Monday, May 19, 2008


The Mother

While we were in Pondicherry, Aurobindo Ashram was a force to reckon with, with the Mother running it with a soft fur-gloved iron hand. The ashram was founded by Sri Aurobindo in 1926. The Mother whose name was Mira Alfassa, was the main disciple of Sri Aurobindo, and after his time she took over the reins, and ran the Ashram on well oiled rails.

From a mere handful of Ashramites at that time, the number rose to more than 2,000 under the Mother’s care. All Ashramites had to do their share of work in the various departments. The Mother took care of their food, clothing, shelter and medical care.

The Ashram buildings were on the Eastern side of Pondicherry, nearly half of the ‘white city’ was occupied by the various institutions like their schools, factories, shops and stores. The Mother was highly respected and regarded as a divine personality, not only by the Ashramites, but also by many outsiders. People used to come to Pondicherry just to have a darshan of the Mother. But, personally, I felt no inclination to meet her.

The Mother used to give darshan to the public every morning and every evening. In the morning it was only for about 5 to 10 minutes, standing at the balcony of her residence. A large crowd on the road would be waiting below the balcony patiently for her darshan. Babuji used to stand a little away form the crowd every morning while taking his morning walk. He used to tell me seeing the Mother in the mornings made his day’s work easy and fulfilled. He never met her personally. The balcony where the Mother used to give darshan.

Even then the Mother knew all about Babuji and the way he handled many of the issues that came between the Government and the Ashram. If there were any difficult situations the Mother used to tell Mr. Pinto (Ashram’s spokesman) to consult Babuji and do accordingly. If Babuji was not seen by the Mother at his usual place in the mornings for three or four days (that is, whenever he went to Delhi on official visits) the Mother used to ask Mr. Pinto, with so much concern, “What happened to Mr. Ramakrishnan? I haven’t seen him for two days!”

Among our various guests and visitors who came to Pondicherry, only one couple wanted to see the Mother. As Babuji was busy and had no time to spare in the days the couple was with us, it fell to me to take them to see the Mother. In the evenings every day, the Mother used to receive those who came to see her, with a nod and a smile, standing in the garden of her apartment. I took the couple to the place and we had to join the long line of people in front us waiting to see her. When I came face-to-face with the Mother, the way she looked at me was full of love, affection and kindness. It was too much for me to bear. I had to bend down to touch her feet, like those in front of me did. Her look was so powerful I felt all my inhibitions slipping away and I felt blessed.

When the time came for us to leave Pondicherry, Babuji and I were in two minds whether to meet the Mother and get her blessings, and take leave of her personally. As if the Mother could read our minds, the very next morning, the Mother sent us her blessings along with a copy of 'The Gita' by Sri Aurobindo, an autographed photo of the Mother herself and a bottle of perfume. It was too much, and we were completely floored. The Gita and the photo are still with Viji. Viji and Raja joined the Mother’s School in Delhi to continue their studies, after we came back to Delhi.

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had believed that the evolution of mankind is not complete, until he reaches through yoga and a conscious aspiration a higher state of mind called Supra natural. To prove that and to bring human unity in diversity, the Mother planned to build Auroville, the city of Dawn, and laid the foundation for it 1968. The Mother did not live long enough to see it completed. She passed away in 1973. Her mortal remains were laid to rest under a canopy of trees in the compound of the building where she had lived for many years, beside the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo.

Photos: Courtesy Internet

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


In spite of my heavy responsibilities at home taking care of my husband’s and children’s needs, and also those of Babuji’s parents, who were living with us, I really enjoyed my life in Pondicherry. I too played an active part, though small, in many events there. I was asked to judge baby shows, flower shows and beauty contests. Once I was asked to open a tailoring class, which I agreed to gladly; only I did not know that I had to make a speech, and that too in Tamil. I agree, yes, that my mother tongue is Tamil, but it is the Tamil spoken at home with many Malayalam words, and a very Malayalam accent. Since most Pondicherrians could not understand English at that period, I had to speak in my Manipravalam Tamil. I am sure it was not appreciated greatly, because I was never asked to make a speech again! Thank God.

The last time I was at Gowri’s place I was asked to make a speech at the school where Gowri was doing an honorary job helping senior children with their English. It was no problem for me as I had to speak in English

Annual Sports meets were held in the Cluny Convent, in the Medical College, and in the Police Department. They were really big events to which all the top brass was invited. JIPMER was just coming up at that time. The foundation stone had been laid. The Medical College at that time was not a big one, and it was run in two or there buildings.
Babuji receives the prize at a Police Sports meet from Tara Cherian, then Mayor of Madras
In all these sports events there was one item for the guests as in all sports meets of schools and colleges today. We were all expected to take part and we did. Invariably in all these meets, Babuji and I used to win, Babuji in the men’s events, and me in the women’s events. And if it was a common event, it was Maiji who won. It happened almost in every meet all the time.

As usual there was a Medical College sports meet in late 1961. We both were there among the spectators. At the end of all the main events, the guest event was announced. The Master of Ceremonies was calling out all the ladies by name, asking them to come forward. He was saying, “Where is Mrs. Ramakrishna, the lucky winner of all events? Come on, please.” So I slowly got up from my seat and took a step. Dr. Mrs, Abraham, the gynaecologist, who was sitting a couple of seats away from me shouted, “No, Mrs. Ramakrishna, you are not to run in your condition, so please sit down.” There was a sudden hush in our area of the spectators, and all heads turned towards me. That was how the imminent arrival of Gowri (our youngest) was announced to the Pondy public.

Talking of doctors, reminds me of one occasion when I was suffering from severe stomach pain. Dr. Souccu’s name was recommended, and Babuji requested him to come home.
I was really apprehensive thinking he would be French, and not be able to understand English. He came home, and when he learnt we were from Kerala he started talking to us in Malayalam. He explained that he also was from Kerala and that his name was Sukumaran, and that he was named Souccu by the French. Anyway we were really intrigued by his treatment. He told me he would give me a powder for ‘naalu kaasu’ (less than 25 paise today), and when I became all right, he would give me a costly tonic. Believe it or not, I was cured by the ‘naalu kaasu’ powder. The 'naalu kaasu' powder, he told us later, was actually charcoal powder!

We liked him so much and respected his judgement, and treatment whenever needed. Here I must mention that he was completely bowled over by Raja, just three years old then. Raja was suffering from some pains in and around the neck, and he himself explained to the Doctor all his symptoms. The Doctor quietly brushed me aside, and listened to Raja.

The day I first went shopping I was advised by my peers that I just could not walk into any shop. But I had to sit in the car and ask for things I needed, and they would be brought to me in the car for approval and selection. I did not like that kind of shopping. In spite of all the advice I just walked into the shops and bought what I needed. How could anyone sit in the car and buy shoes for the children – that was what rattled me. So I made a change in the way officers’ wives shopped. Wives of officers who came after us to Pondicherry (all officers were sent on deputation from Delhi) also followed my example. We also went vegetable shopping.

I also tried my hand at social work, but I did not take a fancy to it. The kind of social work we did was to go to one of the cheris, bathe the children, sweep the street and so on. I felt that I would rather remain at home, bathe my children and keep my house clean.

We made some good friends there - the Krishnaswamys,(seen with Maiji here) the Subramaniams, the Mamaks and the Singhs. The Krishnaswamys and the Subramaniams were very special – we referred to the Krishnaswamys as Uncle and Aunty, and they in turn called us Niece and Nephew. Their only son practically grew up in our place. After Pondicherry, whenever they came to Delhi, they always spent time with us. When Aunty passed away in 1981, Uncle personally called us and gave us the sad news. As I was recovering from a surgery at that time, Uncle came to our place to share his grief with us. That was how strong our friendship was. He was one of our Pondy friends who also attended Gowri’s wedding in 1986.

The Subramniams, MS to us, was another special couple. We spent many evenings together, playing chess. After leaving Pondicherry, we went and spent some days with them in Bangalore. They were in New Delhi for a few years after that, and we used to meet them often, which strengthened our friendship. Even today if I were to lift the receiver I can carry on a conversation with either of them, as if I had parted from them only last week.

The way Ajayab Singh and I met was very funny. It was one mid morning when he walked into our drawing room and asked me where his table was and what was his working time was. I could not make head or tail of what he was saying. So he introduced himself as the new Statistics Officer who had come to join duty. I had to make him understand that this was not an office, but a residence. He looked very sheepish as he left! This meeting left a kind of bond between us – a secret shared by just the two of us. I saw them last in 1998.

I haven’t seen many of these friends for a long time, and don’t know where many of them are, but I cherish their memories.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


The best part of our life in Pondicherry was the children Raji, Bala and Viji’s chance to attend the best school – the convent, St. Joseph de Cluny High School. The school had different sections, English medium and French medium. Our children attended the English medium, where French was taught as second language. Mother Peter, as we started calling her, once we came to know each other well, was the Principal of the English school.

The Rev. Mother Peter Claver, to give her full name, was a very distinguished person, very friendly, and with a smile and good word for every one. She in return was loved and respected by all the students, and by all the parents. She had the capacity to make every child of the school to do their best to the extent possible. She goaded the not so good ones to do well (in studies), the good ones to do better, the better ones to do their best, and the best ones to excel themselves. And the students did not let her down.

Viji and Raja at breakfast before school

Raji, who was a very good student, excelled herself and did both Mother Peter and us her parents proud by passing the school leaving Matriculation with first class marks. She was ranked first in Pondicherry, and second in the whole of Madras State, as Tamilnadu was then known. Were we proud of her! The school presented her with a gold medal. Raji is not the only one in the family to have got a gold medal. Babuji was also a gold medallist - for topping in English, when he passed his B. A. The next gold medallist in the family is Gowri, when she topped in her M. A. (English Litt) some 20 years after Raji. Raji became eligible for a Govt. Merit cum Means scholarship, when she joined Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi to do Eng. Litt. But her father’s earnings exceeded Rs.1,000, and she was denied that scholarship.

Mother Peter was very, very fond of Raji, and Raji always insists, even today, that she was Mother Peter’s pet. She even visited Raji in Madras, when she settled down there after marriage. They stayed in touch with each other till Mother Peter died. Mother Peter saw to it that Raji took part in all the activities in school like sports (she was House- Captain, even) and variety programmes. Not only Raji, Bala, Viji and Raja, once he joined the school, took part in all these activities which helped them to be more self-possessed and confident about themselves.

Raja, once he joined school became Mother Peter’s ‘sweetheart’. She became very fond of Raja, who was very adorable, even though I say it myself. While at school, Raja once got injured when a cyclist hit him and knocked him down, as he was crossing the street. Mother Peter herself escorted Raja home, after giving him first aid.

Raja is at the extreme right, near the little girl, in this playtime picture

When Raja joined school his education was free. The rule was that every fourth child of a family was not charged fees, if all four children were studying in the school at the same time. Next year Bala (fourth from the bottom in this line-up at Cluny) had to move to another school, Petit Seminaire for his middle school, as boys were not allowed in High School - the school was co-ed only till Std. VII. In Petit Seminaire also Bala took part in many school activities, and won prizes too. Here you see Bala as a gypsy in the fancy dress competition at the Petit Seminaire.
After passing Std. VIII, he joined Madrasi School in New Delhi to do High School, before joining IIT.

Viji started attending Bharata Natyam classes privately and even performed on stage when Tara Cherian, then Governor of Madras, visited Pondicherry. Viji was the pet of Uncle and Aunty, our dear friends Krishnaswamy and Indira. At that time their son was not yet born, and Viji was thoroughly spoilt by them.

All told the children too, in their own way had a very good and enjoyable time in Pondicherry.

Babuji started feeling he had spent enough time in the south, and that it was time to be back in Delhi. So as not to disrupt the children’s education, Raji was sent to Trivandrum to my parents’ place to do P-U. C, a one year course. Bala was sent to be with Chippachi to do his High School. And I was not at all happy – Raji just 15, and Bala just 13.

Raji came back after doing her P-U. C. do you know what she did? Mother Peter was in need of someone to take the place of a teacher who was on leave. Raji took up the challenge and taught Maths to students of classes 5, 6 and 7 – and she was only 16 then – and Viji was one of her students

Gowri’s second daughter Swati also followed Raji’s footsteps after passing out of school last year. She helped in a friend’s school by teaching Biology for three months, where the students were just a couple of years younger than she was. She was so good , that the students begged her not to leave when she had to go to Delhi LSR College for further studies.

Once at a party, M. Bertho of the French government told me that he had seen my husband gallivanting with a young lovely girl, many a time, and that I should be more careful and more strict with him. You should have seen his expression when I told him that the young girl he referred to was none other than our eldest daughter! He could not believe it saying “You both do not look old enough to have such a grown up daughter.”

What a compliment.

Raji with the medal, and (right) at one of the programmes. (She is in the centre, left row ).