Born as Bernard Enginger on 30 October 1923, Satprem was a member of the French Resistance during the Second World War and was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943. He was released after spending one and a half years in German concentration camp. He visited Pondicherry for the first time in 1946 and came to know of Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and Their evolutionary yoga. After travelling to French Guiana, Brazil and Africa, he settled in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram at the age of thirty in 1953 and earned the new name of ‘Satprem’ from the Mother in 1957. He went on to become one of Her most trusted confidants. In 1978 he was expelled from Sri Aurobindo Ashram after which he—along with his collaborator, Sujata Nahar—settled in a little known place in South India and devoted his time to the publication of Mother’s Agenda in thirteen volumes and his other books like Sri Aurobindo or The Adventure of Consciousness, By the Body of the Earth or the Sannyasi, The Great Sense: Sri Aurobindo and the Future of the Earth, On the Way to Supermanhood, Mother or The Divine Materialism, Mother or The New Species, Mother or The Mutation of Death (these three books form a trilogy on the Mother), The Mind of the Cells, The Revolt of the Earth, Evolution II, The Tragedy of the Earth—From Sophocles to Sri Aurobindo, Neanderthal Looks On, The Philosophy of Love, The Veda and Human Destiny and Notebooks of an Apocalypse (in multiple volumes). A charismatic figure who had considerable influence on the seekers of the Path, he played a pivotal role in introducing innumerable people to the works and philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and his books inspired many seekers to take up the stupendous task of physical transformation begun by Them. He left his physical body on 9 April, 2007.
9 April 2023 marks the sixteenth death anniversary of Satprem. On this occasion—as our homage to him—we are sharing with our readers an interview of late Nirmal Singh Nahar (Founder-Member of Overman Foundation and elder brother of Sujata Nahar) on Satprem and Sujata Nahar. Conducted by Anurag Banerjee, this interview was published in 2009 on the occasion of the second death anniversaries of Satprem and his spiritual collaborator, Sujata Nahar.
With warm regards,
Nirmal Singh Nahar
What are your earliest recollections of Satprem? How and when did you meet him?
When Charles François Marie Baron came to Pondicherry as its Governor Satprem, who was then known as Bernard, was the First Secretary to the Governor and Information Officer. Just next to the Government House there was an annexe where Satprem’s office was situated. He was a chain-smoker at that time and charminar was his preferred brand. During that time as a journalist I was introduced to him. In 1964 when I went to Pondicherry for the first time after 1951, I was re-introduced to him by Sujata. At that time the Mother was regularly giving him interviews; he was recording her conversations which later became Mother’s Agenda. After the Mother left her body Pranab said certain things which were absolutely rubbish because in Mother’s Agenda, there were certain instructions related to the Mother’s cataleptic trance which might look like death. Since I used to go to the Samadhi regularly I could hear Pranab saying, “This happened to the Mother, that happened to the Mother” and so on. This was soon after the Mother’s passing away. I don’t exactly recall what he had said in detail but I had informed Satprem what Pranab was saying as Satprem wanted to know about it. At that time Satprem, Sujata and I used to go to the beach for a walk. Afterwards when Satprem and Sujata went to Nandanam—Deer House—we used to meet there. What happened next is known to all. They left Pondicherry and started living at Kotagiri. At Kotagiri I met him a couple of times. I have stayed there for a few days as well.
During the period between 1964 and 1973 when the Mother was speaking about her sadhana and was telling Satprem about the development of his own sadhana, did you interact with him regarding the nature of the yoga he was doing?
No, I was unaware of any details. This was because I was not interested. I didn’t even know what Sujata was doing. I was busy with my life and so were they with theirs. I also didn’t know that Abhay Singh [his youngest brother and an Ashramite since 1940] was in-charge of so many departments of the Ashram. I knew that he was looking after the Workshop mainly.
Was the Agenda the sole reason for the conflict between the Trustees and Satprem?
Yes, because there are a few adverse comments made by the Mother on the Trustees in the Agenda particularly on Navajata. All these comments they wanted to edit and Satprem had strong objection about it. He argued that not a single line of what the Mother had said should be edited. And this is all recorded in the cassettes and available in the Mother’s voice. So the question of superimposing anything on the Mother’s Agenda does not arise.
Was Sujata-di also expelled with Satprem?
No, Sujata was not expelled. Only Satprem was expelled.
But did anyone in the Ashram protest when Satprem was expelled?
Many had protested but I don’t know who they were. But the main protest came from Sir C.P.N. Singh. Abhay Singh knew who among the Ashramites had protested.
But what about the confidants of the Mother like Nolini Kanta Gupta, M.P. Pandit who knew Satprem well? Did they also remain mum?
Neither M.P. Pandit nor Nolini-da were the Mother’s confidants at that time. Only Pranab was the sole in-charge. All the others were mere puppets. Even the Mother’s son André was dictated by Pranab what-to-do and what-not-do and he obeyed. No one could utter a single word in front of him. It was only when all the preparations were complete and a new dress was put on the Mother that Nolini-da was informed of the Mother’s passing away. There was no scope for anyone to do anything. When Satprem asked the people to take the Mother’s body back to her room no one listened to him. Pranab could never tolerate Satprem. Nolini-da too couldn’t say anything. Pranab had told very clearly that he didn’t want to listen to anything. It is recorded in the cassette. [See Mother’s Agenda, Volume XIII, 7 April 1973]
Please tell us about their life from 1978 onwards, that is, after they settled at Kotagiri.
Initially, we had no contacts for several years. I started visiting them after many years. Sometimes I used to receive Sujata’s letters. Satprem didn’t write. Only when he sent me books did he pen a line in them. I started visiting probably from the 1980s or 1990s. I didn’t go straight to Kotagiri. I went to Coimbatore and Sujata came there with Micheline for a few hours. Then once I went to Mysore with my wife and stayed there for two days; then we proceeded to Pondicherry. And subsequently it was like this that we used to go to Pondicherry every year and on our way back we used to go to Kotagiri and from Kotagiri back to Calcutta. In those days Satprem used to tell me about his sadhana and the difficulties he was facing. He was very much perturbed to see the deteriorating political scene of India. And he always insisted that this has to be broken completely, shattered like this [gesture of hitting the left palm with the right fist]. Three or four years before his passing away, since he was not keeping well we were advised not to go there because Sujata used to look after him and she could not assign any time to anything else.
The family members of Monsieur Baron used to come to meet Satprem. He was held in high esteem by them. He was highly respected in France. After his leaving the body, France and other European countries gave a lot of publicity to him but no publicity was given in India.
What sort of difficulties did Satprem face in his sadhana?
The same type of trouble that the Mother used to face.
And how did he conquer them?
That I do not know.
Didn’t he reveal it?
Did Satprem face any difficulties from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram after leaving it?
Oh, yes. They had a spy system. As it is revealed in the Notebooks [Notebooks of an Apocalypse], he was in Dehradun and the notice of his expulsion was served to him when nobody was supposed to know that he was there. For several years Satprem and Sujata stayed in France, they went to America also. After coming to Kotagiri, the reports revealed that they were in Kotagiri. It was known to J.R.D. Tata, C.P.N. Singh and few others who became the Trustees of Mother’s Institute of Research in Delhi.
How did you witness the development of Satprem’s sadhana?
He was always in deep concentration. Sometimes he would walk with his hand resting on my shoulder for support but most of the time it was Sujata who supported him. This was because he was unable to take care of himself. He was not aware of his physical well being. And sometimes he used to sit on the doorstep; we used to sit there and he used to talk or simply meditate. Near a bush in the lawn of their house was a small Shiva-lingam which he used to worship regularly. And there was an idol of Ganesha at the entrance; everyday in the morning he used to go and offer some flowers to it.
In 2006 Satprem had sent a note to Kireet Joshi in which he wrote: “I have reached the goal.” What was the goal that he referred to? Was it the completion of the process of physical transformation or fixation of the supramental consciousness into his physical consciousness?
That I don’t know. Previously also he wrote to me that he had achieved the goal. What I know is that the supramental Light had come into his body. In his entire body there was a peculiar radiance. That I’ve observed. The way he used to walk showed he had no physical knowledge about his own body that’s why Sujata had to look after him.
Tell us something about Sujata-di’s sadhana?
Sujata was very silent about her sadhana. She had reached a very high level in sadhana. But she never revealed it except what she had said in her private conversations. She would narrate some of her experiences and those revealed that she had reached a very high level. We could understand that her consciousness was on a very high level. The supramental consciousness was present in her but she used to live in such a simple manner and she could adjust herself so well that it had to be seen to be believed. She had profound compassion and that used to come out.
Satprem and Sujata Nahar : The Twin Minstrels
In November 2006 I had received a letter from Sujata-di in which she wrote about Satprem: “He is deep in his new experiences…as he follows the footsteps of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.” But within five months we learned about the passing away of Satprem followed by Sujata-di. Please tell us what you know about their last days.
Satprem did not fall ill. He had completely lost consciousness about his physical being. He himself didn’t know what he was doing. That’s why Sujata had to look after him day and night because the condition was very intense for the last six months before he passed away. Sujata didn’t have even a wink of sleep. If she had gone to bed at night, suddenly Satprem called out “Ma Douce” (my dear) so naturally she had to look after him constantly. Gradually her health deteriorated and she too became bed-ridden. According to my nephew Pratip who saw her before her death she was not in a condition even to be moved to a hospital and she was not very conscious. My sister Suprabha and Pratip were the last ones whom she spoke to.
Didn’t you have a talk with her?
No, we didn’t have a talk. Almost a month and a half before Sujata passed away, when I had rung her up accidentally she had answered the telephone. That was the last time we spoke to each other. We just exchanged pleasantries. Before she left her body she was in a semi-conscious state for several days. I was in Palitana at that time. I used to ring up everyday and inquire about her health. I returned to Calcutta on 3 May 2007. Next day in the morning Suprabha told me that Sujata had left.
What happened to the mortal remains of Satprem and Sujata-di?
In Land’s End, that is, in the lawn of their house at Kotagiri, both Satprem and Sujata were buried side-by-side near the bush where the Shiva-lingam was placed.
Tell us something about the role Sujata-di had played in the sadhana of Satprem.
In one sentence I can say: Without Sujata Satprem was incomplete. And without Satprem Sujata would not have perhaps achieved so much. Basically Sujata had a beautiful soul since her childhood which developed under the Mother and Pavitra and then it bloomed in the company of Satprem.
What follows is a brief description of the last days of Satprem and Sujata Nahar that was reported to the present interviewer by the late Suprabha Nahar, youngest sister of Sujata Nahar, and late Dr. Kireet Joshi:
Two months before Satprem left his body he had said: “The work is done.” His end came on the morning of Monday 9 April 2007. The last word he uttered while taking his breakfast was: “MA.” He was helped by the lady who looked after him and Sujata Nahar to get up from the bed and sit on the sofa kept near the cot. When she went to remove the curtains so that the morning light could enter the room, she heard two guttural sounds. She came to Satprem and saw that he had left his body in the sitting position with one eye closed and the other eye looking at a photograph of Sri Aurobindo. The following night his body was laid to rest in his garden.
Sujata Nahar was already bed-ridden when Satprem left his body. She had stopped talking and would only indicate whether she would take the liquid food or not that was given to her. Occasionally she called: “Ma, Ma.” On 4 May 2007, exactly twenty five days after the physical departure of Satprem, Sujata Nahar passed away. A passage from Mother’s Agenda (20 April 1966, re: Anousuya’s demise) was read out to her by an attendant. Afterwards she was given some water to drink which she took and soon after she left her body.
From left to right: Nirmal Singh Nahar, Prova Nahar (wife of Nirmal Singh Nahar), Sujata Nahar, Satprem and Suprabha Nahar.