'My idea is to offer Aurobindo's life to youth as fiction'

'My idea is to offer Aurobindo's life to youth as fiction'

Arup Mitra

Can Sri Aurobindo’s life be recounted as a novel? Yes, this is what Harimohan Datta, the ‘gifted attorney and lifelong friend’ of the great freedom fighter, patriot and spiritual ‘saadhvi’ does in this literary canvas of Arup Mitra, a memorable character created by the author to string all the facts of Aurobindo’s life in a coherent, engaging and delectable narrative.

 Aurobindo (1872-1950) coming down to the South to find his spiritual centre for the rest of his life was already predicted by a saint, Vasudeva in Nagai village of old Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu in early 1870.

An ‘Uttara Yogi’ (a Sage from the North) will come “and settle down in these parts of the country” for not only his spiritual salvation but will also be an ‘unmistakable prelude’ to India’s political liberation, were Vasudeva’s words. How this momentous prediction came so true through the life of Sri Aurobindo, since he set foot on Pondicherry on April 4, 1910, gives flesh and blood to this ‘realistic fiction’, the first of its kind on the late nationalist.

Harimohan would not have heard of this prediction but for he being invited to Mysore in early 1903 by the then young prince Krishnaraja Wadiyar who sought the legal luminary’s help for drafting an ‘ambitious plan to introduce a Legislative Council’.
Harimohan then, with his wife, goes to Thanjavur where they meet the Kodiyalam zamindar family who unpacks the late saint Vasudeva’s vision on the advent of the ‘Uttara Yogi’. This thread would be later picked up in urging Aurobindo to leave Calcutta to his place of ‘special destiny’ in South.

The 57-year-old Arup Mitra, an artist who presently teaches art at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in Pondicherry, spoke to M R Venkatesh of Deccan Herald on his book written in an innovative mode, ‘Uttara Yogi’ (published by Niogi Books), on this swadeshi-nationalist after its launch in Chennai recently. Excerpts:

What prompted this first historical novel in English on Aurobindo’s life?
There are several biographies on Sri Aurobindo. But as far as I know, nobody has dared to do this kind of work (a historical novel). It is very, very different. It has taken me 21 years including seven years on just researching for this book, visiting most of the places Aurobindo visited — except England — and collecting data and documents. I have not distorted any of the facts, though I have created some fictional characters to narrate these facts. Even the quotes are all from his writings and documents, though they do not always correspond to the actual context. I wanted to be very careful as I know it can stir up a hornet’s nest when a work like this is on so important a person like Aurobindo, whom I respect very much.

But what really is the rationale behind this bold new approach of yours?
Though there are good works on Aurobindo, who was multi-faceted and whose thoughts were very philosophical, abstract, poetical and even mystical. They have usually addressed the serious readers. I wanted to make Aurobindo’s life much more readable, lucid stuff, particularly to the younger generation who read more fiction. The idea was not to make it heavy on your minds or dish out something pedantic, yet not distorting even an iota of history. I wanted to present Aurobindo to the masses.

Was it timed to mark any major occasion in Aurobindo’s life?
Not really. April 4, 2010, no doubt marks the centenary year of Aurobindo arriving by a steam ship at Pondicherry, a French enclave then. But the publication of this book shortly before that date now was coincidental. Perhaps god may have planned it that way.

As you are an artist and art teacher by profession, does your first-ever book reflect an artist’s impression of Aurobindo?
You know when someone approached Aurobindo wanting to write a biography of him even when he was alive, he said, “My life has not been on the surface for people to see (possible allusion to Aurobindo fleeing British Bengal after being acquitted in the famous Alipore Bomb Case in 1909); I don’t want to be massacred in cold blood.” So, that was not my idea of him at all. I knew for sure I cannot make Aurobindo sensational and all through the book I have kept him (Aurobindo) in the periphery and not as my hero. This is an artistic licence you may say, if you want to look at it that way.

What is the message you wanted to convey through this work?
The fact of the prediction of the coming of the ‘Uttara Yogi’ (to the South) and how the prediction came true. That is the strongest part of the book on which it hinges. Now I am busy preparing the sequel to this volume, on the years Aurobindo lived in Pondicherry from 1910 till his death in 1950.

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