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At the Feet of The Mother

Some Memories of the Mother

It is natural that I should look back again and again on the forty-six years during which I knew the Mother. I first saw her on December 16, 1927, and the last look was on November 20, 1973, the day she was laid in the teak-wood casket and placed in the same vault as Sri Aurobindo, both of them making a common “Samadhi” in the courtyard of the Ashram they had built up and loved and set floating like a dream-ship on the uncharted waters of the unknown Supermind. Already I have written about her in many an essay, just as I have done about Sri Aurobindo; but there is always more to remember of a personality that had such a multitude of diamond-facets and such depth beyond depth of light. The memories may seem trivial at times, yet there is ever a revelatory touch in all that the Mother said or did, a glint of the Spirit’s gold through all the small currency of daily word or deed.

I shall begin with a jest which she would have been the first to appreciate. For, the Mother was full of wit and her eyes never failed to sparkle when anybody was quick and keen in mind. Let me say then that, while we have heard of her four great aspects — Maheshwari, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati — very few have heard of the Mother as “Maha-Examineri”. And by this new name I do not mean her all-seeing, all-probing, all-evaluating, all-classifying consciousness in dealing with our Yoga from day to day. The four great aspects would sufficiently cover it. I mean “Maha-Examineri” in a very literal sense: one who, because of her great standing in Aurobindonian knowledge, is appointed to examine a thesis written by a student of Sri Aurobindo’s vision and work. A certain Indian University once sent her an M.A.-thesis to scrutinise and adjudge, and it offered her a remuneration of Rs. 50 for the task. The Mother accepted the assignment.

In advance of the thesis, she had received a letter from the student. He said in effect: “My work was not considered up to the mark last year. I have been made to toil at it again. I have done my best. But I don’t know my fate. I am a whole-hearted admirer of Sri Aurobindo and I would have written more enthusiastically, but my overseer is not well inclined towards the Master. So please read more into my expression than you see.” The Mother was touched by the fellow’s bad luck the preceding year as well as by his good-will towards Sri Aurobindo. She took the trouble to go through his introductory note, where he had set forth the scheme and the scope of his disquisition. The disquisition was meant to be a survey of the entire range of the admirable Aurobindonian achievement in writing. The Mother liked the ambitious piety of this intention. Having done what she deemed necessary on her side, she handed me the bound volume of nearly 250 typed pages and said: “Read this and make your report. I shall sign it. But let me tell you from the start that I have made up my mind to pass the student.”

I was tickled by her statement, but also stimulated by the glimpse it gave me of her unconventional attitude, her unacademic approach and the happy audacity of her decisions. I smiled and she smiled back.

Immediately I got down to reading the thesis. I found it moderately good in several parts but absolutely off the track wherever Sri Aurobindo’s metrics were concerned. The writer knew nothing of metre and yet laid down the law. The mistakes were grotesque. In other matters too there were errors to correct. But, by and large, one could pass the lengthy treatment of Sri Aurobindo’s versatile genius. I wrote out a favourable report of four pages for the University Board and a far longer private piece for the student himself so that he might rectify the numerous howlers before publishing the work in book-form after obtaining his degree. My shorter report was read out to the Mother. It had a passage on technical points of English poetry. She said: “I don’t know English prosody. So I couldn’t have written this passage.” I generalised and abbreviated my remarks and brought the passage within the Mother’s acceptance. She signed the report. Then I said: “Mother, what about your fee, the fifty rupees?” She sharply replied: “I don’t care for them. Do you want them for yourself?” I rose to the occasion: “Not at all.”

There ended the world-manifestation of “Maha-Examineri”. But the free, bold and compassionate spirit shown in it was at play elsewhere too in different forms. Once I came across a street-hawker who had baby fountain-pens in various colours, each worth the equivalent of the present 25 paise. I bought up half a dozen and, filling four with inks to match their colours, presented them to the Mother. She tried out all of them on a large, white, thick piece of paper, executing a fascinating “doodle” of lines and curves like a complicated Mandala. She signed it, put on it the date and gave it to me. The multi-inked pens were taken upstairs to her room and the next day she expressed her pleasure in them, even telling people: “See how beautifully these cheap little things of Amal work while your big pens give all sorts of trouble.” It was arranged that when the inks got finished I should be handed the pens to refill. The day of refilling never came. For, after four days of joyous scribbling, the Mother got her hands full of ink! The pens started leaking profusely.

On our subsequent meeting, the Mother made a wry face and said: “It took me nearly two hours to wash the ink off my fingers.” I apologised. She gave a soft smile and the episode was over. But I wondered why it had occurred in the first place. Surely she must have known that these cheap pens were rejected goods and would prove treacherous in a short time. Champaklal offered the explanation: “It was not appreciation of the pens that made the Mother use them but her desire for an act of Grace towards Amal.” I can hit upon no other explanation, though why at that particular moment she wanted to bestow her Grace I have no idea.

It is certain that she could go out of her way to be gracious to poor inept fools. I for one had been allowed to stay on at noon after all the others who used to be around her from about 9 a.m. up to 12 had gone home. At that hour she would go behind a small screen for her lunch with Pranab and I would wait in the passage near the stairs. I could hear all the talk she had with Pranab during lunch. I would in the meantime write little notes to her, tiptoe to a table in the proximity of the screen and put my chits under a glass paperweight. On finishing her lunch she would pass by that table, pick up the letters and go to her bathroom through a backdoor and, after a while, come out from the door in the passage where I sat. She would stop and talk and then retire for a bit of afternoon rest. On one occasion I thought of spending my time in Sri Aurobindo’s room nearby instead of sitting in the passage. I forgot myself there. Suddenly I realised that someone was outside the door of the room. I turned: it was the Mother. Not finding her disciple at his usual spot she had guessed where he had disappeared and come in search of him to give him the smile and the blessing-tap he so little deserved. The disciple was overwhelmed with gratitude. He rushed out and kneeled at her feet.

Most considerate though the Mother again and again was, it would be a mistake to think she could never be stern. But a still greater mistake would it be to misunderstand her sternness. Every act of hers was an act of Grace and aimed only at the development of one’s soul. The Mother had no egoistic reaction, no personal interest to serve, no wish for any gratification of self. What she was stern towards was petty desire in us, our forgetfulness of the grand purpose for which we were in the Ashram.

Early in 1954 I was staying on the ground-floor of a fine spacious building. On the upper floor were two other disciples. When they went to stay elsewhere, I wanted, before new sadhaks could come, to move downstairs a large swing which was on the verandah above mine. At Pranam time I gave the Mother a little note in which I expressed my request for the swing. I never thought there was anything wrong here. But, reading it, she made an angry face and then asked in a withering tone: “You want a swing for yourself?”

I was taken aback. She who had looked to all my comforts and my wife Sehra’s was now a Goddess of Terror over so trivial a plea on my part. At once I said: “No, Mother, no. I want nothing. I am sorry.” Flaming Mahakali turned into calm Maheshwari and blessed me. Within my heart I came to realise that the high aim with which I had just come back to the Ashram for a permanent stay after an absence of several years had been cut across by this silly move towards self-indulgence. The actual matter was fairly innocuous and, under other circumstances, my request might easily have been granted. But it must have marked a momentous point in the poise of the consciousness. Sri Aurobindo has said that sometimes in Yoga what might seem the loss of a mere postern-gate might spell the surrender of the whole fort: nothing in Yoga is trivial or negligible — especially at a critical instant. We cannot ordinarily see into the heart of an occasion. But the Mother could and for her to allow an instant of Yogic oblivion would mean a lapse of her Grace.

Yogic oblivion could come in many shapes. Perhaps the most startling that ever came to me had nothing to do with any greed or lust or anger. It came one evening in the early 1930’s when, along with some others, I was waiting on the north pavement of the Ashram block for the Mother to return from her usual car-drive. Just for a few seconds I forgot that I was in the Ashram and doing Yoga. As soon as awareness was back I found myself utterly shut in heart and mind: no touch of devotion, no stir of aspiration, just a sense of darkness in the whole being. Later I asked the Mother how this could be. She answered: “Suppose you are on a battlefield and you forget that fact. Do you realise what would happen to you? In the life of Yoga it is the same.”

Of course, this does not signify that one has always to be on pins and can never be “A spirit sliding through tranquillity”. The Mother always tried to make our lives as smooth and easy as possible and concentrate all the rigours of Yoga in herself so as to give us the shining fruit and spare us the struggle and the pain. But certain crises are unavoidable and now and again one has to make a stand and fight or have the awareness that, as an Upanishad puts it, “sharp as the razor’s edge is the path”.

To revert to more pleasant subjects. A peep into the unusual state of subtle perception in which the Mother lived we once had when at the end of the morning’s meeting with us and interviews with people she started to walk towards the stairs leading up to her room on the second floor. Before she had gone a dozen steps she stopped. She was looking down at the carpet under her feet. We were curious to know what had happened. So we inquired. She turned round and said: “Suddenly this carpet which has been lying here for years asked, ‘How do you find me?’ I replied, ‘I find you very nice indeed.’” At another time she told us that in the room where we used to meet her the furniture had at last got into the right relative positions and there was a harmonious consciousness in it which should not be disturbed.

Passing words but packed with truths for a life-time fell often from the Mother during those wonderful mornings upstairs. On May 19, 1961, apropos of some topic which slips my mind, she stopped a minute before going up to her room and said: “I once told an occultist friend, ‘There are many people who say they want to be independent.’ He at once remarked, ‘That means they don’t want to be loved.’ I have never forgotten this. If you look into it, you will see much meaning.”

As a supplement or complement to this nugget of wisdom we may recall some words of the Mother where she speaks not of being loved but of loving. The words run: “They always speak of the rights of love, but love’s only right is the right of self-giving.”

Perhaps we may best close this first instalment of memories with a pronouncement that affords us a brief insight into her own love for us. There was a disciple who got into a number of difficulties owing to his weak nature but he had a simple heart with a sort of helpless turn towards the Mother in all conditions. He voiced to her his doubt whether with all his defects he could continue to stay in the Ashram. She wrote back: “You are my son and I am your mother for eternity. Do not worry, I take the entire responsibility of your spiritual growth and you can live in the Ashram so long as you feel it your home and you sincerely consecrate yourself to the Divine’s Work”.                                                                  (13-12-1966)

*This article first appeared in Mother India on February 21, 1975

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