31 Mar 2013

The Curious Case of Peter Heehs, Indian Historians and Media

Nearly two months back, on the 15th of April [2012], the Indian media swayed with ecstatic joy singing paeans of Justice and liberalism. Why, what happened? Did the Supreme Court pass orders to hang Modi or was Sri Sri Ravi Shankar sent to an asylum in the forests of Africa or had US moved a resolution in UNHRC for s in Gujarat, Kashmir or Assam or had the Govt of India declared Ramachandra Guha as The Jewel Of India? No, a new star from the west had risen on the horizons of India and Indian Civilization, a star that had outshined Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Paramahansa, Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and for that matter anyone whom millions of foolish Indians had been calling as Avatara till date. A new discovery was made, a discovery that has outsmarted Newton and Archimedes and that is supposedly to change the very destiny of India. This discovery happened after 40+ years of research work in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. Once the discovery was made, as is the convention, it was sent to scientists who have authority over the subject like Ramachandra Guha, Ashish Nandy, Sagarika Ghose, Arnob Goswami, Nidhi Razdan etc and finally on the 6th of Feb in the esteemed CNN-IBN Laboratory for the Decimation of Indian Spirituality and Spiritual Leaders, it got the approval from the senate and Peter Heehs, the scientist, got acknowledged all over the world. The magnitude of the impact of this discovery can be gauged by seeing the effusive reception with which the Historians and Indian media received him in jubilant chorus on 15th April. Since then pantheons of India’s vibrant democracy have written a plethora of articles enlightening how this discovery shall change the course of world. The more I have been reading these articles, the more my respect for these guys has been increasing, and now you see it has reached its boiling point and is finally bubbling here in this article. 

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22 Mar 2013

Trustees Provoke Attack on the Ashram

For the last few days all schools and businesses in Pondicherry have been closed on account of the State-wide bandh called by political parties in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. Pranab-da, in his capacity as head of the Department of Physical Education, used to ensure that in such situations the security of the Ashram was foremost and its Inmates and its school students protected. Now that he is no more, and the present corrupt Trustees are in full charge, the priorities have changed.

Recovering from a double hernia operation, Manoj Das Gupta (Managing Trustee) announced from the comfort of the Nursing Home that the Bandh did not concern the Ashram and the school and other non-commercial activities would go on normally. While the entire territory of Pondicherry remained shut down for the last two days, the Ashram school and other departments continued to function without concern. The Police security around Government buildings was tight, but entirely absent around the Ashram premises.

This dangerous decision of the Trustees invited a vicious attack yesterday on the Ashram main building. A group of political activists barged into the Ashram at about 12.10 pm, broke flower pots, furniture, windows and went up to the notice board shouting slogans and breaking things. Fortunately they stopped short of the Samadhi.
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15 Mar 2013

DattaGate: Exposing the Corrupt Trustees of the Ashram!

Dilip Datta’s latest deal is the most novel so far and suggests how skilfully the Ashram finances and properties are being diverted and subverted by the Trustees. On the face of it there are two apparently unconnected events: 1) Ratnadeep Datta and his wife bought another plush house in Pondicherry, and 2) an Ashramite was assigned a new house in the Ashram. Nothing strange apparently until you realise that the Ashramite was the same person who sold the house to Ratnadeep Datta and his wife Jyotsna and that the sale of the house was at a price far below its market value. Now the skeletons come tumbling out!

Let us review the sequence of events as they occurred:
  1. On 13.13.1974 one Michèle Mercier, a French citizen living in the Ashram, purchased a plot of land of 1800 sq.ft. and later built a large three storeyed building named “Abhiseka” situated at 9, Padmini Thottam, Kuruchikuppam, Puducherry 605012.
  2. She lived there all of these years even after she was formally admitted into the Ashram as a permanent Inmate. It is a large house, more than sufficient for an entire family to live in, and certainly more than enough for one person. But having no income, and with maintenance costs increasing, she found the house too big to manage.
  3. In 2009, she approached the Ashram Trustees with the offer to donate the building to the Ashram in exchange for a smaller house closer to the Ashram main building. Instead Dilip Datta allegedly made a counter offer: she could sell the land to his son for a low price, and keep the money while still getting herself premium accommodation assigned from the Ashram! She readily agreed.
  4. Dr Dilip Datta, head of the Ashram’s medical section, told her that Huta D Hindocha (the Mother’s confidante) was quite ill and would not survive much longer, and promised to assign Michèle her house as soon as she passed away.
  5. Miraculously and to the great consternation of “Dr Death”, Huta continued to live against all medical odds. Several times she was hospitalised in a private hospital in critical condition, but each time she bounced back miraculously and returned to complete the work assigned to her by the Mother. Throughout, Huta refused to go to the Ashram Nursing Home because of her dangerous experience with Dr Dilip Datta. (A few years earlier, “Dr Death” had wrongly diagnosed her as having pneumonia and gave her heavy doses of wrong medication for three months that broke her health for good. She never recovered from that wrong treatment and refused to have anything to do with Dr Dilip Datta after that.)
  6. Finally, in early October 2011, under pressure of other doctors of the Ashram, Huta agreed to shift to the Ashram Nursing Home. Once more in the care of “Dr Death”, she did not return alive.
  7. Even while Huta was receiving treatment in the Nursing Home, Dilip Datta gave the go ahead to his son for purchase of Michèle’s house. But Michèle Mercier had been disappointed too often. She wanted some guarantee for her interests to be protected. What if, she asked, Huta did not die now? What if, after completing the sale, she was not given the house that she wanted? Dilip Datta agreed that she could sell half the house to begin with and transfer the other half after shifting to her Ashram assigned premium accommodation.
  8. On 12th October 2011, while Huta was struggling for life at the Nursing Home, Michèle Mercier signed the sale deed transferring 50% of the “undivided share” of her property to Dilip Datta’s son Ratnadeep Datta and his wife in a sale deed that is unprecedented and quite anomalous. (More of that later.)
  9. On 17th November 2011, Huta D Hindocha passed away in the Ashram Nursing Home. According to her Will, her body was brought back to her house and kept on her bed, surrounded by the Mother’s Treasures and her life’s work done under the Mother’s guidance. Dilip Datta and Ratnadeep Datta were not among those who came to see her off.
  10. A few months later, Michèle came to Huta’s house and demanded that the house be handed over to her. She said, “I have been waiting for this house for the last 5 years!”
So what is wrong with the sale deed by which Dilip Datta’s family has purchased Michèle’s house? Plenty! This deed of sale does things no one in her right mind would accept – it binds Michèle to complete loss of privacy and loss of control of her entire house even while selling only half of it. It prevents her from selling the other half of her house to anyone else except Dilip Datta’s family members. It allows Ratnadeep Datta to own the entire house for good while only paying for half of it and that too at a price well below market rates! Strange, wouldn’t you say? [extract -- read full article below]
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8 Mar 2013

Customer Review of the "Lives of Sri Aurobindo" by Peter Heehs in Amazon.com – by Mark R.

Kinda boring and tedious - more anthropological than biographical, June 14, 2011
This was a difficult book to get through, by any means, even though I am generally intrigued with the topic itself. Readers should know going into this book isn't much uplifting at all, it is more about the minutiae of Sri Aurobindo's life (and the accuracy of that minutiae seems to be in question by many, including the Sri Aurobindo Ashram itself).

What struck me was that the writings of Sri Aurobindo are fascinating and quite inspiring; however this book is so heavy on details and lacking in spirit that it seemed as if I was reading about another person, almost a facsimile. I shrugged it off, since the book seemed like more of an anthropological study of a man, digging up all kinds of trivial details about his life. However once I finished the book, I felt like I had 'read about his clothes, but not the man himself.' 

While I am not in a position to research the details of the original source documents to ascertain if the author's account is accurate, there is an over-arching tone in his writing that reveals that the author seems to be more concerned about revealing as many "facts" as possible, without really appreciating them.  It is a very dry study, almost stripped of all life and inspiration.

Perhaps it is part of the common trend nowadays, to "humanize" people of inspiration and accomplishment, by focusing more on the trivial than the meaningful -- and what is meaningful is reduced to bland analysis. It is almost as if there is an effort to take Sri Aurobindo down a notch, or knock him off his pedestal. I wish I had known that before struggling though so many tedious pages.

If you are looking for a book that highlights and appreciates Sri Aurobindo's various achievements, this is not the book for you. If you want more of a dry, anthropological study, you're in luck -- there are endless pages to read.
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1 Mar 2013

The Cords that Bind the Ashramites ― Baikunth

The present administration of Sri Aurobindo Ashram is not only a misfit in the current situation but a total anachronism. Everyone in the Ashram, including the Trustees themselves, agree that the vacuum left by the withdrawal of the Mother’s physical presence in November 1973 can never be filled up. Yet the administration acts as if it has legitimately replaced the Mother. The excuse that is given is that there is no other alternative to the existing system of one-man rule, which, when the Mother was physically present, was a divine dictatorship, and was gladly accepted by all her disciples and devotees. The demand for democracy was never voiced during the golden days of the Ashram, for all those who came to Her had the unflinching faith that whatever decisions She took were for their ultimate good under the existing circumstances. Nobody questioned Her wisdom, nobody said that She could be wrong in her decisions with regard to collective or personal matters. The underlying assumption was that She knew them better than they knew themselves. 

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