At the age of eighteen, André joined the army in October 1916 as an artillery officer. Meanwhile the First World War had started (in 1914) and in March 1916, the Richards left for Japan where they arrived on 18th May. André met his mother in 1916 and the next time they were destined to meet was in 1949, i.e. thirty-three years later. He did receive letters from his mother (written from Japan) regularly but was compelled to destroy them due to the strict military rules.

 

Though André was separated from his mother due to the war, yet he always felt as if a force-field was protecting him. An inner contact continued to exist between the son and his mother due to which André escaped fatal accidents several times. He himself has admitted:” The continuous flow of “luck” was amazing.” Let’s quote two such instances of “luck” from his reminiscences.

 

In May 1918, André had suffered an attack of flu along with others and was treated with heavy doses of aspirin. He and his colleagues recovered after forty-eight hours of high fever. However, they did not catch the ‘Spanish Flu’ which started towards the end of the war (and claimed the lives of twenty million people across the world—Sri Aurobindo’s wife Mrinalini Devi being one of them) for which aspirin was no longer a cure. “It seemed that we had been more or less vaccinated by the first attack of what was not yet called the Spanish Flu”, recollects André.

 

The second instance of “luck”: on the night of 15 July 1918, the battery of 6# howitzer in which André was serving had to face severe gunfire from the enemy camp. “The way from the Command post to the battery was limited to a narrow footpath by rolls of barbed wire,” remembers André. While he was walking over there, he was caught in one of the rolls which were thrown on him following the explosion of a shell. Some more rolls fell on him as he was trying to extricate himself. Three months later, while he was at a distance of two hundred and fifty kilometers on the North-West of the site of 15 July, he found one of La Main de Massiges—the place where he and his fellow soldiers were present in July—and the location of their battery was shown as a target; however there was a mistake and the “ four guns being shown at both ends of the footpath” so that the spot where André was “pinned to the ground” was shown as the actual target.

 

The war ended in 1918 and André, as a reward for his bravery and contribution, received several titles of honour which included the Cross of the War 1914-1918 (which he received just after the War), the Cross of the Voluntary Fighters and Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (these were received after 1935) which is considered as the highest order conferred by the State. In December 1919, he joined Ecole Polytechnique and obtained the title of Ancien éléve de l’ecole polytechnique in August 1921, after which he joined Le Carbone-Lorraine (Le Carbone came to be known as Le Carbone-Lorraine when it merged with Le Lorraine probably in 1935); he was the director of a factory making batteries and other electrical materials for Le Carbone-Lorraine from 1926 to 1939. Later he joined the Industrial Company of Battery Cells and became the honorary President of the company. He was also associated with several foreign and international organizations and established himself very well in the elite society of Paris. On 10 September 1923, he married Wanda and was blessed with two daughters Janine (born on 7 November 1924) and Françoise (19 June1931-15 March 2008) who was better known as Pournaprema.

          

Meanwhile in 1920, Mirra and Paul Richard returned to Pondicherry on 24 April accompanied by Dorothy Hodgson (Datta). In November, Paul Richard left Pondicherry and Mirra stayed back to continue the yoga with Sri Aurobindo who had “already brought the supramental Light into the mental world and was trying to transform the Mind.” On 24 November 1926, Sri Aurobindo withdrew into voluntary seclusion when Krishna descended into his body. KRS Iyengar writes in his biography Sri Aurobindo: “From 1926, the Mother began to assume more and more of Sri Aurobindo’s responsibilities for the spiritual guidance of the sadhaks, as if giving him the needed relief so that he might attend to his more important work.” And thus Mirra became the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Sri Aurobindo has said: “All creation and transformation is the work of the Mother.” And it was the Mother who gave the Ashram a proper shape. In fact she created a “miniature world within the larger world that was Pondicherry, or India” and “it was also a world in a process of change and transformation,” (KRS Iyengar: On the Mother). Every year the Ashram grew in size and the Mother, through her correspondence with André (she wrote around twenty letters in a span of thirty three years to her son), informed him about its development and expansion and also about her own sadhana.

 

Some relevant passages from the letters written by the Mother to André are reproduced in the following.


16 January 1927: Our community is growing more and more; we are nearly thirty (not counting those who are scattered all over India); and I have become responsible for all this; I am at the centre of the organisation, on the material as well as the spiritual side; and you can easily imagine what it means. We already occupy five houses, one of which is our property; the others will follow. New recruits are coming from all parts of the world. With this extension new activities are being created, new needs arise which require new skills.

 

16 February 1927: I think I told you about our five houses, four of which are joined in a single square block surrounded on all sides by streets and containing many buildings with courtyards and gardens. We have just bought, repaired and made comfortable one of these houses and then, very recently, we have settled there, Sri Aurobindo and myself, as well as five of the closest disciples. We have joined the houses together with openings in some of the outer walls and of the out buildings, so that I can walk freely in our little realm without having to go out in the street, which is quite pleasant; but I am busier now than ever, and I can say that just now I am writing to you in a rush.

 

3 July 1927: It is true that for a long time I have not slept in the usual sense of the word. That is to say, at no time do I fall back into the inconscience which is the sign of ordinary sleep. But I give my body the rest it needs, that is, two or three hours of lying down in an absolute immobility, but in which the whole being, mental, psychic, vital and physical, enters into a complete rest made of perfect peace, absolute silence and total immobility, while the consciousness remains completely awake; or else I enter into an internal activity of one or more states of the being, an activity which constitutes the occult work and which, needless to say, is also perfectly conscious. So I can say, in all truth, that I never lose consciousness throughout the twenty-four hours which thus form an unbroken sequence, and that I no longer experience ordinary sleep, while yet giving my body the rest that it needs.

 

25 August 1929: In this letter I am sending you a few photographs of the Ashram which no doubt will interest you as they will give you an idea—however incomplete and imprecise—of the surroundings in which I live; in any case a very limited impression, as the Ashram at present consists of seventeen houses inhabited by eighty-five or ninety people (the number varies as people come and go.)

 

I am also sending you conversations 14 and 15. [1] I hope that you have received it; in several instalments, the complete series of the first thirteen; I had them mailed to you as they were published.

 

21 October 1929: I shall not endeavour to reply to your opinion on the “conversations” although there are certain points which you do not seem to have fully grasped; but I suppose that a second reading later on, at your leisure, will enable you to understand those parts which eluded you at first glance. Moreover, these “conversations” make no claim to exhaust their subjects or even to deal with them thoroughly. Rather they are hints whose purpose is more pragmatic than didactic; they are a kind of moral stimulus meant to goad and spur on those who are on the way. It is true that in my answers many aspect of the question have been neglected which could have been examined with interest that will be for another time.

 

23 August 1930: The Ashram is becoming a more and more interesting institution. We have acquired our twenty-first house; the number of paid workers of the Ashram (labourers and servants) has reached sixty or sixty-five and the number of Ashram members (Sri Aurobindo’s disciples living in Pondicherry) varies between eighty-five and a hundred. Five cars, twelve bicycles, four sewing machines, a dozen typewriters, many garages, an automobile repair workshop, an electrical service, a building service, sewing departments (European and Indian tailors, embroideresses, etc.), a library and reading room containing several thousands volumes, a photographic service and general stores containing a wide variety of goods, nearly all imported from France, large gardens for flowers, vegetables and fruits, a dairy, a bakery, etc. etc.—you can see that this is no small affair. And as I am taking care of all this, I can truly say that I am busy.

 

4 August 1931: I have also received the Grande Revue [2] and I read the article you mention. I found it rather dull, but apart from that not too bad. But the Mukherjee quoted there must have been lived for many years outside India (in America, I believe) and has become completely westernised; otherwise he would not give Gandhi and Tagore as the two most popular figures in India. On the contrary it is outside India that they are most popular; and for foreigners these two men seem to be the only ones who represent Indian genius. This is very far from the truth, and if they are so well known in Western countries, it is probably because their stature does not go beyond the understanding of the Western mind.

 

India has far greater geniuses than these and in the most varied fields, scientific, literary, philosophic, spiritual. It is true that the young people from Shantiniketan come out refined, but without any force or energy for realisation. As for Gandhi’s young people, they may have more energy and power of action, but they are imprisoned within the four walls of a few narrow ideas and a limited mind.

 

I repeat, there is better, far better in India, but this India does not care for international glory.

 

28 September 1931: Just a word about your remark that having children is the only way to perpetuate the human race. I have never denied this, but I wish to add that there is nothing to fear in this respect; if it is Nature’s plan to perpetuate the human race, she will always find as many people as she needs to carry out her plan. The earth will surely never suffer from a dearth of men.

 

3 November 1931: The things that are awaited they alone can remedy the sorry state of affairs you mention in your letter of October 9th; and it is certainly not confined to the small states of central Europe. What you have described is pretty much the state of the world: disorder, confusion, wastage and misery.

 

It is no use lamenting, however, saying: Where are you headed! The final collapse, the general bankruptcy seems obvious enough…unless…There is always an “unless” in the history of the earth; and always, when confusion and destruction seemed to have reached their climax, something happens and a new balance is established which extends for a few centuries more, the life of declining civilisations and human societies in delirium.

 

Do not start thinking I am a pessimist. I certainly do not like things as they are. I do not believe, however, that they are worse than they have been many times before. But I want them to be different, I want them to be more harmonious and more true. Oh, the horror of falsehood spread everywhere on earth, ruling the world with its law of darkness! I believe that its reign has lasted enough; this is the master we must now refuse to serve. This is the great, the only remedy.

 

10 February 1933: After a very long time I was happy to receive your letter of January 5th, especially since you think of Pondicherry as an ideal resting place. True, I think that it could provide a perfect place of cure for the restless… Even if one seeks entertainment there is none; on the other hand we have a beautiful sea, the countryside is vast and the town very small; a five-minutes drive and you have left it; and at the centre of it all the Ashram is a condensation of dynamic and active peace, so much so that all those who come from outside feel as if they were in another world. It is indeed another world, a world in which the inner life governs the outer, a world where things get done, where the work is carried on not for a personal end but in a selfless way for the realisation of an ideal. The life we lead here is as far from ascetic abstinence as from an enervating comfort; simplicity is the rule here, but a simplicity full of variety, a variety of occupations, of activities, tastes, tendencies, natures; each one is free to organise his life as he pleases, the discipline is reduced to a minimum that is indispensable to organise the existence of 110 to 120 people and to avoid the movements which would be detrimental to the achievement of our yogic aim.

 

What do you say to that? Isn’t it tempting? Will you ever have the time or the possibility to come here? Once you let me hope for a visit.

 

I would like to show you our establishment. It has just acquired four houses which I bought in my name to simplify the legal technicalities; but it goes without saying that I do not own them. I think I have already explained the situation to you and I want to take advantage of this opportunity to remind you of it. The Ashram with all its real estate and moveable property belongs to Sri Aurobindo, it is his money that enables me to meet the almost formidable expenses that it entails (our annual budget averages one ‘lakh’ of rupees, which at the present rate of exchange corresponds approximately to 650,000 Francs); and if my name appears sometimes (bank accounts, purchase of houses, of automobiles, etc.) it is, as I already told you, a matter of convenience for the papers and signatures, since I manage everything, but not because I really own them. You will readily understand why I am telling you all this; it is so that you can bear it in mind just in case.

 

[This last letter is particularly important because the Mother reminded André that she was only the manager of all the properties belonging to the Ashram whose real owner was Sri Aurobindo. This, she did, because André was her lawful heir.]

 

23 August 1936: Your last letter refers to current events and betrays some anxiety which is certainly not unfounded. In this ignorant unconsciousness men sent moving forces that are not even aware of and soon these forces get more and more out of their control and bring about disastrous results. The earth seems to be shaken almost entirely by a terrible fit of political and social epilepsy through which the most dangerous forces of destruction do their work. Even here, in this poor little nook, we have not escaped the general malady. For three or four days the forces at work were ugly and could justifiably cause anxiety, and a great confusion was beginning to set in. I must say that under the circumstances the Governor (Solomiac) showed great kindness and resolve at the same time. His goodwill is beyond all praise. Finally, it all ended quite well, considering the difficult circumstances. But now more than 14000 workers are out of work. The largest factory is closed, no one knows for how long, and the other one was burned down.

 

The sign of the times seems to be a complete lack of common sense. But perhaps we see it this way simply because nearness makes us see all the details. From a distance the details fade and only the principal lines appear, giving a slightly more logical aspect to circumstances.

 

It may be that life on earth has always been a chaos whatever the Bible may say, the Light has not yet made its appearance. Let us hope that it will not be long in coming.

 

24 April 1937: A small booklet is being published in Geneva, containing a talk I gave in 1912, I think. It is a bit out-of-date, but I did not want to dampen their enthusiasm. I had entitled it The Central Thought, but they found this a little too philosophical, so it has been changed to The Supreme Discovery. Rather pompous for my taste, but…

 

22 October 1938: Speaking of recent events, you ask me “whether it was a dangerous bluff” or whether we “narrowly escaped disaster”. To assume both at the same time would be nearer to the truth. Hitler was certainly bluffing… Tactics and diplomacy were used, but on the other hand, behind every human will there are forces in action whose origin is not human and which move consciously towards certain goals. The play of these forces is very complex and generally eludes the human consciousness. But for the sake of explanation and understanding, they can be divided into two main opposing tendencies: those which work for the fulfilment of the Divine Work upon Earth and those which are opposed to this fulfilment. The former have few conscious instruments at their disposal. It is true that in this matter quality by far compensates for quantity. As for the antidivine forces, they have only too much to choose from and always find minds which they enslave and individuals they turn into docile but nearly always unconscious puppets. Hitler is a choice instrument for these anti-divine forces which want violence, upheaval and war, for they know that these things retard and hamper the action of the divine forces. That is why disaster was very close even though no human government consciously wanted it. But at any cost there was to be no war and that is why was has been avoided—for the time being.


Due to the outbreak of the Second World War, all communications between the Mother and André got severed, especially after the conquest of France by Adolf Hitler and it lasted till liberation of France.

 

Meanwhile when the Second World War started, André joined the French Army of which he was the Captain from 1939 to 1940. From 1940 to 1942, he was the director of a factory of Le Carbone-Lorraine near Lyons and from 1942 to 1949, he worked in the Paris office of Le Carbone-Lorraine. He also established a company named CIPEL in collaboration with Fernand Portail. Janine writes about CIPEL: “The CIPEL (Compagnie industrielle des piles electriques) was founded after the war (in 1947 or 48) by my father, together with a good friend and colleague who was also an eminent chemical engineer Mr. Fernand Portail. The factory where my father was the director was part of Le Carbone-Lorraine. When CIPEL was founded, this factory became part of it with another French company named Mazda. The idea was to have the complete range of batteries from the smallest (for radio sets and domestic use made by Mazda) to the biggest which at that time were made by Le Carbone-Lorraine and used for telephone and railway signals. A few years later there were some negotiations with a British company named Everready but I don’t know what happened next.” [3]

 

 


[1] The fifteen talks of the Mother are published in Collected Works of the Mother, Vol. 3.

[2] Grand Revue was a French literary magazine published till 1939.

[3] Personal communication to the author.