On 15 August 1992, Dr. Nirodbaran Talukdar (1903-2006), who served Sri Aurobindo as a scribe and attendant, gave a talk in Bengali titled “Sri Aurobindo As I Have Seen Him” which was broadcast on Radio Calcutta. For our readers, we are happy to publish the English translation of this talk in the website of Overman Foundation.
With warm regards,
Sri Aurobindo As I Have Seen Him
I have seen Him, heard His voice, have served Him, received His Grace and have lived with Him day and night for twelve momentous years. I have observed in those days all His outer life, steady and unhasting, poised and serene, everything emerging from a wide consciousness — an impersonal supreme Purusha. I have had the firm conviction that He was not a human being; He was the One who had taken up a human body: mānuṣim tanum āśritam.
In the month of November 1938, He stumbled and fell down in His own room at night and received a severe injury on His right knee. As a result the thigh bone snapped into two. A few disciples were called to His presence in that emergency. His seclusion came to an end and we had the privilege of attending on Him year after year. Two of us from among the rest were whole-time attendants: myself as a ‘medical disciple’, the other as Sri Aurobindo’s personal attendant. In addition to my medical duty I had the opportunity to serve Him in His literary works as well when His eyesight began to fail. I was chosen as His scribe during the time He was composing His great epic Savitri. It was an unforgettable boon given to me.
Before this time I was in charge of the Ashram Dispensary. In my leisure hours I used to indulge in literary pursuits, as a part of sadhana. I started writing Bengali and English poetry with Sri Aurobindo’s power of inspiration to help me in this quixotic venture, for I had never attempted it before, though I had a taste for literature. He used to see my juvenile oddities; particularly in my English composition He would train my ear to the sound of words, diction and the movement of metre and rhythm; in short, He initiated me in the art of composition. Moreover, He gave me the freedom to correspond with Him on various subjects, mundane and spiritual to help me develop my intellectual power, not in the spirit of a hard taskmaster but as an indulgent and understanding friend. Thus a close intimacy grew up between the Guru and the disciple; light and laughter, mild rebuke on the part of the Master and almost unchartered freedom given to the disciple — these two combined in a happy union taught me to love the Guru. Fear, awe, secrecy and other mental, vital frailties were transformed by His divine love into a frank and open psychic bond. Such a unique relation between Guru and Shishya seems unheard of in spiritual history; specially the fact that when the Guru seated in the highest pinnacle of the Supermind could be at once a humorist took people by happy surprise.
Now I shall briefly describe what I have seen of Him with my outer perceptions during those twelve years. After having established a close intimacy with the Guru through correspondence, when I met Him face to face, I was overwhelmed. What a glowing body, soft and tender yet quite massive, long hair and beard tinged with gold and silver, deep soft gaze, an affable mien, brightening with a pure detached humour! The Gita’s equality was the hall-mark of all His demeanour and action.
I have seen Him in His various aspects. When the fracture of the thigh bone caused Him intense pain and He was confined to bed, He remained calm and still, almost silent and indrawn. After the recovery, we have seen Him in the early hours of the morning a solemn figure absorbed in a contemplation beyond our ken. And when He was immersed in writing He forgot time and space. The Mother coming with a drink stood by His side watching Him with a sweet smile. Cold and heat, food and sleep and bath — these physical necessities were reduced to a minimum. He has said to us apropos of them and other human interests: “I have nothing human in me.”
When in 1927-1938 He was living in seclusion, He used to write answers to His disciples’ questions for 8-9 hours at night and early morning, keeping Himself in this way in contact with them. At that time, I asked Him, “Is there a place in your yoga regarding the question of India’s independence?” He wrote back: “All that is settled. India’s independence is inevitable. What she will do with her independence is a matter not yet settled. Goonda raj, Bolshevik Raj, corruption? Things are ominous.”
During the last World War we saw Him concerned with the destiny of India and the world, but free from the slightest ripple of anxiety or worry of any kind. When all Europe and parts of Asia were gripped in terror, Sri Aurobindo was watching everything from His seclusion. He was seeing Hitler’s rise like a meteor and his triumphal march across Europe, his demoniac hunger to swallow all in his way and establish a German hegemony over the world. Sri Aurobindo gave a call to the nations and to India to unite all their forces and stand against this terrible menace. That is why He asked India to side with the Allies. But He Himself was unperturbed, free from all fear. Even when the disciples were shaken, Sri Aurobindo’s voice resounded: “Is Hitler immortal? The Divine is not cowed down by Hitler.” During our attendance on Him we used to look forward to an occasion when Sri Aurobindo would come down from His empyrean and spend some relaxed evenings with us. At that time we had the freedom to talk about all subjects, spiritual and mundane, personal, universal and transcendent. And we were struck with wonder how He gave solutions to all problems in a few words. He would not mind our questions, be they serious, foolish, ignorant or trifling or even challenging His own views. Our aim was to draw Him out and share precious gems of knowledge which were stored in His encyclopaedic vastness. We have been rapturously astonished to see that a Yogi and Rishi living in seclusion could yet be in touch with all world-events, at the same time possessing all knowledge beyond the universe (and that He was occupied with establishing a harmony between the two planes). That is the special feature of His integral yoga: to establish a harmony between the two planes. In fact all world-movements were reflected in His divine consciousness. The subjects round which the main points of our discussion revolved were: His life-stories, Yoga, Supermind, World War, India’s independence, literature.
The special feature in these talks was that they were carried on in a calm impersonal way. He would discuss, analyze things like a historian in a dispassionate manner without looking at any individual and enliven the talks with a piquant humour, a characteristic of the British temperament, I suppose, perhaps acquired during His stay in England from His seventh to His twenty-first year. His dealings with us were always sweet and sunny, as if we were His comrades. But we used to see a different picture during the darshan times. His own Swarupa would emerge and we would be blessed with the vision of the Golden Purusha of the Upanishadic lore. Perhaps Tagore had an inkling of this Purusha when he met Sri Aurobindo in 1928 and cried out, “You have the Word. Through your Word India will send an invitation to the world! Hearken, O Sons of Immortality — śṛnvantū amṛtasya putrā…”
Now we come to Politics and some events connected with the war. About the Cripps Offer: when He sent a disciple-emissary to the Congress leaders in Delhi asking them to accept it, the emissary came back disappointed. Sri Aurobindo commented: “I knew it.” “Then why did you send him?” we asked. He answered with a smile, “I have done a bit of niṣkāma karma.” [“Disinterested action”.] Many leaders have realized their mistakes later on. Apropos we remember during the Mahabharata War Sri Krishna also gave the same reply when he came back with his peace-offer rejected by the Kauravas. But Sri Aurobindo did not stop helping India and the world with His spiritual force.
When Hitler swollen with pride and power declared that on the 15th August, Sri Aurobindo’s birthday, he would proclaim from the Buckingham Palace his victory over England, freedom’s last bastion against him, Sri Aurobindo remarked, “This shows that he is an Asura.” But on this very day an exceptionally big contingent of his Luftwaffe (Air Force) was destroyed. Daily Sri Aurobindo used to get news of Hitler’s war-movements and discuss with us that dictator’s aim and purpose and how they could be checkmated or foiled. When the final blow came, Sri Aurobindo remained as calm and equal as ever.
Though the entire world was caught in this dire conflagration, Sri Aurobindo went on with His daily work. We have seen Him writing and rewriting The Life Divine. Day after day chapter after chapter was getting finished; words, insights, ideas were pouring down and waiting to be given an epic structure. The Mother has said that during the time when He published His philosophical review The Arya all His compositions would come down from above through a silent mind and He had only to type them out. We had the opportunity to see this phenomenon with our own eyes. Beyond all, what has enchanted me was when He was dictating Savitri. Once about 400 lines He dictated at a stretch in a slow, deliberate rhythm and they needed no revision. These lines reached the ne plus ultra of poetry.
He was reticent and grave by nature, but on the other hand replete with wit and humour when He corresponded with us. Let us quote a few examples:
Disciple: The result of the last Darshan was not very happy. Difficulties of the individual nature were rushing up?
Sri Aurobindo: Individual and general. The subconscient, sir, the subconscient. Brilliant irruptions of the subterranean Brahman into the dullness of the ordinary life, abochetanaye brahmane namo namah (adoration to the subconscious Brahman).
Disciple: My eyes always remain watery.
Sri Aurobindo: Virgil had eyes like that, while Horace used to breathe hard. Once Mycaenus, the great patron of literature in the reign of Augustus Caesar, was sitting between the two poets and said, “I am sitting between sighs and tears.”
Disciple: The divine psychic being is like a dictator.
Sri Aurobindo: No, he is rather like a constitutional monarch.
Disciple: But he always remains hidden.
Sri Aurobindo: That is because he waits for the consent of his cabinet ministers.
A Tantric-cum-astrologer after reading Sri Aurobindo’s horoscope seems to have said that in 1947 he would become “the unchallenged sovereign of the whole world.”
Sri Aurobindo: 1947? Then I will do things quicker than Hitler! (Turning to Dr. Manilal, a visitor disciple) What post will you have, Manilal?
Dr. Manilal: Nothing, Sir.
Sri Aurobindo: No, you must have something to do.
Manilal: I’ll be at your feet, Sir, humbly.
Sri Aurobindo: I’ll make you the Chief of the World Medical Service.
When India became free in 1947 Trichinopalli Radio asked for a message from Sri Aurobindo. He agreed and when that message was broadcast, it struck everybody as something unique, a tremendous testament of faith. Sri Aurobindo began to dictate the message in a quiet clear voice and started in this way:
“15th August 1947 is the birthday of free India… 15th August is also my own birthday and it is naturally gratifying to me that it should have assumed this vast significance. I take this coincidence, not as a fortuitous accident, but as the sanction and seal of the Divine Force that guides my steps on the work with which I began my life, the beginning of its full fruition.” Then Sri Aurobindo mentioned His five dreams one after the other. In the very first one He emphasized with great force that divided India must become one. The rest of the dreams are well-known but what He said about the future of India — that India will be the spiritual Guru of the world — has not even been imagined by any other Indian leaders. About the future of the human race His dream is beyond our imagination.
The prophecy by Chitta Ranjan Das about Him is gradually becoming a fact.
Then things took suddenly a most regrettable turn. When he was advancing towards His goal after awakening in us great hope and aspiration — the Mother used to see the descent of the Supramental Light whenever she visited Sri Aurobindo’s room — He suddenly disappeared from the earth-scene. We were plunged into an overwhelming gloom. But lo and behold, a wonderful miracle took place. We saw that Sri Aurobindo’s entire body had been suffused with a crimson-golden Light. My grief vanished and left in its place an ecstatic delight. That Light remained for five days. It kept the body fresh and intact for 120 hours. The Government doctor and other high officials and innumerable visitors were witness to this amazing utter lack of physical deterioration in a tropical climate.
Our firm faith and belief was that Sri Aurobindo by His own unparalleled sacrifice had brought down into matter the supramental consciousness — which was the main purpose of His Sadhana. That Power is now secretly but infallibly acting all over the world and will one day be an openly realized fact. This is our hope. Sri Aurobindo has promised to the Mother that till this work is done He will be near us on the subtle-physical plane and will help us from there. He has built His residence on that plane and we visit Him at times in our dreams.
Sri Aurobindo has said: “It is only the divine Love which can bear the burden I have to bear, that all have to bear who have sacrificed everything else to the one aim of uplifting the earth out of its darkness towards the Divine. The Gallio-like Je m’en fiche-ism (I don’t care) would not carry me one step; it would certainly not be divine. It is quite another thing that enables me to walk unweeping and unlamenting towards the goal.”
Finally the idol that will shine ever most bright in the temple of our inner consciousness is that of the calm, steady, impersonal Sri Aurobindo of unbounded peace and infinite compassion.
This is Sri Aurobindo as I have seen Him with my outer eye and inner feeling, but who has known what He is except the Mother? One who has said:
My consciousness climbed like a topless hill
I have drunk the Infinite like a giant’s wine
will remain a baffling mystery to our human measure.
About the Author: Dr. Nirodbaran Talukdar (17.11.1903—17.7.2006) obtained his M.B.CH.B. Degree (equivalent to M.B.B.S.) from Edinburgh. He visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram in the first week of January 1930. He visited the Ashram once again in February of the same year and stayed for a month. After working in Rangoon for two years, he shifted to Kolkata to take up private practice which he gave up within six months. He arrived at the Ashram on 15 February 1933 and was accepted as a permanent inmate. Initially he was given work in the Building Service Department. After Sri Aurobindo met with an accident in November 1938, he was selected by the Mother as one of His attendants. Eventually he became Sri Aurobindo’s scribe to whom Sri Aurobindo dictated His poetic masterpiece, Savitri. After Sri Aurobindo’s mahasamadhi, the Mother gave him charge of the work at the Samadhi. In the 1950s he began to teach English, French and Bengali to the students of the higher classes in Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. He has also authored a number of notable books like Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, Talks with Sri Aurobindo, Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, Memorable Contacts with the Mother, Sri Aurobindo For All Ages to name a few.