The Mother: The Birth and Growth of a Flame: A Review by Dr. Prema Nandakumar

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Title: The Mother: The Birth and Growth of a Flame. Author: Anurag Banerjee. Publisher: Overman Foundation, Kolkata. Number of pages: 362. Price: Rs. 475.

Dr.Ananda Reddy’s foreword says it all. Anurag Banerjee has been blessed with a lambent faith in the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The rest comes easy. It is true there can be no ‘biography’ of spiritual braziers like the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. And yet biographies do get written. Some assume the critical god and affect the nod to make their pronouncements by holding on to trivialities in the lives of the great. But trivial minds wear their trivial glasses and observe as relevant as the human beings described by the King of Brobdingnag: “The most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.” They are but a handful: let us forget them and take up the work of sincere biographers who want to do the right thing in projecting great personalities as inspirations for the future.

The Mother’s life may not have been lived on the surface, but what others saw and noted of the surface life itself is an amazing experience, as observed by Anurag when he read books on and by the Mother. The title itself is appropriately from Savitri. It is fascinating to know that she was “scolded all the time” as most of us are, as the parents and other elders try to sculpt girls fit into the stereo-type of an organized, conforming, genteel lady. For instance, Mirra was ill-at-ease with religion, and this is usually frowned upon by a family. For her, all this did not matter because she could experience the god within, the antaryami:

“..it is a marvelous, marvellous grace to have had this experience so constantly, so powerfully, like something holding out against everything, everything: this Presence. And in my outward consciousness, a total negation of it all.”

Based heavily on Mother’s Agenda and Mother’s Chronicles, The Mother: The Birth and Growth of a Flame opens gradually like a flower from Mirra Alfassa to Mirra Morriset and Mirra Richard. With Paul Richard leaving Pondicherry, a new age began for Mira (the spelling was changed by Mrinalini Chattopadhyaya) as the Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. There is a seamless flow in all this, with each page replete with information that would be new to many of the readers. Anurag makes it a point to mention why and how Paul Richard broke away from Mirra. The major upset seems to have been due to the Mother’s brief article in Prabartak edited by Motilal Roy where she says:

“As soon as I saw Sri Aurobindo I recognized him the well known being whom I used to call Krishna … And this is enough to explain why I am fully convinced that my place and my work are near him, in India.”

The Motilal Roy episode focuses on the many problems and inner rebellions that clouded the minds of many disciples in the ‘twenties. Acceptance of Mira as the Mother was not easy for them. Time alone could reveal the continuous re-configurations of Prakriti. Should there be a revelation? There is an Indian proverb which asks us not to go in search of the origins of a rishi and a river. In religion and spirituality faith ought to remain supreme, for unbelief will destroy the foundations of human sanity. Not “I think, therefore I am” but “I believe, therefore I am” is the best answer. Three hundred and thirty-four pages after, still Anurag has no answer for “who was the Mother after all?” Wisely, he turns to Savitri: “The magnet of our difficult ascent!”

It is good for ageing bodies like mine to know that the younger generation is taking such serious and quality-strong interest in Indian heritage in general and in Sri Aurobindo in particular. Asking the right questions at the right time and desisting from wilful dissection are marks of a good disciple. Anurag has them which makes me happy.

Have I nothing to carp upon? Ah yes. I wish he published books in a format that would make them easy to handle and carry around in these days when books have become our inevitable companions in travel.

Prema Nandakumar

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About the Reviewer: Dr. Prema Nandakumar (b: 1939) is a famous independent researcher, translator, critic and authoress who writes in Tamil and English. She was the first to submit the thesis of doctoral degree in Savitri (Sri Aurobindo’e epic poem) in Andhra University. It was published as A Study of Savitri in 1962. Her post-doctoral work has been published as Dante and Sri Aurobindo in 1981. She has authored about twenty-five books in English and Tamil. She is a recipient of several awards which include the ‘Sri Aurobindo Puraskar’ and ‘Panditha Ratna’. She has been a member of the Academic Council, Central Institute of Higha Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, Varanasi (1988-91); Member, Board of Studies in English, Andhra University, Waltair; Manba, National Executive of The Indian P.E.N., Senate member of Bharathidasan University and Visiting Professor, Swami Vivekananda Chair, Mahatma Gandhi University. Her published works include titles like A Study of Savitri, The Glory and the Good, Dante and Sri Aurobindo, Subramania Bharati, Sri Aurobindo: A Critical Introduction, The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, etc.

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