Sri Aurobindo's riding test

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(Sri Aurobindo:) “At the age of eleven Sri Aurobindo had already received strongly the impression that a period of general upheaval and great revolutionary changes was coming in the world and he himself was destined to play a part in it. His attention was now drawn to India and this feeling was soon canalised into the idea of the liberation of his own country. But the ‘firm decision’ took full shape only towards the end of another four years. had already been made when he went to Cambridge and as a member and for some time secretary of the Indian Majlis at Cambridge he delivered many revolutionary speeches which, as he afterwards learnt, had their part in determining the authorities to exclude him from the Indian Civil Service; the failure in the riding test was only the occasion, for in some other cases an opportunity was given for remedying this defect in India itself.”[1]

“14 Nov. 1892

My dear Trevor,

Mr. Ghose has given us a good deal of trouble and there are some points in his case as to which I must ask my colleague Howlett who is away now, but will be here tomorrow.
         Meanwhile I may mention that the Riding Examination is fixed for tomorrow I will write again as soon as I can add anything to the foregoing.

Very truly yours
E. A. Collier”[2]

Case of Mr Arvinda A. Ghose

Memorandum by the Senior Examiner, Civil Service Commission respecting the Examination in Riding.
16 Nov. 1892

Ordered to be examined with the other probationers on August 9th. Did not attend. Sent medical certificate on August 11th to explain why. Was asked on 15th August to say when he would be ready to be examined. Question repeated on 30th August, as no answer had been received. Question repeated a third time on 17th October, answer requested by return of post. Answer received dated 18th October saying he would prefer the following Tuesday or Wednesday. Colonel Brough fixed the Wednesday (October 26th) at 12.30 at Woolwich. Ghose was ordered by letter on 22nd to attend at that time: the letter was sent to same address as that of 17th October. On 26th October, Colonel Brough wrote to say the candidate had not appeared. A messenger was sent to Ghose (same address) and asked to bring back an answer: the answer was that Ghose had not received the letter making the appointment. Ghose was directed to attend here in person on Monday 31st October at 12 noon. He came at 12.40 and repeated his statement that the letter above-mentioned had never reached him. I gave him a letter to Colonel Brough asking the latter to arrange with Ghose a date for his Examination and told Ghose to lose no time in going down to Woolwich and presenting the letter in person: to go down that afternoon if he had no other engagement. I also wrote a line to Colonel Brough teling him of this. Colonel Brough wrote on 5th November saying Ghose had never appeared, and returning the Marking Form supplied for this report. Colonel Brough added that he would prefer not to examine Ghose. After a note from me, he agreed however, to do so, if some one from this Office were present (Nov. 9th). Ghose ordered to call here at noon on the 10th. He came at ten minutes to one. He explained (as also in his letter of the 9th instant received on 10th) that he had twice been to see Colonel Brough but had not found him. I asked him whether he went to the Office of the Riding Establishment. He said “No – to Colonel's house” (this is close by). He posted the letter I gave him, to Colonel Brough, instead of leaving it for him. Colonel Brough has returned this letter to me, together with Ghose's undated letter accompanying it. I then showed Ghose Colonel Brough's latest letter fixing the 15th November for the Examination, and naming the train 2.22 from Charing Cross. I also copied this on a slip of paper, which I gave into Ghose's hand, and told him to meet me, without fail, at 2.15 on the platform at Charing Cross Station. I explained to him that if he again failed us, the Commissioners would not be able to give another chance, as this state of things could not be allowed to continue. He took away the memorandum and also promised verbally to meet me on the following Tuesday the 15th November. I went there yesterday and kept a look-out, but no Ghose appeared. I went on to Woolwich by the 2.22 train, in case Ghose should be going from any other station or by a different train. But he was not at the Riding Establishment. Colonel Brough and I waited from 20 minutes to half an hour, and then I returned. While waiting at Charing Cross station, I had sent a message to Mr Bonar, saying the candidate had not yet appeared and asking him to send a messenger round to his house to enquire. Mr Bonar did this, sending also a note to ask Ghose to go down to Woolwich and be examined. The messenger brought word that Ghose was out and was not expected till 6 p.m.
         Colonel Brough's servant says no one called as Ghose had asserted: he would have noticed an Indian gentleman – none such had appeared at Colonel Brough's house on any of the days named.”[3]

“17th Nov. 92

My dear Trevor,

Mr Ghose will be rejected. The official letter may reach you tomorrow, but as Friday is mail day you may like to act on this information.

I am very truly yours
E. A. Collier”[4]

(James Cotton:)
“19 Nov. 92

107 Abingdon Road
Kensington. W.

Dear Sir Arthur,

Though I have not the pleasure of your acquaintance, I venture to think that my name may be known to you through Mr Whitley Stokes, or through my brother in the Bengal Secretariat.
         My present object in addressing you is to endeavour to arouse your good will on behalf of Mr A. A. Ghose, who has been rejected by the Civil Service Commissioners as a probationary candidate for the Indian Civil Service. I went this morning to the office of the Commission, where I was confidentially informed of the circumstances of the case (which did not materially differ from the story he had already told me), and was also informed that his only possible hope lay in an appeal to the Secretary of State.
         I have therefore instructed him to present a petition without delay to Lord Kimberley, setting out all the circumstances, acknowledging the justice of his rejection, and begging that, if possible, he may be allowed yet one more chance.
         As you may know, Mr Ghose was disqualified for failing to pass his examination in riding, or perhaps I should say, for failing to keep the appointment made for him by the examiner, after he had previously shown similar want of punctuality and disregard for the requirements of the examiner.
         His excuse (such as it is) is that want of money prevented him from taking the needful lessons in riding, and that, at the last, anxiety and moral cowardice made him lose his head. He tells me that he did turn up at Woolwich for the examination, half an hour late. It happens that I have known Mr A. A. Ghose and his two brothers for the past five years, and that I have been a witness of the pitiable straits to which they have all three been reduced through the failure of their father, a Civil Surgeon in Bengal and (I believe) a most respectable man, to supply them with adequate resources. In addition, they have lived an isolated life, without any Englishman to take care of them or advise them.
         I could tell you a great deal more if you would care to give me a personal interview – I must content myself now with stating that, should the Secretary of State feel himself able to give Mr Ghose one more chance, I undertake to provide the necessary expenses of riding lessons, journeys to Woolwich etc., and further to do my best to see that his conduct to the Commissioners is regular and becoming.

I am
Yours faithfully
Jas. S. Cotton.”[5]

(Sri Aurobindo:)
“To the Right. Hon. the Earl of Kimberley,
Secretary of State for India.

6 Burlington Rd.
Bayswater W.
Monday. Nov. 21.1892

May it please your Lordship

I was selected as a probationer for the Indian Civil Service in 1890, and after the two years probation required, have been rejected on the ground that I failed to attend the Examination in Riding.
         I humbly petition your Lordship that a further consideration may, if possible, be given to my case.
         I admit that the Commissioners have been very indulgent to me in the matter, and that my conduct has been as would naturally lead them to suppose me negligent of their instructions; but I hope your Lordship will allow me to lay before you certain circumstances that may tend to extenuate it.
         I was sent over to England, when seven years of age, with my two elder brothers and for the last eight years we have been thrown on our own resources without any English friend to help or advise us. Our father, Dr K. D. Ghose of Khulna, has been unable to provide the three of us with sufficient for the most necessary wants, and we have long been in an embarrassed position.
         It was owing to want of money that I was unable always to report cases in London at the times required by the Commissioners, and to supply myself with sufficiently constant practice in Riding. At the last I was thrown wholly on borrowed resources and even these were exhausted.
         It was owing to difficulty in procuring the necessary money, that I was late at my appointment on Tuesday Nov. 15. I admit that I did not observe the exact terms of the appointment; however I went on to Woolwich by the next train, but found that the Examiner had gone back to London.
         If your Lordship should grant me another chance, an English gentleman, Mr Cotton, (editor of the Academy) of 107 Abingdon Road, Kensington W. has undertaken that want of money shall not prevent me from fulfilling the exact instructions of the Commissioners.
         If your Lordship should obtain this for me, it will be the object of my life to remember it in the faithful performance of my duties in the Civil Service of India.

I am
Your Lordship's obedient servant
Aravinda. Acroyd. Ghose”[6]

“Lord Kimberley,

I do not think that it would be at all advisable to attempt to interfere with the discretion of the Civil Service Commission in the matter of this certificate. It is for them to award it or refuse it, and I am unable to see why the Secretary of State should assume any responsibility. The impression which Mr Ghose has made on the minds of the Commission is by no means a favourable one, and I think that a perusal of the memorandum by the Senior Examiner tends to confirm their view of his character. I would inform Mr Ghose that his memorial has been forwarded to the C. S. Commission: that they decline to comply with his request: and that in the absence of the statutory certificate from them the S. of S. is unable to appoint him to the Service.

A. G. [Godley]
30 Nov. 92”[7]

“I am sorry that I cannot take a compassionate view as Mr Russell suggests of this case. I agree entirely with Mr Godley that the responsibility of refusing or granting a certificate rests with the Commissioners, and not with the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State sets a precedent of interfering with the Commissioners' discretion nothing but confusion can result. I rest my decision solely on this ground.
         I must add however as an ‘obiter dictum’ that I should much doubt whether Mr Ghose would be a desirable addition to the Service – and if Mr Prothero or any one else is under the impression that a Hindoo ought to have a special exemption from the the requirement of being able to ride, the sooner he is disabused of such an absurd notion the better.

K [Kimberley]
Dec. 2/92”[8]

(Sri Aurobindo:) “It was James Cotton, brother of Sir Henry (who was a friend of Dr. K.D. Ghose) who introduced Sri Aurobindo to the Gaekwar. Cotton became secretary of the South Kensington Liberal Club where two of the brothers were living; Benoybhusan was doing some clerical work for the Club for 5 shillings a week and Cotton took him as his assistant; he took a strong interest in all the three brothers and when Sri Aurobindo failed in the riding test, he tried to get another chance for him (much against the will of Sri Aurobindo who was greatly relieved and overjoyed by his release from the I.C.S) and, when that did not succeed, introduced him to the Gaekwar so that he might get an appointment in Baroda. Cotton afterwards came on a visit to Baroda and saw Sri Aurobindo in the College.”[9]

  1. Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest, p.32
  2. A. B. Purani, The Life of Sri Aurobindo, p.322, Appendix V: Correspondence Relating to Sri Aurobindo's I. C. S. Examination”
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., p.324
  5. Ibid., p.326
  6. Ibid., p.329
  7. Ibid., p.333
  8. Ibid., p.335
  9. Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest, p.34

See also