Kukku, My First Friend by Prof. Kittu Reddy

Dear Friends,

On 25 May 2021, Vinay Kumar Verma — better known in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram community as Kukku — passed away at the age of 85. Born to Dr. Indra Sen and Lilavati (renamed Violette by the Mother) on 29 February 1936, he was among the first batch of students when the Ashram School started in December 1943. He served as an Ambassador to Ethiopia from 1977 to 1980, Hungary from 1980 to 1983, Thailand from 1986 to 1992 and Indonesia from 1992 to 1994.

A tribute to Vinay Kumar Verma authored by his friend Prof. Kittu Reddy has been published in the website of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee


Overman Foundation.

Kukku, My First Friend

Prof. Indra Sen, Kukku’s father, had his first Darshan of Sri Aurobindo in 1940. After being blessed by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Prof Sen was deeply impressed and came back to Pondicherry with his wife Lilavati many more times. Lilavati, whose name was changed by Mother to Violette, was as drawn to Pondy as her husband and wanted to settle down here. Similarly, my father, C. Narayan Reddy too had Sri Aurobindo’s darshan. He first came here in 1924 and had stayed in the Ashram for eight or nine months in 1927.  Probably in part because of these early contacts of Prof. Sen and my own father, Mother gave permission for their families to also come. 

I came to the Ashram in April 1941 and Kukku had come a month earlier. There were no other children at that time. The Nahar family came in October or November of the same year and starting in 1942-43 more and more people began to come. Kukku and I were very young and we had nothing much to do to keep ourselves occupied. So, Mother arranged for us to get tutored in some subjects. I had some tuition in English from an outside teacher; Mathematics was taught by one gentleman named Venkatraman who stayed in Trésor House and French by Satyen-da. Kukku used to learn mostly at home because his mother was very knowledgeable. But for French he would come to Satyen-da’s room in the Ashram. 

Not having much to do all day Kukku and I played cricket or hide-and-seek or simply chased each other around. Kukku would stay with his parents on the Ganesh Temple road on the western side of Ashram School where they had a house. There in the courtyard we both used to play cricket, a game we were both deeply interested in. And in the evening, the two of us would go to the beach near the Dupleix statue where now stands the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, and play there too. We were known as very mischievous boys and were almost notorious for being very talkative and for teasing people. I remember once when Pranab-da came here for the first time in 1942, one or both of us would keep pulling at his dhoti all the time. Although Pranab-da would get upset and shout at us, he was also very fond of us.

Kukku had a very interesting observation about Bengalis. “E ki holo?” “Tai naki!” “Tai Bolo!” Even after his retirement when he used to come here, he used to remind me: “E ki holo?” “Tai naki!” “Tai Bolo!” Indeed, we used to meet and enjoy our memories long after we grew up and went our ways! Whenever we used to play in the Ashram, Nolini-da would come out of his room and give us sweets.  Amrita-da too would call us. My family was very close to Amrita-da because my mother used to work at Padmasini’s. Amrita-da used to go everyday to Padmasini’s place for breakfast. So my own initial contact with Mother was mainly through Amrita-da but later through Nolini-da.

Kukku was a brilliant student even if he was not particularly good in sports. He always used to win prizes and his mother once said in front of the entire class that Kukku had a sharp intelligence. When we heard his mother praising her own son in front of the class, Kukku and I smiled at each other. But he was truly outstanding! Brilliant absolutely! 

We had both become very friendly with Bhishmadev. He used to like me very much and I was very fond of his music. He used to call me ‘Kittus’ instead of by my name, Kittu.  Kukku and I used to play marbles in the Prosperity wing in the Ashram main building where there are some pillars. He used to sit at one end of a pillar and would aim a marble at the other end of another pillar and throw it with such precision that it would hit the marble. We would repeatedly ask him: “How do you manage all this?” and he would reply: “Concentration.” That was the first time I heard the word, “Concentration” and Kukku would repeat, “Yes, it is concentration.”

Sri Aurobindo knew about both of us because He knew about our parents. One day in the Meditation Hall, the two of us were chatting animatedly as we always did while talking about cricket. And Sri Aurobindo heard us! He asked Purani-ji to find out who were talking at the ‘rate of sixty words per second’. Purani-ji came down to see and went back without telling us anything right then. He conveyed to Sri Aurobindo that one of the boys was Narayan Reddy’s son and the other was Indra Sen’s son. And Sri Aurobindo reportedly said: “Oh, I see! I see!” And Kukku always reminded me of this incident which remains one of our most precious memories as friends!

When Kukku was eighteen years old, he expressed to The Mother his desire for joining the administrative service. Mother straightaway approved. My mother told me: “Look, Kukku is going to the administrative service, you go and tell Mother that you also want to join the administrative service.” So I too went to Mother and asked her permission. Mother said: “No, not at all. You are not meant for administrative service. You are meant to be here. Kukku is also one of my beloved children. You are also one of my beloved children. You will stay here and only here. You will not go anywhere else.” I said, “Thank you, Mother.” That’s why I decided after that day never to go out. It was only in 1970 that I had to step out briefly to look after some family property.

Thus, Kukku went out on his own and he became very, very successful. When he was in the United Nations, I got a message from an American lady, a devotee of Mother who was working there: “You can’t imagine what a blessing it is that he is presenting India at the United Nations. People have no idea how beautifully he had represented India at the United Nations!” 

Even after Kukku left Pondy, we had regular contact. After his retirement he came back to the Ashram but did not settle down as an Ashramite. He had his own house and money. Once both of us were sick and had to be admitted to the Ashram Nursing Home. Dilip-da immediately put our beds side-by-side. He said: “Kittu and Kukku should stay side-by-side.” The whole day, except afternoon and night, we would talk about our childhood days. We used to meet frequently and he would tell me about his experiences as an ambassador in different countries.

Kukku had a very sharp intelligence as his mother has stated. He was also very calm. Even when people would say something hurtful, he would not react. I was not always like that and used to get upset. But not him; he would never get upset. And he was intelligent enough to answer back fittingly!

Kukku will be always remembered for his total loyalty to Sri Aurobindo and Mother and  for getting the Tennis Ground permanently to the Ashram. I miss him greatly.

Prof. Kittu Reddy

About the author: Prof. Kittu Reddy was born in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh on 1st July 1936 to Narayan and Meenakshi Reddy. He is the nephew of Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, the former President of India. At the young age of five in 1941 he was brought to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, by his father who was an eminent member of the Swaraj party formed by Chittaranjan Das. He has lived there ever since. He had all his education at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education from where he graduated. He has been teaching at the same Centre since 1958. His subjects today are: The Foundations of Indian Culture, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity (all books of Sri Aurobindo), Political Science, Social Science and History. He is a board member of Overman Foundation since its inception and the author of the following books: A Vision of United India: Problems and Solutions, Kargil: A Manifestation of a Deeper Problem and The History of India: A New Approach.

13 Replies to “Kukku, My First Friend by Prof. Kittu Reddy

  1. Dear Kittu, nothing could be a more suitable tribute to this childhood we had known under the Mother’s direct care and Sri Aurobindo’s blessings.
    As you may remember,steering beyond the superficial expressions like “ki holo”, Kukku was fond of reciting in flawless diction and ardent conviction a very significant Bengali poem by Nishikanta, “moharânkita”: “prashna jadi karé mâgo/ kéu jadi âj shudhây âmi kâr/ muktakanThé jâniyé dabo éi jîbané mâyer adhikâr” (“if someone asked to whom do I belong,/ without hesitation I would proclaim the Mother’s right over this life.”).
    Remaining in poetry, let us remember: “He who kisses the joy as it flies/ Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.”

    1. My regret not having met him since our last brotherly meeting in 1963. Other than Aster-ben and Sumedhâ, I can think of nobody else of his family to remind how green was our valley. India’s former Ambassador Kanwal Sibal had a deep esteem for this exceptional officer (known as Pondy Vermâ in their circle). Let his “wandering voice” fill the heavenly avenues. See you soon, Kukku !

  2. Reading your story, even from here in France, brings joy in the heart. It certainly is a glimpse of this psychic atmosphere in which you grew. Thanks for sharing a part of it with us.

  3. Such a beautiful memoir written by dear Kittu da! I remember hearing from him this episode he mentions about Sri Aurobindo remarking about ‘speaking at sixty words per second.’ But I had forgotten the context, so it was good to recall that. Thank you Kittuda for giving this wonderful glimpse of what it was like to grow up in the Ashram in those years.

  4. Thanks a lot Anurag Banerjee ji for publishing this mesmerising memoir !
    Thanks a lot Prof.Kittu Reddy ji for sharing your beautiful memories which give a picturesque view of the beauty of Ashram Life and the various opportunities the children and other Ashramites are provided with for their harmonious and integral development and their numerous contributions towards the betterment of humanity.
    A great tribute to a great personality !

    Giti Tyagi
    Editor, International Author, Poetess
    Translator, Book Reviewer

    1. Kukku was born on 1936/02/29. Later 68/02/29 became the “birth”of Auroville. He was one of the persons of that era whom I remember well. Our family came just a fortnight before the Ashram school started.
      May he Rest In Peace.

  5. Just this morning my father was was recounting some “old time ashram” crazy takes about the 3 notorious musketeers – Kalu Kittu and Kukku. Again so many childhood memories. Rest in peace dearest Kukku mama.

  6. Have heard so much about Kukku who joined IFS and was our inspiration.
    My sincere condolences to Aster and the family at large.
    May his soul be one with India .

  7. Dear Anurag,
    You gave a fullness to Kittuda’s reminiscences about Kukku by your proper introduction. You are a marvel. Once Lilavati-ji brought Kukku’s wife to meet Nolini-da and introduced her as Kukku’s wife. Nolini-da softly admonished her by saying that she was also Mother’s Child. I don’t remember his exact words.

  8. I remember Kukku-da´s interesting pranks, one of them. I was in the Green Group then, probably the year was 1953?!. In the Play Ground, just after the main entrance, on the left side there was a concrete slab in the form of a bench. When our Group activities started in the afternoon Kukku-da used to sit there with some of his friends and used to tease some of us boys. I remember, he used to call me and asked me to spell a rather difficult English word. I spelt it out for him. He used to burst out laughing and say “Wrong!”. I used to try again and he used to again say “Wrong!” I knew very well that I had spelt it right at least in one of the several attempts that I had made but still he used to always say “Wrong!” Finally I gave up and asked him to give me the right spelling and he said “No, it is you who have to say it”. This happened almost every day at the Play Ground. Perplexing encounters, but I always enjoyed them because he was so jovial!

    From February 1977 to November 1981 I worked in Budapest, Hungary as the branch manager of STC of India. As Hungary was a communist country at that time I had to work under the designation of Commercial Secretary in the Embassy of India. In 1980 I was informed that Kukku-da would be arriving as our new Ambassador. I was greatly thrilled and was also tremendously surprised at this so-called fortuitous coincidence: two persons from the Ashram posted at the same place! Kukku-da was a great boss and a very impressive Ambassador, far superior to the man that he had replaced. I have other very pleasant memories from Hungary of Kukku-da and his wife.

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