to his creations as well. So like a gold-hunter (or like a drug-addict) he used to come every evening to my “den” and bawl out, “Now, what have you written today? Let me have a look.” Then he would depart, with slow musing steps, muttering something, perhaps thinking how to utilise the precious gold that he had put into his pocket. I must say that his assimilative power is also exceptional.

Thus this surrealist current carried us on, but we took care not to neglect the realism either. After the poetic afflatus, we spent many a night inflating our stomachs with delicious preparations. Nishikanta himself was the cook. The Muse has graced him in poetry, Draupadi in the culinary art and Vrikodara in doing full justice to its results. But the wonder was that after such unyogic exaltations he could sit down to compose first-class poems, as if a full stomach were a gate to inspiration. That was why I used to say that both genius and genii were his attendants: the latter would often bring into action a veritable asura.

Now the asura began to take his turn: some ominous shadows could be scanned on the blue sky. On the one hand my newly found source dried up as suddenly as it had appeared, while, on the other hand, Nishikanta’s inspiration too was reduced to a thin stream. He was now tormented with a spiritual conscience: “Poetry, painting I have had enough! Where is God? Have I burnt all my works to be caught again in Art’s devilish snare?” This was the burden of his pathetic song.

The duel went on and all kinds of inner conflict scoured his outer consciousness. I believe that the Yogic Force after the first years of creative ananda had touched the subconscious, hence the reaction. This was a crucial period. The same thing happened in Harin’s case. Guru’s remark that “one cannot all the time remain up, one has to come down some time or other” could be applied to both, even to all.

But these are Yogic grounds, I had better not try to tread on them. Just at this moment of discontented heart-searching, the Mother fell ill and Sri Aurobindo stopped seeing our poems. Nishikanta in consequence stopped writing. What’s the use if Sri Aurobindo did not see them? Not a quite ridiculous reason. Guru replied, “The poet writes out of his own inspiration.” But Nishikanta went off the track and complained that the pressure was getting too much, he must seek relief by going out for a while. Guru tried to dissuade him, warning him that wherever he went his nature would accompany him, even to the cave. He had better try to conquer his vital restlessness by remaining, where he was. Of no avail! His abhiman carried him away. Such is our nature! We want the Divine in two or three years. That is why Guru dubbed us amateur yogis. On my fiftieth birthday the Mother remarked with a smile, “Still a child!”

Guru’s prophecy came true: the relief was not found; there was neither peace nor less war. Besides, whenever he tried to meditate on Shiva, Kali or Krishna, the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s presence used to surround him instead. Realising that the Ashram was his only haven of peace, he came back with a determination that no more art but God alone must be his quest. Sri Aurobindo also communicated to him that since the Yoga had descended into the subconscient, he could not send any inspiration. The Mother advised him to take up some physical work. He decided upon cooking in the Dining Room. Sri Aurobindo remarked, “His cooking is excellent.” Everyone gave high praise to his preparations and consumed more quantity of food. But unfortunately his evil genius made him leave the work after a year. The inspiration took again a wrong turn and he tried to forget himself by preparing cheese, cake, biscuit, rasagolla etc, and by having long peregrinations with friends and by other diversions.

The vital being strong, it stood well all lawless onslaughts against nature. One day he bethought himself to prepare some vinegar. Collecting a lot of raw mangoes, he boiled them and drank two bottlefuls of that sharp liquid to test its concentration! The inevitable result was stomach ulcer! This first asuric attack on the body was followed soon by diabetes due to overeating. High blood pressure was in the offing. But his incredible life-energy erected a solid Maginot line against these concerted enemy thrusts. As I was then in Sri Aurobindo’s personal service my contact with him was reduced to urgent calls. Guru used always to enquire about him, hear his occasional poems, listen to his childish pranks with a smile and exclaim, “What a fellow!” Under such extreme indulgences the body at last cracked, the mind too thought often of running away. When the pressure reached its top pitch, Guru sent this message: “Let him stick anyhow.” “Well, Kavi,” I told him overjoyed, “Guru has given you unchartered freedom. No need of bothering about Yoga. Just stick anyhow.” One day without any preamble Guru said, “I was seeing how everybody was getting on. Nishikanta also came to my thought.” This was inconceivable. I had the impression that in his silent hours he was absorbed in exploring his Supermind: where could be the time for poor inframentals like us?

This is the long winding thread that bound us together. Now let us revert to our present story.

After Sri Aurobindo’s passing, this thread got still more attenuated. Nishikanta was in the Ashram doctor’s charge. I was called only in an emergency to carry some personal prayer to the Mother. A mortal disease now preyed on his lung, an abscess! Ulcer, diabetes, high blood pressure and now the last straw, abscess. My heart dried up with fear. The very source of his unbounded energy was in peril. But even in this debilitated condition he had been seen coming with a stick to the Balcony darshan, going out for an evening walk and at night visiting the Playground for the Mother’s blessings. “Then it could not be a lung abscess!” the sceptic voice might exclaim. There was no room for doubt, for surgeons with F.R.C.S. (Eng.) had under the X-ray made sure of the diagnosis.

Even from such a fell disease he was slowly recovering with the Mother’s force and the doctor’s help when the sudden call, of which I have spoken, startled me. “What’s the matter again? Won’t the demons leave him in peace? What can I do?” were my pointless reflections. I went all the same and saw that the poor fellow had taken to bed, the cruel mercy of the illness had reduced his paunch, but reduced too to phantom figures his artistic hands. The voice was feeble, the face cheerless. Slowly he said, “Take a chair and listen well. Since yesterday my legs have lost all sensation, I was almost tumbling down. I have so long managed to carry the body’s burden; now the limbs are half-dead, the mind is more so for fear of losing the Mother’s darshan. You know how even in wind and rain, against the doctor’s orders, I have gone for the Mother’s blessings. It is that that has kept me alive, not your medicines. I have very little faith in them. If the blessings are stopped, what’s the use of life? I have sent for you to tell the Mother that I may not be deprived of her darshan.”

“What nonsense? Don’t get so easily upset!”

“No, I am not upset, neither am I sorry to die. How often have I wanted to discard this rotten frame and come back as a frolicking child in the Green Group! But to live like a dummy without the Mother’s touch — to that I will never agree.”

“Who is asking you to agree? You have yourself proved that the Mother’s Force can cure a serious abscess. This is only a temporary numbness due to diabetes. If you have patiently suffered so long, why despair when we are so near our goal? You know 24th April is not far off.”

“Well, tell the Mother all the same.”

“Certainly!” Giving a dose of hope I came away, but with an unquiet mind. On consulting the doctor, I got the reply, “Don’t fear. It will pass away in two or three days.”

“But he says insulin has no effect. With the increase of the dose, the disease is also on the increase.”

“That’s the trouble with these people. They draw false conclusions. Tell me, when the percentage of sugar is so high, can it be brought down all at once?”

I conveyed to the Mother Nishikanta’s prayer. Her answer took my breath away. She said, “Nishikanta has informed me that insulin is doing him great harm. Since in spite of it the disease is increasing he does not want any more of this painful treatment.” The doctor was also duly apprised of this. Both of us began to look at each other, more helpless than the patient. Anger and despair made me forget that we were dealing with a long-suffering patient. I cried out that it was sheer suicide. Next day, faced with my annoyance, he said in a softer tone. What to do? I can’t bear any more. You know throughout this year the blessed injections have ant-bitten all over my body as if it had been sprinkled with sugar.” I could not check my smile at this dry humour. Nishikanta continued, “Not an inch of healthy skin is left anywhere. Now fever, pain in all the joints, hourly urination. Is there any relief? Guru’s encouragement and yours have made me drive this rusty machine so long. Now it is past all endurance. Let me go, ask the Mother that I may come back to the Green Group.”

Abysmally dark note! He was not a man to be easily persuaded to reason, once a wrong twist had taken place. He denied the efficacy of drugs, lost faith in them. The Grace of the Mother alone could come to the rescue. The condition drifted slowly towards a coma and, like an impotent witness, I was watching the pathetic scene. My daily visits continued. There was no question of giving him hope or encouragement, for the patient had taken this fatal step quite conscious of his fate. When formerly he used to say as a joke, “My days are over. I am going.” I could not resist replying, “Well, Kavi, remember what Sarat Chatterji used to say about Tagore: ‘Tagore will first see us all at the burning ghat before he himself prepares for it.’” But things were different now. For the last few years whenever some physical crisis had pushed him into a dark world, I used to remind him that he must stick till April, 1956, after which our Ashram calendar would mark a new era in our lives and he would be free from the evil clutch of his Saturn. I was so firm in this faith in the light of what the Mother had told me in 1954 namely, that 1955 would be a dark year for all of us, there would be attacks from within and without, even the body would be a target. These attacks were to continue till April 1956, when “something decisive would happen.” During that crucial period all of us must stand with an iron will and faith by the side of the Divine.

This fiery conviction I had tried to instil into Nishikanta and lured him on like a child, with “8 months, 6, 4 months more.” Now when the promised land of light was in view, should the boat capsize? Only one month more left. At the end of February, the Mother’s prophecy had been fulfilled: the supramental manifestation had begun, and the very next month, after returning with the Mother’s blessings on his birthday, why this calamity? My faith too got shaken. Had I so long fed him on an illusion? Better then to be prepared for the worst. Easy to say. To see a genius blasted in early manhood admits of no consolation, in spite of Tagore’s immortal verses —

This do I know:
The flower that before blossoming
Has fallen to the earth
Is never lost —

The post-Tagore period holds no genius equal to Nishikanta’s. I recalled Sri Aurobindo’s utterance. As he was lying in bed, our discussion turned on genius. We asked, “What about Nishikanta?” Opening out his two arms on both sides he exclaimed, “Ah, Nishikanta!” That eloquent gesture, so rare with him, had such a force of finality that it is still fresh in my memory. Such was the poet Nishikanta whom Guru had protected with his Grace and Power, whose sleeping genius he had awakened and developed and in whom perhaps he saw the future singer of divine ecstasy. How could he, prematurely pass away? More than the personal wrench, the loss to Bengali literature would be too great to endure.

At night as usual when I went to sleep upstairs, Champaklal, another of Sri Aurobindo’s personal attendants, enquired about Nishikanta’s health. His interest in him had grown out of Sri Aurobindo’s own special concern for him and, as we talked in the darkness, my thoughts and feelings must have reached Sri Aurobindo’s listening presence behind the veil. As if inspired, Champaklal said, “Well, why not call another doctor?”

“What’s the use?” I replied drily. “He doesn’t want any treatment and there is no other cure for this illness.”

“Still, the other doctor may make him more sensible. Mr. X. for instance carries a silent force with him and has a name. Who knows he may succeed where the others don’t. Give him a trial,” he said with emphasis.

“I have thought about it, but the Mother also had pronounced her verdict. I have first to bring round Nishikanta.”

“Try!” he said with force. But I had no force in me.

“When man feels utterly helpless, then alone he turns towards God”: that is the common saying. I turned to Guru and prayed, but my doubting mind lacked sole reliance on his Grace. I could not see in what way the help could come. Alas, for human vision and wisdom!

Next morning I was too busy to visit Nishikanta. As I was taking an afternoon nap, a boy arrived with the news that the condition was bad. “Quite expected. Nothing to be done. Go along, I am coming.” Dismissing him abruptly I went up to have a much needed rest. The night’s sleep had been disturbed. Through the small window I gazed and, in my mind, the bright pageant of the past moved along the blue sky in silent array till it changed into the melancholy present. A thin film of mist covered my eyes and made me look within. Suddenly a voice, “Doctor!” I looked around with a start. Two people used to address me like that: one was Champaklal and he was talking with somebody in the next room. Could it be Nishikanta’s voice? “Good Lord, is he then….” Almost throttling that subconscious fear, I ran. There was no imminent danger, but one could feel its creeping chill approach.

“Doctor, can you do something?” came his somnolent voice, first sign of uraemia.

“What is it, Kavi?”

“Can you take me to the Mother?”

“In this condition? how, where?”

“To the Playground, on a stretcher. I want once to bow down at the Mother’s feet.”

A terrible fix! Take him in this condition among a crowd? Or not take him and leave his last wish unfulfilled? What an excruciating situation to fall into! Without a word I slipped away, hoping to have a talk with the Mother. Fortunately I caught her just in time, as if waiting for me, for on other days she used to be already in the bathroom. I conveyed Nishikanta’s prayer. Her reply simply petrified me into a statue of hope and despair, doubt and fear, joy and surprise. Gravely she began. “Listen, one year ago he wrote to me a letter in which he prayed that I must keep him alive till April 24th, that is three days more from now. And I gave him my word. You know how the whole of last year has been for him a series of upheavals and storms. Like a sentinel star, I kept my watch over him and never relaxed a moment in my protecting power. The last attack was the abscess. That too was healing up; but when on his last birthday he came for my blessings, I saw that something had gone wrong, there was a fissure in his faith and this dangerous attack has come upon that psychological trouble. You will tell him I want to see him on the 24th. Gathering all his strength, he must come on that solemn occasion.”

“But I doubt if he will last out these few days even,” I said with hesitation. The Mother kept quiet for a while, then: “Well, can’t you call Dr. X?”

Ah, I saw the hand of God extended with a smile. I answered, “Yes, Mother, I can. Only yesterday I was having a talk with him. He say that since you want that all treatment should be stopped, he can serve no useful purpose.”

The Mother hastened to protest, “I didn’t want. Nishikanta himself complained that medicines were only aggravating his suffering, he does not want them any more. So I had to take that step.”

“But if we want to keep him alive till the 24th, injections can alone do it. Dr. X also concurs with this view.”

“Very well, do it then. You will tell this to the doctor on my behalf and tell Nishikanta that he must submit to the doctor’s treatment. Tell him further that I want to see him on the 24th.”

With a happy sign I ran to catch hold of the doctor. He started his gigantic (similia similibus for a giant) treatment: insulin, glucose, vitamin etc. In an interval I asked, “How do you feel, doctor? Will he survive?”

“You can see for yourself. But since the Mother has uttered those words, her will must be done.”

I felt bucked up. “After that?”

“Let this be done first. She will see to the next step. It is not our concern.”

The doctor’s tone worked like a tonic. At night Champaklal greeted me with a smile. “You see, then, Guru has heard your prayer.” With an abashed grin I replied: “I have to admit that even now Guru listens.” I narrated to him the whole story. He remarked, “God’s ways are mysterious and beyond our petty human measure.”

“Exactly. That is what has surprised me most. Just look back at the sequence of events — that mysterious call at noon, the Mother’s unusual delay in going for bath, her own proposal to call the doctor. If I had been late by one minute, then I would have had to lose one crucial hour. One cannot avoid the conclusion that some conscious Power is at the helm of our affairs. An eye-opener indeed to our material intellect.”

Now our concerted effort was aimed at keeping the patient alive till the 24th. The doctor had put his heart and soul into the bargain, the patient’s C Group friends of the Playground had rallied round him, nursing him by turns. He was lucky in his friends: he had humoured them all by writing poems of laughters and tears on their birthdays and had also fed them more substantially. So they had come forward on their poet’s danger. My role was purely moral. The more he used to say, “Doctor, on the last lap you will fail to carry me through. I shall have to go without the Mother’s darshan,” the more I felt choked, but sustained him with hope. Life was hanging by a slender thread. The Mother was kept informed twice a day. The doctor did not believe in wasting words, his whole being was engaged in meeting the challenge. The Ashram felt in its heart the threatened stroke of fate just before the darshan. In spite of strong doses of insulin, there was no perceptible response, the drowsy condition persisted broken now and then by a few staccato phrases and at times a groaning caused by an unbearable burning within. How heavy-footed trudged on the days! All with an unflinching determination lifted high their hopes and prayed for the dawn of the 24th. That was our Mantra.

Meanwhile Champaklal paid a visit to the patient. Looking with an intent gaze and holding the patient’s hands firm, he said “You will be all right.” He told me afterwards of his inner conviction that he would survive.

At last the day of destiny dawned! Kavi was informed about it. Our hearts too trembled at the touch of the morning light. Volunteers, stretchers and other preparations were afoot, the patient was given a sponge-bath. The Mother sent word that immediately after the darshan she would come down to see the patient below in the Meditation Hall. There should be nobody near about.

We started with the patient at about 10.30 a.m. and laid him at the foot of the stairs in the peaceful atmosphere of the Meditation Hall. A crowd of spectators was waiting at a distance for the Mother’s descent. She came down with slow steps followed by Pranab, Champaklal and a few others. The patient was awakened from the stupor, and the stretcher raised knee-high so that the Mother could bless him standing. Nishikanta stretched out his two feeble hands; the Mother at once clutched and drew them into her own and silently smiled into his wide-open supplicating eyes. As if she would conquer the deadly foe by the almighty panacea, the smile. Then with her delicate fingers she smoothed his anguished brow, wiping away, as it were, all the dark karmic scripts from it. Suddenly Nishikanta, pointing to his chest, whispered haltingly, “Mother, your foot here!” The stretcher was put down. The Mother, holding Pranab’s arm for support, quietly placed her right foot over the patient’s heart. Nishikanta pressed it with his eager hands. Sri Aurobindo’s mantric verse came into my mind:

Heal with her feet the aching throb of life

No sound, no words; a spell of stillness, wonder and delight all around while a battle was going on between life and doom, between bliss and suffering. The unforgettable divine Lila was at last over.

In the evening when I went to see Nishikanta, there was no longer that feverish restlessness, the face and the body breathed serenity. As he opened his eyes, I asked, “Hullo, Kavi, how do you feel?” In a low voice he replied, “That hell-fire within has subsided. Now I can go in peace.”

“What? Did the Mother come down to make your going peaceful or unpeaceful? None of those unholy words. Rather tell us how you felt when the Mother placed her foot… there.”

“Ah, the relief! the body seemed to have become ice-cold. Every cell was soothed with peace and peace.”

“Bravo! Sri Aurobindo has said that if this kind of peace can be brought down, there is no disease that cannot be cured. Three cheers for Guru!” The poet’s face broke into a smile, after many days.

March, 1959. Another birthday. Kavi said, “No more death-days, henceforth only birthdays.!”

(Mother India, Oct & Dec 1959)

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To be spontaneous means not to think, organise, decide and make an effort to realise with the personal will.