Dear Friends and Well-wishers of Overman Foundation,
Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre Trust and Overman Foundation had organized an interactive session with Mr. Prabir Nahar titled “Sri Aurobindo As I Saw Him” on Thursday, 23rd May 2013 at 6.30 p.m. in the premises of Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre located at P—532, BLOCK “M”, New Alipore, Kolkata 700053.
Born on 12 January 1937 to Dhir Singh and Rajsena Nahar, Shri Prabir Nahar was an inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram from 1941 to 1961. After completing his education from Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education he joined the Centre as a teacher of Mathematics and Chemistry. After returning to Kolkata in 1961, he joined Ruby General Insurance Company Limited and subsequently National Insurance Company Limited and retired as an Assistant Manager. He was a nominated member of Hull Tariff Advisory Committee from 1993 to 1997 and took classes in Indian Institute of Post Management (Kolkata) and National Centre of Hearing (Narendrapur).
The session started with a welcome address by Mr. Partha Sarathi Bose, Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Sakti Centre Trust. Mr. Anurag Banerjee, Founder and Chairman of Overman Foundation, felicitated Mr. Prabir Nahar with a flower bouquet and an angavashram and introduced him to the audience.
What follows is the text of Mr. Nahar’s reminiscences:
Prabir Nahar: My grandfather [Prithwi Singh Nahar] was the first to visit Pondicherry. Then my mother [Rajsena Nahar]—following the instruction of the Mother—went to stay at Pondicherry. At that time, my sister [Lucy] was two years of age, I was four and my elder brother [Pratip] was five years old. We stayed at Kolkata for a few months. Then we too were called to Pondicherry. In those days, children were not allowed to stay in the Ashram. My younger uncle, Bir Singh Nahar, had accompanied us along with my two aunts [Sumitra Cazade and Suprabha Nahar]. We reached Pondicherry on 30 September 1941. So you can guess that I was very young at that time. There was no school in those days. We were the first children to settle in the Ashram. Later Gauri [Pinto], Chum [Ganguly] and Jhumur [Bhattacharya] joined the Ashram. I had my first darshan of Sri Aurobindo during the November Darshan of 1941. But to be honest, I don’t recall the memories of my first darshan of Sri Aurobindo at all.
Anurag: Do you recall the memories of the darshans you had afterwards?
Prabir Nahar: Yes, I do remember the darshans I had later.
Anurag: How did you feel when you stood in front of Sri Aurobindo? Please share your experiences.
Prabir Nahar: Since I was just a child I didn’t remember which Darshan I had attended for the first time. The elders had told me that it was the November Darshan of 1941. My sister was so young that she could not go to the Darshan all by herself. Jiji [Kiran Kumari] had to take her for the Darshan in her lap. We used to call Kiran Kumari ‘Ma-Mashi’ for it was she who had brought us up since my mother’s health was never good.
You want to know how one felt when he stood in front of Sri Aurobindo. When we stood in front of Him—when He looked at us—it seemed as if we were made of glass and He could see everything within us. Most of the time He did not utter a word. In case He had to say anything, He conveyed it through the Mother. He knew everything that was going on within us irrespective of the fact whether one tried to conceal or not. Few days before the Darshan day, we felt that since the Darshan was approaching something good was going to happen. We would stand in front of Him for a few seconds and then disperse.
In those days there were only a few children in the Ashram. Despite being very young whenever we stepped inside the Ashram there was something in the atmosphere which instructed us not to make a commotion or play too much. We used to go to the Mother in a queue. We could see Sri Aurobindo only four times a year. The Mother used to call us on the 15th of every month. There were eight or ten children. Just in front of the Service Tree there is a staircase through which we would go up to the first floor where the Mother used to play with us. She used to play ringa-ringa-roses with us. Our mothers would accompany us. The Mother would give us a toffee or a flower and then we returned home. At night we were strictly prohibited to visit the Ashram. No child was allowed. However, during daytime we could visit the Ashram. The school started in 1943. Prior to that, Doraiswami taught English to my elder brother and Kuku [Mr. Vinay Verma, Dr. Indra Sen’s son]. They would go to him and I would follow them. I learnt by listening to the lessons taught to them. When the Mother started the school in 1943 I joined the lowest class. From there I studied up to the Higher Course. I was in the Ashram from 1943 to 1961. I was a student of science and studied mostly physics, chemistry and mathematics. Neither did I study philosophy nor do I understand it.
We stayed in a house called ‘Michel House’. It was situated in the road next to the Ashram. It was the house just beside ‘Harpagon’. The Mother started table tennis in this house. I was very young at that time probably a little taller than the table itself. I had played table tennis with the Mother and defeated Her in a game as well. One who did not know how to play could easily defeat the Mother or else nobody could beat Her. Those who played well would hit the ball so that the Mother could strike it whereas we hit the ball here and there and thus earned the points. There were five rounds in the game. After I won, the Mother remarked to me: “You will be a champion.” And to tell you the truth, for seven years I was the table tennis champion. The Mother kept a careful eye on everything we did be it sports, gymnastics or swimming. She used to take classes in the Playground in the evening. She used to speak on a given subject in French while we would listen and if we had any queries we asked Her accordingly.
It is easy to talk to the Mother. Whatever one craved, the Mother could know of it even if that wish remained unuttered. I have witnessed it many times. I don’t recall what I had said but the Mother did understand what I wanted and had responded accordingly. She also would tell us what to do and what not to do. She gave us groundnuts daily in the Playground and sometimes She gave toffees.
Anurag: Do you recall any memorable incidents which had occurred during the Darshan days?
Prabir Nahar: Some days before the Darshan we felt that we would certainly get something during the Darshan of Sri Aurobindo. And indeed He did so! What He gave was not experienced physically but a force from Him would enter into us. Those who had the faculty of receiving such force understood it.
Anurag: Do you remember the 15th of August 1947 and the riots which took place in Pondicherry in which Mulshankar, Sri Aurobindo’s personal attendant, had lost his life?
Prabir Nahar: Yes, I remember it very well. At night we were not allowed to visit the Ashram. I was in our house with my brother and sister. Suddenly we heard some commotion and saw that some people were running on the street. The windows of our house were open so my elder brother asked me to shut them up. The moment he closed the last window a big brick came and hit it. The window was smashed but fortunately we were not hurt. We were alone in the house. Later at night we came to know that Mulshankar was murdered.
Partha Sarathi Bose: Do you recall the 5th of December 1950?
Prabir Nahar: We had gone for the Darshan on 24th November. We were told to move very swiftly because Sri Aurobindo’s health was not good. Previously we could stand for a few seconds in front of Him but on that day we stood only for a second. But we didn’t notice any signs of illness in Him. On 5 December, in the morning, I came to know that He had left His body. What happened was beyond my comprehension. I felt something very strange within me. Then I went for His Darshan. I could visit His room as many times I wanted from the 5th to the 9th of December. The Samadhi was being prepared and we participated in the digging work. Mona [Sarkar] and Manoj [Dasgupta] were also with us. Not many people know that at the place where now the Samadhi lies, there was a raised structure on which some pots containing ferns were kept. We used to play at that spot. These pots were removed when the Samadhi was being constructed.
Question from the audience: How was the Mother’s birthday celebrated in the Ashram?
Prabir Nahar: Nothing special happened on the Mother’s birthday. No special programme was arranged. The Mother’s birthday was just like any other Darshan day.
Question from the audience: We have heard that after Sri Aurobindo’s mahasamadhi His body was covered with a strange light. You must have seen that light. Please tell us how do you recall it.
Prabir Nahar: Sri Aurobindo had left His body on the 5th of December and He was buried on the 9th. For four days the Body was kept in state. As you are aware, Pondicherry is a very hot place. His body was kept in that hot climate yet nothing happened to His body. Nothing at all! There was no decomposition. Nowadays bodies are kept on blocks of ice to preserve them but nothing of that sort was required for Sri Aurobindo. It seemed to us that a light was coming out from His body.
Question from the audience: Did Sri Aurobindo’s body remain warm?
Prabir Nahar: This I can’t say because I did not touch Him. Those who had touched Him might say something. I am quoting four lines from a poem of Sri Aurobindo: “Even in rags I am a god;/ Fallen, I am divine; / High I triumph when down-trod,/Long I live when slain.” Can you guess on whom this poem was written? It was written on Jesus Christ. It is not that Sri Aurobindo is dead. He is still alive within us.
Anurag: Did you meet the Mother between 5th and 9th December?
Prabir Nahar: No, I didn’t. Some may have met Her but we didn’t. Everyone was very keen to work for the Samadhi. No one felt tired despite working for long hours.
Anurag: Do you recall Sri Aurobindo’s last journey from His room to the Samadhi vault?
Prabir Nahar: Not very clearly. His body was brought from the Meditation Hall and then lowered into the Samadhi. Then everyone put some soil on the slate of the vault. His body was kept in a coffin.
Anurag: People were under the impression that Sri Aurobindo would complete the yoga of physical transformation and eventually conquer death. Were the direct disciples of Sri Aurobindo not disappointed when Sri Aurobindo left His body?
Prabir Nahar: I can’t say for sure. We knew mostly that nothing would happen to Him. Since this was an unexpected event they must have been quite hurt. They didn’t imagine that such a catastrophe could take place.
Partha Sarathi Bose: What was Dilip Kumar Roy’s reaction?
Prabir Nahar: We knew Dilip-da very well. He had profound reverence for Sri Aurobindo. As far as I know he was terribly hurt. After Sri Aurobindo left, I think he did not stay in Pondicherry for long.
Question from the audience: Were you at Pondicherry when the Mother left Her body?
Prabir Nahar: No. I was in Kolkata. I left for Pondicherry after getting the news. I reached the Ashram a few minutes before the Mother was put inside the Samadhi. Thus I could have my last Darshan of the Mother.
Partha Sarathi Bose: The Ashram School started in 1943, that is, during the Second World War. There was a fear of Japanese aggression. Please tell us something about the Ashram life of that era.
Prabir Nahar: It was the time of war. We were asked to be careful for there was a possibility that the Japanese might bombard Pondicherry. There was also a possibility of an attack from the sea-side. We were taught how to safeguard ourselves. Since I was a child of 5 or 6 years I used to have fun. We did not understand the impact. A small child can never understand what the war meant.
Question from the audience: I want to ask a different question. We know Sri Aurobindo as a revolutionary from our childhood days. Since you were a student of science—what I want to know is—as you have said that the Mother could see what was going within you—was there any conflict between this emotion and the knowledge derived from science?
Prabir Nahar: No, never. I could understand it from a very early age. How I understood cannot be explained through physics or chemistry. Let me share an experience of mine with you. While driving my scooter I had a head-on collision with a taxi. My scooter was badly hit due to which I was flung away to a distance of at least 20 to 30 feet. I fell on the ground and I got up. I had broken four bones and there was only one drop of blood on my nose. I felt as if someone had lifted me up and carried me as if on a lap and placed me on the ground. Despite such a dangerous collision nothing serious happened.
Question from the audience: How did your early life in the Ashram influence your life in Kolkata?
Prabir Nahar: I am staying in Kolkata for the past so many years. Now I can stay in Kolkata. But when I shifted to Kolkata from Pondicherry it was quite painful. I had told my aunt that in order to stay at Kolkata one must have a skin similar to that of a rhinoceros. To be honest, I still find it hard.
Anurag: Do you meet Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in the subtle physical?
Prabir Nahar: In response to your question I would say, “Yes”. But I won’t say much about it because inner experiences should not be revealed but kept confined within. If I share it, its value would get reduced. I told you about the accident which made me feel that someone had taken me in his arms and placed me on the ground. There was only a drop of blood on my nose as I used to wear a pair of spectacles. But apart from it nothing happened. Such a thing has happened not once but many times with me. Accidents do take place.
Question from the audience: From 1961 to your present age, do you still feel the Mother’s protection around you?
Prabir Nahar: Yes. I am sure the Mother is watching me all the time. She won’t let me suffer any pain. She would do whatever is good for me. How She would do it that I don’t know. But She is there to help me. For instance, this year on 15th February I decided to visit Delhi with my wife and aunt. No tickets were available. I told myself that if the Mother wanted She would arrange for my trip. Believe me, I tried to get the tickets but in vain. Then suddenly, an agent said that he would get the tickets done for me and he gave me three confirmed tickets. How did he do it that I don’t know. I was not charged more and I got my tickets. As there was a strike on that day most of the train was empty and so our journey was most comfortable. So you can understand that if the Mother wants, She can get things done but only She knows how She would do it.
Partha Sarathi Bose: How do you recall 15 August in Pondicherry keeping in mind that Pondicherry was still a French territory and not yet attained its freedom though the rest of India had become free from British rule? That is why the Mother got the trust deed [of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust] prepared from the Madras Presidency. Tell us something about your experiences of that time.
Prabir Nahar: Pondicherry was indeed a French territory at that time. And the fact that India got her freedom on 15 August was Sri Aurobindo’s birthday gift. We were happy that India was free but we did not feel any change as such. The change took place when in 1954 Pondicherry ceased to become a French territory.
Partha Sarathi Bose: Tell us something about this change, that is, freedom from the French rule.
Prabir Nahar: I won’t be able to say much because I don’t recall it in detail.
Question from the audience: When your mother left for Pondicherry, did your father not oppose her decision?
Prabir Nahar: No, my father did not oppose her. He used to stay alone in Kolkata and would visit Pondicherry once a year. We did not have parents at Pondicherry. We were all children of the Mother. The Mother had told my mother to remain in Pondicherry for She had foreseen some serious accidents to her. After reaching the Ashram my mother said that she won’t be able to stay there if she did not have her children with her. That’s why we were taken there. My mother left everything after receiving the Mother’s call.
Question from the audience: When did Prithwi Singh Nahar die?
Anurag: In 1976.
Question from the audience: Did he stay in the Ashram?
Prabir Nahar: Yes, he stayed in the Ashram main building. My grandfather was the in-charge of the Library. His eyesight was so good (laughter) that he had to read books by keeping them at the tip of his nose. His eyesight was so bad! He could read Sri Aurobindo’s handwriting which no one could decipher. I have seen someone with good eyesight looking for a particular book in the Library but in vain. On being asked, my grandfather would just say that the book was in that almirah, in that shelf, etc. He had the memory of a computer but you had to tell him at the time of keeping the book where it was being kept. He could trace a book without even looking while we with good eyesight failed to do so.
The session ended with a vote of thanks by Mr. Partha Sarathi Bose.
With warm regards,
[From left to right: Mr. Anurag Banerjee, Mr. Prabir Nahar and Mr. Partha Sarathi Bose.]