The inaugural “Auro-Ratna Award” ceremony took place on Friday, 27th August 2010, at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. The first recipients of the Award were Shri K. D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran, Prof. Arabinda Basu, better known as ‘Arindam-da’ in the Aurobindonian circle and the late Jugal Kishore Mukherjee. The ceremony took place at three different locations considering the age of Shri K. D. Sethna and Prof. Arabinda Basu.
In the early hours of the noon, Shri Manoj Das Gupta accepted the “Auro-Ratna Award” on behalf of Shri Jugal Kishore Mukherjee in his office at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education from Shri Anurag Banerjee, Founder-Chairman of Overman Foundation. Shrimati Jhumur Bhattacharya, In-Charge of “Knowledge” [Department of Higher Course at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education], Shri Swadesh Chatterjee, teacher and member of the School Committee and a few others graced the occasion. After accepting the award, Shri Manoj Das Gupta said the following words:
“Thank you, Anurag, for giving me the honour to accept on behalf of our very dear and respected Jugal-da the “Auro-Ratna Award” given by Overman Foundation. As you have mentioned in your statement, Jugal-da was indeed a true child of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. And we very much miss his valuable companionship but at the same time we also rejoice that after a hard work he has found peace at the Mother’s Feet.”
In the evening, the Chairman accompanied by Prof. Kittu Reddy and Shrimati Krishna Chakravarti, respected members of the Advisory Board of Overman Foundation, went to the Ashram Nursing Home to felicitate Shri K. D. Sethna. Shrimati Suprabha Nahar, Shrimati Dolly Mutsuddi, Shrimati Nilima Das and Shrimati Ratna Chakravarti graced the occasion as special guests. Dr. Dilip Kumar Dutta, respected Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, was also present as the Chief Guest. The ceremony, which took place in the room of Shri K. D. Sethna, commenced with the following brief speech made by Shri Anurag Banerjee:
“Dear Friends, today we have assembled here to felicitate Shri K. D. Sethna with the first “Auro-Ratna Award”. Named after Sri Aurobindo and initiated by Overman Foundation, “Auro-Ratna Award” seeks to recognize the invaluable contribution of the poets, scholars, researchers, philosophers and workers of the Aurobindonian movement who have enriched the work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and can rightly be called the true children of the Divine.”
The Chairman then read out the certificate of honour to Shri K. D. Sethna which was presented to him by Prof. Kittu Reddy and Shrimati Krishna Chakravarti. The Chairman then presented Shri K. D. Sethna with the trophy of “Auro-Ratna Award”.
Recalling his long association with Shri K. D. Sethna, Prof. Kittu Reddy said: “My first contact with Amal was when I was a child of barely ten years or so. Then, I did not understand much but I would see him sometimes with Nirodbaran and that impressed me. But my first tangible memory of him was when Sri Aurobindo left his body; I remember seeing him completely dejected and shattered — a picture of deep sorrow and disbelief.
“Later as I grew up, I came to know that he was in close touch with Sri Aurobindo and that he was a good poet; in the late 50’s he began to take classes in the Higher course; he used to take our poetry classes which we enjoyed very much particularly for the humorous incidents he used to tell us; he had a wonderful sense of humour and he regaled us with very interesting anecdotes of the Ashram life in the early days. More important my love and appreciation of poetry was kindled and developed to a great extent because of these classes.
“Later after I started teaching in the school and in College, I began to read seriously his articles in Mother India, especially those which dealt with national issues and political problems written when Sri Aurobindo was present in his body. In fact Amal told me that all his political articles were read and approved by Sri Aurobindo before they came out in the journal. Sometimes Sri Aurobindo made some comments and minor corrections before the articles were published in Mother India. I enjoyed these articles very much and Amal was gracious enough to let me meet him and discuss some of these issues with him. I was particularly delighted when he would explain some of the points that Sri Aurobindo made while reading these articles. They gave me a wonderful insight into the political vision of Sri Aurobindo.
Another area of common interest was the history of India. Sometimes we would discuss some aspects of Indian history and I am grateful to him for having presented me an autographed copy of his book “New light on Ancient India”.
“I shall close with one interesting incident which took place in February 1994. I was then already working closely with the Indian Army and particularly with the Chief General B.C. Joshi. I had given all the articles of Amal on Indian politics written in Mother India to the General. He read them and enjoyed them very much. So when the Chief visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram on February 3 1994, he requested me if I could arrange a meeting with Amal. Accordingly, breaking all security considerations, he came to Amal’s house and met the two old stalwarts Amal and Nirodbaran. They talked for fifteen minutes and I can vouch for the fact that General Joshi was delighted in meeting them. He told me later that he understood clearly the vision of Sri Aurobindo and that he would do whatever was within his power to implement it.
“I shall conclude by saying that the certificate of honour given by Overman Foundation to Amal Kiran is the most fitting tribute to a sincere devotee of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, one who gave his whole life in their service.”
Shrimati Krishna Chakravarti then read out a brief article on Shri K. D. Sethna titled Amal Kiran—the Clear Ray penned by her to the assembled audience:
“Why is the name so vibrant and illumined all the time? A place where ill and sick people stay—why the atmosphere so dear and light as if the suffering has transformed into delight! Who has shown the way that the body feels the pain but not the inner being. The joy, the surrender to the Mother alone make one overcome the disability of the body. And who else but Amal Kiran—the Clear Ray showing us the way—nay, leading us towards conquering the physical and march forward on the sunlit path to the goal set by Them.
“The physical disability has not in the least hampered his march. His sonorous voice calling the sisters resounds all over the Nursing Home—his presence—his exuberating vitality preside over the Nursing Home and still show us the way to conquer the physical with a bright shinning face, looking younger and younger day by day with an inner strength overbearing his whole personality.
Let our Amal Kiran, the receiver of Auro Ratna pervade and preside by his very presence the Nursing Home the abode of clear Ray and Tranquility.”
Shrimati Nilima Das, Shri K. D. Sethna’s long-time associate at Mother India, read out the following article titled K.D. Sethna – A Genius written by her specially for the award ceremony in which she presented a brief biography of the illustrious poet, critic and litterateur:
“Kekoo. D. Sethna has been born in a Parsi family of Bombay on 25th November 1904. He was known in the Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram as Sri Aurobindo’s Amal Kiran (The clear ray) on 3rd September 1930. Renaissance personality and a multifaceted genius in the true sense of the term, Sethna has come back on worldly life, fame and success early in his career, and took the path of Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. However in choosing this new life, he did not seek to annul the intellectual and artistic interests, or in the integrality for the sake of passive surrender of their and self – abnegation characteristic of traditional religiosity like his spiritual masters Sri Aurobindo, he sought a fulfillment of his innate creative talents under the influence of a higher afflatus.
“His literary output in quality and quantity is comparable to that of any outstanding figure in present age. In fact had he lived in, for instance, Hawkings England he would have received a much wider recognition as a man of letters, his cultural and intellectual achievements would have surely a mark of their own in that circle of cultural environment.
“One of the most noteworthy aspects of Sethna’s literary and intellectual career is the correspondence he had with fellow scholar, editors, writers, poets and lesser-known peoples. There are included world-class personalities and international celebrities likes Aldous Huxley. Albert Einstein, Katheleen Raine and Paul Brunton.
“A spirit of deep engagement and sympathy marks Sethna’s relationship. An estimate of H.G Wells that Sethna wrote when barely nineteen was sent to Wells himself by a Parsi Author, Mr. A.S. Wadia. Wells predicated “your young man will go far.”
“K.D. Sethna is well recognized in knowledge and distinguished name in the field of Indo- Anglian poetry He had started verse-making even in his school days. But an earnest self dedication to poetry came only under the guidance eye of Sri Aurobindo and became specialist in Sri Aurobindo’s poetry. We find a quotation from a great critic Dilip Kumar Roy read Amal Kiran poetry so thoroughly and acquired such a deep grasp of both its poetical beauty and a technical mastery, in so much that he (K.D. Sethna) may easily be adjudged a specialist in the two capacities.
“105 springs have crowded into Amal Kiran’s life. But looking at him who can imagine he has become nonagenarian. Except for his handicapped—lower limbs he is otherwise a picture of robust and radiant health. Amal-da is endowed with an exceptional intellect, an inquiring mind and a highly developed aesthetic sense. K.D.S’s shinning complexion, his delicate sensitive face, two eyes radiating a keen and kind glint of intelligence and sweet smile as innocent as that of child, cannot but captive the heart of his visitors.”
Despite his advanced age, Shri K.D. Sethna was present throughout the entire ceremony. When the ceremony ended, he thanked the Chairman for the honour bestowed upon him.
From the Nursing Home, the members of Overman Foundation and the special guests went to the residence of Prof. Arabinda Basu at Rue Suffren Street to present him with the “Auro-Ratna Award”. Shri Anurag Banerjee commenced the ceremony by speaking of Prof. Basu’s contribution in the Aurobindonian movement. Prof. Kittu Reddy then spoke the following words about Prof. Basu:
“For me, I remember him right from my childhood as being always an important figure. We looked upon him as a very close friend of Nirod-da and always very faithful to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I never had the privilege of being his student but I’ve interacted with him very often and the clarity of mind and absolute precision with which he understood Sri Aurobindo is probably unsurpassable. I have always cherished my relationship with him right till very recent times even when he proposed my name to speak at Ramakrishna Mission and we are very happy that Anurag has ultimately given him this most deserving and rewarding prize.”
After Prof. Reddy’s brief speech, Shrimati Krishna Chakravarti read out an article in Bengali titled Arindam-da penned by her in which she expressed her profound admiration for the legendary scholar and philosopher. What follows is the translation of the article:
‘How little do I know of this learned and talented legendary figure! In the beginning I used to hear his name quite often from my father, that he was a resident of England and taught Indian Philosophy for a number of years, etc. I would imagine the face of a gentleman clad in suit, boots and hat but when someone, for the first time, pointed out to me that he was “Arindam Babu”, I was surprised and dumbfounded. He was a handsome gentleman clad tidily in dhoti and panjabi. His fair-complexioned face was glowing with a divine splendour of wisdom. How profound was his love for his motherland that despite residing abroad for so many years he could speak Bengali so fluently; his attire was also that of an ordinary Indian.
“With such a learned man there was an obvious distance which exists even now. But I would narrate two incidents due to which his personality was blossomed to me. The first was that when I heard that it was Arindam-da who had told Jyotipriya alias Dr. Judith Tyberg, the founder of East-West Cultural Centre, the first centre of the Ashram to start in America which is still working magnificently by expanding its branches, about Sri Aurobindo and brought her to this path.
“When Jyotipriya was pursuing her M.A. on the Vedas at the Benares Hindu University, no scholar could answer her queries. The view-point of those days was that the Vedas were but “an interesting remnant of Barbarism.” Not only that, Jyotipriya was asked to change the subject of her study from the Vedas and to conduct a research in Sanskrit in some other topic.
“At that time in that teachers’ room, a young lecturer of philosophy listened to what the scholars were telling her. He followed Judith out of the room and said to her that he had overheard the conversations she had with the scholars. He added that only Sri Aurobindo could answer the queries of her quest. It was Arindam-da who introduced Judith to the Ashram and in October 1947, in the evening of Lakshmi Puja, Judith arrived at the Ashram and received the blessings of the Mother. On 24th November 1947 she had the darshan of Sri Aurobindo and in 1950 went back to America where she established the Centre. About Judith Sri Aurobindo has said: “Teach her everything she wants to know, she is going to do good work in America.” It was our Arindam-da who showed Jyotipriya the way and played a pivotal role in spreading the message of Sri Aurobindo in America.
“The second incident occurred during the Birth Centenary Celebrations of his inseparable friend Nirod-da. Arindam-da was supposed to reminisce about Nirod-da; I had expected to see a sheet of paper in his hand when he ascended the stage. Instead he said that he would recite a poem written by him on his friend and guide Nirod-da. But there was so sign of any paper! In his resonant voice he smoothly recited his poem. Neither did he stop nor did he pause to think of the lines. The poem was quite lengthy—after all, they were pals for so many years and hence had innumerable sweet memories and life-passions. His profound erudition and memory astonished and overwhelmed me. There was no display of pride. What can I write or say about such a venerable person who simply throws open the door of the treasury of wisdom! All I pray is that may his contribution go on for a number of years. May “Auro-Ratna” decorate him with more ratnas [jewels] and make him a glorious star in the firmament of the earth.”
Shrimati Krishna Chakravarti’s article was received with a warm ovation. After her, Shrimati Suprabha Nahar said that she knew of Prof. Basu since her childhood and that she was proud that Overman Foundation has felicitated him with the “Auro-Ratna Award”.
Shrimati Dolly Mutsuddi, the youngest niece of Nirodbaran, recalled the memories of her first meeting with Prof. Basu in the following words:
“Uncle always used to tell us that Arindam Basu would come from England and that he would introduce us to him. But as we were extremely restless in childhood Uncle could never collect us together. One day my sister Bani and I were told that Arindam-da had come to the Ashram School. When we entered the School Office, we saw a bright young man with a pair of sparkling eyes sitting next to Rani Aunty—the wife of Sisir Mitra. Bani and I stood there absolutely stupefied looking at him. What a good-looking man he was! Rani Aunty could sense that Dolly-Bani were looking at Arindam-da so she told him quietly: “They are Nirod’s nieces.” “Is it so!” and Arindam-da looked at us. I was so happy to see such a beautiful and wise gentleman like him.”
Miss Moushumi Mukherjee, Prof. Basu’s assistant for the past few years, shared with the guests and members of Overman Foundation, a little-known aspect of his personality, that is, his homely nature. She reminisced how he had relished a simple meal of boiled rice and potatoes which she had cooked for the first time when she had begun working with him and how he would ask her to bring a bar of chocolate when she would go to a shop. She remarked how her life had been transformed after meeting him and working with him. She expressed her profound veneration for Prof. Basu and called him an indispensable part of her life.
Shrimati Suprabha Nahar and Shrimati Ratna Chakravarti presented Prof. Basu with the trophy of “Auro-Ratna Award”. The certificate of honour was presented to him by Prof. Kittu Reddy. In his brief thanks-giving speech, Prof. Basu said in Bengali: “I’ve been told that I speak Bengali and English well and that I don’t mix the two languages up. But to express my feelings about today’s ceremony I would say that I am overwhelmed. I had to use an English word. I feel honoured, gloried and humble: all in one. I don’t deserve it yet I received it. I accept with all humility what you all have conferred upon me.”
The ceremony was concluded with a snacks party organized by Miss Moushumi Mukherjee.
Pictures from the event: