Author: Beloo Mehra (2019). Published under the title ‘When Young India Awakes’ in Sri Aurobindo’s Action, Vol. 50 (10), October 2019, pp. 8-10
CONTINUED FROM Part 8b
When Young India Awakes
CHAPTER VIII – continued
Yuvaan spent the morning hours arranging for the taxi which would take his mother and her friend back to Delhi, and ensuring that they had everything they needed for their journey. The two days he had spent with his mother at the Ashram after she was discharged from the hospital had felt like some sort of a peaceful retreat, where he was mostly either taking care of her physical needs or sitting with her quietly on some comfortable spot at the ghats of the Ganga.
A few times his mother had suggested that he need not stay with her all day and instead should visit some of the places in Rishikesh, especially some of the famous Ashrams. But Yuvaan didn’t feel the need to go anywhere. Perhaps all that he was seeking was right there near the Ma Ganga. She also tried to inquire about his time in Varanasi, but he didn’t say much. He did mention to her about the two books on Sri Aurobindo that he was reading, and added that he would tell her more later. She understood that he was on some sort of a deeper search and an inner journey, and decided that it is best to let him be.
Now that his mother was on her way back to Delhi, Yuvaan felt that he too needed to get back on his journey. He phoned Rishi in Haridwar who was very happy to have Yuvaan join him for a few days. Yuvaan packed up his few belongings and took an auto-rickshaw to the local bus stand. The moment he sat in the auto-rickshaw his eyes fell on a small picture of Swami Vivekananda glued awkwardly on the windscreen. The driver noticed Yuvaan looking at it, smiled and said – “Swamiji is a great hero of mine.” Yuvaan acknowledged and smiled back, and asked for his name. Sadhuram – that was the driver’s name. Yuvaan knew it was no coincidence.
In the few minutes’ ride to the bus stand, Sadhuram told Yuvaan about how several years ago he had found a Hindi book called “Vivekvaani: Swami Vivekanand ki Shikshayain,” a book which would be his starting point to learn more about Swamiji’s life and works. He added that he was now a regular visitor to Ramakrishna Math in Rishikesh and also volunteered every Sunday at the Ramakrishna Mission Sevashrama at Kankhal in Haridwar, working in their farming and dairy section. When Yuvaan told him that he was on his way to Haridwar, Sadhuram was very pleased and suggested that he must go to the Sevashrama.
Sitting in the bus to Haridwar and waiting for it to start, Yuvaan kept thinking about Sadhuram. He felt that there was a strange kind of peace emanating from this ordinary looking man, someone whom you wouldn’t even give a second glance if you happened to see him on the road. Perhaps Sadhuram had found what he was looking for, thought Yuvaan. Perhaps he wasn’t looking really but had still found that something which gave him the kind of peace and purposefulness that so many of us seek in life. Whatever the case, Yuvaan felt assured that meeting Sadhuram was all part of his journey, and that he will probably run into him again.
Maybe he should have taken Sadhuram’s contact information, thought Yuvaan for a second. But then immediately felt that it was best to leave these things in the hands of the higher force which was guiding him on this path that he has set foot on. Reflecting on this insight a few minutes later Yuvaan felt a bit of surprise at how his own way of being has been shifting a little over the past few weeks. This must be what the wise people speak of as growing up, he smiled to himself.
The bus was on its way, and Yuvaan remembered that in the last couple of days he had not even opened either of his two books. There was still enough daylight to read even though it was almost 5:00pm. He took out “Sri Aurobindo – His Life Unique” from his backpack and opened the page where he had kept a piece of string as a bookmark. He recalled how deeply touched he was about reading Sri Aurobindo’s letters to his wife. He started to read as the passenger sitting next to him began to snore gently.
India, my India, where first human eyes awoke to heavenly light,
All Asia’s holy place of pilgrimage, great Motherland of might!
World-mother, first giver to humankind of philosophy and sacred lore,
Knowledge thou gav’st to man, God-love, works, art, religion’s opened door. [i]
As Yuvaan read in the footnote, this was first stanza of a song written by Dwijendralal Roy, which was translated by Sri Aurobindo. Wonder what other works he had translated, Yuvaan quickly decided he would do this research later on but now he just wanted to go on reading.
Soon he learned how much else he did not know about Sri Aurobindo. Or rather how much of India’s recent history was actually kept out of the textbooks he had studied in his school and college years. Why, he wondered, they had never taught in schools and colleges anything about the contributions of leaders like Sri Aurobindo towards India’s freedom movement. As he went on reading about Sri Aurobindo’s initial revolutionary writings, right from his time in Baroda, he kept getting more curious about why this chapter of Indian independence movement was not given prominence at all.
“Sri Aurobindo stands out as the first exponent of the new revolutionary political thought and idealism which inspired national effort, struggle, and suffering through half a century and achieved for India her full political freedom in 1947. It was Sri Aurobindo’s rare insight and inner vision that first detected the inherent defects of the traditional Congress method of political work which was so far based on what was rightly described as mendicant politics — the politics of small administrative reforms, passing pious Resolutions as appeals to the foreign rulers, and ignoring the fundamental need of the country, that of its total freedom from foreign rule itself.” [ii]
He read about the strongly worded articles Sri Aurobindo wrote in a journal called Indu Prakash, first of which appeared on 7th August, 1893. There is that connection again with Swami Vivekananda, he immediately thought, and also of course with the month of August – the month in which India would eventually gain independence.
Yuvaan felt a great admiration when he understood that the object of Sri Aurobindo’s frank and forthright criticism in his articles, of the then prevalent ways of the Congress, a party supposed to have been leading the Indian nationalist movement, was to encourage the English-educated Indians of his time to think deeply on the political problems of the country and escape from the spell of an unthinking admiration of the leaders who were only ‘praying and petitioning’ to the British authorities for small crumbs of favour. He felt completely in agreement with Rishabhchand, the author of the book, who summarised Sri Aurobindo’s position as “To awaken and stimulate the thinking mind of a subject people is to set it firmly on the road to freedom.”
Now that India is politically free, is she really free, Yuvaan’s mind was asking this question. Why do so many Indians think that we are still mental slaves of the West in many ways? What does this mental slavery really mean? And how can one be free of this, he wondered.
“Our actual enemy is not any force exterior to ourselves, but our own crying weaknesses, our cowardice, our selfishness, our hypocrisy, our purblind sentimentalism. … Our appeal, the appeal of every high-souled and self-respecting nation, ought not to be to the opinion of the Anglo-Indians, no, nor yet to the British sense of Justice, but to our own reviving sense of manhood, to our own sincere fellow-feeling — so far as it can be called sincere, — with the silent and suffering people of India. I am sure that eventually the nobler part of us will prevail, — that when we no longer obey the dictates of a veiled self-interest, but return to the profession of a large and genuine patriotism, when we cease to hanker after the soiled crumbs which England may cast to us from her table, then it will be to that sense of manhood, to that sincere fellow-feeling that we shall finally and forcibly appeal.” [iii]
“Sincere fellow-feeling” – these words kept floating in his mind as Yuvaan closed the book and looked around. He was traveling with his people – he immediately recognised that. These men, women and children – young and old, poor and not-so-poor – they were all his people, his fellow Indians. What is his feeling toward them, he wanted to know more about himself? To what extent does he feel a connection or some feeling of oneness with them? He smiled as he glanced sideways at the middle-aged man who sitting next to him and still snoring gently.
The bus reached Haridwar bus-stand. As Yuvaan was about to get off the bus, something in him made him do a proper Namaste to the gentleman sitting next to him, with folded hands and respectfully bending down slightly. The man who had just woken up from his nap which he was enjoying during the entire bus ride, somewhat automatically raised his hand in a blessing gesture and gave Yuvaan a tiny smile.
The “fellow-feeling” – Yuvaan smiled and said to himself. Apparently, it is a feeling that can be inculcated, he felt.
As he was walking out of the bus-stand to go to the address Rishi had told him on the phone, he spotted a nice clean restaurant on a street corner. He instinctively walked in there and decided to spend some time with a cup (or more) of chai and his book.
As Yuvaan sipped the hot chai and dug his teeth into the equally hot samosa, his mind went back to what he had read in the bus about “our actual enemy.” What is this enemy Sri Aurobindo is speaking of?
“Our actual enemy is not any force exterior to ourselves, but our own crying weaknesses, our cowardice, our selfishness, our hypocrisy, our purblind sentimentalism.” [iv]
Aah…there lies the answer to his question, Yuvaan thought, his question about how Indians of his generation can get rid of their mental slavery. Are we coward, selfish and hypocrite? In what ways? Why is it that we Indians are always looking for the West’s approval?
Why is it that only now so many modern Indians recognise Yoga as an approach to holistic well-being, after it has become extremely popular in the West? Why is it that we have to keep on proving that meditation works using scientific studies? What draw so many people from the West to places like Rishikesh – isn’t this the truth of our own rich knowledge traditions of yoga, meditation and spirituality that these people are seeking? So why are we Indians so shy of claiming these as our rich cultural heritage?
He remembered Sadhuram, the auto rickshaw driver and his devotion for Swami Vivekananda. And the next instant he remembered some conversations with some of his college mates who said that there was nothing good in India. They also felt they would have a much better life abroad. What a difference, he thought! But why this difference? All these and many other thoughts and questions kept floating in his mind as he finished his two samosas and two cups of chai.
A few pages more into his book, he came across this:
“His first contribution to Indian politics was… a consuming thirst for the liberation of the country, a passion for complete and unqualified independence, which he infused into the Indian nation. And the sole driving force behind the application of the means he advocated, was the religion of patriotism, the worship of India as the Mother, for whose emancipation it must be a surpassing joy and rare privilege for her children to suffer and sacrifice themselves. This was his second contribution. His appeal was always to the religious or spiritual sense of the people, which is the only sense, as Swami Vivekananda knew and proclaimed, upon which is grounded the whole fabric of Indian life and culture.” [v]
He read the passage again. And again. And again. Some answers, some clarity was slowly creeping in.
He looked at his watch, it was about 7:00pm. It was time to go and meet up with Rishi.
To be continued…
[i] CWSA, Vol. 5, p. 553
[ii] Dr. R.K. Mukherji in Sri Aurobindo’s Political Thought by Haridas Mukherjee and Uma Mukherjee, as cited in Rishabhchand, Sri Aurobindo – His Life Unique, p. 95.
[iii] CWSA, Vol. 6, pp. 18-19
[iv] CWSA, Vol. 6, p. 18
[v] Rishabhchand, p. 107