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At the Feet of The Mother

Pradyot – The Evolution of a Soul

 

“I need you as my instrument” — The Mother

 

True friendship is an act of Divine Grace. I had such a friendship with Pradyot. Everyone in the Ashram was aware of it, but few knew about its nature, depth and duration. Some remarked that ours was a strange relation, for we hardly expressed any emotion, met very rarely, exchanged very few words. Nobody could realise that we were so close together.

Well, our friendship was about seventy years old. Passing boyhood, youth, adult state, it had arrived at a mature old age, when he suddenly took his leave. In this fashion a number of Ashram friends have gone, one by one, but Pradyot’s going was a deep unkind cut, perhaps because of a long time.

The tale of this tie cannot be told and finished within two words. Its romantic background and classical development demand a story with a deeper meaning. I shall portray only the classical picture, in short the period of our combined Ashram-life. One must remember, however, that his life was the consequential development of his previous growth. I have seen him and known him as a young boy of character endowed with a fine brain calm and collected; at a later stage, as a courageous, kind, liberal, unpretentious and active lover of work. Concealed behind all these attributes, was the soul of a child who had love and good will for all, capable of sacrifice for a cause. He had drawn the far and remote near by his magical charm. In one word his life was the history of a progressive unfoldment and its last was spiritual.

For the spiritual, I had a small part to play. After our return from Scotland, we were posted at far-away places, but very soon I became a member of the Ashram. Naturally, my gravitational pull tried to draw him towards the Ashram from the Jamshedpur Tata factory where he was serving as an electrical engineer. He answered and came only for a short stay. The pull did not appear to be very strong. I told him only one thing, that he should try to send some regular offering, however small it might be. He responded, but evinced no further interest. I thought that perhaps he had come to meet me and Jyotirmoyee whom he had known in Scotland and used to call didi. I wrote to Sri Aurobindo, “Pradyot does not show any interest. Is there any use communicating with him?” He replied, “I don’t know. Some people say that everything one does in this world is of some use or other known or unknown. Otherwise it wouldn’t be done. But it is doubtful…” Pradyot seems to have said afterwards that when he had appeared at Sri Aurobindo’s darshan he could not move. Sri Aurobindo had to make a sign.

After Sri Aurobindo’s reply, his interest revived and he even sent a long poem in Bengali for his perusal. “It has a Tagorean influence,” Sri Aurobindo remarked, “but otherwise quite good.” His poetic venture ceased after this, for by nature he was a man of practical imagination, though as a student he had known English and Bengali very well indeed. Perhaps he composed the poem because I used to send him my poems and they may have made him try his own hand.

Meanwhile he suddenly got married to a Bengali Christian Lady, who was a School Inspectress and whom he had known through Jyotirmoyee and me in England. He informed Sri Aurobindo about his marriage. Slowly his interest in the Ashram began to take shape and he formed a centre in Jamshedpur with the local Bengalis. He earned their love and respect because of his position and loving nature. In his job too his worth began to be recognised and he rose to the position of a Superintendent and even acted for the Chief Engineer in his absence. Here a house was taken on lease and named Jamshedpur House for the visitors from the centre. I was very happy to see his growing interest and he surprised me once by asking if he could get a used pen of Sri Aurobindo in exchange for his new Sheaffer pen. The Mother told Sri Aurobindo about it in my presence and had the wish granted.

Now he was paying occasional short visits, but not during the Darshan times. I could meet him only in the evening, since I was serving Sri Aurobindo. Then he, Sisir Mitra and I would spend some hours together, and after his dinner with me we would part. For the rest of the day, we did not see each other. I observed that his meal was restricted and very sparing, for he was suffering from gastric trouble about which he had already written to Sri Aurobindo. Once at Jamshedpur he had an acute pain. He dreamt that Mother Kali had taken him on her lap and was rocking him like a baby. He used to come in European dress; I supplied my dhoti and shirt with which he used to go and see the Mother. I had no farther contact with him during the day. His wife also came twice or thrice and stayed for some time. They were financially well off, for both of them were in service. Once the Mother lodged her in the Sri Aurobindo Society present centre and I used to be invited there from time to time. She was a very fine lady, motherly, quiet and generous. I used to call her Rani-di. She loved Pradyot very much and was proud of his high abilities and name in Jamshedpur. While there, his father wired to him to come to his native place, he wanted Pradyot specially, for he was the father’s darling. Reaching there they entered the temple for the Goddess’s darshan and puja, but Pradyot would not. He was averse to public shows. He sat outside the temple in the courtyard, reading a newspaper. Suddenly an elderly woman in a sari accosted him and said, “My son, I want to have the Mother’s darshan. Will you come with me?” He was astonished but could not refuse. He obeyed her, but when they came out, he lost trace of the lady: she had vanished. Long afterwards, he got the truth of the matter, that it was the Mother-Goddess herself who had appeared before him. There was a traditional belief that none could return without having the darshan of the Mother.

Now Pradyot’s intimacy with the Ashram Mother began to grow. He wanted to leave Tata and take up a government job at Calcutta which had fallen vacant. The reason was that the authorities at Tata were not willing to consider his just claim, for though he first officiated as Chief Engineer and then held that post he was not given the salary assigned to it. The Mother, on hearing about it, asked Pradyot to give them an ultimatum. It had no effect. Perhaps the authorities were not very pleased with him for his being too popular with the workers whose fair demand met with his sympathy. Once there was a big strike in the factory over the pay. Violence broke out causing injuries and bloodshed. Pradyot rushed to the scene; the workers came forward and cried, “Babu, don’t come here, don’t come here.” They simply lifted him bodily, put him into a car and sent him away. When later Pradyot narrated the incident to the Mother, she remarked, “They love you.” He replied, “Mother, they love me today but they will hate me tomorrow” The Mother smiled and added, “Yes, that is true.”

As the ultimatum had failed, Pradyot applied for the Calcutta job. On the interview day, he saw that many candidates were his own assistants. So he kept apart and was pacing in the corridor. When his turn came, the interview passed off splendidly. He was certified as being of outstanding merit. It so happened that on the eve of the interview he found a book on Electricity on his table, but he did not know how it had come or who had placed it there. He began, however, to peruse it. After the interview he realised that all the questions he had been asked had been fully answered in that book and so it had been an easy ride for him. When he returned home from the interview, the book hand vanished! He had also some qualms about his health. But all barriers fell down before the unseen Power that acted. Afterwards he was given the job of the Chief Engineer in Damodar Valley. It was a new project. It seemed that all the officers of the Damodar Valley wanted Pradyot to be appointed as their chief. His fame had gone abroad. They had already heard of his ability and efficiency.

 

 

Calcutta

 

After he had settled in Calcutta with his wife who had now retired from service, he came in contact with Ashram disciples and was made Chairman of the Patha mandir some years later. He came to know Dr. Sanyal as well. A special feature of his chairmanship was that the members of the Pathamandir often used to be invited to his house and the deliberations ended with light refreshments. Pradyot was fond of having a circle of friends and enjoying diversion with them. Otherwise he avoided so-called socials as far as possible. I had marked this trait in him in Glasgow and of course here in the Ashram his evening entertainments were a well-known feature. His birthday was a festive occasion when even the workers of his departments were treated liberally. In his household the servants used to receive special treatment on that day.

In 1950, when he heard the news of Sri Aurobindo’s passing, he, Himanshu and Navajata flew to Pondicherry in a chartered plane. On bearing about it, the Mother seems to have said, “My three faithful ones are coming. What shall I give them?” Three gold pins with Sri Aurobindo’s symbol attached were the reward. I have heard that the Bokaro Power House was constructed according to Pradyot’s plan and he was in entire charge of it. Once Pandit Nehru visited the Plant and was very pleased with the whole organisation. Pradyot was always in contact with the Mother and sought her advice in various matters. One such example is still imprinted on my mind. Pradyot had come for an urgent consultation. The Mother said to me, “My programme has all been fixed beforehand. Do one thing. Bring him to the Tennis Ground. After the game, I shall see him there.” I did as I had been directed. Pradyot was in his suit and with his valise. The Mother Selected a place a little away from the base-line of the court though there was enough room at the corner, and sat for consultation. Both of them started their deliberations while we went on with our tennis. But I was terribly nervous lest a ball should strike her. I had therefore to abandon the play and like a good boy take my seat by their side to listen to their jargon. And this was precisely what the Mother had wanted and the way she did it was typically hers. She could be very naughty at times. The interview over, we returned. The next day, I believe, she arranged a talk to be given by him from the Projector Room in the playground on his own subject. The Mother was herself present. Pradyot spoke on the construction, management, etc. of the Power House. The Mother was very much impressed and said that it was a fine delivery, clear, lucid, distinct, always to the point and never too much.

Once, it seems, Pradyot had a confrontation with the Central Government regarding the extension of their line at some place. The Committee at Delhi made a strong objection saying that Bengal had been given sufficient advantage. The Governing Body was called to Delhi. They wanted Pradyot to accompany them; he was not very willing. At last he said, “Then let me go to see the Mother first.” He came to Pondicherry; the Mother heard him and said, “Pray for time.” Well prepared and armoured, the party went to face the big guns; Deshmukh was at that time the Finance Minister. The officials simply would not hear the arguments and raised technical counterpoints about some grades to which the opponents found no effective reply. They waited for Pradyot and egged him on to reply. Pradyot quietly asked, “What are these grades you are talking about?” Poor big members, they were nonplussed and felt small. The petition was granted. That was Pradyot. He was really excellent in deliberations and people used to be afraid of him and confessed their failure to meet his points.

There was a talk of his going to France. The Mother remarked, “Oh, he wants to go to France?” Hearing her comment, he came to see her. She kept some papers and files ready for him, but he said at once, “Mother, I am not going.” He had felt in the Mother’s question vibrations of her disapproval. “All right,” she said, and in interview at the Playground she explained at length why she disapproved: she said that in such instances it entailed for her a lot of inner work, for she had to guard and protect the person all the while against the subtle influences of various dark forces of which the person is not aware. One loses much that one has received of spiritual refinement. Thus Pradyot had to beat a retreat and go back to his work. But he began to feel that he should retire and settle in the Ashram. He could not do that either, so long as his wife was not inclined to take the plunge. He wrote to the Mother about his intention to engage himself in the Mother’s work in the Ashram. She sent a sharp reply, saying, “But who says that you are not doing my work?” The Mother told some of us of his intention and observed, “What work can I give him here befitting his position? Here there is hardly any scope for his talent.” It took, however, a few years before the Mother herself finally called both Dr. Sanyal and Pradyot. Perhaps the inner field was ready. Sanyal preceded Pradyot. Thus two distinguished and well-known professional experts left Calcutta, leaving their respective circles of friends and admirers in complete bewilderment. It seems Dr. Bidhan Roy, who was the Chief Minister, had to meet a barrage of questions in the Assembly over Pradyot’s resignation and he was in a way made responsible for losing the service of such a competent and honest engineer. Dr. Roy had a hard time convincing the members that if Pradyot was going to Pondicherry to serve the Mother very little could be done by Dr. Roy and there was no way to prevent it.

Now that the merger had taken place, the Mother had envisaged the possibility of the Ashram technicians taking part in the Pondicherry administration. Pradyot, Sanyal, M. André (the Mother’s son) would be very useful in their own fields. Already Pavitra’s service had been requested for planning the Pondicherry Park. Pradyot came in 1955 and stayed for two years in a house by the sea-side till his present “Consul House” was made ready. The house was so called because the British Consul in the old days used to stay there. Now it was fully renovated and the upstairs was allotted to Pradyot, a lovely spacious apartment with a big room to serve as his office. Sanyal was settled in another palatial building overlooking the sea. The Mother knew how to give due consideration to people according to their status and their past.

 

 

The Ashram: Pondicherry — The Mother’s Instrument

 

Soon after Pradyot had become an inmate of the Ashram the Mother formed two committees: A.C.C. and T.C.C, — agricultural and technological. All the members concerned were called by the Mother and she herself inaugurated the meeting, introduced Pradyot to them and said that he had acquired a vast experience and his technical knowledge and constructive wisdom would be of great help in their collective work. She asked them to meet regularly and discuss their problems with him as their chairman. The Mother was the President. As I was not directly involved, I cannot go into the intricate problems associated with the work. I noticed that Pradyot used to meet the Mother every day for some months. When the Committee’s hundredth sitting was completed, the Mother came and congratulated the chairman for the fine role he had played in conducting their affairs.

Long afterwards, when “Sri Aurobindo’s Action” was formed, the Mother made him the chairman of it. On another occasion, when Pradyot reported that he had been made chairman of an outside body, she remarked, “You are a born chairman.”

In addition to the Ashram work which was not really much, considered in proportion to his ability and efficiency, he became with the Mother’s approval Consultant Engineer to the Bengal and Bihar Governments. He had to pay them regular visits, for which a handsome allowance was accorded to him. He used to offer all that sum personally to the Mother on the day of his arrival. The Mother had given instructions that he could see her with the money at any hour of the day. Even at other times before he departed on his visits he used to consult her on the various relevant problems of the country — political, social, technical. His questions were short, precise and direct and similar were the answers of the Mother. I have published some specimens in my book Sweetness and Light.*

Once a leader of a political group had gone on a sham hunger-strike before the Ashram gate. It continued for several days, and the Mother seems to have instructed people that they need pay no attention to him. One fine morning, he was conspicuous by his absence. What had happened was that one day Pradyot went to see the Mother and asked her, “Why don’t you stop the hunger-strike?” She replied, “The Divine alone can do it.” “But are you not the Divine?” he retorted. “Yes, but I am telling you what people say.” The next day the Divine acted.

So this was Pradyot’s way with the Mother. About his reports to her on people’s problems, she once said, “When you report, you become transparent; I see people speaking through you. You are one of the few who say things without colouring them.”

Now he was made a special instrument for collecting funds for the Asharam. We were passing through difficult times after Sri Aurobindo had left his body. In 1958, the Mother called Pradyot and said, “I have no money. I shall have to go to the Himalayas.” “How much do you need, Mother? How long will the crisis last?” he asked. The answer: “I need ten lakhs. Will you be able to get five lakhs at least?” “I shall try, Mother.” “But how? If people become paupers as a result?” She queried. “What of that? What if they get broke? Can anyone become a pauper on the score of offering money to the Divine?” he added. The Mother smiled, “No!” Pradyot left for Calcutta, assembled all friends and devotees and placed before them the predicament. There was a generous response. Somebody even sold his car. Thus the crisis was averted. When he returned, the Mother said, “I was thinking how you could go on such a bold venture. I looked into your past and got the answer.”

During a second crisis, the Mother had to sell her saris, ornaments, etc. Dyuman appeared one day before Pradyot with a box of these ornaments for disposal. He went to Calcutta and disposed of them to his familiar associates at whatever reasonable or unreasonable price struck him as fitting. On another occasion, Sri Aurobindo himself said to the Mother, “Ask Pradyot.”

Pradyot helped Dr. Sanyal to meet part of his expenses for his treatment in America for Parkinson’s Disease!

At another time an Australian who had worked for many years in an Ashram garden wanted to return home, but he was short of adequate funds. He had a costly shawl in exchange for which he wished to get a big sum. The Mother called Pradyot and said, “Look at this shawl. How pretty it is!” She was going to spread out its beauty. He understood the Mother’s motive and said, “Don’t unfold it, Mother. Tell me how much you want.” “Ten thousand rupees, he says.” “Very well, Mother.” He got the money. The Mother obviously wanted to recompense the man for his long service to her; the shawl was an excuse.

Whenever Pradyot brought these offerings, he noted the names, amounts, addresses of all the people, however small the sums contributed, and sent the Mother’s blessings to every donor. Once, back from Calcutta with offerings, he said to Gargi, his adopted daughter, “Now I can sit in my easy-chair and enjoy rest.” Hearing of this, the Mother remarked, “You can’t change the world sitting in an easy-chair.”

Here the questions likely to be asked is: “From where did Pradyot get his power? How could he hold such power?”

There are many reasons. But the main one, I believe, can be found in Sri Aurobindo’s book, The Mother. The Sri Aurobindo says about money, “When you ask for the Mother, you must feel that it is she who is demanding through you a very little of what belongs to her and the man from whom you ask will be judged by his response. If you are free from the money-taint but without any ascetic withdrawal, you will have a greater power to command the money for the divine work…” I believe Pradyot fulfilled this condition admirably.

The second reason is to be discovered in the history of his past which the Mother indicated.

The third reason, is of course, the Mother’s occult Force acting through and behind him. She once gave him what looked like an old coin with the figure of a snake carved on it. She effaced this figure as the snake is a symbol of the sex-power. She gave also a talisman. Both these represented the money-power. She said, “Keep them with you.”

In this context Pradyot told the Mother, “Mother, where lies any credit for me in all this? It is your Force which is doing everything. Anybody can be your instrument.” The Mother smiled and replied, “It is so, but you can’t play the piano on a log of wood.”

On another occasion the Electric Board at Calcutta encountered a difficulty in establishing electric communication across the Ganges, for each time they tried to drive in the poles on the banks of the river the banks gave way. In this quandary, they appealed to the Mother for help. She asked Pradyot, “Who are these people? Do they believe in the gods? Have they worshipped Ganga Devi before they ventured on this project? However, take this stone with you. Throw it into the water without anyone perceiving it.” Pradyot carried out the direction and the project came through.

Pradyot’s second commission was of a different kind and more serious. It was during the Indo-Chinese War. The Government had opened a War-fund. The Mother sent a few of her ornaments to Nehru through Pradyot, saying that the box must reach him on 1st November. Pradyot delivered it accordingly, mentioning the date selected. Nehru opened the box and said, “Give it to Indira.” She was sitting there. Indira looked at the ornaments and told her father, “They mean that the Mother’s help is with us.” Then she asked Pradyot, “Why was the 1st November chosen?” Pradyot replied, “I don’t know that.” On his return he narrated they story to the Mother. The answer she gave about the date is now forgotten.

The third commission was more delicate. Once Pradyot told me that the Mother had been asking him about the political condition of the country and if he knew anyone who could be a leader. She had added, “I want a man with your understanding and with the body of a Kshatriya.” Pradyot always kept himself informed of the political situation of the country as well as movements in other fields. He had quite a bit of insight regarding the trends of events and persons. He was always up-to-date in his general and technical knowledge, which gave him ascendency over other people. I have seen him reading journals on electricity till his last days. After a lapse of months, a person of the Mother’s description was supposed to have been found. A contact was made with him; he came to visit the Ashram incognito and interviewed the Mother. But it transpired that he had no intention of entering politics. He had done a very strenuous and responsible job and he desired a quiet and peaceful life. That was the end of Pradyot’s political mission. Soon after, Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister and we know what followed: the Mother considered her an excellent instrument. During her visit to the Ashram, when Pradyot was introduced to her, she said, “Yes, I know him.”

I need not speak here of his constant help to the Ashram in various ways due to his contact with people of influence outside.

On one of his birthdays in the 1960’s, the Mother said to Champaklal, “Tomorrow is Pradyot’s birthday. Prepare a card for him with that picture of me which signifies ‘Realisation’. On the left side of the picture, near about my chest, fix the head of a lion.” The next day, the Mother, wishing Pradyot “Bonne Fête”, gave him the card. From that day, his house was converted into a quiet den of lions pictured in various poses: they were hanging in the curtains, sitting on the tables watching from above the staircase and protecting Pradyot in his bedroom. Once the Mother sketched a lion surrounded by smaller animals and presented the picture to him, saying, “it is a symbolic image of your action.”

In 1972 I went to see him. H gave me a letter of the Mother to read. I was very happy to note that the Mother had appointed him one of the Trustees of the Ashram. In this capacity he rendered invaluable service with his rich knowledge and experience, and he developed a natural insight which helped him in taking a correct decision in many matters. He used to say that he was needed most when a decision was in question. At a time when the Ashram had opened itself to a subtle attack from outside forces, his shrewdness and firmness stood it in good stead and made it tide over the difficulty.

At times people complained that he was harsh and even rude. But this aspect of him was more of a show. Of course he could roar too. Then he would ascribe it to his Brahmanic blood which could not bear any falsehood. All this does not mean that he made no mistakes. To my mind, he committed quite a few serious blunders but always from a sense, however, misapplied, of justice. At times the ways of the outside world to which he had been long accustomed dominated his conduct, but I must avow that in the latter part of his life he had become much chastened and tolerant. He had displeased people and people displeased him, even disappointed him, but he did not bear any ill-feeling towards them and rarely criticised anybody. In many ways he could be called a true gentleman.

 

 

Rani-di

 

As I have already said, Rani-di was Pradyot’s wife, and a very devoted one too. At first she was not quite well-disposed towards the Ashram, because she thought we were a band of sadhus who had given up all contact with the world. If Pradyot took up such a life, the country would lose a very fine and capable worker when it was in dire need of such people. In one of her visits afterwards she spoke highly of Pradyot’s technical acumen and proudly of his being called to an eminent post at the Centre. On her account Pradyot could not make up his mind to come away to the Ashram and he said that as long as his wife was not willing he could not do so. Things changed, however, after a few visits by her to the Ashram. At one Darshan, she seems to have felt that Sri Aurobindo was Christ come back. When both she and Pradyot had settled here, one day the Mother told Rani-di, “I want you to be happy here.” She was not keeping in good health. She had a cataract in one eye and a tumour in the uterus. Pradyot was rather concerned. One thing I had noticed in him was that the suffering of anyone near to him caused him much anxiety. The tumour-trouble was referred to the Mother. She frowned upon the idea of an operation and it was decided that the tumour had to go. I witnessed myself its gradual disappearance. The cataract on the other hand was less amenable and, according to medical opinion, it turned towards glaucoma. The Mother advised Rani-di to remain quiet. One evening she had a fall. So someone had to look after her, Pradyot being constantly away in Calcutta. Fortunately, Gargi had by then become a member of the household.

One evening I was called to see Rani-di. She was moaning from pain in the back. I took it to be a muscular ache and, prescribing a sedative, came away. After 2 p.m. I was called up from sleep and told that she had passed away. It was a shock indeed, and Pradyot in Calcutta! It turned out to have been a heart-attack which ended in an agonising departure. This was on 22nd November 1962. And on the same date of the same month 22 years later Pradyot himself departed after a painful heart-attack.

In the morning the Mother was informed of Rani-di’s death. A telegram was sent to Pradyot, but since the body could not be kept for him, the decision was taken for cremation in the afternoon.

Pradyot arrived. I accompanied him to his house and gave him the details of the sad event. As soon as he reached home he threw himself prone on Rani-di’s bed for a while and then came out, calm and composed, to meet a number of friends. He remarked afterwards that she had not liked his going so frequently to Calcutta and that she had taken advantage of his absence to slip away.

 

 

The “Home of Grace” and Another Institution

 

Hitherto, whenever Pradyot had visited Calcutta he had stayed in premier hotels. Now the Mother asked him to take up residence in the “Home of Grace” along with Arun Tagore. The “Home of Grace” is a very big edifice in Regent Park, belonging to one Lakshmi Devi and called Lakshmi’s House after her name. She had offered the house to the Mother in memory of her dead husband. The Mother wrote, “We shall call it Lakshmi’s House and it will be the Home of Grace.” Arun Tagore, attorney and friend of the family, was invited by the lady to come and settle there and look after the house. Arun was a great friend of Pradyot’s. Pradyot thought that the house could be turned into a Centre of the Ashram and utilised for the Mother’s work. So the Sri Aurobindo Institute of Culture came into existence. It started with opening a Nursery School. The Mother named it “Arun Nursery.” Arun died soon after and the entire burden of its maintenance and supervision fell upon Pradyot’s shoulders.

Pradyot had taken up a tremendous responsibility which needed above all a big monthly expenditure for the upkeep of the House. On the other hand, his creative genius saw for itself a vast scope which was not available in the Ashram. Difficulties and obstacles never daunted his spirit when he had undertaken some work. He relied on the Mother’s help and on his confidence on himself. Sri Aurobindo’s relics were placed in a beautiful setting in the “Home of Grace”. Besides the Nursery School, cultural training in music, singing, dancing, medical treatment, a printing press, lectures on the Mother and Sri Aurobindo were set going one after another. Recently, saris, gamchas, napkins have been supplied free of cost to the Ashram from this establishment’s own weaving machines. Pradyot’s eye was constantly fixed on how to be of service to the Ashram. Most opportunely, he found an admirable and efficient organiser in Jaya Mitra who is in charge of the administration. Pradyot also built up a group of friends who were ready to do whatever he requested of them.

Those who have visited the Institute have showered praise on Pradyot for his creative ability in many directions and for the quiet atmosphere, the meticulous care in keeping the place spotlessly clean so that one could at once feel the presence of the Mother as in a temple. Of late he had engaged the service of Sanjukta Panigrahi, the premier Orissa dancer, to train students in her art. Pradyot gave shelter to society’s unwanted and lost members and reoriented them to a better way of life. Uday Shankar, the famous dancer of Bengal, had lost grace with the public and it seemed he was jobless, fallen on dark days. He heard of Pradyot and came to him seeking a job. Pradyot employed him at once, in return for which Uday Shankar exclaimed, “I now believe that there is God!” This story was narrated to me by Pradyot himself. A grave problem facing him was that the quarter in which the Institute was located was a den of Naxalites. Gradually it has been cleansed of all bad influences and transformed into a respectable place, I have been told.

Another heavy responsibility Pradyot had taken up was the consultantship of the Development Consultant Committee Private Ltd. to which was added the Kuljian farm of America. Its proprietor is one Sadhan Datta, a young engineer-friend of Pradyot’s, whom later Pradyot regarded as his son. Datta’s enterprise had spread far and wide all over the world, but behind it was Pradyot’s brain, guided as always by the Mother’s Light. At this time the Mother told him, “I saw in a vision that you were building countries after countries and I told you, ‘You are indeed busy.’” Pradyot was utterly nonplussed at the moment but later on when Sadhan Dutta began to get offers of huge contracts in America, Japan, the Middle East, the Phillipines, etc., besides India, Pradyot understood what the Mother’s vision had implied. He advised Sadhan to take them up as the Mother’s work.

Apropos of this, there was an occasion of dissension caused by one of Pradyot’s close associates. Pradyot dictated these strong words to him: “Co-operate wholeheartedly without mental reservation with Sadhan because he is doing all these jobs inside and outside the country for which the Mother gave me the responsibility and he is helping me to materialise the Mother’s vision. Always remember you are invited to do the Mother’s work and in doing it faithfully and sincerely you will realise your highest good in this life and beyond.” Sadhan flew all the way from America when he heard the news of Pradyot’s death.

This in short is the story of the origin, growth and development of two Institutions, both of which — particularly the “Home of Grace” — are attracting the public eye.

In order to fulfil the demand of these external organisations, Pradyot had to visit Calcutta every month. I believe it must have exacted from him much more energy than he could afford.

 

 

Physical Health

 

Since his boyhood, Pradyot had enjoyed good health. Though he was not physically robust, he did not suffer from intercurrent diseases, as I did for instance. I came to know that his father had trained him in simple austerities regarding the outer and inner conduct of his life. He was disciplined in all respects. Among all his brothers and sisters he was the son of promise and every care was taken to mould him into a boy of firm character and bright intelligence. He was even precocious, it seems. He used to correct the mistakes of his brothers and given them counsels for which he was nick-named “Munsef”. His father was a moral and religious man. When Pradyot could not appear in the Matric Exam along with us owing to his being under-age, his father would not sign, as others did, any affidavit to declare his eligibility. In Glasgow he had no physical trouble as far as I know. Only at Jamshedpur the first symptoms of a stomach ulcer were heard of and he attributed its origin to a phase of rigorous fasting during the Non-co-operation movement. He informed Sri Aurobindo about it and for twelve years he was free from further symptoms, but he was always careful about his diet. When he had settled here, I noticed that he used to have what he termed colitis which would subside with drugs. In 1960, there was a recurrence of the ulcer symptoms and the Mother was informed. In 1962, there was a moderate attack and I spent two or three nights in his house. Dr. Sanyal was treating him. In this year his wife passed away and Gargi became a member of the household and looked after her “Daddy” with the same care as bestowed by Rani-di.

In 1967 the Mother wrote to Pradyot à propos of his illness, “Pradyot, my dear child, I need you as my instrument, and you will remain so. Be very quiet — endure with courage. I am with you in love and in victory.”

Along with this ailment, he developed symptoms of prostatic enlargement in 1968. Dr. Sanyal recommended an operation. Pradyot wrote to the Mother, “I pray for your decision, whether or not to undergo an operation for the prostate. At present, I am wearing a catheter which can only be removed if the flow is restored. Life with a catheter is not specially attractive. I should like to serve you. Kindly grant this without an operation if possible; with an operation if necessary.”

The Mother, of course, vetoed the operation and he was free from the trouble. As an auxiliary measure, he took homeopathic drugs for some time. Again in 1969 he wrote, “Mother, grant that I may collaborate entirely with you so that only what you will happens to me and nothing else.” The Mother replied, “It is already granted and for ever.”

In another interesting letter in 1968 he wrote, “In a dream I met someone whose business seems to cause breakdowns in machines and plants. He and I came to an understanding, and he agreed to spare the works in which I am or may be interested. I do not know how seriously I am to take it, but it suggests a prayer, ‘Grant that this is true as long as I work for you.’” “Very good,” was the reply.

But it is not known when he developed the blood disease. It was in 1979 that the ailment was detected quite accidentally. He had gone to Calcutta in uncertain health to attend to his business. After a week or so he suddenly felt weak and uneasy and began to perspire without any apparent reason. Fortunately a doctor-friend of his was near to hand. He transferred him at once to a nursing home of another intimate doctor-friend. There the doctor, when he examined the patient’s blood, was startled beyond words to discover that the haemoglobin rate was very high. He was in extreme anxiety and wanted to send Pradyot back to the Ashram at the earliest, for the responsibility was too great for him. There was only one drug that could be effective; and after a mad hunt all over Calcutta he found it. Pradyot remained unperturbed throughout, as if it were nothing serious. As soon as the condition had slightly improved he was sent back with a detailed account of his disease to our doctor. Here the blood was examined again and the diagnosis was confirmed. It was Dr. Bose who first told me the story with some alarm. Dr. Datta said that the condition was serious, no doubt, but it could be kept under control with the specific drug. The disease itself was beyond cure. I was really shaken, but the marvel of it was that the patient was as happy and cheerful as ever. He used to crack jokes and make fun of our medical science, but did not fail to abide by the medical directions. He had elicited from the doctor the truth about the nature, course and sequel of the disease. Every month the blood used to be examined and the treatment regulated accordingly. I could not but admire Pradyot’s sang-froid in this predicament. I am almost convinced that any other patient would have been half dead out of fear. But Pradyot had a well of strength in him and faith to boot.

With this ailment he had carried on his work from 1979 to 1984. There was no relaxation, no abatement of his industry, not a moment’s gloominess. He paid regular visits to Calcutta once a month. Two big responsibilities had settled upon his frail but resilient shoulders — the D.C.P.L. and Lakshmi’s House. The proprietor of the former, Sadhan Datta, was most of the time abroad leaving Pradyot to look after the firm in his absence. Then the palatial Lakshmi’s House or Home of Grace as it came to be known had to be maintained and developed. It began to flourish in many directions. Pradyot used to relate with an inner pride the various activities going on and the functions held there, and showed us their various colourful photographs. One could realise that he was the head and crown of the institution. The Bengal Government used to consult him from time to time regarding their engineering problems. Besides all these occupations, a constant stream of visitors approached him about various personal problems of health, family troubles, business concerns, etc. etc. After a late dinner, he would chat with his close associates before retiring to bed. He was even looked upon as a guru. When the Mother heard about it she said, “Not as a guru, but a demi-god.”

In short it was a life of hectic activities. At times he used to return to the Ashram quite fagged out, but before he had recuperated he was ready for the next visit. We were really worried and the Trustees said once, “Pradyot’s life is more precious to us than these occupations.”

Complaints from Lakshmi’s House used to reach us that he was eating less, but it mattered little to him. We noticed that his complexion was turning ash-grey. He was unusually harassed by mosquito-kisses. “They must have found the taste of honey in my blood.” Indeed, scattered stigmata of dark blood were visible in exposed parts of his body. Probably the increased haemoglobin content, and therefore the increased density of the blood had a special attraction for mosquitoes. His light manner and jovial temper made us forget the lurking shadow and even believe that there was nothing seriously amiss. But at times I could not suppress my apprehension that he was living under the harrow of doom. He was, however, free from these ominous musings; he thought that there was no imminent danger. He would often repeat, “Man never dies from a disease. He dies because the soul decides.”

On 6th November, he received the news that one of our close friends had died. When he had not been keeping well, Pradyot had him brought over to Lakshmi’s House from Jamshedpur since there he had nobody to look after him. This friend’s sudden death was a sore loss to Pradyot. He then came to see me and giving me the news in a grave tone said, “I have got his last offering. Can I go and give it to the Mother upstairs?” It was arranged accordingly. I observed how he tried to control himself.

 

 

“I am Going to My Work”

 

He had returned from Calcutta a few days before 17th November. We were having tea on his spacious terrace and were talking about things in general. The talk turned to politics and Indira Gandhi. He was visibly moved and said, “Tears are very rarely seen in my eyes. But when I heard of Indira Gandhi’s death, two drops rolled down.”

Jaya, Pradyot’s secretary and “daughter” in Calcutta who was in charge of Lakshmi’s House, had accompanied him, for she feared that everything was not well with him. She had noticed that Pradyot was suffering from a certain kind of malaise in his throat and was covering his neck with a piece of cloth. This was an ominous sign for her, for on the eve of his first heart attack she had observed the same symptom. Hence she did not dare allow Pradyot to come alone, though he did not like that she should take any trouble. He said to her, “Mother is my doctor and faith my medicine.” On reaching the Ashram, Jaya at once apprised Dr. Datta of her misgivings. Dr. Datta, heart specialist and Pradyot’s physician, took his blood and sent it to the General Hospital for examination. The report was not bad. The E.C.G. taken by Dr. Datta showed only signs of ischaemia; the heart was all right. When I went to see Pradyot, he had a cloth wrapped round his neck. He said, “Some uneasiness is there in the heart-region, but more than that this feeling of compression around the neck is rather unpleasant. What is it due to?” “Some congestion, probably,” I replied, but I was not sure. “The heart is all right, the doctor says,” he said, and repeated it more than once as if to give reassurance to himself. Since there was no relief, Dr. Datta had his blood examined again, in our Laboratory. Now it was discovered that the haemoglobin content had gone up to a frightening degree. The doctor prescribed the specific drug, but its effect, he said, would be visible after a week. The other way was to let out a certain quantity of blood. This was, of course, turned down.

Gargi related to me that one day when she and Pradyot were returning from their usual visit to the Ashram, Pradyot started sweating and was on the point of collapse. At once a car was fetched and he was put into it. She asked the driver to take a few rounds along the seaside. When they returned home, Pradyot asked, “What happened to me?” It seems he had been in the habit of going out of his body, and had now been totally unconscious of the surroundings.

The 17th was Darshan Day. As others, he visited the Mother’s Room. On the afternoon of the 18th he was to come to my birthday part. Suddenly at noon he turned up with Gargi and asked me to excuse him from attending the party, for he wanted to avoid the crowd. This was not his way. Naturally I protested saying, “How can that be? Come then at the very end.” I missed the hint that he needed rest. He came, however. There were a few people. He took very little food. Somebody proposed to take our photograph. That was the last one of us together. Next day, when I went to see him, I learnt that the doctor had advised him not to move out of the house, particularly not to climb stairs. That meant he should not come to the Darshan of the 24th. He was discouraged.

To buck him up I said, “There are still a few days to go. Besides, it doesn’t matter much.” On the afternoon of the 22nd I went to see him; I found that Gargi and Jaya were chatting with him and gently massaging his feet. In the lulls of the conversation it was as if he were trying to control his pain. He asked Gargi to show me the Mother’s letter telling him, “An unshakable faith in the Divine’s grace and no disharmony can resist that action.” Datta arrived and took his blood pressure. After a short while, Pradyot went to the bathroom; Gargi followed him. I was told later that since the afternoon he had been taking a drug for heart-pain almost every hour. From the bathroom he went back to his bedroom and sent for us. I found him tired but he said he was free from pain. Then, surprisingly, he added, “But if pain recurs at night, I don’t know if I shall be able to bear it.” Datta replied, “No, no, there won’t be pain. I am sticking this new medical plaster below your heart-region; it will prevent the pain. You can take also the tablet if needed. I shall come back at 9 p.m.” As I had to come away, I said, “I’m going, Sahib. Keep well.” He stretched his hand and gripped mine. That was not his habit. It was I who always would say, “Sahib, give me your hand. Your hand is so soft!” Truly so; it was the small hand of a child. Who would say it was an engineer’s hand? Did his gesture mean that it was farewell for good?

Next day, the 23rd, I had finished my Samadhi work at 4 a.m. and was going back to my room when I saw Dyuman waiting for me. I thought he wanted news to Pradyot’s condition. Instead it was he who delivered the dreadful news: “Pradyot passed away last night at 11.30.” “What?” I cried. “Yes,” he repeated. I was stunned. I felt my eyes grow moist. Dyuman continued, “I was called at night. They asked me to inform you. I said that you must be sleeping and I would give you the news on my return. I saw that Datta was giving intravenous saline or glucose. Suddenly at one time Pradyot started up restless and the next moment everything was quiet.” Dyuman and I went at 4:30 a.m. to see the body. Pradyot was lying calmly on spacious bed, like a prince, the Mother’s picture with the lion at his head. A martyr to the Divine Cause!

Later on, I was told that when Datta had arrived he had noticed Pradyot’s blood pressure going down. He had given an injection and a saline transfusion. He had not given up hope. But Pradyot woke up from sleep in an agitated condition and was as if looking for something or somebody. Gargi was called. She sat by his side; He opened his lips and made an inaudible movement and breathed his last.

In the first part of the night, that is around 11 p.m., while I was sleeping in Sri Aurobindo’s room, I had a dream. Through a window I saw in the eastern sky in the midst of clouds a bright gold sun. I wondered what it meant. It happened to be the time when Pradyot’s soul had left.

The previous night Pradyot had chatted with his intimate circle till midnight. He was in a self-revealing mood and reiterated his conviction that one does not die unless the soul decides. He confided that though he had been able to change his pain into ananda, transformation had not been possible; that is, he had tried but could not cure his disease. He also said to Gargi that the coming night would be critical for her. Then in a somewhat dreamy tone he recalled that the Divine had given him name, fame, friends, position, money — things that man desires. He had nothing to complain of. He had been taken care of by some invisible Hand in all his ventures. However, he had quite his fill of disease: gastric ulcer, colitis, prostate-enlargement and lastly blood-cancer. Then, I don’t remember in what context, he embraced Gargi and exclaimed, “I shall sell you at such a price that nobody will be able to buy you.” This is à propos of a story told by a friend on the 18th during my birthday party. Pradyot liked it very much. It runs thus. A small boy was playing some pranks. His mother, vexed, slapped him gently. The boy was hurt and said, “Ma, I shall sell you off.” She replied, “Come, do it. Let’s go.” She made herself ready. The boy got frightened at her seriousness, pondered a moment and added, “All right, but I will set such a price on you that nobody shall be able to buy you.” The mother embraced him and covered him with kisses.

The body was to be taken for cremation in the afternoon of the 23rd. Gargi heard clearly her Daddy’s voice, “You people must not go there. I am going to my work. The sadhak always looks forward, not backward.”

This was Pradyot’s true soul-scripture: work, service. Instead of dragging on with a disabled frame, to come back equipped with a new body was the secret of his departure. So, when he had realised that his illness was incurable and there would be a painful existence, he was not sorry to go.

Very few, except his most close ones, will miss him in the Ashram, for his services to the Ashram are not known so well. To quite a number he figured only as one of the Trustees. But Lakshmi’s House and the D.C.P.L. at Calcutta (including the Kuljean firm) bear the seal and signature of his creative genius. His unwavering faith in the Mother’s Force was the key stone of his success. And no sacrifice was too much — even the sacrifice of his life. His self-effacement used to come out so well even in his childlike pranam at the feet of the Mother. The Mother has showered on him many compliments. I have mentioned some. Another was, “You don’t suffer from amour-propre.”

Daddy’s children and members of the Sri Aurobindo Institute of Culture at Calcutta paid their respectful homage with love and gratitude to their beloved “Daddy” and Chairman of the Institute at Lakshmi’s House on 2nd December, 1984. On this occasion, we have been told, there was a large gathering; all the front-rank engineers of Calcutta, besides other notable persons, had come to offer their tribute. Sadhan, his manasaputra, said that he could never repay what he had received from Pradyot. Let us hope these devoted children of their “Daddy” will hold aloft the torch he had lighted, burning and mounting for ever.

Finally, as I look back in my reminiscent mood, I see this pageant passing across my mind’s screen. Two boys get admission into the Government School of the town in the same class. A romantic friendship grows up between them, though they are different in every way: nature, character, complexion, intelligence and religion. One vital, the other mental and moral. And that friendship is devoid of any outer expression. Five years they grow together yet hardly five words do they exchange. After the Matric Exam, one friend joins the Gandhi movement, and goes to jail, the other obtains a scholarship and joins the College. After a year both meet in the same College — one studying Arts, the other Science. Passing their Intermediate, they sail for England, one to Edinburgh, the other Glasgow. There their barrier of reserve and shyness falls down and the foreign climate knits them closer. The engineer takes up, after his return, a job in Tata. The doctor goes to Burma, the bond almost forgotten. After three years the doctor comes away to the Ashram and tries to draw his friend there. The friend responds, but the root is not deep yet. A sudden change intervenes; he inclines towards the Mother. From then, the sleeping child-angel in him awakes and he comes closer to her, the other is hooked on to Sri Aurobindo. The child-angel, nourished by the Mother’s love, develops like the arc of the moon and when on the verge of becoming the full orb the moon sets to rise elsewhere. The other remains behind to write his reminiscence. He asks himself, “What mystery bound us together?”

(Mother India, February, March and April, 1985)

 


* Revised edition under the title “Memorable contacts with the Mother

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