Nirmal Singh Nahar (28 July 1922—3 September 2012) was a journalist and freedom fighter. His father Prithwi Singh Nahar was a noted sadhak, poet, litterateur, disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother while his grandfather Puran Chand Nahar was a noted Indologist and scion of the well-known Zamindar family of Nahars of Azimgunj, Murshidabad, West Bengal. Having received his early education at Santiniketan from 1929 to 1935, Nirmal Singh did his schooling from South Suburban Branch School where he was initiated to the student movement. He raised the national flag in the school building and as a result he was transferred to South Suburban Main School. At the Main School, along with other students, he raised funds for flood relief work and handed over the same to the Congress President, Subhas Chandra Bose, in 1939.
During this period Nirmal Singh was initiated to the freedom movement by Phani Majumdar—a leader of the Forward Bloc (the party founded by Subhash Chandra Bose) and Lieutenant of Subhash Chandra Bose who later became a minister under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh. After the disappearance of Subhas Chandra Bose, Nirmal Singh was directed by Phani Majumdar to go underground to avoid arrest. So he gave up his studies and left for their Zamindari Estate at Dinajpur. There he joined his uncle Bikram Singh Nahar and elder brother Dhir Singh Nahar in starting the Nahar Farm and was entrusted to look after their agricultural farm at Nijpara, Birgunj in Dinajpur district (now in Bangladesh), a remote village 18 miles away from the nearest railway station. He cleared the jungle and bush and started farming after reclaiming 60 acres of land.
In 1943 Nirmal Singh started agricultural farming at Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry under the guidance of the Mother. He was the official referee of football and volleyball at Pondicherry, the capital of French India. In 1947, he joined Reuters Associated Press of India and Press Trust of India as their special correspondent. In 1951, he was declared a persona non grata by the French Indian government and a warrant of arrest was issued for exposing French misrule in India as a journalist, but he was smuggled out of Pondicherry by the then Indian Consul General.
On returning to Kolkata he joined a Bengali daily, Jana Sevak, as its chief reporter. Author of Sri Aurobindo His Birth Place, he had also contributed articles in English and Bengali on spirituality and economics. After leaving journalism he became a promoter of the Haldia Scooter Project in collaboration with an Italian firm, Armachie Harley-Davidson SPA, in 1964. He was a member of the Governing Council of All India Sri Swetambar Murtipujak Jain Tirth Raksha Trust and Trustee of Murshidabad Sangh Nahar Family Trust. He was one of the founder members of Sri Aurobindo Samiti of West Bengal at Sri Aurobindo Bhavan in Kolkata, nominated by the State Government in 1972. He was also a member of West Bengal State Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Celebration Committee set up by West Bengal State Government in 1971. When Overman Foundation was established in March 2010, he graced the organization as one of the Board Members.
An unpublished article penned by Nirmal Singh Nahar about his unique Darshan of Sri Aurobindo has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation along with excerpts of an interview (conducted in August 2001) where he had spoken about the said Darshan to Shri Raman Reddy of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry.
With warm regards,
A Divine Punishment: Story of a Rare Darshan of Sri Aurobindo
Nirmal Singh Nahar
After I sat for Matriculation Examination in 1940, I had to go out of Calcutta on the advice of Phani Majumdar to avoid being arrested. So I left for Dinajpur, to our Zamindari Estate.
I was then engaged in Agricultural Farming in a large fallow land of more than 200 bighas [1 bigha = 1/3 acre (200 bighas = 60 acres.)], with ponds and semi-forest area in our Zamindari Estate at Nijpara, under Birganj Police Station, in the district of Dinajpur, now in Bangladesh (North).
In 1943, the Mother called me to Pondicherry and asked me to take up agricultural farming at the newly acquired “Cazanove” garden, in the suburbs of Pondicherry. The garden was purchased by Ramesh Chakravarty, owner of tea estates in Sylhet and Chittagong (now both in Bangladesh), who donated it to Sri Aurobindo. Ramesh Chakravarty was suffering from a deadly illness—throat cancer—and he knew it.
After a few months, the Mother assigned Sudhir Mandal, a sadhak, to assist me. With the help of labourers, we cleared the jungle of the entire 23 acres farm. We were forced to kill many poisonous snakes, which came out while clearing the bushes and we burnt them as per the Mother’s instructions. We started farming: we grew paddy, pulses, vegetables and built a very small dairy—all under the direct guidance of the Mother. After we cleared the garden, the Mother once visited it. She was accompanied by Pavitrada, Nolinida, Amritada and Dyumanbhai.
The Mother provided us with a pair of Ongole bulls for tilling the land by plough. The garden had very well laid-out plots and irrigation facilities. It was surrounded by brick walls, and had two porticos over the boundary walls for relaxation. The entire garden was divided into several plots. In a corner there was the coconut grove of around 50/60 coconut trees of Ceylonese dwarf varieties. On both sides of the passage-ways, ran a canal for water irrigation along rows of coconut trees. There was a pond and a deep well with an adjoining Pump House for irrigation and a small bungalow where Sudhirda lived. By the entrance were the quarters of our care-taker-cum-gardener-cum-all-purpose man Murgesh, where he lived with his family. A driveway from the entrance led to the main bungalow where I was staying with two dogs given by the Mother, with instructions to keep them chained during the day and unchained at night. I was further instructed by the Mother to feed them personally after cooking goat-liver meat with turmeric powder. It was not exactly cooking but only boiling. I am a Jain and was a strict vegetarian since I was born and till then I had not even tasted onion or garlic. I told the Mother so, but she insisted that I personally boil the meat, so this became a routine work for me.
On both sides of the entrance pathway were rose gardens. On the opposite side of the bungalow was a mango grove of about 10 to 15 trees. At the back of the bungalow were fruit trees—bananas, papayas, jack fruits, guavas, etc. At the extreme end near the compound wall was the cow-cum-bullock shed. We also had a small dairy with about 3 or 4 cows.
As our vegetable production increased—we used to grow tomatoes, cauliflowers, cabbages, beets, carrots, cucumbers (for the first time in Pondicherry), varieties of gourds, Lau (bottle gourd), Kumro (pumpkin), Chal Kumro (Lucknow melon), Jhinga (ribbed gourd), snake-gourds, etc., also ladies’ fingers, spinach, coriander leaves, salad and other leafy vegetables—we were able to meet, to some extent, the requirement of the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s kitchen; the balance went to the Dining Room.
We used to carry vegetables and fruits to the Mother in a single-bullock cart (vandi) every morning while I cycled along—Cazanove was 10 km away from Pondicherry. The vegetables were kept at the Mother’s stairs and were distributed by Dyumanbhai after She had seen them, according to Her instructions.
After a year, in January 1945, Manoranjan Ganguly was deputed by the Mother to assist me. He stayed at the main bungalow during the day and went back to the Ashram in the evening to join his family.
As per the Mother’s instructions, I used to give away the insect-eaten or defective vegetables and fruits to the workers, mainly to Murgesh. Paddy, mangoes and coconuts were sent to the Ashram separately in bulk.
Some complaints were lodged against me saying that I was giving away good vegetables to the workers. As the complaint persisted, one day the Mother enquired about it and I told Her that as She had told me to, I gave away those insect-eaten, or half-spoilt vegetables and fruits to the workers. The Mother was satisfied, but again and again the same complaints were made so the Mother instructed me to bring those rejected vegetables and fruits along with the other garden produce. After She had seen them and according to Her instruction they were disposed of.
Now, the place for seeing the Cazanove garden produce had been shifted by Mother from the staircase to the Darshan Room. I used to have darshan and pranam and go back to the garden, but because of the repeated complaints, Mother asked me to stay till She had seen the produce. The fruit and vegetable trays filled half the room, and She inspected them only after She had completed the staircase Darshan which took long hours, as at that time several department-in-charge used to go for pranam and also to unburden their problems and take Her instructions. Other inmates—sadhaks and sadhikas—as well as students of the newly started Ashram school and visitors were also allowed to the staircase interviews. During all that time Mother stood at the head of the stairs.
Therefore, naturally I was privileged to sit in the darshan/meditation room for 3 to 4 hours daily because of the time gap between Her staircase darshan/pranam/interviews and Her coming to the room to see the vegetables and fruits. It also gave me a unique privilege to sit and meditate for such long hours. I was in my early twenties in those days, so I could not meditate all the time. I also had to be alert to see whether the Mother was coming.
Now, it so happened that my stay in the room coincided with the time when Sri Aurobindo would sit on his sofa facing the southern sky. So, the door of His room as well as that of the passage were kept open, as also the window of the Darshan/Meditation room. Sri Aurobindo would go on gazing at the sky for hours every morning. I was quite young and my impulse led me to take the rare opportunity to have the darshan of Sri Aurobindo every day. He would see me and with his smile and eyes indicate to me to move away and only then would I move away from his sight. It seemed to me as if He were telling me that it was better for me to move as the Mother might come at any moment.
I was drenched with the Darshan of my Lord Sri Aurobindo day after day and His beatific smile, blessings, grace and love. It was a thrilling experience for me and a very rare privilege too. It was during these periods that occasionally I heard His soft sweet voice calling Champaklal.
I was always very, very careful not to disclose this incident to anyone, either to my sadhak friends, father, brothers, sisters and other family members. I was also very careful not to catch the eye of any of the sadhaks or sadhikas coming for the staircase darshan/pranam or the sadhaks and sadhikas attending on the Mother at the top of the staircase.
That is how I went on enjoying this rare privilege as long as I was in charge of the Cazanove garden, because in 1946, after the garden was fully developed and the work became routine, I sought the Mother’s permission to be relieved of the responsibility. The Mother granted my prayer and assigned me to the Book Sales Department under my father.
It was long after 1978 that I finally disclosed this “Punishment which turned into a blessing.”
It was Mother’s own sweet way to “punish” Her children.
Raman Reddy: So you started working …
Nirmal Nahar: Working in the Cazanove.
Raman Reddy: In the Cazanove garden which was the first garden.
Nirmal Nahar: Yes. Big agricultural farm. Farm started in Pondicherry Ashram.
Raman Reddy: So Riziere was not there?
Nirmal Nahar: No, no. In those days nothing was there except Cazanove and Ambabhikshu’s garden where he used to grow some vegetables and papaya. Otherwise there were no … rice cultivation in Cazanove.
Raman Reddy: Oh! Cazanove you started rice cultivation.
Nirmal Nahar: Yes. There is an irrigation system there; canal was there. We used to run pumps and irrigate rice cakes but after reclaiming, there was a big coconut garden also. That is a very big area.
Raman Reddy: About 8 acres.
Nirmal Nahar: Maybe, I don’t know. Quite big and surrounded by all those walls with boundaries and all that going up; you can see the Railway line joining from there. And there we had cowsheds also, we had some 500 bullocks we used to keep and some cows were also there but when Ashram Dairy started that I don’t know. We had a rose garden also just in fiont of the gate and the bunglow. That was the flower garden. And while reclaiming, Mother had told me that you have to send report of every day’s working. And whatever expenses were to be borne I had to ask for it and Mother would sanction and Satyakarma would give it to me in the morning when I came and go to the bank and collect it from Satyakarma. That was the system. Even 2 anna or 4 anna expenses Mother used to sanction. Vegetables I used to bring to the Ashram, Mother used to see it on the staircase.
Raman Reddy: Which staircase?
Nirmal Nahar: Meditation Room staircase. That was the …
Raman Reddy: Where you were putting the vegetables.
Nirmal Nahar: On the staircase, upstairs. Because …
Raman Reddy: It was on the mid-landing?
Nirmal Nahar: On the top second on the up-turning right. Then sometimes Chandulal’s which is now Nirod’s room, on that corridor also I used to show. Then afterwards it was the Darshan Room.
Raman Reddy: Darshan Room?
Nirmal Nahar: Darshan Room, that area. That Darshan Room where we go and come out nowadays. Previously we used to go out of the door on the right to Darshan Room, Sri Aurobindo and Mother used to sit there. We had Darshan and then we used to come out from the passage in front of Sri Aurobindo’s house to the Mother’s Staircase Darshan to downstairs. But originally the route was this way. Now it has reversed. So in that room I used to … .
Raman Reddy: That is called the Meditation Hall.
Nirmal Nahar: Meditation Hall upstairs. There I used to keep all the vegetables and I had to wait till the Darshan of Balcony—Staircase Darshan was over in the morning. She used to come and see and that was the rarest of all … and that also came about in a very funny way. After I year I suppose I was in-charge with Sudhir Mondol or Sudhir-da.
Raman Reddy: Sudhir-da had come?
Nirmal Nahar: By that time. No, he came in the beginning. As I started he was given as my assistant at that time.
Raman Reddy: There was one Sudhir-da, not Sudhir Sarkar.
Nirmal Nahar: No, no. Sudhir-da another, who had an accident. He was in the outer house near the pump house; there was a small cottage, he used to stay there. I used to stay in the main cottage. And he was there almost from the beginning as my assistant. And after my coming away, after a year and half, Manoranjan came to Pondicherry. Manoranjan Ganguly, eldest brother of Robi Ganguly, he came. He was also put there along with me. So Manoranjan somehow complained that I was giving away all’ the moth-eaten or insect-eaten food, he did not say that; he said I was giving away good vegetables to the servants. was the main servant to be distributed among them. Mother asked me; I told her ‘No, I’m giving only those which are spoilt.’ Since then Mother said to me, ‘No, you don’t give it.’ To satisfy him and to satisfy me also, Mother was a very diplomat, she will not antagonize any of the sadhaks. So I used to bring all those rotten vegetables in a basket and other vegetables. I used to tell that these are the vegetables I kept apart for the servants and those … as the time progressed, Mother’s time on the Staircase Darshan increased. Sometimes I had to wait for even 2-3 hours in the Hall and naturally I was a young man at that time and Sri Aurobindo used to sit there on that … in his room following the passage that I cannot but he was very near and the balcony and the windows were always kept open at that time and the door also used to be open, the first floor door as we enter the Meditation Hall on the left side, that use to be open. He used to go on looking at the sky-sight meditating on something.
Raman Reddy: You could see Sri Aurobindo?
Nirmal Nahar: And that was the period I was able to have Sri Aurobindo’s Darshan and I was unable to say to Father or any of the inmates for I knew that the moment I uttered that word I’ll be debarred and Sri Aurobindo used to enjoy it, my seeing him. Sometimes he used to indicate by his eye that Mother is coming. So, that indication …
Raman Reddy: Wait a minute. Did he see you? Did he see you seeing him?
Nirmal Nahar: Seeing him, yes. Each other. Yes. I had a regular Darshan.
Raman Reddy: And where was he sitting?
Nirmal Nahar: He was sitting on the couch, as you have seen him in the photo.
Raman Reddy: No, but at that time there was no sofa.
Nirmal Nahar: There was some sort of sofa.
Raman Reddy: Because the sofa came in 1946.
Nirmal Nahar: Yes. It was before that.
Raman Reddy: 1946 November so by 1947, some chair there must have been.
Nirmal Nahar: There was some chair or something on which Sri Aurobindo used to sit, I can only…
Raman Reddy: Around the same place?
Nirmal Nahar: Around the same place. And that was the time I was told by Puraniji and others that he used to look at the sky direct and there was a Japanese creeper just below the Balcony that … what is the name of the creeper … Jhau gach we say, Japanese style, that was there. Now it is not there. It fell down so that was the time. But after some time Sri Aurobindo used to indicate that Mother has come or asked me to, so I used to …
Raman Reddy: Indicate by his eye.
Nirmal Nahar: By his eye. And so I used to come back to the Meditation place at that side because door was closed. That door was not opened.
Raman Reddy: You must have been at the place where now the Mother’s chair is.
Nirmal Nahar: No, I had to sit on the back side where the Darshan used to take place.
Raman Reddy: Oh that side!
Nirmal Nahar: Because that side I was not allowed to sit. I was allowed only to sit that side as that side was closed. And this side, the door of Sri Aurobindo’s room was open, so if I sit there, Mother was allowing me to see Sri Aurobindo. That cannot be.
Raman Reddy: But you could see Sri Aurobindo from here.
Nirmal Nahar: No, I used to move. In my younger days, it was difficult to check the temptation of seeing Sri Aurobindo.
Raman Reddy: So you would gradually come here …
Nirmal Nahar: Gradually come there and you can say but I did it. I’ve no hesitation in admitting now but in those days I could not have the courage to admit it.