Interviewer(s): How did your family come here?
Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya: My family? All that I have given in my paper. My grandfather died and my father and uncle wanted to have some spiritual guidance, they were looking for a Guru. All that I have said, I need not repeat.
Interviewer(s): When you first came here, did Mother say anything?
PKB: That also I have said, there was no talk, but I felt that she liked me from the beginning. I had a plan about which I have not spoken in that paper. I have told you that I opened a physical culture club there, and though it was a physical culture club, I was moulding the character of the boys. It was my idea that I would prepare good specimens of men who would make the country rich by their experience and their service. That was my idea, and it worked quite well. I was at that time 17 or 18 years old, and it worked very well. Then the idea came that I would make branches of that club everywhere, throughout the town, the district and then the whole of Bengal. In the town, by the time I came here, there were already six or seven clubs, and there were many places where I was called to open physical culture clubs. I thought that these clubs must have financial support, so behind each club there should be an industry, and the industry would support the workers and finance the project. In that way, alongside the building of youth and financial development, could go the development of education also. So when I came here, I had that idea in my mind. I wanted to support my main club with a sericulture farm. My great grandfather had a silk business, of Murshidabad silk, which is quite famous, just as Bangalore silk is very famous. So I thought that I would somehow open a sericulture farm and silk industry. Just at that time I got an opportunity to go to England on a state scholarship to study silk technology and all the papers were ready. That was after I returned from here. All the papers were ready and I was called for the interview. There were three persons for the interview, one Hindu, one Muslim and one Englishman. The Englishman had to go on an urgent call to Chittagong for some work, so the interview was postponed. Then I decided to come over here and tore away the papers. Before that, when I came here in 1942, that idea was still hovering in me. I asked Mother whether to take the Ashram life or to continue with my plan. Mother said: “I won’t tell you anything from outside, I am telling you from inside, so try to find out what my order is. My father wrote from there, “If you want to study, come here, the college is open.” So after the August Darshan I went there, joined the college and I thought if ever the direction comes as a compulsion, then I shall go to Ashram; otherwise I will not go.
Interviewer(s): Dada, what really attracted you to the Ashram?
PKB: No, I told you that just sometime back. I had done physical culture and that changed my life completely. I was searching the way by which I could keep my youth for a long period or even achieve immortality. That was one side. On another side, I wanted India to be great and India to be free, and I thought Sri Aurobindo was the right person to guide us. So these two things brought me here.
Kittu: You had no intention of acquiring power?
Kittu: For you, this power could be used in the right way.
PKB: No, when I was developing my organisation there, I understood that I would acquire great power with all these clubs, but I didn’t know where to channelise that power. At that time we saw Hitler misguiding Germany and bringing immense misfortune to Germany and to the whole world. So I thought if it became like that and power was misguided, then it would be of no use. So I started thinking that I must have some objective where I could channelise my power. That answer I got in Sri Aurobindo.
Interviewer(s): You had read the books of Sri Aurobindo?
PKB: Yes, yes, naturally. We had contact with the Ashram since 1936. My father and uncle were coming here regularly as visitors. They were taking books and magazines and I had read and heard about them. There were conferences every year on Darshan days in each house of the followers of Sri Aurobindo. I attended these conferences, meetings, so I knew about Mother and Sri Aurobindo before I came here.
Interviewer(s): Was there any reservation on your part because Mother was a French lady?
PKB: In the beginning. Actually speaking, I was a devotee of Kali and in our house we were worshipping Kali. I was staying at Calcutta with my father and once I went home and saw that in the place where Kali’s statue was kept, I saw Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s picture, and truly I became angry. How did they dare to put Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s picture on the platform of Kali! Then I do not know what happened. Gradually I changed and I became their devotee. It happened in a very strange way.
Interviewer(s): You say that you were preparing boys in moral conduct to build up character?
PKB: Naturally, good health is associated with good morals, good character, so I was trying to practise that as well as I could, and I was teaching that to the young people. They got truly benefited. We got from there many good boys who are in the administration, in education, science, medicine, and many have become quite big.
Interviewer(s): The freedom movement didn’t attract you?
PKB: No, because I saw that it was futile to have some guns and fight a well established order and government; it was useless. Sri Aurobindo had also left at that time. It was not our way. It was also written in books that it was not our way. But when Subhash Bose went away, I was happy that at least he was trying something. Then I came to know that Sri Aurobindo was supporting the British. I understood from his explanation why he was supporting and I agreed to his support of the Cripps proposal. I think only two leaders supported him, one was Sri Aurobindo and the other was M. N. Roy. So we took precaution so that the police was not after us. But after the 1942 movement, they were very vigilant upon us and they stopped one branch that had contacted Dacca. In Dacca there was Anusilan Samiti, they had contact with it, so the police stopped one branch. They didn’t do anything to my main branch. But the boys, you know, when I was here (during the 42’ movement I was here), there was a police SP who was very brutal and was handling things in a very rough way, so some of the boys of our club thought they would attack him when he would pass that way. They were ready in the club, but fortunately the police officer went by another way, and they were saved. Otherwise, I think we would have got implicated. They were waiting behind the bush to attack him. I think I have answered everything, not very properly said. As I told you, I am not a good talker.
Interviewer(s): How were the Group colours chosen?
PKB: Green means growing, budding youth. I know that she selected green for the Green group.
Interviewer(s): Who selected the colours?
PKB: Mother herself. And red, because that is vital physical energy. At that time, I was looking after the Red group. Then for the other colours, I do not know. Actually the names in use are quite different now.
Interviewer(s): Where did the children play prior to the Playground? You said Red House?
PKB: Red House is where Shobha-di stays. Not Chiman-bhai’s, Shobha-di’s place.
Kittu: Even at Chiman-bhai’s place, in that narrow lane we used to play football.
PKB: Not in Red House?
Kittu: Red House also.
Interviewer(s): Why did the Mother forbid you weight-lifting exercises?
PKB: At that time she was under the impression that those who do weight lifting die soon. Then a man from Bombay gave a beautiful set of barbells. In those days there used to be Vegetable Darshan in front of Nirod-da’s room. All the products of the garden were brought and Mother was seeing them at 12 o’clock. So he kept the barbells there. Mother saw it and asked who would use it. It was in the early days, I think 1946 or end of 45’. So I said that I would use it, and Mother said “Those who do lifting die young; I don’t want you to die young, so you can’t get it.” So she ordered Udar to take it away and he melted it. They were beautiful barbells. Then we started exercise in our house, where Mona is staying now. Myself, Govindraj, Biren-da and one or two boys were doing exercise and we needed some weights, so we enquired and found Udar had a barbell – with the thick handle bar that we have in the gymnasium, that was Udar’s barbell. So I got that and was doing exercise with it. Mother came to know one day that I was doing weight exercise. At that time she had already started coming to the Playground. Then she told me one day: “You show me what are the exercises.” So I showed her weight training.
Interviewer(s): Where did you show her?
PKB: In the Playground. She sat there on a chair in the main ground and I showed her the different exercises to build up different body parts. Then I showed her weight lifting, clean and jerk, snatch, press and all that, and she liked it immensely, “Very good exercise, so you will do that in front of me.” So three days in a week were fixed and she was sitting after the distribution was over and I was doing all the exercises. It continued for quite some time.
PKB: Myself alone, and Narendra and Arunkumar were helping to load and unload. Like a prince, you know, I was doing all that and she was sitting and looking, and at that time she found it very good.
Interviewer(s): Later on she did not object to something like that?
PKB: No, after that her idea changed completely. It happened in the early days that some of the strong men like Sandow died. Sandow died at the age of forty and many strong men died young. But it was mostly due to the hereditary factor, longevity. Some weight-lifters and wrestlers continued to live even up to eighty and even ninety, like Hackett Smith died after eighty. But many strong men died early also. So the idea came to her that by doing that type of exercise, you waste yourenergy and die young. But she changed her idea after seeing these weight exercises.
Interviewer(s): How did the idea about the Swimming Pool in the Ashram come about? I mean swimming pools are a very expensive proposition.
PKB: In those days, Mother had forbidden sea swimming. When I came in 1942, I came to know that she didn’t like anybody doing sea swimming.
Interviewer(s): Why did she forbid?
PKB: Because it was dangerous. There were some sea animals and people could get drowned, so it was not allowed. In 1942, one day Purani-ji told me: “We are going for a boat ride, will you come?” I immediately agreed and went to Nolini-da to take Mother’s permission. Nolini-da asked Mother and Mother gave permission because we asked. Nolini-da said: “Mother does not like it but as you are asking, she has permitted you to go. So Udar, myself, Ambu, Udar’s wife Mona, and Udar’s brother (he was in the army at that time and had come to visit them), we got a catamaran and went into the sea, deep into the sea. And there the boat was stopped and the fishermen beat the sea to drive out the animals, and we swam. While returning I told them that I would go back swimming. So the catamaran came and I swam back to shore. That was the starting. Then when we got the Tennis Ground, we arranged also for sea bathing, and she saw it in the afternoon. We made proper life-guard arrangements, took all the precautionary measures, and she permitted it. Before that the boys were going to a pond where the buffaloes were taking bath, they were going there and swimming. So at that time Mother said that if we could give them a good swimming pool, they would not go to this buffalo pond. That is how the idea came. Then we acquired the Sports Ground in 1952 or 51’. We laidthe Football Ground and the Track, and by the side we kept a place for the swimming pool. It took a long time from 51’, and we got it completed in 57’. In those days we didn’t have much money. Actually when I came here and started the physical education activity, I gave a scheme to Mother to open a swimming pool near our Dairy. There was a good place and I proposed that we could pump in sea water and pump it out, and in that way it could be maintained. She said “Your idea is good, but it means a lot of expense, and I have spent stupendous money to build up this Dairy.” So that proposal was cancelled. Then she said, “In Parc à Charbon, you could have a gymnasium and a swimming pool, but I didn’t like my gymnasium to go so far. I wanted to do it here, so I didn’t move at all. They started it and kept a place for a gymnasium. Where they have now made a lawn, that place was kept for the swimming pool. I didn’t show any interest, I kept quiet and I got the gymnasium here and the swimming pool there in the Sports Ground.
Interviewer(s): Can I ask how the finance came because we were passing through a very difficult period?
PKB: Hmm, little by little. How did Mother give? Because she was interested in it very much! Whenever she got money she gave it, and with that we started, a small beginning.
Kittu: When the physical education started, did Sri Aurobindo show any interest?
PKB: Yes that’s why he wrote the articles in the Bulletin.
Kittu: In the Bulletin of 49’. But before that, in the first three years, 46’, 47’, 48’?
PKB: As soon as I started it, naturally Mother gave her support and got Sri Aurobindo’s support also.
Interviewer(s): Which year did she start taking interest?
PKB: She started taking interest immediately. I wrote to her a letter that I would start the work and she gave herpermission and our first physical demonstration was held in 1945. One month after starting the work, I organised a physical demonstration and that news went to Mother. Everybody praised it, it was a new thing, you know, doing pyramids with the boys. Mother asked: “What is a pyramid?” Then we didn’t have any photographic arrangement, so I called Jayantilal-da and asked him, “Please make a sketch of the pyramid to show Mother what a pyramid is.” We didn’t even have a book to show her a picture. Those sketches are still with me. So with line drawing he made a pyramid, and then I showed it to Mother, “These are pyramids.”
Interviewer(s): Which year was this?
PKB: I think it was 45’. The 45’ physical demonstration was over on 2nd Dec and I went to her for blessings. News had already reached her that it was very good, so she gave me some small presents like her picture, some handkerchiefs and said “Next physical demonstration I will come and see.” So she came to see the 46’ physical demonstration and she liked it, and she must have seen some possibilities. She told me, “You go ahead and whatever you need, you tell me.” Then I sent Biren-da to Madras, we got our vaulting box, punching ball, mattress, spring board and the wall pulley, all that we got from Madras. In those days Pondicherry was a free port and we could bring in many things, so we got the vaulting box, buck, pommel horse, parallel bars from England.
Interviewer(s): Those are still there.
PKB: Yes, that yellow Spencer thing, those we got from there.
Interviewer(s): From which year she started taking intensive interest? Was it right from the beginning?
PKB: From the beginning, but she was not present. In 1946 she came to see the physical demonstration, and from then onwards she started taking interest.
Kittu: Playing table-tennis?
PKB: She started table-tennis, then afterwards tennis.
Interviewer(s): She knew table tennis already?
PKB: No, no, she learnt it and then at one time there was no table-tennis, no tennis. So in the hall they tried to give her badminton and tennicoit. Badminton also didn’t work, she tried it for one or two days.
Kittu: Every day you used to play with her?
PKB: Mother was taking me there, but I was not interested. Even in tennis I was not interested, but as she took me there for work, to play with her, I was taking it as sadhana. In our house there were many tennis players, but I didn’t like it because, you know, we play and the servant picks up and gives us the ball. It is a rich man’s game and I didn’t want it. So when Mother started it, she said, “You be my partner. Have you played tennis?” I said: “Yes, there were many tennis players in my family but because of this reason I didn’t play.” Mother said: “No, we play and we pick up the ball”, but in that way you cannot play tennis. She said, “Whatever it is, you come and play with me.” So I started and without fail I went there. I didn’t know how to play tennis. I had never held a tennis racket, so when she told me to play, I went through my books to see what is a service, forehand, backhand, lob and all that. I prepared myself mentally and went there, and my first service was correct and the way I played, everybody said, “You must have played at Calcutta. It is not that you are playing your first game today.” But I don’t know how it happened. Without practice, without learning, I started playing and I played and she played for ten years. For ten years, I was her partner in tennis.
In the early days she was playing up to 5 or 5.15and then she was leaving me in the Playground and going back and playing again up to evening – this was at the beginning. Then she stopped that, and she played only once. I was taking my group, Red group, it started at 5 or 5-30, so she was coming at 5.15, and two days in a week she was taking the Translation class.
Interviewer(s): Did the murder which took place in 47’ have anything to do with physical education as such, I mean, was there more interest shown in physical education after that?
PKB: No, no, no, it was a separate thing, different thing.
Interviewer(s): But after that Mother....
PKB: Yes, because after the attack, Udar and myself organised the defence and she gave me permission to see her whenever I needed. Before that, she was calling me to teach French but that was only a plea just to pull me more towards her, that opportunity she gave me. And from 1947 I became closer to her. Every night at 9 o’clock we had to give her the news of the situation and she asked Udar and me to take dinner with her. It started in that way and then later she called me for lunch also, and gradually I became closer to her.
Kittu: In 1947 I heard she said that only you came and stood beside her when the attack took place in the occult world. Are you aware of it?
PKB: I don’t know because there is a question here. Actually speaking, outside and inside, all have become one, you know, I cannot differentiate that this is the outer thing and this is the inner thing, it is very difficult for me to say. So I was leadingmy life and whatever was coming I was taking it like that, not differentiating between the inner or occult and the outside.
Kittu: You felt very concerned about her?
PKB: Yes, naturally, naturally
Interviewer(s): We will just go back to the previous question about Mother playing tennis, when she started learning table-tennis, was there anything special about the way she learnt?
PKB: No, she was told, “You do that,” and she started to play.
Interviewer(s): Was it unusual the way she played?
PKB: Nothing unusual. At her age, what she could do, she did. And for table-tennis as well as for tennis, those who were playing against her were trying to make her play, so they were giving the ball in such a way that she could hit back. And she learnt it like that quite well. I didn’t like table-tennis, I played a few matches and then there was a tournament and my name was there. I told Mother I didn’t like to play table-tennis, so she played in my name, in my place. She played in her place and she played in my place too.
Interviewer(s): What was it like to play tennis with her?
PKB: Myself? I did sadhana as I told you. I had nothing to do, I was hitting the ball only at the time of service; otherwise I was leaving the court and standing on one side to make her play. For my book I am collecting photographs. See how I am standing? Very far, so that she could take the ball easily. We all wanted to give her exercise.
Kittu: Give her some exercise?
PKB: And it was a torture standing in the sun, and you know, for a young man like me, but as I told you I took it as sadhana.
Interviewer(s): Did you ever play against her?
PKB: No, no.
Interviewer(s): Those who played against her, did they have anything special?
PKB: They wanted to make her play just for exercise.
Kittu: I have played against her trying to give the ball on her forehand which she could comfortably return. Forehand you need a lot of
PKB: Control, so that they don’t hit Mother, you know. The chief commissioner Tandon played and hit Mother on her foot. He was so sorry. One ball came and hit her on the foot. But our boys never hit her. And she praised very much Kanak, who was very cautious, very conscious, and had very good control both in table-tennis and tennis. She called them two by two and she played against them. We had mixed doubles tournament, so she played with every pair after the tournament.
Interviewer(s): What we want to know is whether there was any spiritual interaction? As the physical thing was going on, was there anything happening at the inner level also when you were playing tennis with the Mother?
PKB: Naturally. The body was learning to take things from outside. The body was learning to awaken the consciousness in the hands and legs. That was going on side by side, that was actually the purpose of our physical education here. Not only we become fit, healthy and strong, but we must raise also the body consciousness that will gradually grow and then will become divine. That was the idea, so physical culture was taken as a help for raising the body consciousness. Once I said that when you hit a nice stroke in tennis, you feel a kind of thrill. I explained it to her and she said, “Yes, now you have got it. That is actually the body feeling the impact and it is becoming conscious about its activity.” So in that way it was working side by side. We wanted that everybody here, at least the grown-ups, would do that. Young people would benefit from physical education as a help for building up their health and fitness and also from the moral point of view – they would acquire some moral qualities. But for the Ashram sadhaks, it was expected that they would take it up seriously for raising the body consciousness, awakening the body consciousness. How many are doing that, I do not know!