Sunday, April 8, 2012

Heehs is prepared to strike out “questionable” passages

Friends, Since more than a week the impressive number of mushroom-like interviews have cropped up in the national media, mostly protesting against the Government of India's decision not to extend visa to a US citizen. In spite of the detailed explanation that the man has to leave India for Violation of Visa norms, the overwhelming subterfuge - around the issuing of the mischievous "biography" of Sri Aurobindo - has been playing the fish, while muddying the waters. Some people suspect the ample supply of the green currency in various forms intervening as a menacing anti-establishment force jeering at the Authorities.
Speaking about the recent condescending and rude attitude of the NDTV interviewer towards Professor Kittu Reddy, the brilliant representative of the Ashramites who had enough of the American's "history", a TV watcher from Kolkata has been under the impression that the situation was mysteriously reversed. Our liberal ethics taught us indeed to prefer defending a saheb (even if he is a lawbreaker) to the detriment of any native dissident. Once I have heard an Indian citizen lamenting: "Had we not been happy and secure under the British Raj ? What a madness to have driven them away!" His voice sounded like the yelping of the collar-less dog, nostalgic of its collar.
This reminds me of the sad state of affairs in Kolkata, in 1989. Boosted by the cream of Bengali intellectuals, an upstart French film maker had been insulting Maitrayee Devi, a respectable author and social worker, in the name of shooting the filmed version of La nuit bengali, a fiction by Mircea Eliade; the novel boasts of an adventurous European student abusing the universal norms of hospitality by trying to pick up young Maitrayee, daughter of his mentor, the philosopher Surendranath Dasgupta. On returning to Paris, invited by a friend, literary editor of the Anandabazar Patrika, I spent hours to disclose how insignificant Klotz was and what a flop his film had proved to be; but the logic of the infallibility of a saheb prevailed and the editor was asked not to publish the paper.
Historian or not, the cunning US hero of our story has not lost his time during his stay in India: perfectly aware of our weak points, he seems to be far from playing his last card. Prithwindra Mukherjee Paris, 7 April, 2012

Visa extension still hangs fire Debjani Dutta Last Updated : 08 Apr 2012 10:05:14 AM IST PUDUCHERRY: The Sunday Standard
Is American historian Peter Heehs being deported or not? The visa of the ashram resident here is set to expire on April 15. But Union Home Minister P Chidambaram is yet to decide whether or not to extend it.
Facing possible expulsion from the country he has been living in for 41 years after his controversial book Lives of Sri Aurobindo published in the US in 2008 sparked unease among followers of the spiritual leader, Heehs now says he is prepared for a revised Indian version of his book to be published by Penguin India.
Regretting the controversy, Heehs says that both he and the publishers are prepared to strike out any “questionable” passages. “Got permission for publishing the modified version for use of devotees,” Heehs told The Sunday Standard. “Please give benefit of doubt,” he said, referring to the controversial portions in the book, the root cause of his worry today. Heehs also refutes allegations on refusal of his visa extension due to visa violations. “No anomaly in the visa or in my stay. I have been here 41 years and have never hurt anyone,” says Heehs. “The local Foreigners Regional Registration Office has never been dissatisfied with me and I have complied with all their directions,” he said.
Elaborating on his proposals, Heehs said, “I had given two proposals—one to recompose certain passages which had become controversial and the other to allow yet another publication for the devotees—as a few changes may not satisfy those opposed to the book. Though there would be a financial loss for the publishers, they were willing to do it.” To publish the book, however, clearance is required from the Orissa High Court, which had banned its publication in 2008. The court had then issued a temporary injunction stating that until disposal of the appeal against the order, the book could be printed by obtaining a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from the home ministry.
Taking up the case of Heehs, around 30 renowned historians and scholars, including Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, have written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram.
“It (the book) is among the finest-ever written of a major Indian nationalist and spiritualist. Factional disagreements in Heehs’ home town should not receive the implicit support of the Indian state, which would happen if the home ministry were to deny him a visa allowing him to continue in India. It would be greatly to the detriment of our country to be seen as having driven out an internationally recognised scholar who is committed to writing biography and history of the highest calibre. We urge you to grant Heehs his visa at the earliest, so that he is not forced to leave our shores by April 15,” the letter said. It is yet to be seen what decision is taken by the home minister.

By MC Rajan Demystifying one of the country's most revered mystics, Sri Aurobindo, has landed American historian Peter Heehs in hot water.
American historian Peter Heehs has been asked to leave India over his autobiography on Sri Aurobindo which allegedly portrays the freedom fighter-yogi as ...
A recent statement by Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust April 9, 2012 The following statement was issued in February 2012. Emphases as in the original. — Ed.

The Mother's Blessing Faith And Rituals Article on The Divine Grace of The Mother can be felt all over Puducherry, says SHVETA BHAGAT.
Puducherry is such a place which fills you with divine grace, the moment you enter its sphere. You don’t need to meditate to feel the all-pervading sense of well-being. It is in the air which comes in one sudden gush. You feel purity in the air; certain luminosity and lightness lifts you. You don’t need to visit a tomb or spend all of your time at a temple to feel that power. I experienced it by just being in the city, earlier known as Pondicherry...
Puducherry is the closest I have come to heaven on earth, thanks to the consciousness that the place is abuzz with. It’s an experience that makes you once again realise that you don’t need to go to many places, you only need that environment to Just Be.


  1. Comment on the Sunday Standard article:

    This article points out several anomalies in this situation. Regarding the action by the Orissa court and the Puducherry FRRO: if these actions are not consistent with the law of the land, then the actions should be easy to overturn on appeal. But this has not happened despite appeals for several months or years - suggesting that there is some validity to the actions. On the other hand, if they are consistent with the law, then appealing to the home minister for a special dispensation is tantamount to pressuring officials sworn to uphold the law to flout it. If activists such as the 30 renowned historians and the union minister dislike the law, they can protest within our democratic framework to change the law.

    The other anomaly is that the self-identified objective historian who has written a self-proclaimed objective biography (and acclaimed by the said 30 historians as the "finest-ever written") would consider writing a second, different, biography. If the author cannot sustain the principled stance, letting the chips fall where they may, one has to wonder if there is an ulterior motive behind writing the first biography and now the second one. Just by being willing to write a second biography, one's confidence in the first biography should diminish, and the second should have none.

    Finally, the article mentions "factional disagreements", presumably in the Ashram community. While this is an internal matter of the Ashram, and while a "free" individual should have the liberty of expression, the heart of the matter is whether an individual in an organization has constraints. And this is also the heart of Heeh's dilemma. One can only commend the Ashram and the Ashram community for supporting Heehs for over four decades and taking a mild stance on his many activities including the publication of this book. But, Heehs will have limited access to resources if he is not in the archives and will have limited credibility if he is not in the Ashram in whatever he publishes as a "free' individual.

    Hence he has carefully, if wrongly, positioned himself as the founder of the archives, curator, digitizer, etc., while all of this was a team effort over many decades. Further, Heehs has systematically denied access to archives resources to others who may wish to pursue independent research or even to refute his selective quotations and slanted motivations. Hence the usual argument about freedom of speech being countered by other acts of freedom of speech does not apply, since the underlying materials are not open resources. So this has a bit of a sense of eating one's cake and having it too, and also of abusing the trust of the institution for which one supposedly produces work.

    The best outcome of this entire imbroglio will be if the archives resources can be made truly open in this age of the Internet so that not one (or two as above) but a thousand voices emerge and the message and method of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother - as originally given by them and not as edited by "researchers" in the archives - spread to all peoples - not by dividing them into academics and devotees, but rather as integrated personalities that can dive deep into their inner selves and bring that depth to their secular activities.

  2. there is no doubt media play very important role to connecting all kind of news information to general people...

  3. Interestingly PH is not a historian at all! His book 'Lives of Sri Aurobindo' is therefore not based on historical facts. Otherwise he won't have told about recomposing the book by erasing its 'questionable' parts. Similarly he won’t have told – ‘please give benefit of doubt.’ He intends to make two versions of the book – one for the western readers and one for the Indian. Why? These are clearly not the language of a historian. He inhabits a split personality in him. He is least eligible to write Sri Aurobindo’s biography. So the controversy will go on till its logical end i.e. PH must confess his whole mischief before the court of law, before the entire world. skm