Publication of the second edition of “Sri Aurobindo: His Political Life and Activities”.

Dear Friends,

It gives me immense pleasure to announce that on 12 March 2012 Overman Foundation has published the second and paperback edition of its e-book “Sri Aurobindo: His Political Life and Activities”.

Compiled and edited by Shri Anurag Banerjee and with a preface from the pen of Prof. Kittu Reddy, this book comprising 450 pages is a chronological study of Sri Aurobindo’s political life from 1906 to 1910 through British Government documents, press coverage, memoirs of his political colleagues as well as his own autobiographical account. Hundreds of documents collected from British Government records (most of which have been published in this book for the first time) and press cuttings—both being more than a century old—have been incorporated in this volume. In addition to the aforesaid documents and press coverage, the book includes rare letters written to Sri Aurobindo by Nationalist leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Surendranath Banerjea and others. It also includes the reminiscences of the likes of Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, Nolini Kanta Gupta, Sudhir Kumar Sarkar (who were Sri Aurobindo’s associates in the Nationalist movement) about the political activities of Sri Aurobindo.

A chief attraction of this book is the complete text of the speech of Chittaranjan Das which he had rendered while defending Sri Aurobindo in the Alipore Bomb Trial.

Another major attraction of this book is six extremely rare articles written on Sri Aurobindo by Bepin Chandra Pal, Charu Chandra Dutta, Hemendra Prasad Ghose, S. R. Das, Suresh Deb and Birendra Chandra Sen. And the reader is expected to find as many as nineteen speeches and two interviews of Sri Aurobindo in this book.

In his scholarly preface to this book, Prof. Kittu Reddy comments about the book and its author:

“In this book compiled by Anurag Banerjee of the Overman Foundation, a huge amount of material connected with Sri Aurobindo has been revealed for the first time. This is from the first two periods – 1893 to 1910. It is possible that much of this material has been published in different books and at different times. However, this is the first time that all this material is found in one book. This will be of great help to all researchers in the political life of Sri Aurobindo.

“Besides the notes written by Sri Aurobindo himself on his political life, there are very interesting details regarding his political activity which include  the deliberations of  Bengal National College, the details of the Calcutta Congress in 1906 and the Surat Congress in 1907. In addition, there are also many references taken from the journals and newspapers of the time; all this makes very not only very interesting reading but also gives a deep insight to the political atmosphere of the time. Serious historians will benefit from this huge data base that has been created by this compilation. For a close study takes one back to the atmosphere of the times. One almost relives the history of that period.

“One of the most delightfully attractive parts of the compilation is the personal anecdotes in the Appendix written by contemporaries of Sri Aurobindo; these give one a wonderful insight into the human personality of Sri Aurobindo and at the same time show his spiritual side.  The Karma Yogi that Sri Aurobindo was is revealed most beautifully in these articles. Indeed these can serve as an inspiration to the modern youth and present day politicians. For that indeed is the need of the hour.

“I am sure this wonderful compilation will be of great use not only to research scholars, but will also help in giving guidance for the future development ofIndia. I believe that taken with all the literature written later inPondicherry, this compilation will give a comprehensive view of Sri Aurobindo’s political vision and serve as an inspiration for the future.”

Comprising 450 pages, “Sri Aurobindo: His Political Life and Activities” is available at a price of Rs. 490 (Four Hundred and Ninety) only.

To place an order, please write to the following email address:

                           overmanfoundation@gmail.com

Payment can also be made online.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Founder-Chairman,

Overman Foundation.

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Publication of the second edition of ‘The Alipore Bomb Trial Judgment’.

Dear Friends,

It gives me immense pleasure to announce that on 12 March 2012 Overman Foundation has published the second and paperback edition of its e-book ‘The Alipore Bomb Trial Judgment’. This book is the unabridged version of the Alipore Bomb Trial Judgment rendered by C. P. Beachcroft on 6 May 1909.

A portion of this judgment emphasizing mostly on Sri Aurobindo was published in the book, “The Alipore Bomb Trial” edited by B. K. Bose  in 1922. But it is only through this publication of Overman Foundation that the complete judgment of the Alipore Bomb Trial had seen the light of day in 2010.

Not only will this book help the students of history but also the students of law.

Compiled and edited by Shri Anurag Banerjee, this book comprising 149 pages is available at a price of Rs. 190 (One Hundred and Ninety) only.

To place an order, please write to the following email address:

                                  overmanfoundation@gmail.com

Payment can also be made online.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Founder-Chairman,

Overman Foundation.

Publication of ‘The Alipore Bomb Trial: Selected Documents’.

Dear Friends,

It gives me immense pleasure to announce that on 12 March 2012 Overman Foundation has published its eighth book ‘The Alipore Bomb Trial: Selected Documents’. A sequel to our earlier publication ‘The Alipore Bomb Trial Judgment’, this book includes a number of unpublished documents of the Alipore Bomb Trial like Confessions of the Chief Accused, Statements of the Accused in the Lower Court further to their Confessions, Examination of the Accused Further to their Confessions, Petitions Presented to the Court of Sessions, Opinions of Assessors and High Court Appeal along with the First Information Report of the trial.

Compiled and edited by Shri Anurag Banerjee, ‘The Alipore Bomb Trial: Selected Documents’ comprises 200 pages and is available at a price of Rs. 290 (Two Hundred and Ninety) only.

To place an order, please write to the following email address:

                                overmanfoundation@gmail.com

Payment can also be made online.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Founder-Chairman,

Overman Foundation.

Golden Memories by Togo Mukherjee

 

 

Dear Friends,

Today we are publishing the reminiscences of Shri Dhritindranath Mukherjee better known as ‘Togo’ in the Aurobindonian community.

Shri Togo Mukherjee or Togo-da, as we lovingly address him, is the grandson of the illustrious revolutionary Jatindranath Mukherjee alias Bagha Jatin. He is a professional therapist with special expertise in Exercise, Yoga, Acupuncture, Auriculotherapie, Reflexology, Lymphatic Drainage, Magnetisme, Hypnotherapy and Bioenergy. Along with his brothers Rothindranath and Prithwindranath and mother Usha, he joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1948 (his father Tejendranath joined the family at Sri Aurobindo Ashram a year later). After his studies in the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education he joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Hand Made Paper Department in December 1959. Soon the entire responsibility of the department was assigned to him and he remained its Incharge till 1967. In 1964 he was selected by the National Productivity Council for a prestigious French scholarship to study management in recognition for his outstanding achievement in the Hand Made Paper Department. He shifted to France in 1967 where he worked as a professional therapist for twenty seven years till his return toIndiain 1994. He had also represented India, along with his eldest brother Rothindranath, at the 10th session of the International Olympic Association held in Greece in August 1970. 

Dr. Prithwindranath Mukherjee, Togo-da’s elder brother, writes about his name: “Admiral Togo Heihachiro (1848-1934) was known all over the world as “Nelson of the East”. He was especially appreciated for his leadership in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-05): Indian nationalists looked up on him as the Asian Hero who proved his superiority by defeating a European power. Okakura had come to Kolkata in 1902 with the message of a Pan-Asiatic unity; Nivedita introduced him to the founders of the Anushilan Samiti; he was received with due enthusiasm by Indian nationalists. Japan occupied a privileged place in their heart. Three years after the Admiral’s death, my brother Togo was born in 1937; he looked like a Japanese baby. Out of love for Japan, Swami Satyananda (Bhavabhushan Mitra, a disciple of my grandfather) proposed to name him Togo. My grandmother was still alive and she willingly accepted it. In the Ashram school, though he was enrolled as Dhritindra, the Mother – fond of Japan, too – preferred to call him Togo.”

Togo-da’s reminiscences ‘Golden Memories’ chronicles his arrival at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram at a young age in 1948, his association with the Mother, his experiences at the Hand Made Paper Department (with which he was associated since its very inception) and Blanchisserie (Ashram Laundry). A special feature of this reminiscence is a handwritten note of the Mother addressed to him.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Founder,

Overman Foundation.

 

                                                          *

 

                                       Golden Memories

                                                                     Togo Mukherjee

 

                        Part I: Reminiscences of our Early Life

 

Since childhood, I was familiar with the names of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Their photos hung in our house. My parents were their disciples. Vinodebala Devi (elder sister of my grandfather Bagha Jatin who was Sri Aurobindo’s revolutionary colleague) and Sarojini Ghose (Sri Aurobindo’s younger sister) were good friends. Sarojini Didimoni used to visit our house.

The tales narrated by relatives and family friends who had been visiting Sri Aurobindo Ashram influenced my infant mind. For me, it was an El Dorado.

In the 1940s under the Muslim League majority the Hindus of undivided Bengal were subjected to atrocities. In protest, my father, Tejendranath, launched the Sanatan Dharma Parishad inspired by Sri Aurobindo’s writings and with His consent. Dr. Shyamaprasad Mookherjee happily lent his full support. Tejendranath revived and also edited the Bengali review Sarathi which was issued by Deshbandhu C. R. Das during the First World War with Anilbaran Roy as its founder editor.

One day in 1947 Nolinikanta Gupta informed my father that Sri Aurobindo considered the time ripe for his visit for a Darshan. On Independence Day in 1947 my parents were fortunate to witness the Mother hoisting Her flag on the terrace of the Ashram main building. Later Rajanikanta Palit told Prithwin that Nolinikanta wanted Palit to receive and drive Bagha Jatin’s son and daughter-in-law, who were “Sri Aurobindo’s guests”. The next  year, in August 1948, my two elder brothers and I accompanied my parents. Before leaving for Pondicherry, we went to pay our respects to Barin Dadu, the younger brother of Sri Aurobindo, who was hospitalised at that time. He was glad to see the whole family together after a long time and learned that we were going to the Ashram for the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s Darshan. He caressed and blessed us saying, “Dadubhaira, how fortunate you are to have their grace. Come back and tell me your experiences.”

Since long, at the back of my mind, I had chosen to live in the Ashram and, before leaving Calcutta, I bid goodbye to my friends, as if we were not to return any more. When my mother came to know this, she took me to task. However, after the Darshan of 15th August, shortly before our return to Calcutta, we three brothers clearly felt that we did not want to leave this paradise where the Mother understood children so well and helped them grow in absolute freedom. During the evening distribution of peanuts at the Playground, we told the Mother about our wish to live under Her protection. She thought for a while and asked us whether our parents know about this decision. On learning that it was a spontaneous prayer from our hearts, she smiled and promised to consider our wish.

When it was turn of ‘Ma’ (my mother, Usha Mukherjee) to receive Prasad, the Mother caught hold of her hands: “Look here. The boys are unwilling to go back to Calcutta. This is of course the choice of their soul. But they are so young; someone has to be there to look after them. Will it be possible for you to stay on to look after them on my behalf?” With tearful eyes, “Ma” informed Her that she had planned to join the Ashram with my father after bringing us up at Calcutta. Henceforth, the Mother’s proposal was for her an unexpressed and long-cherished dream come true.

Overjoyed, the youthful Sudhir Sarkar ran to share with Nolini-da the good news that we had been accepted by the Mother as permanent members of the Ashram. He, with a smile, told Sudhir-dadu what he had heard from Sri Aurobindo: our grandfather had always been with the Master in his past lives and that he had been serving Him without asking anything in return. And the Mother held that we naturally belonged to the Ashram.

Much later, pleased with the rapid progress Prithwin was making, thanks to the exercises with Dada [Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya], one afternoon the Mother surrounded his head fondly with her hands and told Dada: “It is amazing, the tremendous will power each member of his family has!” (At the age of five Prithwin’s legs were affected by polio.)

We went to the Ashram school. “Ma” worked in the Dining Room and in Albert-da’s Tailoring Department with Lilavati “Kakima”, sister of Raja Subodh Mullick and wife of Charuchandra Dutta (Sri Aurobindo’s friend—“Dadu”—who taught us history.)

Some events of my early years in the Ashram have determined my life forever.

On joining playground I was put in Group B with the boys and girls of my age. There was no Physical Education Department uniform as yet. The Playground was situated in the middle of the old buildings of a godown turned into the school. During recess the students used the ground for recreation. Some of us even played hide and seek on the sloped tiled roofs. At the end of 1949, it was categorically forbidden to go on the precarious dilapidated roofs. Some of the boys, in spite of that, continued their games secretly. One fateful day I yielded to the temptation and joined them. Hardly had I climbed a few tiles than the unexpected happened. Dada (Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya) spotted us. Consequence? In the evening, after the group activities were over, we, the offenders stood at the end of the line, with our heads bowed down. The Mother passed in front of us and distributed nuts without a smile, without a word, without a question. What a humiliation! After joining the Ashram I had pledged to myself that I would be an ideal child of the Mother. I would do nothing to displease Her. Here I was now—just because of a moment’s negligence, what a severe punishment was meted out to me! On seeing me fall into a depression, Prithwin, my brother, told Dada about this. When Dada informed the Mother, She said, “That’s the way the Divine works. Whenever a sincere aspirant errs, he is immediately corrected.”

One of the memories that remains is that of Monsieur Benjamin’s French class. Once a student had violated some rules and he tried to justify it. Monsieur said, “That’s a lie.” The student in his defence continued to invent excuses. Annoyed, Monsieur then firmly said, “Lie upon lie. To justify one lie, another lie. There will be no end to lies.” This very active Monsieur Benjamin—in spite of his French name—came from a family of Tamil Brahmins (Thirou). He was in charge of several Ashram services: filter water, cycles, umbrella repair, making mattresses and French caps. In his department, the following message was inscribed in bold letters on a black-board, “Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera.” (God helps those who help themselves).

In our childhood, on normal days we used to see the Mother five or six times a day. On birthdays it could be ten to twelve times or more.

Early in the afternoon, the Mother used to come down by the staircase next to Nirod-da’s room for “Vegetable Darshan”, where the Ashram garden produce was shown to Her. It was here that the Mother gave gifts to Baudet (the donkey that Richard looked after) and the pet deer of Govindaraj, on their birthdays. Several of us were daily attendants to this Darshan. On some days, the Mother in a playful mood, haphazardly threw flowers—especially marigolds (symbolising “plasticity”)—to each of us, to test how alert and supple we were in catching them.

In spring 1950, after years of endeavour, Jatin-da, one of the persons in charge of the flower gardens, had succeeded in growing a cold-climate flower, Poet’s Narcissus (“Beauty Aspiring for the Supramental Realisation”), imported fromFrance. He kept the flower-pot on display, by the side of the path leading to the staircase door.

Bhai, Sudhir-dadu’s youngest son, happened to be there. He was fond of teasing Jatin-da with the effect of the latter’s mock anger. After hurling verbally on Jatin-da a hearty “potlango” (a nonsense word prompted by Jatin-da’s Chittagong dialect) he suddenly chased me. I began to run. When a man obstructed my passage, I jumped over the flower pots. Immediately I heard Jatin-da’s howl. Turning back I realised the disaster: the Narcissus was lying pathetically on the ground. Jatin-da was in a fit, growling and menacing. Bewildered, my immediate reaction was to run upstairs and seek the Mother’s protection. Amused to see me in such a state, She listened to me attentively before consoling me with the warning, “My child, you know very well that you should not be playing chasing game inside the Ashram. Remember!” Returning downstairs, I found Jatin-da still fuming. Then, realising that the Mother had already come down, he dragged me with his left hand, sticking the broken stem of the Narcissus inside my hand and asking me to offer it to the Mother. He then informed Her about the incident. She heard him patiently and replied, “It is a beautiful flower. A good achievement.” Jatin-da was pacified. Then unexpectedly the Mother gave the flower to me with a smile.

We were soon promoted to group “C” or the grey group of the dynamic young boys, who, like all other inmates of the Ashram, dreamt and strove to live the ideals of our Masters. In 1953, one of us had the idea of forming a nucleus to enhance the effort towards our goal. On the evening of 1st June, inside the Mother’s room in the Playground, we gathered around Her and She gave to each of us the typed “Charter” of the “Corps d’ Élite de la JSASA” with Her blessings and encouragement, stressing the gravity and the responsibility of such an undertaking.

In 1948, for a short time we lived in No. 3, in what is now Sri Aurobindo Street. Opposite our house was the Ashram Department where hand-made paper was produced by Kiran-da (Choudhury). I was introduced to him by his boss, Sudhir Dadu. It was a totally manual process using waste paper as raw material. Only a very small percentage of the manufactured paper was of any use. I frequented that place mainly hunting for stamps. Out of curiosity and playfulness, I learnt about the process and at times tried my hand at it. Little did I know then how important this activity would be for me in the future.

Talking about stamps reminds me of Madeleine. She was a Swedish physiotherapist and a gymnast, who had a gift of inspiring young people to learn in a very natural way. She had organized a few exhibitions and extracurricular competitions in various fields to motivate us, as if anticipating the new system of education the Mother was going to install very soon. The Mother was always consulted as the judge. Madeleine’s first venture during Christmas, 1951, was a competition of the Ashram’s stamp collectors along with an exhibition of some of the Mother’s own collection. It was held in the Playground in the Mother’s classroom. Each participant had to display a fixed number of stamps on a panel, arrange them according to a theme of his choice, and give all available details about each stamp and the country.

I had drawn Sri Aurobindo’s symbol on a large sheet of white drawing paper and had arranged the appropriate stamps in it describing Sri Aurobindo’s concept of Involution and Evolution. The Mother gave me the first prize and the second prize to my brother Prithwin. She gave the prizes of stamps not only to the three winners but also consolation prizes to all the participants. The Bulletin report says: “The exhibits were remarkably well arranged and showed considerable ingenuity on the part of the exhibitors, some of them very young children.” [Bulletin, Feb. 1952, p. 76.]

I was good in studies and also a good all-round sportsman. I am generally considered to be the Ashram’s all-time best Malkhamb performer. This discipline (the Wrestler’s Pillar) was developed by ingenious Indian wrestlers to prepare them for strength, agility, quick reflexes, suppleness and courage. It was a favourite item in the special demonstrations of the Physical Education Department. The Mother always appreciated it and encouraged me.

I was also fond of wrestling and boxing. In 1958 I won the Boys’ Grey Group boxing championship.

Another activity that played an important role in my early years was taking part in the Ashram’s dance dramas — I was fortunate enough to be often selected for the main role. One year the Mother chose me as Durga’s lion, another time as the god Agni.

For the 1st December 1955, in the very long dance drama “The Spiritual Destiny of India” the Mother gave me two roles, those of Shiva and Adi Shankaracharya. She was very pleased with my performance and told me, “You had embodied fully the true spirit of Shiva. All your gestures were full of power and elegance.” This programme was personally directed by the Mother herself. (See the Bulletin, Feb. 1956, p. 96). All old timers still remember it with nostalgia.

Thereafter whenever there was some special role, the Mother would tell Anuben (Ashram dance director and daughter of Sri A. B. Purani), “Ask Togo if he is willing to participate.”

 

                           Part II: Hand Made Paper Factory

 

Kiran-da was an enterprising and innovative man but a maverick. He tried many things which interested me. Our friendship blossomed as I grew up. In the mid fifties, the Mother acquired a large coconut grove where the present Handmade Paper Factory and the New Creation buildings are located. Kiran-da shifted his department there. He continued the traditional method of making paper.

He also produced bricks, stone and shell lime. The bricks and the lime were mainly used for the construction of a portion of the big compound-wall of this grove. He undertook the dyeing of the cloth used for the shorts of the P.E.D. members and yarn for the Weaving Department.

In 1959, Udar obtained a substantial amount as grant and a near equal amount as loan from the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) to start a modern hand-made paper small scale unit under Kiran-da. The technology was also provided by KVIC.

In September 1959, Kiran-da invited me to collaborate with him in this venture. With the Mother’s blessings I started working with him in October after finishing my first year Higher course. He was a hard and resourceful worker but lacked method and managerial skills. As a result, he passed on most of the responsibilities to me.

The construction of the factory shed and the office room were completed. A Vomiting Boiler, a medium-size electric Hollander Beater, a Hydraulic Press, an electric Calendar, and a Vat for producing and manually lifting paper sheets were installed.

The Mother had inaugurated the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Hand Made Paper Department [HMPD] on 9th December, 1959 at 4 p.m. The KVIC had provided temporarily one trained supervisor and three skilled workers, namely a Beater man, a Lifter and a ‘Jack of all trades’. Three local unskilled assistants were engaged to get trained under them. The factory started working for one shift of 8 hours.

Two days later, on my birthday, when I saw the Mother, She told me, “My child, it is good that you have started working in HMPD from its inception. I have many expectations from it. My blessings.” She set two clear goals before me: (1) Make good quality paper; (2) Repay the loan in time. I knew very well how fond the Mother was of beautiful paper.

Udar continued all our correspondence from his office in Harpagon, assisted by Sutapa (Behram’s aunty). He got us many contacts. He and Vishwanath-da planned all the engineering and building construction which was executed by Panou-da (Sarkar) of Harpagon and by Anil Banerjee of H.E.C. The electrical works were taken care of by Sitanganshu Chakraborty. Satinath-da (Chatterjee) trained me with the basics of book-keeping. Mr. Rangaswami Chettiar, a building contractor and a popular neighbour, offered to provide more workers whenever required.

Kiran-da began to have differences with Udar and Counouma. Around April 1960, one evening, he returned to the factory all agitated. He came to me and announced that he was quitting the Ashram immediately. I was taken aback by such a sudden and drastic decision of an old inmate. All attempts to pacify him were in vain. I was very unhappy and unprepared for such a shock. He disappeared, leaving a void in me. Two years later, he renewed contact with me from a suburb of Chennai where he was making soap for his livelihood.

The whole responsibility of HMPD fell on me. Production of bricks and lime was stopped but the Dyeing Department continued. High grade dyes imported fromEuropewere offered to the Mother by her devotee, Hasmukhbhai, who had started the first Sri Aurobindo Centre in Ahmedabad. Now my main concern was to develop the hand-made paper department.

1960 was an eventful year. Harisadan-da (Biswas) joined our office for keeping the accounts. At the end of the year, Sundar Dhir, a brilliant, promising youth, took charge of the correspondence and typing the weekly reports prepared by me which I submitted to the Mother. Gautam Chawla used to visit us as a client. One day he expressed his wish to make stationery for the Mother, utilising handmade paper produced in HMPD. I got a room built for his activity adjacent to our office. He even persuaded Udar to construct a tiny table-top Beater. One fine morning he brought an inmate for the factory, an Alsatian pup. The Mother named her Fidèle. The KVIC sent us five permanent skilled workers from Tanjore and a Supervisor, all trained at its Pune Institute.

On my next birthday (11th December 1960), the Mother congratulated me, “My child, the Paper Factory is doing well. Continue to improve.”

For more than a year we passed through a very critical teething period. The KVIC had financed and set up three hundred and odd such factories all over India. Most of them had failed. Making hand-made paper is a very lengthy and highly wasteful process in every respect.  Breakdowns, repairs and stoppage of production are very frequent. It is not a profit-making enterprise in normal conditions. Its products are costly and in no way can it compete with the paper-mills. Its market is very limited. We learnt all this the hard way. But the Mother had wished it success, and we endeavoured towards that goal. Panou-da’s prompt help from Harpagon in repairing work was inestimable.

At the end of 1961, an unexpected happy coincidence took place. It was one of my most enriching experiences. Chimanbhai K. Patel, a prominent figure of Pondicherry commerce, informed me that the Southern Zone head office of the National Productivity Council in Trichy was to organize a three month Work-Study course on entrepreneurial management inPondicherry. The subject was ‘The Principles and Practical Application of Operational Analysis and Methods Improvement’. It was to be conducted by an eminent American Professor delegated by UNAID to the Indian Government. With the Mother’s permission I availed of the opportunity. New possibilities opened up before me. The Professor taught us how to come out of the rut and solve problems, how to economise time, space, raw material and manpower, and how to motivate employees. I was now convinced that we had the possibility of making our factory viable.

The lessons learnt there were immediately implemented. Flow of movement was streamlined, wastage at every stage was recorded and minimised and time taken between different stages of production was reduced. Relations with employees were good and I received their cooperation. HMPD was on the way to becoming a profitable concern for producing quality paper.

Our survey showed that we could make profits on Artists’ Water Colour and Fancy papers. The best raw material required for that was cotton. There were many cottage and home industries all over South India manufacturing cotton hosiery. With the sincere, resourceful Asherbhai of Honesty [HEC], a devotee of the Mother, as my guide, I personally visited some of these to make contracts for their waste products. This was the first time that I went out of the Ashram. The Mother told me, “I will always be with you.” Later I made two more such trips with one of our employees as my interpreter. We were on the right track.

From then on, Cotton Water Colour, Bond and Fancy papers were manufactured. The name given to this factory by the Mother clearly indicated that it was an Ashram Department, fully under the Mother’s care, but with a difference. The loan had to be repaid and so it had to be run commercially and therefore it was autonomous.

At one time, during this period, the authorities decided that the HMPD should remit all its income to the Ashram treasury and draw all its requirements from there. As a result of this decision, prompt, efficient and smooth operations became difficult.

There was a large number of workers. Most of them were on daily wages. On mutual agreement they were paid the weekly aggregate amount on Saturday s at 4 p.m.On one such Saturday, this amount did not reach me at the scheduled time of 1 p.m. I waited till 3.30 p.m. Then I rushed to the Ashram, ran up to the Mother on the first floor. The Mother asked me what the matter was. I told Her, “Mother, the daily wage-earners are to be paid now, today. These are needy people. The money has not arrived for their payment. They will not be able to feed their family. They work hard. If we fail them, can they have any more trust in us? Can we expect good relations and work from them?” She said something to Vasudhaben. Vasudhaben went to the adjacent room, fetched a purse and gave it to Her. The Mother asked me to write down the required amount and the purpose for which it was needed. She counted the money and gave it to me saying, “My child, I appreciate your sense of responsibility. I am giving this money to you from my own purse.” I was very happy. Thereafter, once again, HMPD became autonomous.

The daily wage-earners were taken on the monthly salary list after they became skilled in their work and after a certain period, they were made permanent.

To give us a boost, the Mother instructed the Ashram Press to buy hand-made Bond paper for printing the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s books. By this time there were five Lifting Vats; thus the production had multiplied five times.

Around this time KVIC sent us blueprints of an innovated Lifting Vat with a pedal system. The Paper Mould was lifted out from the Vat by foot-pressure instead of the back-breaking and strenuous manual method. Udar and Vishwanath-da got a prototype built in Harpagon. On trial, it was found to be very satisfactory and more were ordered. The yield per Vat increased.

Udar’s good public relations were very helpful in promoting sales.

Right in the beginning, special papers were produced and supplied to Nasik Security Press for their Hundi (promissory) Notes with Charkha watermark and to some Universities for their Certificates and Degrees with their watermarked emblem. The Gita Press, Gorakhpur, had placed an order for white Bond Paper for their Delux Edition stressing that no product of animal origin was to be used in its manufacture. So instead of gelatine sizing, resin sizing was used. We received orders from Chimanlal Papers, a wholesaler of Mumbai. To the Vakils’ enterprise of Mumbai we supplied deluxe deckle-edge stationery papers.

In 1963, our Artists’ Water Colour paper was rated in the American market as next to the best long-established papers. Orders started coming from abroad for Drawing, Bond, Fancy papers and stationery. In the meantime, the arduous, very slow process of rag-cutting by hand was replaced by an electric chopper, reducing the time and number of workers.

As the orders increased, the main shed was extended. Gradually the number of Vats increased from five to ten. The factory began to work in two shifts. Eventually to meet the increasing demand, a third shift had to be added, making the factory work round the clock at full capacity. The total number of employees swelled from the initial seven to about one hundred and thirty. The production increased more than thirty-fold. I remained available twenty-four hours for all emergencies.

Salaries and wages were raised with the increase of production and sales. Surplus money was offered to the Mother. Even during great hardship the installments of the loan were always paid on schedule. Excess expenditure in every respect was curbed. Perhaps by 1968 the loan was repaid.

A devotee of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, Rear Admiral of United States (Retired), Rutledge B. Tomkins was impressed on his visit to our HMPD and, after giving me some suggestions, he sent me books on Work-Study as a token of encouragement.

Sometime in 1962, Udar placed Tony Scott to assist Dhir. One afternoon, when I went to the Mother for an official matter, Tony wished to accompany me as it was his birthday. There the Mother gave him a Sanskrit name: Anurakta. In the beginning of 1964, Reba joined the HMPD staff and I trained her in all aspects of the factory.

Further extension of the main factory shed was undertaken to install a larger Hollander Beater, some more Vats, a power Hydraulic Press and another Vomiting Boiler.

In the third quarter of 1964, to my great surprise, I was to learn that the National Productivity Council had selected me for a prestigious French scholarship to study Management in recognition of my outstanding achievement in HMPD. My first thought was that it might give me the opportunity to visit the world’s renowned hand-made paper mills in France and  in England and produce first grade papers in the Ashram. When I told the Mother about the offer, she simply asked me, “What about your responsibilities here?” Only that. Naturally I dropped the idea.

This is the story of HMPD as I knew it. As someone who was directly involved in its functioning between 1959-67 and on several occasions was directed and helped by the Mother herself, I thought it would be worth sharing my experiences with my friends.

 

                                Part III: Blanchisserie

 

After I recovered partly from my head injury in the Anti-Hindi riots of February 1965, Suren-da (Datta), the incharge of the Ashram Blanchisserie (Laundry), approached me for help. He had a few serious problems. The Ashram was expanding and the number of clothes received was increasing alarmingly. The Blanchisserie was not in a position to accept more clothes because of lack of space, manpower and time. Also, it was to come under the Factory Act. In March 1966, I wrote to the Mother asking for her sanction to help in the Blanchisserie Management with whatever experience I had gained in the Handmade Paper and Dyeing departments. She gave me the following answer:

 

 

Blanchisserie functioned in an archaic, chaotic manner. The workers were engaged from 4 A.M. to 6 P.M. (for 14 hours!) with an interval of 2 hours, and all 7 days of the week. On some days, there was heavy work whereas, on other days, the work was over in only 5 or 6 hours.

Lacking a global perspective, the management had got bogged down in the details of this “disorganisation” and assumed that, in the present structure, they had reached the saturation point and badly needed to expand. There was an urgent demand for much larger, well-ventilated sorting and storage rooms and more space for drying clothes.

This situation arose chiefly from the unquestioned, long-standing practice of receiving and delivering clothes only on two particular days of the week. Consequently, during these hours, all the workers stopped their respective work and were mobilised for receiving, checking, sorting, numbering and delivering the clothes. This led to problems in storing and drying space. On some days, a large number of clothes were washed, dried and ironed; on other days, less.

Between the different processes, much crisscrossing and futile movements caused loss of time and energy. No definite regular work was allotted to the workers, resulting in perpetual indecision, confusion, disinterest, loss of time and lack of skill.

My aim was to improve the service, the working conditions, and be economical in all aspects. In those days, the Ashram was not affluent and the Departments functioned on a shoestring budget. Suren-da and his two zealous assistants, Mohan Patel and Roopa Rai, worked hard and methodically to get the project completed at the earliest possible date.

The changes were introduced gradually, step by step, and finally on May 1st, 1966, the new system was fully implemented. Ravindra-ji, who was the overall incharge, kept the Mother informed of the progress in work.

Sunday was declared as a holiday. The work now started at 7 a.m.and finished at 5 p.m.daily, with an interval of 2 hours. The salary remained unaffected. The number of workers required became less.

Clothes were received and delivered on all 6 days. Work-load was evenly distributed for all 6 days and at all stages of operations. Processes were streamlined.

Only 2 men carried out the receiving and checking of the clothes instead of the whole workforce. Previously 3 men were required for 3 hours, each for numbering the clothes by a holder pen. In the new system, only one man finished it in 1½ hours by block-printing.

Carrying heavy wet clothes to the terrace was very strenuous. A basket lift was to be constructed for this purpose.

Previously, strain removal was not undertaken. In the new setup, all stains, even on delicate fabrics, were removed. Quality and cost-wise suitable detergents were procured and an improved bleaching method was adopted.

Each worker was assigned a particular job to gain proficiency. Appropriate equipment, furniture and fixtures were installed with proper layouts in order to have enough space, free movement, light and air, which resulted in the reduction of expenses.

The introduction of the new changes automatically solved most of the problems that were faced by the management, and it contributed in waiving the imposition of the Factory Act.

On the eve of my departure for Paris, on my birthday, 11th of December 1967, I submitted to the Mother, along with a covering letter, a comprehensive report on the new system written by the Blanchisserie management, namely, Suren-da, Mohan and Roopa. The report gave the details of the changes made and the improvements and benefits derived. The Mother was happy and gave us Her Blessings.

Forty-six years have elapsed since I implemented the new system in May 1966 and the Blanchisserie is still functioning very well on more or less the same lines, except, of course, for the introduction of heavy-duty machines for washing and ironing.

As for the Hand Made Paper Department, in 1995 after I returned fromParisI went to purchase some paper. I was happy to see huge constructions in the factory compound and presumed that the Mother’s cherished department had prospered and expanded beyond expectations. On inquiry Reba, the present manager, told me that the production capacity was still the same and they were following the system I developed in early 1960s.

 

                              Part IV: Epilogue

 

In 1967, Professor Jean Filliozat of College de France and founder of the French Institute at Pondicherry, proposed my name to a Paris Doctor treating spinal problems. The latter had approached Jean Filliozat for an Indian Yoga therapist to collaborate with him. When I told the Mother about this invitation, She gladly gave me permission and insisted that inFranceI could get further treatment for my head injury. This offer interested me as it also gave me the opportunity to see and know the world, and to have a direct experience of the maladies of Western society. From my early childhood, I was actively interested in health without medicine and was fortunate in receiving guidance from experts in various disciplines of natural health.

In 1970, as per Professor Jean Filliozat’s wish, I joined his class in Philologie Indienne at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, which was held at the Sorbonne University’s main building. The next year, he entrusted me to do research on some very old Bengali manuscripts preserved at the Bibliotheque Nationale and got me the Reader’s card for this otherwise inaccessible French Government Archives. Due to scarcity of time, I could not continue it for long. My brother Prithwin brilliantly achieved this difficult task and his critical catalogue was published jointly by the Bibliotheque Nationale and the Bulletin de l’ Ecole Francaise d’ Extreme-Orient, Paris.

My brother Rothin and myself representedIndiaat the 10th session of the International Olympic Association (not Olympic Games) held in Greece in August 1970. During this session, members of the Olympic Academy along with representative sportsmen from all countries, met and discussed the upcoming Olympic Games in 1972. The officials and delegates were pleased and impressed by our participation in the discussion. Questioned by me the world’s sports authorities told us that they had incorporated Yoga methods particularly in the field of psychological preparation of the Athletes.

Some years later when I joined the International Medical Sophrology College, Paris, I was fortunate to have amongst the eminent professors the world renowned Dr. Raymond Abrezol who in 1972 had trained the French Winter Olympic team that had won most of the trophies.

Paris is the cultural and intellectual centre of ideas and disciplines practised in different parts of the world. There I had the opportunity to learn many therapies. I passed out from a Naturopathy Institute and learnt Acupuncture. I also familiarised myself with a few esoteric healing therapies.

My formative years under the Mother’s care and guidance have laid a solid foundation for conscious living which I have always applied in my life and profession. My focus for rehabilitation or healing lies primarily in changing the patient’s attitude towards his/her own body and life. The underlying cause of most problems stem from the ignorance and dissociation of the different planes and parts of the being. I practise various therapies such as Exercise, Yoga, Acupuncture, Auriculotherapie, Reflexology, Lymphatic Drainage, Magnetisme, Hypnotherapy and Bioenergy as well as a few innovations of my own derived from my life at the Ashram and abroad.

I worked as a professional therapist for 27 years inParis, where I never missed the Mother’s presence. Following my father’s demise at the Ashram, I returned to Pondicherry in 1994 to look after my old and ailing mother. Panou-da and Sati-di requested me a few times to join them at the Harpagon Workshop but as I had got occupied in a totally different domain I could not oblige them.

When the Hand Made Paper Department was on the verge of closing down I was also approached by some responsible persons to join the factory. I declined for obvious reasons.

Presently, I treat my patients freely as a service to the Mother, who has brought me in a full circle back to the place of my childhood. I am eternally grateful to Her for having reposed so much trust in me in some of the pioneering work at the Ashram. My journey continues as I feel more and more the outer life merging with the inner with the help of Her eternal Grace.

 

                                                      *

 

 

 

 

 

Reminiscences of Shantiniketan by Noren Singh Nahar

 

 

Dear Friends,

Today we are publishing an article titled ‘Reminiscences of Shantiniketan’ penned by Shri Noren Singh Nahar, a senior member of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, who is an inmate since 1939. He is the third son of Prithwi Singh Nahar. Born on 1 December 1920, he came to Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the first time in 1936 and became an inmate in 1939 at the age of nineteen. His first assignment was supervision of work in Golconde, the oldest Guest House of the Ashram which was under construction and he supervised the cutting and bending of the iron rods. He also worked in the Ashram Bakery and the Press in the printing section. His love for gardening was encouraged by the Mother who gave him a small plot of land behind the office of Pavitra in the inner courtyard of the Ashram Main Building where he, along with help from a senior sadhak named Jyotin-da, grew vegetables.

Pavitra was the first stamp collector in the Ashram. After he joined the Ashram in 1925, he brought his stamp albums from France and thus started the work of stamp collection. Noren Singh used to work in Pavitra’s dining room where there was a small table and one stool. With help and guidance from the Mother (who had entrusted to him the responsibilities of the Philately Department which flourished under him) and Pavitra, he has enriched the department so much that now it houses a vast and spectacular collection of stamps of post-Independence India, French India, Canada, U.S.A., Brazil, France, Holland,  Switzerland and some other countries of Western Europe. From 1975 he was helped in his work by his youngest sister Shrimati Suprabha Nahar. It won’t be an exaggeration if I say that Noren-da and Suprabha-di are the soul and heart of the Department of Philately.

Noren-da is a beautiful person. He and his younger brother Nirmal Nahar are among the few people I’ve met who possess both beauty of form and beauty of spirit. Despite being one of the senior-most members of the Ashram, Noren-da is easily approachable and his child-like simple laughter draws people closer to him. The Mother had remarked about Noren-da after seeing him that his psychic being was exactly on the front.

Noren-da and his brothers (Dhir Singh, Bir Singh and Nirmal Singh) had studied at Santiniketan from 1930 to 1934. In this article he has recalled the memories of those golden days at the ‘Abode of Peace’.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee,

Founder,

Overman Foundation.

                                               *

                             Reminiscences of Shantiniketan

                                                                  Noren Singh Nahar

“Amader Shantiniketan shob hote apon.” Shantiniketan means the Abode of Peace.  We went there in the year 1930.  My parents, brothers and sisters settled in a house called “Nichu Bungalow”.  It had a big compound with many big trees including amlaki and berries, orchards, etc.  In front of our house there was a huge banyan tree.  Dwiju Thakur – Dwijendranath Thakur, elder brother of Rabindranath, used to stay behind our house; his daughter-in-law was called as Baro Ma.  About Dwiju Babu it was said that when he used to sit outside in his verandah, birds used to come and sit all over his body… there used to be a road leading to Bolpur from….

Gurupalli was close by where the teachers used to stay.  There was a small pond called Bhubhan danga.  During our visits if we would ask for water from the villagers, they would give water along with simple sweets like Batasha.  They were quite warm people.  About Bhubhan danga there was a legend that the place was named after Bhuban dacoit who was known for his cruelty.  One day, Tagore went to his place and told that he wanted to procure land for his school.  Bhuban dacoit requested Tagore to take the land without any consideration as he was repentant of his past deeds.  However, Tagore did not agree to that and paid him the right sum.  I don’t know whether it’s true but we have heard this story.

We four brothers – Dhir Singh, Bir Singh, Nirmal and I – were admitted to the school in Shantiniketan.  Our youngest brother Abhay was too young to be admitted to the school, of course after a year or two he was admitted as well.  Sisters were too young, but Sujata used to go to Kalabhavan to learn painting from Mastar- moshai Nandalal Bose[i], the famous painter.  My mother used to prepare sweets and whenever she made any special sweet she would send it to Rabindranath through Abhay and Sujata.  Once Abhay wanted an autograph, so he wrote some beautiful lines for him, “Bhoy hote tobo Abhay majhe”.

Our school life was quite interesting; the teachers were very affectionate and caring.  There used to be 100 students in the school from elementary to the highest standard.  There was a library… We used to sing prayer songs before going to the classes; this Morning Prayer was called as Baitalik.

There was a big bell near the “Shaal Bithi” which was adjacent to the library.  The gong of the bell signified starting of the classes.  We had mats with us to sit under the trees.  It used to be co-educational system, hardly 10-12 students in each class.  After each period we used to go to different places to learn different subjects. One interesting thing was that in rainy season whenever there was slight rain, students used to ring the bell to declare holiday.  Then we used to visit different places getting drenched!  Places like Kopai[ii] and other rivers which were at quite a distance from our school.

There was a place called “Amrakunja” near the spot where our classes were held.  At times Tagore would come and sit there, beyond that there was a guest house.  Adjacent to “Amrakunja” was the “Upasana Griha,” built entirely of glass.  We used to have our weekly offs on Wednesdays instead of Sundays as Tagore did not want to follow the British system.  When Tagore used to be there in Shantiniketan he used to read verses from Upanishads in the “Upasana Griha” on Wednesdays.  In his absence Sri Kshitimohan Sen[iii] used to recite from Upanishads.  After the recitations we used to have a short meditation.

When we went to Shantiniketan for the first time Tagore was not there.  After his return, he stood in “Upasana Griha” and one of our teachers introduced each of the students individually to him.  We did Pranam to him, which was our first meeting.  Afterwards I have seen him many times. We used to call him Gurudev. When there used to be special functions (for Kolkata and other places) and we used to do rehearsals, he would come out and observe.  Apart from these there used to be special functions held in “Singha Sadan,” in a special hall opposite to the library.  The school boarding houses were close by. “Singha Sadan” was also used for teaching Jujutsu.  We had two teachers, a Japanese gentleman[iv] and an Indian person who was our relative.  We used to have Jujutsu competitions.  I had taken some Jujutsu lessons there.  One day, for some special occasion, Gurudev was there and after the function everyone clapped.  He was quite furious with this imitation of the foreign custom, he wanted the people to say Sadhu Sadhu instead of clapping.  He became red with anger.

There was a building “Uttarayan” a two-storied building meant for Gurudev.  All the treasures, gifts and awards received from various countries and dignitaries were kept there.  There were no security guards.  Occasionally I used to visit “Uttarayan” to see these unguarded treasures, it never occurred to us even to touch any item.

I remember, at that time, Gurudev was staying in the building adjacent to “Uttarayan”, most probably in “Shyamoli.”  He used to sit outside and write.  On Wednesdays I often plucked Keya (Ketaki) flowers and offered them to Gurudev.  On one such occasion I offered the flowers and then put forward my autograph book to him for signing.  He simply signed “Rabindranath Tagore”, I requested him to write something more.  He was a little irritated with this and then wrote “Blessings”.  And now, after a long time, I understand he was in a different mood as he was writing something and my request interrupted his flow of writing.

                                          Tagore’s autograph

 

When he used to take the dance and drama troops from Shantiniketan to Kolkata normally they used to perform at New Empire Hall.  He used to be present during the performances.  My father gave his car to Haren-da[v] who was looking after the requirements of the troop; he gave us free tickets for the show.  So we all went to see the function.  This was another instance when we met Gurudev.  There were other similar incidents.

Gurudev was not only concerned with education but also about the rural development of Bengal.  There was an institution Sriniketan, it was a few kilometers away from Shantiniketan.  There was a road connecting these two places, but we used to walk through the paddy fields.  En route to Sriniketan there was a Kali Mandir under a huge tamarind tree.  It seems, once upon a time dacoits used to stay near the Mandir and they would chop off the heads of innocent travelers.  Anyway, we used to pass by the temple and reach Sriniketan.  There was a place which was at a little elevation compared to the surrounding land and there were some frescoes.  On special occasions Gurudev would stand there to speak a few words.  Developmental work was going on in Sriniketan, imparting practical knowledge like weaving, general hygiene, cleanliness and similar other things to the villagers.  This was for the training and development of the villagers.

I was fond of collecting stamps since my childhood.  I used to go to different people for stamps, first of all to Gurudev’s Secretary, Anil Chanda, then to Dinu Thakur, composer of songs by Gurudev.  There was a Javanese student, I would get East Indies’ stamps from him.  I would also go to C F Andrews[vi] who was popularly called Deenabandhu (“Friend of the Poor”).

The teachers were quite friendly and affectionate.  I frequently visited Kalabhavan.  On one such occasion I saw Mastarmoshai sitting in the verandah and painting.  I gave my autograph book and requested for an autograph.  He took the book, thought for a moment and in no time, with his deft hand, sketched a Santhal lady winnowing paddy.  It was in black and white but quite wonderful.  It was with me for a long time.  Apart from Mastar moshai I took autographs of some other artists.  There were some teachers whom I remember: our librarian Bidhushekhar Shastri[vii] who was a very learned person and had mastery over 30-40 languages; Sri Kshitimohan Sen, he would tell us stories of Bangoma-Bangomi and other fairy tales.  His way of storytelling was very captivating.  Tejesh-da is another teacher I remember, he used to teach Botany.  His house was near “Upasana Griha”, it was quite a funny house, a round shaped building built around a palm tree.

In Sishu Bhavan some students of Mastar moshai had done fresco work.  I suppose the art works are still there.  The boarding in-charge was a Ceylonese gentleman Wilmot-da[viii], he was very tall and quite affectionate.  Apart from these I remember Asha-di and her sister, they came from Benares.  Then Sisir-da[ix] who later became the Registrar of the Ashram School, was there teaching History in Shantiniketan.  I was his student there.  Then Tanmay-da was there teaching mathematics. There was another teacher whose surname was Goswami, called Gosain-ji[x]. I cannot recall his first name; he used to teach Sanskrit or Bengali.

As Gurudev was a well-known personality, many dignitaries used to come to meet him.  I have seen a few of them; most important among them were Pandit Nehru and Kamala Nehru; then Pandit Malviya, founder of Benares Hindu University, and Abdul Ghaffar Khan “Frontier Gandhi”.  I also remember two French gentlemen who came all the way from Paris to meet Gurudev by airplane; they landed near a place called “Santhal Palli”.

Near the Upasana Griha there is a renowned place called “Chattim Tala” where Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, father of Gurudev, had a realisation.  “Chattim Tala” was the place from where Shantiniketan started.

Every year there was a charity fair.[xi]  The students used to have stalls and the sale proceeds would be deposited in “Poor Fund”.  The fair was held near Shaal Bithi.  Once my brothers had a stall to sell Papads in the fair. Our sisters first purchased Papads by paying money but soon they finished their money and came asking for more Papads, ultimately my brothers gave Papads to them free!!

Ashram Kobi Nishikanto[xii] was in Shantiniketan in those days.  During the fair, once he made rhymes covering all the Professors of Gurupalli including Rabindranath Tagore.  I remember the first line of one of the rhymes: “Amader Sujji Mama, Shaban bechen dhama dhama”.  He had a grocery store!  Nishikanto made similar rhymes concerning other professors like Sri Kshitimohan Sen and others.

I don’t remember the year when Gandhiji first visited Shantiniketan Ashram[xiii], but that date used to be celebrated every year.  The servants used to get off on that day.  The students and teachers of the Ashram used to do all the work including sweeping and cleaning of latrines.   We all used to participate.  Once the work was over, all the students, teachers and the servants would have food together.  This event of collective eating was covered in some newspaper in Kolkata and our brother Abhay Singh’s name was mentioned in that report.  As you know, our society was much more conservative in those days.  My grandfather and some other important people of our Jain community were discussing this newspaper report in our Kolkata house when Abhay was there on his school holidays.  He was called upon by these elders to explain his behaviour; he listened to their rebukes silently.  However, my grandmother who was a very learned person was present in the house.  Once she heard from Abhay about the incident she came out to defend him.  She quoted instances from the scriptures and asked those people to substantiate how Abhay’s behaviour was in any way ashastriya.  The matter concluded with this before the elders of the society could take any step against him formally.

We were there in Shantiniketan for approximately five years from 1930 to the end of 1934.  When we went there our sisters Sumitra and Suprabha were very young, so they may not remember much. 

Another incident I remember is the visit of Uday Shankar.[xiv]  I exactly cannot recall the year he came, may be in 1932 or 1933.  He came to Shantiniketan, stayed as a guest of Rabindranath and his team members stayed with us in “Nichu Bungalow”.  Abhay Singh took them around Shantiniketan acting as a local guide.  There was a photograph of Abhay Singh along with the troop taken in front of Uttarayan.  We all requested Udayshankar to dance, however he was in no mood for dancing.  Later he relented and showed us some movements of his hands.  His main objective of coming to Shantiniketan in that trip was to get a letter of recommendation from Rabindranath and to seek his blessings.  Most probably he was leaving for his USA trip.                                                

Near Uttarayan there was a Santhal Palli which I have visited a few times, their cleanliness was exemplary.  The Santhal men and women were quite healthy.  At times they used to sing in their own language, but as I said, their sense of cleanliness was amazing.  They used to welcome their guests.  I don’t exactly remember what work they used to do but generally they used to be happy and cheerful.

Another incident I remember of Shantiniketan.  There was a hospital, I have forgotten the doctor’s name.  I used to visit him regularly on account of often having cuts and wounds.  He used to get irritated with my frequent visits.  We used to have carpentry classes there.  I made something like a tennis racket out of wood.  There was a tennis court near the football ground and I wanted to play tennis, so I made the racket.  Our residence was bordered with wooden fence, so one day as I was jumping across the fence pivoting on the racket, it slipped and I fell on my chin.  I had cut my chin but I did not visit the hospital so as not to further irritate the doctor!  The wound healed on its own.

We have heard the song of Gurudev, “Gram chara oi ranga matir path amar mon bhulay re”… the colour of the earth in Shantiniketan, Birbhum is all red, one has to just move outside the town…it’s all red.  The surrounding environment was also quite nice… probably he got inspiration for that song in those natural surroundings.  There was a boy called Sudhir in our class.  He once wrote a letter to me many years later, he wanted a reunion of the classmates.  I replied to him stating that it was not possible for me.  I do not know what the ultimate fate of his initiative was.  We exchanged letters for a couple of times, however it did not continue for long.

I think it was in 1934 that there was a devastating earthquake in Bihar.[xv] Gandhiji said it was the result of the sins!  At that time our class was being held beside Sishu Bhavan and the funniest thing was that while we were discussing about earthquake in our class  we felt the whole ground shaking.

We did not have custom of Saraswati Puja in Shantiniketan; it used to be our annual sports day.  I knew swimming from my Kolkata days. I participated in the swimming competition once in Biren-da’s pond.  I had an early lead but as I reached the finishing point I was out of breath.  Somehow I managed to float and secure first place.  Years later I realized the importance of warming up before playing any game.

My father was a great admirer of Rabindranath, he used to visit Shantiniketan often to meet Tagore and discuss about literature.  They used to exchange letters; he had many letters from Rabindranath.  He himself used to write and a few of his writings had been published in Sabuj Patra, the magazine edited by Pramatha Choudhury[xvi].  He was also quite known to my father.  Once I remember, in our Ballygunj house, I came out of our house cycling and saw him sitting in a car.  At that time I did not know his identity, he had come for some work of my father.  When I came to know about him I requested Pramatha Babu to come in.  He said that he would come some other day.

My father had collected all the first editions of Rabindranath’s books.  During the centenary edition compilation, people from Viswa Bharati had come and gathered much important information from father’s collection.  He was also a great connoisseur of art; he could really appreciate good paintings.  He had paintings by Nandalal Bose, Rabindranath Tagore and others in his collection.  I remember distinctly two of Nandalal Bose’s paintings in our Ballygunj house.  One was Sharad-o-Shree, another one was Birth of Sri Chaitanya.  There was also an interesting art piece of Rabindranath in father’s collection.  He had painted on a Pot and signed his name on it, quite a unique piece indeed. Before coming to Pondicherry my father presented it to Rabindranath.  He wanted to sell it but when Rabindranath said they had financial constraints, my father donated the art work to Shantiniketan.

I have here captured the key incidents of our 5 years’ stay in Shantiniketan.  There are so many other small incidents which I cannot recollect now.

                                                   *

 


[i] Nandalal Bose (3 December 1882—16 April 1966) was a notable Indian painter of Bengal School of Art.  A pupil of Abanindranath Tagore, Bose was known for “Indian Style” of painting.  He became the principal of Kala Bhawan, Shantiniketan in 1922.  He was influenced by the Tagore family and deeply impressed by the murals of Ajanta.  His classic works include paintings of scenes from Indian mythologies, women and village life. 

[ii]KopalRiver:  The Kopal River (Bengali:  Kopai; also called Sal River) is a tributary of the Mayurakshi River.  It flows past such towns as Shantiniketan, Bolpur, Kankalitala and Labhpur in Birbhum district of West Bengal.  It is a small river in dry season but overflows its banks during the monsoon.

[iii] Acharya Kshiti Mohan Sen (2.12.1880-1960): Born inBenares, Sen completed his masters in Sanskrit from local Queen’s College and took up a teaching job in Chamba in the foothills of theHimalayas.  In 1908 he came to Shantiniketan at the invitation of Tagore and stayed on till his death 52 years later.  He retired from Viswa Bharati as Principal of Vidyabhavan.  It was mainly at the instance of Acharya Kshiti Mohan Sen that Rabindranath became acquainted with the ideas of medieval saints of India and explained their significance in his discourses, including his famous lectures on The Religion of Man.  He was also known as Dadu (Grandfather) for his style of storytelling.

[iv] Nokuzo Takagaki:  An expert in Jujutsu, he was a State scholar at theUniversity of British Columbia.  He came to Shantiniketan in 1929 and stayed for about 2 years.

[v] Haren Ghose was the first Indian impresario. He is best known as having presented Uday Shankar and his dance to the Indian public in 1930. He was a good photographer and published many photographs of well-known personalities in the periodical, The Four Arts Annual, as well as articles contributed by them, whether from India or from overseas. Just weeks before India won her freedom in 1947, during the Calcutta riots he was murdered in his office.

[vi] Charles Freer Andrews (12 February 1871—5 April 1940) was an English priest of the Church of England.  He was an educator and participant in the campaign for Indian independence and became Mahatma Gandhi’s close friend and associate.  Andrews greatly admired the philosophy of the young Mohandas Gandhi, and was instrumental in convincing him to return to India from South Africa, where Gandhi had been a leading light in his Indian Civil Rights struggle.  Andrews was affectionately dubbed Christ’s Faithful Apostle by Gandhi, based on his initials.  Also, for Andrews’ contributions to the Indian Independence Movement, Gandhi and his students at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi named him Deenabandhu or the “Friend of the Poor”.

[vii] Bidhushekhar Shastri (1878-1957):  Sanskrit scholar and Indologist, born at Harishchandrapur, Malda in West Bengal.  He studied at a Tol, obtaining the degree of Kavyatirtha when he was seventeen years old.  He was fluent in Sanskrit and wrote both prose and poetry in the language.  He spent several years in Benares studying the scriptures and was awarded the title of Shastri.  Bidhushekhar joined Brahmacharya Vidyalaya at Shantiniketan as a professor of Sanskrit.  After this he joined the department of Sanskrit atCalcuttaUniversity as Asutosh Professor.  He learnt Avestan for a comparative study of Vedic literature and learned French, German, Tibetan and Chinese to study Buddhist scriptures.  The Government of India honoured him with the title of Mahamahopadhyaya in 1936.  He was awarded a D.Litt. and the title of Deshikottama (1957) by the universities of Calcutta and Visva-Bharati respectively.

[viii] Wilmot A. Perera (1905-1973) was a Sri Lankan statesman and philanthropist.  A Member of Parliament, he was Ceylon’s first Ambassador to China.  Born in Horana to Abraham Perera, a wealthy landowner, he was educated at Cyril Jansze College, Panadura and at the prestigious Royal College,Colombo.  Taking over the family business, he became active in his home area, establishing the first rural development society in Raigam Korale and went on to establish Sri Palee College (Sripali Academy) in 1934 in Horana, based on Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan.  The Sri Palee Trust established by him with his lands was donated to the University of Sri Lanka in his memory in 1974.  This later became the Sri Palee Campus of the University ofColombo.  He was married to Esme Perera Abeywardena.

[ix] Sisir Kumar Mitra: Born on 19 January 1887 in Calcutta, he was the Head of the Department of Philosophy and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Benares Hindu University. His writings compared Eastern and Western Philosophy, and the teachings of Sri Aurobindo in comparison with Western philosophers. He was the author of important reference books like RESURGENT INDIA. As the Registrar, he occupied a ground-floor apartment at the South-Eastern corner of the Ashram school compound (Pondicherry).

[x] Nityananda Binod Goswami:  Literary scholar and Sanskrit teacher in Shantiniketan.  Generally called as Gosain-ji.  Gosain-ji was a devout Vaishnavite but had discarded all the external pretensions of the cult.  He wore a beard instead of the traditional tuft on his head.  He was a scholar in Pali and Sanskrit.

[xi] Annual charity Fair in Shantiniketan used to be called as Anandamela.

[xii] Nishikanto Raichowdhury (24.03.1909—20.05.1973):  Poet and artist, he joined Kalabhavan in Shantiniketan at the age of 18.  Tagore used to like him and called him as Chand Kobi (Moon Poet).  He went to Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1934 (or 1933 as per some letters of Dilip Kumar Roy).

[xiii] Mahatma Gandhi first visited Shantiniketan on 17 February 1915, one month after his arrival in India.  He was attended by C F Andrews as Tagore was not in Shantiniketan at that time.  His first face-to-face contact with Tagore was on 5th of March 1915.

[xiv] Uday Shankar (8 December 1900—26 September 1977):  Pioneer of modern dance in India and a world renowned Indian dancer and choreographer, Uday Shankar was most known for adapting Western theatrical techniques to traditional Indian classical dance, imbued with elements of Indian classical, folk and tribal dance, thus laying the roots of modern Indian dance which he later popularized in India, Europe and the United States in 1920 and 1930s, and effectively placed Indian dance on the world map.  In 1962, he was awarded by Sangeet Natak Akademi,India’s National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama, with its highest award, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship for Lifetime Achievement, and in 1971, the Government of India awarded him with its second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan.

Uday Shankar performed in US for the first time in January 1933 along with his dance partner Simkie, a French dancer, in New York, before setting out on an 84-city tour with his troupe.  So he might have visited Shantiniketan in 1932 end.

[xv] The 1934 Bihar earthquake was one of the worst earthquakes inIndia’s history.  Some 30,000 people were said to have died. Munger and Muzaffarpur were completely destroyed.  This 8.4 magnitude earthquake occurred onJanuary 15, 1934 at around 2:13 PM (I.S.T.) and caused widespread damage in northern Bihar and in Nepal.

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[xvi] Pramathanath Chaudhuri (7 August 1868—2 September 1946): Known as Pramatha Chaudhuri, alias Birbal, is an exceptionally illuminating persona in modern Bengali literature.  It is astounding how he kept hold of his uniqueness in all-pervasive era of Rabindranath Tagore.  As the editor of Sabuj Patra (“Green Leaves”, 1914) and the mentor of the group that gathered around this journal, Chaudhuri left a lasting legacy to the literature ofBengal.