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Demystifying one of the country's most revered mystics, Sri Aurobindo, has landed American historian Peter Heehs in hot water.
Heehs, who has been in Pondicherry for the past four decades, stirred a hornet's nest with his biography on the spiritualist, published abroad in 2008. Sri Aurobindo's followers have called him a heretic and, subsequently, the regional registration office (RRO) for foreigners in the former French enclave has asked him to leave the country within April 15.
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His detractors accused him of painting the freedom fighter-yogi as 'schizophrenic' and who had a romantic relationship with the Mother - Frenchwomen Mira Richard who was Sri Aurobindo's collaborator and successor.
After the Orissa High Court banned the book some time ago, the American author has come out with a suggestion that an Indian edition could be brought out after deleting the objectionable portions.
But for that, the high court has to give its nod. Though scholars have defended Heehs, the followers of Sri Aurobindo want him deported immediately.
Union home minister P. Chidambaram has to take a call on the fate of Heehs's deportation. He has ordered a review on why his visa extension was rejected, but his fate remains in limbo.
Considered a respected scholar on modern Indian history and spirituality, Heehs's The Lives of Sri Aurobindo has triggered an outrage not only in Auroville, a model township of community living and international headquarters of the Aurobindo Ashram, but also among the followers all over.
Residents of Auroville claimed that the biography has gone to the extent of calling Sri Aurobindo's biological mother a lunatic, indicating it as family trait.
Clubbing him with Jeffrey Kripal, who earlier arrived at similar conclusions about Sri Ramakrishna, they called Heehs's work an anti-Indian conspiracy.
What enraged them more was the fact that Heehs was no outsider, but a part of the ashram. He was also a founding member of the archives at Auroville, besides being on the editorial board of the collected works of Sri Aurobindo.
As such, they considered his biographical work as betrayal. Heehs has also been hauled over the coal for dropping broad hints on a sexual relationship between the spiritual leader and his successor, the Mother.
This has been construed as crude application of the Freudian concept.
Further, some of the passages show Sri Aurobindo in absurdly poor light - liar, a person weak in physique, and no significant leadership quality.
However, scholars have defended Heehs and called his work 'the finest biography' rather than being a hagiography. It is critically acclaimed for treating Sri Aurobindo as human.
In their view, select passages were taken out of context to distort his work. Historians Romila Thapar and Ramchandra Guha, and Harvard University's Sugata Bose have sought the Prime Minister and the Union home minister's intervention.
Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, too, has sent a letter to Chidambaram seeking a review on denying a visa extension to Heehs.
THE PASSAGES OF FURORE
ON AUROBINDO FAILS RIDING TESTIn 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. Called to the office to explain, Aurobindo told a series of lies. (Page 30)
Contemporaries and historians questioned his right to be called an effective politician. Certainly, he was not a great builder or steady
worker. (Page 130)
ON HIS PERSONALITY
Annie Besant again proclaimed him dangerous, even fanatical on account of 'his refusal to work with any Englishmen'. Members of government used the same terms to describe the man they were trying to imprison. Some added that they thought he was slightly off his head: 'There is madness in his family,' wrote the Viceroy to the secretary of the state. (Page 199)
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