8 Oct 2008

Page 054: Romantic interludes

Peter spends much time and energy in speculation on Sri Aurobindo’s relationship with his wife Mrinalini Devi. On reading the entire book, his objectives become clear. He is preparing grounds for a Freudian analysis of Sri Aurobindo’s poetry and plays to prove that he was looking for an ideal wife. Still later he ties this in with his speculation of romantic relationships with the Mother. The following passages represent the kinds of speculative backgrounds on which he builds his later thesis:

Page 54: It is often cloudy in Nainital during summer, and the honeymooners may have been denied a glimpse of the peaks of Trishul and Nanda Devi and Snow View, but they doubtless enjoyed strolling by the lake and wandering through the town’s bazaar. Aurobindo spent money freely….

It sounds charming and even sweet. But the entire passage is built entirely out of speculation and fantasy. Only one factual detail follows this passage in listing some items bought by Sri Aurobindo as noted in his personal financial records, but they do not indicate that he “spent money freely”. Notice the detailed descriptions emerging from Peter’s fertile imagination, but presented as factual and followed by a footnote utterly irrelevant to the fantasy just woven, but creating the impression of a scholarly reference. He imprints in our mind the picture of Sri Aurobindo’s relationship with Mrinalini Devi as that of two modern American teenagers on a honeymoon. But he deliberately deceives the reader with this image, knowing full well that in the conservative society of that period, couples did not go for romantic strolls in public, especially not the most senior official of the Maharaja’s government! In fact, as in most conservative families even today, Sri Aurobindo’s sister would likely have accompanied them only to be with Mrinalini in public functions. If anyone went strolling by the lake, it would be these two, and always accompanied by a retinue of guards and servants waiting on them.

But Peter invents the fiction of the modern American romantic couple deliberately. His cunning intention is to dash our hopes in the very next paragraph so as to prove their relationship as unhappy and their marriage as unsuccessful. Read on:

Page 55: Sometime during their stay in Nainital, Aurobindo and Mrinalini stepped into a photographic studio to have their picture taken. The result shows the young woman … seated rather uncomfortably on a bench. Her husband, natty in tweeds, perches beside her. Despite his protective arm, the two do not seem ill at ease with one another. Mrinalini looks somewhat coolly to the left, Aurobindo to the right. It must have taken them a good amount of time to get to know each other. She spoke little English, his Bengali was far from perfect, and it is hard to imagine what the Cambridge-educated scholar and the girl… found to talk about. Aurobindo clearly was not looking for intellectual companionship when he chose her. What then was he looking for?

Peter’s attempts to analyse their relationship on the basis of the false expectations he created earlier. But now the two modern honeymooners casually step into a photo studio. He prepares us for a brash modern American couple hugging and grinning at the camera in casual dress having dropped into the studio on impulse. Again he deceives us knowing well the reality of that period. One need only look at any formal photographs of any couple of that period to disprove Peter’s thesis. Photos then were an elaborate and expensive affair (not the instant click of today). They were planned for in advance and the visit to the studio was a major social event, with the time slot at the studio booked in advance by Sri Aurobindo’s secretary, if at all they went to studio. It is more likely that, given Sri Aurobindo’s stature, the photographer would have been called home. They would necessarily be formally dressed for the occasion with Sarojini and accompanying staff. The photographers of the time demanded that couples sit stiffly and pose formally. It was a common fashion until recently to have the wife sit and the husband stand behind. It was considered cheap to pose before the studio’s camera with a casual smile (as it still is in many parts of India), or to show any kind of intimacy in public. They had to look formal, the direction of their gaze chosen and frozen by the photographer. The idea was not to look “at ease” “despite his protective arm”.

After misdirecting our expectations, after falsifying the mood of the age, and after his wrong interpretation, Peter prepares for the kill. He presumes as obvious the conclusion of an unhappy marriage (avoiding explicit accusation to protect himself), and then presents his speculation of the cause of the alleged failure as fact:

Page 55: “It must have taken them a good amount of time to get to know each other.”

In most marriages in India, especially in that period, the bond of marriage was and still is established before and during the marriage across months through numerous ceremonies, not only between the couple, but between the families as well. Peter has no experience of family bonds and cannot understand the depth of intimacy, comfort and love that are possible in a healthy joint family.

But Peter has an agenda, and must continue with more defaming speculations:

Page 55: She spoke little English, his Bengali was far from perfect, and it is hard to imagine what the Cambridge-educated scholar and the girl, who, as her father put it, “evinced no exceptional abilities or tendencies,” found to talk about.

There are several deceptions in Peter’s writing above.

  • He presumes that their relationship was based on “intellectual” discussion. He ignores the tenderness and sweetness possible in relations of the heart which are more meaningful, more profound and more lasting than intellectual chatter, and which are eminently seen in Sri Aurobindo’s letters to Mrinalini Devi. But Peter will not quote those passages because they would disprove his thesis.
  • He suggests communication problems because Sri Aurobindo’s Bengali was “far from perfect”. Does one need “perfect” mastery of a language in order to communicate? The vague phrase “far from perfect” is deliberately used to hide the truth which would demolish Peter’s thesis. Consider that during the same year Sri Aurobindo was reading the Mahabharata in the original and translating Kalidasa’s Meghadutam. If such was his mastery of Sanskrit then, was his Bengali so far behind that he could not even communicate with his wife as Peter would have us believe?
  • Finally, does Peter really think that stable relationships and marriages are built on exceptional abilities or tendencies”? The purpose of the reference at this point to Mrinalini Devi as unexceptional is meant to demean her, defame Sri Aurobindo and misdirect us. Relationships are not built on skills of entertainment, but on clarity and openness of the heart. It is these that Sri Aurobindo sought in choosing his wife, as documented elsewhere by Peter.

(Peter’s comments above not only expose his perverse intentions, but also his shallow understanding of human psychology and relationships. Yet he tries, later in the book, to sit in judgement over Sri Aurobindo’s poetry and literary style!)

In case we thought that Peter’s conclusions emerge from his own immaturity, our doubts are finally put to rest as Peter goes in for the kill:

Page 55: Aurobindo clearly was not looking for intellectual companionship when he chose her. What then was he looking for?

Yes, of course Sri Aurobindo did not choose her for “intellectual companionship”. Even if he had looked for someone of his own intellectual calibre, how many would he have found in the world then, or even now? He obviously chose her for the very things that we have mentioned earlier, which make for a meaningful and lasting relationship, things that Peter cannot understand but which he has quoted earlier in the same section:

Page 54: But it was her “sweet innocence and childlike simplicity” that Sri Aurobindo liked most about her. Like her husband-to-be, she was quiet and shy.

Peter’s rhetorical question “What then was he looking for?” is only the crude expression of a perverse mind working hard to project his own perversions into his understanding of Sri Aurobindo’s life. He uses this question to justify more speculation on marital life in the paragraphs that follow this one.

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