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Nirodbaran's Twelve Years

R. Y. Deshpande

When in 1972 Nirodbaran read out to the Mother most of Sri Aurobindo's letters written to him, she said: “Sri Aurobindo has answered all the problems in your letters. It is marvellous… There are extraordinary things in there. He seems to be joking all the time… but it is extraordinary… He has given you everything.” All this went on between February 1933 and November 1938, the halcyon days full of heavenly exquisiteness. Indeed, what is there at all which is not in this guru-shishya exchange, a wonder of the sun talking to its sunshine? As regards the subject matter there was the wide field to range over: “Supermind, literature, art, religion, spirituality, Avatarhood, love, women, marriage, medical matters, sex-gland, any topical question, such as goat-sacrifice at Kalighat, political atrocities, sectarian fanaticism, hunger strike, India's freedom” including overhead poetry,—that was the kind of a rich pabulum served at this distinctive feast. 1200 pages of correspondence, plus an equally voluminous as-yet unpublished stack of manuscripts dealing with hundreds of poems of an aspirant poet-disciple, is something unparalleled in spiritual history. In fact, in the process of correcting and commenting on his creations, the Master himself became his collaborator. Through all this the Yogi was an Alchemist also, “engaged in making the cub a tiger.” Was that an experiment to transform the common clay into supramental gold, to bring about a radical change in the material that was here in the form of a pliant and chosen pupil?

But it can never be a straightforward task, particularly when the thousand evils of nature have to be dealt with. Quite often was the shishya haunted by a “plucky devil” even as he moved on the sunlit path. And then he had the “wooden headed” logic that failed to understand the manner of working of the incarnate Divine; or else he continued to be for a long time “the Man of Sorrows”. Yet in spite of the presence of Grand'mère Depression or that old Mother Gloom-Gloom, there had always been the assurance of the important thing that flows from the presence of the guru, his protective benevolence. He is told “to go on till the psychic truth behind everything becomes manifest.” When there is the soul and there is the unfailing Grace, there can also be the chance of “supramental ropening”—and, sure enough, Nirodbaran grabbed that chance fully. He got the soul's reward in the form of a

Life that is deep and wonder-vast

which has the “inevitable quality” expressing “things with an absolute truth.”

During those exquisite halcyon days Nirodbaran once raised a question about the relative merits of several Fine Arts such as music, poetry, painting, sculpture and in the ranking put music at the top of his list. His reason was because of its universality and direct appeal to our sense of perception. He wanted to have Sri Aurobindo's “expert and thoroughly satisfying opinion” on the matter. But Sri Aurobindo was sufficiently well on his guard and did not commit the mistake of Paris in offering the crown of glory to one of the Muses, thereby inviting the wrath of others. The situation could have been something gravely dangerous in its far reaching consequences, leading even to the destruction of a whole civilisation; this could have damned the arbiter forever. Yet he saw some worth in the criterion of “direct appeal” and wondered whether modern painting and poetry were proceeding in that direction to vie with music. While drawing the conclusion “maybe or maybe not” he gave us a very luminous answer and, in the process, drew a diaphanous portrait of Nirodbaran himself: “It is perhaps true that music goes direct to the intuition and feeling with the least necessity for the use of the thinking mind with its strongly limiting conception as a self-imposed middleman, while painting and sculpture do need it and poetry still more. At that rate music would come first, architecture next, then sculpture and painting, poetry last. I am aware that Houseman posits nonsense as the essence of pure poetry and considers its appeal to be quite direct—not to the soul but to somewhere about the stomach. But then there is hardly any pure poetry in this world and the little there is is still mélangé with at least a homeopathic dose of intellectual meaning. But again if I admit this thesis of excellence by directness, I shall be getting myself into dangerous waters. For modern painting has become either cubist or abstract and it claims to have got rid of mental representation and established in art the very method of music; it paints not the object, but the truth behind the object—by the use of pure line and colour and geometrical form which is the very basis of all forms or else by figures that are not representations but significances. For instance a modern painter wishing to make a portrait of you will now paint at the top a clock surrounded by three triangles, below them a chaos of rhomboids and at the bottom two table castors to represent your feet and he will put underneath this powerful design, ‘Portrait of Nirod'. Perhaps your soul will leap up in answer to its direct appeal and recognise at once the truth behind the object, behind your vanished physical self,—you will greet your psychic being or your Atman or at least your inner physical or vital being. Perhaps also you won't. Poetry also seems to be striving towards the same end by the same means—getting away from mind into the depths of life or, as the profane might put it, arriving at truth and beauty through ugliness and unintelligibility. From that you will perhaps deduce that the attempt of painting and poetry to do what music alone can do easily and directly without these acrobatics is futile because it is contrary to their nature—which proves your thesis that music is the highest art because most direct in its appeal to the soul and the feelings. Maybe—or maybe not.”

But it seems that this correspondence-period was a great apprenticeship-period preparing the chosen disciple for another kind of work. Nirodbaran was a doctor who had qualified himself from Edinburgh in 1924 to practise medicine. But soon after his return to India he was destined to arrive at the feet of the Master in Pondicherry . When he joined the Ashram he was first given a job in the Building Service Department and then was in-charge of the Timber Godown; eventually he landed in the Dispensary.

But then there was also the curious phenomenon of the doctor writing poetry instead of medical prescriptions. About his strange “case-history” Amal Kiran writes as follows: “Nirodbaran became quite often a sheer medium through whom a strange species of poetry poured without his being able to make head or tail of it. Of course, what he served as a channel for proved to have a comet's tail, a brilliance from beyond the earth, and a veritable godhead seemed to glow from behind or above the mere mind… The poet's unawareness of the wonder he was transmitting was, however, only one facet of the strange development he was going through.” Nirodbaran had started writing surrealistic poetry whose inspiration came from some inner yogic consciousness. But at times there was also the overhead greatness in his poetic utterance, catching its “authentic note with enough frequency to make it an appreciable element.” But often the Master had to “doctor the doctor” to bring perfection to the tyro's initial attempts. Soon, however, started coming poetry in abundance and with flawless expression.

Nirodbaran's dual preparation as a doctor and a poet seems to have dovetailed into the most important role he was to play during his twelve years with Sri Aurobindo. In 1938, after the accident on 24 November, he made the first entry into the sanctum sanctorum as a doctor. He had on an earlier occasion complained about his twenty thousand rupees towards medical tuition fees having gone down the drain, the simple reason being that his professional knowledge did not find much application here in the Ashram. But then least would have he imagined that the sum would fetch for him the prospects of serving the divine patient. Add to this fortune the double fortune to have become a poet and later, because of that qualification, the Master's personal secretary for literary works. At the time he received this enviable gift of attending on Sri Aurobindo, Nirodbaran was just 35. During the next twelve years there were to take place world-transforming events changing the very course of civilisation and shaping in a decisive way the evolutionary destiny. The Yogi's action was in full play and Nirodbaran was a human witness on the spot to record it and inform us about it. We can never be sufficiently thankful to him for this act of his.

We have in Nirodbaran what he, with an observer's keen eye, glimpsed and perceived. It is not a report in the nature of something written centuries later. In the Gospel, for instance, it is impossible to tell how much history is preserved. “The accounts, and John's in particular, are theology rather than history,” says a commentator. “The writers wished to show the clash predicted by Jesus between the powers of darkness and the powers of light, between Truth and men, like Pilate, who would never grasp it. They revelled in the story of the Roman governor who could not decide between right and wrong, truth and falsehood: because Pilate, in this case, was all men.” Nirodbaran doesn't suffer from a possible disregard of an unbeliever. On the contrary, just to illustrate the point, the events of the World War II such as we have in his accounts throw an altogether different light on the history of the time. Luckily for us, as well as for the scholars to come, here is a gold mine of authentic material, even to see the occult sense behind what was happening on the surface. There are more things than we can dream of and multi-winding is the path.

Nirodbaran kept faithful records of the conversations Sri Aurobindo used to have with his attendants every evening. In the preface to Talks with Sri Aurobindo the author writes: “The eve of the November Darshan, 1938. The Ashram humming with the arrival of the visitors. On every face signs of joy, in every look calm expectation and happiness… A sudden noise! 2.00 a.m. Then an urgent call to Sri Aurobindo's room… Purani answered it. Dr. Manilal, who fortunately had arrived for the Darshan, was called. Presently, some of us came... Yes, a fracture and of a serious type…” The large crowd of anxious devotees that had gathered for the Darshan, however, had to go back disappointed, “accepting Fate's decree with a calm submission.” As Sri Aurobindo lay on the bed, there subsequently “followed regular conversations with those disciples who were given the privilege of serving him from then onwards for twelve years.” The close, free and warm informal atmosphere that grew around him during the evening sessions, reminds us of the Upanishadic scene. Practically everything under the sun was discussed, he himself being that sun, the source of light that casts no shadow. “There was not a subject that was not touched upon, not a mystery that he did not illumine, not a phenomenon that passed unnoticed, humorous or serious, superficial or profound, mundane or mystic. Reminiscences, stories, talks on art and culture, on world-problems and spiritual life poured down in abundant streams from an otherwise silent and reticent vastitude of knowledge and love and bliss. It was an unforgettable reward he accorded to us for our humble service.” These talks “show Sri Aurobindo's encyclopaedic knowledge and bear out the truth of his remark that if he wrote all that he knew, it would be ten times more than what he had already written.” Purani and Nirodbaran recorded the lively meetings independently and we should be grateful to both of them for this precious gift of theirs. We have in it the Master's profound spiritual insights on current events as well as on a variety of social and cultural subjects. Nirodbaran quotes Sri Aurobindo, that “the Divine gives himself to those who give themselves.” Indeed, this is what our poet-doctor did and this is what he received in God's plenty!

No wonder therefore that his Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo should occupy a unique position in the vast body of the Aurobindonian literature. It is an intimate biographical account pertaining to the last triumphant period of the Avatar's earthly sojourn. Very rarely does a book get the recognition of a classic in the author's own lifetime. There are instances when the early reception accorded to creative works had to be revised with the passing of time as, not too long ago, it happened in the case of Tagore's Nobel-winning Gitanjali . W. B. Yeats, who was greatly impressed by it and who was instrumental in promoting it, himself changed his views later. But Nirodbaran's Twelve Years has acquired that exceptional privilege, and fairly deservedly too, of something which will endure the test of generations. Not that there is something extraordinary in it and that people will go to it with the fervour of reading, say, Valmiki or Kalidas or Dante or the dialogues of Plato. It may perhaps come more in the class of works like the immortal Bhagavata Purana and will be cherished by those who have opened out to the greatness of the one whom they adore in their heart. Essentially belonging to the genre of Guru-bhakti, and “devotional outpourings” as the Foreword tells us, it is yet a little masterpiece in its own right which also has the distinction of being translated into a dozen of Indian and foreign languages. When the author read out the book to the Mother, she remarked: “It is extremely interesting and very instructive.”

Written in a simple and straightforward pleasing style, a narrative based on the writer's direct personal contact and association with the Master, the book is a precious treasury of the daily happenings in the House of the Unknown. The one who always appeared very far away, inaccessible, withdrawn, aloof like a snow-clad mountain somewhere in the mysterious south, never-smiling, unconcerned in regard to the matters of the world,—that is the kind of picture people had conjured up about him. But now he seems to draw closer to us as we begin to go through the account given in these 300 and odd pages. The personal of the impersonal starts emerging vividly, with several intimate details of the daily routines. How “the most sublimely enigmatic person of the Modern Age, one whom thousands have felt a veritable God-Man” ate, and slept, and walked in his room, or how he wrote from his famous but inscrutable “silent mind”, or else how his divinity took a human shape in contacts with his attendants or how he corresponded with a few disciples almost until the end,—these have always been the fond curiosities of devotees and it is these which have been amply fulfilled in Nirodbaran's document. Here is a typical description of the part of a day's routine in the life of the incarnate Supreme.

“At first Sri Aurobindo was served three meals daily but breakfast was soon stopped as it was too early for his appetite. However, even his first meal gradually came to be delayed till late in the afternoon. Sri Aurobindo reserved a big part of his day for what he called his personal work of concentration. After his morning ablutions, he would go through the newspapers, and then the Mother would come for a while to discuss things of importance. It was often three or four o'clock in the afternoon by the time Sri Aurobindo was ready for his first meal. The Mother would then come, lay out the dishes on a wheeled table which had been made for him, and push it close to the bed. Sri Aurobindo relished good food and was partial to sweets, specially rasagolla , sandesh or pantua , but he had no attachment to any particular dish… This was his principal meal of the day. At night he had a light supper, its timing being flexible, as it depended on the Mother's endless round of activities.” Did he sleep at night? But the dharma of the physical had to be respected. If he took food, it is understandable that he slept also. But his sleep was not tamasic or dull inconscient like ours; it was yogic. His feet would remain uncovered perhaps, because, beings from the subtle worlds would come to offer their pranam s to him.

We continue to read the book again and again to live in that gracious and benign presence. Let us take a couple of examples to enjoy its charm, its lovability and flavour. Let us also profit from it, that we may be wise and do the things of life in the understanding of the values of the spirit.

The first thing that we perhaps notice in the evening conversations with the disciples is the extent to which Sri Aurobindo, though confined to his cave of tapasya, was alert to the happenings in the world. Not only did he follow the significant developments during the Second World War, but also applied his yogic force in definitively reorienting their course. His public announcement recommending the acceptance of Cripps's Mission in 1942 vis-à-vis the independence of India bears ample testimony of his active interest. It is a pity that it was rejected by the country's wise men of those days. Apropos of that the Mother said: “Now calamity will befall India .” Sri Aurobindo, however, never ceased to be up-to-date regarding the world affairs. Apropos of these two events Nirodbaran writes: “We shared with Sri Aurobindo his hopes and fears, his anticipations, prognostications and prophecies. He allowed us some glimpses into his action and gave a calm assurance of the victory for the Divine cause.”

During the early phase of the War Hitler, was marching triumphantly with his panzer divisions destroying Paris . “Having won the Battle of France decisively,” reports Nirodbaran, “Hitler now turned his attention to winning the Battle of Britain. He fixed 15 August 1940 as the day on which he would complete his conquest of Western Europe and broadcast from Buckingham Palace . When Sri Aurobindo heard of this he remarked ‘that is the sign that he is the enemy of our work…' But 15 August turned out to be a turning point for Britain . On that day 180 German planes were shot down in British skies… A month later, on the same date, 15 September 1940 , Sri Aurobindo said smiling: ‘ England has destroyed 175 German planes, a very big number. Now invasion will be difficult. Hitler lost his chance after the fall of France . He has really missed the bus!' ” Another force was set up against him. In the Mother's War Sri Aurobindo took full charge of the situation. Behind Hitler's success Sri Aurobindo saw the working of a powerful Asura in the task of “enslavement of mankind to the tyranny of evil.” This would have been a setback for the course of spiritual evolution for which Sri Aurobindo was working.

Not only did he apply his yogic force when such catastrophic events were taking place; he and the Mother also made a monetary contribution to the War fund. In their letter to the Governor of Madras dated 19 September 1940 they declared: “We feel that not only is this a battle waged in just self-defence and in defence of the nations threatened with the world-domination of Germany and the Nazi system of life, but that it is a defence of civilisation and its highest attained social, cultural and spiritual values and of the whole future of humanity. To this cause our support and sympathy will be unswerving whatever may happen; we look forward to the victory of Britain and, as the eventual result, an era of peace and union among the nations and a better and more secure world-order.” Who in this land of ours had the idea of the disaster that was waiting for mankind in the victory of the Nazi way of life, of Hitler's running over nations and countries? None. It seems that we had lost our heads and our souls. If at all there was the charismatic appeal to the gullible to side with the devil in his doings. The one who had proclaimed himself as the Lord of the Nations, the Asuric power of Falsehood, had found in Hitler his perfect instrument in the gruesome task of annihilation of the world. Here was Mahatma Gandhi with the ethico-religious mind recommending submission to the Falsehood that was at the basis of this dark creation. The Times letter in July 1940 addressed to the Britishers runs as follows: “I want you to fight Nazism without arms, or, if I am to retain the military terminology, with non-violent arms. I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these but neither your souls nor your minds. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.” Putting such an ultra-Christian doctrine on the highest pedestal of ethical excellence, making it an eminent principle of administration in the daily mode of life of the individual as well as of a whole society is not only to dwarf them; in fact, in its cruellest sense it is to turn all towards anti-humanity. And what is the efficacy of such a doctrine in its functioning? It sucks away the life-blood of a nation; it strangles the spirit of freedom and happy enterprise; it kills with a dark knife the very soul of man. A great humane and respectable virtue meant for another kind of pursuit is converted into a deadly weapon of destruction to push everything into the abyss of spiritual oblivion, into the sunless worlds that are enveloped in blind gloom, andhena tamasavratah , as the Isha Upanishad would declare. Was the Mahatma promoting the Rule of the Asura? It seems so, if not consciously and deliberately but unwittingly. Did not the same thing happen at the time of Cripps's Mission in 1942? Woe be to the nation who turns its blind eye to the Rishi dedicated to the Divine cause.

India 's willing participation in the War effort was necessary and the British Prime Minister of the time, Winston Churchill, had made a proposal through Sir Stafford Cripps to the Indian leaders with the possibility of Dominion Status to the country after the War. Sri Aurobindo saw in it India becoming free and remaining united and extended his explicit and precise support to it. In a telegram dated 31 March 1942 he writes to Cripps: “I have heard your broadcast. As one who was a nationalist leader and worker for India 's independence, though now my activity is no longer in the political but in the spiritual field, I wish to express my appreciation of all you have done to bring about this offer. I welcome it as an opportunity given to India to determine for herself, and organise in all liberty of choice, her freedom and unity, and take an effective place among the world's free nations. I hope that it will be accepted, and right use made of it, putting aside all discords and divisions. I hope too that friendly relations between Britain and India replacing the past struggles will be a step towards a greater world union in which, as a free nation, her spiritual force will contribute to build for mankind a better and happier life. In this light, I offer my public adhesion, in case it can be of any help in your work.” Sir Stafford Cripps replied: “I am most touched and gratified by your kind message allowing me to inform India that you who occupy a unique position in the imagination of Indian youth, are convinced that the declaration of His Majesty's Government substantially confers that freedom for which Indian Nationalism has so long struggled.”

The proposals made by Cripps had essentially the following points: The Dominion status to India after the War envisaged a common allegiance to the Crown but in no respect subordinate to it; India would be free to frame its own constitution; the task of organising the military, moral and material resources would be the responsibility of the Government of India in cooperation with the peoples of India. In the event of non-acceptance of the proposals “the responsibility for the failure,” warns Cripps in no uncertain terms, “must rest with them.” Sri Aurobindo knew the British psychology of doing things in stages and explained it so to his disciples, that the proposals effectively amounted to freedom which also assured unity. Not only that. He sent Doraiswamy Iyer, his disciple and the famous Madras lawyer, as an envoy to Delhi with a brief pleading the leaders to accept the proposals. Mahatma Gandhi proclaimed that the Cripps-proposals were a post-dated cheque drawn on a bank that was crashing. He also retorted that as Sri Aurobindo had retired from politics he had no business to interfere in these matters. In the rejection of the proposals in spite of Sri Aurobindo's advocacy, the Mother saw a greater calamity befalling India , reports Nirodbaran. We know the bloodbath that followed in the wake of India 's partitioned freedom. We are still reaping its consequences.

Pertinent to this aspect is the brief but significant reference to the special interviews granted during later years by Sri Aurobindo to some of the prominent political figures of the time, dignitaries like K. M. Munshi, Sir C. R. Reddy, Surendra Mohan Ghose, etc. We must also mention here that Surendra Mohan was very keen that Sri Aurobindo should consent to have an interview with Mahatma Gandhi which he did but, unfortunately, it did not materialise. “Fate stepped in and foiled what could have been a momentous meeting,” says Nirodbaran. Perhaps it was not meant to be. Our author also tells us that he is giving these details on purpose, in order to “dispel our ignorant notions that Yogis live in a rarefied atmosphere of the Spirit and are indifferent to what passes on this plane of Matter; we forget that Spirit and Matter are two ends of existence.” There were also a number of important letters Sri Aurobindo had dictated during this period.

Apropos of India 's partition and the forces that worked behind it we have the account by K. M. Munshi based on what Sri Aurobindo had told him in the course of the interview in 1950. But to get the perspective fully let us first read a part of his message to the nation on 15 August 1947 . Sri Aurobindo had foreseen free and united India in the acceptance of Cripps's proposals. It didn't happen and consequently partition became inevitable. “...the old communal division into Hindu and Muslim seems to have hardened into the figure of a permanent political division of the country. It is to be hoped that the Congress and the nation will not accept the settled fact as forever settled or as anything more than a temporary expedient. For if it lasts, India may be seriously weakened, even crippled: civil strife may remain always possible, possible even a new invasion and foreign conquest.” India 's integrity and spiritual destiny always remained Sri Aurobindo's concern. In the course of the interview, Munshi was taken aback when Sri Aurobindo surprised him with the unexpected question: “When do you expect India to be united?” He himself then said: “ India will be united. I see it clearly. Pakistan has been created by falsehood, fraud and force. It must be brought under India 's military ambit.” He went out of his way and spoke of the military ambit.

Today we dismiss those words as time-barred, forgetting that he had put his yogic force in them in the context of what he saw as falsehood and fraud. By forgetting them, we are entrenching ourselves more and more into falsehood and fraud. We are strengthening falsehood and fraud more and more. Has the power which Sri Aurobindo put in his words disappeared? Or is it that we are putting more and more obstacles in its working?

In this context we have to only remember the Nehru-Liaquat Pact and the Pakistan government's refusal to sign a joint declaration stating that in no event should there be recourse to war. This was on the political level; we don't know things that were present in the occult world. Therefore when Sri Aurobindo spoke of the military ambit then it means that there was a distinct possibility at that time, but it didn't materialize,—b ecause the lamps were not kept trimmmed in the Hour of God, because we were not ready to receive the gifts of the three Mothers, because we had no conviction in the words of the Avatar.

But we should not take Sri Aurobindo as “Read-Only Text” frozen for all time without the contents of dynamism in time. We should lend ourselves to its dynamism, to its mantric efficacy. In a letter about that time Sri Aurobindo wrote to a disciple that India 's marching to East Bengal and war in Kashmir would have resulted in the end of Pakistan . “The object we had in view would have been within the sight of achievement.” It is at times said that in the present conditions it makes more sense to work to achieve a culture of spiritual unity in India rather than the unification of India and Pakistan . But to speak of spirituality where there is falsehood is to be ignorant of things.

Let us recall one of the early conversations of Sri Aurobindo with his disciples as recorded by A. B. Purani in the Evening Talks, 1923. It brings out one specific aspect of the Hindu-Muslim unity. About the Muslims, Sri Aurobindo says that their fanatic faith in their religion is harmful to everybody, even for themselves. It is necessary that they inculcate liberal ideas, of right and liberty. The mildness of the Hindus has always given way in the face of the Muslim aggressive approach. The best solution would be to allow the Hindus to organize themselves and the Hindu-Muslim unity would take care of itself; it would automatically solve the problem. Here is the clue available to us. Though spoken in 1923, its fundamental truth, of liberal ideas for the Muslims and the Hindus organizing themselves, remains valid even today.

In contrast to that Mahatma Gandhi had different views. Take the example of the Ottoman Empire . It was breaking down at the end of the First World War. But in India it was seen as a blow to the prestige of Islam. Therefore, it became a part of political calculation to oppose the move. Thus was born the harmful Khilafat movement. In the context of the freedom struggle Mahatma Gandhi writes about it as follows: “To the Musalmans Swaraj means, as it must, India 's ability to deal effectively with the Khilafat question.” He further adds: “It is impossible not to sympathise with this attitude… I would gladly ask for postponement of the Swaraj activity if we could advance the interest of the Khilafat.” What was in the Ottoman Empire that we should have sold ourselves for it? When the Western world was making tremendous strides in different branches of learning, in science, technology, industry, commerce, here was a decadent regime that had outlived its purpose. Khilafat could not be more precious than Swaraj. In it India 's freedom had a lower priority. In it India was denied India 's nationhood. This was unfortunate, if not calamitous.

There is a constant refrain in the Quran: “All that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth glorifieth Allah, and he is the Mighty, the Wise.” Mahakali-Maheshwari aspects are immediately recognized in this, but the absence of the other two powers brings imbalance in social organization. Which means that in the unregenerate state of society the Mahakali power gets appropriated by the Asuric forces.

Sri Aurobindo saw the necessity of the freedom of India differently. For him India was not an inert piece of matter. He saw in her a mighty Shakti. He called that Shakti India. She was for him Bhavani Bharati. He knew her as the Mother and worshipped her so. How could he rest content if she remained chained? How could he postpone her freedom even for a day? He entered into politics to get into the mind of the people a settled will for freedom. When he saw that the freedom of India was an assured fact he moved on to greater issues, issues of existence itself. For that he attempted all and in the process achieved all. He invoked the supreme grace to descend and transform the lot of our mortality. The grace has come down to bestow on us the boons of her plenty and prosperity. We have to only open ourselves to her wonderful gifts of happiness. That is the expectation from us.

And what about the Karma we have generated during the years when we had amongst us the physical presence of the Avatar himself? We ignored him in two ways. These Karmas now become more difficult to remove and shall be more and more so if we perpetuate our stupid, inert, ugly, crude actions.

Let us remember Hamlet in the proper Aurobindonian context:

Angels and ministers of grace defend us!

  …we fools of nature

So horridly to shake our disposition

With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?

… what should we do?

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

It will be therefore nonsensical to talk of spiritual Pakistan when we know what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother said about it. This becomes more and more clear as we read with attention Nirodbaran's Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo .

In this context it is worth making known Sri Aurobindo's personal interest in the fortnightly Mother India that was primarily started to reflect his views on political matters. Those days the fortnightly was coming out from Bombay and its disciple-editor K. D. Sethna (Amal Kiran) used to send his articles to Sri Aurobindo. Only after he had approved of these were they published. These editorials have now been compiled and brought out in a book-form, India and the World Scene . Sri Aurobindo privately called this periodical “My Paper”. While Amal Kiran's articles were found impeccable, “on a few occasions small but significant changes were telegraphically made.”

Nirodbaran's chapter on Savitri is invaluable in several respects. We begin to get an idea as how in the long arduous way the poet's magnum opus proceeded for several years, almost up to the end of his physical presence upon the earth. It was without a doubt the “God's Labour” which perhaps we would not have been able to discern in the absence of Twelve Years . Nirodbaran had the “unique good fortune to see Sri Aurobindo working on the epic on its entire revised version” and therefore the details bear the authenticity of a first-hand description. He begins the presentation as follows: “It is my task in this chapter to give a factual account of the long process that had led to Savitri in its final form. As the grand epic has captured many hearts all over the world by its supernal beauty I thought that they would be much interested in the history of its growth, development and final emergence—the birth of the Golden Child.” We should indeed be very appreciative of the manner in which the narrator presents the composition of the epic as it progressed during the 1940s. His “factual account”, howsoever sketchy or non-professional it might appear to us, is of importance in more than a few particulars. To say that Sri Aurobindo would have least bothered to write anything of the sort regarding his Savitri 's arrival on the physical plane might not be altogether wrong. Yet there would have remained about it our natural curiosity unfulfilled. The picture drawn by Nirodbaran has now to some extent satisfied this understandable desire of ours. But what is more significant about this picture is its warmth and intimacy, its psychic feeling that takes us closer to its creator. Not that from the mass of manuscripts some idea of it could not have been formed, but that would have been a reconstruction of the former scene, loaded with all mental or scholarly notions about it. It is in that respect that Nirodbaran's stands apart from all descriptions of the composition of Savitri .

Sri Aurobindo had taken the theme of Savitri for his poetic presentation perhaps as early as in his Baroda days. It follows closely the description of the Pativrata Mahatmya as we have in the Mahabharata. At that time the poem was simply called Savithri . This narrative easily falls in the category of other two poems Urvasi and Love and Death written during that period. However, there seems to be some uncertainty about it. But we are certain that the first available draft was written during 1916-18 belonging to the Arya period. The second version is called Savithri, A Tale and a Vision . The Arya -period version had practically remained unattended for more than fifteen years when he took it up again in the early 1930s and we do not know when exactly Savitri, A Legend and a Symbol was found as the present title for the epic. It will be interesting to know how the Tale became a Legend and the Vision a Symbol . Sri Aurobindo dictated the last set of passages of Savitri just three weeks before his passing away in 1950. Of course, the 1940s was the period when he concentrated on it the most. In its golden spiritual fire, Yogagni, took the birth of the radiant daughter, kanya tejasvini , that Savitri is. Sri Aurobindo had called it as his “main work”, undoubtedly more in its occult-spiritual rather than literary sense. It is in this context that we should dismiss ignorant or arrogant or prejudiced statements that Savitri even if it were to be considered as “an impressive attempt” is “an impressive failure”, as does Kathleen Raine. Let us, however, recall the Mother's exposé about it. She says that Sri Aurobindo has “crammed the whole universe in a single book. It is a marvellous, magnificent work and of an incomparable perfection… It is a revelation, a meditation and a seeking of the Infinite and the Eternal. Each verse of Savitri is like a mantra which surpasses man's entire knowledge… Everything is there: mysticism, occultism, philosophy, history of evolution, history of man, gods of the creation and Nature… Savitri is the spiritual path, the Tapasya, Sadhana… It has an extraordinary power, it is the Truth in all its plenitude that he has brought down here on earth.” Its poetry is in the power of the inspired and inevitable word which can be understood only in the depths of a luminous silence.

During the last phase of the Savitri -composition several earlier drafts were taken up and extensively revised, even as new sections or cantos were added mostly by dictation as the work progressed. While we can perfectly understand the nature of this procedure, it should also be borne in mind that it has, at a number of places, led to serious problems of editing. These get compounded when we also take note of the fact that the revisions were made even at the last proofreading stages. It is rather unfortunate that these press-proofs are not now available for critically checking the text. This has led to conflicting view-points at times hurting the sentiments of devotees or else judiciously remaining faithful to the texts while going through them in the course of editing. In the circumstances, the best one can perhaps do is to go by the first complete version that appeared in two volumes in 1950-51. Part One of the epic was published in September 1950, before Sri Aurobindo's passing away in December of that year, and Part II and Part III as the second volume within months of that day, in May 1951. To take care of the early slips that might have occurred in this edition extensive research notes can be provided in a supplementary archival document; these might profitably include several readings as we have in different drafts. Presentation of data should be the main concern in this respect. It is to be well appreciated that carrying out such an exhaustive job can never be an easy archival task; but, then, possibly that is the only kind of an undertaking which would do some justice to the poem as well as to the poet. For an alert or perceptive reader of tomorrow this archival data will prove to be a help of immense value. When followed, it will also have the merit of avoiding the charge of introducing in the edited text one's own likings and dislikings, one's natural subjective notions regarding matters poetic or spiritual. By presenting such “factual” details of research on the Savitri -drafts a new chapter of study can open out to enter into its spirit in another way. It is believed that this procedure will be in tune with the spirit in which the Savitri -chapter appears in Nirodbaran's Twelve Years . I am sure that Nirodbaran will be happy about it.

Why did Sri Aurobindo leave us? Did he accomplish the yogic work he had come to do? Was there an occult necessity for him to arrive at the decision to leave the body? Was he compelled to do that? Our author towards the end of the book has touchingly presented this aspect. While going through his account—God Departs—one is immediately reminded of the last days of Socrates. But who can really gauge the significance and meaning, the full connotation of the great sacrifice he had made for a decisive evolutionary advance of the terrestrial existence? “We stand in the Presence of Him who has sacrificed his physical life in order to help more fully his work of transformation.” This is how, by quoting the Mother's utterance of 18 January 1951 , Nirodbaran reassures us about Sri Aurobindo always being with us. Indeed, as the Mother herself has said, in the act of leaving the body, he “attempted all and achieved all.” But there are layers below puzzling layers and from an occult point of view the following passage conceals more than what it is trying to reveal: “According to Bhrigu Astrology, Sri Aurobindo after his 78 th year would develop a loathing towards his body and then would leave it; otherwise death was in his control... It was also mentioned that the Mother or himself could perform a certain yajna , sacrificial ceremony, repeating certain mantras followed by other elaborate instructions. On hearing this Surendra Mohan immediately came here and informed the Mother about it. When Sri Aurobindo heard of it, he consoled him saying ‘Don't worry.' The Mother asked him to send a copy of those instructions but due to some misunderstanding they arrived too late to be of any possible use.” It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery which is always an enigma.

“The Supramental is a Truth and its advent in the very nature of things inevitable.” This is a yogic assertion of the Divine, implemented in a decisive way on the 5th December.

What we unmistakably see in Twelve Years is a deep reverential feeling for the Avatar of the Supermind who came here to accomplish this difficult miracle of transformation and for which he himself performed the Purusha-Yajna hymned gloriously in the Rig Veda.

But the other term of this Yajna is the Holocaust of Prakriti. How can the miracle be accomplished without the participation of the divine Shakti herself in it? He wills; she executes. Nirodbaran brings to mind several personal reminiscences of the Mother but the most important is, what we may call the concern of the Mother for Sri Aurobindo,—as it is as much the other way round too. She had arranged everything for him up to the last detail and saw that nothing was left to chance. In turn, although Sri Aurobindo had stopped writing prose towards the end, concentrating as he was essentially on Savitri , the poem of his supreme vision, a supreme revelation as the Mother had pronounced, he wrote at her request a series of articles for the newly started Bulletin of the Centre of Education. Establishment of the Intermediate Race, governed by the Mind of Light as a precursor towards the arrival of the Superman proper, is the yogic Siddhi that has become for the earth's soul a part of the evolutionary gain.

Nirodbaran has succeeded remarkably well in bringing out several of these aspects in his book. We are particularly struck by the personal details of the Yogi of the Infinite, the Infinite himself. This has also demolished the old id é e fixe that “Sri Aurobindo was an anchorite who did not know how to smile or laugh.” The note we hear in the whole composition is of mellifluence and joy, even in the parts which sing of sad tidings. “We hear his voice, get his touch, protection, active intervention. The Mother has told me,” lets us know Nirodbaran, “more than once that she always saw Sri Aurobindo busy with me.” Yes, he is always here if only we know how to approach him. That is the kind of certitude we acquire when we remain in Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo . Nirodbaran has made available to us the Infinite in a sweet and charming manner. Indeed, we can best summarise this in the words of the Mother herself: “Thanks to Nirod, we have a revelation of an altogether unknown side of what Sri Aurobindo was.”