Today we are publishing the reminiscences of Shri Dhritindranath Mukherjee better known as ‘Togo’ in the Aurobindonian community.
Shri Togo Mukherjee or Togo-da, as we lovingly address him, is the grandson of the illustrious revolutionary Jatindranath Mukherjee alias Bagha Jatin. He is a professional therapist with special expertise in Exercise, Yoga, Acupuncture, Auriculotherapie, Reflexology, Lymphatic Drainage, Magnetisme, Hypnotherapy and Bioenergy. Along with his brothers Rothindranath and Prithwindranath and mother Usha, he joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1948 (his father Tejendranath joined the family at Sri Aurobindo Ashram a year later). After his studies in the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education he joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Hand Made Paper Department in December 1959. Soon the entire responsibility of the department was assigned to him and he remained its Incharge till 1967. In 1964 he was selected by the National Productivity Council for a prestigious French scholarship to study management in recognition for his outstanding achievement in the Hand Made Paper Department. He shifted to France in 1967 where he worked as a professional therapist for twenty seven years till his return toIndiain 1994. He had also represented India, along with his eldest brother Rothindranath, at the 10th session of the International Olympic Association held in Greece in August 1970.
Dr. Prithwindranath Mukherjee, Togo-da’s elder brother, writes about his name: “Admiral Togo Heihachiro (1848-1934) was known all over the world as “Nelson of the East”. He was especially appreciated for his leadership in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-05): Indian nationalists looked up on him as the Asian Hero who proved his superiority by defeating a European power. Okakura had come to Kolkata in 1902 with the message of a Pan-Asiatic unity; Nivedita introduced him to the founders of the Anushilan Samiti; he was received with due enthusiasm by Indian nationalists. Japan occupied a privileged place in their heart. Three years after the Admiral’s death, my brother Togo was born in 1937; he looked like a Japanese baby. Out of love for Japan, Swami Satyananda (Bhavabhushan Mitra, a disciple of my grandfather) proposed to name him Togo. My grandmother was still alive and she willingly accepted it. In the Ashram school, though he was enrolled as Dhritindra, the Mother – fond of Japan, too – preferred to call him Togo.”
Togo-da’s reminiscences ‘Golden Memories’ chronicles his arrival at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram at a young age in 1948, his association with the Mother, his experiences at the Hand Made Paper Department (with which he was associated since its very inception) and Blanchisserie (Ashram Laundry). A special feature of this reminiscence is a handwritten note of the Mother addressed to him.
With warm regards,
Part I: Reminiscences of our Early Life
Since childhood, I was familiar with the names of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Their photos hung in our house. My parents were their disciples. Vinodebala Devi (elder sister of my grandfather Bagha Jatin who was Sri Aurobindo’s revolutionary colleague) and Sarojini Ghose (Sri Aurobindo’s younger sister) were good friends. Sarojini Didimoni used to visit our house.
The tales narrated by relatives and family friends who had been visiting Sri Aurobindo Ashram influenced my infant mind. For me, it was an El Dorado.
In the 1940s under the Muslim League majority the Hindus of undivided Bengal were subjected to atrocities. In protest, my father, Tejendranath, launched the Sanatan Dharma Parishad inspired by Sri Aurobindo’s writings and with His consent. Dr. Shyamaprasad Mookherjee happily lent his full support. Tejendranath revived and also edited the Bengali review Sarathi which was issued by Deshbandhu C. R. Das during the First World War with Anilbaran Roy as its founder editor.
One day in 1947 Nolinikanta Gupta informed my father that Sri Aurobindo considered the time ripe for his visit for a Darshan. On Independence Day in 1947 my parents were fortunate to witness the Mother hoisting Her flag on the terrace of the Ashram main building. Later Rajanikanta Palit told Prithwin that Nolinikanta wanted Palit to receive and drive Bagha Jatin’s son and daughter-in-law, who were “Sri Aurobindo’s guests”. The next year, in August 1948, my two elder brothers and I accompanied my parents. Before leaving for Pondicherry, we went to pay our respects to Barin Dadu, the younger brother of Sri Aurobindo, who was hospitalised at that time. He was glad to see the whole family together after a long time and learned that we were going to the Ashram for the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s Darshan. He caressed and blessed us saying, “Dadubhaira, how fortunate you are to have their grace. Come back and tell me your experiences.”
Since long, at the back of my mind, I had chosen to live in the Ashram and, before leaving Calcutta, I bid goodbye to my friends, as if we were not to return any more. When my mother came to know this, she took me to task. However, after the Darshan of 15th August, shortly before our return to Calcutta, we three brothers clearly felt that we did not want to leave this paradise where the Mother understood children so well and helped them grow in absolute freedom. During the evening distribution of peanuts at the Playground, we told the Mother about our wish to live under Her protection. She thought for a while and asked us whether our parents know about this decision. On learning that it was a spontaneous prayer from our hearts, she smiled and promised to consider our wish.
When it was turn of ‘Ma’ (my mother, Usha Mukherjee) to receive Prasad, the Mother caught hold of her hands: “Look here. The boys are unwilling to go back to Calcutta. This is of course the choice of their soul. But they are so young; someone has to be there to look after them. Will it be possible for you to stay on to look after them on my behalf?” With tearful eyes, “Ma” informed Her that she had planned to join the Ashram with my father after bringing us up at Calcutta. Henceforth, the Mother’s proposal was for her an unexpressed and long-cherished dream come true.
Overjoyed, the youthful Sudhir Sarkar ran to share with Nolini-da the good news that we had been accepted by the Mother as permanent members of the Ashram. He, with a smile, told Sudhir-dadu what he had heard from Sri Aurobindo: our grandfather had always been with the Master in his past lives and that he had been serving Him without asking anything in return. And the Mother held that we naturally belonged to the Ashram.
Much later, pleased with the rapid progress Prithwin was making, thanks to the exercises with Dada [Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya], one afternoon the Mother surrounded his head fondly with her hands and told Dada: “It is amazing, the tremendous will power each member of his family has!” (At the age of five Prithwin’s legs were affected by polio.)
We went to the Ashram school. “Ma” worked in the Dining Room and in Albert-da’s Tailoring Department with Lilavati “Kakima”, sister of Raja Subodh Mullick and wife of Charuchandra Dutta (Sri Aurobindo’s friend—“Dadu”—who taught us history.)
Some events of my early years in the Ashram have determined my life forever.
On joining playground I was put in Group B with the boys and girls of my age. There was no Physical Education Department uniform as yet. The Playground was situated in the middle of the old buildings of a godown turned into the school. During recess the students used the ground for recreation. Some of us even played hide and seek on the sloped tiled roofs. At the end of 1949, it was categorically forbidden to go on the precarious dilapidated roofs. Some of the boys, in spite of that, continued their games secretly. One fateful day I yielded to the temptation and joined them. Hardly had I climbed a few tiles than the unexpected happened. Dada (Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya) spotted us. Consequence? In the evening, after the group activities were over, we, the offenders stood at the end of the line, with our heads bowed down. The Mother passed in front of us and distributed nuts without a smile, without a word, without a question. What a humiliation! After joining the Ashram I had pledged to myself that I would be an ideal child of the Mother. I would do nothing to displease Her. Here I was now—just because of a moment’s negligence, what a severe punishment was meted out to me! On seeing me fall into a depression, Prithwin, my brother, told Dada about this. When Dada informed the Mother, She said, “That’s the way the Divine works. Whenever a sincere aspirant errs, he is immediately corrected.”
One of the memories that remains is that of Monsieur Benjamin’s French class. Once a student had violated some rules and he tried to justify it. Monsieur said, “That’s a lie.” The student in his defence continued to invent excuses. Annoyed, Monsieur then firmly said, “Lie upon lie. To justify one lie, another lie. There will be no end to lies.” This very active Monsieur Benjamin—in spite of his French name—came from a family of Tamil Brahmins (Thirou). He was in charge of several Ashram services: filter water, cycles, umbrella repair, making mattresses and French caps. In his department, the following message was inscribed in bold letters on a black-board, “Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera.” (God helps those who help themselves).
In our childhood, on normal days we used to see the Mother five or six times a day. On birthdays it could be ten to twelve times or more.
Early in the afternoon, the Mother used to come down by the staircase next to Nirod-da’s room for “Vegetable Darshan”, where the Ashram garden produce was shown to Her. It was here that the Mother gave gifts to Baudet (the donkey that Richard looked after) and the pet deer of Govindaraj, on their birthdays. Several of us were daily attendants to this Darshan. On some days, the Mother in a playful mood, haphazardly threw flowers—especially marigolds (symbolising “plasticity”)—to each of us, to test how alert and supple we were in catching them.
In spring 1950, after years of endeavour, Jatin-da, one of the persons in charge of the flower gardens, had succeeded in growing a cold-climate flower, Poet’s Narcissus (“Beauty Aspiring for the Supramental Realisation”), imported fromFrance. He kept the flower-pot on display, by the side of the path leading to the staircase door.
Bhai, Sudhir-dadu’s youngest son, happened to be there. He was fond of teasing Jatin-da with the effect of the latter’s mock anger. After hurling verbally on Jatin-da a hearty “potlango” (a nonsense word prompted by Jatin-da’s Chittagong dialect) he suddenly chased me. I began to run. When a man obstructed my passage, I jumped over the flower pots. Immediately I heard Jatin-da’s howl. Turning back I realised the disaster: the Narcissus was lying pathetically on the ground. Jatin-da was in a fit, growling and menacing. Bewildered, my immediate reaction was to run upstairs and seek the Mother’s protection. Amused to see me in such a state, She listened to me attentively before consoling me with the warning, “My child, you know very well that you should not be playing chasing game inside the Ashram. Remember!” Returning downstairs, I found Jatin-da still fuming. Then, realising that the Mother had already come down, he dragged me with his left hand, sticking the broken stem of the Narcissus inside my hand and asking me to offer it to the Mother. He then informed Her about the incident. She heard him patiently and replied, “It is a beautiful flower. A good achievement.” Jatin-da was pacified. Then unexpectedly the Mother gave the flower to me with a smile.
We were soon promoted to group “C” or the grey group of the dynamic young boys, who, like all other inmates of the Ashram, dreamt and strove to live the ideals of our Masters. In 1953, one of us had the idea of forming a nucleus to enhance the effort towards our goal. On the evening of 1st June, inside the Mother’s room in the Playground, we gathered around Her and She gave to each of us the typed “Charter” of the “Corps d’ Élite de la JSASA” with Her blessings and encouragement, stressing the gravity and the responsibility of such an undertaking.
In 1948, for a short time we lived in No. 3, in what is now Sri Aurobindo Street. Opposite our house was the Ashram Department where hand-made paper was produced by Kiran-da (Choudhury). I was introduced to him by his boss, Sudhir Dadu. It was a totally manual process using waste paper as raw material. Only a very small percentage of the manufactured paper was of any use. I frequented that place mainly hunting for stamps. Out of curiosity and playfulness, I learnt about the process and at times tried my hand at it. Little did I know then how important this activity would be for me in the future.
Talking about stamps reminds me of Madeleine. She was a Swedish physiotherapist and a gymnast, who had a gift of inspiring young people to learn in a very natural way. She had organized a few exhibitions and extracurricular competitions in various fields to motivate us, as if anticipating the new system of education the Mother was going to install very soon. The Mother was always consulted as the judge. Madeleine’s first venture during Christmas, 1951, was a competition of the Ashram’s stamp collectors along with an exhibition of some of the Mother’s own collection. It was held in the Playground in the Mother’s classroom. Each participant had to display a fixed number of stamps on a panel, arrange them according to a theme of his choice, and give all available details about each stamp and the country.
I had drawn Sri Aurobindo’s symbol on a large sheet of white drawing paper and had arranged the appropriate stamps in it describing Sri Aurobindo’s concept of Involution and Evolution. The Mother gave me the first prize and the second prize to my brother Prithwin. She gave the prizes of stamps not only to the three winners but also consolation prizes to all the participants. The Bulletin report says: “The exhibits were remarkably well arranged and showed considerable ingenuity on the part of the exhibitors, some of them very young children.” [Bulletin, Feb. 1952, p. 76.]
I was good in studies and also a good all-round sportsman. I am generally considered to be the Ashram’s all-time best Malkhamb performer. This discipline (the Wrestler’s Pillar) was developed by ingenious Indian wrestlers to prepare them for strength, agility, quick reflexes, suppleness and courage. It was a favourite item in the special demonstrations of the Physical Education Department. The Mother always appreciated it and encouraged me.
I was also fond of wrestling and boxing. In 1958 I won the Boys’ Grey Group boxing championship.
Another activity that played an important role in my early years was taking part in the Ashram’s dance dramas — I was fortunate enough to be often selected for the main role. One year the Mother chose me as Durga’s lion, another time as the god Agni.
For the 1st December 1955, in the very long dance drama “The Spiritual Destiny of India” the Mother gave me two roles, those of Shiva and Adi Shankaracharya. She was very pleased with my performance and told me, “You had embodied fully the true spirit of Shiva. All your gestures were full of power and elegance.” This programme was personally directed by the Mother herself. (See the Bulletin, Feb. 1956, p. 96). All old timers still remember it with nostalgia.
Thereafter whenever there was some special role, the Mother would tell Anuben (Ashram dance director and daughter of Sri A. B. Purani), “Ask Togo if he is willing to participate.”
Part II: Hand Made Paper Factory
Kiran-da was an enterprising and innovative man but a maverick. He tried many things which interested me. Our friendship blossomed as I grew up. In the mid fifties, the Mother acquired a large coconut grove where the present Handmade Paper Factory and the New Creation buildings are located. Kiran-da shifted his department there. He continued the traditional method of making paper.
He also produced bricks, stone and shell lime. The bricks and the lime were mainly used for the construction of a portion of the big compound-wall of this grove. He undertook the dyeing of the cloth used for the shorts of the P.E.D. members and yarn for the Weaving Department.
In 1959, Udar obtained a substantial amount as grant and a near equal amount as loan from the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) to start a modern hand-made paper small scale unit under Kiran-da. The technology was also provided by KVIC.
In September 1959, Kiran-da invited me to collaborate with him in this venture. With the Mother’s blessings I started working with him in October after finishing my first year Higher course. He was a hard and resourceful worker but lacked method and managerial skills. As a result, he passed on most of the responsibilities to me.
The construction of the factory shed and the office room were completed. A Vomiting Boiler, a medium-size electric Hollander Beater, a Hydraulic Press, an electric Calendar, and a Vat for producing and manually lifting paper sheets were installed.
The Mother had inaugurated the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Hand Made Paper Department [HMPD] on 9th December, 1959 at 4 p.m. The KVIC had provided temporarily one trained supervisor and three skilled workers, namely a Beater man, a Lifter and a ‘Jack of all trades’. Three local unskilled assistants were engaged to get trained under them. The factory started working for one shift of 8 hours.
Two days later, on my birthday, when I saw the Mother, She told me, “My child, it is good that you have started working in HMPD from its inception. I have many expectations from it. My blessings.” She set two clear goals before me: (1) Make good quality paper; (2) Repay the loan in time. I knew very well how fond the Mother was of beautiful paper.
Udar continued all our correspondence from his office in Harpagon, assisted by Sutapa (Behram’s aunty). He got us many contacts. He and Vishwanath-da planned all the engineering and building construction which was executed by Panou-da (Sarkar) of Harpagon and by Anil Banerjee of H.E.C. The electrical works were taken care of by Sitanganshu Chakraborty. Satinath-da (Chatterjee) trained me with the basics of book-keeping. Mr. Rangaswami Chettiar, a building contractor and a popular neighbour, offered to provide more workers whenever required.
Kiran-da began to have differences with Udar and Counouma. Around April 1960, one evening, he returned to the factory all agitated. He came to me and announced that he was quitting the Ashram immediately. I was taken aback by such a sudden and drastic decision of an old inmate. All attempts to pacify him were in vain. I was very unhappy and unprepared for such a shock. He disappeared, leaving a void in me. Two years later, he renewed contact with me from a suburb of Chennai where he was making soap for his livelihood.
The whole responsibility of HMPD fell on me. Production of bricks and lime was stopped but the Dyeing Department continued. High grade dyes imported fromEuropewere offered to the Mother by her devotee, Hasmukhbhai, who had started the first Sri Aurobindo Centre in Ahmedabad. Now my main concern was to develop the hand-made paper department.
1960 was an eventful year. Harisadan-da (Biswas) joined our office for keeping the accounts. At the end of the year, Sundar Dhir, a brilliant, promising youth, took charge of the correspondence and typing the weekly reports prepared by me which I submitted to the Mother. Gautam Chawla used to visit us as a client. One day he expressed his wish to make stationery for the Mother, utilising handmade paper produced in HMPD. I got a room built for his activity adjacent to our office. He even persuaded Udar to construct a tiny table-top Beater. One fine morning he brought an inmate for the factory, an Alsatian pup. The Mother named her Fidèle. The KVIC sent us five permanent skilled workers from Tanjore and a Supervisor, all trained at its Pune Institute.
On my next birthday (11th December 1960), the Mother congratulated me, “My child, the Paper Factory is doing well. Continue to improve.”
For more than a year we passed through a very critical teething period. The KVIC had financed and set up three hundred and odd such factories all over India. Most of them had failed. Making hand-made paper is a very lengthy and highly wasteful process in every respect. Breakdowns, repairs and stoppage of production are very frequent. It is not a profit-making enterprise in normal conditions. Its products are costly and in no way can it compete with the paper-mills. Its market is very limited. We learnt all this the hard way. But the Mother had wished it success, and we endeavoured towards that goal. Panou-da’s prompt help from Harpagon in repairing work was inestimable.
At the end of 1961, an unexpected happy coincidence took place. It was one of my most enriching experiences. Chimanbhai K. Patel, a prominent figure of Pondicherry commerce, informed me that the Southern Zone head office of the National Productivity Council in Trichy was to organize a three month Work-Study course on entrepreneurial management inPondicherry. The subject was ‘The Principles and Practical Application of Operational Analysis and Methods Improvement’. It was to be conducted by an eminent American Professor delegated by UNAID to the Indian Government. With the Mother’s permission I availed of the opportunity. New possibilities opened up before me. The Professor taught us how to come out of the rut and solve problems, how to economise time, space, raw material and manpower, and how to motivate employees. I was now convinced that we had the possibility of making our factory viable.
The lessons learnt there were immediately implemented. Flow of movement was streamlined, wastage at every stage was recorded and minimised and time taken between different stages of production was reduced. Relations with employees were good and I received their cooperation. HMPD was on the way to becoming a profitable concern for producing quality paper.
Our survey showed that we could make profits on Artists’ Water Colour and Fancy papers. The best raw material required for that was cotton. There were many cottage and home industries all over South India manufacturing cotton hosiery. With the sincere, resourceful Asherbhai of Honesty [HEC], a devotee of the Mother, as my guide, I personally visited some of these to make contracts for their waste products. This was the first time that I went out of the Ashram. The Mother told me, “I will always be with you.” Later I made two more such trips with one of our employees as my interpreter. We were on the right track.
From then on, Cotton Water Colour, Bond and Fancy papers were manufactured. The name given to this factory by the Mother clearly indicated that it was an Ashram Department, fully under the Mother’s care, but with a difference. The loan had to be repaid and so it had to be run commercially and therefore it was autonomous.
At one time, during this period, the authorities decided that the HMPD should remit all its income to the Ashram treasury and draw all its requirements from there. As a result of this decision, prompt, efficient and smooth operations became difficult.
There was a large number of workers. Most of them were on daily wages. On mutual agreement they were paid the weekly aggregate amount on Saturday s at 4 p.m.On one such Saturday, this amount did not reach me at the scheduled time of 1 p.m. I waited till 3.30 p.m. Then I rushed to the Ashram, ran up to the Mother on the first floor. The Mother asked me what the matter was. I told Her, “Mother, the daily wage-earners are to be paid now, today. These are needy people. The money has not arrived for their payment. They will not be able to feed their family. They work hard. If we fail them, can they have any more trust in us? Can we expect good relations and work from them?” She said something to Vasudhaben. Vasudhaben went to the adjacent room, fetched a purse and gave it to Her. The Mother asked me to write down the required amount and the purpose for which it was needed. She counted the money and gave it to me saying, “My child, I appreciate your sense of responsibility. I am giving this money to you from my own purse.” I was very happy. Thereafter, once again, HMPD became autonomous.
The daily wage-earners were taken on the monthly salary list after they became skilled in their work and after a certain period, they were made permanent.
To give us a boost, the Mother instructed the Ashram Press to buy hand-made Bond paper for printing the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s books. By this time there were five Lifting Vats; thus the production had multiplied five times.
Around this time KVIC sent us blueprints of an innovated Lifting Vat with a pedal system. The Paper Mould was lifted out from the Vat by foot-pressure instead of the back-breaking and strenuous manual method. Udar and Vishwanath-da got a prototype built in Harpagon. On trial, it was found to be very satisfactory and more were ordered. The yield per Vat increased.
Udar’s good public relations were very helpful in promoting sales.
Right in the beginning, special papers were produced and supplied to Nasik Security Press for their Hundi (promissory) Notes with Charkha watermark and to some Universities for their Certificates and Degrees with their watermarked emblem. The Gita Press, Gorakhpur, had placed an order for white Bond Paper for their Delux Edition stressing that no product of animal origin was to be used in its manufacture. So instead of gelatine sizing, resin sizing was used. We received orders from Chimanlal Papers, a wholesaler of Mumbai. To the Vakils’ enterprise of Mumbai we supplied deluxe deckle-edge stationery papers.
In 1963, our Artists’ Water Colour paper was rated in the American market as next to the best long-established papers. Orders started coming from abroad for Drawing, Bond, Fancy papers and stationery. In the meantime, the arduous, very slow process of rag-cutting by hand was replaced by an electric chopper, reducing the time and number of workers.
As the orders increased, the main shed was extended. Gradually the number of Vats increased from five to ten. The factory began to work in two shifts. Eventually to meet the increasing demand, a third shift had to be added, making the factory work round the clock at full capacity. The total number of employees swelled from the initial seven to about one hundred and thirty. The production increased more than thirty-fold. I remained available twenty-four hours for all emergencies.
Salaries and wages were raised with the increase of production and sales. Surplus money was offered to the Mother. Even during great hardship the installments of the loan were always paid on schedule. Excess expenditure in every respect was curbed. Perhaps by 1968 the loan was repaid.
A devotee of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, Rear Admiral of United States (Retired), Rutledge B. Tomkins was impressed on his visit to our HMPD and, after giving me some suggestions, he sent me books on Work-Study as a token of encouragement.
Sometime in 1962, Udar placed Tony Scott to assist Dhir. One afternoon, when I went to the Mother for an official matter, Tony wished to accompany me as it was his birthday. There the Mother gave him a Sanskrit name: Anurakta. In the beginning of 1964, Reba joined the HMPD staff and I trained her in all aspects of the factory.
Further extension of the main factory shed was undertaken to install a larger Hollander Beater, some more Vats, a power Hydraulic Press and another Vomiting Boiler.
In the third quarter of 1964, to my great surprise, I was to learn that the National Productivity Council had selected me for a prestigious French scholarship to study Management in recognition of my outstanding achievement in HMPD. My first thought was that it might give me the opportunity to visit the world’s renowned hand-made paper mills in France and in England and produce first grade papers in the Ashram. When I told the Mother about the offer, she simply asked me, “What about your responsibilities here?” Only that. Naturally I dropped the idea.
This is the story of HMPD as I knew it. As someone who was directly involved in its functioning between 1959-67 and on several occasions was directed and helped by the Mother herself, I thought it would be worth sharing my experiences with my friends.
Part III: Blanchisserie
After I recovered partly from my head injury in the Anti-Hindi riots of February 1965, Suren-da (Datta), the incharge of the Ashram Blanchisserie (Laundry), approached me for help. He had a few serious problems. The Ashram was expanding and the number of clothes received was increasing alarmingly. The Blanchisserie was not in a position to accept more clothes because of lack of space, manpower and time. Also, it was to come under the Factory Act. In March 1966, I wrote to the Mother asking for her sanction to help in the Blanchisserie Management with whatever experience I had gained in the Handmade Paper and Dyeing departments. She gave me the following answer:
Blanchisserie functioned in an archaic, chaotic manner. The workers were engaged from 4 A.M. to 6 P.M. (for 14 hours!) with an interval of 2 hours, and all 7 days of the week. On some days, there was heavy work whereas, on other days, the work was over in only 5 or 6 hours.
Lacking a global perspective, the management had got bogged down in the details of this “disorganisation” and assumed that, in the present structure, they had reached the saturation point and badly needed to expand. There was an urgent demand for much larger, well-ventilated sorting and storage rooms and more space for drying clothes.
This situation arose chiefly from the unquestioned, long-standing practice of receiving and delivering clothes only on two particular days of the week. Consequently, during these hours, all the workers stopped their respective work and were mobilised for receiving, checking, sorting, numbering and delivering the clothes. This led to problems in storing and drying space. On some days, a large number of clothes were washed, dried and ironed; on other days, less.
Between the different processes, much crisscrossing and futile movements caused loss of time and energy. No definite regular work was allotted to the workers, resulting in perpetual indecision, confusion, disinterest, loss of time and lack of skill.
My aim was to improve the service, the working conditions, and be economical in all aspects. In those days, the Ashram was not affluent and the Departments functioned on a shoestring budget. Suren-da and his two zealous assistants, Mohan Patel and Roopa Rai, worked hard and methodically to get the project completed at the earliest possible date.
The changes were introduced gradually, step by step, and finally on May 1st, 1966, the new system was fully implemented. Ravindra-ji, who was the overall incharge, kept the Mother informed of the progress in work.
Sunday was declared as a holiday. The work now started at 7 a.m.and finished at 5 p.m.daily, with an interval of 2 hours. The salary remained unaffected. The number of workers required became less.
Clothes were received and delivered on all 6 days. Work-load was evenly distributed for all 6 days and at all stages of operations. Processes were streamlined.
Only 2 men carried out the receiving and checking of the clothes instead of the whole workforce. Previously 3 men were required for 3 hours, each for numbering the clothes by a holder pen. In the new system, only one man finished it in 1½ hours by block-printing.
Carrying heavy wet clothes to the terrace was very strenuous. A basket lift was to be constructed for this purpose.
Previously, strain removal was not undertaken. In the new setup, all stains, even on delicate fabrics, were removed. Quality and cost-wise suitable detergents were procured and an improved bleaching method was adopted.
Each worker was assigned a particular job to gain proficiency. Appropriate equipment, furniture and fixtures were installed with proper layouts in order to have enough space, free movement, light and air, which resulted in the reduction of expenses.
The introduction of the new changes automatically solved most of the problems that were faced by the management, and it contributed in waiving the imposition of the Factory Act.
On the eve of my departure for Paris, on my birthday, 11th of December 1967, I submitted to the Mother, along with a covering letter, a comprehensive report on the new system written by the Blanchisserie management, namely, Suren-da, Mohan and Roopa. The report gave the details of the changes made and the improvements and benefits derived. The Mother was happy and gave us Her Blessings.
Forty-six years have elapsed since I implemented the new system in May 1966 and the Blanchisserie is still functioning very well on more or less the same lines, except, of course, for the introduction of heavy-duty machines for washing and ironing.
As for the Hand Made Paper Department, in 1995 after I returned fromParisI went to purchase some paper. I was happy to see huge constructions in the factory compound and presumed that the Mother’s cherished department had prospered and expanded beyond expectations. On inquiry Reba, the present manager, told me that the production capacity was still the same and they were following the system I developed in early 1960s.
Part IV: Epilogue
In 1967, Professor Jean Filliozat of College de France and founder of the French Institute at Pondicherry, proposed my name to a Paris Doctor treating spinal problems. The latter had approached Jean Filliozat for an Indian Yoga therapist to collaborate with him. When I told the Mother about this invitation, She gladly gave me permission and insisted that inFranceI could get further treatment for my head injury. This offer interested me as it also gave me the opportunity to see and know the world, and to have a direct experience of the maladies of Western society. From my early childhood, I was actively interested in health without medicine and was fortunate in receiving guidance from experts in various disciplines of natural health.
In 1970, as per Professor Jean Filliozat’s wish, I joined his class in Philologie Indienne at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, which was held at the Sorbonne University’s main building. The next year, he entrusted me to do research on some very old Bengali manuscripts preserved at the Bibliotheque Nationale and got me the Reader’s card for this otherwise inaccessible French Government Archives. Due to scarcity of time, I could not continue it for long. My brother Prithwin brilliantly achieved this difficult task and his critical catalogue was published jointly by the Bibliotheque Nationale and the Bulletin de l’ Ecole Francaise d’ Extreme-Orient, Paris.
My brother Rothin and myself representedIndiaat the 10th session of the International Olympic Association (not Olympic Games) held in Greece in August 1970. During this session, members of the Olympic Academy along with representative sportsmen from all countries, met and discussed the upcoming Olympic Games in 1972. The officials and delegates were pleased and impressed by our participation in the discussion. Questioned by me the world’s sports authorities told us that they had incorporated Yoga methods particularly in the field of psychological preparation of the Athletes.
Some years later when I joined the International Medical Sophrology College, Paris, I was fortunate to have amongst the eminent professors the world renowned Dr. Raymond Abrezol who in 1972 had trained the French Winter Olympic team that had won most of the trophies.
Paris is the cultural and intellectual centre of ideas and disciplines practised in different parts of the world. There I had the opportunity to learn many therapies. I passed out from a Naturopathy Institute and learnt Acupuncture. I also familiarised myself with a few esoteric healing therapies.
My formative years under the Mother’s care and guidance have laid a solid foundation for conscious living which I have always applied in my life and profession. My focus for rehabilitation or healing lies primarily in changing the patient’s attitude towards his/her own body and life. The underlying cause of most problems stem from the ignorance and dissociation of the different planes and parts of the being. I practise various therapies such as Exercise, Yoga, Acupuncture, Auriculotherapie, Reflexology, Lymphatic Drainage, Magnetisme, Hypnotherapy and Bioenergy as well as a few innovations of my own derived from my life at the Ashram and abroad.
I worked as a professional therapist for 27 years inParis, where I never missed the Mother’s presence. Following my father’s demise at the Ashram, I returned to Pondicherry in 1994 to look after my old and ailing mother. Panou-da and Sati-di requested me a few times to join them at the Harpagon Workshop but as I had got occupied in a totally different domain I could not oblige them.
When the Hand Made Paper Department was on the verge of closing down I was also approached by some responsible persons to join the factory. I declined for obvious reasons.
Presently, I treat my patients freely as a service to the Mother, who has brought me in a full circle back to the place of my childhood. I am eternally grateful to Her for having reposed so much trust in me in some of the pioneering work at the Ashram. My journey continues as I feel more and more the outer life merging with the inner with the help of Her eternal Grace.