Barindra Kumar Ghose
The Tale of My Exile
(Sri Aurobindo:) “You will find him, I am afraid, rather wilful & erratic, — the family failing. He is especially fond of knocking about by himself in a spasmodic and irregular fashion when he ought to be sitting at home and nursing his delicate health, but I have learnt not to interfere with him in this respect; if checked, he is likely to go off at a tangent & makes things worse. He has, however, an immense amount of vitality which allows him to play these tricks with impunity in a good climate”
(Peter Heehs:) “One morning late in 1902, apparently a short time after Nivedita left Baroda, a travel-weary youth knocked at the door of Khaserao Jadhav's house. The servant who answered was not sure whether the caller should be admitted. Dressed in dirty clothes and carrying a torn canvas bag, he insisted he was the brother of Ghose Saheb! Ushering him somewhat dubiously into the parlour, the servant went upstairs to inquire. In a moment a surprised Aurobindo came down. Seeing that it was indeed his younger brother Barin he cried out, “You here? And in such a state! Go immediately to the bathroom and change.” After a shower Barin put on a clean shirt and dhoti borrowed from his brother. He was now ready to meet the master of the house, the witty tormentor Khaserao. Also present at the breakfast table was Khaserao's brother Madhavrao, with whom Barin struck up an immediate friendship. Before long the Jadhav brothers had drawn out the young man's story, and along the way learned more about their reticent house guest Aurobindo.
The fourth son of Kristo Dhone and Swarnaotta Ghose, Barin was born in Upper Norwood, a suburb of London, in January 1880. A few months before this Dr. Ghose had completed arrangements for his elder sons to be educated in England. He returned to India alone, leaving his pregnant wife in the care of an English doctor. Partly in honour of this man, Swarnalotta called her newborn Emmanuel Matthew Ghose. Mercifully the name never caught on. When Swarnalotta returned to India the boy became known as Barindra Kumar.
Since 1873 Swarnalotta had been subject to fits of madness. By 1880 she was almost completely insane. Finding it impossible to live with her at Rangpur, Dr. Ghose made arrangements for her to live near Deoghar, where her father Rajnarain was staying. Barin remained in Bihar with his mother for almost ten years. It was not a happy childhood. He lived in the perpetual fear that Swarnalotta would thrash him as she thrashed his sister Sarojini. Sometimes the children passed the whole day on the veranda while their mother sat muttering in her room. At night she kept Barin from causing trouble by tying him to his bed.
This nightmare of child-abuse ended when Dr. Ghose took possession of the children. They were brought to Calcutta and placed in the care of a young woman who was a friend of their father's. ‘Ranga Ma’, as Barin and Sarojini called her, gave them the first real love they had ever known. Once or twice a month the doctor came up from Khulna, where he had been posted, to spend a few days. In Calcutta Barin belatedly learned the alphabet and began studying under a private tutor, but he was far more interested in discovering the wonder's of India's greatest city.
In 1893 Dr. Ghose unexpectedly died. His relations, who had long been scandalized by his liason with Ranga Ma, took the children away from her. They were brought to Deoghar, where they stayed with their mother's brother Jogindranath. Barin was soon enrolled in the local school. One of his teachers was Sakharam Ganesh Deuskar, a man of Maharashtrian origin who wrote excellent Bengali. Influenced by Rajnarain and Jogindranath, Deuskar became an outspoken nationalist and a proponent of the cult of the lathi. Barin was inspired by Deuskar's patriotism but spent little time at the gymnasium. The dreamy adolescent seems to have given most of his attention to the girls he fell in love with one after another.
At Deoghar Barin got to know his older brothers, who had all returned recently from England. Aurobindo came regularly from Baroda for the Puja holidays. The Cambridge-educated intellectual got along surprisingly well with the unsophisticated youngster. As Barin grew, Aurobindo spoke to him more and more about the subject that interested him most: the motherland, which had to be freed from British domination.
After several years of school Barin entered Patna College, where he studied for about six months. Later he went to Dacca, where his second brother Manmohan was working as a professor. After a brief stay there he left for Calcutta with the idea of raising money to do some farming. His plans came to nothing and he was soon back in Deoghar – but not for long. After a visit to Ranga Ma and another stay in Calcutta he went to Cooch Behar where his eldest brother Benoy Bhusan was working. Finding no opening there he returned to Calcutta, where a friend advised him to open a shop in Patna.
Barin thought he would give it a try. Renting two rooms opposite the college he put out a shingle saying ‘B. Ghose's Stall’. Students wandered in, looked at the merchandise, and wandered out. Deciding to diversify, he hung up a new sign that read:
Half anna cup, rich in cream.
For a while it looked like business was picking up and Barin enlarged the tea-stall into a refreshment stand. But he soon came to grief because he sold too much on credit.
Around this time plague broke out in Patna. It clearly was time for Barin to leave Bihar. But where to go? He already had tried living with two of his brothers. Perhaps he would have better luck with the third. So it was that sometime in 1902 he boarded the train for Bombay. After the cross-country voyage (his first) and the overnight trip to Gujarat he arrived, unannounced, on Aurobindo's doorstep.
At Baroda Barin could live the unstructured sort of life that suited him best. He read, wrote poetry, played the esraj, did some gardening and developed a passion for bird-hunting. He also did a fair amount of reading, history being his subject of choice. Burke's French Revolution, Ranade's Rise of the Maratha Power, and William Digby's recently published ‘Prosperous’ British India were among the books he read. In the evenings he joined in discussions between Aurobindo and his Maharashtrian friends. He learned that they were in contact with a secret revolutionary society.”
(Sri Aurobindo:) “Sakaria Swami was Barin’s Guru: he had been a fighter in the Mutiny on the rebel side and he showed at the breaking of the Surat Congress a vehement patriotic excitement which caused his death because it awoke the poison of the bite of a mad dog which he had reduced to inactivity by a process of his Yogic will”
(Mrityunjoy:) “As the distribution was coming to a close, Nolini-da discovered that Barin-da had not yet arrived and asked me to fetch him immediately. What a strange situation to find that Barin-da was not in his room. By the time I returned to inform about it the Mother had gone up. Next morning both Nolini-da and Amrita visited Barin-da’s room and found a letter addressed to Sri Aurobindo on a table. Later I learned that he had written to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother saying that he was leaving the Ashram. Later still there were some communications of Sri Aurobindo, which were published, explaining the difficulty of a strong self-centred egoistic man to surrender to the Mother.
I felt sorry for Barin-da having left the Ashram. As one of the pioneers of Sri Aurobindo’s historic Bengal Revolutionary movement, and later, after his return from the Andamans life-imprisonment cell, he became a staunch follower and organiser of Sri Aurobindo’s new line of spiritual development. It was unthinkable that he had left. But by then I had come to realise that many of the old-timers could not bring themselves to surrender their outer life to the Mother.”
(Sri Aurobindo letter to Barin, 7 June 1928:) “The idea that comes to you to go away and try a severe asceticism, “to go my way to fight my battle alone and in my own way”, as you express it, is an error and the suggestion of an adverse force, and at the same time it points directly to the real difficulty in you that has stood blocking your progress. If you went, you would go very far not only from us but from the Yoga and be lost to the Path, and you would fare no better than now. The difficulties would be always with you or sleep for a time only to rise again in your nature. However hard the fight, the only thing is to fight it out now and here to the end.
The trouble is that you have never fully faced and conquered the real obstacle. There is in a very fundamental part of your nature a strong formation of ego-individuality which has mixed in your spiritual aspiration a clinging element of pride and spiritual ambition and is supported by a long-formed habit of leadership, self-confident activity and self-reliance. This formation has never consented to be broken up in order to give place to something more true and divine. Therefore, when the Mother has put her force upon you or when you yourself have pulled the force upon you, this in you has always prevented it from doing its work in its own way. It has begun itself building according to the ideas of the mind or some demand, trying to make its own creation in its “own way”, by its own strength, its own Sadhana, its own Tapasya. There has never been any real surrender, any giving up of yourself freely and simply into the hands of the Divine Mother. And yet that is the only way to succeed in the Supramental Yoga. To be a Yogi, a Sannyasi, a Tapaswi is not the object here. The object is transformation, and the transformation can only be done by a force infinitely greater than your own, it can only be done by being truly like a child in the hands of the Divine Mother.
The difficulties that shake you would be of no importance, if this central obstacle were removed. They come from the weakness of the external being which was always intense and eager, but built in too narrow a mould for the fulfilment of the inner urge and which has in addition been badly worn down by life. This could be mended; what it needs is to be at peace, to remain quiet and at rest, to open itself confidently without strain and harassing struggle to the Force and allow it to rebuild and strengthen and widen till a sufficient physical foundation is made. At present, under the pressure of the Force, it either falls into Tamas or, if the vital forces touch it, responds by a rajasic movement and is driven helplessly in these rajasic gusts. All this would easily change (naturally, not in a moment but steadily and surely) if the central difficulty is removed. It is for this that you ought to use your retirement, first of all, to face, see in its complete extent and conquer.”
- Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest, p.147, Letter to his father-in-law
- The Bomb in Bengal: The Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism in India 1900-1910, p.41, “A Year in Gujarat”
- Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest, p.75
- Breath of Grace, “Sri Aurobindo and The Mother as I saw Them Fifty Years Back” by T. Kodandarama Rao
- Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest, p.357