I did look critically at what he said and did, says Heehs
TOI 12 Dec 2008, 0631 hrs IST
Peter Heehs, author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo', a biography of the philosopher, tells Bosco Dominique that his book takes "a critical look at one of the most remarkable figures of modern times". Excerpts from the interview:
Why have you written a biography of Sri Aurobindo when there are several such works available from different publishers?
Any serious biography must be based on primary documents; first-hand records that are contemporary with the events dealt with. Only two of Sri Aurobindo's earlier biographers made significant use of primary documents AB Purani and KR Srinivasa Iyengar. Over the years I located a large number of documents in archives in Delhi, Calcutta, Baroda, London and Paris. I began to write about Sri Aurobindo's life in the journal of the archives. Subsequently, at the request of Oxford University Press, I wrote Brief Biography of Sri Aurobindo' (1989). My recent biography was the natural continuation of this work.
How is this work different from others?
It is the only full-length biography of Sri Aurobindo based on primary sources. It avoids hagiography. I feel there is a need for books aimed at people who wish to approach Sri Aurobindo in a different way, scholars for instance.
Devotees say you have made unacceptable remarks about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and their relationship.
Some people, most of whom have read not the entire book but an unrepresentative set of extracts, have misunderstood it. Certain passages about the relationship of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, taken in isolation, have seemed to imply disrespect. The passages in which I spoke of the spiritual side of their relationship were deliberately omitted from the extracts. There is no denigration of Sri Aurobindo. However, I did look critically at things he wrote and did. I use the word "critical" in its technical sense, as understood by historians and scholars. If I had not done so, my assessment of Sri Aurobindo that he is one of the most remarkable figures of modern times would have been rejected by a certain class of readers.