From the blurb, “This book reveals many of the unforgettable moments of some eminent personalities of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville who have shared some golden moments with the Mother. This is no doubt a unique collection of those unfading treasures. You cannot but feel Her concrete Presence on reading these fond remembrances.”
The book is about the Mother’s interaction with the children and disciples of the Ashram from the 1940s to the 1970s. As the Ashram went through different phases, the Mother’s physical proximity to her disciples either diminished or increased. In the ’30s, she was not as much accessible to the first generation of sadhaks as she was to the children of the Playground in the ’40s and ’50s. Chitra Sen, Aster Patel, Richard Pearson, Gauri Pinto, Shobha Mitra and Krishna Chakravarty were among those lucky children, now grey-haired venerable disciples sharing with us their golden moments with the Mother. This period is particularly interesting because we generally don’t associate the Mother with athletic or gymnastic competitions or dramatic programmes or guiding the children in their day-to-day activities. She told them to dress up neatly, cut their nails short and recommended “Horlick’s malted milk” for the one-year-old Gauri Pinto. At the same time, she infused in them her consciousness almost without their knowledge, so that she was a complete Mother to them. A whole new generation grew up under the Mother’s care during this period and what we get in this book is a sample of the gold which is still available in plenty. I hope more attempts are made to glean the memories of this generation before it is too late.
The second set of recollections is by Prema Nandakumar, Georges Van Vrekhem and Varadharajan, one of the first Tamilians to settle in Auroville. Here, the Mother is physically distant but psychologically near. She is the Mother who inspires us from within. The three had only a few meetings with her but these became the turning-points of their lives. The story of how Prema Nandakumar (Srinivasa Iyengar’s daughter) wrote her Ph. D. thesis, the first of its kind, on Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri is interesting. When the Mother came to know about it, she said, “I want to see the girl,” and immediately gave the manuscript to Amal Kiran for publication. The description of the interview that followed with the Mother is profoundly moving. Vrekhem, the well-known biographer of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, keeps us equally spell-bound by the story of his “initiation” through two silent interviews with the Mother in 1970. Varadharajan acquaints us with the beginnings of Auroville; he was among the group of Aurovillians that met the Mother every week in 1970. This is a facet of the Mother which many in the Ashram don’t even know about. The City of Dawn is not just a good advertisement but a reality which was seriously discussed by the Mother with the first Aurovillians. It is another gold mine where more work should be done before the last Aurovillians who met the Mother are no more.
The only drawback of this book is that it is limited to the talks given by the above mentioned persons in a seminar held at SACAR (Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research, Pondicherry) on the occasion of the 125th Birth Anniversary of the Mother. Giving a talk and listening to it is obviously different from writing an article for a book and reading it. For, after reading the book, one is left with the impression that many of the speakers have not said enough, or having awakened our interest, don’t want to say more. Or they have generalised and even intellectualised, perhaps to keep personal details in the background. I wish they had not, for it is precisely these that the reader is interested in. Which is perhaps why they should have been persuaded to say more than what they actually said during the seminar, when a book was going to be published. Nonetheless, the book is a commendable achievement and, I hope, many more books of this kind are produced.
Let me now write a few words in support of such reminiscences of the Mother, because of certain objections that have been raised against them. The first objection against them is that these memories are too personal and beautiful to be expressed. Then, the external events are so intricately woven with the inner that it is difficult to convey them. So many in the Ashram have thus preferred to remain publicly silent than spoil the experience with poor expression. Meanwhile, some have over-expressed them, which has perhaps given a bad reputation to such literature. But bad literature is no argument against the attempt to produce good literature of the same genre. Moreover, the difficulty of expression can sometimes be overcome by simply being sincere within the existing limitations of language and not trying to be too perfect, because you can never be perfect in these matters! What counts more is sincerity and that carries the language, as it were, and makes the expression adequate. The second objection is that what the Mother told them is personal and doesn’t apply to others. To this my answer is, “The more personal, the better it is and the more interesting. And then what is personal? Are we not made up of the same basic universal elements?” Another reason for not sharing one’s experience is that it might contradict another person’s version of the same event. Now, this is good social behaviour but bad history in the making, because many, many person al points of view are what constitute objective history. Contradictions are bound to appear in dealing with the personalities of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother because we are basically looking at things from the wrong end ? from the ignorant mind, whereas they operated from above it. This does not mean that we don’t rationalise or only emotionalise but that we realise our limitations and not be too squeamish about accepting only one side of the Truth. Finally, we are not looking for intellectual statements in a book of reminiscences. It is the difference between reading The Life Divine and Nirodbaran’s Twelve Years or Champaklal Speaks. The former will keep us intellectually busy for the next few centuries while in the latter we enter the sacred precincts, zoom in, and feel the living presence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother through the eyes of those who have been fortunate to be with them.
? Raman Reddy
Raman completed his studies at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in 1975. A member of the Ashram, he works at the Archives and Research Library. His interests include writing, and he has authored a book of short stories, A New Panorama, available with SABDA.