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. 

Ramachandra Guha is a beautiful Chimera with an Indian build, western brain and plural soul. His whole life is for Plural society. He is the fountainhead of plurality. There’s no second thought in it and his efforts to make India plural is incredible beyond limits. Mind you, it’s not an easy task given the damage that un-plurals like Swami Vivekananda had already done. Who was Vivekananda? Well, he was but a disciple of Rama Krishna Paramahansa. Who was Paramahansa? He was a devotee of Kali who is said to have taken up spirituality out of sexual frustration. This discovery was made by the legendary Jeffrey Kripal. In his book Kali’s Child, he writes, Ramakrishna [Paramahansa] went into Samadhi while looking at the cocked hips of a beautiful English boy. Ironically, Indians who had always been against the concept of plural thinking took this book with contempt. Fie on them for they can’t appreciate a scholar. This book received the American Academy of Religion’s History of Religions award. Then we have another un-plural figure in India called Rama whom foolish Indians have been worshipping like GOD, pity on them. How mean! Who was Rama? Well, to quote in the plural words of Wendy Doniger, ‘Rama was happy with Sita indulging in every way and then he threw her out.’ Did you ever know? Now who was Sita? Well, to quote again in plural words of another world famous Scientist of Spirituality Ramanujan, ‘Sita was the daughter of Ravana’. To elaborate Ramanujan, ‘Rama and Sita shared the relationship of brother and sister. One whom you call Brahmachari Hanuman, was a womanizer’. So, you see that on the one hand there are these scientists who are working day and night and unearthing such facts from the Harappa of Indian Spirituality which the likes of Valmiki and Tulsidas also could not discover and on the other hand there are fundamentalists who cannot accept such scholarly works merely because it hurts their sentiments, and finally such books die even before they see the light of the Sun in India. It is the ban on these books which makes an otherwise restful Ramachandra Guha, Ashish Nandy, Romila Thapar, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Sagarika Ghose restive. I have always regarded Guha as the only intellectual who can take India as high as the buildings in France from where he sips his coffee and pities fundamentalists back here in India in some hospitable column of esteemed national dailies. He gets paid for these too and his livelihood also runs on such articles. Can there be a service better than this? I reiterate, ‘Guha is completely committed for the cause of making India a plural society’. 

Recently Guha had been busy defending a scholar namely- Peter Heehs, ridiculing fundamentalists and pitying the District Court and High Court judges for their perennial quest to pass an injunction on scholarly books and get some cheap publicity. Peter Heehs’ case is truly a case of extreme torture by mean minded Indians. I am sure that it is because of such cases that Guha had been consistently alienating himself from India. In his 2008 Oslo diary he wrote, ‘Wow: I am a born Frenchman, brought up in some of the best European schools.’ Heehs’ case becomes typical because unlike Guha who had the Congress to rubberstamp his profound knowledge, Heehs had none. Matters became worse when the sick Orissa Government proscribed this book via an Extraordinary Gazette notification and the desperate attention-seeker judges of the High Courts of Cuttack and Chennai, as per the legendary Guha, failed to understand the Plurality of Peter Heehs while listening to petitions. The Ministry of Home Affairs upon a direction by High Court sent a letter to the Principal Secretary, Home Department saying that there were two criminal cases pending against Heehs and that his visa may not be extended without prior permission from Home Minister. History suggests that all great scientists had to suffer before the world acknowledged them. Remember Galileo’s Pigeon League and the inquisition that he had to face? 

This news somehow reached to Guha. Guha asked, ‘Is he a plural writer?’ ‘Yes, he has written extensively on Indian Spirituality and Sri Aurobindo’ came the reply. Whoa, listening to Spirituality, Ramachandra Guha, the man for whom, by his own confession, spirituality means nothing, came up for Heehs’ succour. Peter Heehs book is full of facts unrevealed till date and each of these facts is, in Sagarika’s words, scrupulously footnoted with reference to the source from where it has been taken and in Guha’s words, scrupulously honest. Sri Aurobindo had written over 30, 000 pages on various topics ranging from spirituality to Philosophy, Education etc. I have been reading Sri Aurobindo and yet not been able to assimilate even 1/10th of what he has written. Anyway, Guha completed the book in one shot with all the footnotes verified and understood and as expected found it to be the most authentic work on Sri Aurobindo. One reason why I feel that Guha would have been convinced with Heehs is this that Heehs is very clear on his basics. He says,  ‘All historians know that historiography deals in probabilities, not certitude’. How profound! This is what I like of these historians. They have clarity of thought. Now, take for instance Vedas, the very foundation of Indian Culture. The legendary Peter Heehs in his essay, Shades of Orientalism: Paradoxes and Problems in Indian Historiography says, ‘Given the millennia that separates us from the texts, and the paucity of non-textual supporting materials, it is unlikely that we will ever know what Vedas meant to their creators’. Eureka, Eureka! Do you understand the importance of this discovery alone? It is not like an ordinary discovery of some Gramophone. It dwarfs all discoveries made till date. Long back when the British Raj had come to rehabilitate us, ironically we never understood their good intentions and sent them to the gallows, a plural scholar had done intense research on the Vedas. His name was Max Muller. He edited a book called Sacred Book of the East a 50-volume book which was to change the very fate of India and Indian Mythology. The preface of this book read, ‘I confess, it has been for many years a problem to me, aye, and to a great extent is still, how the Sacred Books of the East should, by the side of so much that is fresh, natural, simple, beautiful and true, contain so much that is not only unmeaning, artificial and silly, but even hideous and repellent.’ This was the profoundest discovery ever made in the History of India. Ironically, that time we didn’t have a Plural Guha. We had an anti-plural Sri Aurobindo. He denounced this finding of Max Muller and excoriated westerners’ understanding of India and Indian spirituality in just one speech as given here. Read this speech to understand the element called Sri Aurobindo. It is this Sri Aurobindo that Peter Heehs has been eating since last 40+ years and that too in Sri Aurobindo Ashrama. Does he not owe something to Sri Aurobindo? Heard of the western concept of ‘Give Back’? Peter Heehs is a man of the Highest standards. He wrote Sri Aurobindo’s biography, The Lives Of Sri Aurobindo to give back. Poor Indians, they don’t have the slightest respect for such a scholar. Die. 

As I have maintained, we must work together to make India a plural society. Sagarika is doing her best. Let us support her and explore the road to plurality. In order to become plural, we must first make our basics clear. The first fundamental law of plurality says, in the words of the legendary Peter Heehs and endorsed by Plural Guha, ‘matters of faith are nothing but dogmas’. Heehs quotes this sentence with reference to Sri Aurobindo’s Avatarhood but Heehs is a scholar and just like one word in Hinduism ‘Om’ has such a vast meaning, this simple sentence of Heehs also has equally vast meaning. Heehs is little shy and reserved, as I could read, in making open remarks given that he has to live with Fundamentalists in Ashrama. However, his concept is as clear as daylight. What he means here is actually this that Rama, Krishna, Hanumana, Paramahansa, Vivekananda or for that matter Jesus were all forgeries and it is to study and unearth this truth that GOI had given him a Visa and has again extended it for 1 year. In this lies the message for men and women of 21st century. Foolish Indians who spend their entire life chanting, ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ and became un-plural. Now, you understand why the media in general and CNN-IBN in particular had been so concerned about Heehs. 

It is indeed a fact that a lot has been written since Peter Heehs usurped in the sky as a historian but then most of them, as I observe, have failed to do justice to his painstaking journey from a taxi-driver to the biggest scholar in the history of India. In order to glorify a plural writer like him, it is equally important to laser the sufferings he underwent till he passed the litmus test and got the acknowledgement. They say that Heehs has no educational qualification and that he came to India in 1971 in search of Rehabilitation. That is indeed true but it is a matter of the past now. Today he is a Guha cum Sagarika Certified Historian. Let us elevate ourselves and come out of this petty psychology and close this chapter for once and for all. Secondly, people accuse him of intellectual property theft. Why? Well, it so happened that when Jeffrey Kirpal published his book Esalen: America and the Religion of no Religions in 2007, it had references from Heehs’ then unpublished book, Lives of Sri Aurobindo published in 2008. Now that Peter Heehs was working here in India in Sri Aurobindo Ashrama Archives, he was, as per Ashrama norms, not supposed to send any of the documents in the Archives to any outsider howsoever close he/she may be. That is, they say, is breach of faith as well as intellectual property theft. It is this that I don’t like about fundamentalists. Heehs was writing on an Indian Spiritual Leader and Jeffrey was already an acclaimed writer. Heehs must have sent the copies to Jeffrey for his guidance and suggestions to make his oeuvre as perfect as possible and add new dimensions to the lives of Sri Aurobindo. That is in the interest of plural India and hence cannot be called as IP theft. It’s a laughable allegation. Heehs is honest and has acknowledged Jeffrey in his book. Not only that, Jeffrey has reviewed his book and observed, ‘His text humanizes and problematizes a historical figure [Sri Aurobindo] whose complexity has been more or less lost to us via hagiography, piety, and now Hindutva apologetics’. So, you see, Sri Aurobindo is problematized now in the words of Jeffrey. 

Thirdly, Heehs is accused of impersonation. His journey from a research scholar and Archivist to one of the founders of Archives to the Director of Ashrama Archives and many more in the middle [1,2 ] is intriguing. Jayanti Lal was the founder of Ashram Archives which is evident from the Obituary to Jayanti Lal written by Heehs himself. Given that Archives was the heart of Ashram and Heehs neither had any qualification nor was old enough, there does not arise the question of him founding the archives. Keeping these in mind, people accuse him as a serial impersonator. That is absurd! It is Peter’s intelligence which made him a founder from a mere archivist and anyway Jayanti Lal is no more. There was a gossip going on here and upon listening to this story, someone told me: ‘Let him come from Europe, he shall call himself Sri Aurobindo’. Well, with the help of Guha, he can certainly become Sri Aurobindo also, no wonder. 

Fourth allegation on Heehs, equally absurd as the first three, is that of copyright infringement. He along with some of the Ashrama inmates had been involved in editing some of the works of Sri Aurobindo especially his Magnum Opus Savitri. As per The Mother’s instructions, nobody should have changed even a comma in Sri Aurobindo’s works. Peter Heehs is said to have edited his works as he edited a line of Savitri in the chapter The Return to Earth which reads, ‘Our bodies need each other in same last’ to ‘Our bodies need each other in same lust’. So, you see how people have misunderstood him. First of all he denies this allegation and, secondly, even if he edited it, I am sure, it must have been with some plural intention. It was never a case of copyright infringement. As Sagarika Ghose says, ‘Writers like Heehs should be celebrated and not hounded. Last but not the least, people accuse him of having broken visa norms for he didn’t come here on a research visa and, being an inmate of the Ashrama, he was not supposed to write a book and make money out of it and then evade taxes. Keeping in mind his tremendous contribution to India and Indian spirituality, I think this is too harsh an allegation. He should be given permanent citizenship of India and made a tax-free Extra-ordinary exceptional Citizen of India.

It is literally impossible for me to write anything about Sri Aurobindo. Till date, I had been considering him as an Avatara. But now that I am enlightened, I feel bad not for me, for I am saved by Guha, but for all those who could not understand the truth behind Sri Aurobindo. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that when Sri Aurobindo came to India quitting his ICS job in England, within a very short period of time he swept the whole of India by storm. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose said, ‘his was a name to conjure with’. Tagore said, ‘O Aurobindo, to thee I bow’. The then Viceroy and Governor General said about him, ‘I can only repeat that he is the most dangerous man we have to reckon with’. That apart, Sri Aurobindo used to pour vitriol on the Congress for its moderate policy. In one of the series of articles with the name, New Lamps for Old he wrote, ‘Our actual enemy is not any force exterior to ourselves, but our own crying weakness, our cowardliness, our selfishness, our purblind sentimentalism. I say, of the Congress, then, this, that its aims are mistaken, that the spirit in which it proceeds towards their accomplishments is not a spirit of sincerity and whole-heartedness, and that the methods it has chosen are not right methods, and the leaders in whom it trusts, not the right sort of men to be leaders; -in brief, that we are at present blind led, if not by the blind, at any rate by the one-eyed.’

If you happen to read Heehs’ introduction to his magnum-opus, you shall observe that he has written the book in chronological order with facts supported by primary sources and objective data. Now, as I said, Heehs’ words have deeper meanings. What is the objective? The objective is to prove that Indian Spirituality is all about psychotic disorder or at best hallucinations, that what we call Avatara or Incarnation [For Macaulay’s progenies who do not understand Avatara] are dogmas, that most of the spiritual leaders of India, if not all, opt for spirituality  either due to schizophrenia or because they are sexually frustrated, and they are able to control sex because of their spontaneous erotic experiences; that Sri Aurobindo’s mother suffered from a bi-polar disorder and she was mad and it is this madness that Sri Aurobindo had inherited from his mother which pushed him for renunciation; that his relationship with his spiritual collaborator Mira Alfassa aka The Mother had romantic interludes; that Sri Aurobindo was an imperfect saint, and finally all those guys who sit near Sri Aurobindo’s Samadhi for meditation are also mad and foolish and this act is theatrical. 

That was all about objectivity. Now, what are objective data and primary sources? Well, any source which supports this objective is Primary source. Say, for example, on page-17, he says, ‘Weak and inept on the playing field, he was also, by his own account a coward and a liar’. This has a footnote giving the reference to a primary source. As you see, Heehs is doing nothing but quoting Sri Aurobindo who once said in an evening talk, ‘I was a most terrible liar and perhaps no greater coward on earth’. This is the primary source here. How profound! Now, on page-30, his book reads, ‘In October, the ICS commissioner wrote to Aurobindo asking him to fix 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’. This observation is again footnoted. It has reference to the India office records L/JP/6/333, Memoranda by the senior examiner, Civil Services commission. The interesting thing to note here is this that in the first comment where he has called Sri Aurobindo a coward and liar, he has taken Sri Aurobindo’s words as gospel truth, but then here he has not accepted the same Sri Aurobindo who has clearly stated that he intentionally skipped the Horse-Riding exam in order to fail himself so that he can jump into the freedom struggle. So, you see here it is not Sri Aurobindo who is the Primary Source but the then GOI of 1892 which considered Sri Aurobindo as the biggest threat. Such is the work of the latest exponent in India’s History, purely objective and highly scholarly. Dare you ask Peter Heehs, he shall reply you, with a calm resignation on his face, ‘All that you had to do was read 3 more pages and you would find me calling Sri Aurobindo as eminently sane and highly intellectual’. In other words, you should thank him for he could find at least something good in Sri Aurobindo.

By now, I am feeling a bit guilty for I have been talking only about Guha’s plural society and how he helped plural thought leader Peter Heehs. That is not justified on my part. Pardon me for I am a little bigot here. I respect Guha to the core but then, if I don’t mention Sagarika and her contributions to the cause of Peter Heehs, it shall be a dereliction of my duty. If Guha is the fountainhead of plural society, Sagarika is the brightest of all stars of a vibrant democracy. Whenever you feel like India’s democracy is at stake and your freedom of speech is being curbed, close your eyes and invoke Sagarika Ghose for none but she and she alone can vibrate India’s democracy. She does it to perfection. Now, you see, Heehs’ book got acknowledged because he worked in the Ashrama Archives for 40 years. Ironically, the same Ashrama, the laboratory of Heehs’ research distanced itself from the book which is evident from this notice but did Sagarika tell this to you? That apart, Sri Aurobindo Society, another institution set up by The Mother herself having presently more than 350 centers and 75 branches across the world, had to put this notice on its home page saying, ‘Sri Aurobindo Society strongly disapproves of the book’. Did Sagarika tell you? The Ashrama has a school and some 400 guys study there. Guys like Kireet Joshi, an IAS who had quit his job only after 1 year to practise Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga used to teach there and several of its alumni were deeply hurt. In Orissa alone there are some 550 schools running on the concept of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Education and they all pray, ‘Om Namo Bhagawate Sri Arabindaya Namah’. Did Sagarika tell you? No, these things don’t make India a Vibrant democracy. This is not the kind of vibrator she considers apt for India and, mind you, she is the authority to decide what suits best for India; dare not question her. A section of Ashramites are running a full-fledged website merely to refute the innuendos by Peter Heehs. Thousands of letters like this have been written to Ashrama. Did Sagarika tell you? No. What did she tell you? Read here 1 , 2,3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and watch here. Add to it Arnob’s Court and Nidhi Razdan’s Left, Right and Center and you have the world’s most vibrant democracy ever. The other day, some guys were telling me that they will let Peter Heehs pass but sue Sagarika for the strap that ran throughout her program saying, ‘Sri Aurobindo was not an Avatar’. I rebuked them for their nonsense. What the heck? You can’t make a democracy vibrant by suing Sagarika. It is only and only Sagarika’s shrill voice that can vibrate democracy. She knows best what program will work as vibrator. Remember, when Abhishekh Manu Singhvi’s sex tape had leaked and the court had passed an injunction on showing the cassette, Sagarika obeyed the court’s order, but when the same court had ordered an injunction on Heehs’ biography, did Sagarika not call him in her lab and approve the thesis? Why? That book works like a vibrator. 

Besides, there is an interesting link to this story. Some of you, by now, might have started wondering if CNN-IBN knew all these details and didn’t tell you on the show, or was it completely unaware? Let me re-affirm my faith in CNN-IBN once again. They know everything. This can be proved from the fact that exactly 3 years and 1 month before it made Peter Heehs a hero, on 14th of March 2008, CNN-IBN started running a promo of a program called Divine Trap. This promo ran from the 14th of March till 15th of March evening and was then stopped without any notice. The program was due to be telecasted at 09:30 PM. It was the result of 6-months of work of CNN-IBN on Sri Aurobindo Ashrama, Pondicherry detecting several cases of murder, theft, sexual assaults of trustee members of Ashrama. Kavita Sharma, Associate Producer, CNN-IBN who was leading this sting had to leave CNN after this episode. What ensued inside nobody knows but one thing is sure, it is this that this program must not have helped a vibrant democracy. Heehs case was important as the nation’s image was at stake, so it was addressed and, thank God, taken care of by Union Home Ministry too. Also, keeping the clean image of CNN-IBN in mind, there can be no speculation about any influence of Ashrama trustee members, who, in-spite of dissociating themselves from Heehs’ book and huge protests all over India are not expelling him out of the Ashrama. Any such speculation why and how Peter Heehs’ cause was taken up in a day or why even after 6-months of sting operation Divine Trap was not telecast or why is Ashrama not throwing out Heehs in spite of dissociating itself from the book, deserves a tight slap. Paid media is something that trends only on twitter and since twitter is dominated by right wing fanatics, as attested by media doyens, this also ought to be rejected outright. What cannot be rejected is CNN-IBN credibility to run a show saying, ‘Sri Aurobindo was not an Avatara’. 

Last but not the least, guys cry how people could read a book which is banned in India. Well, those who write articles in newspapers justifying Heehs’ work as most authentic, must be having some third eye which, when closed, can take them through the entire book, and the very Sri Aurobindo Ashrama, his research lab from where the book was written and published, has no such eye which is evident from this notice, as it doesn’t appreciate but dissociates itself from the book. That third eye alone justifies this anti-thesis. 

  1. I see that some of you have bought the idea of Guha who says, ‘Is their icon so fragile that he can be destroyed or even damaged by a single, scholarly book?’ I stand by Guha and all [pseudo] intellectuals who buy this idea. Take some time and go through the Wikipedia page of Sri Aurobindo. It has 29 references of facts quoted about Sri Aurobindo. Out of 29, only 7 references are from Peter Heehs’ book. Put in some effort and make sure that all 29 references are from his book so that not a single guy has any doubt if Sri Aurobindo was an Avatara or not, or for that matter whether he was a man of integrity or an inveterate liar. I hope that should help quench your thirst for a Plural India and Vibrant Democracy. Though guys have already started working and the legendary Pratap Bhanu Mehta, as per this article, is now crystal clear that Sri Aurobindo could not recover the meaning of Vedas and that his book Life Divine is but an extension of Isha Upanishad, yet you can contribute your bit and speed up this holy work of pluralizing India. If possible, pursue the Education Ministry for a paper on Sri Aurobindo from Heehs’ book. That’s the least that you can do.
  2. Our Government and Supreme Court should contemplate on changing its age old tradition of swearing in the name of our holy books like: Bhagavat Geeta, Quran or Bible. As Heehs says and Guha buys, ‘what we call faith is actually a dogma’. Why live in dogmas guys? Let there be no dogma and let India usher into an era of Plurality.
  3. Come out of your age-old method of fasting and chanting Mantras for deification. Use new methods as suggested by CNN-IBN journalists:  1. Use Goddess Kali as Prop, make love, booze and smooch 2. Use Ganesha’s trunk for sex-technique; bliss! This way alone you can glorify India and our deities. Last but not the least, as this CNN-IBN Jhaji suggests, henceforth if someone abuses your religion, listen to him/her passionately and then thank him/her for having exceeded only a certain limit and not all limits. In case, all limits are crossed, follow what Nidhi Razdan has to say in her Left Right and Center. You don’t read that or listen to it. That is the way you become plural.
 Hope, we shall do our best to help build a plural society.

[Unfortunately this article is no more accessible on the above address.]


  1. I can only thank you for this brilliant article. Salute to your efforts for the truth.

  2. Wonderful website! Your rational and detailed rebuttals are much needed in today's India where "pseudo-intellectuals" seem to thrive on the airways but in reality have no large public appeal. If one were to take a poll a majority would hold TV personalities as paid shills in the hands of the highest bidder.