18 May 2013

Reply to Manoj Das – by Bireshwar Choudhury (2)

[This is the second and final part of Bireshwar Choudhury’s reply to Prof. Manoj Das’s response to Sricharan Singh’s “Manoj Das has Sold his Soul to the Devil”. See the previous posting to read the first part of Bireshwar Choudhury’s reply. The text of Manoj Das's response is indented and in italics while Bireshwar's reply is without indentation and in Roman.]

“Sricharan Singh” has repeated that old old lie about the Ashram lawyer saying at the Krishnanagore court that the Mother did not understand Savitri! The lawyer said nothing of that kind. He has also given a statement challenging this allegation against him. Still the drum-beaters of that lie do not stop. Years ago when two small groups of people distributed leaflets against me on this issue, I was surprised that while these people believed somebody from far who transmitted that blatant lie as a gift for them, they did not have the patience or a bit of respect for truth to ask me about it though I was amidst them, an inmate of the Ashram like them. They even sent a lawyer’s notice to the Trust to expel me from the Ashram on this account. 

By and by it became clear to me that all they wanted was to create an atmosphere of hatred against me. But what for? It remains inexplicable to him. I was for a while representing the Ashram in the courts where several cases were filed against the Trust because it brought out a revised version of the Master’s epic, Savitri. It was ‘revised’ in the sense that errors (typographical, punctuation, omission, words not properly deciphered in corrected proofs, etc) were removed through years of study and scrutiny. When, as a purely academic exercise a booklet was published by the Ashram Archives listing the changes, it suddenly struck a gentleman to drag the Trust to the court alleging that it had tampered with Sri Aurobindo’s writing. (What may sound incredible to many, he even discovered an unknown nephew of Sri Aurobindo and made him go to court and suggest by insinuation that he was the copyright-owner of all the works of Sri Aurobindo, not the Ashram. By implication, all the earnings from the works of the Master over the past years were his!) 

 I was convinced that the Revised Edition of the epic is the most authentic one. Once again it is a matter of common sense that the Ashram had no reason to alter a single word of Sri Aurobindo. On the other hand it had a responsibility to see that error-free versions of His works were available before the copyright period expired. That is what Ashram did despite the illogical and superfluous commotion made by some people. (Manoj Das)

Things always seem inexplicable to Manoj Das whenever he courts a controversy, as if the people who are against him are inexplicably bad and he himself is inexplicably good! The Savitri revision controversy has rocked the Ashram for a decade or two, and even now there are senior scholars of the Ashram who are not satisfied at all with the way it has been handled by the Trustees. R.Y. Deshpande was part of the team that finalised the Savitri revisions and he says that even Nirodbaran (on whom the final decisions depended) expressed his unhappiness over some of the revisions. Deshpande himself was extremely unhappy over some of the revisions suggested by the Archives editors. The late Jugal Kishore Mukherji, former head of the Higher Course of the Ashram School, wrote a fifty page letter to Amal Kiran on these revisions and some of his suggestions were accepted by Amal Kiran! Why was Jugal Kishore Mukherji disgusted with the whole affair? If after all this discontentment, Manoj Das still finds things inexplicable, then I will simply call him a hypocrite! Even here, I will throw him a challenge which R.Y. Deshpande has long been insisting upon: Make all the Savitri manuscripts public. Put them up on the Net for all to see and judge for themselves the legitimacy of the revisions of the Archives editors. Moreover, after the Peter Heehs controversy, who is going to trust the Archives editors?

“Sricharan Singh” has quoted Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya who used the word ‘Stupid’ for me. Indeed, I was and continue to be stupid in many respects. Otherwise I would not have tried to make Pranab-ji see his folly.  Now also I am probably proving my stupidity when I am trying to correct “Sricharan Singh”. However, I hope, those who constitute this latest entity christened “Sricharan Singh” know the background of my conflict with Pranab-ji. They also cannot be ignorant of the fact that Pranab-ji could use awful and offensive words even before the Mother. Only the Divine Mother knows the sublime reasons why She had to keep with Her samples of such unpredictable nature; we cannot explain that. I fought with Pranab-ji for a cause, not for any interest of mine. Pranab-ji decided to throw a little boy out of the School for no fault of his, nor for any fault at all of anybody else. People say that one of Pranab-ji’s confidants had a grudge against the child’s father. I do not know.  As a Trustee I refused to agree with Pranab-ji’s arbitrary decision.  Hats off to the courage of the late Parou Patil, a Trustee as well as the Registrar of the SAICE who took a firm stand and retained the student in the School defying Pranab-ji who then did not allow the poor boy to participate in physical activities till the boy completed his studies. Even today I shudder to think about the shock the boy must have received when, after the classes, all his friends would go to the Corner House for refreshment and then to the Playground or Sports ground, but he must be deprived of that luck.

In the Divine’s scheme of things Pranab-ji must have represented something very important. Even at our level of understanding Pranab-ji had so many great qualities to his credit, but in order to show me in bad light you are bringing to light one of his most discreditable actions. You would not do this if you really had respect for him. But I respect him. Despite my difference with him I have until now never discussed this issue publicly. You in your wisdom obliged me to speak about it today. (Manoj Das)

The true story of the boy’s eviction from the Ashram School is the following: Pranab-da had made a rule for the School and the Physical Education Department that people, who get paid by the Ashram for their services, should not take advantage of the facilities of the Ashram. (The intrinsic wisdom of the rule can hardly be questioned.) The father of this particular boy was being paid by the Ashram Press when the son was admitted into the Ashram School. (The Ashram School gives totally free education until the completion of the Higher Course, which is recognised as equivalent to B.A.) During the admission of his son, the father did not disclose this fact to the School authorities, and it is because of this that Pranab-da dismissed the son from the School, not because his confidante had a grudge against the boy. Manoj Das, who had just then become a Trustee, objected to the dismissal of the son on purely humanitarian grounds. He took up the matter and wrote a series of letters to Pranab-da who replied back to him, explaining his own point of view. The exchange of letters ended disastrously for Manoj Das with Pranab-da’s blunt reply, “I am totally convinced that you are a fool and an idiot!” The professor naturally could not stomach the insult and resigned from the Trust Board in a huff because the other Trustees would not support him on the issue.

I leave the readers to judge for themselves the harshness or rectitude of Pranab-da’s action, but I would like to make a point here with regard to Manoj Das. When he could stand up so bravely against injustice for the sake of a little boy in spite of knowing Pranab-da’s popularity due to his service to the Mother, why did he not do the same in the matter of Peter Heehs, which has affected the working of the Ashram in a much more serious manner and will have far-reaching consequences in the future? What made him a spokesman of Gupta Manoj who still promotes the denigration of Sri Aurobindo in his own Ashram? What made him go out of the way to defend the indefensible position of the Managing Trustee? Manoj Das may write another 50 pages in defence of his dubious stand, but devotees will only repeat what Sricharan Singh has said, “Byakta Manoj has sold his soul to Gupta Manoj!” 

I resigned as a Trustee because I saw that there would be frequent conflict between Pranab-ji and me. I was a known rebel in my youth and one of the executives of the only nation-wide students’ organisation of the time. I had suffered jail and harassment for my radical actions against authoritarian dictates of the powerful. But the day I decided to seek the Mother’s gracious permission to join the Ashram, I also silently decided that whenever a situation arises requiring me to take a stand, I will do so, but never create a hullabaloo if my opinion or view does not prevail. I will step aside. (Manoj Das)

If Manoj Das was a known rebel in his youth, he is now a known sycophant of the Trustees! I wish he had at least stood his ground on the issue of Peter Heehs’s book, even if he had not joined the anti-book lobby. In the beginning, he had stood up firmly against the book and people had high hopes that he would convince the Trustees to take the right action. The action that was demanded was only a public statement by the Ashram Trust condemning the book and the removal of Peter Heehs from the Archives Department, nothing more! During this period, Manoj Das read the book thoroughly, found 90 objectionable passages in the book and gave a three hour lecture to four of the Trustees    Manoj Das Gupta deliberately kept himself  absent during this meeting. After the lecture, the four Trustees, including Dr Dilip Datta, were convinced that some action had to be taken, but the very next day Manoj Das Gupta overturned their proposal. After this fateful day in September 2008, Manoj Das Gupta literally forced everybody to support Peter Heehs by various methods of deception and coercion. Manoj Das himself was silenced and was eventually persuaded to become the spokesman of Manoj Das Gupta. It is at this point that Byakta Manoj (Manoj Das) sold his soul to Gupta Manoj (Manoj Das Gupta), as Sricharan Singh has humorously put it. In fact, not only him, but a number of senior Ashramites quietly switched sides due to very selfish reasons. After this, Byakta Manoj rang up Gitanjali Bhattacharya and told her to withdraw the case she had filed in Orissa with regard to the book. Even after the book was proscribed by a gazette notification of the Orissa Govt in April 2009, he tried several times to lift the ban on the book. He will of course defend now his actions with a thousand and one reasons and weave on them his endless verbosity. But if he really wants to exonerate himself on this particular issue, I challenge him to do only one thing – publish his lecture on his ninety objections to the Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs! Only then will he have peace of mind and the people of Orissa will rally round him!

The difference between the Ashram and any other institution is, the Mother’s Grace runs the Ashram, I can only do my duty, according to my conscience. If someone is wrong, he or she will face the consequence in terms of his or her progress in consciousness; the spiritual law will decide it, no human law. I must not run to a collector or a court to set things in my favour. I must not try to usurp the role of the Divine Grace which alone can change human nature. Things coming to worse for me, I should quit the Ashram, but not damage its image, not create confusion in the minds of other inmates, nor treat the Mother’s home as an ordinary organisation. (Manoj Das)

This is a standard trick of the Ashram Trustees. They leave things to the Mother when they don’t want to act, and do everything possible on earth when they want to act! They invoke the Divine Grace and the law of Karma to the poor complainant (while giving a wink to the actual culprit), and ruthlessly stamp out all opposition when the complaints gets louder and louder! Urgent medical treatment is delayed, sexual molestation is condoned and outright theft is ignored with the same hypocritical appeal to the Divine Grace when they don’t want to act! On the other hand, inmates of the Ashram are summarily expelled from the Ashram, ladies are threatened and coerced to withdraw their complaints on sexual harassment and senior teachers are evicted from the Ashram School because they have dared to express their opinions in public. If these are not double standards, what are they?

Why should the inmates who differ with the Trustees quit the Ashram, as if the Ashram is the personal property of the Trustees? According to the Trust Deed, the Ashram belongs not only to the inmates of the Ashram but to all the followers, devotees and disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother staying outside the Ashram. If the Trustees think that they can do anything they like just because they are Trustees of the Ashram, they are certainly wrong. They have after all been entrusted to fulfil certain objectives of the Trust, and if they go against the very grain of what the Ashram is supposed to represent, the inmates and devotees have every right to go the Court and the Collector to seek redress. It is the Trustees who have made an ordinary organisation of what was the Mother’s home – they actually have no right to call the Ashram the Mother’s home because they themselves have gone against Sri Aurobindo! The disciples who oppose them are actually trying to save the organisation from further deterioration with a minimum of outside intervention, without which no internal change is possible. If the Trustees had been a little open and sensitive to the grievances of the disciples, this confrontation could have been easily averted and a minimum of self-correction from within might have been possible. But this hardly seems to be the case today. The only silver lining I can see in the present cloud of turmoil is that perhaps the very arrogance of the Trustees will create the necessary forces for their own eviction.

And there remains that perplexing basic question: The Mother built the Ashram for those who aspired to live an inner life, disregarding petty difficulties at the material plane. Even then She organised it in a way whereby our material difficulties could be reduced to the minimum. Nobody can say that the Trust, since the physical absence of the Mother, has failed in this regard. Who then is stopping us from pursuing our spiritual goal, who is standing in the way of our achieving our goal? The Trustees do not claim to be Gurus; The Gurus – the Master and the Mother – have left for us the keys leading to the solution of all our psychological problems concerning our inner pursuit; Their guidance is always available to us in the subtle and occult way. Why then this anarchy? Can the Trustees, can anybody in the world, stop our Sadhana here? (Manoj Das)

If nobody can say that the Trust has failed in its duties, why is it embroiled in so many problems? How is it involved in about 200 court cases, mostly against its own inmates? Does this show a healthy state of an institution even from the point of view of normal life? It is true that nobody can stop those who really want to practise the sadhana, but even a Govt takeover of the Ashram will not stop them from practising it. Even the dismantling of the Ashram will not prevent them from focussing on their high endeavour, because the force of the Mother has gone into the entire earth consciousness and is not limited by the small community of Ashram inmates. Who knows if this is what precisely Nolini Kanto Gupta meant in one of his last articles – he said that the outer Ashram is like a scaffolding which will be removed after the Mother’s work is over!

However, I believe that such a situation is not inevitable, because the institution can still be saved with the necessary changes in the administration. Changes in the present system, such as limiting the powers of the Trustees or democratising the administration, certainly does not mean the dismantling of the Ashram! A larger body of inmates chosen by the community is what is presently needed to check the gross misuse of power by the miniscule group which has hijacked the Ashram. The larger body can easily be introduced into the Ashram life without bringing in full scale politics. This is the writing on the wall today, even though most of the inmates of the Ashram are quiet and submissive for various selfish reasons, and have even signed a petition to the Collector of Puducherry saying that the Ashram is an abode of peace and harmony! How long will this hypocrisy last? Not a second more than what the Mother wishes!

Finally, it should be made clear that those who are against the book and the present Trustees are not eagerly waiting to snatch power from them. They have still faith in the Ashram community to solve its own problems internally, and they certainly would not interfere if that happens. What they want is a change in the existing authoritarian setup (originally meant for unquestionable spiritual authorities such as the Mother), so that nobody in the future can misuse the Trust’s authority as the present Trustees have done. The present Trustees take a dubious stand on the power that is relegated to them. When somebody questions their authority, they say that they have been empowered by the Mother’s sacred Trust Deed, as if they also have become sacred by being appointed Trustees. At the same time, they refuse to take the spiritual responsibility of the Ashram community, saying that they can never think of replacing the Mother. So when you tell them that therefore the community should have a say in the administration and not only the Trustees, they gravely put forth the argument that spiritual matters should not be decided by popular vote but by the elite few, meaning themselves. But this is like running with the hares (when they are supposed to take the spiritual responsibility of the Ashram) and hunting with the hounds (when people dare to question their secular authority)!

The following two questions can be asked to the Trustees: Do they have enough spiritual knowledge to command the obedience of the community? If not, then democratise the administration, at least to the extent of forming a larger group which should have the final say in major issues. If they do have it, then spiritualise the atmosphere of the Ashram so that everybody respects them, and be spiritual examples to one and all. In the absence of both, do not confuse people by opportunistically jumping between secular and spiritual positions, and meanwhile certainly instruct Manoj Das to stop writing these long wordy letters in response to Sricharan Singh!

Bireshwar Choudhury

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