Friday, April 04, 2008

On April 4th at about 4 o'clock in the evening, the Dupleix anchored in Pondicherry harbour

14. Extracts from Suresh Chandra Chakrabarti, Smritikatha (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1952). (Translated from the Bengali.)

The next day, 4 April 1910, Aurobindo was to arrive in Pondicherry. The people here had probably gone earlier and found out from the office of the shipping company, Messageries Maritimes, that the Dupleix, sailing from Calcutta, would reach Pondicherry around four or five in the evening. Srinivas Achari and I went at that time to the pier to receive Aurobindo.
When they heard about Aurobindo's coming, the people here figured they would give him a rousing reception. When I learned of this I told them that Aurobindo was arriving here incognito and would be living here incognito and therefore we should not do anything that would let people find out. That sort of welcome was therefore not desirable. They were astounded to hear this and told me with dismay: Aurobindo Ghose will come here and no one will find out about it! What are you saying, Sir, or rather, What do you mean, kid? In any case I told them that if a couple of us went to the ship when it arrived and without any fanfare accompanied Aurobindo straight to his place of residence and no one uttered his name, then who would know that he had come to Pondicherry? I think what I said made some sense to them and the idea of having a special reception for Aurobindo was abandoned. In this connection Srijut Motilal Roy refers in his Jiban-sangini to Srijut V.V.S. Iyer. But this is incorrect, because V.V.S. Iyer hadn't yet come to Pondicherry. He came to Pondicherry the following December. And they just talked about a reception, they didn't go any further.… [pp. 116-19]
On April 4th at about 4 o'clock in the evening, the Dupleix anchored in Pondicherry harbour. The sea in Pondicherry harbour is not deep enough for sea-going ships. Therefore ships could not come up to the pier, they had to anchor half a mile out. Passengers had to take a boat from the pier to go to and from the ship. [p. 119]
… … …
At that time an open boat with oars was used to travel between the pier and the ship. I don't know whether this boat belonged to the French government or to the shipping company.…
At the pier Srinivas Achari and I climbed down a ladder with great difficulty and got into the boat tossing in the rolling sea. The boat, rowed by eight or ten oarsmen, set off towards the ship.
As we neared the ship, I saw Aurobindo and Bijoy standing on the deck, their eyes fixed on our launch. They may have been doubtful or worried about whether I had arrived safely in Pondicherry and made contact with our friends. In any case our launch soon came up to the side of the ship. With great difficulty we climbed from the boat tossing in the waves up the ship's ladder to the place where Aurobindo and Bijoy were standing. From the deck we went down another ladder and into their cabin — a second-class cabin. We saw that the ship's staff had been most hospitable to their guests of a few days. It was time for evening tea on board the ship. The ship had reached the destination of these two passengers. The staff could have easily said, “No tea here, gentlemen; go to your homes and drink it.” But while we were getting the luggage and so forth together, all of us were served tea and a plate of small, crisp, fish-shaped biscuits.… Srinivas Achari was an orthodox Tamil brahmin. First of all biscuits, these too fish-shaped and then served on board a mlechcha's [evil foreigner's] ship! It was hardly Srinivas Achari's cup of tea!…Five or six years later, Srinivas Achari did once or twice accept some tea and biscuits at our house but probably he did so because it was Aurobindo's birthday.… [pp. 120-21]
… … …
After having our tea in the ship's cabin, we took the three trunks and bedding and all of us got into the boat and went from the boat to the pier and from the pier to the main road known as Cours Chabrol. Srinivas Achari had obtained a horsedrawn carriage from some local gentleman and it was there ready for use.… [p. 127]
… … …
Srinivas Achari and with him Aurobindo departed down the main road in this horse-carriage. I don't quite remember whether Bijoy went with them or came along later with me. But at any rate I set out later on a push-push with all the luggage and with a Tamil guide to accompany me.
But the house I was taken to by my Tamil guide was not the garret on that filthy, blind alley I had been shown the previous day. This was quite a big and respectable place on another street. Escorted by my guide, I went up to the third floor of this house and found the place clean, neat and uninhabited — just what was required. On entering a small room I saw Aurobindo sitting in an easy-chair while Srinivas Achari along with four or five others stood deferentially in front of him. All my doubts about the intelligence and ability of these people in regard to selecting a place for Aurobindo to stay in disappeared. I looked at the walls. There was not a single picture of a revolutionary leader anywhere. I had no more reason to be disappointed with these Tamilians. But I was baffled when I remembered the garret I had been shown the previous day — what exactly had been the matter?…
…[Later] I found out from one of them — I don't remember who — that they had indeed at my request fixed up a house for Aurobindo; but they had had some doubts about whether I was a police spy or truly a messenger sent by Aurobindo. And so they had naturally withheld the information about the actual house from a possible police spy. They had decided to wait for the Dupleix to arrive on April 4th, and if Aurobindo did not come by that ship then it would have been confirmed that I was indeed a police spy. In that case I would have been taught a lesson or two and packed off!.… [p. 128]

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