with Sri Ganesh







This document is Dedicated To

KUSUM SHAH 10-05-1926 - 14-05-2004






When land was to be purchased for Auroville by the Sri Aurobindo Society, of which the Mother was the President, in the mid-1960s, a land-owner residing in Koot Road, Thiruchitambalam, put one particular condition to the sales of his large acreage, next to the Main Road to Tindivanam and to the secondary road leading to Edayachavadi and the Auroville site, which would do well for agriculture and orchards: at the North-West corner of that large piece of land was located a very small shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesh, which he had had built according to all the traditional rules and rituals, upon the advice of a sage, in order to ease some personal difficulty; he wanted the assurance that this small temple would be continuously looked after. (It seems that the shrine was erected, and the 2’ high stone carving of Lord Ganesh installed inside it, as per the guidance given by the then Shankaracharya of Kancheepuram, the highest Hindu authority in the South of India) However odd a request it was, considering that the project of Auroville professed to shun all religions except as an object of study, and to spring boldly towards future realizations, this was communicated to the Mother, who accepted the condition. Another version told me much later by Sushilla was that people had assumed that the Mother would not consider such a condition but, upon hearing them, She had exclaimed that, on the contrary, She wanted Ganesha, who was “a good friend” and “a good boy” – in French, un bon garçon -. A more complete record states thus. “It was in 1962 that Sri Balasubramania Iyer installed the idol of Lord Ganesh in a temple that he had built. Prior to this Sri Iyer was suffering from acute headaches accompanied by vomiting of blood. He consulted doctors in Thanjavur who advised him to go for brain surgery even though they could not guarantee a definite, hundred per cent cure for the problem. It was then that his wife suggested they seek the guidance of Sri Chandrasekharendra Swamigal, the then Shankaracharya of Kancheepuram. When asked, the Swamigal advised against the brain surgery but informed Sri Iyer that his problem would be cured if he were to build a temple for “pillayar” (Sri Ganesh).


He and his wife proceeded to do just that and needless to add when the temple was built he was completely cured of his problem. In 1965, when the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram wanted to launch the project of Auroville, She initiated the purchasing of land. The first plot, a 60 acre piece of land, which became available for sale happened to be the land of Sri Balasubramania Iyer including the Ganesh temple. He had agreed to sell this land but wished to withhold the temple plot. When informed, Mother inquired of him the reason for his reluctance. He expressed doubts as to whether “puja” to the deity would be maintained if he sold the land. The Mother, thus, gave a personal assurance that the puja would go on but She insisted She wanted the temple plot….” Corroborating the above is a document signed by Navajata, the then Chairman of the Sri Aurobindo Society, the legal body formed by Mother (She was the President) in order to, among other tasks, acquire all the land needed for Auroville, which reads thus: “28-3-65 Ma, We have purchased, under the Auroville project, a sixty acre plot with well, pump, trees, a temple (of Ganesh), a small outdoor house, etc. for Rs. 65000/-; out of this 20000/- are to be paid now and 45000/- after 6 months. The agreement is to be signed today. The sellers want in writing an undertaking from us that though the temple will be the Mother’s property, we will maintain it and permit people to do Puja. If the Mother approves we will accept this. Pranams. Nava. (300 mango trees About 1000 palm trees Mango Cashew Nut trees)” On the top margin of the letter, Amrita, the Mother’s secretary, wrote: “The Mother said ‘All right, this includes the Ganesh Temple’. Amrita 29-3-65” (It is remarkable to note that this agreement was given on the 29 th of March – a day of utmost importance in the sadhana of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as it was the day They first met physically, in 1914, that is, 51 years earlier, in Pondicherry)


The above document had been kept by Dayanand, a sadhak who had been at the time entrusted with land matters under Navajata: On the Chaturthy day in 1996, he sent it to Kusum, with this attached note: “16-9-96 Ganeshji Bonne Fête Dear Kusum ben, This paper has been lying with me ever since it was given. Perhaps it has more importance to you and on this important day I hand over the document to your safe custody With love Dayanand.” The entire land was later named “Auro-Orchard” by the Mother and was one of the very first settlements in Auroville, along with “Promesse” on the other side of the Main Road. But none of the newcomers to the adventure of Auroville could be asked to do this service to Lord Ganesh and for a long while, a local Brahmin was hired as a priest. It seems that his ways were very traditional and also that he was perhaps not altogether honest. People started looking for a better candidate, someone who would be turned to the Mother and the ideals of Auroville and yet willing to do this daily service in the right spirit. At about that time, 1970-71, Kusum Shah, a lady from Gujarat, born and raised in a Jain family, had joined Auroville She had come to the Mother much earlier, while still involved in the work of Acharya Vinobha and a manager in the Khadi Industries herself, in the late 1950s, but could not yet remain A single mother since the accidental early death of her husband right after India’s Independence – they both had been “freedom fighters” –, she was raising her two sons with her own earnings and meant to provide them with the best possible education. As soon as she saw them both settled and fairly secure in their lives, one in the US and one in Gujarat, she left everything else and came to the Mother. As she still wanted to maintain her relations with her sons and occasionally visit with them, she could not take up the Ashram way of life; the Mother sent her to live and work at “Promesse” in Auroville, helping in the Dispensary and the Maternity and the school for local children.

She was thus approached by Prabhaben, herself also from Gujarat, who was very active in the running of the “Prosperity Service” for


Auroville, and asked whether she would be willing to look after the shrine to Sri Ganesh, which was just less than a mile away from “Promesse”, besides her other duties. Kusum had serious misgivings: firstly, being born and raised as a Jain, she had neither the knowledge not the inclination to do this ritual worship; and secondly, having come to the Mother for a spiritual life manifesting in work and progress, she could not see how to reconcile a religious activity such as the daily care of a Hindu god with her service to Auroville. Her questions and hesitations were related to the Mother who simply replied that it was alright, all she had to do was to give proper care with her heart, nothing else was asked of her. It was thus that Kusum Shah began her daily routine of attending to the shrine of Sri Ganesh; after completing her house chores, she would walk over to the temple, which had its little fenced compound, and clean and offer a few flowers and make sure everything was harmonious. Then she would walk back and join her duties at “Promesse”. This routine she followed for the rest of her life. Over the years, her relationship with Lord Ganesh developed quietly, and both the local people and a number of devotees connected to the Ashram, for whom Lord Ganesh was from childhood a living reality, seeing her simple and straightforward dedication and the care with which she tended the shrine and its tiny garden all by herself, grew fond of visiting now and then and, sometimes, they would offer a little money to help Kusum with the basic maintenance. Once a year, Kusum observed the day of Lord Ganesh, celebrated throughout the country, “Ganesh Chaturthy”, as the one concession to traditional rituals; the gate to the temple would be open to all on that particular day and Kusum would invite a singer from the Ashram who would chant some slokas to Lord Ganesh, and she would welcome everyone and distribute laddus to each and all. The community of Auroville, however, was as a rule quite uninterested, and most of us actually ignored even the existence of this shrine, distant as it was from all Auroville activities. Because it was quite isolated – the closest Auroville settlement was the Farm of Auro-Orchard, about three hundred meters away across the fields – and yet easily accessible from both the Main Road and the secondary road to Edayachavadi, there would occasionally occur some minor theft, or act of vandalism or ill-will from some drunken men from the area.


Such an act was committed sometime in 1991: someone had entered the compound, forced the door to the temple and tried to cut away the large bronze bell from the ceiling. Kusum had established a steady friendship with the lady who was then our Accountant at Matrimandir, Vijayakumari. She related to Vijayakumari this latest disturbance, who offered to ask us to help her out. It was on this occasion that I went for the first time to visit the Ganesh temple and met Kusum; the understanding on our part was that she needed a welding job to be done on the ring fastening the bronze bell to the ceiling, so as to secure it from such attempts. I found this quiet, energetic, elderly lady all dressed in plain immaculate white khadi, full of simple dignity, all alone. We did the job. It was soon obvious that Kusum had indeed felt a little lonely for all these years, receiving hardly any support from Auroville and having too little contact with its general, collective atmosphere. She needed more help with the upkeep of the temple and the garden around it and she had cherished privately some dreams of improving upon it all, of making it more beautiful. By then she had realized a sort of calm, concrete intimacy with the presence of Sri Ganesh, within the protection of the Mother’s Grace, and she welcomed full-heartedly any good-willed contribution towards the flowering of this special place. Soon Kusum met all our team and she became interested in helping out at Matrimandir as well, where we welcomed her to be part of the reception of visitors to the Inner Chamber. She felt at home with us as we did with her and we soon became friends and team-mates. Her daily life changed accordingly, as she became more and more involved with the Matrimandir adventure and, in turn, we cared more and more for the Ganesh temple. It became my role then to find with her, step by step, how to upgrade the shrine and its compound. In this fashion, I organized the laying of marble slabs – left over from the cladding work at Matrimandir – inside the shrine; designed a little porch over its door; built a full stone wall on the two road sides to help insulate the compound from the increasing road traffic, and a main gate with its recessed porch; enlarged the garden area, with the agreement of the Aurovilians running the Farm; built a cactus garden,


extended the pebbled areas in front of and around the shrine, built a fairly large, landscaped lotus and lily pond, erected a new water tank cum bathroom, built a small independent room facing the temple for Kusum to store the things needed and have a place to sit and rest, etc… For each of these works, Kusum would feel energized to go out and seek donations from her various acquaintances and friends among the Ashram devotees, while I would see to the building and keep the accounts. Just as Kusum would, over the months and years of our relationship, find herself increasingly involved in the affairs of Matrimandir, I would find myself increasingly engaged in the upkeep of the temple and its garden. When I first visited the temple, Lord Ganesh had been for me the familiar and friendly figure one finds in every home, including mine; intellectually I knew next to nothing about him; popular belief had him enthroned as a bringer of prosperity and good luck, an auspicious figure in all circumstances. I had probably heard some of the legends related to him, but I could not have articulated any of them. But what was certain was that this was a friendly presence. (And, as a matter of fact, I had been given over the years a number of little Ganesha, so that there was hardly a corner of the house in which he was not represented.) I found the atmosphere in and around that tiny temple to be clean and clear and directly open to the Mother: I felt very safe there, and at home, and this in itself told me a lot more than any words could have about the nature and quality of Kusum’s sadhana. I reproduce here, as it expresses quite clearly, I think, the quality of Kusum’s dedication, a poem I had written and offered to her on the occasion of her birthday, in 1997: “ 10-5-1997 – Bonne Fête à Kusum – For Kusum Protected by Her son, The brother whom you serve, In the silent cloister Of your worship Erect under the fall Of Her water white silver and gold Ever truthful to the Lord Cool and fresh with pure life,


Let the river flow, Let the river flow Down as an argent arrow Of love and vigor, Hear the tinkle Of the bells at Her ankles As She ambles through the worlds One with Him, She in front, He beyond and within, Let the river fall, Let the river fall Fresh in the body of your song Trusting, aquiver With Her live touch That heals and creates Anew,

Let Her water fall, Let Her water fall In you. (from Divakar)”

Kusum herself never tried to “explain” anything to me about Sri Ganesh. Our communication developed in a more direct and silent manner. As time went, I began to pay attention to what was told about Lord Ganesh, the myths regarding his birth, his actions and the battles he waged, his role as a scribe for the sage Vyasa dictating the Mahabharata. But it all went effortlessly, simply as part of our friendship and sharing of responsibilities. However, as I began to help more actively with even the preparations for Ganesh Chaturthy, such as giving the ritual bath and preparing the flowers, and, naturally, hearing over and over the slokas Kusum would sing to him, my own awareness of him grew quietly. Sometimes I would just sit there while Kusum would sing to him and orient my consciousness in that inner space, and there would be a natural ease to it. Sri Aurobindo has said very little on Lord Ganesh; what is on record is just one quote: “Ganesha (among other things) is the Devatta of spiritual Knowledge… Ganesha is the Power that removes obstacles by the force of Knowledge…” Ganesh was not cited as such in the Vedas; he was not among the spiritual entities the rishis turned to, although he was later assumed to


have been present even then under the name of Brihaspati or Brahmanaspati; neither was he directly mentioned in the Upanishads; and so Sri Aurobindo did not offer any comment or explanation on him in his renderings of both the Vedas and the Upanishads. The Mother has reportedly referred a few times to Lord Ganesh; mainly in the context of Her receiving his help, before the 2 nd World War, in bringing funds to the Ashram, and later being told by him that it had become too difficult… She also referred as well to his friendly presence, and She had extended Her help and practical contribution to the large Manakular Vinayaka Temple situated very near to the Ashram. But in a more general and essential way, I understood from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother that what are called “Gods”, such as in the Hindu approach to the Divine, are independent realities: they exist on their own planes, and represent distinct aspects and truths of the Supreme, and one can best learn from them by meeting them with one’s soul, or psychic being. Not in any subservient or religious manner, nor for any personal gains, but as an evolving or serving soul seeking to open to the particular truth or aspect they each stand for and seeking their help in realizing it. Mother did however confirm explicitly that Lord Ganesha indeed bore the form which is attributed to him, as he had come directly to Her, in the early period of Her return to Pondicherry, to show himself to Her. The story of Her giving some of the Ashram property, as recounted by Priti Das Gupta and by Madanlal Himatsingka independently, goes as follows: In the Manakular Vinayaka Temple near the Ashram, which attracted a growing number of devotees, there was not quite enough room for people to do Parikrama (circumambulation) around the deity, in the early sixties. At that time one day Mother saw Lord Ganesh before Her; he had come to seek Her help and explained the matter to Her. Then Mother sent some of Her people to see how it was, for one of the sadhaks, Madanlal Himatsingka, had just concluded the purchase of the property adjacent to that temple, the “Montbrun House”. Having ascertained the actuality of Lord Ganesh’s need, Mother then called Madanlal and informed him of the same and instructed him to meet the temple trustees and see with them how much land they required and which wall should then be demolished, and to do at once the needful, as a gift to the temple; thus a plot of 12’ x 120’ was given over to the temple of Lord Ganesha and everyone was happy.


Regarding the Mother’s first direct contact with Sri Ganesh, this is how She recounted it in a letter to Madanlal: “…In 1930 we were having regular meditations in the Prosperity hall, on the significance of flowers. At one of these meditations, quite unexpectedly, Ganesh appeared suddenly to my inner view. He was of golden light and surrounded by a very luminous golden aura. His form was the usual one as on the images. It was the first time I ever saw him and I expressed some surprise over his sudden apparition. Then he told me, ‘You see I am a living being quite real and concrete – and to give you a concrete proof of my reality I shall send to you henceforth all the money you will need’. And on the promise he disappeared. He has kept his promise for years and the money was coming abundantly. Then in 1939 the second world war was started and everything got spoiled. However, the true financial difficulties started only ten years later in 1949. Since then it is a struggle… But if now you involve Ganesh sincerely, he may resume his good offices, through you. It can be tried…” Mother is also recorded to have stated the following: “Ganesh is the God of success in work and wealth. His vehicle is the mouse. What does the mouse do? It picks up everything it finds and stores it in his hole. This capacity of collecting and giving everything its value, this is what helps us to succeed in work and to enrich us. From the mouse we also learn his tireless capacity for work. These are the qualities that make a human being successful.” Sometimes I would present Kusum, on such occasions as her birthday, with a new book on Lord Ganesh, and we would look at the pictures and representations, and study a little of the texts. For some years, Kusum and I would also share some duties at Matrimandir, receiving visitors to the Inner Chamber; I presented her once with a colored drawing I had made, inspired by a concrete sense of Ganesh’s presence which had grown in me, as if he himself was standing as one of us guardians and servitors in the Chamber dedicated to the Mother’s Force: simply standing, bare torso, just a little of a belly, wearing a plain dhoti, his two arms at his side, looking


young and erect and fraternal and watchful at the same time, his whole appearance tinged in blue.

Kusum used to say that Ganesh was happy when I was there. I was not taking this very seriously; I felt she meant that she herself was happy, but I too felt that spontaneous ease. As Kusum became a full member of our team, and as our own relationship matured and deepened, she recovered a zest for life, became again interested in colors and songs and beauty and progress. She would often suddenly recall another song she had known when a young girl in Gujarat, or slokas she used to recite along with her husband in the years of the struggle for India’s independence, and practice it again so as to sing for us near Lord Ganesh, when we would sit there after our gardening work – I would take once a week to the temple my two “angels”, Bhaskar and Anand, and we would do as much as possible for the developing garden, while Kusum would clean or sweep or read or rest a little, and later we would all share the sweets and tea she had prepared and perhaps also, sometimes, do a little “Homa” fire and chanting for Agni. During the last 10 years of her life, Kusum had to struggle with various ailments; she was robust and had worked hard her entire life, but she also suffered a lot; she was diagnosed – wrongly, it later appeared – with tuberculosis of the intestines, and always refused surgical intervention; she had had her uterus removed before joining Auroville and did not want to go through any other such procedure, but sought to open her physical consciousness to the Mother’s help and force of harmony; yet, assailed by numerous advices and entreaties from her friends in the ashram or her family, she accepted to follow various treatments, which helped a little but also tired her. She was not a person to complain easily; she would rather carry on with her work and duties and offer the disharmony with trust and quiet. And it mostly served her well. However, when the situation for our team at Matrimandir became more and more precarious and the political pressures to have us, Arjun and me especially, evicted, she found it more difficult to cope; she felt sad and disappointed in Auroville. She was always good-willed towards each and all, but she was also straightforward and spoke her mind with dignity and a strong ethical sense, for she was also a born fighter. Her entire life, she had made her own choices and borne the consequences proudly, always upholding the values that were dear to her. She had married for love and run from her whole family when she


was still a very young girl; she had fought for the freedom of her country; she had marched with Gandhi and Vinobha Bhave; she had raised her two sons single-handedly; she had left it all for the Mother and joined Auroville, and served it as best she could, widening and deepening her understanding of things as time went. When the pressures intensified against us at Matrimandir, she volunteered to go up to Delhi and meet the then Minister of Human Resources and speak her mind, and she did, besides writing up a number of open letters of protest at the unethical doings she saw taking place. But nothing worked and, in October 2003, the members of our team and especially both Arjun and I were officially dismissed and replaced by a another appointed team more amenable to the dictates of the so- called Chief Architect and permanent member of the Governing Board, Roger Anger, helped and supported by the then Chairman, Kireet Joshi. To find us expelled from what had been our works and our lives for many years, 30 years exactly for me, saddened her further. Kusum was born on 10-05-1926; she could have been a mother to each of us. But she always positioned herself rather as a sister, an elder sister perhaps, and a team-mate; she had a great sense of solidarity, and was truly humble in her approach; yet she emanated a natural authority as well, and her strong voice and deep laughter would be invigorating. She developed a unique relationship with each of us, and was caring and attentive. It was as if she had been starved of sharing, of participating in a meaningful commitment as a team, of a deep and unconditional mutual and flowing affection. But there was no mistaking the fact that she had somehow elected me to be the closest. (Here is an example of her expression, just as she wrote it: one of her letters to me, written when I had to be away for some days. MAA 7 th April 002 Divakar, “Jabse shyam sithare tadap tadap gee jay” Do you find out the meaning of these words which I am listening on CD which you brought singer Pandit Jeetendra Abhisheki? He is singing my heart feeling, Good singer. Yesterday you came before you leave for France, for few days, but for me…!!! I have no courage to come up to motor-bike but I was in our


Varanasi – and from there I… I have seen you and…! Without your physical presence I am feeling there is no any pran in me…! No strength, totally vacuum… and tears come… I know my feeling, you are with me always but still my eyes are searching you here and there… When I went to Ganesh temple and open the door of the temple, I find out red colour pad and a roll I am embresing to Ganesh…!!! I want to open that roll but on that roll written “it is for 10.5.002” and I learn a lesson of patient, long Tapasya (7 th April to 10 th May). I brought at home and kept near the Mother and Sri Ganesh. Where am I, I don’t know, I am totally absent in my beautiful love. It is an experience – tears of love and sweet sweet moment to moment – sorry I know you do not like this letter but I express very little, I hope you don’t mind. Hope your journey will be ok. You and mamma are so happy to see each other, I am also, Maa is Maa, her love…! Enjoy each and every moment this love, the love – only selfless love. My regards and lots of love to both of you, my sadhubaba. It is a gathering of the love, joy and service. I am so much helpless. I do not know English and French. I have so much to say you but I have no language, in short you can read my heart. Lots of love to my sadhubaba. K. Just read this letter and through it in W.P Basket.) She had accepted the wildness and independence of my nature and all my oddities of behavior and found herself happy and trusting and safe; she would insist on my letting her care for my needs at least now and then, and thus we took to have our evening meals at her place twice or thrice a week; it would delight her to prepare some of her recipes and she would invent new ones, watching me and learning from my conduct what I really liked, although she complained I was hardly showing any interest in food. On my side I would do things for her comfort: I rebuilt entirely the interior of her little bungalow in “Promesse” and installed for her a meshed-in verandah, in the same spirit I constructed the small room facing the temple; it had been my intent to express something in Matter of the true relationship between the evolving human soul and the god, devoid of any subservience but filled with profound reverence and open to real transforming spiritual experience.

She knew not to impose on my privacy in any way, but she also enjoyed being able to visit with me in “Sincerity” sometimes.


She gradually told me of her life, her travels, her family, her time with her husband; she had gone abroad several times, and had broken free of any narrow-mindedness, but never compromised her discernment and her inner standards. Sometimes one of her two sons would visit with her here and I met each a number of times. Their connections were very strong, and they would communicate often and regularly on the phone; each of them had become fairly wealthy and could afford either to invite her or to support her here whenever she needed to spend over what she herself had saved; they showed great appreciation for the fact of my presence in her life, and perhaps a measure of relief, as they could rely on me to care for her. It was only later that I discovered how jealous they had also felt. Her chronic ailments were disturbing to her, but she was forbearing; In 2001 it was me who got operated on – some unexplained infection of the entire abdomen had suddenly occurred and necessitated emergency surgery; it took me weeks to regain my physical balance. After this, she began to feel that her time to leave was perhaps approaching, and to try and talk to me about my replacing her near Sri Ganesh; I would refuse such notions and tease her away from it, and she would keep quiet. Nonetheless she managed once to make me co-sign with her some small Bank Fixed Deposits, where she had placed money meant for Sri Ganesh. October 2003 came, and my life changed abruptly: I had spent practically every single day of the past 30 years working at Matrimandir, and I was suddenly “free”… It was in some inner aspect of what was taking place in Auroville a kind of murder: in other times, I would have been lynched by the mob. Now it was all “peaceful” and everything was done in the name of harmony, but the actual psychological value of the act of replacing us amounted to a killing. And it really gave me the experience over the following months of a life having ended and gone. However, there were other forces and aspects at work, and the Grace was concrete; I took up some pending gardening work at “Sincerity”, some writing I had not had the time for, and I could also take more care of the temple and its garden.

Kusum tried bravely to remain cheerful and oriented; but, out of solidarity, she had also immediately chosen to quit her duties at


Matrimandir, and a whole other chapter of her life seemed to be closing: that team-work and team-spirit and that great, vast, deep aim we had shared at Matrimandir seemed to be halted, if not cancelled, by a play of influences we could not make sense of; she felt deeply distressed by it all and, particularly, by what she couldn’t help but see as the victorious revenge of the ordinary human nature that had always prevented any new creation. Not that she was partial to us to the point of blindness: she was perceptive and honest and she could discern our own faults and defects straight on, but she had that certainty that each of our team was basically and centrally sincere in our commitments and that a grave injustice had been committed. She felt herself to be insufficient to the task. She tried to occupy her days usefully, to study, even to practice her singing again; we would meet as usual and continue with our shared work at the temple. In April, 2004, she begun to feel poorly; one morning, she fainted. I was called. She complained of some soreness in her abdomen, but insisted on simply resting at home. But after a few days, she herself arranged for an appointment with a doctor friend of us in Pondy and asked me to accompany her. The tumor was large and hard and hurtful. She was taken to the Ashram Nursing-Home, and given a strong allopathic treatment. The doctors worried. Only one reputed surgeon was available, but the procedure would have to take place in Cluny Hospital. Vijay, our friend doctor, decided to call Madhu, Kusum’s elder son, in Ahmedabad; Madhu asked for the operation to be postponed a few days, to give him time to come. The surgery was done on April 24; it seemed to be successful and the opinion of both our friend Vijay, who assisted the surgeon and the surgeon himself, was that this had been a case of inflamed appendicitis spreading to the intestines. However, from those days, when Madhu was called in and had the procedure postponed till his arrival – the communications went directly between Vijay and Kusum’s family members in Gujarati, a language I do not understand, and Kusum herself appeared to be uncertain and confused as to what she wanted to happen – I had to stand by, without interfering; the entire approach and understanding of things, of life, of choice, was different, and it felt like Kusum was somehow arrested in the middle. My whole instinct was to turn to Mother exclusively, seek from Her directly what was needed for what was


truest – whether to live or to die, it had to be within Her atmosphere and at Her feet.

The doctors in Cluny Hospital shifted her to a separate room too early – they probably needed the bed in the Intensive Care Unit; she felt depressed and wanting to just end it all. A septicemia set in. She had to be taken back to the Intensive Care. The surgeon tried another procedure right there, to drain the infection. Madhu was becoming frantic and wanting to take her away to “proper facilities” in Ahmedabad. This was obviously a mad proposition, as she was in no condition to travel. But somehow, the surgeon in-charge of her case agreed to let her be discharged – he was also a Gujarati, I think, and most of this was kept hidden from me and from any of us. Madhu had Kusum transported to the Chennai airport, and flown to Mumbai, and transferred and flown again to Ahmedabad. Before she was taken away, I had to somehow be told and persuaded to let it happen; I was extremely upset when I finally was told of the plan, but there was nothing I could decently do, as I was not related to her by blood; I merely demanded to hear from her directly that this was indeed her own wish and choice. Madhu talked to her alone. Then he came to me and said she was ready to tell me herself. I had come to Cluny Hospital that afternoon with Anand, and we were carrying a large bouquet of flowers, each flower chosen for its significance. Kusum’s bed was right along a sort of inner window that could open onto the corridor; the nurse opened it and we could lean it very close to her. She could see both of us and hold hands, as if we were inside the ward itself. She placed the flowers on her chest, silently, for a long moment; she joined her hands in Namaskar. She said: “I am going and I shall come back in full health… I will tell you…” She was calm, and did not appear to feel too much pain. There was nothing I could say. We held hands again, she saluted Anand very gently. The window was shut again. Madhu did offer to take me along with them to Ahmedabad. I refused. Later, I learnt that he had been so worried that I and “my boys” would prevent him and his son Akshay to take her away that they had arranged for two ambulances to meet them, one of them as a decoy… They left the next day.


Some of us went to bid her farewell the morning of her departure; I didn’t.

They reached Ahmedabad eventually and had her admitted at once in a well-equipped Hospital, where she underwent almost immediately new, massive surgery. Madhu had arranged also for Vipul, his younger brother, to arrive there from the US. It was Vipul who phoned several times a day for the next few days to give me and all of us any news there were to give. Vijay had also gone with them. After the surgery, Vijay talked to me on the phone; he said there was only the Grace, now, to help her. But her birthday was coming the day after, the 10 th of May; this was a Monday. Somehow, the doctors were very surprised that her condition had stabilized. She was conscious. Her sons could by turn talk with her. Vipul was torn between hope and distress. I told him that, now, with her birthday arriving, we must be very strong and quiet and offer it all; I asked him to pass on my message to her. The day went well. The next day too. On the Wednesday, she began to fail, one organ after another. On Thursday evening, it was clear she was not going to recover. Vipul began to feel that it wasn’t right to keep her in a hospital, tied to all these machines, away from everything that was dear to her. I fully supported him in the decision to have her taken off from the systems and shifted to Madhu’s home; all of us did. We all had been upset and distressed by the decision of Kusum’s family to take her away from the atmosphere she loved and needed, and had felt helpless: what could we do! And it seemed now that her sons, or at least Vipul, the younger one, regretted it; Kusum had only been exposed to further agony, in an environment that meant nothing to her, left alone, hooked to machines. It was quite a struggle for Vipul to hew his way through the administrative hurdles so as to obtain permission to shift her to her elder son’s home. The day after, they were able to move her. When they entered Madhu’s house – a fairly new house, which she had visited earlier, she was conscious enough to open her eyes and recognize the place. And then, almost right away, she breathed her last.

Some days later – perhaps two weeks had elapsed – both the sons came to Pondicherry with her ashes. They wanted me to accompany


them in dispersing the ashes: they had decided to throw half of the ashes in the sea, facing the Ashram, and to bury the other half in the garden of Sri Ganesh. I arranged for a gathering at the temple. Before that, I joined them, along with Manikandan, at the harbor; they had hired a small boat; we sailed into the ocean, perhaps half a mile out, and navigated till we could clearly see the Ashram main building west of us; we let part of her ashes, wrapped in a cloth with stones and some things Madhu chose, drop into the deep, while Madhu chanted some mantras. The ceremony at the temple was quiet; we were all there, along with other Aurovilians who had loved her, and a few people from the Ashram; I had prepared everything and chosen a spot near to the temple where we could plant a sapling of a hibiscus shrub – the one called Agni. Both the sons left soon after. I had assumed they would respect her personal things, her diaries, and her mementoes of her sadhana with Mother and Sri Aurobindo; I had obtained from the residents in “Promesse” the agreement that her rooms would be left untouched for a year. I had briefly discussed with her sons the best way to keep her things: my suggestion was to gather all her diaries and such and have them kept in the Auroville Archives. There had been no objection from them. Over the years, and especially since I had redone her rooms, Kusum had wanted me to re-arrange everything in them; I had made for her a special wooden cabinet to keep all that had to do with Sri Ganesh, Mother and Sri Aurobindo; I knew where everything was: her books of photographs of her family, her personal papers, her bank papers, her files of freedom fighter, her correspondence, her clothes, etc. It was in that special cabinet that I found the open letters she had prepared stating her wishes in the event of her death, and appointing me as her successor in the service to the Ganesh temple – letters which she had placed there without showing them to me. Naturally, I wanted to put some order into all of it, and dispose of the dross, and keep ready what would go to the Archives, what would remain at the temple, what would go to her family. In the weeks and months that followed, the relation between us deteriorated.

Here are some of the letters she had written and kept in that cabinet; the first one, chronologically, was addressed to:


“The Mother” on a ready envelope, with the Sanskrit written words “Sri Ganeshaaya Namah” below, and it read: “Maa. My beloved Mother, Love + Pranam. You gave me great joy and happiness. You gave me a great boon. I am very much grateful to you Maa. I have no words for expression but I am trying to put with my infinite gratitude to Thee. You gave me two brothers my Mother. One is God Ganesh, your most powerful + devoted son; another is Divakar, most humble, loveing nature, good and kind-hearted, helpful and devoted son; what I feel about Divakar I have no words but my whole being feels joy + happiness by seeing him + remembering him. I am proud about him. He is more than brother. He is my son, friend. I have a great honour about his understanding. I am speaking, talking but he is listening + smiling. Maa I am so lucky by your grace only your grace you have granted me these boons. Maa let the flow of your grace + love on us. Make us your perfect instrument. My heart is wet with your love + grace. Let Thy will be done. There were several letters written in Hindi or Gujarati, which were translated by two Aurovilians born in Gujarat, Falkuni and Rajeev, and here are some extracts, the larger one being dated 29-3-1998: “Maa, you know that I see Divakar as the caretaker of Sri Ganesh Temple and its surrounding compound. When I am not there consign the full responsibility of the temple and its compound to Divakar – that is my prayer to you, Maa. Give in his hands the responsibility of the full temple. That he may carry out this responsibility fully and perfectly, shower your continuous support, blessings and kindness on him, this prayer I offer at your feet. Your Kusum. 5.45 pm.” “Maa. With your grace I have found a devotee friend like Divakar. I have no words to describe the devotion, surrender and feeling with which he has put his heart into the Ganesh Temple. In a true sense he is a creator. The credit goes to him for whatever improvement have been made inside or outside the mandir. Maa, without him who would do? But you only have consigned him to this work. …Maa, to tell you the truth, I am unable to express fully. But Maa, my million pranams to you, that you have arranged for Divakar to work at the Ganesh temple. Let this Grace always continue…” With great joy, Yours, Kusum, 5-9-94”


Another one was addressed to “The Mother, for Ganesh Temple”, also on a ready envelope, with a blessings packet attached; it read thus: “MAA – 6-4-98 – 5.00 pm. My dear Mother. Lots of Love. Last few days a thought is there about our Sri Ganesh Temple. You have given me this work 1972 and it is going on. I like to continue this service at the end of my life with your blessings. But my “Maa”, I am not feeling physically so strong + thinking in my absent somebody will do this service. Only you know who will be! But which may you provided in advance Divakar to help me, to offer his service to Sri Ganesh Temple, I have a great hope about him. His devotion, his dedication, his perfection of the work, his skillness, his ability indicates he is the proper person who can take the full charge of the Ganesh Temple and premises. It is also a deep feeling in me, “Maa” you have provided Divakar for this service now and after. My humble prayers to you, please bless him and grant my prayer. Love Yours Kusum” Another letter, the latest one, was in its own envelope marked by Kusum’s hand “My wish for G. Temple in future” across the top, above the original address written by someone else “AV Ganesh Temple – Pujari Kusum ben.” The letter inside reads thus: “MAA – 26-3-002 – Aum Sri Ganeshay Namah. My Friends, I like to tell you about our Ganesh Temple in Auroville. Today I am in inner pressure to say something for the future of Ganesh Temple. I like to clear that in my absence Divakar will be Incharge of the G. Temple. He has full right to take, to make any decision about G. Temple. Why! You know! When I really need someone to help for G. Temple work I would say that time nearly 10 years before our Mother sent him to me. How! I did not know him at all. Our first meeting 1993 by chance for the Marble Work inside the G. Temple. It was the beginning of our joint afford, + he continue till today. He became a dedicated worker of the G. Temple. Now what you seeing the scenery + shape of the premises (Riddhi room, black stone wall, Avirbhav pond, garden etc) it is offering service of our Divakar to G.


Temple. Till today mostly each Saturday 3 or 4 hours he is working at G. Temple = taking great care of the premises without him I cannot think about the present beauty of the G. Temple, he who gave the shape. Mother provides him for G. Temple + our Ganeshaji welcomes him with great joy. Ganeshji looks so happy with him. I am so much relaxed now. Divakar is faithful, honest, sincere, dedicated his time, work to the Ganesh Temple. So after me Divakar only Divakar will be the incharge of the Auroville G. Temple. I hope you fulfil my wish. Love to all, Yours, Kusum” (Note:: it seems to me that we had met in 1991 0r 1992, the first time, for the repair of the temple bell; but Kusum writes it was in 1993.) While still in Pondicherry, Vipul and Madhu had emptied all of Kusum’s Bank Accounts, leaving only the two small Fixed Deposits which they could not touch, since I was the co-signatory. They made no movement towards the temple’ needs, but took everything with them. But soon enough, it became apparent that they did not intend to trust me at all and they began to accuse me of misuse and even to blame me for the illness that had caused her death. In subsequent visits, they campaigned against me in the Ashram and in Auroville, filed police complaints, went up to Delhi to make representations aiming at having me evicted from the country, and succeeded in blocking my visa for a period of time, having obtained from the Secretary of the Auroville Foundation that the recommendation for it be withheld. It was thus not quite easy for me to take up the service to the temple on a permanent basis. Since the day Kusum had been taken ill, I had had to attend to Sri Ganesh every day; I had the time, since I did not have my work at Matrimandir any longer. But in the course of the following months, much opposition was raised to my doing this: I was considered almost as a usurper, and there were those who argued that, not being born an Indian, it was wrong for me to tend to the deity.

A number of times Kusum had talked freely to me about her sons and their respective choices and situations; while she always poured her


affection on them and on their families, she was not altogether happy about what they had become and she did not feel free to communicate with them the way she would have wished; she felt that her commitment to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and her choice to live and work in Auroville, was not well understood by either of them, even though they outwardly showed respect for it. She would make it a point that I should meet them whenever they would visit and, somehow, they always brought some thing for me, which I was bound to accept – a towel, a brass trinket, some disposable lighters -; I could see that her hope was we would become friends, as we were all three about the same age. When Madhu became interested in spending more time at the Ashram and meeting with elder sadhaks and reading about Mother and Sri Aurobindo, she grew expectant: perhaps she and her elder son would at last become able to share a common understanding and cultivate companionship. Her hopes grew when Madhu began to talk with me and to read what I suggested he ought to read; he would phone from Ahmedabad on those evenings he knew I would be present and talk to each of us in turn, and this made her happy. But after her passing, the link she herself had been between us could not be maintained; the gap was too wide for Madhu to look at; I was willing, for her sake, to extend affection and care but, when he began to insinuate that I was perhaps responsible for her ill-health, and not to be trusted with her personal things, I understood that further communication was futile. I just went on with my daily service to Sri Ganesh and withdrew from the rest of their affairs and handed over all her diaries and let them do what they wished with her personal belongings. Her room was given over to the Auroville Foundation. I simply held on to the care of the temple, in spite of all these opinions to the contrary, and slowly the peace returned. But it took a few years for all the turmoil to cease. Here below is a record of notes I took while serving Sri Ganesh. At first I was groping and engaged my efforts and attention in the practical upkeep and maintenance of the temple and its garden, keeping the puja to a bare minimum – although I always spent time to arrange the flowers, as this act was always a meaningful one in my consciousness and my life. There were periods when I did not take any notes. It is only much later, almost three years later, that I began to make a daily record of who had come and what work I had done and what I had perceived, as I began to experience the Darshans of Sri Ganesh.


My inner choice had been all along to turn to the Lord, to the Supreme, through the figure and the myth presented by Sri Ganesh, and find such an understanding as I would be able to receive in this atunement. It was also natural for me, from the first moment I had come to the temple, to see and feel Sri Ganesh within the Force and Light of the Mother, and I gradually began to see the deep inner significance of the stories that are told on Sri Ganesh’s birth and roles. I studied the myths and legends; I began to learn some slokas and mantras, slowly, tediously – I have no habit of learning and memorizing, and whatever I read or hear or see tends to disappear, leaving only impressions and some comprehension. I became interested in the period in which a cult had formed around Ganesh which saw him as a supreme entity. It puzzled me for long that Ganesh had initially been the god creator of obstacles, who then became the one to be propitiated so that an obstacle could be surmounted, to finally become the Remover of obstacles. I looked and introspected for the deeper meaning, the deeper function. Gradually it all became more concrete.



Notes and Records


- 2004 -


- May-June 2004 -

Sri Ganesh. Ganesh is Aum. Timelessness into Time The Ring of Creation The Sound Creator – Destroyer – Healer

Ganesh is of all reigns Animal and human Divinely created The Mother’s own son, Steeped into Matter And Evolution The unity in progress, The continuity.

How can Kusum not be, or cease to be? It is impossible.

The true subtle physical.

If one had the wherewithal that real sincerity gives, one would keep the awareness of the shift without any break. As it is, the awareness and the realization of continuity is only where love has matured to an effortless, unconditional status.

AUM The remover of obstacles, who frees the path of evolution.

AUM ASATO MA SAT GAMAYA TAMASO MA JYOTIR GAMAYA MRITYOR MA AMRITAM GAMAYA AUM Du Non-Être conduis-moi à l’existence vraie, De l’obscurité inerte conduis-moi à la Lumière consciente, De la mort conduis-moi à la Joie sans-mort.

- 07-06-04:

I feel I must study you, Lord Ganesh, the movement of study, reaching out, opening, with a purpose and a direction.


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