My sad experience with Sahana-di

Dilip-da was responsible for bringing so many great singers to the Ashram. First and foremost was Sahana Devi. She was at Tagore's Santiniketan, but when she saw and heard Dilip-da's supremely gifted talents, she became a great admirer of Dilip-da. She also developed tremendous love for Sri Aurobindo. So Dilip-da was the instrument to bring Sahana-di to the Ashram in 1928. And Sahana-di's uncle, Chitta Ranjan Das, was the barrister who saved Sri Aurobindo's life when Sri Aurobindo was imprisoned in the Alipore Jail.

Tagore was very upset when Sahana-di left Santiniketan. He was deeply enamoured of her singing voice. When she came to the Ashram, he sent a message, "Had I been an Emperor, like the Moghul Emperors, I would have sent my army to bring you back from the Ashram." She had such a great personality. She was very tall, stout. To go near her was really something. It was easier to go near Dilip-da. She was always kindness and seriousness at the same time.

Now Sahana-di happened to be one of my Ashram 'mothers'. I had five 'mothers' in the Ashram. These elderly women inundated me with their love and concern. My main mother was Mridu-di. Then came Sahana-di.

Somehow a serious misunderstanding arose at one time between Sahana-di and me. She had a devoted student, but later on this lady became Sahana-di's rival. The rival's daughter was in Sahana-di's music class. One day this girl was angry with Sahana-di for some reason. She stood up in the class and said, "You do not have your singing voice any more. Even Chinmoy-da says so."

It was only rivalry because this girl's mother was jealous of Sahana-di. Even so, it was very insulting and Sahana-di was so mad. It was all an utter lie, lie, lie. I had never even spoken to that girl. I was a great admirer of Sahana-di. She was so kind, so affectionate, so indulgent to me. But Sahana-di believed the story. When people speak ill of us, we always believe it. I told her that the report was absolutely false, but she did not believe me. She was so furious that she would not even talk to me.

This happened in 1947. That year Dilip-da was arranging a special programme in honour of India's independence. He wanted two hundred people to sing a song that he had composed for the occasion. The song was to be performed in front of the Governor's Palace. It was an excellent song in Sanskrit on India's freedom. The name of the song is "Avirbhuta bharata janani".

Sahana-di said to Dilip-da, "If Chinmoy sings the song, I am not going to sing." Who was I in comparison with Sahana-di? She and Dilip-da were such close friends. So Dilip-da's reply was, "Oh, who needs Chinmoy?" I received a message via one of Dilip-da's young friends that I must not join the group; I was discarded. And my brother Mantu, who could not carry a single note, was allowed!

The singers used to practise at Dilip-da's house. It was only forty metres away from our house, on the same street. Two hundred people could not be accommodated in his house, so some of them had to stand outside on the pavement.

While they were practising, I used to enjoy singing the song. Who could remain silent? I could hear it very well, even from my room. I learnt it very, very nicely. But I was not allowed to participate in the final performance. That was my punishment.

I suffered so much because one girl told a lie. I incurred Sahana-di's anger and also Dilip-da got really, really angry with me.

The story does not end there. Two years ago, my disciple Rintu sent me a few tapes from Singapore. He knows that I enjoy listening to our super-excellent Bengali singers singing songs by Tagore, Kaji Najrul and others. Anyway, one of the tapes was recorded by this girl's mother, Sahana-di's rival. As soon as I saw her picture on the cover, I immediately threw the tape aside with all the anger that was at my command. How much I suffered from her daughter's malicious lie! It took three long years for Sahana-di to forgive me.

She had written one short poem and one very long poem on Sri Aurobindo in Bengali. Both of them were in the same book. One day she handed me the book and said, "I want you to translate the short poem into English. If you do a good job, I will forgive you."

I immediately translated both the poems into English. When I gave her the whole thing, she forgave me. She had only been waiting for an opportunity to forgive me.