one of Mother's children

— Edited by Gauri Pinto


Price: Rs 385

Pages: 167
Dimensions (in cms): 29x20
Hard Cover
Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Udyog Trust, Pondicherry

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About Udar

This book commemorates the birth centenary of Laurence Pinto(1907–2001), who was given the name "Udar" by Sri Aurobindo in 1938. Printed on art paper, it is a collection of anecdotes, facts, stories, and over 400 photographs that reveal the story of Udar's life. Educated and trained as an aeronautical engineer, his talents and skills were used by the Mother in the creation of Harpagon Workshop and the construction of Golconde, the organisation of the Physical Education Department, and the development of the Handmade Paper Unit, the Laboratoires Senteurs, Coco Garden Concrete Works, and Honesty Engineers and Contractors. The photographs and memories recorded here give vivid testimony to Udar's dynamic presence in the daily life of the Ashram over a span of many years.


"Oh, what an elegant cover", was the first impression and reaction of many of my friends when they held the book Udar in their hands. In contrast to the colourful garden of covers of other Ashram publications, the cover of Udar stands in stark relief, almost like an announcement or formal invitation that attracts you to want to open the book as soon as possible. And once you begin turning the pages inside, you just feed on the feast of photographs; actually it is a grand banquet. The book is elegantly designed and printed, and the cream-coloured hard binding enhances its beauty and durability.

Some in the Ashram knew Udar as one of the several secretaries of the Mother and one who was involved in the building of Golconde and the organising of Harpagon workshop, who was known for making machine tools, building and repairing our Playground equipment, or carrying out repairs to the Mother's and Sri Aurobindo's rooms. But in the 165 pages of this book we see the whole gamut of activities in which Udar was involved. This includes more than thirty-five modes of work, such as the establishment of a series of workshops and small industries like the handmade paper factory, and varying in scope from organising the work of concreting, crop harvesting, and the hoisting and transport of huge logs to activities as diverse as watch repairing, research into solar power, hydroponics, aviation, and even officiating at marriage ceremonies!

Along with Udar's many activities the book puts on record the histories of many Ashram departments, how some of them were started and managed with his intuitive know-how—often with very few resources in hand. It is a storehouse of details regarding the Ashram activities from the early 1930s to the early 1990s.

The book also gives us an insight into the working of the Mother with the sadhaks. The detailed interest she took in all aspects of Ashram workplaces, too, can be seen in the photographs of the Mother at various Ashram units and departments. The photos are indeed a pictorial history of many aspects of Ashram life.

And coming to the sweetest part of the book, there are such unique anecdotes, as when the Mother explained with beautiful gestures the origin of the game of table tennis. Here is how Udar recounts the story which the Mother told:

First a Mandarin on one side hit the ball as we do now but in such a way as to make it easy for the Mandarin on the other side to return it. This was Ping. The receiver then made a courtly bow and returned it the same way—Pong. Then the first one bowed and returned it and so on. A very courtly game indeed and quite in character with their high culture, and entirely different from the Western concept of the game where one is determined to defeat an opponent.

Then there is a very interesting incident describing what happened when the Mother and Udar went up to the terrace to watch a reported UFO fly over Pondicherry. She later commented to Udar that earth was not the only world created in the process of manifestation, but that those other worlds are static, without any idea of progress. So they like to make contact with the earth because they feel some sense of movement, of evolution.

Later on there is a most unexpected story of two very senior disciples regarding the killing of a cockroach. A question was put to the Mother, who explained that cockroaches belong to the forces that oppose or obstruct the evolution and can be destroyed without hesitation! Through all the stories and anecdotes and photographs we learn how the Mother nurtured Udar, moulding his aspirations and ideas into a pliable material for her use, and developed a sadhak who was willing to be shaped by her divine hands. Udar comes out as indeed a brilliant and many-faceted gem fashioned by our adorable Mother.

— Sunanda Poddar
Sunanda came to stay in the Ashram in 1951, when she was sixteen. She began working at SABDA while still a student at SAICE and continued until 1994. In 1952 she also began her work of telling and writing children's stories. She has been looking after Sri Smriti since its inception in 1989.

May 2009

As I was leafing through the beautiful volume Udar, one of Mother's children many delightful, and sometimes challenging, memories began to surface in my mind from the depths of more than fifty years of my close association with Udar, starting with the earliest days when he entrusted me, hardly fourteen years old at that time, with the responsibility of supplying the table tennis balls to the table at Fenêtres and guarding against their misuse. My next task was to post the results of the previous day's athletics competitions on the notice boards of the Ashram Main Building and the Playground. After I completed my studies in the SAICE in the year 1955, Udar collared me and entrusted me (who had absolutely no business genes in his Bengali blood) with the challenging task of starting a bookselling business after teaching me the rudiments of doing business correspondence, stock keeping and accounting. That was the genius of Udar for shaping suitable instruments with unlikely material and that was the genesis of the Honesty Book House, which served its purpose of making a modest profit every year and offering it to the Mother.

During all these years I had plenty of opportunity of observing this multifaceted personality from very close quarters. The first thing that I noticed in Udar was his tremendous vitality, dynamism and zest for life. Even a few years before his passing at the age of ninety-four, his daily routine was to get up at three o'clock in the morning, give himself a good oil massage and do vigorous physical exercise for an hour or so.

Earlier, in the late 1940s, after a full day's heavy work in the Harpagon workshop and then in the Playground (he was captain of the Blue Group and organizer of the athletic competitions and the table tennis and, later, the tennis tournaments!), starting at seven-thirty in the morning and going on till seven-thirty or eight in the evening, he still had enough energy in store to lead us youngsters in unloading the Ashram's cargo of machinery or other goods from the ships or in "log-lifting", i.e. shifting the heavy logs that had arrived by goods train, from the railway lines at the southern end of Pondicherry to the Ashram timber godown at the northern end!

In the Christmas season, I remember, after we had worked till midnight at Golconde, packing the Christmas gifts and the cakes for the Mother to distribute to the ashramites, Udar took us for a walk through the quiet streets of Pondicherry—singing Christmas carols!

Udar was very good with his hands, always with an eye for perfection. Among other things, he designed and made an electric toaster which is still giving excellent service after nearly sixty years. In his spare time he was always tinkering with something or the other. Mentally too, he was always alert and active. Apart from reading voraciously, he took time every day to solve the crossword puzzles which appeared in The Mail and The Hindu.

Udar was very fond of children. He could not refuse them anything. Once, a few young girls had started taking piano lessons. One of them saw in the newspaper that a well-known pianist would be giving a recital in Madras that evening. She and her friends were very eager to have a first-hand experience of a professional piano recital. They approached Udar who, after obtaining the Mother's permission, drove them all the way to Madras and back in Millie's famous Jeep of wartime vintage, starting at six in the evening and returning the next morning at six o'clock just in time for the Mother's Balcony Darshan. There were many other outings too, some of which had to be scheduled at night after the evening Blessings. I remember the occasion we were caught in a heavy downpour. The headlights of the Jeep stopped working, and Udar had to drive almost twenty miles on a pothole-strewn country road in pitch dark by the light of a torch which one of the boys, sitting on the bonnet, held in his hand!

On less adventurous occasions, he drove us some twenty miles to the north-west of Pondicherry to ‘discover' the Fossil Land with its massive fossilised tree trunks, dating back to a prehistoric era. This area has since been taken over by the Indian government and protected behind barbed wire as a national heritage. It was also he who first introduced us to the unforgettable, soul-stirring experience of listening to the soughing of the breeze blowing through the casuarina groves.

Those who came in contact with Udar were struck by his cheerfulness and irrepressible optimism. He had a whole repertoire of English songs popular in London in the late 1920s, such as "Yes, we have no bananas today", "Show me the way to go home", "Old Man River", "Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile", which he sang in his rich baritone whenever the occasion demanded. He had a sizable store of jokes and anecdotes, some of them a little risqué, which he narrated not only to us but dared to tell the Mother too, even at the risk of drawing an exclamation of mild (and perhaps feigned) reproof from her: "Oh, Udar!"

Once I heard him say something to this effect: "who knows, perhaps, even cancer may serve the cause of physical transformation; if somehow just one human cell gets transformed into a cell of light … and then the chain reaction … just imagine the possibilities!" Isn't this optimism par excellence?

In moments of crisis Udar was a good man to have beside you. That was because he always kept his head. His unshakeable faith in the Mother gave him the courage and determination to face every eventuality. I remember the time the Ashram was most unexpectedly attacked by a violent mob during the anti-Hindi agitation. While we were desperately trying to hold the attackers at bay, Udar went through the hostile crowd to the Lieutenant Governor to get police protection for the Ashram.

At a very advanced age, Udar decided to learn Sanskrit. With his characteristic determination and optimism he tackled this uphill task under Pujalal-ji's guidance and made good progress. Still later, he made it his life's goal to learn the whole of Savitri by heart and, what is astounding, he succeeded. He exemplified Browning's dictum, "Learn, nor account the pang; | Dare, never grudge the throe!"

Udar led a very full life himself and inspired many who had the good fortune to come in contact with him to live life to the brim, cheerfully and optimistically, with complete faith in the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.

— Aniruddha Sircar
Aniruddha-da (Babu-da) settled in the Ashram in 1946, completed his schooling at the SAICE in 1955, and has since been teaching English at the Ashram school.

May 2009