There were (and are) many inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram who worked tirelessly throughout their entire lifetime to serve Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. They never busied themselves with artistic activities but worked round the clock for work was their medium of practising the Integral Yoga. Such individuals were never very popular in the Ashram community, yet, their sincerity and dedication made them radiate like jewels.
One of such individuals was Padmanabhan Counouma.
Padmanabhan Counouma (17 November 1908—10 February 1991) was appointed a member of the Board of Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram by the Mother on 21 September 1968. On 13 March 1969 she empowered him to act as Attorney and Legal Adviser of the Board and to sign, on behalf of it, all correspondence as well as execute its general business.
Amal Kiran alias K. D. Sethna wrote about P. Counouma in an obituary: “A man of wide culture, partly trained in France, a prominent figure for a time in Pondicherry’s administrative set-up, Counouma played his part excellently in all the spheres of his activity. He was no stickler after red tape and mostly let his sharp intelligence and humane sympathy cut through difficult situations but always took care to carry his fellow Trustees harmoniously and respectfully with him. Though no believer in conventions and ceremonies, he was deeply devoted to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. He offered all his means and properties to them and lived a simple life in service of them and their Ashram…[He was] a worthy worker in the cause of the New World of Spirituality which [the] Gurus have sought to build.”
Noted member of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives and Research Department, Raman Reddy further adds about P. Counouma: “Counouma was not so well known in the Ashram circle but locally in Pondicherry he was very well-known, so well-known that he handled all the local affairs without anybody from the Ashram knowing about it. Judges, lawyers, politicians, all visited him with great respect and honour. He almost seemed an atheist when you tried to make him speak on spirituality but he had great devotion for the Mother which he expressed in rare moments with a unique sense of humour. Incidentally, he knew better French than Frenchmen. Those days the Pondicherry elite received French education. He was a Keralite from Mahe and educated in Pondicherry and France, where he did his law. He was Conservataire des Hyotheques (equivalent to the Registrar of the Registration Department with very different functions — the French system was much better than the English one) and was paid the next highest salary to the Governor of Pondicherry. He along with Lambert Saravane and Dr. Andre (previous owner of Gloria Farm) went into politics at the behest of the Mother in 1946-48 and withdrew from it when the local politics got very messy.”
An informative article on P. Counouma authored by Samyukta Reddy, who worked in Counouma’s office for around 20 years and took care of him until he passed away in 1991, has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.
With warm regards,
Counouma: A Personal Memoir
Counouma was a Malayali and came from Kerala. His father taught French to his mother so that they could speak French at home. When he was eleven his father sent him to stay with his friends in Pondicherry for schooling. He stayed back there for the rest of his life. That’s why many mistook him to be a Pondicherian. He always stood first in the class. His father died when he was 18 years old and financial constraints made him a school teacher for three months in Aryankuppam. Later he became a lecturer in Colway College and went to France to get his degree in law. He was still young when he held high positions in the Government. He was a collector and a judge in Karaikal. In Pondicherry he was acting mayor, revenue minister and held the lucrative post of the “Conservateur des Hypothèques” (Registration Officer) which made him the next highest paid officer in the government after the Governor. He held office in his own house. But he was not attached to money. He refused the French pension and took the Indian pension instead and even that he offered to the Mother. He used to take part in politics and the Mother even encouraged him to do so. He would joke, “Maybe Mother wanted a big local man in her pockets!”
His relations with the Ashram developed from 1935 onwards. The Mother saw him somewhere and told Amrita who was then manager of the Ashram, “I want to see that boy in white coat and black tie. Ask him what time is convenient for him.” Amrita used to go to him to take legal advice in Ashram matters. So when he went this time and told him that the Mother wanted to meet him, Counouma said, “How can I give a time to Mother? I’ll come immediately!” It was about 10.30 a.m. This time would be set aside by the Mother to meet him every day. When they met first the Mother shook hands with him and made him sit on a chair. When he went to Her the second time he pushed aside the chair and sat at Her feet and She blessed him. That was the beginning of his Ashram life. The Mother would give him a bouquet of double coloured roses every day.
One day when the Mother and Sri Aurobindo were giving Darshan, Counouma was fast asleep in his room. The Darshan was over and yet they seemed to wait for someone. The Mother remarked to a person near Her, “Hasn’t Counouma come?” The latter went and woke him up in his house. Counouma came running and panting for breath. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo laughed at him and everybody else there joined in the fun. He was very close to the Mother. Whenever he went out for Ashram work the Mother would wait for him until he came back.
He had to go once as a deputy to the French Parliament. The Mother permitted him and went to Sri Aurobindo to ask for His darshan. Sri Aurobindo said, “Has he not enough of name and position here that he has to go now abroad for it?” When the Mother told this to Counouma, he cancelled his trip and gave away even his newly made suit to the Ashram.
When Sri Aurobindo passed away, the Mother called him and told him that She wanted the Master’s Samadhi in the Ashram courtyard. He said that the permission had to come from France and that would take some time. The Mother repeated firmly, as if She had not heard what he had said, “I want the samadhi here!” Counouma immediately arranged for it with Governor Baron and got the permission later from France.
The Mother told him, “You were once Janaka and I was your daughter. I also was your mother once. Whenever I came to earth you were with me.”
In 1968 he was appointed a Trustee and in 1969 the Managing Trustee. Much of the Ashram property was bought through him. The Mother called him one day and told him that She wanted the Marrée Garden. By evening he had arranged for the purchase and went to the Tennis Ground to inform Her. On seeing him She stopped playing tennis and was very happy to hear the news. That was the way he worked, always saying “Yes” to whatever the Mother told him to do.
He was never in good health. Dr. Nripen once tested him and found high sugar in his blood. When the Mother knew about it, She said, “You cannot have high sugar. How can they say that? Go and test yourself outside.” When he had himself tested again there was no sugar at all. The Mother was very pleased with the report.
I joined Counouma’s office as a typist in 1970. After seeing me the Mother told him, “She will be very very useful to you.” He was then my boss. I was afraid of even speaking to him. Typing errors were not tolerated. I had to be always on time in the office. All the other offices closed on Sunday except ours. He would sit from 7 a.m. and attend to the problems of all who came there. He would listen patiently to each one and then speak. Even if somebody shouted at him in anger he would remain unperturbed and calmly give them an appropriate answer.
About two months before the Mother passed away, She called him and tied two or three garlands of Patience flowers on his wrist. She told him, “You know why I am tying this on you? This is not ordinary patience. It is My Patience! I am giving you My Patience!”
The Mother gave him more and more work from 1971 and his responsibilities increased day by day. He was consulted for even matters in Auroville.
One day something interesting happened. It was about four o’clock and he had some urgent work in a government office. I gave him tea and was just handing over his bunch of keys when it slipped and fell down. It simply disappeared! It was closing time so he told me to look for it and went away. He finished his work and came back and I hadn’t still found it. He told the servant to sweep the floor of the adjoining room. The keys were below the almirah of that room! “How could that be?” I thought with surprise mingled with fear. When he went the next day and reported it to the Mother, She said, “It is the mischief of small beings who want to disturb your work. Sri Aurobindo intervened and saw that you got back your keys. You have to be always alert in my work.”
Another incident. This happened after the Mother’s passing away. I used to go to him at five o’clock in the morning and give him breakfast. I tidied up his bed and folded the mosquito net and found his shawl very dirty. I thought of washing it but as I was afraid to ask him about it, I only prayed to the Mother and kept quiet. The next day I found another shawl there! I went and asked whether he had bought another shawl. A little displeased he said, “Why do you ask me that question? Somebody else also asked me the same question yesterday evening.” The next day I found the same old shawl again, this time nicely washed and folded! The new one was no more there! On asking him he said coolly, “The Supreme has washed my shawl!” Many such extraordinary things happened in his house.
After he bought his house, the Mother came and said, “It is really like a minister’s house!” He never hid anything from the Mother. When he was a minister he would always inform Her whenever he had any guests and She would personally select the food and the wine which had to be served to them.
The Mother gave a photograph of Hers to his office. She said to him, “Keep this in your office. Whenever you are in difficulties, turn this photo towards the person sitting in front of you so that he can see it. I will do the rest!”
On the 22nd of February 1982 Counouma fell down in the Ashram courtyard and fractured his leg. He had to be operated on and a doctor was specially called from Calcutta. Everybody said that an operation was necessary. Only Nolinida didn’t approve of it. When the doctor came Counouma had high fever and the operation was postponed. Instead the doctor made him take fruit juices and meat soup. His diet had been very meagre before. It was as if he had been living on the Mother’s Grace. His health deteriorated. Sri Aurobindo appeared to him in a vision and granted him further life. The fracture joined without an operation and his leg became all right. From then my typing work decreased and I was busy all day giving him medicines and fruit juices. When I gave him food he would say, “Matru hastena bhojanam!”
In 1988 he was in a critical condition. Doctor Datta said always, “Only a miracle can save him! We cannot do anything!” At that time I saw a dream. Counouma was standing near the Samadhi. I and few others were also there. From inside the Samadhi the Mother spoke firmly, “Counouma, you have to live a little longer!” Counouma responded immediately, “Yes, Mother!” When I went and told him about this, he said, “It’s not just a dream; it’s a vision. Whenever Mother would ask me something, I said, ‘Yes, Mother’!” He got then a new lease of life for two years.
The last three months of that period he was not keeping well. He would always call me, “Amma! Amma!” like a small child. I could hardly go anywhere else. In spite of his extreme weakness, he worked to the last. Finally like Bhishma waiting for the equinox on his bed of arrows, he died after three days of intense suffering on the “ekadashi” of 10.2.91. He gave me the love of a son to his mother.
Somebody saw in a vision the Mother taking him up with both Her arms. Two days later I similarly saw him well dressed and sitting at the Mother’s feet. He had lived calmly without any binding attachments or relationships.
It is significant that Counouma’s birthday was on the same day as that of the Mother’s passing away, the 17th of November, and the twelfth day after his death coincided with the Mother’s birthday, the 21st of February.
Whatever I have recounted here is true, i.e., as witnessed by me or related to me by Counouma himself. There is nothing imaginary. I finish here with my pranams to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.
(From left to right) Vishwanath, Udar Pinto, Counouma, Ranganath Raghavan, Himanshu Niyogi, Dyuman and Chinu at the Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony for the extension of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press in 1980
Photographs courtesy: Ms. Gauri Pinto and Ms. Tara Jauhar.