Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo
ANNETTE AKROYD AND SRI AUROBINDO
I. EXTRACTS FROM THE DIARIES AND LETTERS OF ANNETTE BEVERIDGE (NÉE AKROYD) [IOR MSS Eur C176]
Selections from pocket diary of 1871
So ends this eventful year: eventful publicly but still more so to me individually; because in it I have gathered again together a few of the fragments of what I was before my energies[,] heart & hope were shattered by my loss [the death of her father]. The end of the year leaves me full of hope & courage, earnestly longing to fulfil some of the expectations of what an English-woman can do in that illimitable abyss of work to be done; but I am very fearful there must be such deep responsibilities! So there are everywhere! so coraggio!
That last day of the Year & this first one bring many sad thoughts of the time when we were all together & heard the bells ring in the new; then turned to greet one another with the first kiss of the New Year. This year I am all alone, by chance; perhaps it is best [as] heart-ache is best alone, but coraggio again! & good-bye to the Old Year.
Selections from pocket diary for 1872
Selections from pocket diary for 1873
Selections from pocket diary for 1877 [in Rangpur]
Selections from pocket diary for 1878
Selections from pocket diary for 1879
Extracts from Diary and Notebook in India 
Friday. 17th [February] Dined at Mr W.C. Bonerjeas, met Mr Miller & Mr Kennedy[.] There is a tone of mind which scoffs at everything about Mr W.C.B. which I dislike[,] a kind of superficiality. It is my opinion that there needs some binding association for high purposes to associate all these English educated men, who have gone beyond Brahmo limits.
Sunday 30th [March] Raj Narain Bose called. He stayed long, but his conversation was chiefly on the abstract & impractical difficulties of the education of women, & an entreaty to teach them Hindu manners. Elevating manners to the dignity of metaphysics he soared aloft into trackless realms of words.
Extract from letter Annette Akroyd to Fanny Akroyd dated 19 December 1872
14 South Circular Road
Your letter met me when I arrived; thank you dear for it. I got here quite safely, & am as comfortable as though I had been for months in Calcutta. Mr & Mrs [Mano Mohun] Ghose met me & Mr Bankobehari Gupta, with two or three gentlemen from Mr [Keshub Chunder] Sen. Mrs Phear sent her carriage for me, which was a pretty little attention only surpassed by her very kind reception of me when I called. The house is quite in the best part of Calcutta & is a very nice one. As for my social position being one of isolation, I am not at all afraid of it, I believe I can have very good society & do not feel the smallest awkwardness at present. I see that Mr Ghose is so well known & so much respected that I am as safe as in a church in his house. Mrs Ghose is very sweet & I am sure I cannot help growing very fond of her. You can read Nellies letter & will have an idea of how comfortably they have arranged for me. Bless me! since we wandered in wilds at Ferrara, I have not lived in so much space. I must tell you the most comical circumstance. There are no W.C.s but in each bathroom stands a commode & attached to each room is a staircase leading through the open air, down, by which the mehter comes up & fetches away the water etc: etc: At first I could not but think it most eccentric, now I am used to it & dont mind. The luxury of space after a cabin is great!
I must tell you that I foresee a good many difficulties with these missionaries (Brahmo) but shall do my best to smooth matters. They have among them one or two men of a very coarse nature & some of them have written (I heard before I left England) scandalous libels on Dr Ghose - he has been completely cleared - but all the same it is very annoying. Mr Ghose says he traces these libels & the paragraph in the Mirror about me to this same hand & the same cause - viz: a man whose name I cannot remember[,] a missionary & my refusal to take the F.N. [Female Normal?] School. They believe Dr Ghose has influenced me & so avenged themselves on him. The libels were published in a paper supposed to be sanctioned by Mr Sen, but as far as I have yet gathered he is a tool in the hands of these fellows. This is all for yourself, but I want you to see how my opinions may change & how things are[,] so scribble my impressions[.] You need have no fear for me, Mr Ghose is a man we can heartily trust I am sure - not like my dear Dr Ghose who is too impetuous [-] but a man of much sounder judgment & one who is the friend of the leading legal people here.
Extract from letter Annette Akroyd to Fanny Akroyd 1 January 1873
14 South Circular Road.
The first letter in 1873 I write shall be to you, & shall wish you a very happy New Year. Your letter was very cheery yesterday & I am glad you have such fine times! I am getting on very well, I think, but of course I feel sometimes a dreadful loss of my own people. To me it seems ages since I arrived, but it is only 2 weeks & 3 days. During the last week I have seen several funny sights! & have formed several distinct impressions. The chiefest is for yourself alone[.] I distrust Mr Sen he is too soft-tongued Mrs Phear says he does not always appreciate truth - Now mind that is only for you! I have visited the Asram & feel insulted that he should have asked me to live there. At any moment you may see a man with legs as Mrs Ghose & I call it. First we were met (we went wickedly when not expected) by a rough looking man in Bengalee dress, i.e. a cloth wound about the waist & falling down to the knees, then caught up between the legs by another cloth; he had a shawl on which partially covered him, but he had no stockings, & had just slipped his feet into his shoes. Now when such a man is a servant I dont mind him a bit, but when he is a Missionary & expects me to shake hands, I do mind him. You cannot think what a coarse looking thing a mans brown legs are when he has long exposed them to the outer air! Then having asked for Miss Lahiri, a dear girl located in the abode of bliss, we are conducted by a dirty servant & the legs up a dirty, broken staircase to the F.N. School-room. But Mrs Ghose said to me Oh! no! well go into the Asram, so interrogated a girl who during the absence of legs took us, by a fearful little staircase where the cleanly take up their dress & fear to the prayer-room. Such a dirty court is looked into, such babies with no clothes, such a shutting up suddenly of doors Bah! when I think of the way in which the place is written about in England & remember that K.C.S. knows English ways, I am disgusted. It is worse in one thing than zenana life for there the women are protected from the immodest sight of the men in such deficient clothing. Fancy trying to bring up nice girls in such places of course a great deal is excusable because only men tried to manage it. What however will you think of Mrs Phears going one day & catching Miss Collets model P.C. Mozoomdar teaching in the F.N. School in a waist cloth and nothing else. He it was who wrote to me those letters about woman & was so angry that I had misjudged K.C.S. Well! thank goodness I am here [at 14 South Circular Road]. Dr Ghose was so angry at the proposal that I should live there that he wrote to Keshub about it. There is nothing for it but boarding schools, I am sure.
Extract from letter Annette Akroyd to Fanny Akroyd 22 January 1873
Tell K.G.G. [K.G. Gupta] to write to Dr Ghose, if he has not done so lately, & not to expect an answer. The poor fellow has been in worlds of trouble his wife ill with a most alarming illness fits of some kind his work in arrears owing to his own absence, & he himself has had fever. Write him a letter yourself wont you & and tell him some English gossip. I am grieved for him, he has had such shameful treatment at the hands of the [Brahmo] missionaries one of whom published most scandalous libels of him. He feels himself also very much alone and I am so afraid of his fretting himself into real illness, with all his present worry.
Extract from letter Annette Akroyd to the students of the Working Womans College, 22 February 1873
Across the verandah, I can see the garden, a nice large place, bounded by a low wall on the other side of which is a tank. This tank causes me much fun. You cannot think what odd things go on there. There is a little village of huts on the other side & all the people from them bathe in the tank; wash their cooking utensils, catch their fish (dont be shocked) & drink its water. Perhaps now they dont drink the water as there have been splendid new waterworks, which bring pure water & have made Calcutta almost a healthy city. Early in the morning the people begin to bathe: the women going into the water in their one garment & dexterously changing it for a dry one. This is a very strange sight to our English eyes & indeed must be condemned by everyone, on account of the publicity of the whole proceeding. But something happened the other day very sad, but very strange to me. Just at two oclock Mrs Ghose called to me a fire. Just beyond the tank there are these huts, low, bamboo huts, which of course burn as well as hay or paper after a few months of dry weather; for roof & walls are composed of different parts of the bamboo. We saw a puff of white smoke come from the roof of one, then two or three people ran down to the water, with their pots & kettles in their hands & ran back to try & put out the fire. Of course they could not succeed & in a few minutes the whole hut was blazing then the adjoining ones on all sides & so gradually the fire spread
Now I must tell you that I went to a very grand entertainment the other day. It was a nautch or dance given in honour of the marriage of a young man, belonging to a very rich family. All the houses here in which Bengalis live are built round an open square. This square was roofed in with cloth & the whole most grandly decorated with pictures & wreaths of flowers. A gallery was round it, & in this behind screens the ladies of the families were assembled to peep at the ceremony. At one end of the court sat the bridegroom a boy of 16 or 17, cross-legged, with his hands hanging before him helplessly, under a canopy. He was splendidly dressed & wore jewels wherever they could be put. Servants stood behind & fanned him, but I think he must have been fearfully tired
Extract from letter dated 26 February 1873
[written] Wednesday 29th
On Sunday afternoon I was present at the great open air meeting. It was held quite in the Bengalee quarter, & was numerously attended though not by 5000 people, I think (the number given in the Mirror reports). Judging from other crowds I should say that there were over 2000. It was a very fine sight, & artistically speaking there was one space of a few minutes which would have made a magnificent picture. Keshubs figure being elevated above the crowd, caught the light, some minutes after the audience was in shadow; the crowd below was dark & dusky, but his figure in his white drapery, which fell in graceful folds round him & with his arm upraised was brightly illuminated. He is marvellously graceful & appropriate in gesture, & I have never seen his personal presence so striking as on this occasion. His words were very simple & frequently repeated, so that I was able to understand most of his address.
Extract from letter Annette Beveridge to Henry Beveridge 29 September 1877 [written from Darjeeling]
This morning, having fed my tyrant & left her with the B. I started off alone to the convent, in a fog but well wrapped up hoping by the exercise to lose my cold. I asked my way at John Whites who hires out ponies. He told me to zigzag down which I did & came to a comfortable establishment with great numbers of work people clearing away the bank at the back, & which bore unmistakeable signs of womens rule in the curtains & red cord bell-pull. An amiable sister responded to my summons & ushered me into a room where flowers were arranged like Dutch flower pieces in quaint latticework dishes. I sat some time in some consternation on Lettys [the babys] account & at length a lady appeared & had a long chat with me[.] She told me the boys had been sent for but they were very long in coming from the boys house which is considerably higher. She told me they were very good & industrious & that the little one [Aurobindo] is now quite happy. Then came another lady who is I believe the Rev: Mother but I could not stay longer the baby was on my mind. Coming up the very steep hill towards home I met the boys all grown & looking so well-dressed in their blue serges & scarlet stockings. The little fellow had a grey suit, very becoming & is greatly aged grown tall & boyish. I was struck particularly by the broadening of his forehead. He was pleased to see me I think but all were quite silent except for an extorted yes! or no! I am going to see them again soon meantime please let the doctor hear this. The ladies seemed very friendly & say they shall be very glad to show me their schools & see the little person at present on my knee. They asked if Dr Ghose were a Christian & also Mrs Ghose.
Extract from letter Henry Beveridge to Annette Beveridge dated Rangpur, 3 October 1877
Last night we had a dinner at Robinsons in Griersons honour & Robinson and the Doctor [K.D. Ghose] made speeches to which Grierson replied in feeling terms. Poor fellow, he was about the heartiest man in Rangpore & I am sorry he is going though I think it the best thing for himself. He goes to [illegible] We are going to have a [illegible] meeting on Sunday & the Doctor will make a Bengalee speech. He told me yesterday that his wifes eccentricity has entered a new stage & that she now is always laughing at herself.
Extract from letter Annette Beveridge to Henry Beveridge dated Shillong, September 1879 [reproduced from William Beveridge, India Called Them. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.]
Bengalis ought to like those of us who work with them socially and I think do not dislike us but it is not given to many to have the magnanimity Dr Ghose once expressed to me in answer to a remark that one could hardly expect the English to be liked in India. He said: Why not? We know they are as a race superior and can teach us much. Why not like them? Envy and the censoriousness of (according to modern lights) inferiority, with the irritation of wanting power they could not yield are enough to make the Calcutta Babus dislike us. I believe per contra Ishbanda and Kakina and other smaller Mofussil men would not feel these things and could I believe feel real friendship for English people who treat them as they deserve. But as for liking, as we among ourselves use the word, the same class of Babus, do we like them and on your rule can they like us?
I dont mind confessing to you or them that I think their clamour for gov: appointments combined with their laziness in what concerns actual good independence for themselves and commercial or other prosperity for their country simply deserve contempt. The agitation seems to me to have originated in the idle newspaper set. Even the man who has gone to England, L.M. [Lal Mohun] Ghose is (probably) a comparatively unemployed man.