On 11 September 2013, Wednesday, Noren Singh Nahar, one of the senior most members of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and the In-charge of the Department of Philately has left his physical sheath at the age of ninety-two. He was among those sadhaks and sadhikas who belonged to that bygone era which could rightly be termed as the Golden Period of Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Born on 1 December 1920 to Prithwi Singh Nahar and Suhag Kumari, Noren Singh’s early years were spent in Kolkata. In December 1929 Prithwi Singh shifted to Santiniketan—the abode of Peace established by Rabindranath Tagore—with his wife and seven children (his youngest daughter Suprabha was born a few months later in August 1930). His four sons Dhir Singh, Bir Singh, Noren Singh and Nirmal Singh were admitted to the school started by Tagore. Abhay Singh—Prithwi Singh’s youngest son—was enrolled a year or two later while his eldest daughter Sujata would go to Kalabhavan to learn painting from Nandalal Bose. Prithwi Singh remained in Santiniketan where he had rented a house known as ‘Nichoo Bungalow’ which belonged to Dwijendranath Tagore, the eldest brother of Rabindranath, till 1934. Devastated by his wife’s death in 1932, he began to travel extensively during the course of which he visited Pondicherry and had the Darshan of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in November 1933. In Them, he found the Guides he was looking for. Though Sri Aurobindo had accepted him as a disciple in 1934 he formally became an inmate in 1938 when he joined the Ashram with Sujata.
Noren Singh visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the first time in 1936 and would continue to visit it at regular intervals. In 1939—when he was a nineteen years of age and a student of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata—he had visited the Ashram during his college vacations and stayed for a month. During his stay, the Mother wrote to Prithwi Singh informing him that she would be happy if Noren Singh stayed back in the Ashram. When he was asked by Prithwi Singh about it, he replied that he would stay on. The Mother had told Noren Singh that if he wanted to continue with his studies he could do so and return after completing his education but Noren Singh answered that he would like to remain in the Ashram. With the Mother’s permission he went to Kolkata, wound up his moorings, returned to the Ashram and became a permanent inmate. He had offered to the Mother all the money he had withdrawn from his bank account in Kolkata. He also offered his clothes to her but she asked him to keep them with him. She said: “Noren Singh, your clothes are of good quality and I won’t be able to give you such type of clothes.”
Noren Singh was initially given work at Golconde—the oldest dormitory of the Ashram—which was then under construction. His work was to supervise the cutting and bending of the iron rods for the concreting work. He had to select the precise diameter of the rods, get them cut and bent according to the plan. From time to time he joined the workers in their work of bending the rods and also assisted in the concreting work when required. Later he was given work in the Ashram Bakery where he worked for five to six hours daily.
Noren Singh was fond of collecting stamps since his childhood. When he stayed at Santiniketan, he would visit several people—including Anil Chanda (Rabindranath’s secretary), Dinendranath Tagore and C. F. Andrews—for stamps. From a Javanese student of Santiniketan he had collected some East Indies’ stamps. Within a short time of his joining Sri Aurobindo Ashram, he began to assist Pavitra in the stamp work. It was Pavitra who had started philatelic activities in the Ashram in the late 1920s in his room in the first floor of the Ashram main building. Noren Singh worked with the stamp-albums and catalogues at a small table in Pavitra’s dining room. Following his wish to do some gardening the Mother asked him to cultivate a small plot of land situated behind the office of Pavitra in the inner courtyard of the Ashram main building. Along with a sadhak named Jyotin who was in charge of the garden, Noren Singh tried to grow artichokes, asparagus and tomatoes since the Mother was very fond of such vegetables. They were successful in growing asparagus and tomatoes but artichokes did not grow well. On one occasion the Mother distributed tomatoes grown in this garden to many of the inmates of the Ashram. Every morning Noren Singh cleaned the vegetables and kept them in a bowl in the corridor on the first floor of the Ashram main building for the Mother who would see them after she returned from the Balcony Darshan. After the Mother had seen the vegetables, Noren Singh took them to Datta who cooked for the Mother. He worked for a while in the printing section of the Ashram Press and also helped a senior sadhak named Mrityunjoy Mukherjee to wash fruits for the Mother. Later, when the Ashramites went sea-bathing he was appointed as a ‘life-saver’ (lifeguard during the swimming sessions). He was also a swimming instructor and captain for the younger children. However, he curtailed some of his activities to devote more time to stamps when the Mother once said to him: “Why not give more time now for the stamps?” It was the Mother who entrusted to him all the responsibilities of the Department of Philately which flourished under him.
It is essential to remember that there was no Department of Philately in the early years of the Ashram. By the mid 1960s, the collection of stamps had grown to such a vast extent that there was insufficient space in Pavitra’s room to accommodate them. When Anilbaran Roy left the Ashram for good in 1966 his room in the ‘Library House’ became vacant. It was the same room where Sri Aurobindo had stayed for four and a half years from 1922 to February 1927. This room was selected by the Mother to house the stamp collection.
The Mother took a keen interest in Noren Singh’s philately activities. She would look at the collection of stamps and the work Noren Singh did while he worked in Pavitra’s office. Every year she would ask him how many stamps did he have in the collection and he would count them and inform the Mother accordingly. Whenever he received any new stamps Noren Singh arranged them on the table in the room called the Laboratory and the Mother—on her way to the Balcony Darshan—would look at them with avid interest.
Once Noren Singh had shown to the Mother a copy of Life magazine on the cover of which many stamps from around the globe were printed. He told her: “But Mother, we don’t have a single one of them.” The Mother assured him: “One day they will come.” Her words came true for at present the Department of Philately houses—apart from a large number of Indian stamps—stamps from French India, France, Holland, Switzerland, Canada, United States of America, Brazil and many other countries. The department also collects coins and banknotes since the Mother was interested in them as well.
During Sri Aurobindo’s Birth Centenary in 1972, Noren Singh visited Chennai to meet his friend Mr. Srinivas Rau, an advocate by profession who was a member of the Government Philatelic Advisory Committee to discuss the possibilities of releasing a stamp on Sri Aurobindo. He was told that the proposal for the stamp had been cancelled as a stamp with Sri Aurobindo’s photograph was already released in August 1964. However, he was also told that if a proposal of the stamp was submitted along with a symbolic design there could be a possibility of acceptance. Noren Singh informed the Mother accordingly who asked Jayantilal Parekh to prepare some symbolic designs. She chose one of the designs which was sent to the concerned department and eventually accepted. On 15 August 1972 the said stamp was released. The Mother affixed a special cancellation on the stamp in her room in the presence of B. D. Jatti (former Vice President of India), the Lt. Governor of Pondicherry, the Post Master General of Tamil Nadu, P. Counouma (Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust), Champaklal and Noren Singh. During the Mother’s Birth Centenary in 1978, Noren Singh took the initiative of releasing a special stamp on the Mother. Through his uncle Bijoy Singh Nahar, who was a secretary at the Central Government, a proposal was sent to the Ministry of Communication to issue a stamp on the Mother. The proposal was accepted and a stamp on the Mother was released.
Noren Singh looked after the Department of Philately single-handedly till he met with a car accident in France in 1975. After his recovery his youngest sister Suprabha Nahar joined the department to help him. The brother-sister duo became the soul and heart of the Department of Philately. Noren Singh was also a member of the Philatelic Advisory Committee from 1990 to 1992. An authority on French India stamps he has authored a well-researched book on the said subject which was published in 2013. A few months ago he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Indo-French Philatelic and Numismatic Association (IFPNA).
Not many people were aware of the fact that Noren Singh was among those who had carried Sri Aurobindo’s coffin to the Samadhi vault on 9 December 1950. Though his name was not in the list of those chosen by the Mother to carry Sri Aurobindo’s coffin, he was granted this great privilege which can rightly be termed as an act of Grace. When Sri Aurobindo’s coffin was being carried through the corridor those who were carrying it found it difficult to turn the coffin towards the staircase as it was quite heavy. Noren Singh—who was standing in the corridor—gave them a helping hand. He carried the coffin along with the others and went and placed it in the Samadhi vault. Then he wiped the coffin with a handkerchief.
Noren Singh was the personification of devotion and dedication. He had a rich, inner spiritual life about which he hardly gave any inkling to anyone. He had disclosed some of the details of his dream-visions and meetings with the Mother and Sri Aurobindo in the subtle-physical to the present author. He had also said: “Whenever I invoke the Mother, I feel Hers and Sri Aurobindo’s presence but the invocation has to be proper. That is, there must be sincerity. Calling Them mere mentally won’t do.” It is noteworthy that once the Mother had remarked about Noren Singh that his psychic being was exactly on the front.
For the past few years Noren Singh had ceased to visit his office in the Ashram main building. Old age was making his body frail but it failed to overpower his sharp and ever-alert brain. Not only did he keep an eye on the activities of the Department of Philately but also observed the conditions of the world the details of which he got from the television. He had the inquisitiveness of a child; he was always keen to know more and learn how certain events could impact political situations and economic conditions of the nation.
In the past few months Noren Singh had become increasingly weak. He spent most of his time in bed. In the second week of August 2013 he was admitted to a private nursing home from where he was shifted to the Ashram Nursing Home on 26 August. A few days later he was back to his apartment but remained mostly on a semi-liquid diet. On 11 September 2013, between 4 and 4.30 a.m. he woke up from his sleep and asked for a glass of water from his attendant. After he drank the water, the attendant left the room. A little later when he was contacted there was no response from him. He had quietly left his body. The end came in between 5.30 and 5.45 a.m.
Nothing can eradicate the emptiness created by death. No words of consolation can offer solace. The heart cries out aloud for it feels the pain of losing a beloved one. But deep within a voice tells us not to mourn for him for Noren Singh has only shed his physical sheath (like old clothes) which was becoming frailer and giving him much trouble to take refuge in the bosom of the Mother and to work for Sri Aurobindo in the other world. Yet the lack of his physical presence would continue to hurt all who loved and respected him. Life would not be the same without his radiant smile, affectionate touch and his voice welcoming us to his room.
Noren-da, we will miss you a lot!
With warm regards,
Photograph taken in 1927. Standing with Suhag Kumari Nahar : Abhay Singh and Nirmal Singh. Seated (from left to right): Bir Singh, Dhir Singh, Sujata Nahar (on Dhir Singh’s lap), Noren Singh and two friends.
Photograph taken on 24 June 1949 at Dilip Kumar Roy’s residence in Pondicherry on the occasion of Tejendranath Mukherjee’s birthday. Seated in the first row (from left to right): Noren Singh, Nishikanto Roychowdhury, Tejendranath Mukherjee and Nirmal Singh. Second row: Panu Sarkar, Madan Bose, Dhir Singh, Ashok Patel, Unknown and Manju Gupta. Third row: Sisir Kumar Mitra, Nirodbaran Talukdar, Venkatraman and Yogananda. Standing: Satya Bose, Kashikanta, Jyotin Das, Sitaraman, Bir Singh, Chinu Mukherjee, Bhaskar Mitra and Rajen Ganguly.
From left to right: Bernard Cazade, Sumita Cazade, Suprabha Nahar and Noren Singh (February 2009).
From left to right: Suprabha Nahar, Sudha Rai and Noren Singh (August 2009).
Noren Singh with Anurag Banerjee (August 2009).
From left to right: Noren Singh, Chitra Sen, Dolly Mutsuddi and Suprabha Nahar (August 2010).
From left to right: Indu Rai, Achyut Patel, Lata Jauhar, Anurag Banerjee, Sushilaben, Suprabha Nahar and Noren Singh on 1 December 2012, Noren Singh’s 92nd birthday.