On 11 September 2013, Wednesday, Noren Singh Nahar, one of the senior most members of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and the In-charge of the Department of Philately has left his physical sheath at the age of ninety-two. He was among those sadhaks and sadhikas who belonged to that bygone era which could rightly be termed as the Golden Period of Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Born on 1 December 1920 to Prithwi Singh Nahar and Suhag Kumari, Noren Singh’s early years were spent in Kolkata. In December 1929 Prithwi Singh shifted to Santiniketan—the abode of Peace established by Rabindranath Tagore—with his wife and seven children (his youngest daughter Suprabha was born a few months later in August 1930). His four sons Dhir Singh, Bir Singh, Noren Singh and Nirmal Singh were admitted to the school started by Tagore. Abhay Singh—Prithwi Singh’s youngest son—was enrolled a year or two later while his eldest daughter Sujata would go to Kalabhavan to learn painting from Nandalal Bose. Prithwi Singh remained in Santiniketan where he had rented a house known as ‘Nichoo Bungalow’ which belonged to Dwijendranath Tagore, the eldest brother of Rabindranath, till 1934. Devastated by his wife’s death in 1932, he began to travel extensively during the course of which he visited Pondicherry and had the Darshan of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in November 1933. In Them, he found the Guides he was looking for. Though Sri Aurobindo had accepted him as a disciple in 1934 he formally became an inmate in 1938 when he joined the Ashram with Sujata.
Noren Singh visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the first time in 1936 and would continue to visit it at regular intervals. In 1939—when he was a nineteen years of age and a student of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata—he had visited the Ashram during his college vacations and stayed for a month. During his stay, the Mother wrote to Prithwi Singh informing him that she would be happy if Noren Singh stayed back in the Ashram. When he was asked by Prithwi Singh about it, he replied that he would stay on. The Mother had told Noren Singh that if he wanted to continue with his studies he could do so and return after completing his education but Noren Singh answered that he would like to remain in the Ashram. With the Mother’s permission he went to Kolkata, wound up his moorings, returned to the Ashram and became a permanent inmate. He had offered to the Mother all the money he had withdrawn from his bank account in Kolkata. He also offered his clothes to her but she asked him to keep them with him. She said: “Noren Singh, your clothes are of good quality and I won’t be able to give you such type of clothes.”
Noren Singh was initially given work at Golconde—the oldest dormitory of the Ashram—which was then under construction. His work was to supervise the cutting and bending of the iron rods for the concreting work. He had to select the precise diameter of the rods, get them cut and bent according to the plan. From time to time he joined the workers in their work of bending the rods and also assisted in the concreting work when required. Later he was given work in the Ashram Bakery where he worked for five to six hours daily.
Noren Singh was fond of collecting stamps since his childhood. When he stayed at Santiniketan, he would visit several people—including Anil Chanda (Rabindranath’s secretary), Dinendranath Tagore and C. F. Andrews—for stamps. From a Javanese student of Santiniketan he had collected some East Indies’ stamps. Within a short time of his joining Sri Aurobindo Ashram, he began to assist Pavitra in the stamp work. It was Pavitra who had started philatelic activities in the Ashram in the late 1920s in his room in the first floor of the Ashram main building. Noren Singh worked with the stamp-albums and catalogues at a small table in Pavitra’s dining room. Following his wish to do some gardening the Mother asked him to cultivate a small plot of land situated behind the office of Pavitra in the inner courtyard of the Ashram main building. Along with a sadhak named Jyotin who was in charge of the garden, Noren Singh tried to grow artichokes, asparagus and tomatoes since the Mother was very fond of such vegetables. They were successful in growing asparagus and tomatoes but artichokes did not grow well. On one occasion the Mother distributed tomatoes grown in this garden to many of the inmates of the Ashram. Every morning Noren Singh cleaned the vegetables and kept them in a bowl in the corridor on the first floor of the Ashram main building for the Mother who would see them after she returned from the Balcony Darshan. After the Mother had seen the vegetables, Noren Singh took them to Datta who cooked for the Mother. He worked for a while in the printing section of the Ashram Press and also helped a senior sadhak named Mrityunjoy Mukherjee to wash fruits for the Mother. Later, when the Ashramites went sea-bathing he was appointed as a ‘life-saver’ (lifeguard during the swimming sessions). He was also a swimming instructor and captain for the younger children. However, he curtailed some of his activities to devote more time to stamps when the Mother once said to him: “Why not give more time now for the stamps?” It was the Mother who entrusted to him all the responsibilities of the Department of Philately which flourished under him.
It is essential to remember that there was no Department of Philately in the early years of the Ashram. By the mid 1960s, the collection of stamps had grown to such a vast extent that there was insufficient space in Pavitra’s room to accommodate them. When Anilbaran Roy left the Ashram for good in 1966 his room in the ‘Library House’ became vacant. It was the same room where Sri Aurobindo had stayed for four and a half years from 1922 to February 1927. This room was selected by the Mother to house the stamp collection.
The Mother took a keen interest in Noren Singh’s philately activities. She would look at the collection of stamps and the work Noren Singh did while he worked in Pavitra’s office. Every year she would ask him how many stamps did he have in the collection and he would count them and inform the Mother accordingly. Whenever he received any new stamps Noren Singh arranged them on the table in the room called the Laboratory and the Mother—on her way to the Balcony Darshan—would look at them with avid interest.
Once Noren Singh had shown to the Mother a copy of Life magazine on the cover of which many stamps from around the globe were printed. He told her: “But Mother, we don’t have a single one of them.” The Mother assured him: “One day they will come.” Her words came true for at present the Department of Philately houses—apart from a large number of Indian stamps—stamps from French India, France, Holland, Switzerland, Canada, United States of America, Brazil and many other countries. The department also collects coins and banknotes since the Mother was interested in them as well.
During Sri Aurobindo’s Birth Centenary in 1972, Noren Singh visited Chennai to meet his friend Mr. Srinivas Rau, an advocate by profession who was a member of the Government Philatelic Advisory Committee to discuss the possibilities of releasing a stamp on Sri Aurobindo. He was told that the proposal for the stamp had been cancelled as a stamp with Sri Aurobindo’s photograph was already released in August 1964. However, he was also told that if a proposal of the stamp was submitted along with a symbolic design there could be a possibility of acceptance. Noren Singh informed the Mother accordingly who asked Jayantilal Parekh to prepare some symbolic designs. She chose one of the designs which was sent to the concerned department and eventually accepted. On 15 August 1972 the said stamp was released. The Mother affixed a special cancellation on the stamp in her room in the presence of B. D. Jatti (former Vice President of India), the Lt. Governor of Pondicherry, the Post Master General of Tamil Nadu, P. Counouma (Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust), Champaklal and Noren Singh. During the Mother’s Birth Centenary in 1978, Noren Singh took the initiative of releasing a special stamp on the Mother. Through his uncle Bijoy Singh Nahar, who was a secretary at the Central Government, a proposal was sent to the Ministry of Communication to issue a stamp on the Mother. The proposal was accepted and a stamp on the Mother was released.
Noren Singh looked after the Department of Philately single-handedly till he met with a car accident in France in 1975. After his recovery his youngest sister Suprabha Nahar joined the department to help him. The brother-sister duo became the soul and heart of the Department of Philately. Noren Singh was also a member of the Philatelic Advisory Committee from 1990 to 1992. An authority on French India stamps he has authored a well-researched book on the said subject which was published in 2013. A few months ago he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Indo-French Philatelic and Numismatic Association (IFPNA).
Not many people were aware of the fact that Noren Singh was among those who had carried Sri Aurobindo’s coffin to the Samadhi vault on 9 December 1950. Though his name was not in the list of those chosen by the Mother to carry Sri Aurobindo’s coffin, he was granted this great privilege which can rightly be termed as an act of Grace. When Sri Aurobindo’s coffin was being carried through the corridor those who were carrying it found it difficult to turn the coffin towards the staircase as it was quite heavy. Noren Singh—who was standing in the corridor—gave them a helping hand. He carried the coffin along with the others and went and placed it in the Samadhi vault. Then he wiped the coffin with a handkerchief.
Noren Singh was the personification of devotion and dedication. He had a rich, inner spiritual life about which he hardly gave any inkling to anyone. He had disclosed some of the details of his dream-visions and meetings with the Mother and Sri Aurobindo in the subtle-physical to the present author. He had also said: “Whenever I invoke the Mother, I feel Hers and Sri Aurobindo’s presence but the invocation has to be proper. That is, there must be sincerity. Calling Them mere mentally won’t do.” It is noteworthy that once the Mother had remarked about Noren Singh that his psychic being was exactly on the front.
For the past few years Noren Singh had ceased to visit his office in the Ashram main building. Old age was making his body frail but it failed to overpower his sharp and ever-alert brain. Not only did he keep an eye on the activities of the Department of Philately but also observed the conditions of the world the details of which he got from the television. He had the inquisitiveness of a child; he was always keen to know more and learn how certain events could impact political situations and economic conditions of the nation.
In the past few months Noren Singh had become increasingly weak. He spent most of his time in bed. In the second week of August 2013 he was admitted to a private nursing home from where he was shifted to the Ashram Nursing Home on 26 August. A few days later he was back to his apartment but remained mostly on a semi-liquid diet. On 11 September 2013, between 4 and 4.30 a.m. he woke up from his sleep and asked for a glass of water from his attendant. After he drank the water, the attendant left the room. A little later when he was contacted there was no response from him. He had quietly left his body. The end came in between 5.30 and 5.45 a.m.
Nothing can eradicate the emptiness created by death. No words of consolation can offer solace. The heart cries out aloud for it feels the pain of losing a beloved one. But deep within a voice tells us not to mourn for him for Noren Singh has only shed his physical sheath (like old clothes) which was becoming frailer and giving him much trouble to take refuge in the bosom of the Mother and to work for Sri Aurobindo in the other world. Yet the lack of his physical presence would continue to hurt all who loved and respected him. Life would not be the same without his radiant smile, affectionate touch and his voice welcoming us to his room.
Noren-da, we will miss you a lot!
With warm regards,
Photograph taken in 1927. Standing with Suhag Kumari Nahar : Abhay Singh and Nirmal Singh. Seated (from left to right): Bir Singh, Dhir Singh, Sujata Nahar (on Dhir Singh’s lap), Noren Singh and two friends.
Photograph taken on 24 June 1949 at Dilip Kumar Roy’s residence in Pondicherry on the occasion of Tejendranath Mukherjee’s birthday. Seated in the first row (from left to right): Noren Singh, Nishikanto Roychowdhury, Tejendranath Mukherjee and Nirmal Singh. Second row: Panu Sarkar, Madan Bose, Dhir Singh, Ashok Patel, Unknown and Manju Gupta. Third row: Sisir Kumar Mitra, Nirodbaran Talukdar, Venkatraman and Yogananda. Standing: Satya Bose, Kashikanta, Jyotin Das, Sitaraman, Bir Singh, Chinu Mukherjee, Bhaskar Mitra and Rajen Ganguly.
From left to right: Bernard Cazade, Sumita Cazade, Suprabha Nahar and Noren Singh (February 2009).
From left to right: Suprabha Nahar, Sudha Rai and Noren Singh (August 2009).
Noren Singh with Anurag Banerjee (August 2009).
From left to right: Noren Singh, Chitra Sen, Dolly Mutsuddi and Suprabha Nahar (August 2010).
From left to right: Indu Rai, Achyut Patel, Lata Jauhar, Anurag Banerjee, Sushilaben, Suprabha Nahar and Noren Singh on 1 December 2012, Noren Singh’s 92nd birthday.
10 Replies to “The Passing of Noren Singh Nahar”
Two reminiscences of the late Noren Singh Nahar were published in the forum of Overman Foundation. To read them please click on the following links:
Reblogged this on The Mother's Lasso.
Thank yu very much , Anurag, for this wonderful and heart warming article…it brings alive the echoes of our Ashram of those days… I have very happy memories of meeting Noren da, now and then( we would sit on the long ‘bench’ under his windows, facing the samadhi) when i was in the secondary section of the Ashram School… he would take such simple delight in sharing with us children his stamps ( show them to us), and in turn would gravely appreciate our fledgling efforts at the same ! i remember several of us would go to him individually, and he was unwaveringly gentle and ‘equal’ minded with us ( one never felt he was talking to a small child -such was his simple and happy dignity). all our dear beloved seniors have left us here, one by one…but at least ..they are all now with The Mother and can never be separated from Her. Thanks again ! ( Anurag – just a thought…might yu too have been one of the early Ashramites 🙂 !!! )
There was a rare freshness, radiance n a smiling gentleness about our dear Noren Singh da, Divine Mother’s philatelist. We would run up the stairs near the Samadhi to his room where he showed us rare stamps n saw our little collection. But more than all, we loved him as kids growing up in the ashram, in the early 50s, because he was close to n dear to Douce Mere. Always clad in pure white kurta n dhoti, he was ever happy to meet us. I would invariably recieve his Christmas n New Year greetings signed by him, till 2012 ! He was a joy n an inspiration. Thanks a million dear Anurag for
Dear Anurag ,
Very interesting and moving !
Honestly , I was not aware of the Department of Philately till now .
I have coins & currency notes from some countries . Can I offer them to the dept ?
Warm regards ,
It has been said that the Sri Aurobindo Ashram is not a typical ashram and the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are not typical gurus who throngs the world. A philatelic department in the Ashram and the Mother getting into it, encouraging it is one of those tangible things that prove this fact.
Also interesting to know how the special birth centenary stamps of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother came to be published.
Thanks for the glimpses of a pure and beautiful life.
“Noren, I feel him within. He was full of dignity and turned towards Mother and Sri Aurobindo with his heart and a good feeling. For me it is not necessary to speak about him; he is not related to the past but he is in direction to the future. Two nights ago, I had dreamt of him. I went to meet him in a house on the occasion of his birthday. The room where I saw Noren had an open window from where the beautiful colours of Nature were visible. It was the end of the night and it seemed that a new day was beginning. All was quiet and there was a joy present inside the room. After that I woke up and it was impossible to be sad any longer. Thanks, Noren, for your last life and a smile, a laughter of joy for the future after a pause near Mother and Sri Aurobindo. You are an indestructible star among other stars and when the night will arrive to its ultimate stage on earth, the Supramental Dawn will be flooded by you and the Love you will fill. To quote the words of Sri Aurobindo: “We do not belong to the past dawns but to the noons of the future.”
I always admired Noren-da’s tall and cheerful presence which took almost a look of amusement. The only occasion when I saw his face without a smile was early in the morning, 5th December 1950 : he was returning to Golconde while I was rushing to the Ashram main building. A silent exchange of helpless look was all we were capable of.
I remember our meetings whenever he visited Paris.
It is indeed heartening to read about this silent devotee of the Mother.
Memories with Norenda.
Our loving Norenda left for the Mother and Sri Aurobindo on the early hours of 11th September 2013. In spite of viewing his departure philosophically it’s a personal loss and has caused great sadness.
I first met him in Stamp Office in January 2000, 13 years back and his radiant smile remained the same over all these years. I went to the office in search of Suprabhadi who was not there (one of the rare occasions) and was greeted warmly by him.
His memories with the Mother have mostly been covered by my brother Anurag hence I will not repeat them. I will limit myself here to my personal memories as I have seen him.
Norenda had a very keen and alert mind. In spite of the fact that in later years his physical movement was restricted and he had a weak eyesight, he was surprisingly well informed about the world around. He was quite updated about wide ranging topics from politics, sports to Economics. In few instances he has surprised me by quoting quite accurate exchange rates of US Dollar to Indian Rupee or Euro to Indian Rupee.
He had an extremely positive frame of mind. I have never heard him lamenting or speaking negatively about his own health or about the society in general. He believed in progress and improvement and always encouraged us to do better, to strive towards perfection. Even when his health condition was critical if I would ask him ‘How are you?’ he would reply “I am better now” and he would say this cheerfully. He would focus always in improving his health and at times would surprise others by visiting his office suddenly in the later years.
Norenda was extremely knowledgeable in the fields of Philately and Numismatics. Yet he was extraordinarily humble and would never assert his knowledge. Only through other serious stamp collectors or through his articles in related magazines I gauged (or could try to gauge) his knowledge in philately. He was a member of Philatelic Advisory Committee of India from 1990 to 1992. As I understand inclusion of year of stamp issue in the stamps in India was one of his advice which the Government implemented. He could easily speak from his memory about details of any important stamp or a currency note without referring to any document. Someone who has any idea of preservation will appreciate how difficult it is to preserve a delicate item like stamp in mint condition in the humid weather of Pondicherry. He had the mind and ability of an able curator of a museum.
He was a perfect gentleman with impeccable manners. He would never forget to say ‘Merci’ even for small helps. But one could sense the sincerity with which he thanked and not out of common courtesy. He would acknowledge any small help in his work and would reply (directly or through Suprabhadi) to any letter addressed to him.
Norenda would lovingly remember me and my wife Babli and send us new cancellation/philately related issue from the Ashram. It was an unconditional affection from his side.
In 2008 I went to China. It was the year of Beijing Olympics and I managed to get some Commemorative Olympic Stamps and coins for him. He was extremely pleased to receive them and wrote to me saying: “The Mother would have appreciated by seeing these items.” Even for small insignificant currency notes or postcards which I have gifted him he would accept them graciously and thank me.
Norenda would work meticulously and without any impatience, as if the eternity was ahead of him. In his last few years he wrote two important articles (in addition to various other philately related works) (1) Paque bot post marks (2) Indian post cancellations in Antarctica. Both were quite unique topics and I am sure interested readers will do more research on these topics. I was amazed to see how he gathered data for these articles through Suprabhadi and Achyut-bhai’s help. He would not get impatient because of his health or eyesight and would continue to work silently. His enthusiasm and energy in completing these articles was really heartwarming and can be an inspiration for many youngsters. At times, if Ashram participated in any stamp exhibition he would advice from his room how to present.
Norenda was a good photographer in his younger days. I have seen photographs of many eminent dignitaries in his album who came to meet the Mother. I recall he told me once that he took a photograph of Mrs Indira Gandhi in the Ashram Courtyard.
If I would be visiting Pondicherry on the Darshan days he would keenly ask me, how was the crowd, till what time the rooms were open, how were the arrangements. He did not like visiting the Darshan rooms on the second day (for elderly people) may be he used to relive his Darshan moments in his mind when he would ask me the questions. He once told me how the Mother and Sri Aurobindo used to keep their hands and bless before Sri Aurobindo’s accident in 1938.
Norenda used to like French cheese. If I would get some good cheese for him, he would be happy to receive them. But, he would like the classic plain cheese. If I would experiment and get some fruity flavour, after trying he would sweetly say “Not so good.” And that was another remarkable quality in him. He could differ with someone without hurting or being harsh. Norenda told me that he used to assist Pavitra-da and the Mother’s food dish used to come to Pavitra-da’s office after She took her food. Pavitra-da and others including Norenda used to take Prasad from that plate (how lucky they were). Because of this he had a wider food taste and developed a liking for cheese.
In 1940 during World War II, his father Sri Prithwi Singhji got two dictionaries for Norenda (French-English and English-French) with much difficulty. Norenda as per his habit showed them to the Mother when he received them. She was very pleased to see the revised and enlarged edition and wanted to keep them for her work and offered her ones in exchange. Norenda gladly accepted the precious dictionaries.
Norenda once asked me to visit his room in Golconde. He told me that there were many books signed by the Mother in that room. I asked him whether he had books signed by Sri Aurobindo; he narrated that he thought of getting some of the books signed by Sri Aurobindo but ultimately it did not happen. Later when he told about this wish to the Mother she immediately asked him to get those books and she signed them.
In his college days in Calcutta (he used to study in St. Xavier’s), he was arrested during the Nationalist Movement and had to spend a night in jail. The news was published in some of the Calcutta newspapers. Someone sent the clipping to the Mother and she immediately asked to convey to Norenda not to get involved in politics. That was the end of his political journey.
When he came to Ashram permanently he offered all his belongings including his savings to the Mother. Later in his trunk he found some currency notes (not of high value) which he missed to give to the Mother; he felt sad that he could not offer every paisa to Her. Such was his exacting standards of surrender and consecration.
In the 1940s he felt the need for a separate place for himself for his Sadhana and requested the Mother. She granted him a room in Golconde which was beyond his expectation. Sri Prithwi Singhji (Norenda’s father) was a bit upset with the fact that Norenda had asked for some material thing from the Mother. But Sweet Mother explained to him that a separate space was required for Norenda’s inner work.
Norenda was interested in gardening and here I reproduce another incident related to Norenda and his father which I read in Shyam Kumariji’s book “Vignettes of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother” (pp. 167-168, second edition, 1991).
‘In those days the Mother used to give a morning darshan from her second floor terrace. First she would feed her crow and them climb to the terrace and look at each person below. Prithwi Singh used to stand in front of his room in the western wing of the Ashram for this darshan. Once some creepers grew up so as to obstruct the view. She wrote to Noren Singh who is in charge of this garden:
‘“You have to leave some space between the two groups of beans, so that your father can see me from his verandah when I walk on the terrace.”’
Once he asked me whether I would like to have handwriting of the Mother. I gladly said yes and he handed me a birthday card (maybe made by Champaklalji) dated 1st December 1965 where the Mother has blessed Norenda on his birthday in her beautiful handwriting.
He once narrated to me how the special cancellation on Sri Aurobindo’s centenary was arranged on 15th August 1972. The Mother’s physical health was not in great condition but She was better on that day and cancelled the stamp herself. The moment has been immortalized as there is a video clipping of this event and if I am not wrong there is a glimpse of Norenda in the clip along with the Mother.
Norenda had good sense of humour and would laugh wholeheartedly in full voice. My elder son Omkar used to call him Norendadu and if he would tell any rhyme to him (over phone or in person) Norenda used to enjoy a lot. He was a good sportsman and swimming coach in Ashram and has played tennis with the Mother. Once he asked Omkar to do spot jumping in his room; he watched Omkar keenly and told us that Omkar can be a good sportsman as well. What I want to underscore is Norenda’s alert mind and how he would relate to the world around him.
10 September 2013 was just another busy day in office and the delivery boy delivered beautifully packed in Ashram handmade paper a book of Norenda on Stamps of French India. I felt warm and happy that he (and Suprabhadi) lovingly remembered to send the book. I prayed for him to the Mother on 10th night. Little did I know that he will leave us on the next day. I proudly showed his book to some of my loved ones who appreciated his knowledge and the enthusiasm on the subject.
On 11th morning Anurag called me to convey the news. I wanted to congratulate him on his book but it did not happen. But I can still say, “très bien” and if it’s sincere he will appreciate it.
The Mother’s child went back to her. What can we complain about but even then he was our loved one. A person who would silently wish the best for us. He was never vocal about his devotion to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo; he was extremely withdrawn when it came to his personal sadhana. Only once he told me that he saw the Mother and complained to her that she did not come that often to him!
I feel lucky that I have met someone like him and it is much more than the Satsang of traditional Hindu religion, much more precious. I could also record his reminiscences of Shantiniketan which was later published in English. His memories are like the patronous charm which can ward off all sadness and darkness. After his departure, I felt sad, when I closed my eyes and I saw his room filled with soft morning sunlight where there is no space for grief only joy and freedom.
Now when I look back and think he perfectly epitomized the following lines which Sweet Mother wrote to Champaklalji:
Do your work as well as you can, keep yourself always open towards me.
This is all that is asked from you.
The Mother. [Source: “Champaklal Speaks”]