Manoj Das Receives “Auro-Ratna Award” 2015: A Report

Dear Friends and Well-wishers of Overman Foundation,

The sixth “Auro-Ratna Award” ceremony was organized on Sunday, 15 November 2015 at the ‘Hall of Harmony’ of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Pondicherry. In this ceremony which was hosted by Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Padmashri Manoj Das, famous author, was presented with the “Auro-Ratna Award” for his invaluable contribution in the field of literature. Shri Manoj Dasgupta, Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust and Registrar of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education graced the occasion as the Chief Guest. Dr. Dilip Dutta, Trustee, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Dr. P. Raja, noted writer and critic and Shri Partha Sarathi Bose, Managing Trustee, Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre Trust and Principal of Sri Aurobindo Bal Mandir (New Alipore) also graced the occasion as special guests. The list of other distinguished guests included Shri Debranjan Chatterjee (Librarian, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Library), Shri Swadesh Chatterjee (Teacher, Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education), Dr. Sharad Joshi (Chairman, Sri Aurobindo Memorial Trust, Baroda), , Shri Arup Basu (Editor, “Sraddha”), Shrimati Gopa Basu (Librarian, Sri Aurobindo Bhavan Library, Kolkata), Shri Subrata Sen (Secretary, Sri Aurobindo’s Action West Bengal Trust), Shri Sushil Patel and others.

The ceremony began at 10.30 a.m. with the Mother’s organ music. Shri Anurag Banerjee, Founder and Chairman of Overman Foundation, briefly spoke about the history and objectives of the “Auro-Ratna Award” and narrated in detail the biography and achievements of Shri Manoj Das. He further added: ‘It is our privilege that we are being able to felicitate Shri Manoj Das—about whom Ruskin Bond had once remarked, “There are only a few good story-tellers left in the world today and Manoj Das is one of them” and Dr. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar had bracketed him in the art of short story with Rabindranath Tagore and Munshi Premchand—with the “Auro-Ratna Award” named after Sri Aurobindo to recognize his invaluable contribution in the field of literature.”

Shri Banerjee then requested Shri Manoj Dasgupta, who graced the occasion as the Chief Guest, to say a few words about Shri Manoj Das. The following is the text of Shri Manoj Dasgupta’s speech:

“This was not in the programme [referring to the rainfall taking place outside the Hall]… (laughter) I had agreed to Anurag’s request to… we should not say a word…anyhow, Overman Foundation, to Manoj-da, simply because—well, it is always a great joy when one of your family members receive a prestigious award. And I think Overman Foundation—by awarding this present to Manoj-da—is clearly honouring themselves more than honouring Manoj-da. About his literary achievements you have just heard—what a colossal being Manoj-da is. But you know, when you are a family member, you hardly recognize all that. And Manoj-da literally was a family member in the sense that my uncle Himangshu Niyogi who was the President of Pathamandir of Calcutta and a long-standing devotee and worker of the Mother—I sometimes wondered whether he loved his nephew, that is, myself more or Manoj-da. That’s why I say he was like a family member. And it is very awkward to say anything about a family member. The only thing I can say is that to me Manoj-da represents what in Bengali we say a true bhadralok—a true gentleman. In this long sixty years of my association with him, he has been an epitome of really a bhadralok. And that bhadralok was not something artificial. It is spontaneously like a flower that blooms; it was his swadharma, his very nature. But I must tell that this bhadralok does not represent any weakness; on the contrary, Manoj-da—those who have come very close will know—he is a man of strong will and great determination. But what struck me most was that even when he had to, say, protest against what we considered was something not right on the part of higher authorities, his language was always very, very polite but the truth he never diluted. And off late what I have really admired that even when he has to say something against or castigate those who are indulging in what I may say nefarious activities against the Ashram, his language was very firm but polite. So as I told you, to me, Manoj-da is really an epitome of bhadralok. And I am yet to find another in the Ashram. They are very rare. They are rare in the world but they are very rare in the Ashram—a true bhadralok. With this, I am extremely happy to have the honour of presenting this award to Manoj-da. In passing I may say that I am sorry. For the rain I have not come dressed up as a bhadralok. (laughter)

Shri Anurag Banerjee remarked: “Well, we can vouch for one thing. Both the Manoj-das are genuine bhadraloks. (laughter) He then requested Dr. P. Raja to recall his association with Shri Manoj Das. What follows is the text of Dr. P. Raja’s speech:

“I don’t know where to begin. Here is a friendship that lasts for the last forty years. 1976—so many things happened in my life. I got my degree, I got a wife, I got a job, I started writing, I discovered Manoj Das also. I was working as a tutor in English in Arignar Anna Government Arts College, Karaikal. Karaikal—as you know—is a very sleepy town. You do not know what to do after 4.30 in the evening. The only place where we can go about is that river Arasalar. And if you cross the river, there is the sea. Nothing more than that. We used to take a stroll but after 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock I used to go back to my college library and start reading. It was only there I discovered Manoj Das. There were so many magazines and in one magazine, Imprint, where Prof. Manoj Das was regularly writing his short stories. I took real interest in his short stories as they were different from the run-of-the-mills writers. I thought that I should take up this writer for my Ph.D degree.

“I started searching for more of his stories [in] Imprint, Caravan, Illustrated Weekly of India, Bhavan’s Journal, including The Statesman’s Literary Supplement. We were getting all these magazines in the Arignar Anna Government Arts College, Karaikal. And I asked the librarian where I can get his collected short stories. Our librarian said: “We do not have till now a collection of his short stories.” Then when I came to Pondicherry—my native town—I asked my good friend Mr. George Moses who was editing a magazine called Youth Age. Some of you may be familiar with George Moses for he was the only Inspector General of Police. He was a senior S.S.P., senior S.P. and there was only one top police official in Pondicherry at that time—the year 1977. So he said, “Why don’t you meet Prof. Manoj Das? If you are interested in reading his stories why don’t you meet Manoj Das?” I told him: “I cannot go all the way to Orissa and see this gentleman.” He said, “Stupid fellow, he is in the Ashram. He is quite close. Why don’t you go and meet him?” I was really shocked and stunned! So, it was Mr. George Moses who took me to Prof. Manoj Das’s house. At that time he was residing in Eswaran Dharmaraja Kovil Street. So it was George Moses who took me there and when we knocked the door, Mrs. Manoj Das came and opened the door for us. Then George Moses asked we have come here to meet Prof. Manoj Das. She spoke very beautiful, immaculate Tamil as any Tamilian would speak in Pondicherry. So I thought Prof. Manoj Das has married a Tamil girl. We waited for around half an hour and he came. And Mr. George Moses introduced me in a different vein. He said, “Here is one writer whom I want you to meet.” And I showed him some of my writings that have already appeared in Indian Express and several other literary journals. And after brushing through them he said: “I am happy to see one local writer in Pondicherry.” So that was actually the beginning of our friendship in Pondicherry.

“Then I told him, “Sir, I would like to do Ph.D on your short stories.” He said: “That is your funeral! Nobody has worked on my short stories—that is your funeral—where would you get your secondary resources?” I simply left it at that and requested for his collection of short stories. And the very first book that he gave me was The Crocodile’s Lady and Other Stories. And it is autographed and signed. I only wish that Prof. Manoj Das gets the Nobel Prize so that I can sell the book for a crore. (laughter). I am still keeping it intact in my collection of books. And with this our friendship developed.

“I used to request him: “Sir, I do not know much about the outside, literary world. Will you please help?” He gladly said “yes” and took me by hand like an elder brother and took me to various parts of India by publishing my works in various journals and newspapers all over India. At that time he was also contributing to a weekly called the Asia Week, Hong Kong. So he said: “Why don’t you contribute to that?” My first article on Ananda Ranga Pillai—I have written several articles on Ananda Ranga Pillai and his diary—it appeared there and the Asia Week editor requested me for an article on Subramania Bharati. And money started pouring in. I thought there was a lot of money in English writing. I had not started writing in Tamil at that time. With this the friendship was continuing. And one day I went to Madras University and met the Chief of the University—Dr. M. S. Nagarajan—for the English Department. So I told him: “Sir, I would like to work on Prof. Manoj Das’s short stories.” He said: “Well if you can do, you do. Because there are no secondary resources available on Manoj Das, what will you do?” I said: “I will make the secondary resources.” Then every week on a Saturday or a Sunday, I used to go to his house, sit with him, pester him with lots and lots of questions. And I tape-recorded everything that he said. And one interview after another started appearing in Times of India, Hindu, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Statesman—so many other magazines including India Today. So I took all these—after about six months—and showed them to my supervisor in Madras University. He said: “Yes, now you can proceed. Now that you have secondary resources, go ahead.” This is how my research on the short stories of Manoj Das began.

“So I was benefitted by his friendship in two different ways. One, I started writing my thesis. Two, I was establishing myself as a writer. He was in every way responsible for what I am today. Most of you may know me by my name—I wrote in Mother India for a very long time and now and then I write for Action and other Ashram journals. But most of you would not have seen me. But I am thankful to Mr. Anurag Banerjee for bringing me here. And this is for the first time I am addressing the Ashram audience. So this friendship that lasts for forty years, I sincerely wish—I pray to the Mother—that it should continue till I breathe my last because these days it is very difficult to get good friends. Even if you get good friends it is difficult to retain the friendship. Today he is a good friend and tomorrow he becomes an enemy. God knows what’s happening in the 21st century. But we were 20th century friends and I hope this friendship will continue.

“I am honoured, Sir, to be inside the Ashram School. For the first time I am entering the school. I told my friend Anup-ji that you should take me around this school because I have not seen… I have entered the ‘Knowledge’ building twice when I went to meet Prof. Manoj Das. So, George Moses introduced me to Prof. Manoj Das. Prof. Manoj Das introduced me to various journals and newspapers. And I am thankful to him for what all he has done to me. That’s why I consider him as my guru. Thank you Sir.”

After Dr. P. Raja’s speech, Shri Anurag Banerjee invited Shri Partha Sarathi Bose of Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre Trust to read out the message sent by Shrimati Chitra Bose (Founder of Sri Aurobindo Bal Mandir) for Shri Manoj Das and introduced him in the following words:

“Shri Manoj Das is a Trustee in the Board of Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre, New Alipore, Kolkata—one of the active and vibrant centres in West Bengal. Shrimati Chitra Bose, daughter of late Harendra Nath Majumdar whom most of our elders in the Aurobindonian circle knew, is the Managing Trustee there. She has sent a message for the occasion. I request Shri Partha Sarathi Bose—who is like my elder brother—who is also a Trustee actively involved in the work of Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre to read the message from Chitra-di.”

Shri Partha Sarathi Bose, before reading out Shrimati Chitra Bose’s message, said: “This is in Bengali because you can understand emotions come out best in your mother-tongue.” The translation of Shrimati Chitra Bose’s message is as follows:

“As I sit down to write about our dear Manoj Das, a flood of memories is streaming to my mind. My husband and I have received his aid for long. To strengthen the foundation of Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre and facilitate an intimate contact with the Ashram, we would visit Pondicherry every year during the course of which we were introduced to Manoj-da which took the shape of a friendship marked with respect. He has cordially accepted us and helped us in many ways. Due to the blessings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre of New Alipore has attained a successful form as well as a well-wisher like Manoj-da. We cherish his presence in the Trust Board as an invaluable treasure. I have asked him many questions about spirituality; his answers were simple yet so beautiful that they are embedded in my memory. Another great quality of Manoj-da which we were introduced to was his humility. Despite being a celebrity I have never seen any trace of pride in him. When I had congratulated him when he had received the Sahitya Akademi Award, he was as indifferent as ever—as if the award meant nothing! This is an important lesson we ought to learn from the ever-smiling Manoj-da. I am very elated that my very dear and son-like Anurag—on behalf of his organization, the Overman Foundation—is paying respect to Manoj-da’s contribution today.”

Then Shri Partha Sarathi Bose said: “For the last words I am going to go live to Kolkata where Chitra-di is waiting.”

Shrimati Chitra Bose was on the telephone; the English translation of her message is given beneath:

“Today all the members of Sakti Centre as well as myself are extremely delighted. And as I have already said to Anurag—I am repeating again—Overman Foundation is felicitating such a good-hearted and talented individual like Manoj-da and for this I am thankful to him. Manoj-da, may you remain in good health and bliss by the Grace of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I pray that may the world of literature be enriched even more by your contribution and your scholarly writings on Sri Aurobindo be published gradually so that we may be benefitted. I convey my respectful salutations to you though I am unable to remain present today. If I could have been physically present in today’s programme, it would have given me immense delight. Manoj-da is our very own. One more thing: may the youth of today’s generation be inspired by your ideals; may they fight successfully in the New Path by the Grace of the Mother. Please bless them. Manoj-da is our very own. I not only convey my regards to him but my love as well.”

Shri Anurag Banerjee then said: “Shri Manoj Das is such a personality who is loved, adored and respected by all. Some of his admirers who could not manage to attend today’s programme have sent their messages to me.” He then read out the messages sent by Shri Manoj Das’s admirers one-by-one.

The first message was from Shri Matriprasad, Secretary of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry:

‘Respected Elders and Dear Friends,

‘Brevity may or may not be the soul of wit, but it almost never fails to be the hallmark of sincerity. I shall be brief for several reasons, the most significant one being that I want to be perfectly sincere.

‘It would be superfluous for me to speak once again about the greatness of Manoj-da as a writer, his eminence as a thinker and his renown as a scholar, for I need not proselytize here for the benefit of those who had been perhaps fully converted probably at a point of time located long before I myself was old enough to even turn the pages of some book. Connoisseurs have often described Manoj-da as a raconteur par excellence, as one of the foremost contemporary creators of great fiction. However we must be cautious as to what we exactly mean by the word “fiction”. Ordinarily one would say that a fictional work is something that holds the reader’s attention because of the power of conjuration that a skilful trickster of words may be able to weave from the gossamer stuff of his imagination. Such a characterization would imply that the work is in itself a phantasmagorical construction and nothing more than that, and therefore in a real sense untrue.

‘However such a description cannot do justice to the works of great creators. The real aim of an outstanding writer of fiction—or for that matter any form of great literature—is to use imagination as a powerful tool of investigation by the help of which our consciousness may pierce through the veil of appearances in order to catch a glimpse of a truth that such appearances are trying to conceal. Manoj-da can be counted as a writer of this type of fiction—a fiction that seeks to reveal a hidden truth and capture an elusive reality by the power of imagination.

‘I had always thrilled to the words of Shakespeare when he had described the aspiration of a poet and the role that imagination played in his avocation:

‘“The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven.
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

‘Just as for poetry, a great work of fiction also turns into a shape and provides a local habitation and a name to that airy nothing which nevertheless points to SOMETHING luminous and beyond.

‘I cannot help but recall here what Sri Aurobindo had once revealed as to the greater purpose of literary creation: true artistic creation, is not merely for recreation and for some momentary amusement. As he had said: “… to the men of old the poet was a seer, a revealer of hidden truths, imagination no dancing courtesan but a priestess in God’s house commissioned not to spin fictions but to image difficult and hidden truth.

‘Assisted by his powerful sense of imagination it is to such a pursuit that Manoj-da has dedicated himself unreservedly for more than six decades.

‘I have known Manoj-da for a very long time. I can still recall clearly the first time that I saw him more than half a century ago. I smile to myself whenever I recall that I was not at all nervous or intimidated when I saw him for the first time. How could I have been uneasy as an eight year old when I could never have even guessed that I was conversing with a writer whose fame had already been established? Rather I was secretly amused: growing up in an obscure mofusil town, I was nonetheless confident that my linguistic skills were quite adequate for my handling of any conversation in the cosmopolitan town of Pondicherry since I was conscious, that though I was merely eight years old, I was already aware of the identity of each letter of the English alphabet—although even that knowledge was limited to the capital letters only. I can still remember when the first time we had met, Manoj-da making his faltering incursions into what must have been quite an unchartered territory for him—that of Hindi’s syntactical pitfalls. But he was helpless and was therefore compelled to undertake that perilous adventure since Hindi was the only language in which he could have communicated anything to me.

‘I emerged from that first encounter with a sense of additional self-confidence: it was now confirmed that after all I could hold my own very easily even in a new town and answer with a panache any question put to me. Further I could even reduce the questioner to the state of one who has to hesitate and scamper for elusive words while trying to tell me something in Hindi.

‘Growing up with him and Pratijna-di, one could not help absorbing gradually one thing very effortlessly. It came as naturally as the act of breathing: the love of books. There were books all over. It became a matter of challenge for oneself if one would dare plunge into a so-called difficult book. By this time I had also discovered the joys of the lending library in our Centre of Education, which the Mother had named “Bibliotheque Choisie”. I was already confidently discounting at least half the good advice of Polonius—though not a lender I had become a thoroughly reckless borrower! I can still remember one scene: I had just returned from school and in my hand was a book with a yellow and green cover. It was a translation of a few short stories of Chekov, a translation in French. As I entered the boarding, Manoj-da looked at me and asked me as to what I was carrying in my hand. As an eleven-year old or so, I had no idea as to who on earth Chekov was. In fact I was not even sure whether I would be able to pronounce that name correctly. I thought that rather than explaining to him anything, merely handing over the book to him would be a more rewarding strategy. Manoj-da looked at the book. Obviously the title in French may not have meant much to him but he read the name of the author and I still remember how he handed back to me that book with these words: “Chekov! That is very good!” Nothing more was uttered than this apparently simple matter of fact statement but if given a choice I would never hesitate to turn the clock back and become once again that eleven year old and experience one more time the sheer delight, that thrill and the euphoria that I had felt when encouraged in this manner by a mentor.

‘Thank you Manoj-da, for all such precious gifts with which you have loaded me.

‘Years rolled by and in the Higher Course I remember a project that I had opted to study under his guidance. The title of the project was “Aspects of Modern Thought”. What a delight it was to be initiated into the hidden sanctuaries of the minds of those thinkers who have moulded the outlook of our age.

‘Thank you once again Manoj-da, for leading me to those lights.

‘Strange as it may seem to everyone, this is the first time that I am actually expressing my gratitude. Why only now? I do not know! Perhaps there are feelings that remain more true, provided we do not utter them too often and thereby reducing them to clichés.

‘Then why now? Because today, he is being conferred an award known as “Auro Ratna” and I felt that I might never get another opportunity like this one. Although awards and accolades have been heaped upon him from innumerable institutions and establishments, I am also aware that the one thing he cherishes most is to put all that he is and all that he has, at the service of Sri Aurobindo. That to him is far more precious and meaningful than any other worldly recognition and I therefore wanted to discharge on this occasion a very personal debt!

‘While continuing to express, language can still be so mysteriously deceptive. We always use phrases such as “the burden of debt” and “discharging of debt”. Has this debt been a burden? Yes and no!

‘If I were to count and gauge the sheer volume and weight of the precious gifts that he has given to me, what better word than “burden” could have described them? Yet if I were to measure the joy and delight with which I have enjoyed those gifts, how could I ever use the phrase “burden of debt”?

‘Similarly we do use the standard phrase “discharge of debt”! One assumes that expressing one’s gratitude is in a certain sense a “discharge of debt”! Very true! But since the feeling of gratitude is in itself a source of fulfillment and joy, would one ever like to get rid of it by the so-called “discharging” of it!

‘To sum it all up, all that I want to say today can actually be compressed in just three words: Thank You Manoj-da!

‘And I add for myself a slightly longer string of words: I can never forget you!

‘And I also take the liberty of absorbing into myself others who are present here on this occasion as also many others who are not physically present here and appropriately convert the “I” into a “We” and rephrase what I have said into: “WE can never forget you!”’

The next message that was read out was sent by Dr. Goutam Ghosal, Professor of English, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan.

Professor Manoj Das: A Tribute and an Estimate of His Genius

‘Professor Manoj Das has spent more than half of his continuing life trying to live out the principles of integral life and more than fifty years in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, teaching and writing simultaneously. It is not easy, because he has been a creative person in the true sense of the term. For, the usual image of a creative genius speaks of a restless, impulsive individual, who is unable to follow the basic discipline of life. Every discipline is a bondage for him or her. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and also Nolini Kanta Gupta speak of a new kind of artist, whose life will become an exquisite piece of art.

‘We see an inkling of this artist in the life of Professor Das. Even Ruskin Bond is enthusiastic about his stories and cannot check his emotion about them. His speech is as fluent as his writing. He can write and speak stories with equal ease. He can write and speak about Sri Aurobindo with equal force and clarity. He can combine in him that rare power, when speech appeals to the mass and the intellectual sitting in the same audience. I heard him speak about Shakespeare at Sri Aurobindo Nilay, Santiniketan. There was not a single quotation from Sri Aurobindo in that speech and yet something of an untold Aurobindoiana was there in that eloquent exegesis.

Sri Aurobindo in the First Decade of the Twentieth Century bears the reflection of a laborious research, which will guide many researchers in the future. Not many have realized perhaps the importance of his slender biography of Sri Aurobindo, which I prescribe for my students so that they can quickly scan the essence of Sri Aurobindo: the writer and the evolution of his consciousness from man to a new species beyond man. Sahitya Akademi had been contemplating to assign the task to another writer of eminence of that era. But then, the Mother perhaps had another person in her mind. Ultimately, in 1972, it was assigned to Professor Das by the Grace of the Mother.

‘Time was short. He had to hurry. But then, his creative mind quickly sketched the map of his chapters with the help of the phrases culled from Chittaranjan Das’s prophetic speech: poet of patriotism, prophet of nationalism, lover of humanity. He makes an inspired summary of Sri Aurobindo’s childhood and boyhood preceding those key chapters. And then touches on Savitri, the commentaries on Indian culture, poetry, aesthetics and the destiny of man. The book is a masterful summary of the life and works of Sri Aurobindo. Because Professor Das is a creative writer, it is easy for him to focus on the creative issues in the Master. This is one of the key books on Sri Aurobindo missing in the distribution list of SABDA. I request the authority to look into it.

‘Professor Manoj Das lives and moves like a common man. May be, he is all the time aware of the Presence of the Mother around him. I watch him with amazement as he comes to the Samadhi in the evening and encircles it with difficult steps, with his head down in a quiet gesture. Who said the artist can never surrender? Here is a living example before us.’

The next message which was read out was sent by Shri Gadadhar Mishra and Shyama Kanungo of Matrubhaban, Orissa:

Sri Manoj Das, the divine litterateur par excellence

‘It was a long ago, perhaps in the year 1962, I went to meet Prapatti on his tour to Orissa, with my series of questions on various subjects on earth, with all inquisitiveness of a college going student. Surprisingly he pointed me out to one with him with a comment that henceforth he only will answer my questions. And a cascade of answers followed. His answers quenched all the rational-irrational emotions; the entire load of questions was exhausted by his heart touching reply. This enigmatic man was none other Sri Manoj Das.

‘This was my first introduction to Sri Manoj Das. With the passing of years, I felt being in contact with a heart that has the depth of loving, stainless, joyful beatitude and fragrant incense radiating out from the grand Presence of the Mother. It appeared as if the Divine Mother not waiting for his conscious consent had lodged Herself in the depth of his heart. This was proved when he had Her first Darshan. He had in so many words expressed that he was simply astonished how people could go back to their normal life after discovering Her physical Presence on earth! After his first visit he came back to Orissa only to return for good.

‘In the march of evolution, with the emergence of principle of Mind, man could collaborate more effectively with the evolving force for the manifestation of a luminous Future. Here comes the role of writers—those who could handle ideas. While reading, people usually unconsciously identify themselves with the characters in books. Creative writers deftly guide people’s thoughts and feelings to a height and vastness that will impel their consent to go beyond the limited mental frame of thinking to a conscious and willing collaboration to elevate themselves. Such is the magic of words in the hands of this litterateur par excellence.

‘All the books of Sri Manoj Das have achieved the fragrance of this chemistry of conscious collaboration from the readers to joyously project themselves into the world of very high sensitivity beyond the boundaries of ego driven values that he blasts with tender satire. This master stroke takes the form of a grand pedestal to the Force that leads us beyond our small personalities. His literature is a testimony of faith, confidence and assurance for a bright Future.

‘It is a matter of great pleasure and honour that Sri Manoj Das is being awarded with “Auro-Ratna” award, 2015, for his exemplary and illustrious contribution in the field of literature. Our deep gratitude at the Feet of the Mother continues as Sri Manoj Das aspires and excels.’

The next message was from Shri Biswajit Gangopadhyay, Managing Member of Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata. The English translation of his speech is as follows:

‘Anurag Banerjee has requested me to write a few words on the occasion of today’s programme. My expression is not just my own but it also conveys the warm greetings of innumerable admirers of Manoj-da at Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata. Though Manoj-da writes in Oriya and English, yet few can match his profound knowledge about the course of Bengali literature right from the early age to modern times. Needless to say, Bengali is his second mother-tongue.

‘Right from the time of the inception of Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata, we have developed an inner bond with Manoj-da. The original link was of course Himangshu-da. It was Himangshu-da who had nominated Manoj-da to be the first recipient of ‘Sri Aurobindo Puraskar’. Whenever Manoj-da visited Kolkata, he would dine at Himangshu-da’s residence where chital fish’s muithya was certainly served. Another incident deserves to be mentioned here. There are two Manojs in the Ashram. One is ‘Dasgupta’ and the other is ‘Das’. While referring to them, Himangshu-da had made a beautiful differentiation between the two for the sake of convenient identification. Whenever he would speak of Manoj Das, he said “Manoj”. And when he referred to Manoj Dasgupta, he would say “Bhagne Manoj” (Manoj the nephew).

‘Not only in the Ashram but in the outside world as well, Manoj-da is an important representative of the Ashram. In 1948, the Andhra University had presented Sri Aurobindo with the ‘Ramalinga Award’. While concluding the message which he gave on the said occasion, Sri Aurobindo had written: “A vast inner and outer progress is needed if we are to fulfil India’s true destiny.” In order to bring about this inner and outer progress, even at such an advanced age, Manoj-da is working as a sincere comrade just as he did when he was communist in his youth.

‘Manoj-da has received several national and international awards and recognitions in his lifetime. Today’s award is an inner salutation of a young co-traveller whose warmth will spontaneously touch a sensitive individual whose name is Manoj Das.’

Shri Anurag Banerjee then invited Shri Kritatma Kumar, son of Shri Lalit Kumar (President, Aurodhan Art Gallery, Pondicherry) to read out the message the latter had sent for the award ceremony.

‘Welcome!

‘I am ex student of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education and have one wonderful incident to share on this occasion of our beloved professor Manoj Das being re-honored for his contribution as an instrument of the Divine Mother.

‘I was fortunate to be recruited by the Tatas and by its Chairman and Managing Director Mr. Russi Modi.

‘One evening he invited me for a get-together at the Shawak Nanawati Technical Institute (S.N.T.I.), Jamshedpur, of over 1000 trainees and young technocrats who were from the I.I.T.s and other leading institutes, his guest of honour was none other than Dr. Raja Ramana, the great Indian space scientist, and once India’s defence minister.

‘The Chairman of Tata Steel greeted the gathering and started by saying: “Friends, I have, as you see, achieved measurably a lot of name, fame, gained a lot, a big mansion, travel in jets and drive a Mercedes, etc. But I am willing to exchange all of this for what you have and I don’t—YOUTH.”

‘With these opening words he handed the microphone to the guest of honor.

‘Dr. Raja Ramana drew the attention of the young as to how fortunate they were to be working for one of the best companies in the world and after a few other words of wisdom, he suddenly came to a topic that caught my ears. He said, “You are amongst the brightest youth of our country and have an important role to play for the great future of our nation; for this you need to be, as the great yogi Sri Aurobindo said, original thinkers.

‘“I strongly recommend all of you here to read the short stories of one of the great and original writers of our times, Professor Manoj Das from Pondicherry.”

‘I was not sure what I heard so far away from here, as the person he just referred to was my own Manoj-da, who is amongst us, as one of us, and someone who is admired and respected by so many even so far! My pranam to him!’

After the messages sent by the admirers of Shri Manoj Das were read out, the “Auro Ratna Award 2015” was presented to Shri Manoj Das. Dr. Dilip Dutta, Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, presented Shri Manoj Das with the angavasram and certificate of “Auro-Ratna Award 2015” while the trophy was presented to him by Shri Manoj Dasgupta, Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.

What follows is the text of Shri Manoj Das’s acceptance speech:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“How much I wish that on this occasion I could be allowed to remain silent. But the protocol demands that there is something like a speech of acceptance. I oblige the demands of protocol. Well, I remember, years ago, when Manoj-da [Manoj Dasgupta] became a Trustee—I still remember—at the entrance of the building known as “Knowledge”, I congratulated him: “Manoj-da, congratulations.” Well, by the way, I must tell you if I had the far-sightedness I would have understood that a Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram is not to be congratulated. I should have said: “Manoj-da, my sympathies are with you.” (laughter) “And I pray for you.” Anyway, that’s a different question. When I congratulated him, I remember word-by-word a line he said. He said: “Manoj-da, ami jibone nijeke kokhono eto ojogyo mone kori ni.” That is, he—in his humility—believed that the position of Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram was such that he was not sufficiently prepared to uphold the dignity of the position. I should exactly say the same thing today. I feel scared to be a part of this ceremony where an honorific like “Auro Ratna” is bestowed on me.

“Some of you might be wondering: do I express this kind of humility every time I receive an honour? So many awards I have received, you have already heard from my friend’s citation. But, no, never! I don’t do that at all. I don’t remember—an American actor—when he was given an award, he said: “I do not deserve it.” But I also do not deserve many other things. For example, my arthritis also I don’t deserve (laughter). But whenever there is an award given to me, my aptitude is different. I am confident, I deserve it as much as I deserve my arthritis also because I know nothing comes to one’s life unless it has a role to play in his life. If something painful comes to me, either it is my karma or I must remember that through that kind of painful experience, Providence has designed my growth—my inner growth. So I do not show humility anywhere else.

“Well, I have been in the Ashram for fifty-two years. And in one of the award-giving grand ceremony, one of my old professors and veteran writers of Orissa, Kunja Bihari Das said: “Manoj has escaped through the world of awards but awards keep on chasing him.” I sometimes really wonder and become full of gratitude to the literary world. Aloof from the society for so many years and without the slightest ever effort I could have made to get an award, they have been always sweet and kind to me. They have given so many awards. Once in a while, an award coming chasing me—at the last moment—is hijacked by somebody else also (laughter). I read in newspapers and sometimes I see actual criticism about these things in so many other reviews. But sometimes there are circumstances also. I don’t know whether I should tell you—let me tell you, it is a small and cosy audience. I think, way back in 2000 or 2001 I was conferred the Padma Shri. Last year, a few days before the Republic Day, some newspapers published an item that this Republic Day Baba Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar—these two yoga gurus—and author-writer Manoj Das will get Padma Bhushan. Now, TV channels started contacting me—interview. Luckily I avoided giving any interview. But my home-state TV channels went on spinning the news that I am going to get… Meanwhile, what happened: Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar publicly announced: “We are ascetics, we are not interested in Padma awards.” I don’t know how Padma awards could interfere with one’s asceticism. I have heard in mythology that tapaswis were often disturbed by dancing paris [fairies] and apsaras [celestial maidens] but Padma award is not even a title! You are not expected to write your name with Padma award, that’s a national honour. And Government got irritated. It is justified. Government got embarrassed and irritated. Overnight they changed the list—I was told by my friends in Delhi—and some names they eliminated. My name was clubbed with these two famous people so I was also eliminated. But all these things—Manoj-da, Dilip-da—I really enjoy. My friends and fans get very disgusted but for me these are something to be enjoyed and nothing more than that.

“But yet, I know, that because when awards are given, behind such awards there is love of thousands of my readers and the critical appreciation of so many scholars. I respect all such honours and awards. Personally sometimes I wonder…you know, the famous novelist James Joyce. Once in a meeting, when he was there in the front-row, a famous lady came to him and said: “May I kiss the hand which has written the great novel, The Ulysses?” And James Joyce said: “Madam, better not because this hand has also done many other things.” (laughter) So, I also sometimes feel—when an honour is given to me—I say, well, in one part of me there is a faculty, there is some kind of a skill or whatever you say which is not of my making. I did not create it. It was there. The answer is given! And for that activity of that small part the whole Manoj Das—why should he be honoured? This Manoj Das has quarreled with people, he has led agitations, he has been jailed also—why should the whole Manoj Das be—I mean—awarded when for a little bit or a part of him has some role to play in a creative wonder. But last fifty-two years when I am in the Ashram, as you know, there are two Pondicherrys. One is the town, like any other town of India, over-populated, polluted, etc. etc. There is an inner Pondicherry—serene, dazzling, the atmosphere continuously swerves with the presence of the Mother and the Master. How many times I have thought: only I could be always in that atmosphere—the second Pondicherry. That is not possible with all my weakness, but the glimpses or the breath of air which comes sometimes from the inner Pondicherry—that is the secret of my writing anything worthwhile. All of the best of my writings have taken place only after I have come to the Ashram. I was a writer before, of course, but I could not have written what I have written here if I were elsewhere.

“The physical plane, tangibly, how much I have worked for the Mother. In late 1960s, when I used to go to Mother for pranam, if a new book of mine has been published, I would carry it to Her. She would feel through the pages, as if a human mother is very proud of her child—a child which has done something worthy. The pinnacle of grace indeed! She had to bring Herself down to that human appearance and warmth so that we could be closer to Her. I remember, once a book of mine was published by—my first collection of stories—Higginbothams and the cover was like a film-poster. It was so indecently covered! But I must first get the first copy touched by the Mother. Amrita-da was there at that time. I put it under a wrapper and told Amrita-da: “Please don’t show it to the Mother. Just ask Her to touch it and bring it back to me. I will preserve the copy.” Amrita-da came in the afternoon and said: “I told Mother, ‘You just touch it. It is his first book.’ The Mother snatched the copy from my hand, opened the wrap.” I don’t know what the Mother said but certainly she was not happy with the cover. Immediately I rushed to the publishers where they changed the cover. When the book with the second cover was sent to the Mother, She was happy. I wrote to the Mother: “I want to dedicate a book to you of my collection of stories.” How graciously She permitted! I cannot tell you how much these things have not only inspired me as a writer but has sustained me in my faith that there is a Mother who is always there for the littlest of little activity of ours and Her Grace is simply infinite.

“Next, Nolini-da. One day, I remember, a funny incident. He visited School for Perfect Eyesight. He used to put a cap—a cotton cap. Somehow the cap was misplaced. Somebody said: “Mystery of the Missing Cap!” That was the title of one of my stories at that time very much widely circulated, reproduced in many papers—the Hindu also reproduced it. Everybody laughed there. And one asked Nolini-da: “Nolini-da, have you read the stories?” And his statement was: “I read each and every story written by him.” One day he was reading a tiny book of mine called Legends of India’s Rivers. A gentleman entered his room but he was absorbed in the reading. Then the gentleman asked Nolini-da: “What are you reading with so much of interest?” And his simple answer was: “Every Indian should read this book.” These are awards which cannot be evaluated.

“Well, I must conclude now. Anurag Babu, Partha Babu—Anurag Babu, you are doing splendid research silently. And the works you have brought to light about the early life of the Master, I am one of the beneficiaries. I am using them for my work on Sri Aurobindo—a new biography which is being serialized in Mother India in English and in Oriya—Nava Prakash. And Partha Babu, your dynamic leadership of the youth of Calcutta in many innovative things—Sakti Centre is a base—I congratulate you. Thank you so much.

“But coming to the word “Auro Ratna”. I must confess that I feel that my friends have become very optimistic. Their optimism spreads to what I will do in my next life. You see, in a forest there was a sage. And one day a bandit entered the hut of the sage. He expected something valuable but could not get anything. Disappointed, he uttered some words of disgust and was going back. But the sage told: “Eh, come, come. Look here, yesterday a Raja came to do pranam to me. He gave me something—a stone which he called a ratna and he said it is priced a million gold coins. It is here. Take it if you have something of it.” The bandit took it up and he really recognized being the connoisseur of diamonds. He recognized that it was indeed a ratna— [worth] a million gold coins. “Hurray!” he just jumped and sprinted out. But after two hours gravely he comes back, kneels down before the sage and said: “Tell me, what is that incalculable precious ratna you have purchased because of which you could just throw away this million gold coins worth of ratna? What is that?” The sage says: “My boy, diamonds come. Sit down.” The story ends there. So far as this life is concerned, well, the burning candle of this life is almost touching its base but the foundation—Overman Foundation—believes that in my next life we all will try to discover that incalculable ratna which is there somewhere. I will be able to discover it—in anticipation of that they have given the “Auro Ratna” in this life. Thank you very much once again. I am grateful. And dear friends, thank you very much for this.”

Shri Anurag Banerjee thanked all the guests and audience for gracing the award ceremony with their august presence and ignoring the torrential downpour raging outside the hall.

To view the video of the aforesaid award ceremony, kindly click on the following link:

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Founder,

Overman Foundation.

*

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3 Comments

  1. Surendra Singh said,

    August 9, 2016 at 11:58 am

    Dear Anurag ,
    This is an excellent report ..covering all the aspects -known and unknown of great and unassuming life of dearly respected Manoj Das – da ..He carries the greatness of a genius writer very lightly ..When I was attending in New Delhi the World Book fair , it was a personal revelation to note the intensity of esteem by which he was held there by all the present famous men of letters and one and all . Mind you , it was an international platform ..

  2. Arundhati Chatterjee said,

    August 10, 2016 at 6:30 am

    Anurag, You’ve done a great job posting this report. Enjoyed reading it and of course so many perspectives came to the limelight. Would like to remain thus informed.
    Thank you so much.

  3. Purnendu Ghosh said,

    August 10, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Dear Anurag,
    I do no know how to express my feeling about a towering person like respected Manoj Das for awarding him Auro-Ratna award. I met him once and was moved by his simplicity. In my early age, I was inspired by his book “Sri Aurobindo in the first decade of century” I would rather say this was the turning point of my life. I express my joy and congratulation. Thanks & Regards,

    Purnenduda


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