Archives and Research
a biannual journal
Volume I; No 1
A Letter of Sri Aurobindo to His Uncle (Jogendra Basu)
c/o Rao Bahadur K.B. Jadhava
Near Municipal Office
15th August 1902
My dear Boromama,1
I am sorry to hear from Sarojini2 that Mejdada3 has stopped sending mother's allowance and threatens to make the stoppage permanent unless you can improvise a companion to the Goddess of Purulia. This is very characteristic of Mejdada; it may even be described in one word as Manomaniac. Of course he thinks he is stopping your pension and that this will either bring you to reason or effectually punish you. But the main question is, "What is to be done now?" Of course I can send Rs 40 now and so long as I am alone it does not matter very much, but it will be rather a pull when Mrinalini4 comes back to Baroda. However even that could be managed well enough with some self-denial and an effective household management. But there is a tale of woe behind.
Sarojini suggests that I might bring her or have her brought to Baroda with my wife. I should have no objection, but is that feasible? In the first place will she agree to come to the other end of the world like that? And if she does, will not the violent change and the shock of utterly unfamiliar surroundings, strange faces and an unintelligible tongue or rather two or three unintelligible tongues, have a prejudicial effect upon her mind? Sarojini and my wife found it intolerable enough to live under such circumstances for a long time; how would mother stand it? This is what I am most afraid of. Men may cut themselves off from home and everything else and make their own atmosphere in strange places, but it is not easy for women and I am afraid it would be quite impossible for a woman in her mental condition. Apart from these objections it might be managed. Of course I could not give her a separate house, but she might be assured that whenever a Boro Bou5 came, she should have one to receive her in; I daresay that would satisfy her. In case however it does not or the experiment should be judged too risky, I must go on sending Rs 40 as long as I can.
But there comes the tale of woe I have spoken of. We have now had three years of scarcity, the first of them being a severe famine. The treasury of the State is well nigh exhausted — a miserable 30 or 40 lakhs is all that remains, and in spite of considerable severity and even cruelty in collection the revenues of the last year amount simply to the tail of the dog without the dog himself. This year there was no rain in Baroda till the first crop withered; after July 5th about 9 inches fell, just sufficient to encourage the cultivators to sow again. Now for want of more rain the second crop is withering away into nothingness. The high wind which has prevented rain still continues, and though there is a vague hope of a downpour after the 15th, one cannot set much store by it. Now in case there should be a severe famine this year, what may happen is something like this; either we shall all be put on half-pay for the next twelve months, — in other words I who can only just manage to live on Rs 360 will have to do it on Rs 180 — or the pay will be cut down permanently (or at least for some years) by 25 per cent, in which case I shall rejoice upon Rs 270; or thirdly (and this may Heaven forbid) we shall get our full pay till December and after that live on the munificent amount of nothing a month. In any case it will be impossible to bring mother or even Mrinalini to Baroda. And there is worse behind. The Ajwa reservoir after four years of drought is nearly exhausted. The just-dnnkable-if-boiled water in it will last for about a month; the nondrinkable for still two months more. This means that if there is no rain, there will be a furious epidemic of cholera before two months are out and after three months this city, to say nothing of other parts of the Raj, will be depopulated by a water famine. Of course the old disused wells may be filled up, but that again means cholera in excelsis. The only resource will be for the whole State to go and camp out on the banks of the Narmada and the Mahi.
Of course if I get half-pay I shall send Rs 80 to Bengal, hand over Rs 90 as my contribution to the expenses to Khaserao6 and keep the remaining 10 for emergencies; but supposing the third course suggested should be pursued? I shall then have to take a third class ticket to Calcutta and solicit an 150 Rs place in Girish Bose's7 or Mesho's8 College — if Lord Curzon has not abolished both of them by that time. Of course I could sponge upon my father-in-law in Assam, becoming a ghorjāmāi9 for the time being, but then who would send money to Deoghur and Benares? To such a pass have an all-wise Providence and the blessings of British rule brought us! However let us all hope that it will rain.
Please let me know whether Mejdada has sent any money by the time this reaches you. If he has not, I suppose I must put my shoulder to the burden. And by the way if you have found my MS of verse translations from Sanskrit,10 you might send it to me "by return of post". The Seeker11 had better remain with you instead of casting itself on the perilous waters of the Post-Office.
My health has not been very good recently; that is to say, although I have no recognised doctor's illness, I have developed a new disease of my own, or rather a variation of Madhavrao's12 special brand of nervous debility. I shall patent mine as A.G.'s private and particular. Its chief symptom is a ghastly inability to do any serious work; two hours' work induces a feverish exhaustion and a burning sensation all over the body as well as a pain in the back. I am then useless for the rest of the day. So for some time past I have had to break up the little work I have done into half an hour here, half an hour there and half an hour nowhere. The funny thing is that I keep up a very decent appetite and am equal to any amount of physical exercise that may be demanded of me. In fact if I take care to do nothing but kasrat13 and croquet and walking and rushing about, I keep in a grand state of health, — but an hour's work turns me again into an invalid. This is an extremely awkward state of things and if you know any homoeopathic drug which will remove it, I will shut my eyes and swallow it.
Of course under such circumstances I find it difficult to write letters. I do not know how many letters to Sarojini and my wife14 I have begun, written two lines and left. The other day, however, there was a promising sign. I began to write a letter to you and actually managed to finish one side and a half. This has encouraged me to try again and I do believe I shall finish this letter today — the second day of writing.15 The improvement, which is part of a general abatement of my symptoms, I attribute to a fortnight's determined and cynical laziness. During this time I have been to Ahmedabad with our cricket eleven and watched them get a jolly good beating; which happy result we celebrated by a gorgeous dinner at the refreshment room. I believe the waiters must have thought us a party of famine-stricken labourers, dressed up in stolen clothes, perhaps the spoils of massacred famine officers. There were six of us and they brought us a dozen plentiful courses; we ate them all and asked for more. As for the bread we consumed — well, they brought us at first a huge toast-rack with about 20 large pieces of toast. After three minutes there was nothing left except the rack itself; they repeated the allowance with a similar result. Then they gave up the toast as a bad job, and brought in- two great plates each with a mountain of bread on it as large as Nandanpahad. After a short while we were howling for more. This time there was a wild-eyed consultation of waiters and after some minutes they reappeared with large trays of bread carried in both hands. This time they conquered. They do charge high prices at the refreshment rooms but I don't think they got much profit out of us that time. Since then I have been once on a picnic to Ajwa with the District Magistrate and Collector of Baroda, the second Judge of the High Court and a still more important and solemn personage whom you may have met under the name of Mr. Anandrao Jadhav.16 A second picnic was afterwards organized in which some dozen rowdies, not to say Hooligans, of our club — the worst among them, I regret to say, was the father of a large family and a trusted officer of H.H. the Maharajah Gaekwar, — went down to Ajwa and behaved in such a manner that it is a wonder we were not arrested and locked up. On the way my horse broke down and so four of us had to get down and walk three miles in the heat. At the first village we met a cart coming back from Ajwa and in spite of the carters' protests, seized it, turned the bullocks round and started them back — of course with ourselves in the cart. The bullocks at first thought they were going to do the journey at their usual comfortable two miles an hour, but we convinced them of their error with the ends of our umbrellas and they ran. I don't believe bullocks have ever run so fast since the world began. The way the cart jolted, was a wonder; I know the internal arrangements of my stomach were turned upside down at least 300 times a minute. When we got to Ajwa we had to wait an hour for dinner; as a result I was again able to eat ten times my usual allowance. As for the behaviour of those trusted pillars of the Baroda Raj at Ajwa, a veil had better be drawn over it; I believe I was the only quiet and decent person in the company. On the way home the carriage in which my part of the company installed itself, was the scene of a remarkable tussle in which three of the occupants and an attendant cavalier attempted to bind the driver, (the father of a large family aforesaid) with a horse-rope. As we had been ordered to do this by the Collector of Baroda, I thought I might join in the attempt with a' safe conscience. Paterfamilias17 threw the reins to Providence and fought — I will say it to his credit — like a Trojan. He scratched me, he bit one of my coadjutors, in both cases drawing blood, he whipped furiously the horse of the assistant cavalier, and when Madhavrao came to his assistance, he rewarded the benevolent intention by whipping at Madhavrao's camel! It was not till we reached the village, after a six-miles conflict, and got him out of the carriage that he submitted to the operation. The wonder was that our carriage did not get upset; indeed the mare stopped several times in order to express her entire disgust at the improper and turbulent character of these proceedings. For the greater part of the way home she was brooding indignantly over the memory of it and once her feelings so much overcame her that she tried to upset us over the edge of the road, which would have given us a comfortable little fall of three feet. Fortunately she was relieved by this little demonstration and her temper improved wonderfully after it. Finally last night I helped to kidnap Dr. Cooper, the Health Officer of the State, and make him give us a big dinner at the Station with a bottle and a half of sherry to wash it down. The Doctor got so merry over the sherry of which he drank at least two thirds himself, that he ordered a special-class dinner for the whole company next Saturday. I don't know what Mrs. Cooper said to him when he got home. All this has had a most beneficial effect upon my health, as the writing of so long a letter shows.
I suppose you have got Anandrao's letter; you ought to value it, for the time he took to write it is, I believe, unequalled in the history of epistolary creation. The writing of it occupied three weeks, fair-copying it another fortnight, writing the address seven days and posting it three days more. You will see from it that there is no need to be anxious about his stomach: it righted itself the moment he got into the train at Deoghur Station. In fact he was quite lively and warlike on the way home. At Jabalpur we were unwise enough not to spread out our bedding on the seats and when we got in again, some upcountry scoundrels had boned Anandrao's berth. After some heated discussion I occupied half of it and put Anandrao on mine. Some Mahomedans, quite inoffensive people, sat at the edge of this, but Anandrao chose to confound them with the intruders and declared war on them. The style of war he adopted was a most characteristically Maratha style. He pretended to go to sleep and began kicking the Mahomedans, in his "sleep" of course, having specially gone to bed with his boots on for the purpose. I had at last to call him off and put him on my half-berth. Here, his legs being the other way. he could not kick: so he spent the night butting the upcountryman with his head; next day he boasted triumphantly to me that he had conquered a foot and half of territory from the intruder by his brilliant plan of campaign. When the Boers rise once more against England.
I think we shall have to send them Anandrao as an useful assistant to Generals Botha and Delarcy.
No rain as yet, and it is the 15th of August. My thirtieth birthday, by English computation! How old we are all getting!
Your affectionate nephew
P.S. There is a wonderful story travelling about Baroda, a story straight out of Fairyland, that I have received Rs 90 promotion. Everybody seems to know all about it except myself. The story goes that a certain officer rejoicing in the name of Damn-you-bhai18 wanted promotion, so the Maharaja gave him Rs 50. He then proceeded to remark that as this would give Damn-you-bhai an undue seniority over Mr. Would-you-ah! and Mr. Manoeu(vre)bhai,19 the said Would-you-ah and Manoeu(vre)bhai must also get Rs 50 each, and "as Mr. Ghose has done good work for me, I give him Rs 90." The beautiful logical connection of the last bit with what goes before, dragging Mr. Ghose in from nowhere and everywhere, is so like the Maharaja that the story may possibly be true. If so, it is very satisfactory, as my pay will now be — Famine permitting — Rs 450 a month. It is not quite so good as Mejdada's job, but it will serve. Rs 250 promotion after ten years' service does not look very much, but it is better than nothing. At that rate I shall get Rs 700 in 1912 and be drawing about Rs 1000 when I am ready to retire from Baroda either to Bengal or a better world. Glory Halleluja!
Give my love to Sarojini and tell her I shall write to her — if I can. Don't forget to send the MS of translations. I want to typewrite and send to England.
1 Eldest maternal uncle. This letter was written to Jogendra Basu, eldest son of Shri Rajnarayan Basu and brother of Sri Aurobindo's mother
2 Sri Aurobindo's sister.
3 Second brother (as addressed or referred to by brothers and sisters junior to him), viz. Sri Aurobindo's brother Manmohan Ghose.
4 Sri Aurobindo's wife.
5 "The eldest bride", i.e. the wife of the eldest brother in a family. The reference is obscure.
6 Khaserao Jadhav, a friend of Sri Aurobindo, with whom he was staying in Baroda. In 1902 Kasherao was serving as District Collector of Baroda.
7 Friend of Sri Aurobindo's father-in-law Bhupal Chandra Bose and founder with him of the Bangabasi School and College.
8 Uncle (mother's sister's husband), i e. Krishnakumar Mitra
9 An exacting son-in-law. The word ghorjāmāi, glossed by us as "an exacting son-in-law", may in fact be gharjāmāi, which signifies a son-in-law who lives in his in-laws' house. In Bengal short a is pronounced and sometimes transliterated as o. Sri Aurobindo's meaning is not changed in any case.
10 The reference is probably to Sri Aurobindo's translations from Bhartrihari. Sec page 24.
11 A long poem by Sri Aurobindo's which has been lost.
12 Khaserao's brother, a very close friend of Sri Aurobindo.
13 Physical exercise. Sri Aurobindo has written that he used to do such exercises as baithak (deep knee-bends) and daṇḍ (a sort of push-up) at Baroda.
14 See the letter that follows.
15 I didn't after all. [Sri Aurobindo's note].
16 A friend of Sri Aurobindo, no doubt a relative of Khaserao and Madhavrao. He was probably the recipient of the letter of 1912 printed on pages 423-25 of Centenary Volume 27.
17 In ancient Rome, the father or male head of a household.
(1) Mr. Dayabhai Harjivandas, an officer of the Baroda State.
(2) A reference to a certain Mr. Dayabhai Damubhai has been found in a file of the Central Record Office, Baroda. This gentleman, or a namesake of his, is perhaps a better candidate for being the "Mr. Damn-you-bhai" mentioned by Sri Aurobindo than Mr. Dayabhai Harjivandas. No information is forthcoming on "Mr. What-you-ah".
19 Manubhai, private secretary to the Maharaja of Baroda in 1902.