An Interview with K.D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran by Maurice Shukla

Dear Friends,

K.D. Sethna (25.11.1904 — 29.6.2011) was a Parsi sadhak who joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram at the age of twenty-three in December 1927. He was a noted poet, author, scholar and cultural critic whose published works include more than fifty titles. In 1930 he received the name of ‘Amal Kiran’ from Sri Aurobindo. He was the editor of the monthly magazine Mother India from the time of its inception in 1949. Some of his notable books are The Secret Splendour, The Poetic Genius of Sri Aurobindo, The Adventure of the Apocalypse, The Passing of Sri Aurobindo: Its Inner Significance and Consequence, The Indian Spirit and the World’s Future, Sri Aurobindo on Shakespeare, The Vision and Work of Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo—The Poet, Altar and Flame, The Mother: Past-Present-Future, The Problem of Aryan Origin: From an Indian Point of View, Ancient India in a New Light, The Spirituality of the Future: A Search Apropos of R.C. Zaehner’s Study in Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin, Aspects of Sri Aurobindo, The Beginning of History for Israel, The Inspiration of Paradise Lost, Problems of Early Christianity, Problems of Ancient India, Our Light and Delight: Recollections of Life with the Mother, Science, Materialism, Mysticism: A Scrutiny of Scientific Thought and The Development of Sri Aurobindo’s Spiritual Thought and the Mother’s Contribution to it.

29 June 2024 marked the 13th death anniversary of K.D. Sethna. As our humble homage to him, we have published an interview with K.D. Sethna by Maurice Shukla in the website of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee


Overman Foundation.


An Interview with K.D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran by Maurice Shukla

Place: The Ashram Nursing Home; Date: 6 September 2003, Interviewer: Maurice Shukla; Video recording: Sharad Patnaik Also present: R.Y. Deshpande, Nilima Das, Ashalata Dash, Anant and, towards the end, Dr. Dilip Dutta, Trustee, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry.

Maurice: Amal, it is not every day that we get to interview a centenarian!

Amal Kiran: No.

Maurice: So excuse us if we are a little overwhelmed in your ancient presence. Coming to centenarians, your dear old friend Nirod has just passed the milestone. Do you have any particular feelings, anything you’d like to say about this?

Amal Kiran: I am just behind him. (laughter)

Maurice: Any other special feelings you have regarding your own reaching this milestone?

Amal Kiran: I don’t know.

Maurice: How do you feel?

Amal Kiran: About the centenary?

Maurice: Yes.

Amal Kiran: Well, it is God’s grace, that’s all.

Maurice: Have you been thinking about it?

Amal Kiran: Not much.

Maurice: Do you think it is an important milestone? Crossing a hundred?

Amal Kiran: It depends. Nowadays it is not so infrequent. Many people touch their hundred because health has improved.

Maurice: Talking about health, you’ve had a number of accidents in your life. What has been your feeling about them?

Amal Kiran: Yes, yes.[1] I’ve had small pox twice and plague once. Bubonic plague, the most dangerous one. And I hardly knew that it was dangerous, the most dangerous one.

Maurice: Have you felt any special presence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother whenever you’ve had ailments or…

Amal Kiran: Yes, yes. Certainly, that they were there beside me, taking care…

Maurice: Did the Mother ever cure you of any physical disease or any physical discomfort? Do you have any memory of that?

Amal Kiran: No.

Maurice: Did you ever talk to the Mother about any of your physical problems?

Amal Kiran: Yes, yes. She knew I was prone to accidents.

Maurice: Did she tell you why?

Amal Kiran: I don’t know, she never said why. She never explained but she told me to take care, not to get into situations that will lead to disaster.

Maurice: There has been quite a lot of curiosity about your name Amal Kiran given by Sri Aurobindo.

Amal Kiran: ‘The Clear Ray’ and not ‘the Pure Ray’! People mistake the two. ‘The Clear Ray’.

Maurice: Did you feel any affinity to the name that was given to you?

Amal Kiran: Yes, so far as the mind was concerned, yes, because I always wanted a clear view of things.

Maurice: Did you feel at times that this desire for clarity became somewhat obsessive? In your correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, for instance?

Amal Kiran: Yes, I always wanted clarity. My name is not a ‘Pure Ray’ but a ‘Clear Ray’.

Maurice: Are there any echoes of this name in Savitri? Do you remember?

Amal Kiran: No. Maybe. Savitri is so comprehensive, it can contain many things that we are not aware of at the moment.

Maurice: You’ve had a long, eventful, interesting life, both under the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.

Amal Kiran: Yes.

Maurice: Can you tell us what it was in Sri Aurobindo that really touched you very deeply, that marked you very deeply?

Amal Kiran: The wideness of understanding, the capacity to view a thing from many points of view.

Maurice: But when you were with him physically? What did you feel?

Amal Kiran: Physically means only by correspondence.

Maurice: You did not spend any time with him physically?

Amal Kiran: No, not physically in that sense.

Maurice: And what about the Mother?

Amal Kiran: The Mother, of course.

Maurice: Did you feel any difference in the presence of the Mother and that of Sri Aurobindo?

Amal Kiran: I don’t know. I can’t say. With the Mother I had a sense of close relationship and with Sri Aurobindo there was always a sense of a distance, though in another sense he came very near. Still, when I first saw him and people asked me “What was your impression?”, I said, “A combination of a lion and the Himalayas.” So much Power was there and closeness of feeling, and yet an infinite distance.

Maurice: We hear that you used to meet the Mother outside her bathroom, just before she went for lunch, when she would answer your written questions.

Amal Kiran: Yes.

Maurice: Did she, during these meetings, ever tell you anything important you had to do?

Amal Kiran: No. She did not say anything about my staying outside the Ashram. She never made a point of it in any discussion, as far as I recollect.

Maurice: Did she make any reference to your correspondence with Sri Aurobindo?

Amal Kiran: I don’t remember now. She must have, especially as it was very large.

Maurice: Tell us Amal, did you always have this astounding memory right from your early days, or was it something that developed with sadhana?

Amal Kiran: In my early days I had no idea of sadhana.

Maurice: But what then is the secret of this impressive memory? You know lines from hundreds of poems.

Amal Kiran: You mean my referring to texts themselves?

Maurice: Yes.

Amal Kiran: It must have developed to some extent. What I remember is that it was fairly common as regards poetry.

Maurice: Did you feel a very noticeable change in the atmosphere after the descent of the Overmind? In 1926?

Amal Kiran: No. I do not think I felt something in the natural way. When I think about it, there may have been many other aspects.

Maurice: Isn’t it quite curious that a lot of your own correspondence on art and poetry happened after this event, during the 30s…

Amal Kiran: Yes.

Maurice: A most significant coincidence, wouldn’t you say?

Amal Kiran: I don’t know.

Maurice: We hear that people started seeing gods and goddesses in the atmosphere.

Amal Kiran: Yes.

Maurice: Did you yourself have any personal experience?

Amal Kiran: No. No.

Maurice: I wonder if you could tell us, Amal, about the finest moment in your life that has remained with you?

Amal Kiran: The finest moment?

Maurice: Or the finest experience.

Amal Kiran: With Sri Aurobindo?

Maurice: With Sri Aurobindo or with the Mother, is there something that keeps returning to you, keeps coming back?

Amal Kiran: You mentioned the appearance of gods and goddesses. Well, I never had any direct vision of a god or goddess, unless you mean Sri Aurobindo himself and the Mother.

Maurice: Coming to the current trends in poetry, I suppose you’ve followed them a little?

Amal Kiran: Yes.

Maurice: Do you feel we are anywhere near Sri Aurobindo’s vision of the future poetry?

Amal Kiran: No.

Maurice: Are we headed in that direction?

Amal Kiran: I can’t say, I wish we were.

Maurice: Do you think the arrival of this new consciousness in poetry has been postponed? Are we going through a slump?

Amal Kiran: Maybe; it sometimes very much looks like it.

Maurice: People often ask the question whether things have changed after the descent of the supramental consciousness.

Amal Kiran: I have no such impression. Slight changes were noticed here and there but nothing on a grand scale.

Maurice: What do you feel about the Ashram atmosphere?

Amal Kiran: I think it is good enough. It may not be ideal as yet but it is carrying on well enough. The Ashram is not likely to dwindle and fade away. Sri Aurobindo, the Mother have laid it on a solid foundation.

Maurice: Sri Aurobindo gave a hint about his departure on the 5th December.

Amal Kiran: Sri Aurobindo did what?

Maurice: Hinted about his departure in 1950.

Amal Kiran: I don’t know. Did he prepare his departure?

Maurice: I believe he spoke to the Mother about it.

Amal Kiran: Did he?

Maurice: Yes, in her conversations the Mother tells us that Sri Aurobindo once told her that he might go…

Amal Kiran: He might go?

Maurice: Yes. Did you have any intimation from the Mother about her own departure?

Amal Kiran: No, about the departure of Sri Aurobindo, no indication at all. I thought he would go on as they worked, more and more intensely, that’s all. Nothing was ever going to change.

Maurice: Have you been following the current events in the world, the political developments?

Amal Kiran: Not much.

Maurice: Any signs of hope?

Amal Kiran: When I was editor of Mother India, I took more interest in world-politics, but after that the interest has dwindled.

Maurice: Have you been following a little bit the war in Iraq? The American war in Iraq?

Amal Kiran: I can’t say anything. I hope the Americans come through well enough. Iraq belongs to the old consciousness. America, for all its faults, is a modern power, its drive is towards new things. The Americans in their views and many aspects have a progressive vision.

Maurice: How do you feel about India?

Amal Kiran: Very ambiguous. I don’t know whether there is a clear light guiding India. I don’t feel that in things that happen or don’t happen….there does not seem to be a line of progress.

Maurice: There is a question from somebody who wants to know if physical transformation is possible without the physical presence of the Guru?

Amal Kiran: I doubt very much. I had great hopes at one time. But after the departure of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother later on, my view became hazy. Transformation seems to me now practically an impossible thing, the reason why there is not much hope.

Maurice: Does it mean Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have to come back?

Amal Kiran: Yes, yes. To put it bluntly, yes. But whether there will result a falling back on things, I doubt. We have come to a certain point and we have to stick there. We may go forward, very gradually, if at all.

Maurice: The Mother spoke about the Mind of Light in the Agenda.

Amal Kiran: Yes, yes. It is the physical mind receiving the supramental light. How far it will succeed in doing its job, we have no idea.

Maurice: Did you, in your relentless pursuit of the Muse of poetry, feel the workings of this Mind of Light?

Amal Kiran: No. I can’t say for sure…I have my own private feelings but beyond that, nothing.

Maurice: In your writing of poetry, sometimes when the mot juste was not coming, did you have the miraculous experience of the felicitous word just flashing onto your inner mind?

Amal Kiran: No, I never had a flow like that, never like Harindra Chattopadhyaya, like a cataract. Nor like Dilip. Dilip, in his own way was a very fluent writer. I was a slow coach; I went about gradually.

Maurice: Somebody would like to know what you feel about the problem in Kashmir. What do you think is the solution?

Amal Kiran: If there is any solution, it can only be along certain lines. Kashmir should belong to India. Any other solution will leave things undeveloped. We lost a chance when we had a war with Pakistan and we were on the way to Pakistan, to capturing it, when Nehru thought that he would lose his international character. So he took the case to the General Council. It was a tragic, a dangerous policy. When the chance was there to go and take Pakistan, we lost it; we lost our nerve, I think. And Nehru thought that he would lose his reputation as a peacemaker. That is all I can say at the moment.

Maurice: Coming to all the books you have written, now, is there any book among these that is your favourite?

Amal Kiran: My own book? I can’t say, like that, I cannot say.

Maurice: Which book did you enjoy writing the most?

Amal Kiran: My editorials. There is an underlying fighting quality in them.

Maurice: You seem to delight in the epistolary side of yourself as well; you have loved writing letters.

Amal Kiran: Letters, yes, yes.

Maurice: And the best came out in you in your letters.

Amal Kiran: Yes, yes, in answer to a challenge.

Maurice: You love challenges, don’t you? What is your next challenge, Amal?

Amal Kiran: I don’t know. It’s an intimidating question. The war with Pakistan should put an end to Pakistan. That used to be my hope. A peaceful solution was not on the cards. Some sort of violent solution was necessary but it never came. Thanks to Nehru’s fear that he would lose the peace prize which in any case he never got.

Maurice: What are your feelings about Islam?

Amal Kiran: Islam has to undergo a fundamental change, I think, before it can fit into the world of the Future. Islam, as represented by Pakistan, is not a thing of the future.

Maurice: Talking about editorials, is there a message or something you would like to give to Mother India, to your fondest child?

Amal Kiran: A message to Mother India?

Maurice: A special message on this occasion?

Amal Kiran: Be bold always, brave and bold and forthright in speech. Not to slur over important matters. India and Pakistan must become one. This is the forthright mes-sage I can give, forthright and forward-looking. We had a chance by way of war but we lost our nerve and appealed to the General Council. We were in range of Rawalpindi and Pakistan would have fallen to us but we lost our nerve.

Maurice: Do you still think of that nondescript newspaper wrapping of your shoes which brought you serendipitously to the Ashram?

Amal Kiran: Yes, that is how I came here.

Maurice: Does that sometimes flash back on your mind?

Amal Kiran: Yes, it is quite vivid.

Maurice: Coming back to your centenary, Amal, how do you feel after having lived almost a hundred years? Has it all been worth it?

Amal Kiran: You should ask this first to Nirod, because he is nearer the centenary than I am.

Maurice: Does he come and see you sometimes? Do you sit and chat about your time with Sri Aurobindo?

Amal Kiran: Not much. Of course, Sri Aurobindo is a standing subject, but it does not crop up always.

Maurice: How do you feel about your long innings in the Ashram? Do you see a bright future?

Amal Kiran: Yes, the future of the Ashram is quite rosy. There may be obstructions and problems now and then. Still, the Ashram has a clear future, to my mind.

Maurice: When people like you, Nirod-da, will all have gone, who will be the guiding lights for us, for those who are left behind?

Amal Kiran: People like him. (pointing to Deshpande)

Maurice: Since the physical presence of the Guru is important, the physical presence of disciples who were close to the Guru can perhaps also help?

Amal Kiran: Yes, we can’t have it the way we want….

Maurice: Do you still dream, Amal?

Amal Kiran: Dreams? At night? Yes, but not very clear.

Maurice: You don’t get any glimpses of the future?

Amal Kiran: No, I have become a little distant from things, I feel. I am in a sort of a world by myself, not quite in touch with the world of reality.

Maurice: Looking at you one would say you live in a state of beatitude, in a state of Ananda, a very stable quiet joy.

Amal Kiran: There you are right. Ananda plus indifference.

Maurice: Is it indifference or detachment?

Amal Kiran: A mixture of the two, perhaps. Indifference is there as a strong force.

R.Y. Deshpande: Amal, can I ask you a question? Have you studied the Mother’s Agenda?

Amal Kiran: No, not very carefully and systematically. Just a rapid reading. Many things are there to be discovered. I have that feeling but I have never tried.

R.Y. Deshpande: What is your general impression about it? I am asking this because she has said a number of things about physical transformation. Would you like to comment upon the physical transformation that she talks about?

Amal Kiran: It is a difficult thing to talk about.

Maurice: Did you have any contact with Satprem? Through letters or …?

Amal Kiran: Yes, in the beginning. He used to send me magazines and other things. Afterwards the connection was completely gone.

Maurice: Would you like to say something to the students of the Ashram, the young students?

Amal Kiran: I have not thought of it… Students should have a sense of faithfulness to the central ideal of Sri Aurobindo, which the Ashram is trying to realize.

R.Y. Deshpande: Amal, how intimately were you connected with Auroville?

Nilima Das: And what is the difference between Auroville and the Ashram?

Amal Kiran: I think the Ashram should develop more understanding of Auroville.

Nilima Das: What is the difference between Auroville and the Ashram—your attitude towards the Ashram and Auroville.

Amal Kiran: I can’t say offhand. The Ashram is concentrated on achieving something solid of vital value while Auroville is still a broad growing concept.

R.Y. Deshpande: But how close were your contacts with Auroville? What kind of contact did you have with Auroville?

Amal Kiran: As a collaborator with the Ashram.

Maurice: What was your personal contact with Auroville? Did you know a lot of people from Auroville?

Amal Kiran: Yes, I knew many people.

Maurice: Would they come to you for advice?

Amal Kiran: Some sort of discussion was always there. Lately I have been very detached.

Maurice: Do you think the Ashram and Auroville are inextricably linked in the future evolution?

Amal Kiran: I hope so! Hopeful we must always be. My own mind’s inclination is more towards the Ashram than towards Auroville.

Maurice: Why?

Amal Kiran: I don’t know, it is an instinctive movement.

Nilima Das: One question: will the consciousness of the Ashram lead to human unity?

Amal Kiran: Yes, I hope so. Human unity has always to be kept in view.

Maurice: Are you hopeful about the future?

Amal Kiran: We have to force ourselves to be hopeful.

Dr. Dilip Dutta: What factors go to make you hope? What is it that makes you a little reluctant about the hope for the future?

Amal Kiran: There doesn’t seem to be much understanding.

Maurice: Is it because of a lack of focus on personal sadhana that we are in a state of ambiguity, flux?

Amal Kiran: I do not know how much people are really interested now in the future of the Ashram or of Auroville. It is a question of personal sadhana, I feel. But I now am more or less aloof from all these things.

Maurice: Do you still live, to a large extent, focused on your mental consciousness, in your mind, in your thoughts? On what plane of consciousness are you stationed, mostly?

Amal Kiran: In a general loose way, a little above the mind, just a little.

Nilima Das: Most of the time you tell me, “I am going inward and I have connection with the psychic being”.

Amal Kiran: Yes, it is true—inward and aloof.

Maurice: Are you, in a loose way, in touch with your psychic being?

Amal Kiran: I hope so. At least in touch.

Maurice: You feel its effects?

Amal Kiran: Yes, I feel a Presence here (indicating his heart), all the time.

Maurice: And there isn’t any iota of sadness in you?

Amal Kiran: Sadness? No, … some kind of indifference is there, but not sadness. I am too old to afford the pleasure of sadness. At the same time I have no definite view about my own future. It just drifts on.

Maurice: In joy?

Amal Kiran: Yes.

Maurice: Which means we are on the right way.

Amal Kiran: Perhaps.

Maurice: Thank you very much, Amal.

Amal Kiran: Thank you.

Maurice: Thank you for giving us your time and your energy.

Amal Kiran: It is a pleasure always.

Maurice: Thank you.

Dr. Dilip Dutta: Do you feel old anytime?

Amal Kiran: I don’t know about feeling old but these questions are so far away from me. Or I am far away from them.

R.Y. Deshpande: Let me ask you in another way: If you had to start your life over again, how would you start it?

Amal Kiran: Nearer to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo than I ever have been. At times I developed a certain indifference to things. I would want every moment of my life to be an intense moment as the Ashram goes on…that’s all.


[1] Amal mistook the question for “ailment”.


About the Interviewer: Maurice Shukla is a former student of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Pondicherry. He taught English at the Lycée Français in Pondicherry and has translated several books into English. 

(Courtesy: Mother India, December 2003)

2 Replies to “An Interview with K.D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran by Maurice Shukla

  1. Candid and clear comments of Amal Kiran. That he had a profound love for Sri Aurobindo and The Mother and a strong belief in Their vision and works becomes apparent in the conversation. Gratitude and appreciation to Anurag for spreading the awareness through his posts.

  2. I wrote quite a few words thanking Maurice for this ‘delectable’ moment spent wth Amal Kiran. A sudden blow deleted all my comments. I was glad to be a witness as a reader of this interview while Amal was pointing out as one of the successors our friend RYD.

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