Swarnalotta Ghose, nee Bose = Swarnalata
(1852-1907) Sri Aurobindo’s mother. Swarnalata Devi was born in Midnapore, she was the eldest daughter of famous Rishi Rajnarain Bose. Educated at home by her father, she grew up in what, for the age, was an unusually enlightened atmosphere. She had four brothers and five sisters: Joginranath (bachelor, “Boromama”), Hemlata (married to Dinanath Dutta), Sukumari (married to Trailokyanath Ghosh), Lilabati (1864-1924, aunt ‘Na-mesi’ married to Krishna Kumar Mitra at Calcutta in April 1881), Lajjabati (1870-1942, spinster), Jatindranath, Munindranath, Kumudini (1882-1943, married to Sachindra Prasad Bose). She was beautiful and straightforward. She was to become one of the first two women councillors of the Calcutta Corporation. Kumudini wrote several books in Bengali and was the editor of an illustrated Bengali monthly, Suprabhat, which ran for nine years. Tagore, a family friend, wrote a poem of the same name for the first issue (July-August 1907). Again, two years later, it was at Kumudini’s request that Sri Aurobindo began to contribute in Suprabhat articles on his experiences in prison: Karakahini), Basanti (1884-1965, married to Jatindranath Chakraborty), Sukumar (1885-1973, bachelor).
In 1864 she married Krishnadhan Ghose. The marriage was performed according to the rites of Adi Brahmo Samaj, towards which Dr. Ghose had leanings. The girl’s wedding was a memorable event in the annals of the Brahmo Samaj. All of the principal members of the society were there, notably its leader, Devendranath Tagore, and its rising star, Keshub Chunder Sen. The bride’s party was swelled by numerous members of the Bose clan. The groom’s party contained few, if any, of the young man’s relatives, for Krishna Dhun Ghose came from an orthodox Hindu family. He had not even told his mother that he was taking a Brahmo bride. “I went to the length of offending a dear mother by marrying as I did,” he later wrote, “to get such a father as Rajnarain Bose.”
K. D. Ghose and Swarnalata had six children, – five sons and a daughter: Benoybhushan, Manmohan, Aurobindo, a son who died in childhood, Sarojini and Barindra Kumar.
In 1866 the young doctor Ghose was sent to Bhagalpur and given charge of the government dispensary. His salary, a hundred rupees a month, allowed him and his wife to live in reasonable comfort.
At Bhagalpur, in 1867, was born their first child, Benoybhushan, and on 19 January 1869,— the second one, Manmohan.
In January 1870 Dr. Ghose sailed from Calcutta for Great Britain. Swarnakatta stayed with two sons, Benoybhushan and Manmohan, and a nurse, Miss Paget.
In April or May 1871 Dr. Ghose returned to India. Soon Dr. Ghose was given a new post as assistant surgeon in charge of the civil station of Rangpur. He and his family arrived in the remote northern town around the end of October 1871.
In summer 1972 there was outbreak of malaria in Rangpur followed by a cholera epidemics, so Dr. Ghose decided to send his pregnant wife to the comparatively healthy environment of Calcutta to the house of his friend, Mano Mohun Ghose, where, on 15 August 1972, she bore Aurobindo. Shortly after Aurobindo was born, Swarnalotta and Aurobindo journeyed from Calcutta to Rangpur to their family.
There was a family disease, histeria, which rendered Swarnalata’s life as well her husband’s rather unhappy. Her sister, who was married to Krishna Kumar Mitra, also suffered from hysteria and one of her brother had mental trouble. Annet Akroyd, a frienf of Dr. Ghose, barely a month after her arrival in India (15 December 1872), was already aware of the situation of “my dear Dr. Ghose who is impetuous.” On 22 January 1873 she penned her concern to her sister in a letter: “The poor fellow has been in worlds of trouble —his wife ill with a most alarming illness—fits of some kind —his work in arrears owing to his own absence, and he himself has had fever.... He feels himself also very much alone and I am so afraid of his fretting himself into real illness, with all his present worry.”
In 1876 Swarnalotta bore Sarojini. In this period Dr. Ghose was close to Henry Beveridge and his wife Annet (nee Akroyd). They often invited the Ghoses for dinner. Swarnalotta, following her husband’s wishes, behaved as true mem-sahib — she spoke in English, wearied skirts, rode. Swarnalotta won the epithet the Rose of Rangpur. But she suffered from an emotional disturbance and her mental condition was not well these years. One day she was in a fit of anger and was screaming and beating Manmohan mercilessly. Aurobindo, who was present, became afraid and, making the excuse that he was thirsty, went out of the room.
In the end of 1878 the whole family sailed to England — Dr. Ghosh, Mrs. Ghosh, their three sons and daughter Sarojini. For Indian women it was almost unheard of to cross the ocean. Swarnalotta was pregnant. Concerned about her mental state and apprehensive about the effects of another confinement, Dr. Ghose decided to take her to England for examination and treatment. The family arrived at its destination in the early 1879 (perhaps, on 1 January). Dr Ghose left his sons with an English clergyman and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Drewett in Manchester. Then Dr. Ghose left for London with his wife and baby girl, Sarojini. In London he found the medical help he was seeking for his wife. Dr. Matthew was to supervise Swarnalata’s last delivery. He hoped that the supervision by an English physician would help restore normalcy—if not completely at least in some measure —m his wife’s condition.
On 5 January 1880, at Croydon, Swarnalotta bore Barindra Kumar. His name is listed in the birth register as “Emmanuel Matthew Ghose”.
In March 1880, Swarnalata returned to India with two-month-old Barin and Sarojini, who was three-year-old. Dr. Ghose found it impossible to stay with her, as her mental condition had deteriorated. She had gone to live in Deoghar, a hill resort in Bihar where her parents had settled the previous year. Then, in Rohini, a village two miles from Deoghar, a bungalow of Sri Tarini Prasad, a leading member of the Bengal Legislative Council, was rented for her. The bungalow was with fruit-bearing trees, flower and vegetable gardens. There she lived with Barin and Sarojini, who were growing up wild — both completely illiterate. Barin says that he knew not how to write or even read until the age of ten.
Dr. Ghose seems to have been a rare visitor. Barin’s first memory of his father is almost dream-like. One day the two children were playing outside in the garden when a distinguished-looking visitor came and went in. Sometime later the children were called in. “At first,” recalls Barin, “Didi [elder sister] and I kept running along the walls, to escape the outstretched arms of a big-bearded man, who kept coming towards us to clasp us to his heart. Then, I don’t remember when, under a huge mass of toys and biscuits our sweet surrender took place. A faded, half-forgotten memory still lingers: I sitting in Father’s lap, and his long beard falling over my body.”
About his mother Barindra recollected: “Storms of rage and storms of joy came alternately to the madwoman,” Barin later wrote. “During her happy moods she would laugh and laugh to herself and babble uncontrollably. In her rage she would pace around the room like a caged tigress roaring at someone.”
In 1888 Dr. Ghose managed to persuade his wife to give up Sarojini and he took her away to Khulna. Barin was going on eight, to put this event in his own words, “a tiger fell amid the herd”. Barin was left all alone with his mother for two years until Dr. Ghose stole him away: at first, Dr. Ghose’s friend went to Rohini and met Swarnalata. He tried to persuade her to let Barin join his father and offered her a large sum of money. But the mother absolutely refused to part with her youngest son. Next morning, the sun had just risen. Swarnalata was standing in the veranda and Barin was seated a little away from her enjoying the warmth of the sun. “I heard some crackling noise of footfalls. Suddenly a muscular man looking like a ruffian came along and said to Mother, «Memsahib, will you take flowers?» Throwing a basketful of flowers at her feet, he grabbed my hands, and dragging me with him, ran. Behind us some ten or twelve rowdies ran making a racket. Mother was furiously angry. She ran inside and snatching a knife chased the pack of rowdies. These men were so afraid of Mother that they did not stop a moment to pick me up. As I was hauled over thorny bushes and rough ground, my feet got terribly scratched and, oh, how they hurt! The men stopped only when we got to the mango grove, beyond the compound, which was fifteen to twenty acres. They were panting. The fat gentleman was waiting there with a palanquin of eight bearers.”
In 1894 Sri Aurobindo went to Rohini to meet his mother. At first Swarnalotta did not recognize him. “My Aurobindo was small,” she said, “he wasn’t so big.” Then suddenly she remembered: “My Aurobindo had a cut on his finger.” Aurobindo had a scar on his finger where he had cut himself as a child; this was shown to her, and she recognized her son.
In 1908, after arrest of Sri Aurobindo and Barindra, Swarnalotta’s bungalow was searched by police.