On 11 February 1965, a big infuriated mob under the pretext of anti-Hindi demonstration had attacked Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Since this attack—which lasted for a few hours—was absolutely unexpected no help was available. There was only one person—a true hero—who defended the Ashram almost single-handedly and kept the attackers at bay till he was critically injured. This gentleman was Shri Dhritindranath Mukherjee better known as ‘Togo’ in the Aurobindonian community.
Shri Togo Mukherjee or Togo-da, as we lovingly address him, is the grandson of the illustrious revolutionary Jatindranath Mukherjee alias Bagha Jatin. He is a professional therapist with special expertise in Exercise, Yoga, Acupuncture, Auriculotherapie, Reflexology, Lymphatic Drainage, Magnetisme, Hypnotherapy and Bioenergy. Along with his brothers Rothindranath and Prithwindranath and mother Usha, he joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1948 (his father Tejendranath joined the family at Sri Aurobindo Ashram a year later). After his studies in the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education he joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Hand Made Paper Department in December 1959. Soon the entire responsibility of the department was assigned to him and he remained its Incharge till 1967. In 1964 he was selected by the National Productivity Council for a prestigious French scholarship to study management in recognition for his outstanding achievement in the Hand Made Paper Department. He shifted to France in 1967 where he worked as a professional therapist for twenty seven years till his return to India in 1994. He had also represented India, along with his eldest brother Rothindranath, at the 10th session of the International Olympic Association held inGreecein August 1970.
Dr. Prithwindranath Mukherjee, Togo-da’s elder brother, writes about his name: “Admiral Togo Heihachiro (1848-1934) was known all over the world as “Nelson of the East”. He was especially appreciated for his leadership in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-05): Indian nationalists looked up on him as the Asian Hero who proved his superiority by defeating a European power. Okakura had come to Kolkata in 1902 with the message of a Pan-Asiatic unity; Nivedita introduced him to the founders of the Anushilan Samiti; he was received with due enthusiasm by Indian nationalists. Japan occupied a privileged place in their heart. Three years after the Admiral’s death, my brother Togo was born in 1937; he looked like a Japanese baby. Out of love for Japan, Swami Satyananda (Bhavabhushan Mitra, a disciple of my grandfather) proposed to name him Togo. My grandmother was still alive and she willingly accepted it. In the Ashram school, though he was enrolled as Dhritindra, the Mother – fond of Japan, too – preferred to call him Togo.”
Today on the occasion of the 47th anniversary of the attack on Sri Aurobindo Ashram, we are publishing an article written by Shri Togo Mukherjee in which he has described the events of that horrifying day.
With warm regards,
The Anti-Hindi Riot of Pondicherry
Thursday, 11th February 1965, was a placid day. The Sri Aurobindo Ashram Hand Made Paper Department functioned smoothly, round the clock, in three shifts and full capacity. I left the factory at 6.30 P. M., went home, had my usual evening bath, and contently proceeded for the Playground meditation. Someone on the Ashram footpath stopped me and informed that rioters had ransacked the Railway Station, set it on fire and were heading towards the Ashram. The whole southern sky was aglow. I went to the Playground, informed at the gate about the imminent attack. Once inside, it struck me that all the Ashramites were gathering there for the Meditation, unaware of the storm brewing outside. The Mother had stopped coming to the Playground, so I went to find out how the situation was inside the Ashram main building. There I found only the gate-keepers. I stood near the Samadhi. After a while, there was a lot of shouting on the road, followed by stones falling near the Samadhi and even upstairs in the Mother’s room. The Ashram Post Office was soon set on fire.
For me it seemed to be the end of the civilised world. As if the devils on earth had been let loose. I could never have imagined such a Tandava dance, especially against the Ashram. It shook me to the core. It was intolerable. Something had to be done. Without any opposition, there would be no end to the destruction of Ashram properties. The rioters had to be resisted. I wanted to go out, but all the gates were closed. I pleaded and insisted to be let out, but the gate-keepers said, “Nothing doing.” Luckily, I found a young man whom I brought to the Rosary gate at the south-east side of the Ashram main building, climbed on his shoulders, and scaled the eleven foot high wall. By this time, the mob had disappeared.
This was an organised mob attack on the Ashram. No one had the slightest idea that such barbaric violence could occur against the Ashram. It struck like a tornado. The Indian Government adopted Hindi as a National Language much against the wish of some South Indians. We later learnt that all the Pondicherry Political Parties of that time exploited this Anti-Hindi sentiment to the full extent. Each party sent its hired gangs to destroy the Government properties which were soon protected by the Armed Police. The easy target then was the unprotected Ashram properties.
I rushed to the Playground. The main gate was still open. I dashed straight to the Store room, and picked up a bundle of lathis (sticks). I was about to leave when Prithwin (my brother) intercepted me near the gate, and tried hard to dissuade me from going out. Nevertheless, I left the Playground.
In front of the Ashram Post Office, I was glad to find a few young men to whom I distributed the lathis. Next, I went to see Vishnuji, who lived on the first floor of the Post Office. I got three buckets from him and requested the volunteers to douse the fire. Just then, I noticed a new wave of rioters over a hundred on Chetty Street, coming from the west of the canal and heading towards the Ashram. With a lathi tucked under my arm, I ran towards them, on the way filling my hands with brickbats. I wanted to stop them before they could cross the canal and reach the Ashram. As soon as they were within range, I hurled the stones at them at random, sure that I would hit someone in the mob. Totally unprepared for such an attack, the front rows of rioters got destabilized. My ammunition was exhausted, but I charged them with my lathi and beat some of them up ruthlessly. Now there was chaos in their group. But I found them all around me, so I ran back to a safe distance, collected more stones and attacked them again.
By this time, I received some reinforcements; two or three brave Ashramites joined me. We continued our attack mercilessly until they ran away. I was amused to see someone carrying a small wooden almirah as a shield.
After some time, another gang came from the Paper Factory side. We were now five or six persons and we intercepted them near the Volley Ball ground. We could again destabilize them and scare them away. Their number was always over one or two hundred.
We continued patrolling the riot affected area. At Debassyns de Richemont Street we could again repel the aggressors. There Barun Tagore was seen wearing a bucket as a helmet. After a lull, I heard faint rumblings coming from the Distillery side (presently Taluk office). When I reached the corner of La Clinique (Dr. Sanyal’s dispensary), I found another mob near Dojo and faced them all alone, standing at the intersection of Debassyns de Richemont and Rue Saint Louis with my lathi and hands full of stones, intending to use the same strategy I had used earlier. I also pretended that I was not alone and had reinforcements behind the corner, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce on them. Hesitatingly, they advanced up to Rue Lally Tollendal and then halted. I held them at bay for some time. They were still beyond the range of my stones. I detected 5 metre on my left Vishwabandhu’s head bobbing behind the La Clinque’s compound wall. Another person was along the Clinique’s foothpath and Kiran Vyas approached me from Rue Debassyns de Richemont. And then… Then I found myself on a hospital bed wrapped up in bandages.
Recently Pratik Ghosh related to me that when he and Ratan Ghosh had gone to confront the rioters coming from the Dojo side, they accidentally found me lying in a pool of blood with a badly shattered skull. About 3 centimetres in diameter my skull on the left frontal tuber had caved in. The lethal weapon, a steel lever used to prise open car tyres, was found nearby.
Pratik and Ratan carried me until they found an abandoned hand-drawn rickshaw, put me on it and took it to the General Hospital. Rothin, my eldest brother, hearing that I was seriously injured, searched for me in all probable places. Finally, at midnight, he went to the General Hospital. With the help of the duty doctors who were his friends, he looked for me in all the wards and eventually found me lying unattended in a verandah. He heard me mumble the Mother’s name in my unconscious state. He left me in the care of his doctor friends and hurried to inform the Mother.
An old Ashramite, 35 years of age, mocked, “Togois a fool to have faced the rioters. After the H. E. C. Soda Factory was ransacked and the mob had left we went to the street and had a lot of fun. We feasted on the delicious bottled drinks.”
The Mother narrates Her experience of that night and gives a vivid picture of the destruction—
“On the evening of the attack, on the 11th, a little after seven in the evening, I had for the first time, in a concrete, total way, the physical—physical—earth consciousness… At that moment, all the fires were starting, then hundreds of brickbats (not stones: brickbats) were bombarding all the windows and doors (all our windows, all the doors have been smashed in) which means infernal din: a pack of several hundred people, all drunk, bellowing, and shouts all over the place. So that bombardment of stones and those flames leaping up to the sky—the whole sky was red—it was all seen…
“The experience began a little after 7, 7:10, and it lasted till 1 in the morning.
“At 1 in the morning, I had to do another work, because one of our boys, T. [Togo] (that boy has the makings of a hero), almost single-handedly saved the clinic, but it cost him a fractured skull. At the time, they thought he was done for. They brought me the news, and when the news came I saw, I felt all of a sudden the other experience recede, and then that I was becoming the universal Mother with all the power of the universal Mother. And then, that T. became quite small, like this (gesture of something tiny in the hollow of the hand), and I held him in my hands—but he was all luminous, all luminous—I rocked him in my hands, telling him, “My child, my little child, my dear child…,” like this, and for several hours.
“That’s what saved him, I think. Because his skull was fractured, it had caved in; it had stopped just short of damaging the brain—the caved-in piece was inside, they had to operate, cut open, and remove it. It had stopped just short of the brain. So he will pull through. And I know that that’s what saved him.”
(Mother’s Agenda 1965, Vol. 6, pp. 30-32)
Dr. Satyabrata Sen, chief surgeon of Pondicherry General Hospital, and his team operated on me. Satya-da, a close friend of Rothin, confessed to him that, contrary to hospital rules, he had kept in his pocket a blessing packet given by the Mother for the operation. He felt guided by the Mother and was confident in succeeding in this delicate operation.
By the Mother’s Grace, Arun Chandra Guha, M. P. and Chairman of the Parliamentary Estimates Committee, ex-minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet, came to know about the attack on the Ashram on the 11th of February. That very night, he sent a telegram to Prithwin, asking for further information. Using Navajata’s phone in his room in the Ashram, Prithwin briefed Mr. Guha on 12th morning. The latter was stunned to know about the prejudice of the local people against the Ashram, and was shocked to hear that I was mortally injured. Immediately, he requested the Home Minister, Shri Guljarilal Nanda, for police protection. Promptly, an airborne detachment of the Central Reserve Police Force reached Pondicherry.
On 12th February, early in the morning, before visiting me in the hospital, Rothin along with my mother (Ma) went to the Mother to get her blessings. The Mother told Ma, “Togo is under my protection. He will be well.” Then She took Rothin’s hands and told him, “Rothin, you have saved my Atelier. Without you, there would have been a great calamity.” Then the Mother gave him Her gold-wrist watch. Ma was all surprised. She knew nothing about it. Rothin told her he did not want to overburden her with another story, as she already had to bear the tragedy of Togo.
Rothin was Abhay Singh-da’s assistant. On 11th February evening when he was busy in his office, a mob entered the Atelier which housed the Ashram’s cars and generator. A lot of inflammable material was there. One match stick would have been sufficient to blow it up. Rothin came out. One man lifted a chair over him in order to hit him on the head. Just then, another man restrained him shouting, “Stop. What are you doing? It is our Rothin ayya!” Rothin was a top ranking sportsman, excelling at many games. He was very popular in Pondicherry among all classes of the public, and, because of his amiable nature, he had made many friends. A dialogue then ensued and Rothin eventually persuaded them to leave the place without causing any damage.
Asoke De was also badly beaten up by the rioters. But he does not remember much. He said that, after the Playground Meditation was over at 8-15 P.M., Borda (my father, Tejen Mukherjee) came and recruited about 30 volunteers to protect the Ashram. He posted them in groups in all the vulnerable places.
Ratan sums up our spirit in the following words—“firm in the absolute conviction that, come what may, the Mother’s Institution had to be protected from all harm.”
A few months after this incident directed by the Mother Sanyal-da (Dr. Prabhat Sanyal) personally took me to Asia’s top Neurosurgeon Dr. Ramamoorthy at Madras for treatment.
The intensity of that moment of history will always remain in my memory even though 47 long years have effaced many names and details of the story.
Shri Robi Gupta, noted poet and the youngest son of Nolini Kanta Gupta, had written a poem on Shri Togo Mukherjee. Titled ‘Togo’, this poem was published in the May 1965 issue of ‘Mother India’, the monthly journal published from Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. For the benefit of our readers we are republishing it in the forum of Overman Foundation.
Bagha Jatin is but a legend to me.
For I have not witnessed his undaunted valour.
But to-night I am surprised to watch that boundless courage being displayed—
A firm stand against a hundred infuriated assailants.
He has proved well that the same blood runs in his veins!
The day was done and the night was unrolling the mantle of peace everywhere.
Slowly the pole-star shone out shedding lustre.
The Ashramites were all seated in deep meditation.
Opportunity golden indeed for the Devils to attack!
To force equality by death and devastation—what an ideal of perversity!
The enraged mob rushed close—hostile-instruments all athirst for blood!
The glasses clanged and the doors and hinges banged and fell broken!
The houses stood in fire and in a moment the dark sky turned red!
Deep in the heart man has blindly fostered the Devil to this day.
The messenger of heaven was burnt alive—the son of God crucified!
Ignorant minds cannot bear the pressure of the descending Light.
They mock and sneer seeking even to assail
As did the disturbing Rakshasas in the forests of the ancient Rishis.
Conscience seemed to be devoured by the Demon-head and Truth totally eclipsed!
Their motto: Better rule in hell than serve in heaven.
The powers of the earth, self-proud, fear the reign of gods.
The night saw not a sentry on duty, not a guard on his round.
They were all fast asleep with the magic spell cast by Demons.
How the phantoms of hell delight in destruction and laugh!
Ferocity incarnate, danger housed in human frames,
Freely they plundered, rained stones, none to stay their march.
“I will give them their due if God has given me the chance.”
An icon of youth and courage he shot out to oppose them and made them retreat.
A few reeled, a few fell flat on the ground.
Most ran helter-skelter for life.
Yet quite a band surrounded him and he fought his hardest.
Through the enemy array on the eastern front an Abhimanyu forged ahead.
But alas someone from behind armed with an iron-bar hit him right on the head.
He tumbled, tottered, vision failing.
A fatal stroke indeed, but Providence chose otherwise
At the healing touch of the Divine Mother he opens his eyes and smiles again.
To me Bagha Jatin is a legend.
But to-night I have watched, to my surprise, action that is bright with bravery.
[Translated by the author from the original Bengali]
Courtesy: Mother India