1910. The middle of February.
It is late evening.
4, Shyampukur Lane,
The office of Karmayogin.
A flight of stairs. A bare room.
He is seated on the only cot.
Around Him are the faithfuls.
The air is purposeful yet relaxed.
There is laughter and mirth.
Suddenly a young staff member rushes in.
The messenger carries a heavy burden today:
The Empire is preparing to strike
With intrigue born of desperation
From two previous failures.
Under the guise of law,
Darkness will attack light.
The ancient battle to be fought again.
The tip-off is from a high-placed police official:
"The Government intends to search
the Karmayogin office tomorrow
and arrest Him."
The air was sucked out from the room.
The danger had become real,
The foretaste was in the mouth.
Minds were numbed.
Speech became a babble.
He remained unmoved.
Utterly silent - without and within.
Awaiting the word.
".. He received a sudden command from above
to go to Chandernagore in French India.
He obeyed the command at once,
for it was now His rule to move only
as He was moved by the Divine guidance
and never resist and depart from it;
He did not stay to consult with anyone.."
The divine Adesha.
The adhesion was spontaneous.
No pause or stutter.
And no farewells.
Were cast off
In one swift act of unconditional surrender.
He rose from his seat,
And left the house.
Never to return.
The first stop was to be a ghat on the Hooghly river.
It was a walkable distance.
A walk through fire.
The ever-present CID surveillance teams,
An unblinking all-watching evil eye,
That beheld "the most dangerous man" in the Empire,
At all times.
Detection was but inevitable.
And the consequence ...
Apprehensions turned into mortal fear.
The human spirits felt crushed,
Under the weight of reasoned hopelessness.
Against the enormous systemic machinery
Of the hostile imperial power,
It seemed a lost battle, that they waged.
Except that He walked amongst them.
He went first, with the navigator beside Him.
Two companions followed closely.
But at a certain distance.
The disconnected human train moved rapidly,
Following the navigator,
Through the maze of narrow lanes, by-lanes and alleys.
The strides became longer, more rapid with every turn.
The human hearts beat faster and faster.
The nerves were taut. The mouth was dry.
Every face appeared a mask of the faceless enemy.
Every footfall was a clap of thunder.
Every turn was a climax of suspense.
The journey appeared endless.
And then abruptly the river came into view.
They had reached the ghat.
It was beyond belief and comprehension!
The impotency of the dark powers?
The absence of the CID teams?
The impossible had happened!
No explanations were needed. None existed.
Except that He walked amongst them that day.
At the ghat, a common river-boat was hired.
The navigator turned back; his assignment was over.
The other two companions continued.
A lingering moment,
As if the land of Calcutta held on to His feet;
And then He stepped into the boat.
Calcutta receded in the background.
The immediate destination was known.
Everything else was an unknown.
It was the Divine adventure.
A willing perilous dance with chance.
A solitary boat plying on a river in the night.
An up-river journey,
Through the heart of the Dark empire.
The weight of Time was felt in every heart beat.
Suddenly a lurch and a grinding sound.
The darkness seemed to close in,
Like a suffocating blanket.
The boat was stuck in a sand bank.
The men got off and pushed.
They pushed and pushed until the boat was clear.
The boat was off again.
The wave of apprehension subsided.
For Him, there was only the rasa
Of adventure through time and space.
Of the silver rain of light from the waxing moon.
Of the playful waves sparkling underneath.
Of the breeze that ruffled the hair.
Of the rhythm of the boat.
Of the music of the oars in the water.
For Him, it was a midnight river cruise.
Time, space, fate, danger, river, boat, men, stars
All merging into an inner scene of delight.
An hour slowly passed. And then another.
More hours passed.
Finally the boat touched the banks of the shore.
The night was not yet over.
But the first light of dawn was not far away.
One leg of the journey was now complete.
One of His companions alighted.
And hastened to the chosen person.
With a request for a secret residence,
The refusal was unexpected.
The insidious influence of darkness
And the human faith flickered.
He remained unmoved.
Armed with boundless patience.
He waited in the boat for dawn to arrive.
A few hours passed.
A fortunate soul
who had seen Him earlier,
And heard His speech,
Eager to serve,
To play out a part in the Lila,
Arrived and accepted,
With a thrill and gratitude,
The crowning fulfilment of lifetimes,
Of being His host.
Led by the host,
A short boat-ride,
And then on foot,
The last leg of the journey,
A climb up a row of stairs, through a spinney,
To the host’s dwelling.
At last, the place of secret residence.
The journey was complete.
The two companions, assured by Him,
Started on their return journey in the hired boat.
Their hearts heavy with the parting,
Yet light with inner fulfillment.
Seated on an easy-chair in the drawing room,
He asked instead for a secret hideaway.
For the tentacles of darkness spread everywhere.
Secret agents and spies of the empire,
Would be out hunting,
With vulture-eyes and bat-ears,
For the precious One.
The first hideaway was a store room for furniture,
In that very house.
A thick layer of dust covered everything in it.
Bats, spiders and other insects were co-habitants.
A small portion on the floor was cleaned.
He took his seat.
A proper meal would compromise secrecy.
A portion of the host's meal was shared.
The Play was not just a play.
The hideaways had to be changed. Often.
A thatched hut.
A garden house.
A dilapidated shed near a Jagannath temple.
Less-frequented locations at the outskirts.
Moving under the cover of darkness.
Only a handful of men knew of such matters.
The Play was not just a play.
He remained unperturbed, almost oblivious.
A complete awareness of practical realities
Was apparent though.
The strategic communication,
Via notes in pencil on scraps of paper,
Continued through trusted messengers,
As did the coordination of men and worldly affairs.
All that was necessary was done.
Yet was it a period of sadhana.
Intense and uninterrupted.
A rich stream of spiritual experiences,
At all hours. Even in the company of other men.
The external vision could merely discern
A meditative state of silence,
Or the Yogi's fixed stare,
Or feel in the presence, a center of radiating peace,
Or see in the face, a reflection of divine bliss.
Sometimes He spoke.
Revealing what He saw with open eyes.
A stream of letters from akasa lipi.
For Him to decipher.
The forms of gods from realms beyond, with messages.
For Him to discover.
Sometimes He shared more
In a rich discourse on varied topics.
A month and some weeks passed.
Human minds were restless.
Planning for a change of location.
When suddenly He heard the familiar voice within.
An Adesha: 'Go to Pondicherry'.
He conveyed the command to the host.
His cousin in Calcutta came to know via a letter.
A tense orchestration now began,
Of men, resources, events and circumstances.
A complex interplay of forces,
A grim tussle between light and darkness.
The operation required utmost secrecy.
The cousin was under constant surveillance by the CID.
A network of trustworthy associates emerged.
Each did their part. None had the complete view.
The cousin was the hub of operations;
An instrument of planning and strategy.
The preference of sea voyage
Over a long overland journey by train,
To make interception difficult,
Once the ship had set sail.
The selection of a French ship S.S. Dupleix,
To thwart British action aboard the ship,
Through lack of jurisdiction over a foreign boat.
The booking of tickets from Calcutta to Colombo,
To confuse the enemy about the destination.
The avoidance of real names during travel.
And the usage of assumed identities,
Based on real persons randomly chosen,
From a list of subscribers of Sanjibini newspaper.
To delay discovery. As long as possible.
Every choice, every move was inspired.
The logistics too were planned to the minutest detail.
The cousin prepared two trunks.
And entrusted to a helper for safe keeping.
The same helper was asked to purchase two tickets.
S.S. Dupleix. Calcutta to Colombo. 1st April. Second class.
A private cabin with two berths was booked.
Another associate was sent to Pondicherry in advance,
With a letter of introduction from Him,
To arrange for a suitable residence,
With local help.
The host at Chandernagore
Planned as precaution,
To change boats,
Before the rendezvous with the boat from Calcutta.
Unknown to the human actors,
The Future held the unexpected.
Some plans were going to fail.
31st March 1910, Chandernagore.
At dawn, the down-river journey began.
The first step went according to plan.
He was transferred to another boat,
Where two new companions took over.
The journey continued.
They reached the rendezvous point.
But the boat from Calcutta was not there.
They waited. Until they could wait no more.
And then travelled further to Chandpal ghat,
Hoping to meet the boat from Calcutta;
But it was not there either.
The plans were unraveling fast.
There was confusion.
Only one option remained:
To find His cousin.
But that would need a dash into the city,
Into the very center of the imperial state,
Through an invisible mesh
Of CID, of Police, Of "red-turbans",
Of Spies, informers and loyalists.
Into a sticky dark web.
"The most dangerous man" in the empire,
With an arrest warrant awaiting His return,
Newspapers filled with speculations of His whereabouts,
He would ride in a horse carriage in broad daylight,
Through the streets of Calcutta.
The divine adventure, recklessly supreme.
A closed carriage was hired.
He stepped into it.
The journey began.
The companions were as if sitting on nails.
He was unperturbed as always.
The carriage wound its way,
And reached the spot.
He stayed inside.
Whilst the companions went to His cousin.
Sensing the grave danger,
The cousin bade them return to Chandpal ghat,
And wait there.
The carriage turned back for the ghat.
Meanwhile the men from Calcutta,
After missing the rendezvous,
Had returned to the cousin earlier,
And had been sent to the ship,
To collect the steel trunks.
As soon as they returned,
The cousin asked them to proceed to the ghat.
And meet up with the carriage.
Perhaps the threads could be rejoined.
But there was more bad news.
The mandatory medical examination
For passengers was over.
He and His companion had missed it.
Or so it appeared to reason.
None knew of Police scrutiny during Medical examination
And that detection of a public figure like Him
Would have been almost certain.
But The unseen Hand had averted the danger.
And opened the door to the safer path:
Passengers could get the medical certificate
From the medical officer
By way of private examination
At the doctors residence,
And then board the ship as late as ten thirty pm.
Another unsought blessing.
The Porter they had hired,
Was familiar with the doctor's residence.
The two assistants started off one final time.
They reached the ghat.
And found Him.
And the two companions in the closed carriage.
The Porter too was found.
A wave of relief surged through them.
Through a maze of events and hostility of time,
Things were miraculously falling into place.
Now it was a race against time.
The Porter urged them not to delay.
But He had to be briefed
Of their assumed identities,
Of the ostensible reason for the trip:
That He was a malaria patient, out on a health cruise.
The next stop was the doctor's residence.
It was nine thirty.
After a wait of thirty minutes,
The two passengers were called in,
Into the doctor's chamber.
Another fifteen minutes passed;
They emerged with the certificates.
The clock was ticking.
They hurried back to the ship.
The Porter went up the gang-plank with the luggage.
He and the rest followed.
In the reserved cabin,
His co-passenger started making the beds;
Invoking the humdrum to bear
The magnitude of the Moment.
It was time. To say goodbye. To their deity.
One man bowed with folded hands.
Another put his forehead on His feet.
Although they left with a heaviness of emotions,
There was a lightness in the spirits deep within.
The next morning. First of April.
S.S. Dupleix sailed out of Calcutta harbour.
He was on board.
Light had prevailed. As it always did.
The land of Bengal had thrilled
At the sacred tread of His feet,
One last time.
The curtain had fallen
On the political side of action.
A quiet end to a magnificent chapter.
But another land's ancient wait
Was coming to an end.
On fourth of April, the ship drew into Pondicherry harbour,
And dropped anchor.
He set foot in Pondicherry.
The prophecy was fulfilled.
The 'Uttara Yogi' had arrived.
Path leading from Ghat to Motilal Roy's Residence
Motilal Roy's Residence
Motilal Roy's Residence
Motilal Roy, who had only heard Sri Aurobindo's Uttarpara speech, came to know of his presence in Chandernagore. He located the boat at 6:30 am and offered his services, which Sri Aurobindo accepted.
Motilal Roy led the party on the last leg of their journey. There was a short boat-ride to another ghat. They alighted and continued on foot, climbing a row of stairs, through a spinney until they finally reached Motilal's residence. At last the journey was complete. Sri Aurobindo's secret residence at Chandernagore had begun.
The two companions - Biren and Moni - assured by Sri Aurobindo, started on their return journey in the hired boat.
Motilal Roy's Residence
Sri Aurobindo, seated in an easy-chair in Motilal Roy's sitting room explained the need for complete secrecy to avoid detection of his presence by the British Governement, who would do all they could to find him.
One of the hideaways was a store room for furniture in that very house. A thick layer of dust covered everything in it. Bats, spiders and other insects were co-habitants. A small portion on the floor was cleaned for Sri Aurobindo to take his seat. As a proper meal would compromise secrecy, Motilal shared a portion of his own meal.
The hideaways had to be changed often: a thatched hut, a garden house, a dilapidated shed near a Jagannath temple and other less-frequented locations at the outskirts. The transfer of location was generally effected under the cover of darkness and only a handful of men knew of such matters.
Sri Aurobindo led a secluded life at Chandernagore where 'he plunged entirely into solitary meditation and ceased all other activities'. It was a period of intense sadhana. When he spoke it was as if somebody else were speaking through him. He would eat the food placed before him mechanically remaining deeply absorbed at all times. He meditated with his eyes open and saw various subtle forms and sights - a stream of letters or akasa lipi and the figures of three female energies: Ila, Saraswati and Sarama...
My first contact with Vedic thought came indirectly while pursuing certain lines of self-development in the way of Indian Yoga, which, without my knowing it, were spontaneously converging towards the ancient and now unfrequented paths followed by our forefathers. At this time there began to arise in my mind an arrangement of symbolic names attached to certain psychological experiences which had begun to regularise themselves; and among them there came the figures of three female energies, Ila, Saraswati, Sarama, representing severally three out of the four faculties of the intuitive reason, - revelation, inspiration and intuition. Two of these names were not well known to me as names of Vedic goddesses, but were connected rather with the current Hindu religion or with old Puranic legend, Saraswati, goddess of learning and Ila, mother of the Lunar dynasty. But Sarama was familiar enough.
Rumour and Humour related to Sri Aurobindo's Absence
Sri Aurobindo's secret residence at Chandernagore spanned a period of about six weeks. There was wild speculation in the local Media on his sudden absence and the following article appeared in 'Karmayogin' newspaper to set the record straight...
We are greatly astonished to learn from the local Press that Sj. Aurobindo Ghose has disappeared from Calcutta and is now interviewing the Mahatmas in Tibet. We are ourselves unaware of this mysterious disappearance. As a matter of fact Sj. Aurobindo is in our midst and, if he is doing any astral business with Kuthumi or any of the other great Rishis, the fact is unknown to his other Koshas. Only as he requires perfect solitude and freedom from disturbance for his Sadhana for some time, his address is being kept a strict secret. This is the only foundation for the remarkable rumour which the vigorous imagination of a local contemporary has set floating. For similar reasons he is unable to engage in journalistic works, and Dharma has been entrusted to other hands.
"Sailing Orders for Pondicherry"
One day, Sri Aurobindo received "sailing orders for Pondicherry" in the same way as the 'Divine Adesh' which brought him to Chandernagore.
'As for Adesh, people speak of Adesh without making the necessary distinctions, but these distinctions have to be made. The Divine speaks to us in many ways and it is not always the imperative Adesh that comes. When it does it is clear and irresistible, the mind has to obey and there is no question possible, even if what comes is contrary to the preconceived ideas of the mental intelligence. It was such an Adesh that I had when I came away to Pondicherry.'
Plans for Departure
Plans for his departure to Pondicherry had to be made in great secrecy because of police surveillance. There were two stages of the journey. The first, and the shorter passage, was from Chandernagore to Calcutta. Sri Aurobindo relied on Motilal to make the arrangements. He also sent word to Amar Chatterji, the young revolutionary from Uttarpara, for assistance. The second part of the journey was longer and fraught with much greater risk. For this, Sri Aurobindo wrote to his maternal cousin Sukumar Mitra (Krishnakumar Mitra's son), to work out the details of the plan. Sukumar was also advised that Bijoy Nag, a young follower of Sri Aurobindo, would accompany him to Pondicherry. At the same time Sri Aurobindo sent a note to Suresh Chakravarty asking him to travel to Pondicherry and make arrangements for their stay.
In his reminiscences, Sukumar Mitra writes: 'It was 1910, around the end of March. Unexpectedly I received a letter from Sri Motilal Roy of Chandernagore. He informed me of Auro-da's desire to leave Chandernagore and go to Pondicherry. All the arrangements for his departure were to be made by me. And I had to be most careful in keeping all this a secret.... I resolved to work with the utmost care and circumspection at every step and in every detail. At that time half a dozen plain-clothes detectives used to sit near the tank in front of our house and keep watch. They shadowed me as soon as I came out of the house.... Since the police openly picked me up and followed me from the moment I left the house, I felt it better not to be directly involved in making the arrangements but instead to get the work done by giving instructions to two men I trusted. Even so what I told one I did not pass on to the other, and I did not allow the two to meet.... I decided to send Sri Aurobindo to Pondicherry by a French ship rather than by train, for to go by rail was, I decided, too dangerous. If he took the train he might be recognised during the long journey, for there were police spies on the alert at the stations. At that time a French shipping company called Messageries Maritimes operated from Calcutta. Ships of other companies also sailed from Calcutta to Colombo but they did not halt at Pondicherry. There was another advantage in travelling by a French ship, a political one. As soon as the ship went beyond the British Indian coast, the passengers would come under French jurisdiction. The security Sri Aurobindo sought by going to Pondicherry would be his once he had travelled eighty miles south of Calcutta.'
Sukumar planned to make the travel bookings in the names of Jatindra Nath Mitter of Uluberia (a town not far from Calcutta), and Bankim Chandra Bhowmik of Nilphamari, in Rangpur district, names to be assumed by Sri Aurobindo and Bijoy for the journey. The names and addresses were not fictitious but taken from the subscribers' list of Sanjivani, the nationalist journal. This would help to mislead the police in case of any later investigations.
Boraichanditola Ghat, Chandernagore
On the morning of March 31, the day prior to the Dupleixs date of sailing, Motilal Roy saw Sri Aurobindo off from the Boraichanditola Ghat at Chandernagore. Motilal himself did not accompany Sri Aurobindo but deputed two of his trusted followers to be with him.. In accordance with the plan, the boat moved downstream and crossed the river to reach Agarpara on the eastern bank. In the meantime Amar Chatterjee had hired a boat at Uttarpara and, along with his right-hand man Manmath Biswas, set off for Agarpara. This journey was also uneventful and they had no trouble in making contact with Sri Aurobindo at Agarpara.
Around midday Nagen and Suren set off in a boat which went up the river with the object of meeting the other boat that carried Sri Aurobindo, Amar and Manmath. All had worked out well so far.But now fate, or an unseen Hand, intervened. The two boats failed to establish contact either at the appointed ghat or in mid-river.
Amar was now getting increasingly worried. He decided that he could wait no longer for Nagen to turn up and instructed the boatman to proceed towards Calcutta. He had concluded that he must meet Sukumar to find out what had gone wrong. Meanwhile Nagen and Suren, equally perturbed at having searched for and failed to find Sri Aurobindo, also decided that they must return to Calcutta and report to Sukumar.
Alighting at a ghat near Chandpal Ghat where the Dupleix was berthed, they hired a carriage, put Sri Aurobindo inside and rushed towards Sukumar's house in the College Square area. Amar stopped the carriage some distance away from the house and sent Manmath to enquire at Sukumar's place.
There was grave danger in this. This was an area where plain-clothes policemen and informers were always on the look- out. Sri Aurobindo's face was well known. Amar recalling the events writes: 'My mind was restless as I sat with Aurobindo in the carriage worrying about where the others were. But he whose safety was causing me so much restlessness and agitation was himself untroubled, unshaken, motionless like a statue...'
In the meantime, contact was finally made with Sukumar. He was aghast to know that Sri Aurobindo was there and asked that they immediately go back to the vicinity of Chandpal Ghat and wait there.
Sukumar now instructed Naren to proceed to Chandpal Ghat and meet Sri Aurobindo and his companions. Naren recalls: 'Once again I took the two trunks from the mess and loaded them on a horse-carriage; taking the tickets along with me I rushed back to Chandpal Ghat. There I saw Aurobindo's carriage waiting by the roadside. Our coolie was sitting nearby. When he saw me he at once ran up and said, "Your babus have come. I've already told them of our arrangement. It's late. If you waste any more time, the doctor sahib won't carry out the examination - he will have gone to sleep..." The coolie put the two trunks on the roof of Aurobindo's carriage with some other things.... I climbed in and sat beside Amar-da. Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag were sitting behind us. The coolie got up and sat next to the coachman. I don't remember the name of the street on which the doctor's house was situated but I recollect that it was in the European quarter on the other side of Chowringhee.'
'When we reached the doctor's residence, all four of us waited on the verandah... Before the doctor called in Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag, I gave them their tickets and told them the names and addresses under which they had been purchased... We had to stand and wait on the verandah for almost half-an-hour before the doctor called them in... They came out ten or fifteen minutes later with certificates.'
'We climbed back into the carriage greatly relieved. It again sped towards Chandpal Ghat. We could not see the slightest trace of anxiety on Aurobindo's face. Later, we were to talk about this among ourselves and Amar-da rightly said: "The one for whom we were anxious was altogether calm like someone absorbed in the trance of samadhi." That Aurobindo was a man beyond anxiety or fear, that he was abhi [fearless] I had heard, but before this meeting I had not had the good fortune of seeing it for myself.'
It was almost eleven at night when the carriage reached Chandpal Ghat. After putting the luggage on the coolie's head the four of us boarded the Dupleix and entered the reserved cabin. The coolie arranged the luggage and then left. Bijoy Nag made Aurobindo's bed. Amar-da and I stood facing Aurobindo near the door. Amar-da took some currency notes from his shirt-pocket and gave them to Aurobindo saying that they were from Michhri-babu (Zamindar of Uttarpara). He accepted the notes without a word. Then Amar-da lowered his head, and touching his forehead with folded hands made namaskar to Aurobindo. I laid my forehead on Aurobindo's feet as an expression of my reverence, and in the touch of that divine body, I felt fulfilled.'
Notice of SS Dupleix
Late in the afternoon of March 31, Sri Aurobindo's safety seemed to be in great jeopardy, for the carefully prepared plans had gone awry. And yet, as we look back and reconstruct the events, it becomes clear that the delay in boarding the ship actually proved a blessing in disguise. It may have been catastrophic had Sri Aurobindo reached the ship in time to be examined by the doctor. The meticulous plan had failed to consider the police presence during medical examinations. The records show that the police report for that evening merely stated that two ticket-holders with Bengali names did not turn up at the ship for the medical examination. It was not until April 4 that the police made further enquiries and learnt that two passengers had in fact embarked at the last moment and sailed away the next day. The late hour at which Sri Aurobindo boarded the ship (it was about 11.00 p.m.) was an unplanned master-stroke faciliated by Providence.
Port of Pondicherry
4.April.1910 - Pondicherry
Early next morning, April 1, SS Dupleix steamed out of Calcutta carrying Sri Aurobindo into the safety of the open seas and, four days later, on April 4, 1910, he reached Pondicherry.
Calve Sankar Chettiar House
Calve Sankar Chettiar House
"..There also I remained in secrecy in the house of a prominent citizen until the acquittal, after which I announced my presence in French India..."
'I am in Pondicherry'
42, Rue de Pavillon, Pondicherry - 7.Nov.1910
I shall be obliged if you will allow me to inform every one interested in my whereabouts through your journal that I am and will remain in Pondicherry... more