Pages: 268 Dimensions (in cms): 19x25 ISBN: 978-81-87372-27-1
Publisher: The Havyavahana Trust, Pondicherry
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About My Savitri Work with the Mother
This book tells the story of how Huta came to the Ashram and began her work with the Mother. It presents a detailed account of how the Mother prepared and encouraged her to learn painting and helped her to create two series of paintings: the 472 pictures comprising Meditations on Savitri and the 116 pictures that accompanied the Mother's comments titled About Savitri. During their meetings, where the Mother revealed her visions for each painting by drawing sketches and explaining which colours should be used, the unique importance of Savitri and the Mother's own experiences connected to the poem come clearly into view. The book is also a representation of Huta's sadhana, her struggles and her progress, and the solicitude and grace showered on her by the Mother.
When the Mother met Huta for the first time in 1955, she saw in her a rising flame of aspiration for realising the Divine. She would later explain to Huta that her soul had not gone through the process of evolution of the earth because it had come down straight from the Supreme and would “go back purely to the Supreme”. This book is the detailed story of the eighteen-year period during which the Mother prepared her instrument, “Huta—the Offered One”, to create the Savitri paintings and many other visionary works of art.
The Mother often brought up the topic of painting while speaking with Huta. And in order to add the élan necessary for her to take up art seriously, the Mother gave a demonstration with oil colours, urging her to try her hand first in painting flowers and then to executing the more hazardous work of painting a white object over a white background. Later, the Mother gave her the firm assurance: “I have now filled your hands with consciousness, light, force and skill.”
In mid-1958, Huta needed treatment for an enlarged liver and had to leave for Kenya where her family lived. On her return to Pondicherry four months later, she conveyed to the Mother her wish to express Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri in paintings. But deeming that she was not mature enough for such an august task, the Mother proposed that she should go to London for study and acquire some self-confidence.
My first contact with Huta-ben took place during the second half of 1956. She was always clad in a white sari, which enhanced the fairness of her skin. The gold-rimmed spectacles that she wore not only brightened her face, but also lent a fairy-like look to it. Being quite a young child then, I loved very much to be hugged and carried in her arms. But receiving foreign chocolates from her was an even bigger attraction! This evening ritual near Dyuman-bhai’s room went on merrily twice a week for a couple of years. But alas, after getting admission in group A5 in 1958, my intimacy with the chocolate-giver ended abruptly. And simultaneously, she vanished from the Ashram. It was much later that I heard about her relocation to a far-off city called London, of which I had not heard before.
Meanwhile, reaching London on New Year’s Day in 1959, she joined courses in embroidery, typewriting, and the fine arts, studying male and female nude figures and even painting them from life. Huta left London in mid-1960 and flew back to East Africa, where she faced tremendous pressure from her family to get married. But she bravely stood her ground and persuaded her father to send her back to Pondicherry. For she knew within herself that whatever she had learnt in her art courses would be invaluable for her future work in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Upon her return, the Mother observed happily that the flame of aspiration in her had now grown larger than before.
One day, the Mother said, “You know, I had a great wish to express through paintings the visions I had seen from 1904 onwards, but I had no time.” Then she added, “Here in the Ashram I encouraged several people before you were born but without avail. Now you will fulfil my wish.” Later Huta discovered that the artists the Mother had approached during the 1930s were Sanjiban, Anil Kumar, Jayantilal, Krishnalal, and Nishi Kanto.
In October 1961, the Mother finally started the work of painting Savitri through Huta. Now, for the first time since her arrival at the Ashram, Huta’s life assumed some regularity. The painting work continued for several years, richly rewarding her with spiritual experiences and lofty visions, while at the same time she gathered the knowledge in painting that she had much aspired for. At last, after five and half years of arduous labour, the 460 paintings were finished, and the Mother decided to hold an exhibition in February 1967.
But the display of the Savitri paintings was not free of controversies, even though Huta does not mention them in her book. First of all, the lack of any artistic style engendered a lot of criticism. In fact, one of the English teachers of the SAICE freely went around airing his view that they were chocolate box paintings! Then, cramming the entire Exhibition Hall with those 460 paintings displayed in two rows across every wall was excessive, making it difficult for the onlooker to focus his attention on any individual art work. Added to that, Satyavan’s tight-fitting trousers, Aswapati’s red dhoti, and covering the head of the queen mother were a few oddities that ruffled some sensibilities. Moreover, certain features in each series, such as the interactions between Savitri and Satyavan, Aswapati’s meditation, and the forest scenes, were too similar to one another. But now, half a century later, it transpires from the book under review that the moving force, the inspiration behind these artistic decisions that raised such a critical reaction was the Mother herself, and Huta had practically no say in the matter.
Another striking observation that the scope of the book does not allow for was the apparent lack of enthusiasm for the audio-visual presentation of Huta’s paintings accompanied by Sunil’s music, exclusively composed for each painting. The presentation was scheduled for 1968, a leap year with the added importance of the inauguration of Auroville scheduled for 28 February. The seven evenings between the Darshan Day and the 28th were reserved for these special programmes at the Playground. Despite the feverish expectation of a massive turnout, only about 200 people, mostly from the Ashram, attended the shows regularly. One notable attendee from among the visitors was my father, who had the distinction of having read Savitri sixteen times, with notes.
However subdued the people’s reactions were, the spiritual impact of the audio-visual presentation was stupendous! The atmosphere was set by the first slide itself, where a meditative, half-open eye over a deep greenish globe ushered in the mystic line, “It was the hour before the Gods awake.” Added to that mysterious visual impact, the gong-like chimes of the accompanying music wove pure magic. I remember passing those seven days in a kind of intense spiritual daze.
Just as I began a friendship with Sunil-da following the Savitri audio-visual show, I also renewed my old amity with Huta-ben and began visiting her regularly. She was amazed when she saw my paintings and lavished effusive praise. “If only I had your talent!” she would say. One day, she suddenly brought up the topic of Auroville—more particularly, the Matrimandir. She explained that the Mother had appointed her the guardian of the Matrimandir, further confiding in me that “I have plans for decorating the walls of the Matrimandir with life-size reproductions of my Savitri paintings. And for doing that I will need your help. If you consent to do it, I shall speak to the Mother and obtain her permission.” Being a lad of barely fifteen at the time, I felt extremely flattered and gave my consent at once.
Slowly, Huta-ben revealed to me some of the spiritual experiences she underwent while executing the Savitri paintings. I clearly remember her mentioning the incident, described on page 164, involving the fearful python that she had painted one evening. And at one stage the inspiration for painting was so strong that she completed as many as eleven paintings in a single night. Although at times nerve-shattering, the experience did leave a feeling of fulfilment in her.
In My Savitri Work with the Mother, Huta’s style of narration is somewhat slow, erratic, and repetitive. On the other hand, her use of the English language is quite effective and crisp. In fact, some of her remarks about herself are replete with touches of humour, candidness, and irony. And her boldness in narrating her failures and drawbacks will surprise the reader much. For example, she overwhelmingly admits the Mother’s rejection of many paintings, and also that the most unnerving factor in her life was the inferiority complex that she suffered from, especially making her feel inadequate in front of people she considered to be intelligent.
For lovers of Savitri this book offers many hitherto unpublished messages of the Mother on the subject. There is also much advice about the right attitude to adopt for doing selfless work.
Arup, an alumnus of the SAICE, is the author of Uttara Yogi, a historical novel based on the pre-Pondicherry life of Sri Aurobindo. He learned art under the Mother’s guidance and later taught it for sixteen years at the Lycée Français de Pondichéry.