There are some people whom we meet for a thousand times and yet, when asked about the memorable contacts, we would fumble and be at a loss of memory because the persons fail to cast any impact on our minds. But there are some whom when we meet, if even for a moment, yet the impact becomes so profound that even the most turbulent circumstance cannot eliminate the memory of the moment spent together. The persons concerned make the moments so beautiful with their behaviour, intelligence or conversations that it appears as if we were residing in Eternity. I’ve been very fortunate to come in contact with such unforgettable persons; unfortunately they were few in numbers but due to this, they were so precious. And I count Pournaprema, the Mother’s youngest granddaughter (better known as Pourna-di in the Ashram) who left her body a few days ago.
I met Pournaprema for the first time in August 2007. At that time, I was conducting a research on the life of André Morisset (the Mother’s son), and so I wrote a letter to her seeking an appointment. But even after two months, no reply arrived. I thought that perhaps the letter did not reach her so I decided to visit her during my stay at Pondicherry.
I reached Pondicherry on 25 August and that day in the evening, I was shown Pournaprema’s house just next to the Ashram School. I also received her phone number and on the 29th, I rang her up and introduced myself and sought an appointment with her according to her convenience. She gave me the much-desired appointment on the 31st at 10.30 in the morning. However, during the conversation I was having with her over the phone, I noticed that her voice was unusually tranquil and soft. In fact she spoke so mildly that I had to hold the receiver of the telephone so close to my ear that even air would have been unable to pass through.
As per the appointment, I reached ‘Auromere’ (Pournaprema’s residence) at 10.30 sharp and was ushered by the butler to a sitting room. I looked at the decoration of the house. Everything in the house was white-coloured; the walls, the ceiling, the curtains— everything. From the adjacent room, I heard two voices; somebody had come to invite Pournaprema. I heard the voice of a gentleman followed by that of a lady (probably his wife) but I wondered whom were they talking to, because I didn’t hear the voice of Pournaprema. After sometime the gentleman and his wife got up to leave and I saw that a lady dressed in white came to escort them to the door. Seeing me sitting, she folded her hands in the namaskar style. I got up and did the same. After bidding the couple adieu, she turned towards me and again folded her hands. I repeated my earlier gesture and understood that she was Pournaprema.
Pournaprema was quite elderly but I must confess candidly that I’ve hardly seen anyone so beautiful like her. She was quite tall, stood erect with her hair tied up; her eyes were deep and calm and reflected a heavenly peace. She was the epitome of elegance and carried herself in such a beauteous manner that I, who was almost fifty-three years younger than her was dazzled by the radiance of her beauty.
Pournaprema took me to the adjacent room which happened to be the drawing room. She sat on a round divan which was also white in colour. I looked around and saw the interior decoration; every corner of the room reflected the touch of an artist. There was a piano which was also coloured white and so were the curtains and the cushion-covers.
“Let me first confess that I consider it to be a great privilege that I am sitting in front of the Mother’s granddaughter,” I started the conversation.
“Oh no!” Pournaprema replied, “There is nothing special. We are all Her children. We are all equal.” Her pronunciation was so mild that I understood that I would have to be extra-attentive lest I missed what she said.
“You want to write about André Morisset?” she asked.
“That’s right, Madam,” I replied (That was the first time I addressed her as ‘Madam’ and continued to do so whenever we spoke; after all, to me she was the Mother’s granddaughter and the awe remained intact although she tried to ease my awestricken consciousness).
“Why?” she asked.
I was not prepared for this question, so after a brief pause, I said: “Madam, we the followers of the Integral Yoga call ourselves the children of the Mother irrespective of the fact whether we are worthy of claiming so. But I wanted to learn about the Mother’s own son, because hardly anything is none about him. So that’s when I started researching on him; I read a few articles about him but I learnt the most about him from Georges Van Vrekhem’s biography of the Mother titled The Mother: The Story of Her Life. So that’s why I wanted to meet you as I’m desirous of writing his biography. In fact I had sent a letter to you a couple of months ago but it seems it did not reach you. “
Pournaprema quietly took out an envelope beneath three envelopes; it was the letter I had written to her. She said: “I got it but I couldn’t give a reply. You see, my computer is not working so I could not send the reply through e-mail and recently I suffered an attack of chikungunya due to which I had severe pain in my finger-tips so I was unable to hold the pen.” She showed me her two palms, I saw red spots on her finger-tips.
“I see,” I replied, “but I’m assured that you have got the letter. I was thinking that maybe it got lost.”
Pournaprema smiled and said: “Tell me what you know about my father.”
“Not much, I’m afraid,” I confessed, “I know that he was born on the 23 rd of August 1898; he was educated in Ecole Polytechnique. He was an artillery officer in the First World War and had met the Mother in October 1916 and met her again after a gap of thirty-three years in November 1949. After the death of Pavitra in 1969, he became the de facto head of the Ashram School.” I gave her a few more details about her father in a mini-lecture.
“You know about my father more than me,” Pournaprema said with a smile.
I smiled and lowered my head. Receiving praise from the Mother’s granddaughter arose a delightful feeling in my heart. “No, it’s not that,” I said, “but I want to know more. In fact I’ve some questions which I’ve brought with myself and if you can give me some time, I can ask you and record your answers.”
“May I have a look at the questions?” She asked.
“Of course.” I gave her the paper where I had written the questions but she found it difficult to decipher my handwriting. “No, couldn’t follow,” she admitted.
“May I read it out to you?” I asked.
She consented and I narrated the twenty-two questions I wanted to ask. After listening to them, she said: “Very specific questions.”
“Then do you mind if I record your answers?”
“Is it possible for you to give me a copy of the questions? I can write the answers and send it to you.”
“No problem, Madam.” I replied, “It won’t take me more than fifteen minutes to type them.”
“That would be better. Actually I’m leaving for Paris on the 6th of September, so I’ll send the answers to you through e-mail. Is it ok with you?”
“Absolutely,” I answered. After a brief pause, I asked her: “Madam, can you tell me where does Janine stay? I hope I’ve pronounced her name correctly.”
“I don’t know.” Pournaprema replied.
I was surprised. She did not know where her own sister stayed!
“Actually,” I continued, “I wanted to ask Janine some questions as well, so that’s why I just asked you.”
Pournaprema replied: “I know she stays at Paris but where that I don’t know.” (Much later I came to know that the two sisters did not share a harmonious relationship.)
Then I asked her some questions which suddenly occurred to me. “Madam, you are the Mother’s granddaughter. Did you not feel like writing anything about Her?”
“In fact, I have.” Pournaprema replied, “In 1978, during the Mother’s birth centenary, I was requested to speak about Her to the children of the Ashram School. At first I did not know what to say. Then I thought of sharing with them the stories of Her childhood which I have heard from Her. So I spoke to them; it was published in French. Recently, it has been translated by Swapan Basu and published in English.”
“Will I get it in SABDA?” I inquired.
“Wait.” Pournaprema got up from the divan and went towards a pile of ash-coloured cardboard boxes with the symbol of the Mother printed on them(in golden colour) that were kept on a side of the piano. She brought out one box and gave it to me. “It’s for you,” she said.
I opened the box and found the book A Unique Little Girl. I thanked her and started glancing through the pages which had a number of coloured photographs of the Mother and some of the photos I had never seen before. “My God!” I exclaimed seeing one of the photographs, “She was so sweet!”
Pournaprema asked: “You have not seen this photo?”
“No, Madam.” I replied. Then I turned towards her and said: “Will you be kind enough to write a few words? I would treasure it as a memento.”
I gave the book to her; she opened the last page of it and marked ‘20’ (denoting the number of copies given so far). Then she looked up at me and said: “Can you repeat your name?”
I repeated and then found that she was struggling with the spelling of my name so I hastened to add: “You can call me ‘Bunty’. That’s my nick-name.”
“Ah! Bunty! I know someone who had a name similar to yours.” And she wrote with a black pen: ‘To Bunty, with best wishes, Pourna” and after writing the date and place, she gifted it to me. I thanked her once again.
Then I asked her: “Madam, have you seen Sri Aurobindo?”
“No,” she replied,” He left His body in 1950 and I came to the Ashram for in 1957.”
“Do you remember your first meeting with the Mother?”
“Yes. I came here in 1957. I had seen [maybe she meant in her dream or vision] someone smiling at me and clapping her hands like this [gesture]. It was the Mother. And so I wanted to see Her personally because I wanted to know Her. After meeting Her, I told my father, ‘Why didn’t you bring me here before?’’
“What stories did you hear from your father as a child about the Mother?”
“Not much. He hardly said anything about Her.”
“Were you in the Ashram when the Mother left Her body?”
“Oh yes!” She replied.
“Do you recall that evening?”
“There was an absolute hush-hush [she kept her finger on her lips] in the atmosphere when She left. Dada [Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya] told everyone not to speak a word about it. It was not declared until dawn.”
We discussed some other matters after that; after a while, Pournaprema asked me: “How many people do you know in the Ashram?” I told her the names of the sadhaks and sadhikas and said: “I maintain contacts mostly through correspondence. But I know the Nahar family, Banidi-Dollydi, Manojda, Battida, Georges Van Vrekhem and Dada the most. And two days ago, I met Amal Kiran.”
“Dada is wonderful,” she said, “I always had this regret that I didn’t have a brother of my own. But after coming here and meeting Dada, that wish was fulfilled.”
It was time for me to leave. I asked Pournaprema when should I come to give her the questions; she told me to come that day at 5 o’clock in the evening. She was also leaving to pay her daily visit to the Samadhi. I bid her goodbye and she escorted me to the door and bid me adieu with her folded hands.
When I went out of ‘Auromere’, I saw my body-builder friend Rajsourav Debnath sitting on the footpath in front. I was talking to him when the door of ‘Auromere’ opened and Pournaprema came out. She saw both of us. I introduced my friend to her. On learning that Rajsourav was a body-builder, she said: “Then I must show you my gym.”
We went inside ‘Auromere’ and entered the room situated on the left side of the sitting room. It was quite a spacious one with a long white-coloured rode stretching on the walls on one side and on the other side, on the wall, there was a huge collection of the Mother’s photographs of various ages. We were told that she exercised with the help of the rods. But I was more interested in gazing at the Mother’s photographs. After a while, Pournaprema said: “I have to go to the Samadhi. So when you have finished, please close the door.” “Yes Madam,” we said.
We also left moments after Pournaprema left for the Ashram but what touched me the most was the fact that though we were almost strangers to her, yet, she had such faith in us that she left her house while we were still inside. This particular gesture of hers reflected her broadness of heart.
I met Pournaprema again on the same day at 5o’clock in the evening. When I went to her house, she was either about to commence her daily exercise or was already doing it. She came to the drawing room clad in a white costume which looked similar to the uniform worn by the practitioners of karate. And she was looking so stunningly beautiful! A divine elegance adorned her personality. I gave her the list of questions on her father that I had typed for her and also wrote my e-mail address. She too gave hers as well. I expressed my wish to take a snapshot of hers. “I am not properly dressed.” She said with a smile. Then I wished her ‘Bon Voyage!’ as she was about to leave India but my French pronunciation was far from perfection. She rectified it and repeated ‘Bon Voyage!’
My last meeting with Pournaprema took place on 6 September. I had gone to the Samadhi to pay my respects before leaving for Kolkata. It was around eleven; I was standing in front of the main gate of the Ashram and talking to one of the students of SAICE when we saw Pournaprema coming out of her house with a bunch of exquisite flowers. She was as usual dressed in white with a sunglass to protect her eyes. We wished each other a good morning and thus, the brief and last meeting ended.
In the first week of October, I sent an e-mail to Pournaprema reminding her of the questions and also asked her whether she could possibly send some photographs of her father to me. Her reply came on the 11th:
I am sorry to write to you with so much delay. I am in Paris since one month and I have been very busy, but I do not forget you.
I’ll ask you to be a little more patient: on monday the 15th I [a]m leaving Paris for the country house where I hope to have more time for myself and will be able to answer your questions. I am sorry that your work has been delayed because of me. I’ll try my best in order to help you.
With kind regards,
Fifteen days later on 26 October, Pournaprema sent another e-mail to me in which she wrote:
Now I have a little time to answer your questions as far as I can. Please note that these answers are for your information only and should not be published in this form. Also my name has not to be mentioned.
I am very happy to know that you already found many answers in Pondicherry. I also contacted Dada for his memories. He advised me to send you a publication which I shall forward by post. I have a good photography of my father with Nolinida which I would like to send to you. This photo is in Pondicherry, I will send it to you only when I am back home in about one month. As a Bengali, I am sure you will appreciate this photo with Nolinida. If you want another photo immediately, let me know by e-mail.”
Then she answered my questions one-by-one and concluded her e-mail with the following words: “With Mother’s blessing and best wishes for your work.”
Once again I was profoundly touched by Pournaprema’s humility. In her first e-mail to me, she had apologized for delaying my work which in turn embarrassed me. After all, she was the Mother’s granddaughter and even if I forget this fact for a moment, she was a sadhika who was senior to me in every respect—age, experience and realization. Yet she was so down-to-earth and humble! I know some people who felt that she moved with an aura of superiority but that was totally untrue. Appearance is always different from reality and humility is a rare virtue; keeping this in mind I can easily claim that Pournaprema was virtuous enough!
After my last visit to Pondicherry, the only means of communication between Pournaprema and me was the telephone. The last time I had a talk with her over the phone was on 27 December 2007(I still remember quite vividly how she had started the conversation: “Anurag?” she had asked. “Yes Madam.” I replied. “From Kolkata?” She inquired. “Yes.” I answered). While continuing my research on André Morisset, some more questions had come to my mind so I had approached her for the answers. She replied that since she was exercising, therefore it would be better if I send the questions through e-mail so that she could think and give the answers to avoid any confusion. I consented and then reminded her of the photographs of her father that I had asked for. She said: “Yes, I remember. My computer is still not working so I could not send it. I’ve told someone to make a copy of the photos but that is not yet done. I’ll send them as soon as they are done.”
“Another request:” I said, “Can you tell me how can I contact Janine?”
“I don’t know,” was her brief reply.
“All right. Another request, since the first draft of the biography will be completed by February, will you be sweet and kind enough to correct it?”
“Yes.” Pournaprema replied. Who knew that would be the last time I would hear her voice!
In January 2008, I received two photographs of André Morisset and an article written by him (A Visit to Sri Aurobindo Ashram) along with a letter written by Poojarini Chowdhury who wrote on Pournaprema’s behalf:
“Purnadi has been very busy lately so she asked me to send you this note with Andréda’s photographs on her behalf.
She’s sorry not to send this note through email because her computer is not working.
She also sends you her best wishes for the success of your book.”
To my surprise, Pournaprema had also sent the compact disc containing the photographs of her father for my benefit.
However the first draft of the biography of André Morisset could not be finished in February as I had expected due to a mishap in my family and my own critical illness. The completion was postponed by a month and I wrote the last line of the biography on 31 March 2008. On 16 April, I rang up Miradi [of Physical Education Department] to convey my thanks to Dada for sending ‘blessings’ during my illness. In due course of the conversation, I told Miradi: “Now that I’ve resumed my work, the first thing I’ve to do is to send the biography of André Morisset to Pournaprema Madam.”
Miradi said: “You mean Pournadi? But she is not here.”
“Has she gone back to France?” I inquired.
Miradi replied: “No. She has left her body.”
Words cannot express the storm that had arisen in my heart when I heard those words. Within a fraction of a second my mind went back to the days at Pondicherry, my first meeting with Pournaprema, the smile with which she had greeted me, those folded hands which welcomed and bid me farewell. I was informed then that she was suffering from cancer in her uterus for the past several years. Though she went to the Nursing Home, but she did not stay there for a long time and left very peacefully.
Later I took out the book A Unique Little Girl which Pournaprema had gifted to me. I also had a look at the photograph of hers that I had taken during my first visit to her house. There was no trace of the suffering her body was facing each and every moment on her face. The ugliness of the illness had failed to defeat the beauty of the soul, that’s why perhaps she remained so radiant, so beautiful, so magnificently elegant! After all, she was the granddaughter of the Mother—the ‘warrior of the Supermind’(to quote Amal Kiran) and so she fought, like the Mother, against all obstacles and perils her body was subjected to. She did not let them overpower her and she fought till the very end and departed with the same elegance of which she was the epitome to go to the World of Light—to the Mother.
I looked up at the sky and then at Pournaprema’s photograph; after a brief pause I said to her: “Bon Voyage, Madam! Bon Voyage!”
My tribute to Pournaprema was supposed to end here but quite unexpectedly I had a dream-experience which I want to share. I saw myself standing in an auditorium which looked similar to that of the ‘Hall of Grace’ at Lakshmi’s House, Kolkata. There were several people who had come to meditate. An enormous photograph of Sri Aurobindo (sitting on His sofa) was seen. I saw Nirodbaran beside me. We meditated as we stood. During the meditation, I opened my eyes and looked at the photograph of Sri Aurobindo. As I was looking at it, suddenly I saw that the photograph had become transparent and near the heart region of the Lord, I saw the face of Pournaprema. She was smiling and what a beatific smile it was! She looked like an angel! After a few moments, she disappeared and once again the photograph of the Lord became just as it was before.
The interpretation of this dream is anybody’s guess.
Born on 13 October 1984, Anurag Banerjee is an essayist, biographer, poet and researcher. His first book, Nirodbaran: The Surrealist’s Journey was published in December 2006. He wrote the biography of Dilip Kumar Roy at the age of twenty in 2005 and translated 100 poems of Sri Aurobindo into Bengali at the age of twenty-one in 2006. His published works include Nirodbaran: The Surrealist’s Journey (2006), Achinpather Dibyapathik (2008), and Debotar Shrom (2008).