Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo
FROM CHANDERNAGORE TO PONDICHERRY
Extract from Government of India, Home Political-A Proceedings, May 1912, No. 28, p. 3. [National Archives of India]
INTERCHANGE OF INFORMATION BETWEEN THE FRENCH AND BRITISH OFFICERS IN CONNECTION WITH THE ACTIVITIES OF THE ANARCHISTS AT CHANDERNAGORE.
No. 2715-P., dated Calcutta, the 6th March 1912.
From The Hon'ble Mr. C.J. Stevenson-Moore, I.C.S., C.V.O., Chief Secretary to the Government of Bengal.
To The Secretary to the Government of India, Home Department.
2. The Government of India are well aware of the history of the political movement in Chandernagore during the past three years, and it will suffice to recapitulate the leading facts in brief. In 1908 the attempt which was made on the life of Monsieur Tardival Mairé of Chandernagore was undoubtedly the work of the revolutionary party. Two of the members of the Manicktolla gang, Kanai Lal Dutt and Upendra Nath Banerjee, were residents of Chandernagore. The former, one of the most daring and cold-blooded of the whole gang, was eventually executed for the murder of the approver N.N. Gossain, and there is good reason to believe that of the persons who assisted the conspirators in the Alipore Jail in plotting the murder, two of the most active were Sirish Chandra Ghosh and Basanta Banerjee of Chandernagore. In fact according to a statement made by one of the prisoners, it was Sirish who actually smuggled a revolver into the Jail and made it over to Barindra Kumar Ghose. Upendra Nath Banerjee was also a leading member of the conspiracy and was eventually convicted and sentenced to a long term of transportation. After the arrest of the Manicktolla gang the remnant of the party sought refuge in Chandernagore, and the fact that Sirish Ghose was instrumental in smuggling a revolver into the Alipore Jail shows at once both the facilities which existed in French territory for obtaining arms and the difficulties which were experienced by the police in getting information of the suspects in that town. In 1911 the youth Noni Gopal Mukharji, who was arrested for the attempted bomb outrage at Writers' Buildings, confessed that he had acted at the instigation of Norendra Banerji of Chandernagore and was in fact the tool of the Chandernagore gang, the leading members of which were Sirish Ghose, Moti Lal Roy, Charu Chandra Roy and Basanta Banerjee, all closely allied to the members of the Manicktolla gang.
Extract from Motilal Roy, My Life's Partner (Calcutta: Prabartak Publishers, 1945), pp. 17192, 208215. [This book is a translation by D.S. Mahalanobis of Motilal Roy's Bengali book Jiban-Sangini. The editor is aware of the literary shortcomings of the translation; but the rendering is sufficient for the present purpose.]
One morning, probably towards the close of the month of Magh, as I was starting for my place of business after breakfast, a friend [Srishchandra Ghosh] called me aside and said, Have you heard of the sensational occurrence? I looked up in surprise. Sensational occurrence meant at this time, some political event of gruesome nature. Over and above, a high police official, named Samsul Huda [Alam] had recently been murdered in the High Court of Calcutta. I anxiously waited to hear if there were some more events. My friend added, Aurobindo Babu has made his entry into Chandernagore. He may even have gone by now. What a pity the matter should end so discreditably!
I could not catch his meaning and thought that he might have come to on some errand. What was wrong in it if he had left, I reflected. But what the friend said in one breath made me apprehend that Aurobindo Babu had run away from Calcutta to Chandernagore and that the gentleman whose shelter he had sought [Charuchandra Ray], having refused it, he had probably to go back.
I further heard that Sri Aurobindo had informed his old friend at four o'clock in the morning. It was nearly six o'clock now.
I said, I do not think he is still here. In any case, how did he come? I ascertained that he had come by boat and intimated his arrival through a youngman. My friend used to go out for his morning tea; he had heard the news casually.
I sprinted off at lightning-speed and came to the bank of the Ganges. Winter mist had just begun to clear up at the first touch of Spring's feet. The sluggish river danced a rolling step in the morning breeze. The sun had not risen, shot through the cloud-range of the eastern sky. Under the arch of the peepul and banyan trees I wended my way southward.
The early bathers looked agape at me. Where was I hurrying away, was perhaps the one question that agitated the minds of many of my old acquaintances. I was, however, unmindful of them all, as if a great magnetic force kept me dancing towards it.
The Strand stretched itself away from the Rani Ghat, where a pansi [country boat], brought from Calcutta, bobbed up and down in the ripples. The wind played with a portion of the gathered sail, which gave the impression of a decorative flag. On the top of the boat sat a youngman. Fixing the boat with my questioning eyes, I advanced some distance. He did not speak; I, too, could not muster enough courage to speak either, and withdrew a few paces. I turned my face towards him and advanced a few steps again in expectation of being accosted. He, too, was staring at me, I saw. I faced him this time and asked with some diffidence, Do you hail from Calcutta?
Yes, why do you ask? the youth replied.
I summoned up courage to say, Is Aurobindo Babu in this boat?
The youngman called me near and said, Get into the boat please.
I jumped in and was escorted inside, where I directly came upon an ascetic figure, the very same that I had seen at the Chinsura Provincial Conference, incumbent on the bed with his head supported on another youngman's lap. On seeing me he asked, Where did you get this news about me?
I related what I had heard. What can you do for me? Would it be convenient for you to shelter me?
Pride tingled through my breast. I was amazed. What! convenient to shelter you? I would not hold back my life if it were wanted. My heart was swayed by a riot of emotion it was an auspicious day perhaps! Let that be. I enthusiastically said, Indeed, I have come to receive you. Sri Aurobindo intently looked into my face and said smiling, How far is your residence?
A little way up. Do not trouble yourself, I will personally do the arrangement.
The two escorts, who had accompanied Sri Aurobindo, took their leave. One of them must have been Nalinikanto or Vijoy;1 the other was Suresh alias Moni. I picked up acquaintance with them subsequently. I had no notion that they would leave the whole care of Aurobindo Babu in my hand. Perhaps circumstances forced them to rely on an utter stranger like me and to entrust the foremost leader of the country to my charge. Anyhow, that was an unalterable decree of God. This event changed the whole face of my future. Had it been otherwise, what other fate might have be-fallen me is much difficult a question now to answer. Be that as it may. Even though the occurrence is not a figment, it perhaps shows how fatefully God's dispensation comes into operation.
Sri Aurobindo desired that he intended to live in concealment and that his arrival was to remain a secret. Every precaution was taken. It was a novel task. I could not consider it safe to keep him sitting in the parlour. He was by no means different from many other gentlemen, who used to come, talk and depart in a few days. This simple course could have been adopted without a hitch. But emotional men are by nature restless; they cannot do a thing without an ado. I led him across our unused rooms to a dark apartment on the first floor, set apart as a store-room for chairs. He followed me on tip-toe like a thief. Inside the house could be heard the noise of utensils being scrubbed, women's confused voices and the whizzing of loud-breathing cows in the pen. We signalled by an exchange of glance: No one could discover this place. Is not it so?
A thick layer of dust lay settled on the floor. Bats, cockroaches and spiders reigned undisturbed about the beams; I did not dare stir them up in fear of interfering with his rest. I swept the dust away from a part of the floor and laid a carpet, which was covered over by a sheet. He sat down noiselessly like a marionette. I will be back in a moment, I conveyed by a sign; there will be trouble, if someone enquires for me.
I stole into the godown very cautiously across the verandah, and went to the second-storey room without making any noise. Opening my eyes wide, I observed that Sri Aurobindo was sitting silently with his eyes fixed in an upward stare. What a complacent and divine look! He had come to my house in an ecstatic state. He had utterly resigned himself to God. When he talked, words came out of his mouth as if someone else made him speak. If his hand moved, it was controlled as it were, by a third agency. I held the refreshment dish before him; he glanced at me innocently. I said, My wife could not be taken into confidence. It is my own refreshment; please accept it.
I was in a further dilemma in the evening. I could not be easy in mind, leaving him alone in that dark room. On the other hand, if I made his bed in the parlour, our people would come to know. After dark, a long consultation with my aforesaid friend [Srish Ghosh] led to a disclosure of the facts to another intimate friend [Santosh Dey]. He heard the news with some surprise and offered to lodge Sri Aurobindo at his house.
After ten o'clock in the night, we three escorted him to the friend's house. I could not sleep at night. I was being constantly reminded of his overnight stay. An anxious day passed. In the evening, I visited Sri Aurobindo at the friend's place. He requested me to take him back; he had no sleep the previous night. My friend agreeing, I brought him back to our house.
Our whole suite was examined to clap up a place of concealment for him. A small room in the temple, which in later years was used by boys as a prayer-room, was out of repair and stocked with chairs. I spread his bed on one side of it. After everybody's retirement, I asked him to follow me cautiously. He slowly accompanied me to the room and taking the bed, said, You may go now, I shall be comfortable here. He loved solitude, I realized. On the previous night, someone had shared the room with him, which interfered with his sadhana. I hung a small mosquito curtain, piled up chairs around it more compactly and returned to my apartment.
The whole noon used to be devoted [by Sri Aurobindo] to the teaching of yoga. I still can recollect a discussion about the divine principle, enmeshed in a quadruple sheath. He discoursed ecstatically2 about Vasudeva, Sankarshan, Prodyumna and Aniruddha, and I listened with rapt attention. On the subject of re-incarnation, he cited instances of the philosophic and practical types of manifestations, explaining in detail that Vyasa was the philosophic type and Sri Krishna the practical. He freely expounded the Upanishadic principles, too. I hardly have words to depict the joy with which we passed the noon-days.
At night, my aforesaid friend used to come to discuss political subjects, which had no attraction for me, and I dozed off reclining on a chair. The discussion used to continue till mid-night. Sri Aurobindo would go to bed then.
We talked for hours together, leaving nothing undiscussed. I can hardly restrain my laugh, when I remember his numerous bantering remarks. Our close acquaintance made such an impression in our hearts that it was not to be eradicated without inflicting a greater pain than that of death, at least as far as I was concerned. That memory is undefaceable.
His continual stay at a place might cause the secret to leak out and we talked about his removal.3 I was charged to escort him over the town to the southern outskirts [i.e. Gondalpara], in the darkness of night in a carriage. His disappearance had been reported in the two magazines, Dharma, and Karmayogin. People knew that he had gone among the Himalayas for sadhana in response to a call from the Tibetan saint Kuthumi.4 None the less, the police were more in the know than our countrymen; they were at that time searching for Aurobindo Babu in Calcutta.
At mid-night, when everybody had gone to sleep, I took him to our stable, which was close to our house. The driver was rapt in sleep. I very cautiously led out the two horses and somehow yoked them to the carriage, groping in darkness.5 He was requested to sit inside with a friend of mine.
He who was keeping tryst at the southern end of the town [Narendranath Bannerjee] was entrusted with the keep of Sri Aurobindo, who was in perfect trim. I drove home back.
One day my friend [Srish] came abruptly and said, Aurobindo Babu has sent for you. I was brought to my senses. It was nearly a month now since I had met him last. I had full information about him, but had no personal contact.
Sri Aurobindo was at this time quartered in my neighbourhood. The northern town having proved unsuitable,6 he was for some days accomodated in a garden-house at the heart of the town [Kar's garden house]. The place appeared to be too open and he moved to the northern quarter [Nichupatti] again. I, too, had a hand in this arrangement. He who was in charge of the management [Sudarshan Chattopadhyay] is now in the next world. I received news daily from Sri Aurobindo. This gentleman was employed in a mill; he used to go out at nine o'clock, locking the front-gate, and returned at dusk. Food and other necessaries would be kept ready for Sri Aurobindo, who had to spend the whole day alone.
I went to him after night-fall. He made warm enquiries about my health: You have made yourself scarce; business engagements perhaps! I should have to tell a long story, if I attempted anything like a right answer. I merely said `yes' or `no' and changed the topic.
The night deepened. As I was preparing to return, he said, Come tomorrow, if you can. I am going away shortly. I looked at him in surprise and asked, Where do you intend to go? He said smiling, To some independent country. My surprise intensified. I interrogated, I suppose, you are going abroad then? He laughed. No, inside of India, he said. His answer was veiled and I did not press him further on this point. I had heard a stray news that he did not favour an incognito life, which, however, he was persuaded to accept at Sister Nivedita's earnestness. 7
A week elapsed. I had not met Sri Aurobindo again. Suddenly I had to get busy in arranging for his departure, which had been decided in favour of Pondicherry. My help was needed even in fixing up his mode of travel. I do not know why I stayed away at the send-off, although other details had been attended to and necessary hands provided by me. Between two opposite forces, the body and the consciousness, it was hard to maintain the life's balance. Some time I put my whole soul into work; the next moment I was immobile and sat stock-still. On the night of his departure from Chandernagore, I attended to the necessary details, had my dinner in due time and went to bed.
I heard calls after mid-night. As I got up, she [Motilal's wife] enquired, Where do you want to go?
I replied, Aurobindo Babu is going away to-day; I may have to meet him.
I hurried out of my bed and as soon as I was outside the room, asked my friend what was up.
He said smiling, He wants to meet you before departure.
I covered my upper body with the fore-skirt of my dhuti and accompanied him. The night was just at the juncture of its third-quarter. Silence reigned everywhere, broken only by the pit-pats of nocturnal animals. The half-moon floated in the sky and the earth was flooded with moon-light. The summer with its grilling heat stood at a dwindling distance. My body was cooled by the spring breeze. Dew had fallen on green grass, which gleamed in moon-light as if set with stars. The Ganges flowed before me and dazzled my eyes as by a mine of diamond particles. I beheld Sri Aurobindo, who stood on the bank awaiting my arrival.
I eagerly bowed to his feet. He held me to his breast as on the day of his last farewell. The one was a meeting that established me into his grace; the other, to end in eternal separation. The impression of his touch, however, indicated no difference to me in either case.
I must get going. We shall meet again.
Extracts from Narendranath Bannerjee, Rakta Biplaber Ek Adhyaya. (Chandernagore: Bimalendu Bannerjee, 1361), pp. 52-59 (Translated from the Bengali).
An article published in the Karmayogin and suspicions concerning the Shamsul Alam murder case made it possible that Aurobindo-babu might be arrested. Aurobindo-babu was unwilling to go into hiding, but well-wishers of his who had the national interest in mind held a different opinion. If he were compelled to go into hiding, Narendranath and Srishchandra were to be informed beforehand. But Aurobindo-babu left Calcutta suddenly after receiving some secret information and they could could not be informed. Following the directions of the late Ramchandra Majumdar and accompanied by the late Sureshchandra Chakrabarti and Birendranath Ghosh, Aurobindo-babu came straight to Chandernagore by boat. Charu-babu was told the news but was unwilling to give him refuge.
Srishchandra came almost daily, mornings and evenings, to Charuchandra's house. That night [i.e. early morning] when he came he learned of the whole thing; leaping over a wall8 in the dead of night he went and told it all to Narendranath. Narandranath's maternal uncle, the late Upendrachandra Chattopadhyaya, at that time had been sent on tour on behalf of the Poona-based Servants of India Society. There was a chance that he might be coming home once in a day or two. So it would not be convenient to give Aurobindo shelter in Narendranath's house. The two talked it over and decided that Narendranath would look after Aurobindo-babu after his uncle had gone away. In the meantime there was the possibility of keeping him temporarily with Motilal; the right course evidently was to give effect to this plan. Shrishchandra and Narendranath were convinced that Aurobindo-babu would not leave Chandernagore without seeing them. On enquiry, they learned that he was then at Rani Ghat. When Moti-babu was given the news by Srishchandra that morning, he brought Aurobindo from the boat to his own house. For the first day or two, Narendranath supplied food to Aurobindo-babu on instructions from Srishchandra. At that time Aurobindo-babu was staying in Moti-babu's house in a small room next to the corridor.
When Aurobindo agreed to stay even in a hut if necessary, we tried to rent a house in Gondalpara. With help from the late Kshetramohan a thatched hut belonging to the late Ramdayal Chattopadhyaya in the Haldarpara locality was taken on rent. All the arrangements were made for him to live there in hiding.
In the meantime Upendrachandra went out on tour. In order to prevent the secret of his hide-out from leaking out, Moti-babu, following Srishchandra's instructions, took Aurobindo late one night in his own carriage (which he drove himself) and dropped him midway near Gopal-babu's garden. Even though Aurobindo-babu and Narendranath had met one another, an interesting signal had been decided upon between the two so that there would be no mix-up in their recognising each other in the dark. Narendranath thought it would not be the right thing to take Aurobindo to the thatched hut which had been fixed for him so late at night. So he kept him that night in his own house and the next evening took him to the hut. During those three or four days Ramdayal-babu saw Aurobindo-babu and Narendranath together there. That first night Narendranath brought Aurobindo-babu to his house and later arrangements were made to keep him in either place as required. When the situation became known, a worker was at length brought from Calcutta to stay openly in that thatched hut. In accordance with Aurobindo-babu's wishes, it was arranged for him to take milk and fruits when he was staying at the hut and cooked food when he was at Narendranath's place.
But it was found inconvenient to keep this up for a long time, and there was a possibility that Upendrachandra might soon come home again, so it was decided to keep him elsewhere.
That year during the annual Saraswati Puja the Bandhavi Sammelan organized an exhibition of literature and swadeshi goods. But when the proposed arrangements were made, the Sammilani's rented house and grounds were found to be insufficient; even after Kshetramohan's house was added the insufficiency was not removed. On Srishchandra's advice, when he and Narendranath spoke to Charuchandra about the exhibition, he [Charuchandra] undertook the responsibility and organized it in Kar's Garden [Karer Bagan] on the Chandernagore Station Road. Whatever things had been collected in Gondalpara were taken over there. Under Charuchandra's leadership this big exhibition was a great success.
At the time that Aurobindo-babu was in hiding, Srishchandra had the garden-house key with him even though the exhibition work was over. One night Narendranath went to Srishchandra's to ask him about keeping Aurobindo-babu in that garden-house. Not finding him home, Narendranath went to Charuchandra's house. When he met Srishchandra there and explained the whole situation to him in front of Charuchandra, an unexpected and disagreeable situation arose. So the two of them left the place and without Charuchandra's knowledge they decided to shift him to the garden one day later.
Meanwhile Upendrachandra had returned home. The day Aurobindo-babu left Gondalpara, he said that he wanted to talk briefly with Upendrachandra about the Servants of India Society. When Upendrachandra, who had just arrived, was informed about Aurobindo, he was greatly distressed by the sorry condition in which he dwelt. Nevertheless it was decided that they would go to Kar's Garden at night after the conversation with Upendrachandra.
That night after an almost hour-long talk with Upendrachandra, Aurobindo-babu took his meal and set out on foot with Narendranath.
Srishchandra had forbidden us to enter Kar's Garden by the gate on the main road. On the western side of the garden, off a narrow alley, a part of the wall was broken down. While entering the garden in the darkness through that place the two of them fell over one another. Aurobindo smiled sweetly and said: On account of these English we are doomed to die an unnatural accidental death.
For a few days Aurobindo-babu also stayed in the bazar in Nichupatti. In accordance with arrangements made by Basantkumar [see Document 1], Sudarshan was in charge of looking after him there.
Then a plan was made in Calcutta to send him by the steamer Dupleix to Pondicherry. He was taken by boat from Chandernagore to the Agarpara ghat and left in Amarendranath's care. Amerendranath was responsible for transporting him from there to the steamer.
FROM CHANDERNAGORE TO CALCUTTA
Extracts from Government of India, Home Political-A Proceedings, December 1910, Nos. 1442. p. 9 [National Archives of India]
Extract paragraph 4 from the Weekly Report, dated 17th April 1910, from the Inspector-General of Police, Bengal, to the Director, Criminal Intelligence.
4. Arabindo Ghose's disappearance. In regard to the reported arrival of Arabindo Ghose at Pondicherry, mentioned in my last week's report, further enquiries made in Calcutta indicate that he probably left by the S.S. Dupleix of the Messageries Maritimes Company, on the 1st of April. The Dupleix is the only passenger boat from Calcutta which calls regularly at Pondicherry. On the 31st of March the Special Branch Officer of the Calcutta Police who supervises arrivals and departures of Indians by sea reported that two native passengers who gave their names as J.N. Mitter of Uluberia, and Bankim Chandra Bhowmik of Nilphamari, Rungpore, had reserved berths on this steamer for Pondicherry. The Health Officer's inspection for this ship was held on the evening of the 31st. The Calcutta Police officer who was present at the Health Officer's inspection reported that neither of these two passengers had turned up for inspection. On the 4th instant a letter was received from the Messageries Maritimes Company to the effect that these two persons had actually sailed on the Dupleix for Pondicherry, but that as they had boarded the steamer at the last moment, they had not been seen by the Calcutta Police officer. On enquiry it was ascertained from the Health Officer that at about 9-30 p.m. on the night of the 31st ultimo, 2 Bengalis giving their names as J.N. Mitter and Bankim Chandra Bhowmik came to his private residence and requested to be furnished with health certificates to enable them to sail on the Dupleix. The Health Officer granted them the necessary certificates. On a photograph of Arabindo Ghose being shown to the Health Officer, he stated that this was probably the individual who gave his name as Jotindra Nath Mitter. The Health Officer further stated that he was struck by the fluent English which this gentleman spoke.
Enquiries at Uluberia show that there is such a person as J.N. Mitter residing there, but he is at present at home and has never left by sea. There seems little doubt that the J.N. Mitter who embarked on the S.S. Dupleix was Arabindo Ghose.
It is believed that the second person Bankim Chandra Bhowmik, may be Nolini Kanto Sen Gupta, of Nilphamari, an acquitted accused in the Alipore Bomb case who was known to be an intimate friend and admirer of Arabindo Ghose, and who disappeared about the same time as Arabindo. Unfortunately no photograph of this young man is on record, but the description furnished by the Health Officer of the man calling himself Bankim Chandra Bhowmik in many respects agrees with that of Nolini.
An officer of the Special Department received information that Arabindo Ghose had decided to proceed to Berlin to throw in his lot with the Indian Revolutionary party there the party which publishes and sends out the Talvar. He intended to start from Bombay in the Austrian Lloyds steamer leaving on the 1st of April, but finding he could not catch that steamer he decided to leave Calcutta for Pondicherry in the Messageries Maritimes boat.9
Extracts from Sri Aurobindo's autobiographical writings: On Himself (1972), pp. 37 and 61; and Archives and Research, vol. 8, no. 2 (December 1984), p. 194.
At Chandernagore he [Sri Aurobindo] plunged entirely into solitary meditation and ceased all other activity. Then there came to him a call to proceed to Pondicherry. A boat manned by some young revolutionaries of Uttarpara took him to Calcutta;10 there he boarded the Dupleix and reached Pondicherry on April 4, 1910.
In his passage from Chandernagore to Pondicherry Sri Aurobindo stopped only for two minutes outside College Square to take his trunk from his cousin11 and paid no visit except to the British Medical Officer to obtain a medical certificate for the voyage. He went straight to the steamship Dupleix and next morning was on his way to Pondicherry.
Sri Aurobindo decided on this step [going to Pondicherry] late in March; Amar Chatterji and some young men from Ut[t]arpara moved him to Calcutta;10 he took immediately his belongings from his cousin,11 Sukumar Mitra, son of the editor of Sanjibani, who had been forewarned and, except for a visit to the Certifying Medical Officer, saw no one and paid no visit but went straight to the Dupleix and sailed next morning for Pondicherry which he reached on April 4th(?) [.]
Extract from Nagendrakumar Guharay, Debata Biday, Galpa-Bharati, volume 6, no. 1 (Ashadh 1357 [June/July 1950]), pp. 4868. (Translated from the Bengali.)
In March  Aurobindo sent a letter from Chandernagore to his maternal cousin, Sri Sukumar Mitra, telling him that arrangements would have to be made soon to send him out of British India. Sukumar-da was responsible for everything: selecting the place, deciding on the mode of travel by sea or by land fixing the day, devising a way to bring Aurobindo from Chandernagore to Calcutta, collecting funds, picking reliable volunteers to carry out the work entrusted to him by Aurobindo, and so forth. He thought of and worked out a plan all by himself. In his desire to carry out plan successfully he was careful to provide himself with some workable alternatives.
Sukumar-da was a young man at that time, but he was quite serious for his age and his capacity to maintain secrecy was admirable. He was kept under constant watch day and night, except when he was sleeping, by half a dozen or more police detectives, yet he accomplished the difficult task that his Auro-da had entrusted him with considerable skill.
One day in the last week of March, Sukumar-da showed me two steel trunks in a room of his house (the Sanjivani office) and said that I should take them and keep them at my mess. I lifted the trunks up a little and realised they were full of things. I asked jokingly whether the trunks contained bombs and pistols. Sukumar-da smiled and said whatever the contents, they had to be kept with me. I took the two trunks to my mess at 44/1 College Street. He gave me an appointment to meet him again the following day.
The next day when I met Sukumar-da at the appointed time, he wrote down the names and addresses of two men and, giving me the necessary money, asked me to buy two second class tickets on the Colombo steamer. I cannot remember exactly whether I bought tickets for Pondicherry or for Colombo. Sukumar-da recalls that the tickets were for Colombo.12 He says that he did this as a precautionary measure. The two passengers were bound for Pondicherry but their tickets were to be for Colombo. In case of an enquiry, the attention of the police would first be directed towards Colombo. I cannot recall the name of the company but Sukumar-da still remembers it. It was Messageries Maritimes. But I certainly haven't forgotten the name of the ship on which we would bid farewell to the god. A picture of that ship, the Dupleix, docked on the Ganges near Eden Gardens,13 still floats before my eyes.
Sukumar-da had asked me to reserve a single cabin for two persons only. So I made that arrangement when I purchased the tickets from the ship agents. I returned to the Sanjivani office and gave him the two tickets and the change and informed him that a cabin had been booked according to his instructions. He checked the tickets and handed them back to me saying: Keep them with you for the time being. I'll take them later. Earlier, Sukumar-da had asked me to keep two trunks full of things; in answer to my question he had informed me that there were no bombs or revolvers in them. Today he had me buy tickets for Colombo and asked me to keep them too. All this began to perplex me a little. I just couldn't figure out what was going on.
A day or two later, on the morning of the first of April, 1910,14 Sukumar-da called for me. When I met him he said: At midday today you and Suren will take a boat from Bagbazar Ghat and go to15 ghat on the other side of the Ganges. Right now you must go and deposit the two trunks in the ship's cabin. Take both the tickets with you. At the other ghat two people from another boat will get into yours. You will take them to the Colombo-bound ship. I enquired, How am I going to recognise the men on the boat? He replied, I have told everything to Suren.16 While Sukumar-da was saying this, all at once something suddenly flashed across my mind. I suddenly asked: It isn't your Auro-da who is going, is it? A little surprised he answered with a laugh: Well, you have become intelligent, haven't you? How did you know?
It just occurred to me, I answered.
You've guessed right, he said. But be careful that no one else finds out. Neither Sukumar-da nor I can recall the name of the ghat on the other side of the Ganges in Uttarpara or Bali.
Suren (Surendrakumar Chakrabarti), whom Sukumar-da mentioned, stayed in the same hostel as I. Suren-babu was older than I was. We both came from the same district. He died sometime in the first half of 1942.
Sri Motilal Roy made the arrangements for the boat-trip of Aurobindo and the late Bijoy Nag17 who would be going along with him to Pondicherry from Chandernagore to the ghat mentioned by Sukumar-da. The change of boat at this ghat was thought up as a precautionary measure. Suren-babu and I could not reach the ghat on the other side of Ganges at the appointed time. I can't remember why we were delayed in crossing the Ganges. Seeing that we were late, Aurobindo's boat set out for Chandpal Ghat on the Calcutta-side of the Ganges, where the Colombo-bound ship was to depart from. Not finding them, we too crossed the river to return to the Sanjivani office. An account of the confusion our delay caused and the way it was resolved will be given to the readers first by Sri Amar Chatterji, the experienced old leader of Bengal.
[Extracts from a letter from Amarendranath Chatterjee to Nagendrakumar Guharoy dated Uttarpara, 25 April 1948]
You have asked me to write about Aurobindo's departure from Bengal. Aurobindo was at that time our Sejda; Sri had not yet been affixed to the name. Motilal Roy's Prabartak was not yet a full-fledged Dharmasangha. Motilal sent me news that they would bring Aurobindo by boat to the Dumurtala Ghat in Agarpara; I was to take a boat from Uttarpara and in it convey Aurobindo from Agarpara to the Dupleix.18 My memory is rather weak and I didn't think when I set to work that I would have to recall all this for I thought I was going to be hanged or shot one day or another. I do not remember the date on which Aurobindo sailed. You can do some research on this to find out.
Ramchandra [Majumdar] had nothing to do with Aurobindo's departure from Bengal, because nobody was told anything about it the day he sailed. Bijoy Nag and Sukumar Mitra knew, for Bijoy Nag went with him, I think or was supposed to go with him. In Uttarpara, the late Rajendranath Mukherji (Michhri-babu), eldest son of the late Raja Pyarimohan Mukherji knew; so did I and my right-hand man, the late Manmathnath Biswas. When we brought him by boat to the other side of the Ganges near the Dupleix, it happened that we did not meet the people who were supposed to be there; the passports19 were with them. Moreover, the doctor had finished the medical examination and gone. So we hired a horse-carriage, drew the curtains, shut the door and headed down Harrison Road; the carriage did not go up to No. 6 College Square. It had given us quite a few jitters to take him in this way from Chandpal Ghat in downtown Calcutta. But the one for whom we were anxious was altogether calm, like someone absorbed in the trance of samadhi.
I sent Manmath to the late Krishnakumar Mitra's house to look for Sukumar Mitra. No one was home. We assumed they were out looking for us. Manmath was sent to look at the ghat. We went straight to the doctor to get the passport and the health certificate.19 It was then nine or nine-thirty at night. Aurobindo got down, met the doctor and came back with the health certificate. The doctor was a good fellow. He didn't ask many questions, just took his fee and signed the paper. All he remarked was, You seem to have been educated in Europe!
The carriage went to the ghat and halted. There we met the people whose absence earlier had made us run about so much.19
He then went up the gangway and boarded the ship. I and another person went with him. I don't remember who this person was, perhaps it was you. I entered the cabin and saw someone, probably Bijoy Nag, sitting there. Aurobindo settled down in the cabin and I went out with a saddened heart. There was some money in my pocket. Putting it in Aurobindo's hands, I did namaskar and bid him farewell. I seem to recall that a friend of mine, the late Khirod Ganguli, was also there.20 The three of us returned to Uttarpara at midnight. I do not remember how much money I gave him; it was a final offering from Michhri-babu.
Amar-da's account may be considered more or less correct. But in some places a few significant errors have crept in.
[Here the author offers an apology for the fading memories of the three still-living witnesses Amarendra Chatterjee, Sukumar Mitra and himself. This account represents the considered opinion of all three.]
When we did not see Aurobindo's boat at the ghat that had been selected on the other side of the Ganges, we again crossed the river and returned to Calcutta. We went straight to Sukumar-da's house and told him what had happened. He told me to go at once to Chandpal Ghat and take the two trunks out of the ship's cabin. Suren-babu returned to the hostel. His part of the work ended at this point.
It was then about six in the evening. I again rushed to Chandpal Ghat. There was no end to my scurrying about that day.
On the ship I learned that the ship's doctor had finished his examination of the passengers and gone home. My heart sank when I heard this. I thought, All this labour and now our efforts are going to waste! I met the captain and got the (doctor's) address. The doctor was European. Our two passengers had to go to the doctor's house that very night, pay the regular fee, take the medical examination and get the health-certificate. The passengers had to get their certificates and board the ship by 10 or 11 p.m.; otherwise they could not go by the morning ship.
The coolie who took the two trunks down from the ship's cabin and put them on the hired horsecarriage told me that he knew the doctor-sahib's house and was acquainted with the sahib's servant. He could arrange everything. In the same breath he also made it clear that I would have to give him and the servant a fat tip to keep them happy. The coolie was a Bengali, a Calcutta man and very clever. From his way of acting and speaking I could see that he could get the job done. But the cloud of anxiety did not dissolve completely, because we did not know yet when and where this unforeseen game of hide-and-seek with the two passengers would end.
I felt reassured by the coolie's words and deep down I was even happy. But I kept that feeling hidden and asked him, You think you'll be able to handle it?
Babu, I tell you I can do it. I swear to Mother Kali. He held his ears as he said that and added, Babu, if I fail, chop off my ears.
Tell me what would make you happy?
You tell me, Babu.
You are the one to be made happy. How should I know?
[The coolie episode continues.]
By the time I arrived at the mess with the two trunks, evening had advanced. I had asked the coolie to wait at the ghat. Once again I rushed towards Sukumar-da's house. The Sanjivani office was not more than nine or ten minutes away from my mess. He was waiting for me in the outer room. I told him I had taken the luggage from the ship's cabin. Before I could give him any other news he ordered me to take the two trunks and tickets to the pier immediately. Amar-babu had taken Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag there by carriage and they were waiting for me. He had also got word in the meantime from Amar-da's man that the ship's doctor had finished examining the passengers and left. I told him about the arrangements I had made for having them examined by the doctor and getting the health certificate. When I asked him for the necessary money, he went at once into the house, got the money and gave it to me.
I took the two trunks from the mess and loaded them onto a horse-carriage and taking the tickets along with me rushed once again 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 what you said. It's late. If you waste any more time, the sahib won't be able to do it, he'll go to sleep.
Here, some significant errors in Amar-da's account have to be pointed out. Amar-da's reference to the passports is incorrect, since at that time passengers for Colombo could travel without them. I cannot say what the situation is now. He mixed up the tickets and the passports. Next, the story of leaving Bijoy Nag and me behind and taking Aurobindo to the doctor's house and then meeting us again on the ghat on returning from there is also incorrect.21 The two second-class tickets were with me. The passenger's name and address had to be given when buying first and second-class tickets; the cabin berths were reserved under the name. If a passenger does not give his name and address while showing the ticket, why should the doctor conduct a medical examination and issue a certificate? Moreover, Bijoy Nag was Aurobindo's co-passenger; his medical examination could not have been completed or a certificate issued if he had not been present personally.
Here, it is an appropriate place for me to state that the names and addresses under which the tickets were bought were selected by Sukumar-da from the Sanjivani's subscriber-list. One was a subscriber from the Rangpur district and the other from the Lakshmipur district of Assam.22 I learned this from Sukumar-da after Aurobindo had gone. Sukumar-da had given two real names and addresses rather than imaginary ones in order to mislead the police during investigation and so delay the unravelling of the mystery.
I sent my carriage away. The coolie put the two trunks on to the roof of Aurobindo's carriage with some other things. It was a second-class or third-class carriage. Such carriages resembled palanquins in that it was impossible to recognise the passenger from the outside when the window was closed. It was in order to gain this advantage that we did not hire a first-class phaeton. I climbed into the carriage and sat beside Amar-da. We were in front and Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag behind. 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, I only 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. The coolie called the servant and fixed the meeting. Before the English doctor called Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag in, I gave them their tickets and told them the names and addresses under which they had been purchased. I recall having given the money for the doctor's fees to Aurobindo. I do not recollect the amount, perhaps thirty-two rupees.
I forgot to mention one thing. I heard from Sukumar-da that Aurobindo had decided to board the ship in the guise of a malaria patient and to give out that he was going on this sea-voyage on his doctor's advice for the sake of his health.23 On instructions from Sukumar-da, I had informed the captain of the ship that the passenger was a malaria-patient and that he would arrive by boat to board the ship. Bijoy Nag told me that during the examination Aurobindo had answered the doctor's questions accordingly.
We had to stand and wait on the verandah for almost half an hour before the doctor called Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag inside. During this period the coolie did something amusing that we all enjoyed a lot. He came and whispered in my ear, That big babu of yours, is he frightened? I guess he's never been near an Englishman before. Tell him the sahib is a good man, he doesn't have to be afraid. The coolie had noticed the three of us chatting off and on. Seeing that Aurobindo remained completely silent, he may have jumped to this wrong conclusion. I said, No, why should he be frightened? You see, he is suffering from malaria, his health is not all right. That's why he looks that way to you. The coolie could not understand me. In a wink he was before Aurobindo whispering to him softly: Babu, why are you afraid? The sahib is a very good man, you don't have to be afraid. As he said that he took hold of Aurobindo's arms and shook them as if to rouse him and make him alert. The three of us silently enjoyed the whole episode, exchanging amused glances and laughing to ourselves. Aurobindo too smiled gently. The scene comes alive in my mind like a film even today.
Hardly a moment later, the servant came and told us: Sahib selam diya. [The master bids you welcome.] Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag were led into the sahib's room by the servant. They came out ten or fifteen minutes later with the certificates. I heard from Bijoy Nag that after a moment or two of conversation the sahib had realised that Aurobindo had been educated in England. Asked about this, Aurobindo replied affirmatively.
We climbed back into the carriage greatly relieved. The carriage again sped towards Chandpal Ghat. We could not see the slightest trace of anxiety on Aurobindo's face. Later on we talked about this among ourselves. Needless to say, there was no end to our worrying about Aurobindo. Amar-da has rightly said: The one for whom we were anxious was altogether calm like someone absorbed in the trance of samadhi! The picture he has etched of Aurobindo in those days is genuine and faultless. That Aurobindo was a man beyond anxiety or fear, that he was fearless [abhi], this I knew. But before this 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 loading 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 went out. Bijoy Nag made Aurobindo's bed. Amar-da and I stood facing Aurobindo near the door. Amar-da took some creased notes from his shirt pocket and gave them to Aurobindo, saying they were from Michhri-babu. 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 lay my forehead at Aurobindo's feet as an expression of my reverence, and in the touch of that divine body, I felt fulfilled.
Extract from Amarendranath Chattopadhyay, Sri Aurobindo Mahaprayane. Prabartak, vol. 35, no. 9 (Paush 1357 [December/January 195051]), pp. 36566. (Translated from the Bengali.)
I was not there the day he [Aurobindo] left Calcutta. The government was baffled about his whereabouts; they didn't know what to do. The resolve to keep the whole thing secret was especially firm. The person he expected would give him refuge did not. Motilal Roy, head of the Prabartak Samgha, organiser of the revolutionaries' centre and harbourer [of many absconders in later days] earned everyone's admiration by giving him refuge as soon as he heard of his problem. The arrangements for Aurobindo's stay were made according to the directions of Narendranath Bannerjee of Gondalpara and Motilal Roy. Some time later arrangements were made for shifting him to Pondicherry. My esteemed friend Motilal sent word to me that they would bring him by boat from Chandernagore to Agarpara's Dumurtala ghat and I would have to take him on to another boat and convey him to the ship Dupleix.24 Sukumar Mitra would make all the necessary arrangements for this, and they would be waiting at the pier.25 Following this plan, I went with Manmath Biswas on a boat from Uttarpara, picked up Aurobindo from the Dumurtala ghat and conveyed him to the Dupleix. The date [of the ship's departure] was the 1st of April, 1910. What a huge April Fool we made of the Bengal government!
Here something needs to be said without which the story would be incomplete and defective. It was originally planned that Bijoy Nag and Sukumar Mitra would be present at the ghat.25 But I found none of the deputed persons at the ghat the plan misfired. And so we took a carriage, put Aurobindo in it and went looking for Sukumar at the late Krishnakumar Mitra's house. I sent Manmath in to look for him.
Sukumar Mitra was Aurobindo's maternal cousin. He was the late Krishnakumar Mitra's son and is still living. He used to send clothes and other necessities to Aurobindo at Chandernagore. He was responsible for sending Aurobindo to Pondicherry. The ticket cleverly was bought for Colombo.26 The name of the shipping company was Messageries Maritimes. The ship was the Dupleix. Sukumar Mitra had entrusted Nagen Guharay with this work. Nagen Guharay from Noakhali participated in the Swadeshi movement as a worker and leader; he was an admirer of Aurobindo and is an expecially loved and trusted friend of mine. For some reason Sukumar Mitra's plan involving Nagen Guharay and Bijoylal27 for putting Aurobindo on the Dupleix did not work out, and so at Agarpara I had to take the responsibility of escorting him to the Dupleix. But one had to have a ticket and a doctor's health certificate before boarding the ship with one's luggage. I was a little upset by not finding them at the ghat.
The doctor had already seen the passengers and gone away, and I neither had the tickets with me nor did I meet the people who had them at the ghat. Now I started worrying. I put Aurobindo in a horse-carriage, and with me sitting beside him and Manmath across from us, we all headed for Harrison Road. I stopped the carriage on Harrison Road and sent Manmath to Sukumar Mitra's house. When we found no one there we realised that they were out looking for us. It would be good to accept Nagen Guharay's account of what followed, which was published in the Ashadh issue of Galpa-Bharati [Document 6], because Nagen Guharay has put forward those facts that are agreed on by all three of us who are still conversant with this episode of forty years ago. As things then stood Sukumar Mitra told Nagen that it would be best to remove the trunks from the cabin. When the captain informed us that the doctor had finished examining the passengers and gone home we understood that the three [sic] passengers would have to go to the doctor's house to get their health certificates. 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: he sat there like a lifeless stone image. Nagen brought down the trunks and, leaving a coolie at the ghat, brought down the trunks and went to give the news to Sukumar Mitra. Sukumar Mitra told him to go back to the ghat with the trunks and wait there. If you would like to know the rest of this story please see Nagen Guharay's article. There we learn that the names under which the tickets were bought had been selected from the Sanjivani's subscriber list one person was from Rangpur, the other from Assam.28 On the way from the ghat Nagen came and sat beside me while Manmath remained at the ghat. Since the coolie knew where the doctor's house was he also got up and sat beside the coachman. Aurobindo got the health certificate in the guise of a malaria-patient. The English doctor exchanged a few words with Aurobindo; he told him, You seem to have been educated in Europe. At about eleven the carriage returned to Chandpal Ghat and all of us, including the very agile coolie carrying the trunks, accompanied Aurobindo on board the ship.
Bijoy Pal29 went to Aurobindo's cabin to prepare his bed. The coolie left the luggage and went away contented. Nagen and I stood in front of Aurobindo and took our leave of him for the last time. I put whatever money I had in his hands. He gave a slight smile. After bowing to him we bid farewell, inwardly confident but with hearts overcome by emotion.
Extracts from Sukumar Mitra, Sri Aurobindo Acroyd Ghose. Masik Basumati, vol. 31 (1359), pp. 171-2, 337-341. (Translated from the Bengali.)
Aurobindo in Chandernagore
A few days after his disappearance I received a letter written in pencil by Aurobindo. In the letter he asked me to send him some papers, clothes, and so forth, as well as some money. His money was with me. Like this he used to send a young man with letters, etc. twice or thrice a week to do various things. No one in the house except me knew where Aurobindo was. All sorts of wild stories about his disappearance were coming out in many Calcutta papers. At this time the Servant, edited by the late Shyamsunder Chakrabarti, reported: Aurobindo has gone into seclusion to do sadhana. Nevertheless the curiosity of the people was not satisfied and almost daily the newspapers kept their curiosity alive by enticing them with some news of him. The police were certainly never at ease. They kept watch over me openly so that it was impossible for me to go out. Somebody connected with one paper or another would suddenly appear full of eagerness to find out where Sri Aurobindo was. One day a man from the secret police (Priyalal Basu) came and told me: I have come to find out where Aurobindo-babu is. I knew the man's clandestine employment. He confessed to me that when he decided to come to my house with this purpose his colleagues tried to dissuade him from coming here, telling him, If you go there they'll thrash you and make pulp out of your bones. He declared that despite such a warning he had come in order to find out the real truth.
After the Manicktola Bomb Case, our house was searched every four or five months. Spies often furtively entered our house. I caught them at this even during the night.
Moti-babu kept Aurobindo from the world's eyes. After shifting him two or three times to other houses he eventually put him in one where he stayed until his departure from Chandernagore.
At the end of March, 1910, Aurobindo wrote to me that he wanted to leave Bengal and that the necessary arrangements should be made. He sent me some letters he had written to some of his friends asking for funds. He instructed me to go personally and collect the money. I also was responsible for working out how to get Aurobindo from Chandernagore to Calcutta, the means of transport, the route, the date of departure, etc. I resolved to work with the utmost care and circumspection at every step and in every detail. At that time half a dozen police detectives used to sit near the tank in front of our house and kept watch over me. They shadowed me as soon as I came out of the house. One of those who followed me even had a bicycle there was a reason for it. I gave the slip to them and for a few days went in the mornings to a number of places to collect funds. After this Aurobindo wrote saying he would go to Pondicherry. The responsibility for making all the arrangements for sending him fell on me. Since the secret police openly picked me up and followed me from the moment I left the house, I did not take the direct responsibility for sending him to Pondicherry but instead I got the work done by giving instructions to two men I trusted. What I told one I did not inform the other, and I did not allow the two to meet. In the last week of March of 1910 I summoned Sri Nagendrakumar Guharay, a trustworthy worker of the Anti-Circular Society, from his mess on College Street and asked him to take two steel trunks belonging to Aurobindo and keep them in his house. At first he hesitated, then he took them to his mess.
The Journey to Pondicherry
I decided to send Aurobindo to Pondicherry by 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 by many people during the long ride. He also might be noticed by police spies who, I imagined, had been alerted at all the stations. At that time there was in Calcutta the office of a French shipping company called Messageries Maritimes. Ships of other companies also sailed to Colombo but they did not halt at Pondicherry. It was advantageous to be able to buy a ticket for Colombo and get down mid-way in Pondicherry. There was, besides, another advantage in travelling by a French ship, a political one: as soon as the ship crossed the three-mile zone of the Bengal, that is, the British Indian coast, the passengers on the ship came under French jurisdiction. This is international law. If Aurobindo and his travelling companion were to get beyond the British police and reach the security of the three-mile line in the ocean off Sagar Island, that amounted to the same thing as reaching French territory and they would be beyond the range of the British police. The security he sought by going to Pondicherry would be his in mid-ocean once he had travelled about eighty miles south from Calcutta. He would not have had this advantage if he travelled by train. Besides this, according to international law those who sought asylum in a foreign country on political grounds could not be arrested.
This ship went from Calcutta to Colombo, stopping at a number of places on the way.30 Pondicherry was one of the stops. Aurobindo's destination was Pondicherry, but I asked Nagendrakumar Guharay to buy tickets for Colombo31 because if the tickets were bought for Pondicherry then the government might wonder why these two passengers were taking a ship rather than a train to Pondicherry. Moreover, if the police smelt something, their enquiry would be directed towards the Bengali passengers in Colombo. I asked Sri Nagendrakumar Guharay to buy second-class tickets from the office of Thomas Cook and Co., and not from the shipping company; because if the police suspected anything they could get information about the two Bengali passengers from the French company on short notice, but if the tickets were bought from Thomas Cook's it would take some time to get the information from the French company. In all of this, time was the most important factor. I chose the two names of two subscribers from the Sanjivani's subscriber list one was from Rangpur and the other from Dibrugarh subdivision [in Lakhipur District, Assam]. Both lived in a village quite far away from any police-station, rail-station or port.32 This was done in order to delay a police investigation, if there was one, of the truth of the names and of the individuals' making a trip to Colombo. The reason real and not fictitious names and addresses were given is that if the police wanted to investigate they would get caught up in the puzzle and it would take time before the truth came out. By then Aurobindo would have reached safety. While Nagendra was buying the tickets on the Dupleix at Thomas Cook and Co. under the names of these two passengers, an English clerk remarked that one of them was a jaw-breaking name.
The late Bijoy Nag was to accompany Sri Aurobindo on the ship. Accordingly I asked Nagendra to make two reservations in a two-berth second-class cabin, wrote down the passengers' names and addresses and gave him the necessary money. The reason for booking a double cabin was to minimise the possibility of their meeting other passengers or of the passengers speaking to them or of their being recognised by anyone. The captain was given the story that one of the passengers was a malaria patient33 in order that no suspicions would be aroused by their remaining shut up in the cabin. Nagendra bought the two tickets and brought them to me saying that he had booked a cabin in which the two passengers could travel alone. I asked him to hold on to the tickets. Nagendra looked perplexed.
On the 1st of April,34 I called Nagendra and asked him to put Aurobindo's two steel trunks in the reserved cabin on the Dupleix, show the two tickets to the captain and lock up the cabin. Nagendra loaded the trunks on to the ship and returned to inform me.
I called the late Surendrakumar Chakrabarti and told him that before noon he would have to hire a boat to go northward up the Ganges. When he saw another boat with a particular banner he should take its passengers on to his boat and carry them to the Dupleix, which was moored at Kellar ghat.35 I gave him a banner I had ready and asked him to fix it high on the boat. I told him that a similar banner would be flying on the other boat. Surendrakumar did not ask me any questions nor show any curiosity. He left to do his work as instructed.
It had been decided that Aurobindo would change boats in mid-stream, from the boat that was coming from Chandernagore towards Calcutta to the boat sent by us.
In order that the boat which Aurobindo would take from Chandernagore could be recognised, I sent Aurobindo, through a man he had sent, another banner made ready beforehand, with instructions that it be placed on a high point of the boat so that it could be seen from a distance. I wrote down the two made-up names and addresses for Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag. I informed them that these two people really existed and wrote down for them a description of the area around their villages; if someone were to question them and they did not know this they would not be able to answer. I told the young man Aurobindo had sent that the boat hired at Chandernagore36 should be taken close to the boat coming northward from Calcutta that flew a similar banner and then he should climb into it. We made the arrangement about the flag so that the boat could be picked out from many.
On the last night Aurobindo set off from Chandernagore on a boat by moonlight. The respected Sri Motilal Roy had made the arrangements to get the boat for him. Sri Amarendranath Chattopadhyay of Uttarpara knew about the precautionary arrangement of changing boats midway. He was on the boat with Bijoy Nag.37 I had fixed the date and time of Aurobindo's departure. Besides Aurobindo, the others who knew of this were: Sri Amarendranath Chattopadhyay; his right-hand man, the late Manmathnath Biswas; Rajendranath Mukhopadhyaya [Michhri-babu], the son of the late Raja Pyarimohan Mukhopadhyaya; and Bijoy Nag. No one else was told about it.
The reason for the change of boats was that if the police (in particular the Chandernagore police, which at that time had been infiltrated by secret agents) somehow found out that two men from Chandernagore had gone by boat, and not the easier train, and that they went directly to Calcutta and boarded the French ship, and further, if they got the truth of this news confirmed by questioning the boatman, they might become suspicious and possibly try to stop the Colombo-bound ship while it was still in the river and arrest Aurobindo. The two men I sent were very young and as they could not act according to my instructions, the meeting of the boats did not take place and as a result the whole plan went topsy-turvy.
The plan was that Aurobindo would take the boat sent from Calcutta, go directly to Keller ghat and board the Dupleix from the river, but as work was not done according to instructions the link of the meeting was not made.
They had arranged with the captain for Aurobindo to board the ship from the river. It was felt that if British spies kept watch on the ship, they would naturally concentrate on the gangplank from the pier. If we used a narrow rope-ladder on the opposite side of the ship the spies would not be able to find out. And even if there was someone watching the ship from that side, it would be difficult for him to identify someone who boarded the ship from there since there was insufficient light. A story was circulated in the neighbourhood that a malaria-patient was living in the house where Aurobindo stayed in Chandernagore. The idea was that this ailing person would be coming by boat to board the ship in order to go to Colombo to recover his health by taking in the sea-breeze. The captain was given this pretext so that a ladder could be arranged for the purpose on the side away from the pier.
Aurobindo's Sudden Arrival at College Square
The boat I sent and the boat from Chandernagore did not meet. The revered Amarendranath Chattopadhyay of Uttarpara, one of the foremost leaders of the revolutionary group, was for his part unable to find the boat sent from Calcutta even after searching for a long time. Finally in the evening he landed the boat carrying Aurobindo at Howrah's Ramakrishnapur Ghat38 and sent the late Manmathnath Biswas to inform me about the whole mix-up. Meanwhile, Surendrakumar Chakrabarti, whom I had sent, had already returned; he informed me39 that they had not been able to spot Aurobindo's boat. When I heard this I told myself that Aurobindo would now not be able to leave and I became very upset. I sent Nagendrakumar Guharay back to the ship and asked him to retrieve Aurobindo's luggage as the Dupleix was due to leave the very next morning. Nagendra came back with the trunks and told me that the doctor had finished his examination of the passengers and gone home.
After Manmath-babu had recounted his whole story I told him to take the boat straight to Kellar ghat. I said that I would be sending back the luggage. I called Nagendra and informed him that the four of them, Aurobindo included, were waiting for him at Kellar ghat. I also advised to go to the house of the ship's doctor to take the medical examination, get the health certificate and board the ship.40
I instructed him to put the things he had removed and kept at his residence back on the ship. Nagendra left immediately in order to do this. It was now about 7 in the evening. Later in the evening Amarendranath Chattopadhyay suddenly appeared on the second-floor of the Sanjivani office.41 He whispered to me that Aurobindo was sitting in the carriage downstairs. I was stunned. Fearing that Aurobindo might fall in some new danger by coming to a house that was always watched carefully by six pairs of eyes, I anxiously rushed downstairs and saw a second-class closed hackney-carriage in which Aurobindo was sitting, calm and confident. The centre windows on both sides of the carriage were open. This made me even more upset. I told him: What are you doing? There are six secret agents sitting near the tank. Go back immediately to the pier (i.e. Kellar ghat), I have already sent the men and things. They left. Who could have said that this would be my last meeting with him!
Whether it was due to dereliction of duty or to a lack of circumspection,42 the boats did not meet and the whole sequence that had been decided on went awry. The agitation and anxiety that this caused did not in any way annoy or worry Aurobindo. Such was his self-control. Although the scheme did not work as I had planned, he did not rebuke or blame me. Whatever further plans I came up with were considered final. He left as I told him. He did not say a thing about mistakes or errors. Silently and confidently he went on.
Aurobindo had once told an old man who had come to our house, Surrender everything at the feet of the Lord and see what He does. I saw clearly that Aurobindo had surrended everything and was free from anxiety.
Late at night Nagendra Guharay brought me the news that he had conveyed Aurobindo and his travelling-companion to the ship without difficulty. He told me that when he saw a closed horse-carriage waiting at Kellar ghat, he went near and, seeing Amarendra-babu, realised that they were waiting for him. They lifted the two trunks on to Aurobindo's carriage. The doctor had finished examining the passengers and gone. No passenger was allowed to travel by the ship without being examined by the doctor. Nagendra was a little dejected at this point. Success had eluded them despite all that they had done! But, determined not to give up, he went to the ship's captain and got the address of the European doctor. A Bengali coolie who had helped in transporting the two trunks on and off the ship told them that he knew where the doctor's house was. As it was already 8 in the evening, the captain told them that the passengers would have to get a health certificate from this doctor and board the ship by 10 or 11 o'clock, otherwise they could not go by the ship.
There was no time to think whether there were any government spies at the pier. They came out into the open main road; even though many phaetons were there they hired a palanquin-coach and headed for the European doctor's house on Theatre Road. The coolie helped a lot in arranging a meeting with the doctor. The doctor was relaxing after dinner. They paid his man-servant something to go and inform him. Half an hour later the doctor summoned Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag. Nagendrakumar gave Aurobindo the two tickets and thirty-two rupees for the doctor's fee. They remained with the doctor for about fifteen minutes. When the doctor enquired, he was given the story that Aurobindo was going on this sea-voyage to recuperate his health. The same story had been spread in the locality of Chandernagore where Aurobindo had been staying and also told to the captain of the ship. After a few minutes' conversation, the doctor, hearing Aurobindo's English, asked: Were you educated in England? Aurobindo admitted that he was. Then the doctor gave them both their certificates. It was 10 o'clock; they had to get back to the ship immediately. There was no end to our worries! Those accompanying Aurobindo were anxious and troubled, but Aurobindo was calm and poised. He was by nature above anxiety and worry.
When the carriage with the passengers reached Kellar ghat it was almost 11 o'clock. All four of them went up into the reserved cabin, taking the luggage with them. Bijoy Nag prepared Aurobindo's bed. The trunks and so forth were arranged. Amar-babu offered some banknotes to Aurobindo, saying they came from Michhri-babu. Amar-babu made namaskar and Nagendrakumar did pranam and then the two of them left the cabin. Amarbabu reached his house in Uttarpara very late in the night.
I waited anxiously for Nagendra after midnight in the Sanjivani office. He came straight there and told me the whole story including all the anxiety and worry that they felt and how all the difficulties that beset them were overcome.43
I spent the next day and the day after that (3 April 1910)44 in great anxiety. I was afraid that the police might somehow have found out and removed Aurobindo from the ship! When two days went by without there being any news of his arrest, I assumed that he was safe.
Perhaps the day after Aurobindo was sent off on the ship, I bought Saurin Bose a second-class railway ticket, gave him some money and sent him dressed in European clothes to Pondicherry.45 I gave him letters for Baba Bharati and for Chidambaram Pillai. In there I wrote that as this was the first time Aurobindo was going to Pondicherry he might encounter some difficulties and so would they please look after him. I did not know either of these gentlemen. I had just read in the newspapers about their services to the country. They were supposed to help house Aurobindo in secrecy but unknown to all, they planned to receive Aurobindo at the ghat on 4th April with a lot of fanfare. Then the Pondicherry police and populace would come to know that Aurobindo had arrived in Pondicherry. This news hadn't yet come out in the Calcutta newspapers.
The sudden disappearance of Aurobindo and the absence of any news greatly worried Aurobindo's relatives at Deogarh, his uncle and aunt and especially his maternal grandmother (Rajnarain Bose's wife). They used to write to us in Calcutta to get news of Aurobindo but I could not tell them anything about him.
One Sunday evening seven or eight days after Aurobindo's departure from Calcutta, a man turned up and asked to see my father. This gentleman told him that Sir Charles Cleveland the Director-General of Criminal Investigation, Government of India who was staying at Calcutta's Great Eastern Hotel, had received a cypher telegram from Pondicherry. The gentleman's job was to decipher telegrams. He learned from the telegram that Aurobindo had gone to Pondicherry. He told my father that he had brought him this news thinking he might have been concerned over Aurobindo's disappearance. My father was relieved to hear about Aurobindo's safety and I too was delighted when I heard the news through the half-closed door. I knew that my efforts and labour had not been in vain. I then informed my collaborators Nagendra and Surendra.
After Aurobindo went to Pondicherry, in the beginning I often sent him money received from people like the late Hemchandra Chaudhuri of Noakhali. The money was sent by bank-draft so that the police could not find the sender's identity.
Extract from Sukumar Mitra, Pondicherir Pathe Sri Aurobindo. Srinvantu, vol. 17, no. 9 (Paush 1375), pp. 33032. (Translated from the Bengali.)
This is a story from the days when a storm was blowing over Bengal. After the storm a dreadful silence hung over the land. The ardour of swadeshi flowed in every vein. If one strained the ear one could hear the cry of Bande Mataram resound through the air as if carried by the wind.
One day Sri Aurobindo suddenly disappeared from Calcutta. The British government didn't know what to do. The Intelligence Branch of the police was deprived of its intelligence. The secret inquisitive eye of the police was looking about everywhere where had Sri Aurobindo gone? We too were anxiously alert and spoke with caution because even the wind had ears.
The police's eagle-eye was trained especially on our house and the Sanjivani office, since Sri Aurobindo had stayed there after being released from Alipur jail. All sorts of strange, mysteriously dressed people prowled all around the house. We used to joke about this among ourselves.
It was 1910, around the end of March. Unexpectedly I received a letter from Sri Motilal Roy of Chandernagore.46 He informed me of Auro-da's desire to leave Chandernagore and go to Pondicherry. All the arrangements for his secret departure were to be made by me. And I had to be most careful in keeping all this a secret.
After I received the letter I began to wonder what I should do. I did not tell anything to my father or anyone else in the family. I just secretly summoned Sri Nagendrakumar Guharay, a swadeshi worker of Noakhali, to the Sanjivani office. Prior to this I had packed some necessities in two trunks. When Nagendra came I gave him the two trunks and said: Go keep these at your mess.
Nagendra asked jokingly, What's in them? Not bombs, I hope?
I told him, That's none of your business. For the time being, just keep these two trunks at your mess.
Accordingly, Nagendra went and kept the two trunks at his mess at 44/1, College Square. Meanwhile I began to wonder about how best to send Sri Aurobindo in order to make his journey free from all risk and difficulties. It would be difficult to elude the police if he went directly by train, since all over India spies and detective police were on the alert. What was the solution then?
At that time a French company's ships used to ply between Calcutta and Colombo. One could go from Calcutta to Pondicherry by ship. It was certainly a roundabout way, but it would keep the police from becoming suspicious right off. We decided to buy tickets straight through to Colombo and not for Pondicherry in order to divert the police enquiry towards Colombo in case any suspicions arose.47 Meanwhile Sri Aurobindo would disembark at Pondicherry and we would easily win this game of hide-and-seek with the police.
Bijoy Nag would go with Sri Aurobindo to look after him during the journey. I picked out two names and addresses from the Sanjivani's subscriber list. Even if the police became suspicious and investigated, they would discover that these were not made-up people. The next day I called Nagendra Guharay and gave him money for buying two tickets for Colombo on the Dupleix. I also asked him to reserve one double cabin to enable them (Aurobindo and Bijoy) to travel together. The shipping company was informed that the two were malaria patients48 and they should be served their meals in their cabin. Their illness might be aggravated if they came out of their cabin too often. On account of their illness they would be brought to the ship by boat, and since it would be difficult for them to board the ship from the pier it was arranged for them to climb up the steamer's ropeladder from the boat, and go to their cabin. But as it turned out this arrangement didn't work out. I will speak of that later. Two tickets were bought. I asked Nagendra to keep them with him.
I figured that it would not be good to bring Sri Aurobindo from Chandernagore to Chandpal Ghat in a single boat. If somehow something was found out from the boatman the police would be on the scent. It was therefore necessary to change boats on the way so that the boatman did not know both the starting-point and the destination of the passenger.
I told Nagendra and Surendrakumar Chakrabarti, also of Noakhali, to hire a boat and take the two trunks from the Bagbazar ghat to the reserved cabin on the Dupleix. I said to them, Wait with the boat.49 Two passengers will come on another boat. You will take them into your hired boat and accompany them on board the ship.
Nagendra asked me quietly, Who is travelling on the ship? Is it your Auro-da, Sri Aurobindo?
I was taken aback and said, You've guessed right, but how did you figure it out?
I don't know, it suddenly occurred to me.
Anyway, be careful. Nobody else should find out.
It was the 31st of March, 1910. As planned, Amar Chatterjee and Manmath Biswas hired a boat at Uttarpara. They picked up Sri Aurobindo from the Dumurtala ghat of Chandernagore, crossed the Ganges and arrived in Calcutta on this side of the river. They found neither Bijoy Nag nor me nor anyone else there and they were quite worried and perplexed.
Actually I had asked Surendra and Nagendra to meet Sri Aurobindo's boat in the middle of the Ganges, take him onto their boat and convey him to the ship. But they were delayed in crossing the Ganges and consequently missed Sri Aurobindo's boat. It is at this point that all my plans went awry. Events followed swiftly, uncertain and unexpected. Perhaps this is how God wanted it.
Meantime, when Amar Chattopadhyay failed to find us, he took Sri Aurobindo in a hired carriage straight to our house in College Square. Even today I shudder to think that while spies and detectives were frantically searching everywhere for Sri Aurobindo, he was being taken in a carriage through Calcutta's public thoroughfares. Leaving Sri Aurobindo in that carriage on the road, Amar Chattopadhyay came to look for me in our house. I was not then at home.
When Nagendra came and gave me the bad news that they had missed Sri Aurobindo's boat, I realised that our whole plan had misfired. So I told him to go and take the two trunks off the ship; for if the trunks had been discovered the police would have found out a great deal. I returned home and waited anxiously while he took a carriage to the steamer to retrieve the two trunks. As soon as Nagendra came I told him, Go immediately to Chandpal Ghat. Sri Aurobindo is waiting on the road in a carriage. Nagendra rushed back to Chandpal Ghat with the trunks. On the way he met the carriage with Sri Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag.
Back at the pier, another problem had arisen. We had been much delayed by all this confusion. By this time the ship's doctor had finished examining the passengers and returned home. We were in a fix! Without the required health certificate from the doctor the passengers would not be allowed to board the ship.
Meanwhile Nagendra cleverly had met the ship's captain and got the doctor's name and address from him; fortunately he also found a coolie who knew where the doctor's house was and also was acquainted with the doctor's attendant. It was the coolie who then took them to the doctor.
The doctor's certificate was obtained with little difficulty. When everyone arrived at Chandpal Ghat it was almost eleven o'clock. Nagendra and Amar were very disturbed and agitated. But the one on account of whom everyone was worried and fearful was himself utterly calm, poised and unaffected. His gaze was steeped in meditation. Nagendra bowed to Sri Aurobindo and left.
Aboard the ship, Sri Aurobindo and Bijoy Nag had taken the assumed names of Jatindranath Mitra and Bankimchandra Basak50 respectively.
At dawn the next day, 1st April 1910, the ship set sail for Pondicherry.
Extract from Sureshchandra Chakrabarti. Smritikatha (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1952), pp. 130-31. (Translated from the Bengali.)
I'll tell you what I heard about this from Aurobindo. Dupleix, the French company's ship, was sheduled to leave Calcutta on April first. Aurobindo was staying in Chandernagore. It was decided that Aurobindo would board the ship the day before, that is on 31 March, towards evening, and that Bijoy would go with him. Bijoy was in Calcutta. It was not safe for Aurobindo to set foot in Calcutta. So it was arranged that Aurobindo and Bijoy would meet in boats on the river and then the two of them together would go directly to the ship and board it.
Aurobindo came south by boat from Chandernagore; Bijoy went north from Calcutta in another boat. In this way they were supposed to meet one another. But unfortunately they passed each other without realising it and the meeting did not take place.51 It goes without saying that all the arrangements went awry. After this nothing went according to plan. They were unable to board the ship in the evening.
As it turned out, on that 31st of March, 1910, around 8 or 9 p.m., while the police were looking everywhere for him, Aurobindo waited for a long time in a hired carriage not far from his uncle Krishnakumar Mitra's house. The situation had all the makings of a detective thriller. In any event, after much running about and furious searching the two finally met and went to the ship; by then it was almost 11 o'clock. Aurobindo was travelling under the assumed name Jotindranath Mitra; Bijoy under the name Bamkimchandra Basak.52 On the ship they met yet another hurdle. The people in charge there announced that no passenger would be allowed to board the ship without a health certificate. And the doctor who conducted the examination was not on the ship but in the city. The boat seemed to be sinking near the shore!
The two got the doctor's address and went there that very night. The doctor was a thorough Englishman. There is a seed of goodness in everything, even in a peg of whisky! And that goodness is revealed at the propitious moment. It appears that the doctor-sahib was sitting up having a peg of whisky and that is why he was still awake so late at night. Whatever the reason, however, whether it was the doctor's love of drink or of sleep [sic], he was indeed available. He announced that at such an hour his charges would be double. It would not be altogether incorrect to assume that at such a late hour many an Englishman is seeing double. So it was neither odd nor astonishing that he asked for double the usual fee. One cannot be certain about the doctor's condition, but one can be sure that Aurobindo was willing to pay not just the double fee but also some baksish into the bargain. Be that as it may, when Aurobindo agreed to pay the double fee, the doctor set about giving the medical examination. He was really delighted to hear Aurobindo's English. Where did you learn your English, he asked, I have never heard such English spoken by an Indian. The doctor certainly did not say these every words or utter them in this way for one thing he spoke in his own tongue but I imagine a certain tone of friendliness did come across quite clearly. Mr. Jotindranath Mitra informed him politely that he had passed a number of years in England. There was no question of someone speaking such excellent English being of unsound health or, for that matter, unsound anything. So after examining the two of them, the doctor gave them their health certificates. With these certificates they finally succeeded in boarding the ship that night.
Extracts from Sureshchandra Chakrabarti, Aprakashita Itihaser Ek Prishtha. Prabasi, vol. 45, part 1, no. 2 (Jyaishtha 1352), pp. 10106. (Translated from the Bengali.)
Once Aurobindo was in Moti-babu's house out of harm's way at least for the time being Biren and I left for Calcutta by the same boat. We had naturally asked whether one of us was needed to stay on at Chandernagore. But since those at Chandernagore felt that the presence of strangers might arouse suspicion in the town, they decided to look after Aurobindo themselves. And so like a returned letter or an immediate farewell we left by boat for Calcutta. It seems to me that the eastern sky was covered with clouds that morning. For I cannot recall a ruddy dawning or rosy splendour. But as the day progressed, it grew intensely bright. The sky turned spotlessly blue, sunlight shone everywhere and tiny waves glistened on the river.
Suddenly it occurred to me that we had not eaten anything since noon of the preceding day neither the previous night nor in the morning. The engine called the body urgently needed refuelling. By then it was past midday, I think. When we arrived at the Uttarpara ghat, we tied the boat under a good shade. There was a sweet-shop at the top of the ghat. The two of us went and bought some things to eat, returned and gulped them down. We waited here quite a while over an hour perhaps. While we waited the boatmen rested.
We started off, and by the time we reached Calcutta, evening had set in it must have been 8 o'clock. We left the great open spaces of nature and returned to the melancholy, miserable, mean heart of the metropolis. We reached No. 4 Shyampukur Lane. The house was like a pujaroom the night after Vijaya Dashami.
After this I do not quite remember when, it may have been the next day or the day after that, certainly within four or five days those of us who lived in the Shyampukur Lane house left it and went our own ways.
A month or so later, while I was living in a mess at No. 6 Crouch Lane, quite unexpectedly one day I received a small piece of paper, about two inches long, with a message in three or four lines of Aurobindo's handwriting. It asked me to go to Pondicherry to arrange a house for him. My friend [who had given me the note] told me further that Sukumar (the late Krishnakumar Mitra's son) and Saurin [Bose, Sri Aurobindo's wife's cousin] would make all the arrangements for my going to Pondicherry, the former secretly and the latter openly. All I had to do was go to Howrah station and get on the Madras Mail. I had no way of finding out whether Sukumar really was working from behind, but I know for sure that Saurin was in front making all the arrangements.
I stayed in this mess at No. 6 Crouch Lane as the guest of someone named Kanishtha Pandava. We knew him simply as Kanishtha Pandava and called him Kanishtha. Kanishtha came to Pondicherry towards the end of 1910 and stayed with us in the same house for several months.
March 28 finally arrived. My departure for Pondicherry had been set for this day.
As long as I stayed in this mess, I never went out of the house before sundown. But on that day I went out in the morning and got a haircut. I bought some new clothes too. Kanishtha had told everybody in the mess that my home town was Pabna and that I was going there that evening by the Darjeeling Mail to attend a marriage.
In those days [and still today] the Madras Mail used to leave Howrah station in the evening. In the afternoon I put on my new clothes and left the house without any luggage. In my pocket I had only a just-bought money-pouch. It contained three ten-rupee notes, a little change, and a piece of paper on which Aurobindo had written a few lines that were to be my letter of introduction to the Pondicherry friends. I reached Howrah station. The train was already on the platform. All around was the noisy hustle-bustle of the crowds of passengers. I found Saurin after a great search. He was waiting for me with a trunk and a small bedding-roll in front of a second-class compartment. I took from Saurin the trunk it was not empty, but contained some things the bedding, a second class ticket (the second class [instead of third] was of course just a cover) and a colourful paperback novel by Guy Boothby entitled Love Made Manifest, recently bought from a bookstall for six annas.
I entered the compartment that Saurin had been standing in front of. I think he made my reservation for that compartment. It was terribly crowded mostly with Europeans. I don't know if they were all Europeans but from their complexions they seemed to be. I had never imagined that the second class could be so crowded. In this compartment crowded with Europeans there was one lone Bengali, although he too was dressed like a European.
The crowd thinned out as the train progressed, and when we reached Kharagpur there were only five or six of us left.
Finally on March 30th at about 11 o'clock in the morning we reached Madras Central Station. From there the engineer [a man Sureshchandra had met on the train] and I hired a tonga and went to Egmore Station on the South Indian Railway line. In the waiting-room we ate luchies and sandesh once again. We passed the rest of the day there, and in the evening we boarded the Boat Mail for Dhanushkoti. Here we parted. The train was made up of coupés linked by a running corridor. Every car had two berths, one on top and one below. The engineer's berth was in one car, mine in another. I had to detrain at Villupuram Station in the middle of the night in order to catch the train for Pondicherry. The engineer's destination was further south.
As the train started, the engineer came down the corridor and called me to have luchies and sandesh together one last time. I went to his bogie. By the time I had finished eating the hospitably offered meal of luchies and sandesh, bid him farewell and returned to my seat, it was almost nine o'clock. I never saw him again nor heard anything about him after that 31st day of March, 1910, when I took leave from him at nine o'clock.
The train reached Villupuram around midnight. From here a line branches out twenty-five miles eastward to the coastal town of Pondicherry. Three or four stations lie in between. I got off the Boat Mail and boarded the train for Pondicherry. It started on time. One after another the stations passed; last came Villianur, the station just before Pondicherry. A little later, around two-thirty, the engine's whistle sounded. Then the train started slowing down. It slowed down more and more, slower still until it gradually lost all speed and with one last jerk came to a halt. I realised that this train did not have vacuum brakes. I opened the compartment-door and came out onto the platform. So this was Pondicherry station.
I passed the rest of the night in the station's waiting-room. Early in the morning of the following day, 31 March 1910, I got onto a strange mandriven contraption called a pousse-pousse. In this vehicle I reached the house of a man called Srijut Srinivas Achari. He was a Tamil brahmin, but had a real Aryan face. Of medium stature, he was about thirty years old. He used to bring out a Tamil weekly from Madras called India. As everyone knows, in those days of Swadeshi a charge of sedition was very common. So when in due course a warrant was issued against him on the charge of sedition and he was convicted,53 he came away to Pondicherry and started bringing out his paper from there. It was to him that I gave my letter of introduction which Aurobindo had written.
Exactly four days later, on 4th April 1910, a French passenger ship, the Calcutta-Colombo mail steamer Dupleix, reached Pondicherry port and cast anchor at about four o'clock in the afternoon. Two Bengalis, one named Jatindranath Mitra, the other Bankimchandra Basak,54 disembarked at Pondicherry. Bankimchandra Basak's real name was Bijoykumar Nag; Jatindranath Mitra was Aurobindo.
Extract from Government of India, Foreign Department, General, Confidential A, 1909, 10. [National Archives of India]
NOTES ON PONDICHERRY AND CHANDERNAGORE AS CENTRES OF SEDITIOUS AGITATION.
The saving clause in favour of political offenders which exists in the Extradition Law and the somewhat complicated and delicate nature of the proceedings under it, even in the clearest cases of ordinary offences render the French possessions in India convenient places of refuge for political conspirators of the criminal type. The further fact that Chandernagore and Pondicherry have an independent postal connection with the continent of Europe causes them to be important points on the lines of communication between the centres of sedition in London and Paris and the similar organization here.
The great importance of both Pondicherry and Chandernagore from the point of view of the anarchists, however, consists in the facilities which they offer for the illicit importation of arms and dissemination of seditious literature.
The anti-British party in Pondicherry has, however, recently been greatly strengthened by the arrival of several seditious newspaper men from the Madras Presidency connected with the India of Madras and the Swaraj of Bezwada. Finding British territory too hot for them Thirumalachari, a member of the staff,55 and Subramania Bharati, the editor of the India and the most dangerous member of the group, absconded to this place, and were joined by Pingala Latchminarayana against whom a warrant of arrest was issued owing to his connection with the Swaraj whose other promoters were afterwards convicted. Thirumalachari accompanied by a Bengali named Nando Kumar Sen have recently left Pondicherry and gone, it is believed, to M. Etienne in Paris. The other two continue to issue the India from Pondicherry and its tone is more violent and extreme than that of any other paper in the Madras Presidency. A secret society is believed to exist in the house where the India is printed and a member of it was informed by telegram of Thirumalachari's departure from Colombo. This group is in communication with the centres of agitation in Europe and America receiving copies of the Gaelic American and corresponding with S.K. Varma in Paris and B.C. Pal in London. It is further stated that copies of Hoti Lal's leaflet on explosives are still in possession of some of the India staff, who have hitherto, however, hesitated to put the instruction they contain into practice. The office of the India newspaper at Pondicherry may become a dangerous centre of the revolutionary movement unless measures are taken against it. Another very seditious paper was issued from the neighbouring French settlement of Karikal. It failed but has been revived. There is a strong anti-British feeling among the natives here, but its power for evil is limited, owing to it not being a port of call for coasting steamers.
One of the first outward indications that the anarchists of Calcutta had a Chandernagore connection was the attempt made at the end of 1907 to assassinate the Maire, Mons. Tardival, by throwing a bomb in at the window of his house. According to the account given by N.N. Gossain, the approver in the Manicktolla conspiracy case who was afterwards murdered, the bomb was taken there by himself, Barindra Ghose and Indu Bhusan Roy as it was resolved that the Maire of Chandernagore should be taught a lesson by throwing a bomb at him. Although these three were all Calcutta men it is clear that the Maire had given offence to some of their party in Chandernagore which included Charu Chandra Roy, professor at the Dupleix College, the case against whom unfortunately afterwards broke down. The connection with Chandernagore must have been very close to induce three members of the Calcutta society to take an otherwise quite unnecessary risk. It is noticeable also that for two of the abortive attempts to wreck Sir A. Fraser's train a locality very close to Chandernagore was selected.
Evidence of the existence of a very strong anti-British feeling in Chandernagore is to be found in the following report on two melas or fairs held there in December 1908:
Two exhibitions are now being held in Chandernagore, one in front of the temple of Bhubaneswari in Hatkhola and the other at Gossainghat. These melas are held annually; the only new departure made this year is that political representations have been introduced into both.
There is good evidence to show that arms have been obtained by the revolutionary party in Bengal through Chandernagore both by direct importation from Europe through the French Post Office, and also through persons licensed to possess arms in the Hooghly district, and even in a few cases from court officials to whom arms confiscated in India under the Arms Act had been handed over for destruction. A considerable trade in revolvers from Europe is believed to have been done by Lakhi Narain Das and Kishori Mohan Saha, both pleaders' muharirs; the latter obtained his supplies from a French firm in St. Etienne and even tried to be appointed their accredited agent, but the firm is believed to have made enquiries from the French Government and he was not appointed.
Again the catalogue of a French gun-smith on which pencil marks had been placed against certain patterns of revolvers was found in the possession of a certain Youghal Kristo De, assistant jailor of Chandernagore, who is said to have procured arms for several persons. The editor of the Matri Bhumi is also suspected in this connection, and in addition to his editorial work he has a shop in the bazar where he trades as S.N. Sen & Co., Hardware Merchants.
As to the other methods of obtaining arms it has been reported that a revolver no. 2919, which was found in the Manicktolla garden, was traced to Chandernagore; it formerly belonged to a licenseholder in the Hooghly district and there is apparently nothing to prevent a license-holder from selling his revolver to a resident of French territory. Again the weapons used at the murder of Norendra Nath Gossain are believed to have found their way into the hands of the anarchists from the Hooghly court, where they were confiscated, viâ Chandernagore; this point has not been definitely cleared up, but in this connection it may be remarked that Kanai Lal Dutt, one of the murderers, was a resident of Chandernagore and had several sympathisers among his neighbours there. Further enquiry into the possibility of making an improper use of licenses obtained in the Hooghly district revealed the fact that there were 28 such licensees resident in Chandernagore, and steps have been taken to close this avenue of supply. In the course of an account of the Bajitpur dacoity the approver, Lalit Mohan Ganguli, stated that he had received money from Kartik Dutt to buy revolvers, and had purchased two revolvers accordingly in Chandernagore at the shop of a Muhammadan bootseller in the Bara Bazar. Some of the weapons used in the political dacoity at Bighati were brought from Chandernagore. In fact it is my strong impression that Chandernagore constitutes the arms depôt of the Calcutta anarchist group.
The case of Charu Chandra Roy, professor of the Dupleix College who was extradited in connection with the Manicktolla conspiracy and afterwards released owing to certain technical legal difficulties, has brought prominently to notice the Radical Republican Society of Chandernagore which claims that his surrender was due to representations made by it to the French Government through a Paris society to which it is affiliated. This society is connected with the Matri Bhumi newspaper which recently published an account of it and is the anti-British organisation of most importance in Chandernagore.
19th February 1909.
Extract from Government of India, Foreign Department General. Confidential B, 1911, 56. [National Archives of India]
3. B. India Office Group
The inauguration of the India Office in Pondicherry in the latter half of 1908 marks the formation of an active anti-British seditionist organisation outside British limits, and the French Settlement offered an easily accessible and favourable retreat, the public feeling there being rabidly anti-British and there being a small clique of natives (Murughesam Pillai, Hoti Lal's friend, and others), who had established themselves with the express purpose of offering an asylum to those unfortunate enough to be compelled to seek refuge from the hand of the law. The circumstances which led up to this are as follows:
When M. Srinivas Aiyengar, the registered editor of the India, Madras, was arrested in July 1908 for sedition and subsequently sentenced to a long term of imprisonment, C.S. Bharati, who was on the staff of the paper, S. Srinivasa Chari [spelled by the man himself Srinivas Acharya], and M.P. Tirumala Acharya [Thirumalachari], now in Paris, the real proprietor, fearing prosecution and considering French territory a safer refuge, transferred the whole of the press plant to Pondicherry and had it set up there, application was made to the French authorities about the middle of September by these men for permission to start the paper India. This was refused by the French authorities when their antecedents were made known, but subsequently the paper was registered in the name of one Lakshiminarayana Aiyar, a French subject, and the paper appeared on the 10th October 1908. M.P. Tirumala Acharya, now in Paris, and for whose arrest a warrant had been issued in connection with the India case (Madras), transferred his ownership to S. Srinivasa Chari in November 1908.
The India has enjoyed an extensive circulation both in Pondicherry and in British India, the issues increasing from 1600 in May 1909 to 1830 in October of that year. With the increase in popularity, there took place a considerable addition to the staff employed. In June 1909 we find the staff consisted of the proprietor, S. Srinivasa Chari, and the Editor, Rangacharya, with 6 compositors (one of whom is a pensioned corporal of the French Army named Dorai), 2 printers with 1 foreman.
The tone of the India has all along been virulently anti-British, and it got so bad recently that the paper has been proscribed by the Madras Government and other Governments under the powers conferred by section 12(1) of the Indian Press Act.
Internal dissensions amongst the staff, however, were rife and we find that in June 1909 C.S. Bharati severed his connection with the India Office and threw in his lot with the Suryodayam. In October of that year he again joined the India as editor of the Vijaya with an assistant named Nilkanta Aiyar, a man of extreme views who transferred his services in December to the Suryodayam. The India Office staff has, from time to time, been augmented by assistants of very doubtful character and political views, an instance being the case of Neilayappam, who was mixed up in the Tinnevelly riots case and joined the India Office in December 1909.
Extracts from Suresh Chandra Chakrabarti, Smritikatha (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1952). (Translated from the Bengali.)
In an article entitled A Page of Unpublished History: Reminiscences, published in Prabasi in Jyaishtha 1352 [Document 11], I wrote that Aurobindo and his companion Bijoy reached Pondicherry on 4 April 1910 around 4 p.m. on board the steamer Dupleix. I also wrote that I arrived here by train four and a half days previous to that, that is, on the morning of 31 March. I spent this period from 31 March to the evening of 4 April at the house of Srijut Srinivas Achari. [p. 100]
On the night of March 30th 1910 [i.e. the morning of 31 March by ordinary (Western) reckoning] at about 2.30 I got down from a second-class compartment. My destination was No. 10 Rue Valdaour, now know as Rue Dupleix [presently as Nehru Street].
I have mentioned that on reaching Pondicherry I had to give my letter of introduction to a man named Srijut Srinivas Achari [he spelt his name Srinivas Acharya]. 56 [p. 104]
I got into the push-push [an unusual conveyance characteristic of old Pondicherry] and entered the town. I was disappointed by the way Pondicherry looked I had heard of the beauty-loving French people and their remarkable capital of Paris. [But Pondicherry] was a most ordinary town with very ordinary houses.
After travelling about three-quarters of a mile I reached my destination No. 10 Rue Valdaour. There I discovered that this was a printing-house. None of the press workers stayed there. Instructed by a local man, the push-push wallah did another half-mile or so and brought me to a house on Muthumariamman Koil Street. The man in this house to whom I gave my letter of introduction was Srijut Srinivas Achari. The gentlemen seemed to have just got out of bed. I gave a description of him earlier in Prabasi.57
But let me correct an erroneous piece of information I gave there. I wrote in Prabasi that when a warrant was issued against him for sedition, he came away to Pondicherry. This is incorrect. The reason for this error was that in connection with this case I had read the name of one Srinivas in the Rowlatt Commission's report. But later Srinivas Achari told me that this Srinivas was not him but someone else.
I give here an extract from what Srinivas Achari wrote me [in English]:
I am not the person mentioned in the Rowlatt Committee Report. It was one M. Srinivasachari who was the Editor and Printer of `India'. He was tried and convicted. I think he served his full term. There was a warrant in connection with the above prosecution against late Sri Bharathi. But he went to Pondicherry before arrest. He was there first and I followed him, as I heard that he was harrassed by the French Police at the instigation of Madras Govt. There was no warrant against me when I went there. [pp. 107-09]
The day I reached Srinivas Achari's house, i.e. 31st March 1910, there were two other people staying there: one was named Subramaniam, the other Krishnarao. Subramaniam left that night but Krishnarao remained there until Aurobindo's arrival in Pondicherry and even saw him. [p. 110]
A tall, fair-complexioned, young man arrived in Mr. Achari's [i.e. Srinivas Acharya's] house before the fourth of April. Later I heard that his name was Rangachari [Rangacharya] and that he was Mr. Achari's brother-in-law. He once had gone to Calcutta and met Aurobindo.
I passed the four and a half days before Aurobindo's arrival in Mr. Achari's house doing nothing but eating and sleeping. Every day a little before sunset I went with three or four people to the beach, and after spending an hour or two at the pier came back with them. [p. 114]
The one thing I was especially engaged in at this time was reminding Srinivas Achari to fix up a house for Aurobindo. But I observed that Mr. Achari did not seem to be very concerned about this. Whenever I asked him about it he just waved me aside saying something along the lines of All right or We're looking into it. Being a total stranger I could not say anything more. Aurobindo was supposed to reach Pondicherry on April 4th. Finally, on 3 April, I insisted on finding out about the house; and a man took me along with him to point out the house to me. The house they had selected for Aurobindo to live in was situated in an especially dirty locality in a blind alley. At the entrance of the house, downstairs, there was a small printing-machine, and a young man of twenty-two or three, a clean-shaven Tamil with big eyes and thick hair, was standing there. My escort took me upstairs. There was a room at the head of the staircase it would be closer to the truth to call it a garret. On the walls were hanging framed pictures of all the revolutionary leaders of the period leaders of every description. The bedroom was like a speaker's platform. My escort told me that this was the place they had fixed up for Aurobindo. It is quite unnecessary to say that I wasn't at all impressed either by these people's intelligence or their ability. As a matter of fact I was so stunned I could not say anything. Not a word of English came out of my mouth, not even a word of Bengali. After I had finished seeing the house, I returned with my escort. I did not say anything about it to Srinivas Achari either.
The next day, 4 April 1910, Aurobindo was to arrive in Pondicherry. The people here had probably gone earlier and found out from the office of the shipping company, Messageries Maritimes, that the Dupleix, sailing from Calcutta, would reach Pondicherry around four or five in the evening. Srinivas Achari and I went at that time to the pier to receive Aurobindo.
When they heard about Aurobindo's coming, the people here figured they would give him a rousing reception. When I learned of this I told them that Aurobindo was arriving here incognito and would be living here incognito and therefore we should not do anything that would let people find out. That sort of welcome was therefore not desirable. They were astounded to hear this and told me with dismay: Aurobindo Ghose will come here and no one will find out about it! What are you saying, Sir, or rather, What do you mean, kid? In any case I told them that if a couple of us went to the ship when it arrived and without any fanfare accompanied Aurobindo straight to his place of residence and no one uttered his name, then who would know that he had come to Pondicherry? I think what I said made some sense to them and the idea of having a special reception for Aurobindo was abandoned. In this connection Srijut Motilal Roy refers in his Jiban-sangini to Srijut V.V.S. Iyer. But this is incorrect, because V.V.S. Iyer hadn't yet come to Pondicherry. He came to Pondicherry the following December. And they just talked about a reception, they didn't go any further. [pp. 116-19]
On April 4th at about 4 o'clock in the evening, the Dupleix anchored in Pondicherry harbour. The sea in Pondicherry harbour is not deep enough for sea-going ships. Therefore ships could not come up to the pier, they had to anchor half a mile out. Passengers had to take a boat from the pier to go to and from the ship. [p. 119]
At that time an open boat with oars was used to travel between the pier and the ship. I don't know whether this boat belonged to the French government or to the shipping company.
At the pier Srinivas Achari and I climbed down a ladder with great difficulty and got into the boat tossing in the rolling sea. The boat, rowed by eight or ten oarsmen, set off towards the ship.
As we neared the ship, I saw Aurobindo and Bijoy standing on the deck, their eyes fixed on our launch. They may have been doubtful or worried about whether I had arrived safely in Pondicherry and made contact with our friends. In any case our launch soon came up to the side of the ship. With great difficulty we climbed from the boat tossing in the waves up the ship's ladder to the place where Aurobindo and Bijoy were standing. From the deck we went down another ladder and into their cabin a second-class cabin. We saw that the ship's staff had been most hospitable to their guests of a few days. It was time for evening tea on board the ship. The ship had reached the destination of these two passengers. The staff could have easily said, No tea here, gentlemen; go to your homes and drink it. But while we were getting the luggage and so forth together, all of us were served tea and a plate of small, crisp, fish-shaped biscuits. Srinivas Achari was an orthodox Tamil brahmin. First of all biscuits, these too fish-shaped and then served on board a mlechcha's [evil foreigner's] ship! It was hardly Srinivas Achari's cup of tea! Five or six years later, Srinivas Achari did once or twice accept some tea and biscuits at our house but probably he did so because it was Aurobindo's birthday. [pp. 120-21]
After having our tea in the ship's cabin, we took the three trunks and bedding and all of us got into the boat and went from the boat to the pier and from the pier to the main road known as Cours Chabrol. Srinivas Achari had obtained a horsedrawn carriage from some local gentleman and it was there ready for use. [p. 127]
Srinivas Achari and with him Aurobindo departed down the main road in this horse-carriage. I don't quite remember whether Bijoy went with them or came along later with me. But at any rate I set out later on a push-push with all the luggage and with a Tamil guide to accompany me.
But the house I was taken to by my Tamil guide was not the garret on that filthy, blind alley I had been shown the previous day. This was quite a big and respectable place on another street. Escorted by my guide, I went up to the third floor of this house and found the place clean, neat and uninhabited just what was required. On entering a small room I saw Aurobindo sitting in an easy-chair while Srinivas Achari along with four or five others stood deferentially in front of him. All my doubts about the intelligence and ability of these people in regard to selecting a place for Aurobindo to stay in disappeared. I looked at the walls. There was not a single picture of a revolutionary leader anywhere. I had no more reason to be disappointed with these Tamilians. But I was baffled when I remembered the garret I had been shown the previous day what exactly had been the matter?
[Later] I found out from one of them I don't remember who that they had indeed at my request fixed up a house for Aurobindo; but they had had some doubts about whether I was a police spy or truly a messenger sent by Aurobindo. And so they had naturally withheld the information about the actual house from a possible police spy. They had decided to wait for the Dupleix to arrive on April 4th, and if Aurobindo did not come by that ship then it would have been confirmed that I was indeed a police spy. In that case I would have been taught a lesson or two and packed off!. [p. 128]
At that time this [the house of Shankara Chettiar] was the only three-storied house in Pondicherry. The third-floor of Mr. Chettiar's house was not all that large. But for that very reason it was an excellent place to stay in hiding. There were two tiny rooms of about 8 or 9 feet square and another room the size of railway coupé. On the northern side (the house faced north) there was a small open terrace with a railing. In the back, on the southern side, was a somewhat longish covered verandah. Two or three steps down was a kitchen. This was the third floor. We lived in this three-storied house for almost six months. And for three out of these six months, Bijoy and I, like Aurobindo, were shut up in the house. We went out neither during the day nor at night. Aurobindo permitted us to go out after almost three months. [p. 88]
The house in Pondicherry into which Aurobindo moved or rather to which he was taken by the Tamil friends, was not a rented house. It was the residence of a respectable gentleman of the town named Srijut Shankara Chettiar. He was a businessman and one of the town's well-to-do individuals. The third floor of his house was fixed up for Aurobindo's stay. This third-floor portion did not overlook the main road but was built over the back part of the house. So unless one knew what to look for, there was no way of discovering from the main road that the house had a third floor. This portion of the house seemed to have been constructed just to be someone's secret residence. It had, however, one drawback. The bathroom was on the first floor; so once a day Aurobindo had to go down to the first floor. Naturally, when it was time for his bath the main entrance of the house opening on to the road was kept shut so that no one could enter the house at that time. The toilet was on the second-floor, clean, neat and sparkling fresh. It was truly worthy of a gold-medal from the most exacting chairman of any municipality. Unless one was told, it would have been difficult to say that it was a toilet.
Aurobindo and we two also settled into the third floor of Mr. Shankara Chettiar's house. Two young Tamilians came and took charge of looking after the three of us. One of them I had seen before. I mentioned earlier that when I kept reminding Srinivas Achari about finding a house for Aurobindo, I was finally shown a house on the third of April. In that house I saw a Tamil youth. He was one of the two attendants; the other was new to me. The name of the young man I knew from before was Swami Aiyar; the other one's name was Srivenkatraman. After about a week I stopped seeing Venkatraman. It was Aiyar who took very good care of us during the whole time that we were in Mr. Chettiar's house. [pp. 137-39]
A few days after Srijut Bharati and Srijut Srinivasachari came away to Pondicherry, Aiyar wrote to them from Tirunelveli that if they needed help he was ready to come over to Pondicherry. Srinivas Achari wrote Aiyar telling him to come and Aiyar did so. The house where I had first seen Aiyar was the place he brought out a Tamil paper called Dharma from. We therefore used to refer to this house as Dharmalayam [the Abode of Law]. Dharma or Tarumam (as the word is spelt using Tamil letters), was a small paper in the form of a little booklet that came out every week. Among our Tamil friends of that time I was closest to this Aiyar. During our stay at 41 rue Francois Martin between October 1913 and the end of August of 1922, Aiyar lived with us for a few years. At the end of the First World War in Europe, Srinivas Achari, Bharati and V.V.S. Iyer returned to British India but Aiyar remained in Pondicherry. [pp. 145-46].
I have said that the three of us [Aurobindo, Bijoy and Suresh] were installed in Mr. Chettiar's house and Aiyar came to look after us. From this time for about six months the whole period of our stay in Mr. Chettiar's house Aiyar was as punctual as a clerk, always present in the house from 8 to 11 in the morning and from 2 to about 4 or 5 in the evening. [p. 161]
Extracts from Government of India, Home Political-A Proceedings, July 1910, Nos. 112-13 and August 1910, Nos. 42-43. [National Archives of India]
5. In connection with the Karmayogin prosecution, in which case Arabindo Ghosh is an absconding accused, it is reported that an officer of the Special Department who went to Pondicherry saw Arabindo Ghosh there, and that there is no question of his identity. The Ceylon authorities have issued a provisional warrant under the Fugitive Offenders' Act for his arrest should he touch at Colombo. Meanwhile his movements are being watched, and should he attempt to leave Pondicherry, he will be followed and arrested, if possible. It is reported that the S.S. Dupleix on which he was expected to sail, has left the port without him.
Report on the political situation in Bengal and Eastern Bengal and Assam for the month of April 1910, p. 5.
8. It is reported that Arabindo Ghose is still in Pondicherry. The officer who is watching him there reports that Arabindo appears to be in very poor health. He is said to be suffering from some kidney trouble and looks greatly reduced.
Ibid., May 1910, p. 6.
Extracts from diaries of British Consul in Pondicherry, 1910. [National Archives of India, History of the Freedom Movement Files, B 1/2] (Misspellings in this very defective copy have been left untouched by the editors. Obvious errors of capitalisation have been regularised.)
Among the Pierre-ites, [adherents of the party lead by Gaston Pierre], I single out Bolanath and Sankerchetty. We [They] give shelter to refugees from British territory. For instance, Arabindo Ghose took refuge first of all with Bolanath at Chandernagore and was by him shipped on the M.M.S.S. Dupleix under the assumed name of Bautin [Bankim] Chandra Bhoromique, which alias appears in the Journal Official. Arobindo and one Jotindranath Mitter, a fellow passenger, supposed to be Ajit Singh were met at the pier on landing by Subramania and Srinivasa and conducted to Sankerchetty's house, where Aurobindo is now lodging. Sankerchetty is constantly in and out of Pondicherry. He is hand and glove with Bolanath Das.
Diary No. 1 (undated)
Aurobindo Ghose for the last ten days or so has shut himself up and is still living in the upper story of Sanker Chetty's house.
Sundernath Chakervarti Madu Sudan. Besides the above three Bengalis, there are two others here, who evidently arrived by land at the same time as Arabindo came by steamer and live not far from him in Muthumariam street. They are Sundernath Chakervarti and Madu Sudhan alias Sohini Saket Sen,58 both men of about 30 years of age and who keep guard over Arabindo. Sohini is armed with revolvers, and is one of those who was charged for throwing bombs at Sir Andrew Fraser's tram [train];59 Sundernath Chakervarti and the post Master of this place (a Brahmin) are great friends
Diary No. 2, 30 July 1910
Arabindo Ghose is now residing in the rue de Pavillon, with his two staunch guardians, Surendranath Chakervarti alias Soloni and Madhusudan. He keeps [to] himself, even the servants rarely see him. He is decidedly better off here than he was living in the Black Town and our Detectives find it very difficult to watch his movements.
Diary No. 9, 15 October 1910
1 It was Birendranath Ghosh.
2 When this passage was read out to Sri Aurobindo in 1940, he commented: I didn't know I had any emotion during explanation. (Nirodbaran, Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol. III (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1973), p. 68.
3 Sri Aurobindo's comment: That is true. (Nirodbaran, op. cit.)
4 Sri Aurobindo's comment: Good Lord. (Nirodbaran, op. cit.)
5 Sri Aurobindo's comment: I don't remember all that; it may be true. I know that I was to be handed over to somebody in whose house there was Saraswati Puja. (Nirodbaran, op. cit.)
6 The reference is apparently to Motilal's house in Boraichanditola. If Narendranath Bannerjee's Gondalpara house is intended, northern is a mistake for southern.
7 Sister Nivedita had nothing to do with it. See Archival Notes in the last issue of A & R. Motilal's admission that the source of his information on Nivedita was stray news supports the assertion made by the writer of Archival Notes that Motilal's statement in regard to her was based on hearsay.
8 The editor can think of no reason why Srish would have had to leap over a wall. The incident is unhappily reminiscent of Sukumar Mitra's imaginary feats of wall-leaping discussed in the last instalment of Archival Notes.
9 This information was of course incorrect.
10 Sri Aurobindo does not mention that the first leg of his journey was in a boat manned by revolutionaries from Chandernagore. At Agarpara they transferred him to the boat manned by the Uttarpara revolutionaries, who took him to Calcutta. (See Documents 610.)
11 According to Nagendrakumar Guharay (Document 6) and others, Sri Aurobindo did not go to his cousin Sukumar's house to get his belongings (his two trunks had earlier been put on the ship, were later removed to a worker's mess, and finally restored to Sri Aurobindo at the pier), but in order, principally, to get his tickets.
12 According to Document 4, the tickets were for Pondicherry.
13 According to Messageries Maritime's advertisement (Plate 6), the ship was berthed at Esplanade Moorings. In the account that follows, and in Documents 7 and 9, the mooring-place is said to be Chandpal Ghat, which is the name of the river-landing near Eden Gardens. The Esplanade is nearby.
14 This certainly should be 31 March 1910. The ship left Calcutta on 1 April 1910 (Document 4; Plate 6); this was the morning after the day of Sri Aurobindo's passage from Chandernagore to Calcutta.
15 Blank left by Nagendrakumar Guharay. Below he says the ghat was in Uttarpara or Bali, which lie just north of Calcutta on the other side of the river. But Amarendranath says below (Chapter 14) that the meeting-place was near the Dupleix.
16 In Document 8, Sukumar tells a detailed story about the method he devised for recognising Sri Aurobindo's boat. It must have been something like this that he told to Surendrakumar.
17 Motilal Roy (Document 2) does not mention Bijoy Nag. Neither does Amarendranath Chatterjee, who accompanied Sri Aurobindo to Calcutta. According to Sureshchandra Chakravarty (Document 10), Bijoy was in Nagendrakumar's boat. Nagendrakumar was an eyewitness and Suresh was not. Amarendranath Chattopadhyay states in Document 7 that Bijoy was to be at the pier with Sukumar. Sukumar (Documents 8 & 9) says nothing definite about this. It is impossible to say on the basis of the existing documents just where Bijoy was before he went with Sri Aurobindo from the pier to the examining doctor's house on the night of the thirty-first.
18 According to Nagendrakumar (see this document above and below), Amarendra was told to convey Sri Aurobindo to a place where he would meet Nagendra, who would take him to the Dupleix. As it turned out, however, Amarendra did convey him the whole way himself.
19 See Nagendrakumar Guharay's clarification below.
20 He was not.
21 No statement to this effect appears in Amarendra's letter as quoted in Section Fourteen above.
22 According to Document 4, one passenger was indeed from Nilphamari in the Rangpur District, but the other was from Ulubaria (a town not far from Calcutta in Howrah District).
23 In Documents 8 and 9 Sukumar does not say that this stratagem was decided on by Sri Aurobindo. It sounds to this editor more like one of Sukumar's stratagem's than Sri Aurobindo's. According to Document 9 both passengers were to be malaria-patients; according to Documents 7 and 8, and the present Document, only Sri Aurobindo.
24 According to Nagendrakumar (Document 6) and Sukumar (Documents 8 and 9), Amarendranath was not to take Sri Aurobindo the pier where the Dupleix was moored, but to a point upstream from the pier, where he was to deliver Sri Aurobindo to Nagendrakumar and Surendrakumar. Part of this is clarified by Amarendra himself below.
25 This is not so according to Nagendrakumar and Sukumar (same documents as above).
26 See footnote 1 to Document 6.
27 Should be Bijoykumar.
28 See footnote 11 to Document 6.
29 Apparently a misprint for Bijoylal, the incorrect form of the name used by Amarendranath above.
30 According to the advertisement reproduced as Plate 6, Pondicherry was the only stop between Calcutta and Colombo.
31 See footnote 1 to Document 6.
32 See footnote 11 of Document 6. Ulubaria is not a village.
33 According to Document 9, both passengers were said to be malaria patients; according to Document 6 and this document, only one.
34 It was the thirty-first of March. See footnote 3 to Document 6.
35 According to the Maritimes Messageries advertisement (Plate 6), the ship was moored at Esplanade Moorings; according to Nagendrakumar and Amarenddranath (Documents 6 & 7), and Sukumar Mitra himself in Document 9, it was moored at Chandpal Ghat. See footnote 2 to Document 6.
36 The boat that was intended to make the transfer was the one hired in Uttarpara by Amarendranath Chattopadhyay. See Document 7.
37 See Archival Notes.
38 According to Amarendranath (Document 7), he landed at the pier in Calcutta where the Dupleix was moored.
39 According to Nagendrakumar Guharay it was he who told Sukumar the news.
40 This entire paragraph is in disagreement with Nagendrakumar's much more credible account. See Document 6.
41 All the other accounts make it clear that all that is recounted by Sukumar in this sentence, the rest of this paragraph, and the next paragraph is pure fantasy.
42 While it is not the part of an editor to sit in judgment on the participants in a historical episode, it may be said that from this remove it appears that the reason for the missed rendezvous was the unnecessarily complicated cloak-and-dagger arrangements made by Sukumar. It would seem that Sukumar was aware of this; hence his clumsy attempts here and above to direct the blame towards Nagendrakumar and Surendrakumar.
43 A full account of Sri Aurobindo's passage to Pondicherry was published under the title Debata Biday in the Jyaishtha and Ashadh 1357 issues of the monthly journal Galpa-Bharati [Document 6]. [Sukumar Mitra's note.]
44 The day after the day of departure was 2 April 1910.
45 What Sukumar writes in this and the following sentences is apparently a garbled recollection of Sureshchandra Chakrabarti's trip to Pondicherry. See Document 11.
46 According to Sukumar's earlier account (Document 8), and Nagendrakumar Guharay's account (Document 6) the letter was from Sri Aurobindo.
47 See footnote 1 to Document 6.
48 According to Documents 6 and 8, only one of the passengers (Sri Aurobindo) was to be a malaria patient.
49 According to Documents 6 and 8, Nagendra was not to wait, but to go to a point upstream and across the river, where he would meet Amarendranath's boat. This point is clarified by Sukumar below.
50 According to Document 4, the second name was Bankimchandra Bhowmik. When Bijoy came to Pondicherry, he was in fact known as Bankimchandra Basak. Since this name was supposed to be the one he had travelled by, one can only assume (if Document 4 is correct) that Bijoy mixed up the names after the journey.
51 See footnote 6 to Document 6 and Archival Notes.
52 See footnote 5 to Document 9.
53 See Sureshchandra's correction of this misstatement in Document 14.
54 See footnote 5 to Document 9.
55 According to Document 13, Thirumalachari was the real proprietor of the paper.
56 See Archival Notes.
57 See Document 11.
58 The two were Sureshchandra Chakrabarti and Bijoykumar Nag.
59 Neither of the two was so charged.