Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sri Aurobindo: A Contemporary Reader in a new paperback reprint

Nobody else can feel precisely the plight of a mother when her young children are sent away barring one who herself has gone through such an ordeal like Sri Aurobindo’s mother. Sachidananda Mohanty's mother too had to undergo more or less an akin circumstance when her kids shifted to the Ashram school in Puducherry. An ardent devotee of The Mother & Sri Aurobindo and an accomplished poet, Bidyut Prabha Devi had in Panchanan Mohanty an ideal life partner, the latter being a leading light of the New Light Society that spearheaded the Integral Education movement in Orissa on a mass scale.

Perhaps unmarried, Sachidananda continues to be his celebrity Mama's son as the titles of his books like Early Women's writing in Orissa, 1898-1950: A Lost Tradition (Sage Publications, 2005) and Gender and Cultural Identity in Colonial Orissa (Orient Longman, 2008) imply. Professor and Head of the Department of English at the University of Hyderabad, his Sri Aurobindo: A Contemporary Reader (Routledge India, 2008) appeared a few months ahead of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo (Columbia University Press, 2008) only to drown in the din of the controversy inflamed by the latter. Interestingly, many contentious issues were already there in the seed form in the pages of Mohanty’s book. Not surprisingly, he had to face the inevitable, although was let off rather lightly.

"The Strange Case of Dr. M and Mr. S Like the main character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Sachidananda Mohanty seems to have a split personality. There is the academic — let us call him Dr. M — who praised the work of Peter Heehs and warned of the danger of “collective bigotry” in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. And there is the writer of a letter to the Trustees — we may call him Mr. S — who has condemned The Lives of Sri Aurobindo and joined the movement calling for Heehs’s expulsion. The contrast between the two makes an interesting study. Read more"

One more fascinating rendezvous is a speech by Peter Heehs at Hyderabad in 2006 on Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism:

“Now you may well ask, why should I, a non-Hindu, choose to speak about Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism? It may be true, as Dr. Mohanty has noted in his introduction, that I am a writer, a historian, and a member of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram; but if I am not a practicing Hindu, is it really possible for me to understand the complex amalgam of thought, feeling and practice that makes up the religious system that we call Hinduism? And if not, is it really possible for me to reach an accurate assessment of Sri Aurobindo's relationship to this religion? I will be the first to admit that there is much about Hinduism that I do not understand. But my aim here is not to describe, defend or detract from the Hindu religion. I speak as a historian: one who uses documentary and other evidence to reconstruct the past in order to understand the present better. A historian generally begins with a problem: an event or line of development that has not been sufficiently studied or is commonly misunderstood. Sri Aurobindo's relationship to Hinduism is such a problem.”

Sri Aurobindo: A Contemporary Reader went out of print within a couple of months of its publication, and hence it is a matter of happiness that a paperback reprint under Routledge imprint has come out. The production as well as the price are attractive, to say the least, which makes it an ideal candidate for all those who feel bothered about contemporary socio-political crises to devour. [TNM]

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