Title: Sri Aurobindo As We Saw Him. Author: Anurag Banerjee. Publisher: Overman Foundation, Kolkata. Number of pages: 242. Price: Rs. 325.
Sri Aurobindo As We Saw Him presents a series of interviews with 27 disciples about their experiences with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Their names form an impressive list of notable Ashramites, including Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya, Prof. Arabinda Basu, Gauri Pinto, Prof. Kittu Reddy, Aster Patel, Jhumur Bhattacharya, Richard Pearson, Vasanti Rao, and Prithwindra Mukherjee. The other participants, some less well-known, are no less interesting. For each interviewee, author Anurag Banerjee first presents a 1-2 page biographical sketch, which is followed by a series of questions that the participants answered. The interviews run about 9 pages on average. At the end there is an Appendix which gives short biosketches of many other disciples who are mentioned in the text. The book is published by the Overman Foundation in a simple A4 size format with a simple white paper cover adorned with Sri Aurobindo’s photo.
The book is a delight to read, especially for those familiar with the Ashram and the contributors. I felt transported back to the early days of the Ashram and got a feel for the atmosphere it had back then. I enjoyed the book as much for the insights it gives into the lives of the interviewees as for the glimpses it provides of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. While some of the author’s questions were individually targeted or probed deeper into particular responses, many were uniformly asked of each respondent. While some of the latter questions provided an open platform for the interviewee to share their recollections, a few seemed too narrowly-focused and yielded few new insights. In general I found the writing and presentation well done, flowing, with very few errors.
Among the book’s interesting perspectives on Sri Aurobindo, some of the interviewees speak of his gaze, his voice, and his smile which were very special in the lives of the devotees. There are a few intimate glimpses of Sri Aurobindo’s meals and diet that provide the kind of personal material that characterizes the book. Many of the participants describe incidents that occurred related to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, of other famous disciples, and of life in the Ashram during the 1940s. Most interviewees tell of their experiences and feelings when standing or doing pranam before Sri Aurobindo and the Mother at the darshans. They were also asked about the final darshan after Sri Aurobindo left his body and lay in state for four days and could be visited repeatedly. Some describe the light they saw that emanated from his body. Some discussed the final laying to rest of the body into the Samadhi in the Ashram courtyard. Most interviewees were asked about the reason and significance of Sri Aurobindo’s passing, and also about his future return in a new supramental body, but I don’t think any new insights were provided here—most had little to say. There are quite a few interesting reminiscences relating to darshans of the Mother after Sri Aurobindo left his body which are also very moving.
There are interesting or enjoyable delights that “come by the way.” For example, some of the disciples mention dreams or visions relating to Sri Aurobindo or the Mother. To one disciple suffering from fever and severe headache, Mother says “One can get well in the blink of an eye,” and so saying, places her hand on the disciple’s head, who then gets cured instantly. We get many examples of the solicitude of Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s love for their disciples. We get some sweet tastes of Sri Aurobindo’s humour, like when a disciple wrote about her desire to have rasogollas (a Bengali sweet), and Sri Aurobindo replied “Swallow your desire.” We get some beautiful images of the Mother: “who would comb her tresses with one hand and distribute flowers as blessings with the other hand,” and sometimes would be “very busy discussing a complex problem of mathematics with Manoj and providing the solutions orally.”
Most of these senior disciples have also given in a few sentences their inspiring views of “the message Sri Aurobindo has brought for humanity.” Among these, perhaps the one which struck me the most was that mentioned by Nirodbaran’s niece, Dolly Mutsuddi: “Whatever Sri Aurobindo has given to this earth, whatever sadhana He has done for us—the Mother has inscribed it on the walls of the Samadhi. Tears do come in the eyes of those who understand the significance of those words inscribed on the Samadhi. Both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother came to rescue this world. They have done Their sadhana to divinize this earth.”
For those who are interested in stories of the former Ashram days when Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were here and interacting with the disciples, this book is a treasure trove. Anurag has brought together many beautiful gems in this delightful work which remind us of the true spirit of the Ashram and its life in its earlier years.
Dr. Larry Seidlitz
About the Reviewer: Dr. Larry Seidlitz received his doctoral degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1993. He was an Assistant Professor and researcher in psychiatry and psychology at The University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York, U.S.A. He is currently a faculty member of Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research (Pondicherry). He is also the editor of the journal ‘Collaboration’ published by Sri Aurobindo Association of California and author of many articles on Integral Yoga.