3 Feb 2011

Sri Aurobindo’s Horse Riding Test—by Krish Patwardhan

Where is the evidence of “the series of lies” Sri Aurobindo told when he was called to the office of the Civil Service Commission? Deliberately missing appointments or going late to them, not receiving letters and not promptly replying to them is more evasive tactics than telling lies (see Appendix 1), which any lawyer would be familiar with. [extract]


Sri Aurobindo’s Horse Riding Test 

By Krish Patwardhan


I quote below the corrected extract from The Lives on Sri Aurobindo, his riding test in the ICS examination:

In October, the ICS commissioners wrote to Aurobindo asking him to fix a date to take his riding examination. He agreed to go on October 26, but did not turn up. An official then asked him to meet the riding instructor to make another appointment. He did not bother to see the man. Called to the office to explain, Aurobindo told a series of lies. (Lives, p 30)

Where is the evidence of “the series of lies” Sri Aurobindo told when he was called to the office of the Civil Service Commission? Deliberately missing appointments or going late to them, not receiving letters and not promptly replying to them is more evasive tactics than telling lies (see Appendix 1), which any lawyer would be familiar with. You may not receive letters by staying away from your house and not acknowledging their receipt to the postman. You may go to a house without calling on the door and ringing the door bell. You may fail to keep an appointment by going so late that the other person walks away in exasperation. These seem to be the kind of manoeuvres Sri Aurobindo adopted without having to resort to open lying. Not that Sri Aurobindo could not have fibbed a couple of times, but why make such a big deal about it? These are laughable matters now that we know his intent was to fail in the ICS examinations without going against his father’s wishes. In fact, Heehs himself writes in a paragraph which follows the above quoted lines:

Aurobindo’s rejection from the ICS was much commented on during his lifetime and has been much analyzed since. Trying to clear up the controversy fifty years after the event, he wrote that he managed “by certain manoeuvres,” to “get himself disqualified for riding without himself rejecting the Service, which his family would not have allowed him to do.” This is consistent with his behavior in October and November 1892, in particular his failure to go to Charing Cross. He spent that afternoon, he explained on another occasion, “wandering in the streets of London to pass the time.” Returning home, he announced to Benoybhusan: “I am chucked.” Benoy proposed playing a game of cards. When Manmohan came in, he found his brothers thus engaged.

Learning what had happened, he began to berate them for playing cards when such a calamity had happened. But it was not a calamity to Aurobindo, who was, he later wrote, “greatly relieved and overjoyed by his release from the ICS.” (Lives, pp. 31-32)

The source of the above information is rightly picked from Sri Aurobindo’s Autobiographical Notes:

At the end of the period of probation, however, he did not choose to appear for the departmental Riding examination; a something within him had detained him in his room…

[The last phrase altered to:] prevented his arriving in time.

Nothing detained him in his room. He felt no call for the ICS and was seeking some way to escape from that bondage. By certain manoeuvres he managed to get himself disqualified for riding without himself rejecting the Service, which his family would not have allowed him to do.

[According to Aurobindo’s sister Sarojini, Aurobindo was playing cards at his London residence when he was to have gone to appear for the writing examination.]

Sarojini’s memory is evidently mistaken. I was wandering in the streets of London to pass away time and not playing cards. At last when I went to the grounds I was too late. I came back home and told my elder brother, Benoybhusan, that I was chucked. He with a philosophic attitude proposed playing cards and so we [sat] down playing cards. [Manmohan] came [later] and on hearing about my being chucked began to shout at our playing cards when such a calamity had befallen [us].

(Autobiographical Notes, p. 31)

If the above information is agreed upon, why does Heehs nail down Sri Aurobindo’s guilt as if he were the senior examiner of the ICS Commission and not a biographer who has the advantage of hindsight? Or is it that Heehs poses himself as the senior examiner of Sri Aurobindo’s character, and is bent on proving that he was a liar? There is actually a contradiction here in the presentation, which is Heehs’s usual writing style. First Sri Aurobindo is depicted as an outright liar; then he is excused on the basis of the intent behind. The next paragraph comes up again with another insinuation:

To these accounts dating from the 1940s must be added an earlier one that is less well known. Asked about his rejection by a newspaper reporter in 1909, Aurobindo replied candidly: “I failed in the final for the Civil Service… because I could not ride.” He added: “If I was not actually glad, I was certainly not disappointed because the Civil Service was barred to me. I have never been fond of constraint of any sort and I was really not sorry to forego the service.” This suggests that Aurobindo’s “manoeuvres” may have been less premeditated than they appear in his later accounts, but it supports his assertion that he had no desire to join the ICS.

(Lives, p. 32)

What Heehs implies in the above paragraph is: (1) that not only Sri Aurobindo lied to the senior examiner of the Civil Service Commission but also to his disciples when he told them he had got himself disqualified “by certain manoeuvres”; (2) that he actually did not know how to ride a horse, so he would have failed the riding test even if he had come for it in time; (3) that he was actually covering up his inability to ride a horse with the explanation of manoeuvres; and finally (4) that there was no premeditation but rather helplessness which made Sri Aurobindo fail in the Civil Service Examination. More could be construed in this negative manner, but I would stop here and appeal to common sense and simple logic. If Sri Aurobindo was really serious about joining the Civil Service and enjoying the lucrative career of a Govt official, why would he not have learnt horse-riding? The fact is that he did not show his essential unwillingness to join the Civil Service. It is true he may not have had sufficient practice in riding to pass the test because he could not afford to pay for the riding lessons, which were costly at Cambridge. It could also be that he was not endowed with exceptional riding skills to learn from the few lessons that he could afford from the careless teacher, but all these factors come under the ambit of the overall reluctance he felt for joining the ICS. They were thus deliberately used by him as excuses than being the actual causes of his failure in the riding test. This is what is evinced by the following remarks of Sri Aurobindo in the Evening Talks:

It was father’s fault that I failed in the riding test. He did not send money and the riding lessons at Cambridge then were rather costly. The teacher was also careless; so long as he got his money he simply left me with the horse and I was not particular.

I tried riding again at Baroda with Madhav Rao but it was not successful.

My failure was a great disappointment to my father because he had arranged everything for me through Sir Henry Cotton. A post was kept for me in the district of Arah which is considered a fine place. All that came down like a wall.

I wonder what would have happened to me if I had joined the civil service. I think, they would have chucked me for laziness and arrears of work! (laughter)

(AB Purani, Evening Talks, 16 January 1939; Third Series, p. 136)

Thus Sri Aurobindo’s candid reply to the newspaper reporter, “I failed in the final for the Civil Service… because I could not ride,” does not contradict what he said about “certain manoeuvres” by which he got himself disqualified. Yes, he perhaps could not ride, but then he deliberately did not procure enough money (which he surely could have) from his brothers and friends to get enough training. He did not have money even to pay for his travel expenses, but he deliberately did not borrow the money in time and arrived late for his appointments. It is as if he put himself into a predicament without any willingness to come out of it. (See Appendix 2)

So what am I trying to prove if Sri Aurobindo’s manoeuvres were pre-meditated? Was he acting out of a yogic impulse? Certainly not! I quote from the Evening Talks:

Disciple: But why then did you appear in the ICS? Was it by some intuition that you did not come for the riding test?

Sri Aurobindo: Not at all. I knew nothing of yoga at that time. I appeared for ICS because my father wanted it and I was too young to understand. Later I found out what sort of work it is and I had disgust for administrative life and I had no interest in administrative work. My interest was in poetry and literature and study of languages and patriotic action.

(AB Purani, Evening Talks, 18 December 1938; Third Series, p. 36)

The motives behind the manoeuvres were “disgust for administrative life” and interest “in poetry and literature and study of languages and patriotic action”. The motives were not yogic but neither were they ordinary. From this point of view, the manoeuvres were understandably human and the tactics of evasion he adopted in the given circumstances are excusable by normal standards of conduct. So why make such a big fuss about it? Sri Aurobindo was certainly not a yogi at this point of time, but neither was he an outright liar and coward as Heehs is so eager to prove.

In the next paragraph, Heehs again wants to prove how Sri Aurobindo was wrong in partly attributing his failure in the ICS to having been black-marked by the authorities for delivering “revolutionary speeches” at Cambridge. This is what Sri Aurobindo wrote on himself in the third person:

It was in England while at Cambridge that he made revolutionary speeches at the meetings of the Indian Majlis which were recorded as a black mark against him by the India Office.

(Autobiographical Notes, p. 68)

At the age of eleven Sri Aurobindo had already received strongly the impression that a period of general upheaval and great revolutionary changes was coming in the world and he himself was destined to play a part in it. His attention was now drawn to India and this feeling was soon canalised into the idea of the liberation of his own country. But the “firm decision” took full shape only towards the end of another four years. It had already been made when he went to Cambridge and as a member and for some time secretary of the Indian Majlis at Cambridge he delivered many revolutionary speeches which, as he afterwards learnt, had their part in determining the authorities to exclude him from the Indian Civil Service; the failure in the riding test was only the occasion, for in some other cases an opportunity was given for remedying this defect in India itself.

(Autobiographical Notes, p. 32)

How does Heehs present the same event? I quote below from the Lives:

When Aurobindo became famous as a revolutionary politician, many Britons assumed that it was his rejection from the ICS that “turned him against government.” This certainly was not so. His opposition to British rule took form long before he was rejected. Equally unfounded is the claim that his radical views contributed to his rejection. Aurobindo was once informed that the “revolutionary speeches” he made at Cambridge “were recorded as a black mark against him by the India Office” and “had their part in determining the authorities to exclude him from the Indian Civil Service.” There is no hint of any such black mark in the India Office correspondence. He was rejected simply because he did not pass the riding examination. He was not given another chance to pass because he did not follow instructions, keep appointments, or tell the truth. That said, it must be added that few men in Whitehall wanted “natives of India” to join the ICS. Less than a year after turning down Aurobindo’s petition Lord Kimberley wrote: “It is indispensable that an adequate number of the members of the Civil Service shall always be Europeans.” Lord Lansdowne, the incumbent Viceroy, agreed with him on “the absolute necessity of keeping the government of this widespread Empire in European hands, if that Empire is to be maintained.”

(Lives, pp. 30-32)

On what basis does Heehs say Sri Aurobindo was wrong? On not having found any papers related to it in the India Office correspondence! As if it would have certainly been recorded there, and as if all the papers would have survived. Read the next few sentences in which he proceeds with supreme confidence to show how Sri Aurobindo was mistaken about what he had heard, in spite of admitting that there was a bias towards Indians in the India Office. (If there was a bias against Indians, there is all the more reason why Sri Aurobindo could have been right!) Finally, Heehs puts on the gown of the Civil Service Commissioner and delivers his sentence in retrospect:

He [Sri Aurobindo] was not given another chance to pass because he did not follow instructions, keep appointments, or tell the truth.

(Lives, p 32)

Is this objective history or a fake historian too eager to prove the “defects of Sri Aurobindo’s character”? It is very likely the latter!

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List of Appendixes

Appendix 1: Memorandum by the Senior Examiner, Civil Service Commission respecting the Examination in Riding.

Appendix 2: Sri Aurobindo’s Letter to the Secretary of State for India

Appendix 3: AB Purani’s Notes and Comment

Appendix 4: AB Purani, Life of Sri Aurobindo

Appendix 5: KR Srinivasa Iyengar: Sri Aurobindo—A Biography and a History

Appendix 6: Rishabchand: Sri Aurobindo—His Life Unique
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Appendix 1

CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION,
WESTMINSTER.

Case of Mr Arvinda A. Ghose

Memorandum by the Senior Examiner, Civil Service Commission respecting the Examination in Riding.

Ordered to be examined with the other probationers on August 9th. Did not attend. Sent medical certificate on August 11thto explain why. Was asked on 15th August to say when he would be ready to be examined. Question repeated on 30th August, as no answer had been received. Question repeated a third time on 17th October, answer requested by return of post. Answer received dated 18th October saying he would prefer the following Tuesday or Wednesday. Colonel Brough fixed the Wednesday (October 26th) at 12.30 at Woolwich. Ghose was ordered by letter on 22nd to attend at that time: the letter was sent to same address as that of 17th October. On 26th October, Colonel Brough wrote to say the candidate had not appeared. A messenger was sent to Ghose (same address) and asked to bring back an answer: the answer was that Ghose had not received the letter making the appointment. Ghose was directed to attend here in person on Monday 31st October at 12 noon. He came at 12.40 and repeated his statement that the letter above-mentioned had never reached him. I gave him a letter to Colonel Brough asking the latter to arrange with Ghose a date for his Examination and told Ghose to lose no time in going down to Woolwich and presenting the letter in person: to go down that afternoon if he had no other engagement. I also wrote a line to Colonel Brough telling him of this. Colonel Brough wrote on 5th November saying Ghose had never appeared, and returning the Marking Form supplied for this report. Colonel Brough added that he would prefer not to examine Ghose. After a note from me, he agreed however, to do so, if some one from this Office were present (Nov. 9th). Ghose ordered to call here at noon on the 10th. He came at ten minutes to one. He explained (as also in his letter of the 9th instant received on 10th) that he had twice been to see Colonel Brough but had not found him. I asked him whether he went to the Office of the Riding Establishment. He said “No – to Colonel’s house” (this is close by). He posted the letter I gave him, to Colonel Brough, instead of leaving it for him. Colonel Brough has returned this letter to me, together with Ghose’s undated letter accompanying it. I then showed Ghose Colonel Brough’s latest letter fixing the 15th November for the Examination, and naming the train 2.22 from Charing Cross. I also copied this on a slip of paper, which I gave into Ghose’s hand, and told him to meet me, without fail, at 2.15 on the platform at Charing Cross Station. I explained to him that if he again failed us, the Commissioners would not be able to give another chance, as this state of things could not be allowed to continue. He took away the memorandum and also promised verbally to meet me on the following Tuesday the 15th November. I went there yesterday and kept a look-out, but no Ghose appeared. I went on to Woolwich by the 2.22 train, in case Ghose should be going from any other station or by a different train. But he was not at the Riding Establishment. Colonel Brough and I waited from 20 minutes to half an hour, and then I returned. While waiting at Charing Cross station, I had sent a message to Mr Bonar, saying the candidate had not yet appeared and asking him to send a messenger round to his house to enquire. Mr Bonar did this, sending also a note to ask Ghose to go down to Woolwich and be examined. The messenger brought word that Ghose was out and was not expected till 6 p.m.

Colonel Brough’s servant says no one called as Ghose had asserted: he would have noticed an Indian gentleman—none such had appeared at Colonel Brough’s house on any of the days named.

16th November, 1892
________________________________________
CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION,
17th November 1892

Sir,
With reference to Mr Lockhart’s letter of the 24th August last, I am directed by the Civil Service Commissioners to acquaint you for the information of the Secretary of State for India in Council, that although several opportunities have been offered to Mr A. A. Ghose of attending for examination in Riding, with a view to proving himself qualified in that respect, he has repeatedly failed to attend at the time appointed, and that the Commissioners are consequently unable to certify that he is qualified to be appointed to the Civil Service of India.

I have the honour to be,
Sir,
Your obedient servant,
John Hennell

The Under Secretary of State,
India Office

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Appendix 2: Sri Aurobindo’s Letter to the Secretary of State for India

To
The Right Hon the Earl of Kimberley
Secretary of State for India.
6 Burlington Rd
Bayswater W

Monday. Nov. 21. 1892

May it please your Lordship

I was selected as a probationer for the Indian Civil Service in 1890, and after the two years probation required have been rejected on the ground that I failed to attend the Examination in Riding.

I humbly petition your Lordship that a farther consideration may, if possible, be given to my case.

I admit that the Commissioners have been very indulgent to me in the matter, and that my conduct has been as would naturally lead them to suppose me negligent of their instructions; but I hope your Lordship will allow me to lay before you certain circumstances that may tend to extenuate it.

I was sent over to England, when seven years of age, with my two elder brothers and for the last eight years we have been thrown on our own resources without any English friend to help or advise us. Our father, Dr. K. D. Ghose of Khulna, has been unable to provide the three of us with sufficient for the most necessary wants, and we have long been in an embarrassed position. It was owing to want of money that I was unable always to report cases in London at the times required by the Commissioners, and to supply myself with sufficiently constant practice in Riding. At the last I was thrown wholly on borrowed resources and even these were exhausted.

It was owing to difficulty in procuring the necessary money, that I was late at my appointment on Tuesday Nov 15. I admit that I did not observe the exact terms of the appointment; however I went on to Woolwich by the next train, but found that the Examiner had gone back to London.

If your Lordship should grant me another chance, an English gentleman, Mr. Cotton, (editor of the Academy) of 107 Abingdon Road, Kensington. W. has undertaken that want of money shall not prevent me from fulfilling the exact instructions of the Commissioners.

If your Lordship should obtain this for me, it will be the object of my life to remember it in the faithful performance of my duties in the Civil Service of India.

I am
Your Lordship’s obedient servant
Aravinda. Acroyd. Ghose


(Autobiographical Notes, pp 149-50)

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Appendix 3: AB Purani’s Notes and Comment

(a) Ordered to be examined on 9 August.
Did not attend. Sent medical certificate on August 11.

(b) On 15 August was asked when he would be ready to be examined.
No reply.
Question repeated on 30 August.
Question repeated a third time on 17 October.

(c) Answer dated 18 October–stating he would prefer 25 or 26 October. “Colonel Brough fixed the Wednesday (October 26) at 12.30 at Woolwich. Ghose was ordered by letter on 22nd to attend at that time.”

(d) “On 26th October, Colonel Brough wrote to say the candidate had not appeared. A messenger was sent to Ghose (same address) and asked to bring back an answer: the answer was that Ghose had not received the letter making the appointment.”

(e) “Directed to attend here in person on Monday 31st October. ...
“I gave him a letter to Colonel Brough asking the latter to arrange with Ghose a date for his Examination and told Ghose to lose no time in going down to Woolwich and presenting the letter in person: to go down that afternoon if he had no other engagement. . . . Colonel Brough wrote on 5th November saying Ghose had never appeared. . . . Colonel Brough added that he would prefer not to examine Ghose.”

(f) Colonel Brough, however, agreed to examine him “if some one from this Office were present”. (9 Nov.)
“Ghose ordered to call here at noon on the 10th. He came at ten minutes to one. ... I then showed Ghose Colonel Brough’s latest letter fixing the 15th November for the Examination, and naming the train 2.22 from Charing Cross. I... told him to meet me, without fail, at 2.15 on the platform at Charing Cross Station. ... I went there yesterday [15 Nov.] and kept a look-out, but no Ghose appeared. I went on to Woolwich by the 2.22 train, in case Ghose should be going from any other station or by a different train. But he was not at the Riding Establishment. . . . While waiting at Charing Cross Station, I had sent a message to Mr. Bonar. . . asking him to send a messenger round to his house to enquire. . . . The messenger brought word that Ghose was out and was not expected till 6 p.m.”

It is clear that Sri Aurobindo could have appeared on (1) 9 August, (2) 26 October, (3) 5 November, (4) 15 November. That he did not do so is a fact, and it conclusively proves that he did not want to appear for the Riding Test.

The question may be asked: “Why did he not want to appear, specially when he had passed the Examination in writing?” There are several possible answers. He told us in his evening talks during his early years at Pondicherry that he did not want to join the ICS and yet he did not want to tell his father about it. So he managed to get rejected. [1]

Of course, he also was hard up for money and had to prepare for the ICS examination without a tutor. He could not afford the expenses of frequent riding lessons.

That the final rejection of Mr Cotton’s offer (see VIII) and his own memorial (see X) was influenced by Lord Kimberley’s “obiter dictum” (see XX) which might have been influenced by reports from the Cambridge Majlis in which a future civil servant was represented as ventilating revolutionary views about Indian freedom, seems quite evident.

Sri Aurobindo’s advocacy of Indian political freedom in the Majlis at Cambridge was not the unripe eloquence of a raw undergraduate. It was something that came from a deep conviction of his soul. That this was so is amply borne out by the fact of his plunging into Indian politics immediately on his return to India. He wrote the famous series of articles New Lamps for Old in the Induprakash in 1893.

[1] Sri Aurobindo has himself very explicitly stated the reason for his not appearing for the riding test in the following note given by him while reading the manuscript of one of his biographers submitted to him for verification and approval a few years before his passing away in 1950: “Nothing detained him in his room. He felt no call for the lCS and was seeking some way to escape from that bondage. By certain maneuvers he managed to get himself disqualified for riding without himself rejecting the Service, which his family would not have allowed him to do.” (Sri Aurobindo On Himself, p, 3.)

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Appendix 4: A.B Purani, Life of Sri Aurobindo

Aurobindo left Cambridge in October 1892 and stayed in London up to 12 January 1893, when he embarked for India. He had passed his Tripos (Part I) and also the ICS examination. But he wanted to engineer his rejection from the ICS as he told us told us afterwards at Pondicherry, and so absented himself from the riding test. He said in one of his communications that he felt no call for the ICS and was seeking some way to get himself disqualified without himself rejecting the service, which his father would not have allowed him to do. The full correspondence relating to Sri Aurobindo’s riding examination is published in Appendix V.

Although he was rejected, Sri Aurobindo was ultimately given the ICS stipend of £150. This enabled him to pay off some of his accumulated debts. “Our landlady was an angel”, Sri Aurobindo once said. “She came from Somerset and settled in London, perhaps after she was widowed. She was longsuffering and never asked us for money even if we did not pay for months and months.

I wonder how she managed. We had two such landladies. The other also was nice to us. I paid her from my ICS stipend.” [1]

It is interesting to know how the brothers took the decision of the ICS. Commissioners and the Secretary of State with regard to Sri Aurobindo’s memorial which he was urged to write by James S Cotton and Benoybhushan (see Appendix V, Document X; quoted in part on page 9). Sri Aurobindo later recounted that he was wandering in the streets of London when he knew he should have been at Woolwich. When he came home late in the evening he told Benoy “I am chucked”, with an almost derisive smile. Benoy took it rather philosophically and offered to play cards. After some time Manmohan dropped in and on learning about his rejection from the ICS set up a howl as if the heavens had fallen. After that all three sat down to smoke and began to play cards.

Sri Aurobindo’s sister Sarojini seems once to have said that Sri Aurobindo was playing cards at the time appointed for the riding test. This is not true. He was not playing cards at the time of the test; he was only wandering in the streets of London to pass the time. When he at last got to Woolwich it was too late; the examiner had come and gone.

“It was partly father’s fault that I failed in the riding test,” Sri Aurobindo once somewhat jocularly remarked. “He did not send money and riding lessons at Cambridge at that time were rather costly. And the Master was also careless; so long as he got money he simply left me with the horse and I was not particular. I tried again at Baroda with Madhavrao—but was not successful. It was a disappointment to my father because he had arranged everything for me through Sir Henry Cotton. He had arranged to get me placed in the district of Arrah which is regarded as a very fine place and also arranged for Sir Henry Cotton to look after me.

“All that came down like a wall. I wonder what would have happened to me if I had joined the Civil Service. I think they would have chucked me for laziness and arrears of my work!” [2]

The following questions and answers cast further light on Sri Aurobindo’s ICS rejection.

Question: “You did not appear in the riding test in your ICS?”

Sri Aurobindo: “No. They gave me another chance, but I again did not appear and finally they rejected me.”

Question: “But then why did you appear for the ICS? Was it by some intuition that you did not take the riding test?”

Sri Aurobindo: “Not at all. I knew nothing about Yoga at that time. I appeared for the ICS because my father wanted it and I was too young to understand. Later, I fund out what sort of work it is and I had disgust for an administrator’s life and I had no interest in administrative work. My interest was in poetry and literature and study of languages and patriotic action.” [1]

The question of Aurobindo’s career had to be solved after his rejection from the ICS. In fact, James S. Cotton had already started negotiations with the Maharaja of Baroda, Sir Sayajirao Gaekwar, who was then in London. There is a reference to this in the correspondence with the India Office. (See Appendix V; Document XXIV.)

It is strange how things arrange themselves at times, for example I failed in the ICS and was looking for a job exactly when the Gaekwar happened to be in London. I don’t know whether he called us or we met him but an elderly gentleman whom we consulted was quite willing to propose Rs 200 per month, that is, he thought £10 was a good enough sum, and the Gaekwar went about telling people that he had got a civilian for Rs 200. It is surprising the authority was quite satisfied with Rs 200 per month. But I left the negotiations to my eldest brother and James Cotton. I knew nothing about life at that time. [2]

[1] Cf. AB Purani, Evening Talks, Third Series (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1966), pp. 135-36
[2] Cf. Ibid., p. 136

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Appendix 5: K.R. Srinivas Iyengar: Sri Aurobindo—A Biography and a History

The letter was written from Khulna on 2nd December 1891. At that time Sri Aurobindo was supposed to be undergoing his ICS probationship, and his father had every reason to believe that “Ara... will yet glorify his country by a brilliant administration”. And, indeed, although it was a strain to be classical scholar as well as civil probationer, Sri Aurobindo did very well in both. On the other hand, as the months passed, he was unable to bring his heart into the ICS career. He got through the terminal examinations all right, but didn’t retain the rank he had won in July 1890. There, however, remained one or two more hurdles. On 24 August 1892, Mr. Lockhart, Secretary to the Civil Service Commissioners, reported to the India Office that AA Ghose (Aravinda Ackroyd Ghose) was still to satisfy the Commissioners in respect of health and riding proficiency. He passed his medical examination in due course, but even as late as 4 November 1892, Sri Aurobindo was yet to pass the riding test. Four different chances were apparently given to him (from 9 August to 15 November), but he failed to appear for the test. On 17 November, therefore, the Civil Service Commissioners informed the India Office that they were “unable to certify that he is qualified to be appointed to the Civil Service in India”.

The question has often been asked why, having secured the 11th place in the open competitive examination in July 1890, and passed subsequently two periodical and the final examination, Sri Aurobindo repeatedly failed to take the riding test? Later on, in one of his ‘evening talks’ at Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo is reported to have said:

It was partly father’s fault that I failed in the riding test. He did not send money and riding lessons at Cambridge at that time were rather costly. And the Master was also careless; so long as he got the money he simply left me with the horse and I was not particular...

On the crucial day, 15 November 1892, when Sri Aurobindo should have been at Woolwich for the riding test, he didn’t go there, and he wasn’t at his house either. Actually, according to his own admission later, he was wandering in the streets of London and came home late in the evening and told Benoy Bhushan “I am chucked” with a faint derisive smile. Manomohan, dropping in later and learning how matters stood, “set up a howl as if the heavens had fallen”. From all this, perhaps, it might be inferred—s indeed Sri Aurobindo himself later explained—that: “He felt no call for the I.C.S. and was seeking some way to escape from that bondage. By certain manoeuvres he managed to get himself disqualified for riding without himself rejecting the Service, which his family would not have allowed him to do.” His father was thinking great things about Sri Aurobindo’s future as a brilliant administrator in India and had even, through Sir Henry Cotton, arranged provisionally to get a posting in the district of Arrah. But “all that came down like a wall”; as for Sri Aurobindo himself, he remarked quizzically: “I wonder what would have happened to me if I had joined the Civil Service. I think they would have chucked me for laziness and arrears of my work!”

There is an interesting sequel too to this affair. The “rejection” came as a disappointment, not only to Sri Aurobindo’s brothers in England, but also to well-wishers like his tutor Mr. Prothero and his friend, Mr. James S Cotton. The former wrote to Cotton a letter which he transmitted to the Civil Service Commissioners. After giving an enthusiastic account of Sri Aurobindo’s character and abilities, Prothero added:

That a man of this calibre should be lost to the Indian Government merely because he failed in sitting on a horse or did not keep an appointment appears to me, I confess, a piece of official short-sightedness which it would be hard to beat. ...

If he is finally turned out, it will be, however legally justifiable, a moral injustice to him, and a very real loss to the Indian Government.

Benoy Bhushan and Cotton also persuaded Sri Aurobindo himself to present a petition to the Earl of Kimberley, the India Secretary, on 21 November. While Mr GW Russell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, noted that Sri Aurobindo might be given another chance for qualifying and added that “the candidate seems to me a remarkably deserving man, and I can quite believe that poverty was the cause of his; failures to appear”. Lord Kimberley took the opposite view: “I am sorry that I cannot take a compassionate view as Mr Russell suggests... I should much doubt whether Mr Ghose would be a desirable addition to the Service.” The final rejection came on 7 December, but a subsequent communication authorised the payment of the probationership allowance of £150 still due to Sri Aurobindo. And it was actually paid on 22 December 1892.

On a review of the available evidence it seems probable that an unnamed reason too must have taken a hand in finally determining Sri Aurobindo’s exclusion from the Service. If he tried “certain maneuvers” to get himself disqualified without himself rejecting the Service, Government too seems to have been only too ready to grasp at the straw of a technical reason for throwing out Sri Aurobindo. Lord Kimberley’s ominous “obiter dictum” (“I should much doubt whether Mr Ghose would be a desirable addition to the Service”) leaves a bad taste. How did he; arrive at his “obiter dictum”? It doesn’t seem unlikely that he had come to know of Sri Aurobindo’s speeches at the meetings of the Indian Majlis, his association with the “Lotus and Dagger”, and even of his revolutionary bent of mind. As Sri Aurobindo recorded later, these must have had their part “in determining the authorities to exclude him from the Indian Civil Service; the failure in the riding test was only the occasion, for in some other cases an opportunity was given for remedying this defect in India itself.”

Sri Aurobindo had left Cambridge finally in October 1892 and taken lodgings in London at 6, Burlington Road, Bayswater (later 68, St Stephen’s Gardens). He seems to have been lucky in his landladies, one of whom he described as an angel. With the rejection from the Service an unalterable fact, it now became necessary to think of an alternative avenue of employment. He had his First in the First Part of the Classical Tripos, which would have given him his Cambridge degree had he passed the examination at the end of his third year in residence.

But since he had but two years at his disposal, he had taken the examination at the end of the second year. To stay on to be able to appear for the Second Part at the end of four years was unthinkable. But even so he might have got the degree had he made an application for it, but he did not think it necessary to do so; he did not presumably think that a degree as such was particularly valuable, since he had no intention then of taking up a purely academic career.His friend, James Cotton, was able to arrange an interview with the Gaekwar of Baroda, the late Sayaji Rao, who was then on a visit to England. The interview was a success, and Sri Aurobindo secured appointment in the Baroda State Service. Mr Cotton had completed the negotiations, and the Gaekwar was indeed “very pleased to have an ICS man for Rs 200 per month”. It was also decided that Sri Aurobindo would leave for India by the Carthage on January 12, 1893. He had already decided to drop ‘Ackroyd’ from his name and would henceforth be ‘Aravinda Ghose’ or ‘Aurobindo’ only.

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Appendix 6: Rishabchand: Sri Aurobindo—His Life Unique

Dr Ghosh wished that Sri Aurobindo should go in for the Indian Civil Service. In deference to his father’s wish, Sri Aurobindo got admitted as a candidate for the ICS even while he was at St. Paul’s. He took up the Classics and some other subjects, and prepared for the competitive examination without the help of a tutor. This simultaneous study of a double course, one at St Paul’s and, later, at Cambridge, and the other for the ICS, must have proved a strain on him; but though he was getting an allowance for the ICS probationership, he could not afford to engage a tutor. From his scholarship and meagre probationership allowance he had often to help his brothers. He passed the I.C.S. examination with distinction, securing very high marks in the Classics, but his heart was not in the Service. It was simply to comply with his father’s wish that he had studied for it. His growing nationalistic feelings made him averse to it. “...He neglected his lessons in riding and failed in the last riding test. He was, as is often done, given another chance to pass, but avoided presenting himself in time for the test. He was on this pretext disqualified for the Service, although in similar cases successful probationers have been given a further chance to qualify themselves in India itself. He felt no call for the ICS and was seeking some way to escape from that bondage. He thus deliberately disqualified himself with- out himself rejecting the Service, which his family would not have allowed him to do.” The reason why the British Government did not give him another chance for passing in the riding test was, of course, the fact that his revolutionary speeches at the Indian Majlis “had their part in determining the authorities to exclude him from the Indian Civil Service... .”


Courtesy:

http://www.mirroroftomorrow.org/blog/_archives/2011/1/18/4723420.html

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