How Nolini-da wanted me to be his secretary

Nolini-da with Chinmoy

Front row: Nolini-da, with Chinmoy standing behind him, is seated next to Amrita-da, with Kalipada-da standing behind him — 27th August 1962 (on the occasion of Chinmoy’s 31st birthday).


To my Beloved Nolini-da

on his Birthday

— Chinmoy

January 13th, 2004


The year was 1955. The birthday of the General Secretary of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Nolini Kanta Gupta, was fast approaching. The auspicious day was January 13th. My cousin, Nirmala-di, who was dearer than the dearest to our family, begged me to write something in honour of Nolini-da’s birthday. I said, “No, I have nothing to offer, nothing.”

My cousin insisted, “You have to do something.” This particular cousin was so kind to me, like one of my own sisters. So, in order to please her, I looked among Nolini-da’s writings and found a very short article that he had written in Bengali on Mother Durga (Mrinmoyi Ma). It was a page and a half or so. I liked that article very much and I was inspired to transpose Nolini-da’s prose into English blank verse iambic pentameter. In those days I was a daredevil! Strangely enough, a few years later, Nolini-da wrote an article about his athletics. There he mentioned me because I was his coach and he also used the term ‘daredevil’.

Anyway, I gave the poem to my cousin and she was extremely happy. She took it to Nolini-da and I was fully prepared to be scolded by him mercilessly for my audacity.

The very next day Nolini-da summoned me. To be near Nolini-da was as if one was in the presence of a tiger or a lion. He had that kind of personality. Everybody became frightened because his presence was so unimaginably powerful. In my case, palpitation was an understatement because I thought that I had insulted him. In spite of that, I went to see him; I came into the lion’s mouth. Luckily, I was not devoured!

Nolini-da was in his front room reading a newspaper. Both his legs were up on the table. With tremendous apprehension, I waited in the doorway. One minute passed, two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, five minutes. I am sure that he saw me out of the corner of his eye, but I had to show my patience. All the butterflies were in my chest. Finally, I coughed, mildly but deliberately. Then he looked up and saw me. His feet descended to the ground. He put down the newspaper and said, “What do you want?”

His thunderous voice was far more powerful than I ever imagined.

With all the courage at my command, I said to him, “Nirmala-di told me that you would like to see me.”

He replied, “Yes, I wanted to see you. You did a wonderful job. Now you are my secretary.” He took me into his inner sanctum sanctorum and continued, “Here are hundreds of files. Long before you were born, I started writing. You have to go through all these files and become familiar with them. And there are many, many secret things contained in them. You must not breathe a word to anyone. And you will keep a copy of everything.”

I said, “No, I will not keep a copy. I will make a copy and you will keep both the original and the copy at your place.”

He was very pleased. He told me that my job was to be there at a fixed hour each morning. I would work on the files and do a few other things.

Nolini-da was silent for a few moments. Then he said, “And you have to translate my writings into English on a regular basis.”

I could not believe my ears! An atom bomb had literally dropped in my life. I protested that there were many intellectual giants in the Ashram who were far more qualified than I was to do this work. I was told that four or five who translated his writings into English and submitted them to him even held their Masters Degrees, whereas, I did not even finish my schooling.

Nolini-da went on, “No, I want you. Others have tried, but I was not satisfied. You will translate my articles and give them to me. Then I will correct them. Every month something should come out in the Mother India. Here is your typewriter. It originally belonged to President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter. Sri Aurobindo gave her the name ‘Nishtha’. Then Sri Aurobindo used it, I used it and now I am giving it to you.”

Then Nolini-da asked me, “Who taught you English?”

I replied, “I am self-taught.” Then I had to confess to him how I had ruined two years. For two years I did not study English at all. This is how it all happened. When I left the Ashram school, my sisters were all crying and crying because I had given up my studies. My eldest brother Hriday’s private English tutor said that he would teach me. He came from Chittagong. It was there that he taught my brother Hriday. My sisters were greatly relieved to hear that I would be continuing my English studies. This gentleman knew English very, very well. His name was Jogesh Chandra Bishwas.

I would like to leap ahead and tell you how this very dear friend of our family passed away. It happened after I came to America. He became seriously ill. My brother Chitta used to go to his place every day and try to help him. One day — it was the last day of his life — Jogesh-da said to Chitta, “How is Madal doing?”

Chitta replied, “Oh, he is doing fine.” Then Chitta asked him, “Would you like to have a few grapes?”

He said, “Yes, I would like to have some.”

So my brother put one grape into his mouth and Jogesh-da said, “Madal.” Then my brother gave him another grape and again he said, “Madal.”

Like this, my brother put five grapes into his mouth. Each time Jogesh-da took a grape, he repeated my name. Then, on the fifth count, he passed away. This was his love for me.

To return to my story, in those days I used to play football and practise other sports very seriously. At the end of the day, after my sports, when I went to this tutor for my English lesson, he would only grab my legs and start massaging them. Many times I said, “But I have to learn English!”

His answer was always the same: “Who wants it? When the time comes, you will learn it.” Then we would start to discuss ‘cabbages and kings’ and all kinds of things.

Occasionally my sisters used to ask him, “How are Madal’s English studies going?” and he would respond, “Oh, he is very serious.” He would tell all lies and I would tell all lies. We were only fooling my sisters.

Luckily, from time to time, I used to go to the Ashram library and study on my own. That is why I told Nolini-da that my English was ‘self-taught’. Afterwards, Nolini-da himself taught me so much about the English language. My heart and I shall remain eternally grateful to him.

When I left Nolini-da’s office that first day I thought, “Am I in dreamland?” I could not believe what had happened. In some respects, I was puzzled, confused. But my sisters were all in the seventh Heaven of delight.

I worked for Nolini-da for eight years. Previously I had worked at other places in the Ashram. My first job was in the electric department; I had to learn all about electricity. Then I worked at various places. My second job was with handmade paper, dyeing cloth and pottery. Then I went to work watching the workers who were collecting the green coconuts to make coconut oil. I would sit in the coconut grove on top of a heap of hay and read Sri Aurobindo’s “Savitri” and “The Life Divine.” Occasionally, to show that I was watching them, I would say something to the workers.

But I grew restless in this job and so I asked the Mother if I could have another job. My next job was to make lead pencils. There they soon saw that my capacity was flooded with incapacity. So they sent me to the bookbinding section. The manager of the bookbinding section was extremely kind to me. He said, “You do not have to learn anything, only supervise.” One permanent worker was there. Old books he used to bind and my job was to watch him. This particular boss, Ganapatran, said, “You can read anything, as long as you are here. Otherwise, this fellow will take two days to do something he can easily do in an hour. If you are here, he will easily do it in an hour or two.”

So these are some of the jobs I had in the Ashram and I have to say that all my bosses were extremely, extremely kind and affectionate to me. One day I will tell in detail all about my bosses.

Coming back to my story, in those places I worked six days a week. But for Nolini-da I worked seven days a week. My usual hours were 9:30 to 12:30 and then 1:30 to 4:30. Then sometimes, as I was leaving to go and practise sports, the kind order would come from him to go to some person and give that person a very urgent letter from the Mother. Nolini-da or Amrita-da, the General Manager, would receive the urgent letter from the Mother and they knew that I was always available to take it.

Then at night, two or three times a week, Nolini-da would read out his writings in his room. Forty or fifty of his sincere admirers were all invited to be there at eight o’clock. Nolini-da used to meditate for fifteen or twenty minutes beforehand. My job was to light some incense five minutes before the start. I would enter into his room in silence, on tiptoe. It was quite dark. Very, very slowly and quietly I would light the incense and place it in the incense burner near his table. Then I would turn on the light very carefully.

When Nolini-da heard me doing this, he knew that it was time to start his reading. When he read out his writings, I would sit in a distant corner outside the room. As long as I could hear, that was enough.

From time to time, Nolini-da also used to read out his writings in the playground. Often he would read out his articles before they were published in the magazines. My cousin Nirmala-di used to put hot water in a flask and my job was to bring the flask.

On the way to the playground, I used to walk at least two metres behind Nolini-da, out of tremendous respect, and then I would place the flask near him during the reading so that he could take some water if he needed to. When the reading was over, sometimes one of the Ashramites used to join us on the way back. His name was Rajen and he was Nolini-da’s most sincere admirer. Rajen-da and I would walk behind Nolini-da from the playground to his room. When we reached the main Ashram building, I used to go ahead of Nolini-da and place the flask in his room. Then I would disappear immediately.

A few words about Rajen-da. Rajen-da was always extremely affectionate to me. As I said before, I worked at various places. Now it happened that once I decided to do away with my mind. So I went to the head of the dishwashing department who was a very close friend of mine. I asked him if he could give me some work washing dishes.

This particular friend said, “Yes, you can work here.” So I took permission from the Mother to work at the dishwashing department. There was a big cauldron of hot water and the Ashramites would throw their dirty dishes into the cauldron. I was one of those who sat by the side of the cauldron and rinsed the dishes. Sometimes my friends used to make fun of me and deliberately throw their dishes in such a way that the water would come up and splash me. But I liked that work. I did not have to use my mind at all. I could meditate in peace.

Our work used to start at twelve, but Nolini-da and Amrita-da used to come at eleven o’clock to eat together. Then they would leave at half past eleven.

On rare occasions, when there was too much work, I used to go earlier than the appointed time. 1 Rajen-da told me many years later that Nolini-da had occasionally seen me washing dishes. He did not like it. Privately he told Rajen-da, “I do not like to see Chinmoy washing dishes. Can you not in a clever way dissuade him from working there?”

So Rajen-da played a trick. At that time he was Head of the Bengali section of the main Ashram library. One day he said to me, “I am an old man and I have not been feeling well. Can you not come and help me a little? I have thousands of Bengali magazines that need to be catalogued. I badly need your help for a few hours in the Bengali section.”

Since Rajen-da liked me so much and was so affectionate to me, I went to help him at that library. Plus, his physical health was very poor. For three years he suffered, but he would not take any medicine.

Three times a day I was supposed to go and wash dishes, but in between I went to the library. Rajen-da showed me thousands of magazines and books, and then he showed me what to do with them. As I was going through these magazines, I found many, many articles written by Nolini-da.

I said to Rajen-da, “I am sure all these articles by Nolini-da have been collected and printed in book form.”

Rajen-da replied, “I have no idea. Let me ask Nolini-da.” So he asked Nolini-da and Nolini-da said, “No, they are not printed. Tell Chinmoy to collect those articles for me.”

Rajen-da was very happy. He had played his role and now, in addition to washing dishes, I would be working in the library. Secretly Rajen-da was preparing me to work for Nolini-da. I went through countless Bengali magazines and I discovered many, many articles by Nolini-da that had not been published in book form.

Coincidentally, this was the same time that my cousin Nirmala-di asked me to write something about Nolini-da for his forthcoming birthday. So you can see how, at God’s choice Hour, so many divine blessings descended upon my life.

Many years later, this cousin of mine died in a most tragic way. She was on her roof plucking some flowers. The Mother gave this particular flower the name ‘Protection’. Here in America we see them everywhere. There was a huge tree growing by the side of my cousin’s house and it was giving her tremendous joy to pluck so many Protection-flowers. Alas, all on a sudden she lost her balance and fell down. Her head touched the ground before her feet. She died then and there. My sister Lily happened to be passing by the house at that moment and she heard the thunderous noise. Lily could not imagine what had happened. My sister came home and in five minutes’ time she came to learn of our cousin’s accident. Of all flowers, this Protection-flower had to take our dearest cousin away!

How kind this cousin was to our family. My parents took me to the Ashram for the first time in 1933, when I was only one year and three months old. I used to cry heartily. The sound would cover several blocks! This cousin used to keep me with her so that my mother could go and see the Divine Mother peacefully. She made that sacrifice.

Then, when I became older, she was the one to scold me all the time: my sandals are not good, my hairstyle is becoming over-smart. She did not want me to comb my hair straight back. She said that this is not the sign of a humble person or a gentleman. It shows that you have become very haughty and undivine. She preferred me to part my hair. She said it is more natural. That was my cousin, Nirmala-di.

Coming back to my Nolini-da. Today is his birthday and this whole story began because I transposed one of his Bengali articles into English blank verse for his birthday and he was extremely pleased.

Sri Aurobindo many times said, “Next to Sri Aurobindo’s brain is Nolini’s brain.”

Barin-da [Barindra Kumar Ghose], Sri Aurobindo’s younger brother, once wrote that Nolini was the mind-begotten son of Sri Aurobindo.

And Rabindranath Tagore said about Nolini-da’s Bengali writings, “Nolini Kanta Gupta’s contribution to Bengali literature is unique.” He was referring to one particular book entitled Adhuniki. I translated that whole book into English.

Nolini-da was considered to be one of the topmost writers in Bengali literature. Some eminent Bengali literary figures called him “the Matthew Arnold of Bengal.” I am so fortunate that he chose me to translate his writings into English.


Every morning,

While entering into your sanctum sanctorum

To do my humble service,

My heart saluted

The unfathomable silence-freedom

Of your sea-deep eyes.


NDS 2,37. Original text is 'I used to go earlier' - for clarity one might infer 'I used to arrive earlier than the appointed time.'

Drawing of Nolini-da

Portrait of Nolini-da by the Mother.

Photograph of Kalipada-da

Kalipada-da in the cashier’s office — January 2004 (Photo by Chinmoy)

Photograph of Kalipada-da and the author

Kalipada-da and the author — January 2004

Front cover: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Series: Number Two

Cover photograph taken by Chinmoy in March 1969. Nolini-da was then 80 years old.

From:Sri Chinmoy,How Nolini-da wanted me to be his secretary, Agni Press, 2004
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