K.D. Sethna (Amal Kiran)

Stories by Chinmoy

 

Foreword

K.D. Sethna is one of the earliest disciples of Sri Aurobindo. He joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1927 at the age of twenty-three and his Master gave him the beautiful name “Amal Kiran” (purest ray serene). K.D. Sethna was blessed to enjoy an extensive correspondence with Sri Aurobindo on many literary subjects, in particular Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem “Savitri”.

K.D. Sethna is a renowned scholar, poet, cultural critic and philosopher, as well as the author of more than forty books. In addition, he is the founding editor of Mother India, a monthly cultural and literary magazine.

K.D. Sethna is one of those who recognised Chinmoy’s budding poetic gifts and he became one of Chinmoy’s mentors. For many years, Chinmoy assisted him in preparing each issue of “Mother India” for publication.

The major essay in this compilation of stories was written by Chinmoy in 1962, on the occasion of K.D. Sethna’s 59th birthday. It is re-typed exactly from Chinmoy’s own typewriting. Chinmoy was 31 years old when he penned this tribute.

In later years, when Sri Chinmoy would return to the Ashram to visit his family, he would meet with K.D. Sethna. As of this writing, the venerable centenarian is still alive. He celebrated his 100th birthday in 2004.

– Vidagdha Bennett
Compiler

 

Table of Contents

 
 

 

1. K.D. Sethna Embraces Me

[Sri Chinmoy told this story on January 18th, 1995, after he had just returned from a visit to Pondicherry.]

When I was meditating at Sri Aurobindo’s Samadhi, I saw one of my old mentors. He is now 90 years old. Many, many years ago, I was meditating at the Samadhi, at exactly the same place, when someone started calling my name: “Chinmoy, Chinmoy.” As soon as this man heard my name, he stood up with the help of a cane.  

He said to me, “By the way, are you Chinmoy?”  

I replied, “I am Chinmoy.”  

Then immediately, he dropped his cane and embraced me. He said, “Romen told me that it is your third poem in English, ‘The Absolute’.”  

I said, “Yes, it is my third poem.”  

“Third poem! Third poem!” and he embraced me again, saying, “Are you telling the truth? You are a genius!”  

I said, “Yes, I am telling you the truth. It is my third poem in English.”  

This man later became one of my mentors. I worked very, very hard for him for years and years.  He lived in Bombay. When I saw him at Sri Aurobindo’s Samadhi this time, I immediately bowed to him and expressed my love and gratitude.

 

2. K.D. Sethna and the Mother

[The following is Scene 6 from Chinmoy’s full-length drama about Sri Aurobindo entitled The Descent of the Blue, which was published between 1958 and 1962 in the Mother India.]

(January, 1928. The old Library room in the Ashram. An interview with the Mother. Having turned his back upon his old life, K.D. Sethna, afterwards renamed Amal Kiran by Sri Aurobindo, sits smartly dressed in European style, facing the Mother across a table.)

SETHNA: Mother, I have seen the world thoroughly. No more of it. I am sick of intellectual pursuits as well. Now I want nothing except God.

MOTHER: You have seen the world thoroughly? How old are you?

SETHNA: Twenty-three.

MOTHER: Only twenty-three and…

SETHNA: Yes, Mother. Can I stay here for good?

MOTHER: (Compassionately) Don’t decide in a hurry. Stay here now and see how it suits you. Then… (The Mother rises.)

SETHNA: Wait a moment, Mother. Let me make my pranam to you. You know, we Indians make a pranam to our Guru.

(The Mother smiles. She does not mention that at least a hundred times each day the Ashramites make pranams to her.

Sethna prostrates before her. She blesses him. Later she relates to Sri Aurobindo how a young Parsi “taught” her the Indian way with one’s Guru! Sri Aurobindo enjoys the joke.)

(Some weeks later. Sea-side, Pondicherry. Sethna, meditating alone in the morning, on the pier. He was worrying in his mind about not having an opening in the heart or any extraordinary spiritual experience. He had been told that he might think of a book in the heart, opening. The mention of a book had put him out a little, for he was sick of the mental pursuits associated with books. In the course of his meditation now, he felt as if the sea were swaying right through his heart in a rhythm of wide delight.)

(Some time after 21st February 1928, when Sethna has his first Darshan of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Sethna and the Mother.)

SETHNA: May I ask if Sri Aurobindo has said anything about me?

MOTHER: “He has a good face.” That’s what Sri Aurobindo has said.

(The remark strikes home. Sethna is all surprise. He at once remembers that he himself had fixedly scanned Sri Aurobindo’s own face at the Darshan moments and found it “good"!

15th August 1928. Sethna had his second Darshan, and offers to Sri Aurobindo a poem of his. He comes downstairs into Purani’s room and sits still, head bent in dejection. He seemed to have lost the inner consciousness that had abided with him for a long time, almost starting from that moment at the sea-side. He had somehow faced Sri Aurobindo now with the outer mind again.)

PURANI: What’s the matter?

SETHNA: I don’t know.

(Suddenly he feels as if a huge solid mass were pressing from above into his head, causing giddiness, bringing strange tears into the eyes and making the heart beat wildly with joy.

In the afternoon he comes to the Mother to receive a Blessing-garland from her. The Mother takes him into her interview-room.)

MOTHER: Do you know what Sri Aurobindo has said this time? There is great change in you, he has said, and he is very pleased.

(Sethna falls at the Mother’s feet and takes her Blessing.)

 

3. Birthday Tribute to Amal Kiran

November 25, 1962. To-day Amal Kiran enters his 59th birthday. My hand trembles, my mind oscillates, my heart hesitates to pay him my homage.

Amal Kiran (the purest ray serene) is the name given by the Divine Master to one of his dearest sons, K.D. Sethna – a name sweet to the ear and full of finest suggestions to the mind. In the forefront of the intellectual world, a versatile mind rich in world-literature and philosophy, mathematics and metaphysics, science and art, history and classics, he is all humility and humour, full of good will and friendliness to young and old alike. Apart from these admirable personal qualities the rationalist frame of his cultural self like most rationalists is never impervious to his Guru’s kindling the divine Fire in the natural faculty of his poetic genius – all these outstanding features mark our the devotee in the rationalist. A happy blend of the two, does he not seem to be a prototype of the Future?  

Since 1927 the disciple began to bask in the sunshine of his Master’s affection and love. Also it was in that year that ‘rich rumours of his masterpiece’, Savitri reached K.D. Sethna’s ear. One of the ever-memorable days in his life is October 25, 1936. From that day on for months, Sri Aurobindo used to send passages from Savitri to Amal to type out.  

Neither are we to miss the train of humour which the Master once presented to the disciple: “I have been kept too occupied with other things to make much headway with the poem – except that I have spoilt your beautiful copy of the “Worlds” under the oestrus of the restless urge for more and more perfection; but we are here for world-improvement, so I hope that is excusable.”  

That the last chapter of Amal Kiran’s book The Poetic Genius of Sri Aurobindo serves as an Introduction to Savitri is a fact that can never be denied even by his mightiest opponents. His critical appreciation of the poem throws abundant light on those aspiring readers whose boats would like to ply between the Ever-luminous Day and the All-devouring Night. Now it is not our task to greet him with cheers on the strength of Sri Aurobindo’s comment on his Introduction to Savitri: “It seems to me very fine both in style and substance, but as it is in high eulogy of my own writings, you must not expect me to say more.”  

Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri has a different story to relate. In one of his letters to Amal Kiran he discloses this truth: “Savitri is a work by itself, unlike all the others. I made some eight or ten recasts of it originally under the old insufficient inspiration. Afterwards I am altogether rewriting it, concentrating on the first Book and working on it over and over again with the hope that every line may be of a perfect perfection…”  

No doubt, there are many, if not all, who either fail or dare not swim in the effulgent sea of Savitri. But on that ground to rail at Savitri or to try to blight the unbounded beauty that is Savitri is nothing but naked stupidity. If the poet’s satisfaction has to depend solely on the reader’s satisfaction, then the poor poet must accept the role of a slave before the readers. Now, how surprisingly yet easily the creator of Savitri acquits himself is a truth, never-to-be-forgotten:

“…if I had to write for the general reader I could not have written Savitri at all. It is in fact for myself that I have written it and for those who can lend themselves to the subject-matter, images, technique of mystic poetry.”

Savitri is an unprecedented adventure both in inspiration and revelation in the realm of poetry. Hence to appreciate it one needs must have a new mentality, wide open to the light of Truth. It is a pity that a good number of people are of the opinion that philosophy and poetry cannot peacefully live together. But Sri Aurobindo’s view is otherwise. He boldly asserts that philosophy has its rightful place in poetry. He throws considerable light on the matter in one of his letters to Amal Kiran: “All depends on how it is done, whether it is a dry or a living philosophy, an arid intellectual statement or the expression not only of the living truth of thought but of something of its beauty, its light or its power.”

A word about repetition. The world is not lacking in such critics who think repetition is a clear indication of weakness, never to be connived at. Sri Aurobindo says, it need not be always so. “I may cite as an example the constant repetition of the word Ritam, truth, sometimes eight or nine times in a short poem of nine or ten stanzas and often in the same line. This does not weaken the poem, it gives it a singular power and beauty. The repetition of the same key ideas, key images and symbols, key words or phrases, key epithets, sometimes key lines or half lines is a constant feature. They give an atmosphere, a significant structure, a sort of psychological frame, an architecture.”  

I believe, that even a critic of the superlative degree will not deny the fact that Savitri abounds in mysticism. In mystic poetry like Savitri repetition is not at all objectionable, but needful, nay, essential. Again from one of his letters to Amal Kiran we come to learn something about repetition which is equally formidable. “Of course, where the repetition amounts to a mistake, I would have no hesitation in making a change; for a mistake must always be acknowledged and corrected.”  

Those who are all admiration for Savitri and are cut to the quick when wiseacres fail to be at one with them, will do well by listening to the advice given to Amal Kiran by Sri Aurobindo:         

“You must not expect appreciation or understanding from the general public or even from many at the first touch; there must be a new extension of consciousness and aesthesis to appreciate a new kind of mystic poetry.”

Strangely enough, the critic in Amal himself has played his role. But why? Let us leave him to give the reply:

“The nature of these criticisms must not be misunderstood. Just as the merits of “Savitri” were appreciated to the utmost – and this meant whole-hearted appreciation of more than ninety-nine per cent of it – whatever seemed a shortcoming no matter how slight and negligible in the midst of the abundant excellence was pointedly remarked upon so that Sri Aurobindo might not overlook anything in his work towards what he called “perfect perfection” before the poem came under the scrutiny of non-Aurobindonian critics at the time of publication. The commentator was anxious that there should be no spots on “Savitri’s” sun. The purpose was also to get important issues cleared up in relation to the sort of poetry Sri Aurobindo was writing and some of his disciples aspired to write. Knowing the spirit and aim of the criticisms, Sri Aurobindo welcomed them, even asked for them. On many occasions – and these provide most of the matter collected here – he vigorously defended himself, but on several he willingly agreed to introduce small changes. Once he is reported to have smiled and said: “Is he satisfied now?” Unfortunately the opportunity to discuss every part of the poem did not arise and we have, therefore, only a limited number of psychological and technical elucidations by him of his art.”

Now let us focus our attention on some of Amal Kiran’s multifarious writings which are at once deeply penetrating and supremely significant: According to his Master, Nationalism is a creed. The disciple says, “Nationalism, to be the truest, must be not only a movement against a foreign rule but also an expression of a nation’s authentic temperament.”  

Truth is truth. Although at times it is difficult to admit it. It is a sad misfortune of this age that its writers are exquisitely sensible to temporary praise and blame. They write with the fear of Reviews before their eyes. But with a stoic heart how wonderfully yet faultlessly Amal Kiran tells the world about the supremacy of Bankim’s Bande Mataram over Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana:

“The revelatory vision and the mantric vibration distinguishing Bande Mataram throw Jana Gana Mana entirely into the shade. And it is no wonder that not Tagore’s but Bankim’s song has been the motive-force of the whole struggle for India’s freedom. Until it burned and quivered in the hearts of our patriots and rose like a prayer and incantation on their lips, the country was striving with an obscure sense of its own greatness: there was a vagueness, a lukewarmness, a fear: we were overawed by the material prowess and pomp of our foreign rulers and our efforts to find our true selves were spoiled by either an unthinking imitation of the West or else a defensive anti-Western conservatism. We had not yet struck upon the master-key to the problem of national existence. Then, out of a book that had been neglected when it had first appeared, the music of Bande Mataram rang into the ambiguously agitated air of the nation’s reawakening consciousness… Bande Mataram stimulated and supported the people of India, instilling into them a hope and a strength beyond the human. It is the one cry that has made modern Indian history; not political speeches, but this magical strain breaking through Bankim Chandra from the inmost recesses of resurgent India’s heart and interfused by Sri Aurobindo with India’s mind and life as the true national anthem, brought us, in 1947, on the fifteenth of August (which was also the seventy-fifth birthday of Sri Aurobindo) our political liberation. To put such a saviour-song on any other footing than that of national anthem is to be disloyal to the Power that has given us a new birth.”  

Ahimsa is a word, sweet to the Indian ear. But at times it is apt to lead us astray. When the so-called Ahimsa is practised against the Will of God, it is nothing short of a crime unpardonable. It is next to impossible to refute his arguments as regards the deplorable weakness of Ahimsa:

“If Ahimsa signifies repugnance from shedding all blood except one’s own even when one is confronted with Hitler’s panzers or, to take a smaller yet vicious example, the marauding tribesmen who, with Pakistan’s connivance, broke into Kashmir, then Ahimsa is just an unconscious collaboration with anti-civilisation forces and, far from being a merit, a pernicious mistake.”

Further his firm conviction about the relation between Gandhi-ji and Swaraj can never be denied by any man of sound understanding:

“With Gandhi, Swaraj was never the be-all and end-all. No doubt, he wanted India to be politically independent, but never unconditionally, never by any kind of means. Either certain conditions must be observed by us, certain means adopted, or else no Swaraj was to be desired and worked for. There was in Gandhi’s vision an ideal which seemed to him larger than India’s political freedom – and that ideal was what he strove after and sought to represent. If Swaraj could be under that ideal, if it could attune itself to this “greater glory”, then alone was it worth having!”  

Now let us switch over to a subject quite different. It is about the significance of the English Language in India. We can learn from Amal Kiran the undeniable wonderful benefit that we derive from the English Language:

“We shall be underestimating the significance of the English language in India if we think that it is only a valuable means of promoting our political, economic and technological interests in the democratic world. English is, above all, an immense cultural asset. And it is such an asset not simply because it renders available to us magnificent countries of the mind, but also because it renders to us the most magnificent expression of our own soul.”

Neither are we to forget his challenging words against the foreign critics who think it is an absurdity on the face of it for an Indian to write poetry in English:

“The Indian, with the Himalaya of the Spirit in his national history and consciousness, can alone carry English poetry to a summit of spiritual fulfilment.”  

Now about two world-figures. Both of them are of Indian origin – Rabindranath and Sri Aurobindo. We are wonder-struck how he manages to describe their stupendous gift to humanity in a few words:

“The one is a skilful thinker at the same time he is an intuitive poet and the other a profound philosopher plus an illumined Yogi and an inspired bard.”  

Elsewhere his most significant utterance about Sri Aurobindo runs in this wise:

“How shall we crown Sri Aurobindo? Is he greater a Yogi than as a philosopher? Does the literary critic in him out-top the sociological thinker? Does he shine brighter as a politician or as a poet? It is difficult to decide. Everywhere Mount Everest seems to face Mount Everest.”  

His appreciation of another world-figure, Jawaharlal Nehru, is worth remembering:

“Jawaharlal Nehru is pre-eminently the mind-principle in its aspects of lucidity and refinement and idealism.”  

Also it is no hard task for him to pass his fearless opinion on some of the illustrious figures of the West as he has studied them thoroughly and understood them perfectly. Tolstoy, Emerson, Ruskin and Morris – these four illustrious figures are the prides of the West. Even those who have not studied them and will never do so, I am sure, if they just pay attention to the Indian critic, will be considerably benefited.

“Tolstoy was religious to the marrow and looked for the fountainhead of all conduct in duty to God. Emerson was a mixture of pantheist and transcendentalist: he held that the truest springs of action lay in the divine infinity hidden behind phenomena. Besides, he was a pugnacious individualist vis-à-vis average social conventions and the rating of common human collectiveness as paramount. Ruskin also was surcharged with a conviction of the Infinite and the Eternal – art to him was most valuable when through natural objects it had suggestions of them, open or subtle. Morris followed Karl Marx in his general socialist opinions, yet he too had a living sense of realities beyond the human and the earthly, as had the mediaeval master craftsmen whom he admired.”  

A superb critic is not the sole praise of Amal Kiran. Also he has something remarkable to present to the lovers of science. In this field too his intense originality is evident. His views are remarkable for their living expression of scientific realities.

“Einstein is a genius who has affected the whole realm of physics and not merely the sphere of ultra-scale phenomena. Even in the sphere of the ultra-microscopic his wonderful mind has shone. It is a commonplace of scientific knowledge today that light which was supposed for several centuries to be purely a wave-motion is now found to consist also of bullet-like particles called photons. Very few realise that nobody except Einstein gave conclusive proof of Plank’s brilliant hypothesis that light was composed of quanta, separate packets of energy: what is more, Einstein proved these energy-packets to be possessing mass and inertia like any material object. Even if he had no relativity theory to his credit, this research and several other subsequent discussions of atomic phenomena would rank him among the top scientists of our country.”

 
NEWTON
“To find absolute motion, the real as opposed to the apparent, we must have as a first condition, according to Newton, a perfectly immobile frame or standard of reference present in all places, an absolute space. But he realised that there was no means of directly observing motion in absolute space. He wrote: “It is indeed a matter of great difficulty to discover, and effectually to distinguish, the true motion of particular bodies from the apparent; because the parts of that immovable space, in which these motions are performed, do by no means come under the observation of our senses.” To give empty and absolute space the logicality it lacked from the view-point of sense-observation Newton introduced into science the religious concept of God’s omnipresence in a literal sense. The diary of his friend and student, David Gregory, leaves no doubt that the unmoving uniform universal presence of God in the physical cosmos was the essence of his absolute space in reference to which the absolute motion would occur. Of course the knowledge of absolute motion can be only with God whose being is its basis, but, as its postulation was for Newton a necessity of reason, both God’s being and consciousness were an integral part of Newtonian physics!”

Now it is high time for us to pin our attention on his poetic genius, which he and we as well rightly believe, to be his second delight, first being the climbing cry for the ultimate Reality, for the manifestation of the Divine on earth. Let us begin with his criticism of some of the world’s immortal poets – Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats.  He says, “In Shakespeare at all times we have a quiver of the Life Force, a passion of the entrails, as it were, an impact on the sensational being, a most vivid vibrant word. In Wordsworth and Shelley and Keats we have a calmer fineness, the more conceptive intensity starting from the brain proper in imaginative action.”

Amal Kiran’s poems have a free access to occult realities and supernal truths. It will be no hyperbole to hold that his poems are the result of his significant vision. The music in the following lines is enchanting:

  “Infinity is a love
       That never runs,
   Present in every place
       With the Silver ones!”

 

We all know what is Heaven and what is earth. The poet of The Adventure of the Apocalypse tells us about their real relation. Also he tells us what change our mind has to undergo before we discover Eternity alive:

       “Earth’s roof is heaven’s floor –
               The dome of mind
        Must bear a trampling terror
               Before we find
        Through a sudden gap the mystic
               Eternity alive!”  

 

Words, words, words. To be sure, we shall receive nothing short of a boon from God if we just follow the example of the poet in his usage of words:

  “Let me not utter five things in five words,
   But by one word of densest diamond
   Pack five things to a shining secrecy
   That gathers a deep truth missed by them all;
   Or else with five words capture one sole thing,
   Pluck it from fires that light up earth’s abysm –
   Fires that were veiled by being locked together,
   But now a fourfold seizure from without
   Of splendours and terrors ruling time and space
   And then a sudden self-sight, a fifth flame
   That knows by a sheer eternity within!…”  

 

Many have written and many will write about Sri Aurobindo. But I dare say that none will come near the poet of The Secret Splendour while describing Sri Aurobindo so luminously and vividly. Here his pen produces something exquisite in the truest sense of the term:

           “All heaven’s secrecy lit to one face
        Crowning with calm the body’s blinded cry –
        A soul of upright splendour like the noon!  

            But only shadowless love can breathe this pure
        Sun-blossom fragrant with eternity –
        Eagles of rapture lifting, flickerless,
        A golden trance wide-winged on golden air.”

 

We are familiar with his Talks on Poetry that are coming out serially in Mother India. Dilip Kumar Roy is perhaps at the top of the admirers of Talks on Poetry. “Your Talks on Poetry,” says Roy, “are so amazingly beautiful! How deeply you have drunk at the nectar-spring of the Muses!” What a surprise he springs on us, especially on the lovers of poetry, still more so on the admirers of Blake! He has been singled out to complete a book of 240 typed sheets on the 24 lines that go to make Blake’s Tyger. In this connection we are extremely happy to learn that Kathleen Raine, the greatest authority on Blake in England, has gone through the first draft. She has simply been carried away by the splendour-waves of criticism of Tyger by an Indian poet. Both the authorities on Blake carried on a correspondence for nearly two years.  

A word about Amal Kiran the Editor of Mother India. We can safely say that in him the man of action and the man of imagination are not brought tête-à-tête under their old relation of hostility, rather they have become friends, true and faithful. As he is a grand dreamer of dreams, even so he is a spiritual realist. Mother India shows how dynamic his energy is! It is said that Plato once remarked that his Academy consisted of two parts, one being the body of his students, the other the brain of Aristotle. I need not hum and haw in uttering that Mother India consists of two parts – the pleasure of its countless readers and the Brain of Amal Kiran.

K.D. Sethna was born under the auspices of a lucky star. Nevertheless, he lives a life devoid of all luxuries. He is a staunch friend who can be safely relied upon. None would or even could imagine to get an empty assurance from him. In his daily life, in his public dealings, he is a man in the highest degree amiable and he represents a characteristic simplicity which wins for him the esteem and regard of all. All these are borne out by personal experience. If his life is pure, his aims are lofty. If his learning is varied and profound, his achievements are vast and magnificent.

I am sure, it will be quite apposite to say a few words about his better-half, Sehra. No doubt, it is but few who are blessed with partners in life, who share in full measure their lofty ideas and ideals, sad failures and happy triumphs. Smt. Sehra and Sri Amal Kiran are a rare couple. We all wonder at the spiritual urge, prophetic vision of this frail but agile woman. I venture to say with emphasis that she has been swimming at each hush-gap in the Sea of the Mother’s Light and Delight.

Public honours came to him thick and fast. To name only a few:

It is alleged that the Government of India wanted to know from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Authorities if they could recommend anybody who could be expected to discharge ably the duties of the Consul General of Pondicherry. Both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother chose Amal Kiran, but he expressed his unwillingness to accept the job lest he should, quite unaware, be going little by little away from the direct contact of the objects of his highest adoration.  

Dr. Spiegelberg, the Founder and president of the Asiatic Society, at California, having considered Mr. Sethna as an authority on the Philosophy and Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and Indian philosophies offered him the post of a lecturer in the Stanford University. But Mr. Sethna suggested the name of Sri Haridas Chaudhuri to Sri Aurobindo and on his approval wrote to Dr. Speigelberg about it and he (Mr. Spiegelberg) was only too glad to accept Mr. Chaudhuri and said, “My Guru’s word is a law to me.” This again shows how Sri Aurobindo’s Amal Kiran spurned earthly name and fame, preferring the close proximity of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.  

One more proposal came from the Israel University for a series of lectures on Sri Aurobindo’s Philosophy and the Indian philosophies. Amal Kiran related this news to the Mother who remarked: “So you are going?” His immediate reply was: “Am I such a fool, Mother?” The Mother smiled sweetly and there ended the matter. Here again for the third time the disciple echoed his Master’s teaching: “All is too little that the world can give.”

 

4. I Keep my Promise

[Sri Chinmoy related the next three stories on March 1st, 1986, after he had returned from a visit to Pondicherry.]

I saw K.D. Sethna meditating at Sri Aurobindo’s Samadhi, so I went near him and took two pictures of him. Then I approached him. He said to me, “Chinmoy, at first I could not recognise you. I said to myself, ‘Who can dare to take my picture without my permission?’ Then immediately my thoughts changed and I said, ‘I am so insignificant. Who will bother to take my picture?’”  

I came still closer and said to him, “Do you recognise me now?”


He said, “Of course. You are my mind-begotten son.”  

He is the editor of the monthly magazine Mother India. Formerly, I was his unofficial assistant. Many times, I had to do everything when he was away in Bombay. If I know a little bit about literature, then I owe it considerably to him. He has helped me in my literary life considerably.  

Then he invited me to come to his place. I accepted. He said, “Are you telling me the truth?”  

I assured him, “Definitely I am coming.”  

“But I can’t trust you,” he said. “In those days, when you were young, if you said something, I would have believed you immediately. Never would you fail me. But now, you have become a big shot. I do not think you will come.”  

I said, “I will come. I will come tomorrow exactly at 3:30.”  

At 3:30 the next day, I was there to keep my promise.   

 

5. Testing my Strength

During our meeting at his place, we discussed many things. At one point, he said to me, “Let me examine your strength.”   

So he grabbed my hand and started squeezing it quite powerfully. I smiled, pretending it was not hurting. Finally, he exhausted all his strength; it was over.   

Then he said to me, “Now you have to squeeze my hand.”   

He happens to be 82 or 83 years old. He is lame; he needs a cane. I did not have the heart to squeeze his hand. I thought, if I use my strength, perhaps I will damage his hand. If something untoward happens, he will tell the whole world I am the culprit.   

Perhaps I did not have the strength also. Anyway, my inner strength compelled my outer strength to remain silent. My hand became like what you call marshmallow.   

He said, “How can it be? You are so weak. How can you lift so much weight?”   

I said, “It is all because Grace descends from Above.”

 

6. A Discussion about Perfection

He was my mentor and now he says that I have become his mind-begotten son. Hundreds and thousands of times we used to discuss literature, politics, spirituality and so many things.   

Now he had to say to me, “Why are you doing so many things? You can’t be satisfied with one thing? You don’t believe in perfection? Why do you have to be involved in so many things, so many aspects? It is not good. Only select one and stick to it.”   

I said to him, “Everybody has an inner Guide. You also have one. My inner Pilot wants me to be a Jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.”   

He said, “Nobody’s inner Pilot will ask him to do that.”   

I replied, “In my case, perhaps, there is an exception.”   

Then I said to him, “You have seen me at the Ashram. Now perhaps you are not noticing considerable change in me, whether good or bad, for the better or for the worse. I use the term ‘Supreme’. You have to forgive me. For you, it is ‘Mother and Sri Aurobindo’. It is the same thing, but I use the term ‘Supreme’. My Lord Supreme has made a factory out of me, a spiritual factory or a philosophical factory or a poetical factory, as well as other kinds of factory. Every day, He is producing items in very large measure. How can I say to Him, ‘Look for perfection. Only one or two things You should do in and through me.’ In my case, He wants me to produce. I have done thousands of paintings, composed so many songs. He has told me that He will take care of my perfection as long as I take care of His Inspiration that he gives me.”   

Then I told Amal Kiran the metaphor that I always tell my students about the supermarket: “My paintings, my thousands of poems and songs, and all that – you select one that you like. Somebody else will select something else, and a third person may select something totally different. I am like a shop. There are quite a few things inside this shop. So everybody has to be satisfied according to his need.”   

Perhaps my philosophy did not strike a note with him. He said, “No, you have to believe in perfection.”   

Then I said, “I do believe in perfection, but if Somebody says that He will take care of my perfection as long as I take care of His Inspiration that He gives me, then what can I do?”   

So we could not see eye-to-eye with each other but, anyway, our friendship remains strong. In the end, he said, “All right, you have Somebody to guide you and I have Somebody to guide me.”   

“Absolutely true,” I said. “It is the same Guide, only I am following the Supreme and you are following Mother and Sri Aurobindo. They are the same. We have to abide by their Dictates. In my case, He asks me to produce on a very large scale and I do it.”   

Then he asked me, “How many books have you written?”   

I answered, “Very shortly, 700 will go to my credit.”   

He exclaimed, “Seven hundred! Long before you, I was born. Fifteen books only I have printed, and twenty-five are still to come out. That makes forty. I aim at perfection. That is why I have written only forty books.”   

With utmost sincerity, I said, “I am very proud of you. You aim at perfection. My perfection is a little bit different from yours. Plus, God has blessed me with printers and printing presses. As soon as I complete a book, it can be printed. Here you may take six years to get a small pamphlet out. By God’s Grace, we have a big press and I have the opportunity to print my books immediately. My students are so kind to me. They do everything faster than the fastest.”  

He was very nice to me. While parting, he said, “Again I am reminding you of your perfection.”   

I said, “You remind me but Somebody else has been kind enough to take care of it.”
 

K.D. Sethna (seated at rear) meditating at Sri Aurobindo’s Samadhi, January 17th, 1989. Photo by Chinmoy

 

 

7. Letter from K.D. Sethna

On July 2nd, 1999, Sri Chinmoy received a deeply moving, handwritten letter from K.D. Sethna, who was then aged 94. The letter was written from the Nursing Home, where K.D. Sethna was being cared for and where Sri Chinmoy had visited him on a number of occasions:

 

[Following is a transcript of the letter:]

Nursing Home

July 2, 99

Chinmoy, cherished brother of old time
and all time,

   I deeply appreciate your letter,
full of your sweet self. I have
been here for quite a while and I don’t
know when I shall be out of it – if
ever. I am feeling quite at home and
everybody is very considerate. My
friends of the outer world visit me and I
appreciate their love – especially of my
dearest friend Minna.
   Somehow my most tenacious habit
– reading – has loosened its grip.
Does that mean I have loosened my
grip on life? Perhaps. For now
I seem to live very largely and the
limits of earthly years have fallen
from me – without my quite
knowing what infinitude has
become native to my heart.
    I shall end now what could
very well be endless.
    My script has not been very

[Refer side margin]
elegant. I am writing from a somewhat awkward position.
It bids me stop here – but our inner communication
can be endless. With love as always, Amal Kiran.
I deeply appreciate your gift.

 

8. Conclusion

How did K.D. Sethna come to the Ashram for the first time? It is a story at once amusing and enlightening. He bought a pair of shoes. The shoes came wrapped in newspaper. In that newspaper, he happened to see an article about Sri Aurobindo.    

His mind was so brilliant. For twenty years, Sri Aurobindo did not show his Savitri to anybody and then he showed it to Amal Kiran, his poet-disciple. Amal Kiran had the rare good fortune to discuss with his Master matters of high poetry through a series of illumining correspondence. He asked Sri Aurobindo detailed questions about various aspects of the poem and Sri Aurobindo revised many parts.

I learnt so much from Amal Kiran and he was extremely kind and compassionate towards me. He printed so many of my poems and articles in the Mother India. He even printed my play about Sri Aurobindo, The Descent of the Blue, serially. And he published many, many articles by Nolini-da that I had translated from Nolini-da’s original Bengali into English. But I can never forget that very first meeting, when he stood up and asked me, “You wrote that poem?” Then he threw away his cane and embraced me.

K.D. Sethna at the Nursing Home, June 1999. Photo by Chinmoy