17 Oct 2013

Correspondence between Manoj Das and Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya in June 1994 (1)

[Of late Manoj Das is very much in the public domain writing long-winded letters full of platitudes, without changing a wee bit his crassly subservient attitude towards the Ashram Trustees. But in June 1994 he was a different man and he had dared to challenge Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya, the head of the Ashram Physical Education Department. The issue on which he mainly differed with “Dada” was the expulsion of a child, who had been admitted into the Ashram School against the rules of the Physical Education Dept. I will not go into the merits of the rule itself, but I will draw the reader’s attention to the fact that Manoj Das had the guts to challenge in writing the unfairness of the rule in general and its wrong application in this particular case. Dada dismissed Manoj Das’s letter to him as “simply rubbish” and told him to mind his own business. This eventually led to the resignation of Manoj Das from the Board of Ashram Trustees. Perhaps it is because of this shock and the bitter pill of defeat he had to swallow that Manoj Das now faithfully toes the line of the Ashram Trustees and writes miles of foolscap pages in their favour! The correspondence between Manoj Das and PKB is long and will be published in at least two instalments. ― Bireshwar]

Manoj Das to Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya

Dear Dada,                                                     13.06.1994

My humble greetings to you.

You have always appreciated frankness and in the past also 1 have been quite frank with you. Once again I will like to put before you my reflections on two issues which are causing me anxiety and anguish.

In the ordinary world if 'B' questions 'A's decision, 'B' is often taken as opposing 'A’. I believe that you are far above such feelings. If I am raising these questions, it is because I am perplexed. I will do justice neither to myself nor to you unless I get some clarifications.

The first issue concerns the Harpagon Workshop Trust vis-a-vis Milan who works for the knitting and weaving unit which is under the said Trust of which Mr. Talwar had been made a member. Mr. Talwar who had no axe to grind, took up his work most seriously, applying the wide range of experience he had gathered during an illustrious career. I have known him since 1970. His faith in the Mother and his commitment to the Ashram are absolute.

As you know, the H.W.T. comprises of several units some which were far from in a desirable shape. Mr. Talwar began setting things in order. Most of the units were happy about it. Even if they initially found Mr. Talwar's ways inconvenient to them, or not in accordance with their style of work, they gradually saw that in the long run the new discipline will make their units sound in health and spirit.

A few, however, found Mr. Talwar a great hindrance to their chaotic and questionable habits.

So far as knitting and weaving unit is concerned, the conflict owes its origin to a totally different factor. For Mr. Talwar, the entire cottage building was one - belonging to the Ashram - and the commercial units accommodated in the building were all working in the interest of the Ashram. He had the brighter side of the reality in his mind and not the darker side made of our petty egotism. The factual details of the development are not warranted, but Milan showed most deplorable defiance and ill-temper. Several people had even earlier suggested his transfer to some other department because of his lack of control over himself. The decision to ask him to leave the unit was the outcome of these accumulated reports and feelings. Personally I have myself tried to tackle him with understanding and love. I made a dash to him before the decision was taken and gave him a very simple, inoffensive suggestion which would not have precipitated matters. But he did not oblige me.

At this stage, most unexpectedly, you took a stand, threatening to go on a hunger-strike against Mr. Talwar's actions (which, in fact, was the action of the H.W. Trust). This left him stunned. I can assure you that his shock was not because of what you said, but because he never expected such a stand from you so far as his impression of you went.

He had a breakdown and, I am afraid, we have lost his invaluable assistance. It is said that he was an 'outsider' and hence did not understand the ways of the Ashram. All commercial units transact with the outside world and Mr. Talwar was one who understood both the outside world and the Ashram. If Ashram should have any speciality in its commercial activities, it is to carry on commerce on the lines of truth and honesty and these are the norms he wanted to be strictly followed.

Dada, I feel that your compassion is being exploited and matters are being misrepresented to you. I wish you had invited Mr. Talwar for a discussion. That would have done good to the institution. Threats and ridicule will put off any sensitive man. We should avoid such situations in the future – if luckily we get some other capable devotees willing to undertake thankless works.

May I suggest humbly, even at this stage, that you may advise Milan to change over to some other work. Changing work in the Ashram is something that goes on and has to go on - I need hardly say.

The second issue that agonises me is the fate of a little boy named Priyabrata Shoo, son of one Mr. Subrato Shoo. I know neither the child nor the father. But the decision to throw him out of the school has caused me terrible anguish.

The principle you have made - that a man receiving any money against his services in any unit connected with the Ashram (even if the unit is a commercial unit of the H.W. Trust) forfeits his right to admit his child in our school - is a principle which I cannot understand, but that is a different matter. In this case, the father resigned his job as soon as he came to know of the principle. We may refuse admission to any number of children on any number of grounds, but once a child is admitted - and when the child's father has already complied with the condition - how can we play with the child's destiny? A child who has been acclimatised to our atmosphere to be taken out suddenly, for no fault of his, for no fault of his parents either - is bound to experience a trauma which nothing can compensate. The action does not concern the child's physical education alone, it concerns his whole education and personality, apart from the helplessness and anguish it will cause his poor parents. I repeat, we may refuse admission, but we must not throw out a child without a relevant reason.

May I appeal to you to let the child continue in our school, undisturbed.

I hope you will pardon me if I have been unpleasant in some way. We are all bubbles on the ocean of time, but each bubble must reflect the sunlight radiated by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I write to you as the little light I receive prompts me to do. I should not fail it. My regard, Shraddha for you, my trust in your nobility are the other factors encouraging me to do so.

Let me make it clear that I am writing this letter as an individual and not as a Trustee and by no means on behalf of the Ashram Trust.

With warm regards

Yours affectionately

(Manoj Das)

Reply of Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya

Department of Physical Education
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Pondicherry  605002

Manoj babu,

I have read your letter dated 13.6.94.
All that you have written is simply rubbish.
Please mind your own business.
Yours affectionately


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