Paolo’s Trip to Pondicherry: Prithwindra Mukherjee Remembers

Dear Friends,

On Thursday, 16th July 2020, renowned architect and artist Paolo Tommasi, who played a pivotal role in helping Roger Anger, the French architect, to design the ‘Matrimandir’ at Auroville as well as the twelve beautiful gardens surrounding it, passed away at JIPMER at the age of ninety-two.

A beautiful reminiscence of Paolo Tommasi, written by Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee, has been published in the website of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Founder,

Overman Foundation.

                                  Paolo’s Trip to Pondicherry: Prithwindra Mukherjee Remembers

1966. Middle of June. Quite untimely, early in the afternoon, I had the visit of Paola and Bruno Petris. Brought up in the middle bourgeoisie society of Torino, this young couple had put an end to their globe-trotting to settle at last in Pondicherry. With the Mother’s approval, they chose me to be their friend, philosopher and guide.

Quite excited, they came to inform me that a crazy artist has come from Rome : he wants to meet Nata. On the day before that, in the evening he had hired a taxi from the airport of Madras and, on reaching Pondicherry in the night, finding no other solution, he slept inside the taxi with the metre running. Nata was the name the Mother had given to Alberto Grassi of Florence hailing from a rich and aristocratic family.  The review of culture, Domani, he had launched to bring to Italy the message of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo had received a warm welcome all over.

On learning from me that Nata was out of station for a few days, the new comer felt quite at a loss.  On consulting Paola and Bruno, we took  him to the Ashram guest house most ably run by Mr Goel. But the very cynical question Goel posed to the guest made us absolutely uncomfortable : “Here the daily tariff is—” and added an amount with the comment, “I suppose you have all that money ?” We had seen the new comer pay the taxi bill of a few thousand rupees, without any hesitation. The amount asked for by Goel was hardly a two pence.

We left the man have a few hours’ rest  before we returned to the Guest House to know what he decided. On taking him to the near-by  beach road, sitting on the parapet, we listened to his story.  His name was Paolo Tommasi. Had a “modest fame” in Rome and Paris, in the capacity of architect and interior decorator. He was quite known as a painter and photographer, too. Invited by Alitalia to inaugurate his one-man exhibition of paintings he was going to Tokyo. Having had one full day’s break journey at Bombay, all of a sudden he had remembered that his friend the veteran journalist Piero Scanziani had given him the name of an exceptional  Italian living in a nonetheless  exceptional institution in India.

Ignoring that Pondicherry was not the next door address from Bombay, he undertook the last lap of four-hours taxi trip to be a part of what Destiny wanted to offer him.   He intimated us that he was not budging an inch from Pondicherry till the return of Nata. He informed us that on 28 June it was his birthday: “Is it possible to have the Mother’s blessings ?” After some hesitation, I transferred the question to the right person; the very next day the Mother sent me a word: “Prithwin’s friend can come on his birthday at 3.30pm to receive the Mother’s blessings.”

On the very day, at the chosen hour, I sat on the cement bench by the side of the fragrant champaka tree with its golden petals. My eyes could not be satiated to see him appear like a Knight of the medieval times clothed in an original suit, wrapped in trance, gliding towards his rendezvous with Destiny.

The next day, several times the Mother praised highly the elegant visit of “Prithwin’s friend”.

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About the Author: Born on 20th October 1936 to Tejendranath and Usha Mukherjee, Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee is the grandson of the famous revolutionary Jatindranath Mukherjee alias Bagha Jatin. He came to Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1948, studied and taught at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. He was mentioned by the Sahitya Akademi manuals and anthologies as a poet before he attained the age of twenty. He has translated the works of French authors like Albert Camus, Saint-John Perse and René Char for Bengali readers, and eminent Bengali authors into French. He shifted to Paris with a French Government Scholarship in 1966. He defended a thesis on Sri Aurobindo at Sorbonne. He served as a lecturer in two Paris faculties, a producer on Indian culture and music for Radio France and was also a freelance journalist for the Indian and French press. His thesis for PhD which studied the pre-Gandhian phase of India’s struggle for freedom was supervised by Raymond Aron in Paris University. In 1977 he was invited by the National Archives of India as a guest of the Historical Records Commission. He presented a paper on ‘Jatindranath Mukherjee and the Indo-German Conspiracy’ and his contribution on this area has been recognized by eminent educationists. A number of his papers on this subject have been translated into major Indian languages. He went to the United States of America as a Fullbright scholar and discovered scores of files covering the Indian revolutionaries in the Wilson Papers. In 1981 he joined the French National Centre of Scientific Research. He was also a founder-member of the French Literary Translators’ Association. In 2003 he retired as a researcher in Human and Social Sciences Department of French National Centre of Scientific Research in Paris. A recipient of ‘Sri Aurobindo Puraskar’, in the same year he was invited by Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for the world premiere of Correspondances, opus for voice and orchestra where the veteran composer Henri Dutilleux had set to music Prithwindra’s French poem on Shiva Nataraja, followed by texts by Solzhenitsyn, Rilke and Van Gogh. In 2009 he was appointed to the rank of chevalier (Knight) of the Order of Arts and Letters by the Minister of Culture of France. In June 2014, he received from the French Academy (Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres) the 2014 Hirayama Award for his long career as an author, especially for his French Thesis on the pre-Gandhian phase (1893-1918) of India’s freedom movement. On 1st January 2015, the Prime Minister of France appointed him Chevalier in the Ordre des Palmes Academques. In 2020, the Government of India conferred to him the ‘Padma Shri’.

Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee has penned books in English, Bengali and French and some of his published works include Samasamayiker Chokhe Sri AurobindoPondicherryer DinguliBagha JatinSadhak-Biplobi JatindranathUndying CourageVishwer Chokhe RabindranathThât/Mélakartâ : The Fundamental Scales in Indian Music of the North and the South (foreword by Pandit Ravi Shankar), Poèmes du BangladeshSerpent de flammesLe sâmkhyaLes écrits bengalis de Sri AurobindoChants bâulsles Fous de l’AbsoluAnthologie de la poésie bengalieIn Quest of the Cosmic Soul and Les racines intellectuelles du movement d’independence de l’Inde (1893-1918) ending up with Sri Aurobindo, “the last of the Prophets”.

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