Mona Sarkar : In Memoriam
Sixty years ago, on 18 January 1960, the Mother had narrated the following significance of birthdays to a young man on the eve of his twenty-sixth birthday:
‘… it is truly a special day in one’s life. It is one of the days in the year when the Supreme descends into us — or when we are face to face with the Eternal — one of those days when our soul comes in contact with the Eternal and, if we remain a little conscious, we can feel His Presence within us. If we make a little effort on this day, we accomplish the work of many lives, as in a lightning flash. That is why I give so much importance to the birthday — because what one gains in one day is truly something incomparable. And it is for this that I too work to open the consciousness a little upward so that one may come face to face with the Eternal. My child, it is a very, very special day, for it is the day of decision, the day when one can truly make a tremendous progress, when one can unite with the Supreme Consciousness. For on this day, the Lord lifts us up to the highest possible region so that our soul which is a portion of this Eternal Flame, can unite with it and absorb from the Source.
‘This day is truly an opportunity in life. One is so open and receptive that one can assimilate all that is given. I can do many things, — that is why it is important.
‘It is one of the days when the Lord Himself opens wide the doors for us. It is as though He were inviting us to further revive the flame of aspiration. It is one of the days which He gives us. We too, by our personal effort, could attain to this, but it would be long, hard and not so easy. And this — this is a chance in life — the day of Grace.’ (Sweet Mother Luminous Notes, pp. 106-107.)
Bestowed with a memory which was almost photographic, the young man not only noted down all the soul-touching and enlightening talks he had with the Mother but also presented them in various books of his so that posterity could benefit from the nectar of wisdom which the Mother had showered on Her dear child. Such was Debdas Sarkar alias Mona Sarkar.
Mona Sarkar was born on 19 January 1934 to Sudhir Kumar Sarkar, (a fearless revolutionary and an associate of Sri Aurobindo who was convicted in the famous Alipore Bomb Trial and sentenced to transportation in the Andamans for seven years) and Sunitibala Devi who was a highly evolved soul and possessed the faculty of clairvoyance (she could see what Sri Aurobindo was doing in His ‘cave of tapasya’ at Pondicherry while being seated in her own room in Khulna and was also in touch with the Mother in the occult plane). Prior to her demise on 12 December 1940, Sunitibala Devi had told Mona: “Your place is in Pondicherry, in the lap of the Divine Mother. I have told the Mother and have arranged everything for you. When I leave the body, you will go there; in fact, all of you will go.” Her words did not go in vain. In 1943, three years after the death of Sunitibala Devi, Sudhir Sarkar sold off his house at Khula (now in Bangladesh), offered the sale proceeds along with all of his savings to the Mother and joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram as an inmate with his four sons (Samarendra, Debdas, Debabrata and Debkumar) and daughter (Bonolata) on 27th October. His eldest son Ranajit, who later worked with Udar Pinto at Harpagon, had joined the Ashram a year or two earlier. Five weeks later, when the Ashram School was started by the Mother in December 1943, Mona became one of its first students.
Around 1948 Mona was appointed a Captain by the Mother for the Group C (consisting of young boys) along with Manoj Das Gupta, Sumantra Kothari, Harit Kumar Bhattacharya and Narendra Jauhar. Thus, Mona came to be known as ‘Mona C’, the other Mona being Mona Pinto, wife of Udar Pinto and Manager of ‘Golconde’, the oldest dormitory of Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Mona was fond of studies but sports became his grand passion. By the time he had turned fourteen, he had acquired such an impressive muscular physique that he was selected by Dr. Hiranmoy Ghose along with Debkumar Bhattacharya (younger brother of Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya, the Director of Physical Education Department) to pose for a series of photographs displaying their muscles as per his directions. When the photographs were sent to the Mother, She appreciated the muscular bodies of Debkumar and Mona. She also gave captions to the photographs and named the series ‘Spirit and Matter’. In that very year (1948), these photographs were sent to an exhibition at Stockholm, Sweden. Not only the judges but also the viewers were impressed to see the spectacular physique of these two young boys and marvelled at the fact that such a physique was attained only on a vegetarian diet.
Having completed his education from the Ashram School in 1955, one of Mona’s first assignments — given by the Mother — was to help to construct a flat above the kitchen of Charupada Bhattacharya. For a while he also repaired cameras at the residence of Chimanbhai Patel. He also made his services available in activities like log-lifting, building and repairs, harvesting and night vigil. In 1958 he was made the Chief Captain of the Department of Physical Education, a post which he held till the end of his life. Also, in that very year he took over the charge of the daily march past from Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya. When Sudhir Kumar’s health began to fail after he had stepped into the eighth decade of his life, he handed over the charge of the pottery unit of the Ashram (which was started by him in the 1950s) to Mona who continued to look after it until he himself became physically weak to do so. He also acted in many dramas like Eric, The Rishi, Savitri, The Great Secret, Mahisashura Mardini and Ilion which were staged in the Ashram Theatre during the 2nd December programmes. He was also selected by the Mother to enact Sri Aurobindo in the drama, The Spiritual Destiny of India, which was personally directed by Her and staged in December 1955. As the very name suggests, this drama chronicled the spiritual destiny of India from the very commencement of Creation, covered the times of Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Shankara, Chaitanya, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and culminated in Sri Aurobindo. The February 1956 issue of the Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education reported: ‘Scenes of the various epochs were played with either the corresponding decor or, more often, with illuminated scenes projected on a background screen. This system was very effective and fine results were obtained.’ The following lines were recited by Mona in the said drama:
“If God exists, then there exists also some way or other to feel his existence, to meet him face to face. However arduous, I am resolved to follow that way.
“What does a child do, when he sees a Rakshasa sitting upon his mother’s breast, intent upon drinking her life-blood?…
“I know I have the strength in me to save this fallen race.
“This is not a new idea, not of today only. I was born with it, it is ingrained in me. God sent me upon earth with this great mission to fulfil.”
With the Mother Mona shared a very special relationship. Their relationship was not that of a mere Guru and disciple. The Mother was more like a human mother who would look after the material needs of a child, chide him if necessary, tease him but at the same time ensure that he made sufficient progress spiritually. His inquisitive mind always aspired to seek Knowledge and Truth and he would put before the Mother — in writing as well as orally — his queries. ‘I used to tell Her everything,’ recalled Mona later in life, ‘even the most ordinary things… I have roused Her dissatisfaction at times and She has appeared sometimes a little severe, more often intimate, or teasing, yet full of love, but always encouraging in Her effort to make me conscious.’ (Sweet Mother Luminous Notes, p. ix) Through Her answers, the Mother not only led Mona to Light but also helped innumerable souls who were enlightened when Her responses appeared in print.
Let’s cite a few of such instances. A month after Sri Aurobindo left His physical sheath on 5th December 1950, Mona — who had just stepped into his seventeenth year — wrote to the Mother: ‘You know that I have not done pranam at the tomb [the Samadhi]; but when I see the others doing it I think I am unfortunate and that I do not offer Him any homage. But Mother, I have never felt that I should do pranam.’
The Mother replied on 27 January 1951: ‘It is not a rule that one must do pranam. Only those who feel the need of doing it, should do it. It is much more important to be faithful to the spirit and to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and to do nothing which is contrary to His teaching, rather than prostrating at a tomb.’
In his next letter to the Mother, Mona asked: ‘Is it true that Sri Aurobindo will come back? If yes, will He be in His old form? For I have heard that you have said: “He will come back.”’
The Mother answered on 28 January 1951: ‘Sri Aurobindo will surely come back in the first supramental body. But when and how, this he did not say.’
Mona again inquired: ‘If He will come back then why did He leave? Is it to show a miracle to the world?’
‘It is not to show the miracle but to accomplish on it’, the Mother replied on 30 January 1951.
On 10 August 1952 the Mother told Mona about the atmosphere in Sri Aurobindo’s room: ‘You know, one has to be very pure to be able to stand there. The atmosphere in his room is charged with an intense consciousness. One should not stand for a long time. One cannot… There, — there is the manifestation of the Truth. To be in front of His room is to perceive the Absolute Consciousness. He who knows how to open himself, truly open himself wide and spontaneously, will find His invariable help for everything. It is unbelievable! It is Invincible! And All-Powerful! Do not pretend. In front of Him, one has to be straightforward, scrupulously frank and sincere and one has to simply open oneself to be able to feel His Beatitude.
‘It is extraordinary, the power of His Reality. No one could stand and no one could bear it if He reveals Himself in His entirety… Never pretend or make a semblance that you are one of those who have the permission to stand before His room. It vibrates with His Presence… It is an exceptional opportunity. Be worthy of it and do not waste time.
‘What a marvel! What a Power! What Grandeur! The One who was with us, His Power and His Force still vibrate in His room. It is a place for meditation and for receiving the Vibration of the Truth which it emits. It is charged. The presence of Sri Aurobindo is palpably felt by one who is sincere.’ (Blessings of the Grace, pp. 109-110)
‘I listened to things sublime’— thus remarked Mona while recalling his memorable moments with the Mother in Sweet Mother — Luminous Notes (p. ix). The Mother spoke to him in great details on diverse topics like the importance of Her signature and Her photographs, Her Presence, Her Ways of Working, the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo, the subtle worlds, day-to-day guidance, etc. And Mona would note them from memory on paper after returning home. It was also to Mona that the Mother spoke extensively on the significance of Savitri on his 26th birthday on 19 January 1960. About this particular conversation, Mona would recall later: ‘She had spoken to me about Savitri earlier, but this time, it was in a special way, for it was a complete teaching that She revealed. I remained as quiet and as concentrated as I could, in order to assimilate Her words.
‘Back home, I wanted to note down what the Mother had explained to me about Savitri. But something within me kept saying that the task was too difficult, that I would not be capable of rendering it, that it was too beautiful and much too extraordinary and that I would spoil it all. So I put aside the idea of writing down what the Mother had explained.’ (Sweet Mother — Luminous Notes, p. 42)
Though Mona had dropped the idea of noting down the Mother’s talk on Savitri, some of the phrases She had used kept flowing to him. At last, seven years later, following the advice of Nolini Kanta Gupta, he noted down from memory what the Mother had told him and read it out to the Mother on 5 November 1967. The Mother found the report of the talk ‘very useful’ and had remarked to Mona: “… all that is said here seems to me correct. It is true. It is good, my child.” ’ (Sweet Mother — Luminous Notes, p. 53)
On one occasion, seeing Mona’s palm specially the Mount of Venus at the base of the thumb, the Mother had remarked that it was a very good thing and a ‘real help for the yoga’. She further added: “This energy which is within you, if you can turn it towards the spiritual goal, what would you not accomplish!” On another occasion, She had told Mona: “I give you my protection and my love to protect you … against accidents.”
In May 1973 the Mother stopped meeting people. For the next few months with the exception of Her attendants, Her physician and Her son André Morisset, none could meet Her. In the early hours of 18th November 1973, Mona received the shock of his life when he was informed that the Mother had left Her physical body on the previous evening. On 20th November he was chosen — along with a few others — to carry the Mother’s coffin from the Meditation Hall (where She was kept in state) to the Samadhi vault.
Mona had once told the Mother that he loved Her physical body as he received vibrations from It whenever he touched Her. He knew that Her physical presence helped humanity to progress so he wanted to be in Her presence as much as possible. In a nutshell, he was deeply attached to the Mother’s body. To quote his own words: ‘I love this body, that is why I want to come. When I touch this, (the Mother’s hand) I receive a vibration and I know that this direct contact is the cause of all progress, and not what I see in some other forms… [The Mother’s] body is very important because it is this that we adore, it is this that is so close to us. It is this which helps us.’ (Sweet Mother — Luminous Notes, p. 164) The Mother too was aware of his attachment and had once told him: “…you are too much attached to the physical and you want only this external contact. You are satisfied only by the physical effects.” (Ibid.) So She had once asked him to try to go a little more within and find Her there (Ibid. p. 168). Now that the Mother had departed physically, Mona could no longer enjoy the physical proximity to Her which he had been accustomed to for three decades. But the Mother’s physical absence enabled him to establish a deeper, inner contact with Her. And he realized:
‘She who always wanted and continues to will the best for us all, She who chose to see only the good or the divine in us, in spite of our enormous defect, She who saw only what awaited us in the future, what we would be capable of, the Truth that is concealed within us, it is to Her that I call — She who is all for us. What have we done for Her? … She consented to stoop down to our level in order to lift us up. She wanted only to spread Love in this torn and divided world. She attempted constantly to change us. If She ever found a speck of love in our enormous ego, happily would She envelop us with Her Love, tirelessly…
‘Maybe we did not understand Her well. Unknowingly perhaps, in our zeal to progress, we made Her false promises, promises which slowly petered out in our daily obsessions, without our knowledge. Maybe we insisted on our will, forgetting Hers in the process. If She now gives me a chance, wouldn’t I do everything for Her!
‘She has given to every one of us the chances of his life and in spite of ourselves, She has poured down on us Her Love, She has protected us against all evil and mishaps. She always encouraged us, pushed us forward and blessed us by Her Grace. And as for me, I received, out of her gracious bounty, everything in abundance.’ (Sweet Mother — Luminous Notes, p. vii-ix)
Indeed Mona had received much from the Mother through the interactions he had with Her for more than two decades. He decided to share these priceless treasures with the world by compiling the talks and publishing them. In 1978, on the occasion of the Mother’s Birth Centenary, the first collection of his interactions with the Mother was published under the title of Sweet Mother: Harmonies of Light Part I. The second part of this book was published in the following year. Both the parts were combined, revised, enlarged and published along with some new materials in 2009 under the title of Sweet Mother — Luminous Notes. In 2000 he brought out another anthology of his conversations with the Mother titled The Supreme which became so popular that it was translated into many languages and earned him the prestigious ‘Sri Aurobindo Puraskar’ awarded by Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata, in 2009. In 1989 he edited and brought out a commemorative volume on Sudhir Kumar Sarkar titled A Spirit Indomitable on the occasion of his father’s birth centenary. In 2015 another compilation of his talks with the Mother saw the light of day under the title of Blessings of the Grace. His conversations with the Mother on the spiritual significance of flowers were published as Throb of Nature in 2019.
When Mona was in his mid-20s, he had suffered a leg injury while playing football, a game which he loved passionately. In fact he was so enamoured with football that he would not leave his bed until Sudhir Kumar would call out: “Mona Das, goalkeeper, get up!” (Mona Das, was the goalkeeper of the Mohan Bagan, the famous football team.) Under Mona’s leadership, the team of J.S.A.S.A. (Jeunesse Sportive de l’Ashram de Sri Aurobindo) had defeated the team of Calcutta University in a football match. This leg injury would give Mona trouble from time-to-time. In 2011 he was advised by his physician to undergo a surgery. In March 2011 he underwent a successful surgery in his leg but on the very evening of the operation he complained of breathlessness and soon suffered a severe heart attack. Though he returned to his residence after several months of convalescence in the Ashram Nursing Home, his health was never the same as before. However, his spirit was never dampened; it continued to be as indomitable as ever. In 2012, he was made the in-charge of Sri Aurobindo’s room after the passing away of Kumudben, the erstwhile in-charge of the apartments of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
The present author had the good fortune of being formally introduced to Mona Sarkar in November 2017 when the former was working on the biography of Sudhir Kumar Sarkar. But when he was still a student pursuing his M.B.A. degree, he had once rung Mona up soon after reading his Sweet Mother Parts I and II and had a long talk with him on cellular transformation. Though he had seen Mona during his regular visits to Sri Aurobindo Ashram, he never got the chance to interact with him. But from November 2017 to March 2019, he met Mona several times and had long interactions with him.
Mona-da had the body and spirit of a valiant soldier but the heart of a sensitive poet. When the present author was in Mona-da’s company, he did not fail to notice that Mona-da’s heart was always aflame with the fire of patriotism. His love for the Mother was visible even to the most blind. When he would call out ‘Victoire à la Douce Mère’ and ‘Bande Mataram’ in the Playground in his strong and resounding voice, not only did his voice echo far and wide but its impact continued to echo in one’s heart for a long time. He had such an affectionate personality that one could feel at home in his loving presence. The present author met Mona-da for the last time on 11 March 2019. Who knew that it would be his last meeting with one of the Mother’s most able lieutenants!
Mona Sarkar’s health began to deteriorate soon after. For the last few months of his life, he was taken care of at the Ashram Nursing Home. On Friday, 11 October 2019, at 5 p.m. he joined the Mother to work for Her in the other world.
The resounding voice of Mona Sarkar has fallen silent. But its vibration can still be felt within the hearts of those who loved him. Who can forget him whose entire life was an ideal example of living, unshakeable faith in the Mother!
Photographs of Mona Sarkar taken at the Sports Ground of Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Standing (from left) : Chinmoy Ghosh, Manoj Das Gupta, Kamal Kumar Bhattacharya, Nitindra Das, Gama Sarkar. Kneeling : Bir Singh, Mona Sarkar, Narendra Jauhar, Sumantra Kothari, Unidentified. Sitting : Rameshbhai J. Joshi.
Participating in 1500 metres’ walking race. November 1951
Long jump: November 1951
Mona Sarkar saluting the Mother in the Sportsground
Mona Sarkar diving into the swimming pool. After seeing his dive, the Mother had told him: “My child, you deserved to be first in execution and also in your attitude… It seemed that you were diving into the inconscience to explore it.”
Mona Sarkar with Nolini Kanta Gupta
Mona Sarkar with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on 13 June 1963. Also seen with them Dr. Kirit Joshi.
Mona Sarkar with Indira Gandhi and Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya on 6 October 1969
Photographs of Mona Sarkar taken at the Playground of Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Mona Sarkar and Debkumar Bhattacharya posing for “Spirit and Matter”.
This photograph of Mona Sarkar was published in the April 1950 issue of the Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.
Same as above
Mona Sarkar’s photograph published in the August 1950 issue of the Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.
The following photographs of Mona Sarkar were published in the various issues of the Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.
Leading his group and saluting the Mother: February 1951
Playing the trumpet : April 1951
Mona Sarkar (left) saluting the Mother
The Mother with Mona Sarkar and Light Ganguly
Mona Sarkar posing for a book authored by Dr. Prabhat Sanyal
Mona Sarkar with Shanta in October 1964 during the prize distribution
The following two photographs were a part of the series titled ‘Muscle Poses’ by the Captains of the Physical Education Department. Based on the poses done by Mona Sarkar and Debkumar Bhattacharya in 1948, this series was repeated after fifty years in the Ashram Playground on 29th February 1998. The photographs were taken on a later date in the Ashram Theatre.
In the following photographs, Mona Sarkar is seen performing in various dramas organized in the Ashram Theatre on 1st December.
Savitri: 1st December 1953
The Spiritual Destiny of India: December 1955
Mona Sarkar (left) and Shobha Mitra in a dance drama based on Chandi staged on 21 February 1958
Ilion : 1st December 1959
The Rishi : 1st December 1961
Eric : 1st December 1962
Same as above
The Great Secret : 1st December 1969. Also seen with Mona Sarkar: Manoj Das Gupta, Richard Pearson and Udar Pinto
Photographs of Mona Sarkar taken in the Ashram main building
The Mother with Mona Sarkar in April 1950
Mona Sarkar carrying the Mother’s coffin from the Meditation Hall to the Samadhi vault
Mona Sarkar with Lallubhai Patel
Mona Sarkar at the Samadhi with Lal Krishna Advani
In the following two photographs, Mona Sarkar is seen helping in construction work
Mona Sarkar with Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya during the Birth Centenary celebration of Sudhir Kumar Sarkar.
Mona Sarkar during the Birth Centenary celebrations of Sudhir Kumar Sarkar. Dyuman is seen seated with him.
At his residence
Mona Sarkar after being presented with the ‘Sri Aurobindo Puraskar’ in 2009
Mona Sarkar with his friend Werner Haubrich (whom the Mother had renamed Saumitra) in November 2018.
Mona Sarkar on 2nd December 2018 during the 75th anniversary of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.
Mona Sarkar with his younger brothers Debabrata and Debkumar
Anurag Banerjee with Mona Sarkar at the latter’s residence in Pondicherry in November 2017.
An autographed copy of “The Supreme”, a farewell gift from Mona Sarkar to Anurag Banerjee.
Photographs courtesy: Ms. Chanda Poddar (Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry), Ms. Tara Jauhar (Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi Branch) and Anurag Banerjee.