Born in Berhampur, West Bengal, Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya (18 October 1923—8 January 2010) was the eldest son of Dakshinapada Bhattacharya and Prafullamoyee Devi. After passing his matriculation examination in 1939 from Jagadbandhu Institution of Kolkata, he was enrolled in Bachelor of Arts at the Krishnanath College (Behrampur) under the Calcutta University from where he graduated in 1945. From an early age, he was interested in sports and physical education. At the age of seven, he had his first lesson in Boxing in Bhowanipore Y.M.C.A. at Kolkata. He practised Boxing under Jagat Kanta Seal who was a famous boxer but his real physical education commenced when he joined The Ballygunje School of Physical Culture where he received training from Biren Chunder (Jagat Kanta Seal’s assistant who would join Sri Aurobindo Ashram in June 1945). In 1940, he established his own physical culture club ‘Vivekananda Byayam Samiti’ with the objective of building up the younger generation ‘for a higher life.’ He visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, in April 1942 for the first time to have the Darshan of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and stayed there for four months during which he worked in the Ashram Laundry. The Mother had noticed him and his companions (Sunil, Ranju and Gora) who had accompanied him and remarked to Nolini Kanta Gupta: “I like them.” In 1945 when he was on the verge of taking a state scholarship to study silk technology in England, he received an inner command to settle in Pondicherry. He settled in the Ashram in May 1945 and took up work in the Ashram Laundry. He was instrumental in organizing the Department of Physical Education of which he was its Director. He also served the Mother till Her last days and shared a unique bond with Her. He was lovingly addressed in the Ashram as ‘Dada’ meaning elder brother in Bengali.
8 January 2023 marked the thirteenth death anniversary of Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya. On the said occasion, as our humble homage, we are publishing a beautiful reminiscence of him entitled Pranab-da (Dada) As I Know Him authored by Kittu Reddy.
With warm regards,
Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya (Dada)
Pranab-da came here (to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram) first time in the year 1942. He was here for 2 or 3 months, but I had no contact with him at that time. He came back in the year 1945, and sometime in the year 1946, I was at the Ashram gate and Pranab-da was there along with his father. So his father asked me how I speak Bengali so well? I said that Sri Aurobindo is (like my) “father”. I was very young at that time, about 10 years old. So, Pranab-da recollected this incident to me after 10 – 15 years and told me that right from that day you were destined for this place. Otherwise how can such a young boy say Sri Aurobindo is (like my) father. So, that gave me a lot of satisfaction.
My contact with Dada (Pranab-da) inwardly developed when I heard that in the year 1947 when the Ashram was attacked, (terrible attack), and we were all living in the Ashram, and the Mother had told that it was Pranab who stood by her in the occult world. He was not there physically as he was outside organizing the whole thing, but the Mother said that in the occult world he was one of those who was standing behind Her. And from that day onwards the Mother started to draw Pranab-da nearer and nearer to Her.
I don’t exactly remember the date (or the year), it may be 1948 or 1949, Pranab-da had some problem and he was disgusted for some reason and thought of leaving. So he started walking and the Mother did not find him in the playground. So She sent Pavitra-da and Amiya-da to find him immediately. But they didn’t know where to find him. However they found him somehow near a garden walking all alone. And they asked him what happened. Pranab-da told that he was not worthy to stay in the Ashram. But they brought him back to the Mother and She then took Pranab-da to Sri Aurobindo. There Pranab-da told Him that he was disgusted with himself (hence he thought of leaving). To this Sri Aurobindo consoled Pranab-da in Bengali saying everything will be alright. Later Pranab-da while narrating this episode remarked that although Sri Aurobindo spoke to him and consoled him in Bengali, but his accent was absolutely like an Englishman. Then Sri Aurobindo told Pranab-da that this body has the possibility of becoming supramentalized. But he has to overcome all his lower nature and desires. And if he does that, then he is a candidate for supermanhood. So Pranab-da said that okay I will try my best. The Mother then told Pranab-da that he must try to come in contact with his psychic being. And She told him that Sri Aurobindo has given him a present, if he wants to make an effort, then he can come in contact with his psychic being.
Pranab-da told me much later, may be in 1965 or 1968 (I am not quite sure of the exact date) that he could come in contact with his psychic being, but for that he had to become very quiet. It was not a constant contact but a regular contact though with his inner being, and he could get a relief because he could fight his lower nature. Because, fighting the lower nature is an extremely difficult thing, since outside you generally suppress it.
I had a great admiration for Pranab-da. The Mother took him into her folds and when Mother started playing Tennis, I too started playing tennis with Pranab-da. So Pranab-da was a partner. Pranab-da did not like tennis and he told that it is a rich man’s game. He preferred picking up the tennis ball for himself rather than someone else coming and picking it up for him or for others. However, the Mother would not play tennis if Pranab-da would not play. Once Pranab-da hurt his knees in wrestling and it was such a big swelling, but he did not tell the Mother or anybody and just put on a bandage and went and played with the Mother. He suffered but he told that he will do only that which will keep the Mother happy. And the Mother loved him very much and he reciprocated always. So the Mother drew him closer to her and he spent almost 10 hours per day and also had lunch with her along with few others. But after Sri Aurobindo passed away, Pranab-da used to have lunch with the Mother only and She nurtured Pranab-da.
I became very friendly with Pranab-da but there were times when I used to argue with him. For example many of us liked marching but not march-drill, and many of would not do it. But Pranab- da insisted that we do it. So, once he told the Mother and the Mother called me and told that I must do what Pranab is doing or what he is asking you to do, because Pranab is doing exactly what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother want. She didn’t say I, She said Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. So I said alright Mother and I went back to Pranab-da and told him this is what the Mother has said. Because, for me the Mother is supreme. So if she has said something, I will do it. And thereafter I became very close to him. I did what he told and sometimes with a bit of modification also. And after I became the Captain, he trusted me enormously. In fact he told someone that Kittu is my right-hand-man. When I want some work to be done, I can depend on him. He was so caring and very intimate and as a result of that he used to tell me many things.
Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya and Kittu Reddy at the Ashram Playground.
In 1972 when I put up that exhibition on Sri Aurobindo, I asked him to help me. But Pranab-da said no. When the Mother is helping you, why do you need my help. Once I went to Satprem who was sitting in the tennis court facing the sea to resolve some doubt with regards to starting of that exhibition. And Satprem too told me that when the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are behind you, why go to any other person. Just sit quietly and you will get all the inspiration. Finally Pranab-da told that he will extend me one help. He will ask Biswajit to print the photos. And I was looking for someone to help me get this done, so I went to Jhumur and she helped me and we both went to the dark-room (where photos were developed) and saw all the negatives (of Sri Aurobindo’s photos about 95 or 96 of them all together) and Biswajit printed the photos selected by us and by then I had a lot of photos of Sri Aurobindo. So, Pranab-da was ultimately very helpful.
After that I was in regular contact with Pranab-da and he was very fond of me because I used to obey him entirely. If I had differences, I would tell him, but after that whatever he said, I would do that. Then in 1973 from May 20 th or May 22nd onwards, the Mother stopped her regular and routine meetings with others. She would not eat and Pranab-da used to cajole her and tell her to eat. But towards the end, Pranab-da used to insist Her to eat quite firmly. So I told Pranab-da that may be the process of transformation is going on. So Pranab-da told me, “Look Kittu, I am an ordinary man and if She does not eat, then others in the Ashram will blame me. So I did my duty with my conscience.” He told me that he cannot see the Mother suffer in her last days and even sometimes had to shout at her to eat her food, at the cost of getting misunderstood by others. But he told that he was doing his duty and if She doesn’t eat her food, then her condition will worsen. I had asked Pranab-da afterwards about this, and he told that he had no choice. The Mother was getting thinner and thinner and she had become so frail. On the 17th of November (1973), I went out at 6:30 pm and I was told to send Pranab-da upstairs to the Mother’s room. When Pranab-da reached the Mother, Her pulse was very low and weak. Pranab-da held the Mother and her heartbeat was getting softer and softer. And by 7:25 or 7:26 pm, She left her body. Pranab-da told that naturally as a human being he felt sad, but at the same time he also felt very relieved, because you can’t imagine the suffering She was going through.
Eventually Pranab-da also grew old as the years passed by and he had a heart-attack. He was in the nursing home for a day or two and came back. And when he passed away in 2010, I saw a glow in his body which lasted for about 24 hours. He had told before his demise that he wished to be cremated and not buried. I went to the cremation ground and next day his ashes were thrown into the Bay of Bengal.
The Mother trusted Pranab-da a lot and he also reciprocated till the very end. Even when anyone used to complain to the Mother that Pranab is shouting at you, the Mother used to tell them that don’t interfere between me and Pranab. Both, Pranab-da and the Mother trusted each other fully.
About the author: Prof. Kittu Reddy was born in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh on 1st July 1936 to Narayan and Meenakshi Reddy. He is the nephew of Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, the former President of India. At the young age of five in 1941 he was brought to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, by his father who was an eminent member of the Swaraj party formed by Chittaranjan Das. He has lived there ever since. He had all his education at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education from where he graduated. He has been teaching at the same Centre since 1958. His subjects were: The Foundations of Indian Culture, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity (all books of Sri Aurobindo), Political Science, Social Science and History. He is a board member of Overman Foundation since its inception and the author of the following books: A Vision of United India: Problems and Solutions, Kargil: A Manifestation of a Deeper Problem and The History of India: A New Approach.