|Price: Rs 210|
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
|Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department, Pondicherry|
Prior to Sri Aurobindo’s birth centenary in 1972, Nirodbaran gave a series of talks to the students of the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. Approximately 150 talks were tape-recorded and transcribed and are now being published in book form. In this volume, comprised of talks delivered between December 1969 and July 1970, Nirodbaran shares his reminiscences and those of fellow sadhaks, describing Ashram life during the 1920s and relating incidents from Sri Aurobindo’s life during the 1930s and ‘40s. He also quotes extensively from his own correspondence with Sri Aurobindo. Full of the humour that characterised his long relationship with the Master, these talks provide an intimate view of Ashram life in those decades.
In the years leading up to 1972, Sri Aurobindo’s birth centenary, Nirodbaran gave a series of 150 talks at the Ashram School. These were given at a teacher’s request as a way to prepare the students for the centenary. To depict Sri Aurobindo, the Mother, and the Ashram as it slowly grew around them in as much detail as possible Nirod quotes extensively from various printed, manuscript, and oral sources. To better understand the impact of the talks it should be remembered that in 1969 the humorous letters in Nirod’s correspondence and his Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo had not yet been published. Few had any idea of the witty and fun-loving side of Sri Aurobindo, how close he could come to a disciple. Nor did they know much about Sri Aurobindo as a person, his routine, his habits, his way of being. Nirod’s observations and the extracts he read out came as a revelation to his audience. No wonder that more and more gathered to listen to him.
His other sources were A. B. Purani, Nolini Kanta Gupta, Dilip Kumar Roy, Barindra Kumar Ghose, Dinendranath Roy, Brahmashri Subbarao, Narayan Prasad, Sudhir Sarkar, Sahana Devi, Champaklal Purani, and Jyotindranath Das. Of these the last three are particularly remarkable because they first appeared before the public eye in the context of these talks.
Sahana Devi was in Pondicherry since 1928. Apart from her reminiscences of those early years, she had an extensive correspondence with Sri Auro‑ bindo, mostly in Bengali. As she was a multifaceted artist – a singer, a composer, a dancer, and a fine hand at embroidery – many of Sri Aurobindo’s letters to her contain explanations of the creative process. In response to Sahana’s observation that her singing had by far surpassed her usual capacities, he says: “When one has made oneself a channel, the Force is not necessarily bound by the limitations or disabilities of the instrument, it can disregard them and act in its own power.” Elsewhere, he deciphers the creative high to help her understand it:
The Ananda of creation is not the pleasure of the ego in having personally done well and being somebody, that is something extraneous which attaches itself to the joy of work and creation. The Ananda comes from the inrush of a greater Power,...the thrill of being possessed and used by it, the ‘avesh’, the exaltation of the uplifting of the consciousness, its illumination and its greatened and heightened action.
To Nirod goes the credit for translating these letters and sharing them with an audience many years before they saw the light of print.
Finding very little information on the period between 1926 and 1933, Nirod interviews his friend Jyotindranath Das who first came to the Ashram in July 1927, then came back for good in 1928. The result is a rare glimpse of the day-to-day life in that still very young ashram, where sadhaks living inside the main compound had the privilege of taking their dish of food daily to the Mother for her blessings and the samadhi area was occupied by a thatched shed used as a kitchen in which sadhaks took turns to cook for the group.
Champaklal first came to Pondicherry in 1921, then came back to stay in 1923. At a time when “the way of life among those who were around Sri Aurobindo was neither meditation nor work” and “when service was not at all thought of seriously”, Champaklal, very soon after his arrival, asked to be allowed to wash Sri Aurobindo’s dhoti. Thus, in this ashram, he was the pioneer of service to the guru. His proposal also set the blueprint for the rest of his lifelong association with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, as he remained in their personal service. For Nirod he proved to be an invaluable resource, not only through his personal recollections and correspondence, but also as a touchstone to verify any incident concerning them. Indeed, he took the trouble of listening to the recorded tapes of Nirod’s talks, and repeatedly we find the latter correcting something he had said in an earlier session in the light of Champaklal’s meticulous precisions.
To give readers a proper taste of the delights that await them in Talks by Nirodbaran, let us look at the talk of 12 June 1970 titled “Sri Aurobindo, the perfect gentleman”. Nirod begins by defining the term, using J. H. Newman’s essay on the subject. The gentleman is always considerate, never petty. “He is patient, forbearing, and resigned, on philosophical principles.” He proceeds to hold every stage of Sri Aurobindo’s life up against this definition.
Since very little is known of Sri Aurobindo as a boy, Nirod, his compass ever aligned to true North, chooses to produce the Mother’s testimonial. Looking in 1956 at a painting of Sri Aurobindo as a boy by Promode Chatterjee, she remarked: “You have caught something of the spontaneity and freshness of the nature and something candid with which he came into this world. His inner being was on the surface. He knew nothing of this world.”
Next comes the period in England, during which Sri Aurobindo and his brothers suddenly found themselves penniless as funds from home stopped. According to Nirod, Sri Aurobindo “took it calmly, quietly, in spite of two or three hard years…. But, as he has written to me, poverty was no terror for him, nor an incentive.” When his tutor at Cambridge wrote his father that Sri Aurobindo may be called to court for his debts, the latter wrote to his son asking him not to be extravagant. Reminiscing about this to Nirod and others, Sri Aurobindo “said to us, smiling, ‘When we had not even one sufficient meal a day, where was the question of being extravagant?’ But he had no feeling of resentment or bitterness towards his father. Whenever he spoke of him it was always with affection and tenderness.”
Then we come to Baroda, where “Sri Aurobindo left behind a reputation of fair play, sincerity, honesty. He was loved by his students and all those who came in contact with him, though he wasn’t a social man at all. He had a few chosen friends, lived a very simple life, and yet he could command the respect and honour of almost all the people there, high or low, with whom he came in touch or who heard his name.”
Calcutta. Even when he got into politics, “[in] all the political disputes and negotiations…there was never a tinge of meanness, of duplicity or crookedness that is so common, even so much courted by the politicians. Thus he acquired the esteem of all and sundry, friends and foes. The young students loved him, the young revolutionaries adored him, and all the others respected him for his integrity, for his sincerity, for his self-sacrifice.”
Finally, the Pondicherry period. Readers of Sri Aurobindo’s correspondence “must have noticed with what great patience and indulgence he has again and again written about the same subjects, to so many people in different ways, without the least annoyance or displeasure.” In 1938, when Sri Aurobindo broke his femur and was confined to bed, Nirodbaran, as an attendant, observed first hand his self-effacing nature:
Whenever he needed anything, he would look this way, that way, to see if the attendant was free or engaged. After being sure that he was free, he would say, “Could I have this? Could I have that?” Always in a mild and detached tone.
Nirod also noticed that “his whole programme was made in such a way as to suit that of the Mother”, so that “the Mother should not be kept waiting under any circumstance.”
Example by example, Nirod justifies his thesis. And his conclusion is:
Now, if I have been able, by all these instances, to prove to you that Sri Aurobindo was a perfect gentleman, I’ll be satisfied. If you demur to the common appellation ‘gentleman’, let us call him ‘a Supramental perfect gentleman’. But the one impression that he has left with us is that he was Shiva. He had a magnanimity such as the verse in Savitri suggests: “A magnanimity as of sea or sky | Enveloped with its greatness all that came.”
Indifferent as it were to everything that was going on in the world, his gaze fixed far away and yet in his cosmic consciousness supporting all things and each one of us—that is the impression that always floats before my eyes whenever I think of Sri Aurobindo.
Two puzzles come for free with every copy of Talks by Nirodbaran. Of the 150 talks given by him, only 26 have been printed in this volume, the talks he gave between December 1969 and July 1970. In the absence of any explanation by the editors one can only hope that the remaining talks will be published soon. Secondly, a book that eminently deserves a detailed Contents has been provided with none at all.
The talks are rambling, optimistic, and liberally spiced with anecdote and humour. The speaker, by his own confession, is given to digression, but most of his digressions enrich us, adding to our understanding of the space and time he has set out to depict, complementing our vision through new approaches. The experience leaves us grateful and inspired, moved by the manifold marvel of compassion embodied by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.
Sunam reads proof at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press.