Apropos of the translation of Maurice Magre’s article on Sri Aurobindo Ashram which was published in two installments in the website of Overman Foundation on 17 September 2019, we are publishing portions of Sri Aurobindo’s correspondence with Dr. Naik, an inmate of the Ashram from 1931 to 1938, who made a Gujarati translation of Maurice Magre’s impressions of the Ashram. In order to clarify the points being discussed, the relevant portions of the text from Magre’s book and the English translation that was published in the website of Overman Foundation have been included.
With warm regards,
Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo A Propos a Gujarati Translation of Maurice Magre’s Impressions of Sri Aurobindo Ashram
I got from T, Maurice Magre’s “A la Poursuite de la Sagesse” in order to read the portion about the Asram. He has written very fine things, almost to an exaggeration, especially about us as “the perfect ones”. I thought of translating it into Gujarati and getting it published in the form of a booklet for Gujarati sadhaks. Is it worth doing?
Yes, it would be worth doing.
22 January 1937
I have begun to translate into Gujarati “L’Ashram de Pondichéry” by Maurice Magre. There are certain things I do not understand. I begin with page 99 of the book “A la Poursuite de la Sagesse.” What does he mean by “Aucune étoile du berger ne brille sur leurs terrasses”? [No star of the Shepherds gleams on their terraces.]
It means there is no publicity, no public announcement or anything outward to show that this is the place of spiritual wisdom. The reference is of course to the star that led the shepherds or the Four Kings to the cradle of Christ.
“brillent comme des épées derrière les rayons des bibliothèques” [shine out like swords from the shelves of the book-cases]
What “épées” [swords] does he mean behind the shelves?
It simply means that they shine like swords—shine very brilliantly; there is no special reference.
“Il fait penser à un mandarin très sage” [He makes one think of a very wise mandarin]
Does it mean he makes one think of a mandarin?
It means “He reminds me of a very wise mandarin”, he gives the similar impression.
I have translated the first four pieces of Maurice Magre’s “L’Ashram…” There are some exaggerations in his perceptions: “les hommes les plus sages de la terre” [the wisest men of the earth] and “Ce sont des Parfaits entre les hommes” [These are the Perfect Ones amongst men.] is saying too much for the sadhaks—and I feel almost ashamed that it is not really so. Of course a man can’t know the details in four or five days and perhaps he felt the atmosphere far superior to that of the ordinary world. But it is difficult to put such things in Gujarati, for to the externalized Gujarati mind it is rather the other side that strikes one more, and words like “Parfaits” [Perfect Ones] and “les plus sages” [the wisest] translated into Gujarati as pūrṇa puruṣo or santa or jnāni or sujna or even ḍāhyā seem almost ridiculous in view of the defects of the sadhaks.
I remember that in the 1921 Non-cooperation times Mahadeo Desai, Secretary of Gandhiji, had a habit of exaggerating the importance of spinning, satyagraha and everything else, and he wrote very alluring articles in “Navjivan”. To us it seemed funny at times. Here, fortunately, it is the impression not of a concerned party, but of an outsider.
Magre like many others got an immediate strong impression of the atmosphere of the Asram—most feel it as an atmosphere of calm and peace, something quite apart from that of the ordinary world. He thought it was the atmosphere of the people. Besides, of the few who saw him, he saw only the best side. Also many here if not most have something in their appearance different from people outside, something a little luminous, which a man of sensitive perceptions like Magre could feel. The other side becomes apparent only if one stays for long and mixes in the ordinary life of the Asram or hears the gossip of the Sadhaks. People from this country, Gujaratis or others, more easily see or feel this side and do not feel the rest because they enter at once into relation with the exterior life of the Asram.
4 February 1937
Here is a translation of the first paragraph of Maurice Magre’s “L’Ashram de Pondichéry” [page 99].
“Dans l’Ashram de Pondichéry sont réunis les hommes les plus sages de la terre… Aucune étoile du berger ne brille sur leurs terrasses et les rois mages n’en connaissent pas le chemin.”
[In the Ashram of Pondicherry are gathered together the wisest men of the earth… No star of the Shepherds gleams on their terraces and the Magi-Kings do not know the way to them.]
I do not want to overload you with these translations but I am sending this first paragraph so you can see how it looks. It is almost faithful, but here and there the change of a word or a phrase to suit the Gujarati has been introduced.
However for “wise” I am not satisfied, there are ḍāhyā, prājna, dhīra, muṁukṣa, even santa. But I am ameliorated the sense of “les plus sage”, and put merely ati sujña, which means something like “very good”.
It seems all right except in the sentence about the star and the kings. Is it not possible to express in some way the idea that it is a star of annunciation that is meant? Also jādugaro will hardly do. The Roi Mages refer to the king sages from four quarters of the world who in the legend received the intimation of the birth of the Saviour (Christ) and came to the cradle in Bethlehem; Mages means here not magicians but Mage. It is taken from the Mage of Persia who were Yogis and men of wisdom, so jādugaro won’t do.
7 February 1937
I have tried to detail the idea of the “étoile du berger” [star of the Shepherds], instead of making a literal translation. My version is: krāistanā janmasthānani bhāl āpanāra śukrano tāro ā grahoni agāsīo upara prakāśato janāto nathī temaja mārajh rājarṣio ne ā gruhonā mārganī khabara nathī.
It becomes longer but makes the sense clearer. I don’t know if there is any similar idea in Rama’s or Krishna’s or Buddha’s birth or somewhere in Kumarsambhavam which we can lift up and put down. But that would not represent the idea in connection with Christ.
Yes, I suppose this will do.
“Il y a un atelier pour le menuisier et une salle où l’on pétrit la farine. Les reliures des livres brillent comme des épées derrière les rayons des bibliothèques… Chacun trouve sa liberté dans l’harmonie de l’amour.”
[There is a workshop for the carpenter, and a room where flour is kneaded. The bindings of books shine out like swords from the shelves of the book-cases… Each finds his liberty in the harmony of love.]
I have changed some of the constructions to suit the description in Gujarati. The underlined words show a little change—either the addition of a word to suit the description or a different turn.
“où l’on pétrit la farine” I have put loṭa dalavāni ghanti but “pétrit” means putting water in the flour and then kneading and pressing it. Aika oradīṁa loṭa masaḷavāmā āve che is literal translation.
For “l’harmonie” I don’t know if ekatāra is correct.
I suppose it is. The rest seems to be all right, but I don’t quite catch this pustaka bāndhanārāo. The word is reliure which means the binding of a book. Is the translation correct?
7 February 1937
I had mistaken the word “reliures” for “relieurs”. Now I find it difficult to understand the idea itself “Les reliures des livres brillent comme…” Reliure is the art of binding books—how can it shine like the swords? Does it mean the books are bound well or refers to the instruments used in binding.
No, here it is not the art of binding—it is the bindings of the books themselves that he describes as shining on the shelves.
“Tous les disciples sont beaux d’une beauté l’on ne peut definir, qui n’entre pas dans le cadre des proportions, qui se joue de la science de la forme. D’où ont-ils reçu cette beauté? Etait-elle déjà enclose dans les germes sexuels de leurs parents et n’a-t-elle fait que s’épanouir par le mystère de la vie? Ou l’ont-ils reçue quand ils ont frôlé le sol sans herbe des cours sept fois purifies, n’est-elle que la manifestation inférieure de la grace de l’esprit qui est venue se poser sur eux quand ils ont franchi la porte de l’Ashram?”
[All the disciples have a beauty that cannot be defined, that is not contained in a system of proportions, that sports with the science of form. From where do they receive this beauty? Was it already enclosed in the germ-cells of their parents and has it merely blossomed through the mystery of life? Or did they receive it when they brushed past the grassless ground of the seven times purified courtyards, is it only the inferior manifestation of the grace of the spirit which alighted on them when they stepped through the gate of the Ashram?]
Somehow I did not wish to translate the idea “germes sexuels” as vīrya, which is the usual word, and have instead put rakta. I don’t know if such a liberty can be taken.
The translation is very good indeed. But cours does not mean mārga, it is the “courts” of the Asram he is speaking of. He does not give three alternatives but only two. Did they get it by birth or did it come upon them as soon as they passed the gates and entered the courtyards of the Asram? The two parts of this sentence “ou l’ont-ils recue” and “n’est-elle que la manifestation” are only two ways of saying the same thing.
7 February 1937
The Gujarati construction of the translation about the “brook chosen above all others which becomes the Ganges” was found a little too long and they say that the je…te is not allowed in Gujarati, so I avoided it. Is my new version somewhat better?
It seems all right. In Bengal je…se is a very common construction and of course it abounds in Sanskrit. How does Gujarati replace it or express the same construction?
7 February 1937
“Qui dira jamais de quelle source cache coule la beauté de l’homme bon et détaché du monde? Les eaux les plus cristallines ne décèlent jamais l’argile souterraine qui les a filtrées et il paraȋt qu’au milieu des entassements de rochers, là où tout est glace et granit, personne n’a pu voir le point exact où naȋt le ruisseau, élu dans la hiérarchie des ruisseaux, qui deviant le Gange.”
[Who shall ever say from what hidden spring flows the beauty of the man of goodness, detached from the world? The most crystalline waters never reveal the subterranean soil that has filtered them and none has been able to see in the midst of the rock-masses, where all is frozen and granite, the precise point where takes birth the stream chosen from the hierarchy of streams to become the Ganges.]
It is good—but you avoid the touch about the little brook chosen above all others which becomes the Ganges.
7 February 1937
“Derrière une des maisons de l’Ashram il y a une cour silencieuse où le jardinièr est le roi. Là, sont les boutures de toutes les plantes qui doivent, selon les moments de leur croissance, tenir leur place dans les jardins des autres maisons. Et il y a meme des boutures choisies, des boutures touches de la grâce, qui seront sur la fenêtre du maȋtre et qui donneront une fleur parfaite où il contemplera au soleil levant la beauté multi-forme de la terre.”
[Behind one of the Ashram houses there is a silent courtyard where the gardener is king. Here are the cuttings of all the plants that, in the season of their growth, have to take their place in the gardens of other houses. And there are even some choice cuttings, grace-touched, that will be on the window of the Master and give a perfect flower in which he will contemplate at sunrise the manifold beauty of the earth.]
The above construction is defective—not allowed in Gujarati. It seems they cut the phrase into two separate sentences when there is a construction with “which” or “that”.
This seems more elegant. The sentence with the relatives strikes one as a little embarrassed and involved.
7 February 1937
I am keeping your translation so as to be able to compare it at leisure with the original. I will send in the morning. It will be more convenient like that when you send your translations, for in the afternoon the time is short and I have no leisure to consider carefully everything.
12 February 1937
“Le jardinier sait cela et il veille avec d’autant plus d’amour sur son petit peuple délicat.”
[The gardener knows this and he watches with a greater love over his delicate little people.]
Then comes the great difficulty. There are no Gujarati words for the two flowers, convolvulus and glaïeul. There are two possibilities open to us: as Herbert suggested in a different context, to place the French or English words as they are and give a note of explanation; or to put the names of any two flowers, if it is not likely to change the general meaning, say ketakī or gandharāja, pārijātake etc.
If they are flowers that actually are in the gardens of the Asram; also the names chosen must be of flowers that have the quality described in the passage (flexible—éclatante—offrande perpetuelle). Otherwise Herbert’s suggestion can be followed.
Do you like the word udyānapati for “gardener”? I felt the māḷī in Gujarati—or bāgavāna rather vulgar, used more for the coolie who works there. Jyotin and Manubhai  cannot certainly be called māḷī.
I suppose not. The word you have used sounds better.
I think it is better to take up Herbert’s suggestion and put the French names as they are.
In the next sentence there is a difficulty of construction in Gujarati. The literal translation sounds awkward but I have put in the small phrases: [Gujarati translation.]
Yes, that is all right.
28 February 1937
“le jardinier est le souverain indiscuté des petits habitants des pots de terre, des futures fleurs rayonnantes, de toute la beauté de demain.
[the gardener is the undisputed sovereign of the little inhabitants of the earthen pots, the radiant flowers of the future, all the beauty of tomorrow.]
Nirvivāda samrāṭa = undisputed sovereign seems to me doubtful but I could not find a better adjective. Binahariph is one but that means one who has no competitor. One can say, so far as I know, nirvivāda satya etc. but with samrāṭa?
It sounds doubtful. Is there a word for “absolute” monarch that might do?
28 February 1937
The words for “absolute monarch” in Apte’s [Sanskrit] dictionary are samrāj and adhirāj but then the sense of “indiscuté” [undisputed] does not come out.
samrāj & adhirāj mean emperor, overlord, but not absolute monarch. George VI was a Samrat, but he is in no way absolute. I find in a dictionary nirankuśa, āpamukhatyāra, svecchādhīna. Would the first word do at all?
“C’est le plus modeste des disciples et sa modestie s’allie cependant à une aristocratique hauteur… Il fait penser à un mandarin très sage, un mandarin du nord de la Chine né d’une famille aussi ancienne que celle de Confucius… il rend la justice un évantail à la main et il distribue avec une grande sévérité des peines absolument insignificantes.”
[He is the most modest of disciples and yet his modesty is combined with an aristocratic pride… He makes one think of a very wise mandarin of North China born of a family as ancient as that of Confucius… he handles justice as if it were a fan and he metes out with a grand severity punishments that are absolutely trifling.]
The word nirankuśa [for “absolute”] is suitable, I think.
I have put kalpu chu for “je le vois” [I see him].
That is all right.
By “hauteur” does he mean the height of Pavitra’s body or some inner aristocratic nobility?
Is catura the exact word for sage which means not intelligent, clever or skilful but wise?
In Apte’s dictionary there are several words for ‘wise’= vidagdha, pandita, dhīra, all pell-mell. For “sage” would śāṇā do? The word ḍāhyā is the right one but rather dull.
I suppose it would do.
For “insignificant”, I propose najivī.
That is right, I think.
In the above translation, I find the last line very unsatisfactory.
Is it so unsatisfactory? The word indulgence used in this sense is difficult to translate, I suppose.
The words “wise” and “wisdom” seem to create difficulty. In Gujarati it is given ḍahyāpaṇa and some others: śāṇapaṇa, caturai, samaja, budhdhi.
All these are quite inappropriate. The word you have chosen [prajña] is probably the best.
“Connaȋtre un homme” would mean oḷakhana but the word seems a little commonplace. I thought of using samāgama, but that would be a “contact”. Do you think the following construction be better?
I think it gives the sense better. Connaȋtre means really to meet and associate with here.
“La ville est posée au bord de la mer dans un cercle d’étangs et de palmiers. Un soleil de feu la brûle perpétuellement et fait bouillir les dalles de ses terrasses. Celui qui la contemplerait d’un aéroplane ne verrait que des pierres plates et calcinées autour de la statue de Dupleix et du drapeau du gouverneur. On entend les corbeaux s’appeler entre eux et quelquefois il y a des silences comme il n’y en a dans aucune ville.”
[The town stands on the sea-board within a circle of lakes and palms. A fiery sun scorches it perpetually and makes the tiles of its terraces glow. One would contemplate it from an aeroplane would see only the flat and scalded stones around the statue of Dupleix and the flag of the governor. The crows are heard calling to one another and sometimes there are silences that we find in no town.]
The first sentence I had to divide in two parts. But at the point kāgadāo, the translation is somewhat awkward—that is to say, too abrupt, having no connection with the preceding sentence. Some conjunction, I feel, could be added.
The sentence cannot be connected in that way—it is a description made up of a mass of casual details, the connection being that they make part of a whole and it is only that whole that keeps them together.
The underlined words are an explanation because in Gujarati the idea of the śāśvatavibhāga does not seem to be clear. [Translator added an extra line in Gujarati].
Yes, it could not be understood without an explanation. The translation is good.
“C’est dans cette ville que, de tous les points de l’Inde, les hommes sages sont venus pour vivre dans l’ombre du maȋtre, une ombre dont la projection est une tache de lumière.”
[It is in this town that, from all the quarters of India, wise men have come to live within the shadow of the Master, a shadow that protects a spot of light.]
Again “homme sage” brings difficulty. I have given something like the old word or jijñāsu would be better?
Yes, that is better.
Also for “projection de l’ombre”, chāyāno agrabhāga is not quite clear. That would mean that the agrabhāga alone is luminous. Is the “projection” only a “tache de lumière” and not the “l’ombre” itself, one might ask.
I don’t think agrabhāga will do—projection is something thrown out from itself by the Shadow. Also tache [French] is something bigger than a bindu. It is a play upon words. Vivre dans l’ombre is a stock phrase (like the shade of atma) and he plays upon it by adding that what this shadow throws out is light.
For “projection” I find pralanban, utsedha or vistāra e chāyāno vistāra eto jyotini eka rekhā. I prefer vistāra.
For “tache” (spot) I find bindu, anka, cinha, ḍāgha, none of which are pleasing, so I thought of rekhā which means a streak or a line, it is a finer word than līsoto which means the same thing, and it is bigger than a bindu.
Both these words are, I think, well-chosen.
“Si l’ombre du maȋtre fait de la claret lorsqu’ elle s’étend, de quelle matière est donc pétri son corps de chair? Un corps semblable à celui de tous les autres hommes. Un corps qui est né d’une femme, qui a bu le lait de sa mere, qui a mangé, qui a connu les intervalles du sommeil, sur le crâne duquel les cheveux ont poussé, qui a eu des ongles à ses doigts, en souvenir d’aïeux lointains qui ont gratté le sol et déchiré leur nourriture pour vivre.”
[If the Master’s shadow illumines the very moment it spreads out, of what matter then is moulded his body of flesh? A body resembling that of all other men. A body that is born of woman, has drunk its mother’s milk, taken food, known the intervals of sleep and on whose head had grown hair and whose fingers have nails, in remembrance of far ancestors who have scraped the soil and torn from it their life’s nourishment.]
I do not understand with what the phrase “en souvenir d’aïeux” [in remembrance of ancestors] goes. I have joined it to the phrase “qui a eu des ongles à ses doigts” [whose fingers have nails], but then it becomes confused. Perhaps it goes with all the preceding sentences.
It goes only with ongles à ses doigts—but there is no reference to agriculture. It means that man in his nearly animal state scratched the soil with his nails (to dig up roots probably) and tore the food he found to eat it; these were the aïeux lointains. Their civilised descendants have no need to do that, but have nails which remind one of this evolution—for the nails were then strong and indispensable, but now they are merely remnants. That is to say—he has a human body born of a woman, the human body which has developed from animal ancestors and still keeps traces of its origin.
“Le maȋtre a vécu parmi les hommes de la terre, il a été en occident, il a étudié les langues et les philosophies, il a traversé les mers, il a vu les peoples différents, il a mesuré l’ignorance et l’injustice. Il a souffert de l’oppression de ses frères et lutté pour les libérer.”
[The Master has lived among men of the earth, he has been to the West, he has studied the languages and the philosophies, crossed oceans, seen various peoples, taken measures of ignorance and injustice. He has suffered the oppression of his brothers and fought for their freedom.]
“Il a … lutté pour les libérer [He has … fought for their freedom] would be yudhdha ādhryun che, but in Gujarati it would give the sense of “he has begun to fight” or “he is fighting”—almost a present tense. Hence I have to use hantu which in French would mean “Il avait lutté”. The same for the first sentence: if I were to write manuṣyo vacce vasyā che, it is open to the interpretation, “he is now living”.
That is all right. In the French it is clear that these are things of the past—so there must be no ambiguity about it in the Gujarati.
“La sagesse humaine qu’il possède il l’a arrachèe à la vie quotidienne comme on lui arrache son pain quotidien. C’est pour avoir touché la racine de la douleur, cette douleur cachée et déchirante qui est derriére l’image des manifestations, comme l’âme est derrière le corps, que ses yeux sont devenus si profonds et que son visage s’est creusé, comme le champ, lorsque la charrue l’a retourné.”
[The human wisdom that he possesses he has wrested from day-to-day life just as one wrests one’s daily bread. It is by touching the roots of sorrow, the hidden and hurting sorrow behind the figure of all manifestation, like the soul behind the body, that his eyes have grown so deep and his face hollow, like a field when it is turned by a plough.]
Instead of mānuṣī ḍahāpana would it be better to put vyavahāra jñāna?
What he means is not worldly wisdom or practical wisdom, but the human wisdom which pierces through the appearances and knows what is the truth of human life.
Is his description of you not made from the photographs he has seen?
I suppose so—as he has not seen me.
“face à face avec lui-même” potānā ātmā sāthe sammukha thai. The whole phrase would be: [Gujarati translation].
That will do.
“Mais la sagesse divine, celle qui est au-dessus de toute douleur et ne peut y participer, il l’a atteinte, face à face avec lui meme dans la solitude de la prison. Les quatre murs d’une cellule, comme des miroirs rayonnants, lui ont permis de voir ce qu’il n’est donné à nul homme de contempler, le mystère des causes, le chemin qui mène à l’union parfait. Aussi immobile que le cyprés par un jour sans vent, que la pierre attachée à la montagne par les liens de l’argile, il a suivi la route infinie, qui n’a ni borne kilomètrique, ni auberge et il a atteint le but qui rend l’homme divin.”
[But the divine wisdom, that is above all pain and cannot take part in it, he has come face to face with in the solitude of a prison. The four walls of his cell, like shining mirrors, have allowed him to see what is given to no man to contemplate, the mystery of causes, the path that leads to the perfect union. Still as a cypress on a day without wind, as a stone fixed to the mountain by bonds of clay, he has pursued his infinite way which knows neither a milestone nor an inn, and has reached the goal which makes man divine…]
In the French it is “face to face with himself”, not “face to face with God”. Here the “but” makes a contrast between the sagesse humaine and the sagesse divine and the different ways by which they are got—the one by mixing in life, the other by the solitary facing oneself in prison. In the original the order of the words is such as to emphasise the contrast. In the translation it is rather effaced at both points; is it not possible to bring it out?
Apart from this the translation is very good.
The only difficulty is about “face à face avec lui-meme” [face to face with himself]: the Gujarati potāneja mhoḍe mhoḍa or potānīja sāthe mhoḍamhoḍa [seem awkward]. There are two Sanskrit words mukhāmukhī and sammukham, but how to join them with “lui-même” is the question.
Is it not possible to find something if one uses the word atma for self. What is meant is that the divine wisdom comes by looking away from outward things (unlike the human wisdom) and looking at one’s self face to face.
The contrast is brought about by keeping the French order and the addition of ‘to’.
Yes, that is all right.
“C’est toujours le doute que l’on émet avec le plus d’ardeur, car le doute est plus vivace que la foi et plus avide de s’exprimer. Mais se foie était si intense que lorsque j’émettais un doute devant elle, elle le dissipait ausssitôt, sans vaines paroles, rien qu’avec cette chaleur inexprimable qui provient du foyer de l’âme.”
[It is always doubt that one utters with the greatest of ardours, for doubt is more living that faith and more avid of utterance. But her faith was so intense that as soon as I expressed a doubt before her, she dispelled it, without vain words, with nothing save that inexpressible warmth which comes from the hearth of the soul.]
I don’t see how Magre can attribute “le doute” [doubt] to the lady (pages 126-127). In what sense does he mean “doute” here? Has she doubted the Divine or the spiritual life or what? In the last paragraph of page 126 he says that as his own faith was increasing, there was something in her which was failing and when his aspiration was at its height there was a despair and dryness in her mind. I think he misreads her sentiments. She must have found the atmosphere here very congenial and looked forward to a long stay and spiritual gain; when he decided to run away, she was naturally dragged along with him and that gave her a sense of despair and dryness. Since Magre must have promised a long stay here, she may have been surprised at his weakness and instability—and disappointed in him.
And how can he say that his aspiration towards the spirit was at his height? It must have been below par since he was going away from a place where his aspiration could have been fulfilled. The doubt was rather in him as “émet”; it is on page 130 wherein he pleads for Nirvana of the Buddha.
He had formerly always held the Buddhist view of things, so it was difficult for him to adapt his mind to a new view that contradicted it. What you say is to a great extent true, but still she had some elements in herself that may have opened the door to doubt.
 Inmates of the Ashram