Amal Kiran (K. D. Sethna)

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(Amal Kiran:) “One day I went to a theosophical meeting. The theosophists are supposed to be in touch with all kinds of subtle Masters. There I patiently heard what they spoke but it didn't go home to me. Before I left, I was introduced to a South Indian who was a critic of painting. We became friends immediately and went out for a stroll. I spoke to him about myself and he kept asking me what I was looking for in life. I said, “I am interested in a host of subjects”... Then the art-critic remarked: “Well, for a chap like you who is quite a complexity, there is only one person who can help you and be your teacher.” I asked who, and he said: “Sri Aurobindo.” That was really revealing, coming from a theosophist. Theosophists would want to guide me to a Master Moria or Master Kuthumi or some other Master out of the group which has completely monopolised the management of the universe, leaving poor Sri Aurobindo no room at all anywhere (laughter).
         The name ‘Sri Aurobindo’ remained in my mind. After some months I came across a booklet. I don't remember whose it was but the writer spoke about Sri Aurobindo, and two things struck me. One was that he could appear at several places at the same time (laughter) – and the other that he could speak half a dozen languages: Greek and Latin were at his fingertips, he was a scholar in French, he knew German and Italian and, of course, English, which went without saying. Out of the two extraordinary achievements, the second struck me more, because if a man was a yogi I thought he would naturally have a faculty of appearing at several places at the same time, but that a yogi who is usually a renouncer of the world would know so many languages as be a master in them – this impressed me as very super-yogic. (laughter) So I said: “Sri Aurobindo is my man.” ”[1]

Amal Kiran.jpg

(Amal Kiran:) “I asked for an interview [with the Mother]. She gave it to me. She sat on one side of the table and I sat on the other. She asked me: “What have you come here for?” I made a dramatic sweeping gesture with one hand and replied: “Mother, I have seen everything of life; (laughter) now I want nothing except God.” (laughter) She said: “Oh yes? How old are you?” I said I was 23. (laughter). “Oh, at 23 you have seen all of life? Don't be in such a hurry, you must take your time. Stay here, look about, see how things are, see if they suit you and then take a decision.” I was much disappointed at this kind of cold water poured over my dramatic gesture. But I said: “All right.” When I was talking with her I felt as if from her face and eyes some silver radiance were coming out. I am very critical and sceptical, you know, but I could not make out how this was happening – nor could I doubt that it was happening. Apart from this impression of light, there was another – of something out of ancient Egypt.”[2]

(Amal Kiran:) “Now in Pondicherry my first Darshan Day was approaching – it was the 21st of February, the Mother's birthday. People were not very encouraging at that time, they left me in doubt whether I would be able to attend the Darshan or not. Up to almost the last minute I didn't know my fate. I had to go and scrutinise the list of names put up. At last I found my name. “Good!” I said, “I am lucky to be allowed.” Later I took my place in the queue. Of course in those days the queue was a small one: I think there were only 40 people staying in the Ashram and perhaps as many visitors.
         The Darshan used to be in the long front room upstairs. I went in my turn – first, of course, to the Mother because Sri Aurobindo I didn't know, while the Mother I had seen again and again. I knelt down at her feet, she blessed me; then I went to Sri Aurobindo's feet and looked at him. My physical mind came right to the front: “What sort of a person is Sri Aurobindo? How does he look?” I saw him sitting very grandly, with an aquiline nose, smallish eyes, fine moustaches and a thin beard.... I was examining him thoroughly. At length I made my Pranam. He put both his hands on my head – that was his way – a most delightful way with his very soft palms. I took my leave, looking at him again. I observed to myself: “Quite an impressive Guru: (laughter) he is very fine in appearance, very grand – I think I can accept him!” (laughter)...
         Round about this time I began writing to Sri Aurobindo. I was the start of a process that went on for years – sometimes two or three letters a day! Since he replied to everything, we never felt he had gone into retirement.”[3]

(Amal Kiran:) “I asked Sri Aurobindo to give me a spiritual name. It seems it was very difficult to find that name. Somebody else had asked for a spiritual name and that person had got it almost the next day, but I got it only after a year. I must have been quite a problem: how to pin down something for me? But after a year Sri Aurobindo did pin it down. He sent me the name, on a very small card, in Sanskrit, with the transliteration in English, followed by the translation. The name, as you know, was ‘Amal Kiran’ – which means, as he says, ‘The clear ray’. It was a very tall order to live up to such a name. To be a clear ray when one is so full of confusion, and one is so dependent on one's intellectual capacity, to become really luminous was quite a job – and still is.”[4]

(Amal Kiran:) “Just as I pestered Sri Aurobindo about his own past lives, I once put an exploratory question to him on myself. I wrote: “Certain poets very strongly appeal to me and their minds and characters seem to have strong affinities with mine in different ways. Have you any intuition in the matter of my past lives? The Mother once saw Horace (as well as Hector) behind Dilip; but she has told me nothing about myself except that she is positive I was an Athenian.” Sri Aurobindo replied: “A strong influence from one or more poets or all of them together is not sufficient to warrant a conclusion that one had been those poets or any of them in former lives. I have myself no intuitions on the subject of your past lives, though from general impressions I would be inclined to wager that you were not only in Athens (that is evident) but in England during the Restoration time or thereabouts, in Renaissance Italy etc.: these, however, are only impressions.”[5]

(Amal Kiran:) “I went on writing to Sri Aurobindo, and all types of questions I used to put to him, just as Nirod did, bombarding him with queries. Most of my questions were either philosophical or literary – because, though I had my own share of common difficulties, the real difficulty at the beginning was my Westernised intellect. Once I told the Mother that I found Sri Aurobindo's Life Divine not sufficiently logical! (laughter) She opened wide her eyes – and said: “This is the first time anybody has said such a thing.”...
         The intellect was a great bar. Though I put it off a little by not appearing for my M.A., I still couldn't do without it. And several times I have surprised the Mother by asking for an interview and rushing to her with my difficulties. Once I said: “How can there be the One and at the same time the Many? Explain this to me. It's a terrible difficulty.” And she said: “Read Sri Aurobindo more and more and you will find out how it is possible.” Again, a very great difficulty – the supreme crisis of my mental life – came when I began to think of the problem of Freewill”: have I freewill or not? I read all the philosophers; they could not enlighten me. Even in Sri Aurobindo I could not fasten upon a clear-cut solution. I tossed arguments to and fro and I got so tangled up in my mind that all the day I was debating with myself. Nothing else mattered in the world. Finally I felt my head was so full of these attacks and counter-attacks that the only way to get rid of the commotion was to knock my head against the wall and break it! In that desperate condition I asked for an interview with the Mother. As usual, she said, “Yes, come.” When I went, she asked: “Now what is the trouble?” I said: “Have I got freewill or have I not?” She began to speak. I at once interrupted: “Please don't argue with me, Mother. (laughter) I have argued enough with myself. Don't say anything because I am sure to say something to contradict you. Just tell me whether or not my will is free, to however small an extent. Don't say anything more than ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. (laughter) She said: “Yes.” I said: “That's enough.” And I went away. Our Gurus are so patient with all our vagaries! I told myself: “I must not argue at all now. Once I argue I am lost. I must cling to this one word of the Mother's – until I get some light.” And, for 12 years or so, I clung on to it. At the end of that period I felt I could see something, even in a philosophical way, and I wrote out a short essay: Freewill in Sri Aurobindo's Vision. I had the sense that now I had stated something philosophically cogent. I sent my compact piece to Sri Aurobindo and Nirod read it out to him. The comment simply swept me off my feet. He said – well, I should not quote it in public, but now that we are at it, now that I have talked so much on myself, I might as well put a crown to it all – he said: “The article is excellent. In fact it could not be bettered.” That set me on the top of the world, of course. (laughter)[6]

(Amal Kiran letter to Sri Aurobindo, 1937:) “I admit the mixture of the vital and the ego. But in what human love is it absent? Was it absent in Lalita’s love for me? Does pure love feel vindictive? Does it torture the beloved? Does it insist so much on selfish possession? And yet, how can I ever deny that in spite of everything she loved me very much. Why can’t she be just to me also? Consider my complex and errant nature. To have allowed it to be brought into a straight line for her, to have submerged all my interests just to please her, to have felt a self-giving which to my great regret, I have not always been able always to repeat with the same passion even here to the Mother, to have almost worshipped her as something more than human – does all this mean nothing? …
         I do not deny that I am a-moral and desirous of a serious volupté in a certain part of my nature, and that she had to make a tremendous effort to win me. But when one has definitely surpassed oneself, risen far above all the common play and flux of feeling and experienced a love that flung itself madly at the feet of the beloved – don’t you think that it would hurt one to find that the person for whom so much was felt refuses to acknowledge it, considers it worth nothing and refers to Mother as a justifying authority of her attitude? Did I really feel ‘so little’? I would not bother much about things anybody said, but in this case I feel some sort of desecration. It may well be that in me the lower vital, the sex element, was more in prominence than in her – but at the core, the burning centre of my emotion, and even in the outward self-abandon of its expression, was my experience so paltry as compared to her own that she should after ten years of mental clarity, refuse to see anything?”[7]

(Amal Kiran letter to Sri Aurobindo, 1937:) “I do not compare the glamour of the past with the true beauty of the spiritual present. If I were not convinced of the superiority of the latter, where would be the sense of my staying here or originally of my coming here? What any human being ever can give is ‘so little’ and even on the level of the dissensions I understand why Lalita could say so. The effort she had to make so exhausted her that when the true thing was got it hardly had any value. What I wanted her to see was that though she could not appreciate it, the true thing was there. I am not excusing myself from the responsibility of having made it hard for her to appreciate. I only wanted you to tell me whether I was mistaken about the genuineness of my emotion. You have said that it was genuine, especially since the psychic element was involved. Well, that’s enough. Lalita and I have had a chat just to clear up matters. There is no misunderstanding left now and we have agreed not to rake up the past any more. This little bit of a confusion has helped to relieve certain tensions and led to better consideration of the demands of the true life here. Neither Lalita nor I will look back to the old vital love in a spirit of enthusiastic appreciation but there is no need to spit upon it either. We must regard it with a detached calm now and try not to stand in the way of each other’s progress by discussing it. Is that all right?”

(Sri Aurobindo's reply:) “Yes, that’s all right.”[8]

(P. Raja:) “It was not Amal who divorced Lalita but it was she who did it. Convenience was the only reason. Both of them wanted to be free from each other. So they got separated. But they continued to be very good friends.
         When Amal went to Bombay on a long visit, he came to know that the girl who had been in love with him before he married Daulat (Lalita) was still single. But he was not attached to her, though he admired her and liked her. At that time he came to know her, he had no idea of marrying anybody. He married Daulat because both of them were seekers of spiritual life and they had come to the Ashram together. Otherwise marriage was far from his mind.
         ... Amal loved Daulat, married her and lost her. So this time he opted for Sehra who really loved Amal and remained a spinster all the time thinking of him. And when Amal found that she became extremely miserable at her own place, he took her away and married her on condition that she should be an understanding wife since his life was set on following a spiritual goal. She agreed.
         Back in the Ashram Lalita as Amal’s ex-wife and Sehra as his current wife became very great friends. Both were very dear to Amal while he was with them. But all through his life Amal wanted to be as free as possible for the spiritual future.”[9]

{{#ask:Author::Amal Kiran |?Year |format=broadtable |link=all |sort=Year |order=descending |headers=show |mainlabel=Articles by Amal Kiran |searchlabel=... further results |class=sortable wikitable smwtable }}

  1. Amal Kiran & Nirodbaran, Light and Laughter: Some Talks at Pondicherry, p.9
  2. Ibid., p.11
  3. Ibid., p.14
  4. Ibid., p.32
  5. Ibid., p.56
  6. Ibid., p.14
  7. P. Raja, Makers of Indian Literature: K.D. Sethna (Amal Kiran), p.40
  8. Ibid., p.41
  9. Ibid., p.42

See also

External links