MURDERS IN THE LAND OF THE NAÏVE – 4
Note: In this analysis, as in the previous, Peter’s words are in Italics and mine are in Roman.
Peter’s Attitude and Approach–D): (1) I first encountered Aurobindo [in an April 1950 photo] in 1968 in a yoga center on 57th Street in Manhattan…I did not find it particularly remarkable…. A few months later…I found myself in another yoga centre…on Central Park West. Here there were just three pictures on the wall, one of them the standard portrait of Aurobindo (Figure 1). I was struck by the peaceful expanse of his brow, his trouble-free face, and fathomless eyes. It would be years before I learned that all these features owed their distinctiveness to the retoucher’s art…. (2) Figure 2 is photograph of Aurobindo taken around the same time as Figure 1. Note the dark, pockmarked skin, sharp features, and undreamy eyes. (3) As far as I know, it did not appear in print before 1976, when I published it in an ashram journal. (4) To me Figure 2 is infinitely more appealing than Figure 1. (5) There is hardly a trace of a shadow between the ears, with the result that the face has no character. The sparkling eyes have been painted in; even the hair has been given a gloss. As a historical document it is false. As a photograph it is a botched piece of work. (6) But for many, Figure 1 is more true to Aurobindo than Figure 2. (7) In later life, his complexion became fair and smooth, his features full and round. Figure 2 thus falsifies the “real” Aurobindo. (8) It is the task of the retoucher to make the photograph accord with the reality that people want to see. Hagiographers deal with documents the way that retouchers deal with photographs. Biographers must take their documents as they find them.
Peter’s Attitude and Approach–D): (1) I first encountered Aurobindo [in an April 1950 photo] in 1968 in a yoga center on 57th Street in Manhattan…I did not find it particularly remarkable…. A few months later…I found myself in another yoga centre…on Central Park West. Here there were just three pictures on the wall, one of them the standard portrait of Aurobindo (Figure 1). I was struck by the peaceful expanse of his brow, his trouble-free face, and fathomless eyes. It would be years before I learned that all these features owed their distinctiveness to the retoucher’s art.
My Comments: Marcher’s Seeker of Truth avatar has never lost his faith in the correctness of his instinctive reaction to anything. Yet, as we shall see below, he gave up his discontent with the photo of the old man and his admiration of the standard portrait when he found that the first was by Bresson, a Westerner, the other by Latour, a local devotee. One of Marcher’s fleeting avatars was “Ambitious Photographer”, has anyone attained eminence without ambition? Look where lack of ambition has landed his ‘Aurobindo’ – in the Gutters of True History! Marcher’s failure to create prize-winning photos made him realise that winning photographers falsify actual physical reality by the retoucher’s art which led to this supreme revelation: Hagiographers deal with documents the way that retouchers deal with photographs. Thus biographies of Sri Aurobindo by disciples or devoted admirers are not biographies but hagiographies, because they assume he was an avatar and adopt the spiritual point of view which inevitably reads back his avataric personality even into the un-spiritualised nature of the earlier stages of his career (sic). The human characteristics and personal drama are thus lost in the process. Therefore, the only True Biographies of Sri Aurobindo are Bio-1 and Bio-2 – for they alone fulfil all the requisites of an academically valid biography.
If Marcher was deceived by the standard portrait, the Ashramites who took him for a sincere disciple were deceived by his James Marcher Bond avatar: friendly philanthropist, good conversationalist, talented actor and playwright, outstanding athlete and swimmer, etc. His truer mole avatar was never imagined even by those Ashramites who worked closely with him in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives (founded before his advent in Pondicherry) by Jayantilal Parekh, a dedicated disciple staying in the Ashram since the 1930s. Only too late did some realise that from the very outset the chief occupation of this mole had been to squirrel away all sorts of materials…written by the subject’s enemies…not giving special treatment to the subject’s own version of events, for his Terminator avatar to concoct book-bombs such as Bio-1 and Bio-2.
Few witnessed Marcher’s Mayo-Archer avatar letting off steam. Once his Historian avatar revealed his view to two of his admirers, Gazelle Eyes and Leather Face: “No Indian can be trusted to write the true history of India, least of all Marathas and Bengalis.” Gazelle gazed on; Leather Face blurted: “You mean the true histories of America and Europe have still to be written because they also have been written either by Americans or Europeans?” Leather Face was fired. Again, in a ‘scholarly’ Western journal, he asserted that Hindus are innate liars because they obey this Sutra of Manu: “Speak the truth that pleases, never the truth that displeases.” For instance, his Hindu tailor always sweetly promised to deliver his clothes on a certain day but never did. In order to support his conclusion, he omitted the rest of the couplet: “Truth always, never falsehood; this is the Sanatana Dharma.” In the same article, under a quote from The Hindu that he had used to justify his anti-Hinduism thesis, he put a footnote assuring readers that since its inception, the Hindu has always been 100% secular. A historical fact in support of Marcher’s assurance: In the article “The Coming Congress” in Bande Mataram, 13 Oct. 1906, Sri Aurobindo made this comment on the pro-British Government Indian newspapers who opposed the Bande Mataram, the mouthpiece of the New (later Nationalist) Party led by Lal, Bal, Pal (Lala Lajpat Rai, Balgangadhar Tilak and Bepin Pal): “The New Party are not wanted: but they cannot by a mere pious wish, be got rid of either…. And this being so, what, we ask, would the Hindu, or the Madras Standard, or even the Indian Mirror want us to do…commit hara-kiri?”
Two more facts contributing to Marcher’s animosity towards Hinduism and Sri Aurobindo: (a) The Hindu temple near his residence in Pondicherry, ever-crowded, noisy and dirty, with its thousand festivals and begging sprees, torture him day and night. (b) On May 30, 1909, at Uttarpara, Sri Aurobindo spoke on the Hindu religion, concluding with this declaration: “When therefore it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall rise. When it is said that India shall be great, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall be great…. It is for the Dharma and by the Dharma that India exists. To magnify the religion means to magnify the country…. What is this religion which we call Sanatana, eternal? It is the Hindu religion… That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion, because it is the universal religion that embraces all others…. I say that it is the Sanatana Dharma which for us is nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatana Dharma, with it it moves and with it it grows. When the Sanatana Dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the Sanatana Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatana Dharma it would perish. The Sanatana Dharma is nationalism. This is the message that I have to speak to you.” Sri Aurobindo’s statement on Hinduism “as the universal religion that embraces all others” must have peeved off Marcher who grew up with the belief in the superiority of American universalism.
Peter’s Attitude and Approach–D): (2) Figure 2 is photograph of Aurobindo taken around the same time as Figure 1. Note the dark, pockmarked skin, sharp features, and undreamy eyes.
My Comments: Figure 1 is not a retouched copy of Figure 2. The original of Figure 1 has been reproduced several times by the Ashram; it is on the Calcutta Pathmandir’s Calendar for 2013. Moreover, taken around the same time does not mean taken at the same time; a photograph of the same man may appear different even on the same day, depending on how he has groomed himself, on the lighting and technology used, on how the negative has been developed, etc. Then, a close-up shot such as Figure 2, will always show insignificant irregularities which are not visible from far. Such readings as undreamy eyes are a subjective judgment – in this case clearly motivated. Interested readers can study Marcher’s Figure 2, enlarged to larger than life-size and framed, on the south wall of the hall in the Ashram Dining Room where meals are served.
Peter’s Attitude and Approach–D): (3) As far as I know, it did not appear in print before 1976, when I published it in an ashram journal.
My Comments: This boast proves how successful Marcher was in wheedling out from the Ashram authorities, whatever sanction he wanted. Thus he came into possession of masses of documents, whether in the Ashram or through any of its centres in India or outside, with none of the hundreds of devotees assisting his ‘research’ suspecting that he worked for himself, not the Ashram. Inexplicably, the Mind of the Ashram (the Ashram Trust) refuses to see anything wrong in Marcher’s and their own actions even after Bio-2 has splintered the body of this Ashram! “Disease will always return to the body,” wrote Sri Aurobindo, “if the soul is flawed; for the sins of the mind are the secret cause of the sins of the body.” And the soul of this Ashram, the Mother, has warned: “What have you given to the Lord or done for Him that you ask me to do something for you? I do only the Lord’s work.” She also clarified that it “is wrong to believe that I came upon earth to establish an Ashram! That would really be a very paltry objective.”
Peter’s Attitude and Approach–D): (4) To me Figure 2 is infinitely more appealing than Figure 1.
My Comments: This infinitely more appealing reminds me of how Gangadhar, practising Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga for six decades, described Ashram life: “It is like taking a dip in the holy river Godavari. Some come up with beautiful shells or gems; others with only mud.” This is why Sri Aurobindo warned, “It is not enough to be in the Ashram – one has to open to the Mother and put away the mud which one was playing with in the world.” But Marcher has never stopped scooping up and spraying around the mud in this Ashram and in India. The rest of the passage is written in his trademark methodology: First, suppress the decisive fact that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother approved the reproduction of Figure 1 and that it was solely meant for the use of disciples and devoted admirers. Next, suppress the fact that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother never asked any non-disciple or visitor, Indian or foreign, to purchase their photographs. Then, slyly imply that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother deliberately reproduced millions of time such falsified photographs of themselves in order to swindle millions of “honest seekers of truth” like him.
Peter’s Attitude and Approach–D): (5) There is hardly a trace of a shadow between the ears, with the result that the face has no character. The sparkling eyes have been painted in; even the hair has been given a gloss. As a historical document it is false. As a photograph it is a botched piece of work.
My Comments: This spiteful description seeks to prove that Figure 1, the standard portrait, being retouched is not the “real Aurobindo” while Figure 2, being ‘untouched’ is the “real Aurobindo”. But it also convicts the Danish artist’s painting of Sri Aurobindo on the cover of Bio-1 as a false historical document. If a photographer’s retouching is a distortion of reality, so is an artist’s painting. True artists and photographers seek to bring out the inner reality they know or sense, as opposed to the mere physical reality. But utterly lethal are the spiteful editors who retouch the published and unpublished manuscripts of an author behind his back.
Peter’s Attitude and Approach–D): (6) But for many, Figure 1 is more true to Aurobindo than Figure 2.
My Comments: Marcher stated his standpoint in Bio-1’s preface: My form, method and tone all are scholarly; a scholarly biography cannot be devotional in tone; I rely on traditional historical (i.e. materialist) methodology. As a materialist biographer refusing to be a disciple, he will never understand that for us disciples the “real” Sri Aurobindo was never captured in any photograph or biography, not even in his own writings; this truth has been amply and repeatedly explained by Sri Aurobindo and Mother. What we seek in their photographs or their books is spiritual guidance and uplift (words in Bio-1’s preface) not a materialist historian’s ‘facts’ that matter to him and his tribe. Take the sadhak Gangadhar’s experience and advice to newcomers: “By sitting before Mother’s photo, remember Mother, that only. After your advanced stage, gradually your mind becomes silent; you go deep in meditation.” The truth is that Marcher’s Protestant aversion to the worship of images and photos and his petty grudge against the standard portrait, have spawned this Farce of Figures. It is just an excuse to condemn disciples who talk or write on Sri Aurobindo as conscious retouchers or hagiographers who assume Sri Aurobindo was an avatar.
Peter’s Attitude and Approach–D): (7) In later life, his complexion became fair and smooth, his features full and round. Figure 2 thus falsifies the “real” Aurobindo.
My Comments: This argument is meant to confuse us with the following questions: Which photo of which period is meant by the phrase the “real” Aurobindo used for the first time? Hasn’t he amply proved that Figure 2 is the “real” Aurobindo of 1915-16, not Figure 1 of the same period? Does not the April 1950 series show the “real” Aurobindo of later life? Does then Figure 2 falsify an unidentified “real” Aurobindo on the basis of the 1950 one? Or does it falsify the 1950 series because he did not find it particularly remarkable in 1968 when he saw it for the first time? This confusion is meant to prevent us from dwelling deeply enough on these later life changes in Sri Aurobindo’s body, because Marcher knows they began to appear not in 1950 but soon after his pièce de résistance Figure 2 was taken in 1915-16, as documented by the following first-hand accounts:
“The second time I met Sri Aurobindo was in March 1921,” wrote A.B. Purani, one of Sri Aurobindo's well known biographers. “During the interval of two years his body had undergone a transformation which could only be described as miraculous. In 1918 the colour of his body was like that of an ordinary Bengali – rather dark – though there was lustre on the face and the gaze was penetrating. This time…I found his cheeks wore an apple-pink colour and the whole body glowed with a soft creamy white light…afterwards…he explained to me that when the Higher Consciousness, after descending to the mental level, comes down to the vital and even below the vital, then a transformation takes place in the nervous and even in the physical being.” The second account is Kapali Sastri’s: “...at last I came back to him in 1923...as a seeker seeking the feet of the Teacher, and exclaimed marvelling at the change in his appearance: ‘What other proof is required, Sir! Then your complexion was dark-brown, now it is fair; today the hue is a golden hue. Here is the concrete proof of the Yoga that is yours.’” For us Sri Aurobindo took up an earthly body to progressively transform it through his Yoga-Shakti, until it is sufficiently evolved to receive and manifest the Divine integrally. In this sense, each transformation that occurred in his physical body falsified all its previous stages as each was more true to the “real Aurobindo”, that his disciples surrendered to.
But for Marcher these accounts are falsification of facts by disciples, and his biographies must de-retouch them for having invoked the deus ex machina of supernatural intervention, such as the descent of Sri Krishna’s Consciousness in Sri Aurobindo’s body on 24 November 1926. To Neo-Darwinian evolutionist Marcher any account of a Spiritual Truth-Force evolving a physical body is a falsification, as his comment on the Karmayogin in Bio-2 shows: Aurobindo’s essays on these subjects [individual and the cosmos, puzzle of free will and fate, origin and significance of evil] are…not particularly original. Many of them try to harmonize the Upanishads and the late Victorian science by means of evolution. Some of his arguments now seem rather quaint. A seed grows into a certain sort of tree, Aurobindo wrote, because “the tree is the idea involved in the seed.” In the light of molecular biology, this is at best a metaphor. Two birds in one shot: Upanishads and Sri Aurobindo. Marcher’s claim that positing involution as preceding evolution is scientifically false can do with some scientific light. I quote from a book by the late George Vrekhem: (1) Darwinism was built bit by bit between 1859 and 1910… [it] has never been able to provide evolution with a theoretical necessity…. (2) Essential to Darwin’s conception [of evolution] was the worldview influenced by ideas of utilitarianism, individualism, imperialism, and laissez-faire capitalism…. Darwin rode on the rising tide of British economic, political, and cultural imperialism…. Natural selection seemed the right answer to a man thoroughly immersed in the productive, competitive world of Victorian England. (3) Darwin, in The Descent of Man: At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of [the white] man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace the savage [non-white] races throughout the world. (4) By explaining life through chemistry, and the evolution of life up to the human species through Darwinism, the biological sciences claimed to complete the totality of all science as well as of its explanation of nature. As in the ideology of that time positivist [now materialist] knowledge constituted the ultimate goal of humanity, the new science, having become the all-round explication and the source of all truth, was supposed from then on to replace religion and morality. (5) We [biologists] know better than we did what we do not know and have not grasped. We do not know how the universe began. We do not know why it is there. Darwin talked speculatively of life emerging from ‘a warm little pond’. The pond is gone. We have little idea how life emerged, and cannot with assurance say that it did. We cannot reconcile our understanding of the human mind with any trivial theory about the manner in which the brain functions. Beyond the trivial, we have no theories. We can say nothing of interest about the human soul.
Peter’s Attitude and Approach–D): (8) It is the task of the retoucher to make the photograph accord with the reality that people want to see. Hagiographers deal with documents the way that retouchers deal with photographs. Biographers must take their documents as they find them.
My Comments: I smell a rat here! After killing us disciples as hagiographist retoucher-rats, has not this Fox-Cat himself turned into a retoucher-rat? Burrowing under the terms retoucher, photograph, accord, reality, and people want to see, I unearthed his goal as the Chief Editor of Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s works. The Ashram’s publications before the Marcher Era, being retouched (edited) by direct disciples, did not accord with the reality that his tribe of materialists want to see. Hence, his Daemon-given mission was to create, first, de-retouched (re-edited) editions which accord with the reality that suits his tribe’s agenda. Next, acquire all Sri Aurobindo’s and Mother’s unpublished manuscripts, then publish retouched editions which accord with the reality that his tribe demands. Retoucher-Editor Marcher laid out this attitude and methodology in every detail in his biannual journal, Archives & Research in 1980. I give only a tiny extract: “[My] editorial staff…verify material already published [to create] new editions of old books, in which newly discovered(sic) material is added, and old texts are checked carefully…in a few years a critical text of [Savitri] will be brought out.” (p.93); “[My] duty [as] the editor is to present the text exactly as [my materialist mind decides] the author would have wanted it presented.” (p.199); “If the editor…resorts to emendation, it is to set right a manuscript reading that [to my materialist mind] is clearly not what the author intended.” (p.200). With this policy and programme Marcher’s editorial staff verified every word of SABCL resorting to emendation to set right a manuscript reading that he decided was clearly not what the author intended and, adding newly discovered material, created CWSA which presents the text exactly as in his opinion, the author would have wanted it presented. Whereas, Amal Kiran, Kishore Gandhi, Tehmi, Sutapa, disciples of long standing, who edited SABCL, sought to experience or know the spiritual content of Sri Aurobindo’s words, distrusting their own mind’s usual critical means, its arguments, and conclusions, and evaluations of rhetoric and style….
The attitude and methodology Marcher declared in 1980 shaped this statement in Bio-2: (a) If the spiritual value of Aurobindo’s system can only be gauged by one who has had the same experiences, its philosophical value is measurable by [my materialist's mind's] usual critical means, studies of [his] sources, arguments, and conclusions, and evaluations of [his] rhetoric and style. Without any belief in spiritual reality, he claims authority to evaluate Sri Aurobindo’s entire system of Yoga by his mind’s critical study of the sources, arguments, conclusions, rhetoric and style of Sri Aurobindo’s writings. (b) But if a philosophical system is to merit acceptance as a philosophy, it has to be defended by logical argumentation; otherwise it joins other infallible revelations that depend on faith for acceptance and persuasion or coercion for propagation. Comments Georges van Vrekhem, “It is puzzling to find the basic requirement of logical argumentation, and consequently of a materialistic and mental attitude” in evaluating Sri Aurobindo’s system and reducing it to “just one more metaphysical system…on par with the religions” and “Sri Aurobindo as a ‘spiritual preceptor’, a ‘guru’, the likes of whom there have been many”. Recall Marcher’s Aurobindo is a spiritual person – not even one of the myriad yogis or saints!
In 1999, an echo of Marcher prophesied: The Aurobindonian project of the spiritual evolution need not be identified so closely to the persons of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Once its validity is recognized independently of their lives and careers, it will be possible to reinterpret it by the next edition of CWSA. In August 2013, the ‘Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust announced that it “defended the controversial” Bio-2 “by an American historian living in Puducherry” as if he was the foremost disciple of the Ashram. As I said earlier, growing herds now pull Marcher’s Anti-Theist Chariot with Bio-1 as its lead wheels, Bio-2 as its central wheels, and the CWSA as his throne – eager to commit hara-kiri along with this ‘Ashram’.
 Cartier Bresson, a merchant-photographer, from Marcher’s hometown, New York, charged $3000 for his April 1950 series. In July, he had yet to start developing the negatives but reminded Mother of his condition that the photos he sent must only be seen and returned, and only six months after he published them in America, could Mother print them. He sent the negatives “some spoiled, some faded” in June 1951. The pre-1920 photos of Sri Aurobindo were taken by Latour, a devotee. In September 1944, his son asked permission to take Sri Aurobindo’s photos but was refused; says Champaklal, “even if we had asked money from him, he would have gladly paid it for the privilege. He was a sincere devotee.” Champaklal Speaks, 2002:123-24, 207, 215; Marcher’s spin on Bresson is in Archives & Research, Dec. 1990:299,233
 Bande Mataram, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library (SABCL) Vol. 1:191-94. This is one of the articles that Peter decided was not by Sri Aurobindo and did not include in the Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA). Other articles, not in SABCL’s Bande Mataram, that Peter decided were by Sri Aurobindo, were included in the CWSA.
 CWSA, Vol. 8:10-12
 Collected Works of the Mother, CWM, Vol. 10:270
 CWM, Vol. 13:104
 CWM, Vol. 16:72
 CWSA, Vol. 35:603
 A.B. Purani, Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, 2007:20
 T.V. Kapali Sastri, Versatile Genius, 1986, p.295; Collected Works of T.V.K. Sastri, Vol. 2:132-36
 Peter’s Lives…, 2008:203
 Georges van Vrekhem, Evolution, Religion, and the Unknown God, Manjul Publishing House, 2011:94, 96-97, 116, 133, 213-14