Nirodbaran, Amal Kiran and Udar Pinto vis-à-vis Satprem
By Anurag Banerjee
A few weeks ago some articles published in Mother India (the monthly magazine published from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram) reached my hands almost accidentally. Those articles published more than two and a half decades ago caught my attention as it involved the four sadhaks whom I admire with all my heart. They were Nirodbaran, K. D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran, Udar Pinto and Satprem. Among them I had the good fortune of interacting with Nirodbaran and Amal Kiran and receiving their blessings. The articles penned by Nirodbaran, Amal Kiran and Udar Pinto were in response to certain claims of Satprem and though almost twenty eight years have passed since the publication of these articles their relevance still remains intact.
In the eleventh volume of Mother’s Agenda, on 9 September 1970 the Mother speaks to Satprem about Sri Aurobindo’s physical withdrawal:
“I was conscious (and it was frightful) of all that he physically suffered. And it was one of the most difficult things to bear. (The Mother’s voice was choked with pain) …As if…physically…And our physical unconsciousness beside it and the kind of physical TORTURE he went through. It was one of the most difficult things, most difficult.
“The torture which he bore and we took so lightly as if he felt nothing. It was one of the most frightful things.”
And Satprem adds the following comment in the footnote:
“‘We insisted on dangerous remedies…’ admits one of the doctors who attended upon Sri Aurobindo. (Nirodbaran, I am here.) Sri Aurobindo refused—once. Mother refused. Then they said nothing farther. ‘He knew’, notes one of the doctors, ‘that [these remedies] would be of no avail and he emphatically ruled them out, but as we had not the insight nor the proper appraisement of the value of words when they are clothed in the common language we are habituated to use, we insisted on the dangerous remedies in which we had faith and confidence.’ Let us note that the same phenomenon will be repeated in the case of the Mother.”
Therefore Satprem concludes that the Mother, during her last days, was ‘dealt with exactly as Sri Aurobindo had been.’
Nirodbaran, whom Sri Aurobindo considered not a doctor but his servitor and whom he had chosen as his scribe, reacted strongly to Satprem’s comments. In his article published in October 1981 he writes: “My confusion and pain arise from the fact that he appears to imply that we gave dangerous remedies, thus causing torture to Sri Aurobindo’s body against his consent. He mentions that Sri Aurobindo refused, the Mother did the same and then they said nothing farther. The last phrase would mean that without their permission or taking it for granted we applied the remedies. But in my booklet I have very clearly stated that only with their explicit consent we started the treatment… Satprem’s final sentence, which drags the Mother’s illness into the picture, leaves me in no doubt that there is a hostile insinuation throughout.” (Mother India, p. 564)
Let’s now read what Nirodbaran has written in his Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo about Sri Aurobindo’s illness and the ‘explicit consent’ given by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo regarding the treatment of Sri Aurobindo:
‘One day we came to notice that Sri Aurobindo’s urination had increased in frequency…The urine was examined and found to have an excessive amount of sugar with a trace of albumin. I reported the result to the Mother in Sri Aurobindo’s presence and said, “It looks like diabetes.” The Mother sharply reacted, “It is not diabetes.”…The Mother, however, reduced considerably the amount of starchy food, particularly rice and sweets for which Sri Aurobindo seemed to have a liking…I was asked to examine the urine every week and apprise him of the result. In a few weeks’ time it became sugar-free but the frequency did not altogether disappear. Sri Aurobindo too had noticed it. It made me suspect mild prostatic enlargement…I consulted [Dr. Prabhat Sanyal] and at my request Sri Aurobindo saw him. After an enquiry he confirmed my suspicion, but added that it was just at the initial stage. He told Sri Aurobindo of the nature, course and complications of the disease, ultimately operation being the only radical cure. After a few months, on Sanyal’s second visit, Sri Aurobindo told him emphatically, “It is no more troubling me. I have cured it.”…During his last months the symptoms of prostatic enlargement reappeared and began to increase slowly…urinary symptoms were worsening and now a trace of albumin was detected…Then acetone appeared, a grave signal…[in the week following the Darshan of November 1950] The symptoms grew more serious and a partial obstruction to the flow of the urine made us think of medical intervention. When it became complete and was causing distress, Dr. [Satyabrata] Sen and we had no other alternative but to pass a catheter, much against his will. It was followed by immediate relief…Sanyal [after meeting Sri Aurobindo] told the Mother that there was a mild kidney infection, but nothing serious… On 1st December, some improvement was noticed; the temperature was normal…Next evening the temperature shot up… [Sri Aurobindo] was indrawn with his eyes closed. Later Sanyal expressed a desire to use some drugs in order to fight the infection. The Mother warned him against the use of any violent drugs or drastic methods not only because Sri Aurobindo would not like them, but they would be, on the contrary, positively harmful. “He will work out whatever is necessary. Give some simple medicines,” was her instruction.
‘On 3rd December, the temperature again dropped to normal…In the afternoon…the temperature shot up, respiratory distress showed itself for the first time. Sri Aurobindo refused to take any liquid. At the Mother’s persuasion he sipped some fruit juice and immediately lapsed into a trance. Almost the whole day he remained in that condition…[On 4 December] Since midday the symptoms were on the increase, particularly the breathing difficulty; urine output definitely diminished. That was an alarming signal. We decided to make a thorough blood analysis. Sri Aurobindo consented after a great deal of reluctance…Dr. Nripendra and I hunted out the laboratory assistant [of the General Hospital]; he took some blood from Sri Aurobindo’s imperceptible vein. The punctures were painful to the sensitive body which was getting transformed. The result of the examination staggered us. All the signs of imminent kidney failure and nothing to be done! As a last resort we had to give him some drugs.” (pp.260-275)
In his article Nirodbaran explains why he had used the word ‘torture’ that led to the creation of Satprem’s footnote: ‘It is true that I have used the word “torture” there, having been then in an emotional state of mind and strongly influenced by my knowledge of the great sensitivity of Sri Aurobindo’s body where even a mosquito-bite would cause a red swelling. But all that was done had the Mother’s and the Master’s consent.’
And he adds: ‘Another point: when the Mother speaks of the “physical torture” that Sri Aurobindo underwent, does she at all mean that it was the doctors who inflicted it? Satprem’s linking his footnote with that word suggests this to us. But she cannot mean it. For it is not only we who saw the physical torture which Sri Aurobindo suffered and which had nothing to do with the doctors: the Mother herself saw it. On the other hand, Satprem never saw it. Sri Aurobindo’s suffering was indeed intolerable. It surely forms part of the Mother’s statement about him, his work and his achievement, which is engraved on the side of the Samadhi. The statement includes the words: “Thou who hast suffered all….”(Mother India, October 1981, p. 564)
Nirodbaran also narrates two ‘painful episodes’ of Sri Aurobindo’s last days which he witnessed:
‘Sri Aurobindo had two periods of acute distress. One was when the urine stopped. It made me run at midnight to Dr. Satyavrata Sen. The other time was when Sri Aurobindo was suffering from acute breathing difficulty so much so that he asked me twice, “Nirod, do something.” In the first case, the obstruction of the urine was relieved by a catheter and, in the second, Sri Aurobindo withdrew himself into the inner consciousness and thereby obtained temporary relief from the suffocating respiration; but as soon as he would come to the surface it would show itself with all its acute symptoms. However, when he moved from the bed to the sofa, before he called for the commode, we were astonished to see that he was breathing in a normal way and it gave us no small measure of joy. For we thought a miracle had happened, and hoped for further miracles. But alas, it was only a short respite and as soon as he came back to the bed the breathing distress renewed itself. He then plunged within and remained so most of the time till he passed away.
‘In the last days Dr. Sanyal arrived and saw that the condition was taking a serious turn. It was then that he proposed to use medical remedies with complete sanction from the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. And what he did was the utter minimum that was necessary.’
And he puts forward a question: ‘Even if the medical resort be considered torturous, could anyone, seeing the suffering before his very eyes, humanly remain passive and abstain from any action to give prolonged relief by temporary discomfort?’ (Mother India, pp. 564-565)
Thus Nirodbaran refutes all the allegations made by Satprem that Sri Aurobindo was tortured by his disciples. And regarding the phrase “the same phenomenon will be repeated in the case of the Mother,” he writes: ‘I take it to mean that the Mother was also subjected to torture by the doctors. I inquired from one of the closest attendants of the Mother how far she had been given painful treatment. Strongly refuting any allegation of torture, he said that there were two periods of gravity in her illness. In the first one, Dr. Sanyal was treating her with oral medicines, but when there was no improvement Dr. Bist was called in and a great change was the result of what he gave her by mouth. In the second period there was no question of the application of medicines at all.’ (Ibid., p. 565)
We all are aware that Sri Aurobindo had deliberately left his physical body to hasten the manifestation of the Supramental in the earth-atmosphere. She would tell Amal Kiran and Satprem several times that Sri Aurobindo didn’t ‘succumb’ to death; let’s quote what she had said on the said subject on 28 December 1950: “Our Lord has sacrificed himself totally for us…He was not compelled to leave his body, he chose to do so for reasons so sublime that they are beyond the reach of the human mentality.” The following words of the Mother also reveal that Sri Aurobindo had taken the decision to withdraw without informing the Mother:
‘I told him: “If one of us must go [to fulfill the yoga of supramental descent and transformation], I want that it should be me.’—“It can’t be you,” he replied, “because you alone can do the material thing.” And that was all. He said nothing more. He forbade me to leave my body…After that—this took place early in 1950—he gradually let himself fall ill. For he knew quite well that should he say “I must go,” I would not have obeyed him and I would have gone. For according to the way I felt, he was much more indispensable than I. But he saw the matter from the other side. And he knew that I had the power to leave my body at will. So he didn’t say a thing—he didn’t say a thing right to the very last minute.’ (Georges Van Vrekhem, The Mother: The Story of Her Life, pp. 369-370)
And again: ‘You see, he had decided to go. But he didn’t want me to know that he was doing it deliberately. He knew that if for a single moment I knew he was doing it deliberately, I would have reacted with such violence that he would not have been able to leave. And he did this: he bore it all as if it were some unconsciousness, an ordinary illness, simply to keep me from knowing—and he left at the very moment he had to leave.’ (Ibid., p. 370)
Coming back to Nirodbaran’s article: he concludes his article by pointing out certain instances which appeared to him as a ‘flagrant breach of confidence’ and a ‘deliberate disobedience which is an unpardonable action on the part of a disciple.’ Here are the main points:
(1) Satprem had published some talks which the Mother had asked him not to show the light of the day by justifying the reason as “we considered it right.” Nirodbaran asks: ‘Can a disciple justify himself in this manner? Could it be alleged that, because the Mother was no longer in her body, matter forbidden by her can be published?’
(2) Certain confidential remarks and opinions of the Mother about disciples and people, nations, institutions and politics which were meant to be kept private were published; thus there had been a breach of confidence on Satprem’s part.
(3) The footnotes provided by Satprem carried his ‘snap-judgments without any assessable evidence.’
In response to Nirodbaran’s article, Udar Pinto penned a brief article that was published in December 1981. After congratulating Nirodbaran he went on to provide to the reader the following information:
‘I may draw attention to a fact which is not generally known. The first copy of the transcript of The Mother’s tape-recorded talks used to be kept in safe custody in Her own room and, pointing to the place where it was, She gave instructions to some veteran disciples not to let anything be published without careful scrutiny as to what was suitable or not for publication. This copy disappeared from The Mother’s room and what was meant to belong to the Ashram Trustees is no longer there.’ (p. 712)
Amal Kiran corroborated Udar’s statement in an article penned by him and published in April 1982. He wrote: ‘…the Mother had explicitly asked André [her son] to edit the Agenda. Evidently she had confidence in André and not in Satprem…The basic negative side is that [Satprem] has not attended to the Mother’s wish that André should read and judge things. To avoid this wish from being carried out he managed to take charge of the typed copy of the Agenda which used to be kept in the Mother’s room and towards which she had pointed when giving André her instructions. When the basis is an absolute falsehood, what you call the positive side is bound to be a specious splendour.’ (p. 257)
He also added that the Agenda in itself is ‘a divine gift to the world’ but ‘we cannot forget the ambitious and unfaithful hands that are offering it to us—not only with those parts included but also with malicious and misguiding footnotes.’ And he pointed out: ‘Then there is the question of fairness in the editor. On the strength of some tapes and letters, I have been assured of subtle manipulation and even of certain talks cut out because they were complimentary to a person who has fallen from grace in Satprem’s eyes. The spirit behind the Agenda is very far from being admirable. That is why Nolini [Kanta Gupta] refuses to encourage it and not just because Satprem has not let the Trustees have a hand in it.’ (pp. 257-258)
A few words in defence of Satprem wouldn’t be irrelevant. From extremely reliable sources the author of this article has come to know that the allegation against Satprem regarding the removal of the papers from the Mother’s room is absolutely untrue. It must be noted that Satprem and Sujata Nahar had met the Mother for the last time in her room on 19 May 1973. From 20 May onwards no one was allowed to meet the Mother. So how could one remove the papers (let’s not forget that the Agenda consists of around 6000 pages) from the Mother’s room if they had no access to it? For the sake of argument it can be claimed that they had removed those papers through some other people’s aid; but even that is not possible because the Mother’s attendants were always present in her room, thus making the task impossible. And moreover, is it possible to remove 6000 pages from a room without anyone coming to know about it?
Satprem was desirous to publish the Agenda from the Ashram. Accordingly Sujata had submitted the proposal to Nolini Kanta Gupta on 24 December 1973. Satprem had also written to the managers of the Ashram Press about the publication of the Agenda in January 1974. If he had submitted the proposal of publishing the Agenda in December 1973 then it is implied that he was in possession of the papers from a much earlier date. Therefore the claim of Satprem removing the papers is nothing but falsehood.
Towards the end of his article, Amal Kiran wrote: ‘It is not my intention to show Satprem as all black. I knew him very well for years, I have known his difficulties and his good points and I am sure the Mother has given him some genuine spiritual experiences. But I am afraid they have gone to his head and have failed to touch with refining fire the outer being, the lower part of him to which the Mother’s reference can be traced in the Agenda itself. And the Agenda has been turned by him into a powerful means of self-aggrandisement and self-advertisement: he uses it to make himself out to be the one and only apostle of the Mother.’ (p. 258)
At the same time let’s read what the Mother had told Satprem: ‘So, mon petit (my child), don’t worry. You are SURE, sure not only to advance but to reach the goal.’ (Mother’s Agenda, 5 February 1961) And again: ‘In any case, one thing: never forget that what we have to do, we shall do; and we shall do it together because we have to do it together…’ (Ibid., 11 February 1961) And once again (on 10 January 1973):
‘Satprem: We’ll try to go with you to the end.
Mother: Oh, you…(After a silence)You will go to the end.’
And Satprem did reach the end. Not only did he reach the Supermind but he also fixed the supramental consciousness in his physical consciousness. This is a rare achievement in the yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Therefore all that can be said is: Satprem should be given the respect he deserves.
So if Satprem was wrong in claiming that Sri Aurobindo was tortured by his disciples in the name of medical treatment then so are the others who claimed that he had removed the transcripts of the Mother’s conversations with him.
Born on 13 October 1984, Anurag Banerjee is an essayist, biographer, poet and researcher. His first book, Nirodbaran: The Surrealist’s Journey was published in December 2006. He wrote the biography of Dilip Kumar Roy at the age of twenty in 2005 and translated 100 poems of Sri Aurobindo into Bengali at the age of twenty-one in 2006. His published works include Nirodbaran: The Surrealist’s Journey (2006), Achinpather Dibyapathik (2008), and Debotar Shrom (2008). Anurag Banerjee
Amal Kiran on the Mind of Light
Aspects of Amal Kiran
Datta (Dorothy Mary Hodgson)
Dilip Kumar Roy
Dr. Govindo Gopal Mukhopadhyay
Nirmal Singh Nahar on Satprem and Sujata
Prithwi Singh Nahar
Rijuta (Patricia Noonan)
Sri Aurobindo’s Birth Place
Suresh Chandra Chakravorty (Moni)