Search for Light
I am Thine for eternity. - The Mother

Tales of Prison Life >>Part IV ...

 

Troubled by mental listlessness I spent a few days in agony in this manner. One afternoon as I was thinking streams of thought began to flow endlessly and then suddenly these grew so uncontrolled and incoherent that I could feel that the mind's regulating power was about to cease. Afterwards when I came back to myself, I could recollect that though the power of mental control had ceased, the intelligence was not self-lost or did not deviate for a moment, but it was as if watching quietly this marvellous phenomenon. But at the time, shaking with the terror of being overcome by insanity, I had not been able to notice that. I called upon God with eagerness and intensity and prayed to him to prevent my loss of intelligence. That very moment there spread over my being such a gentle and cooling breeze, the heated brain became relaxed, easy and supremely blissful such as in all my life I had never known before. Just as a child sleeps, secure and fearless, on the lap of his mother, so I remained on the lap of the World-Mother. From that day all my troubles of prison life were over. Afterwards on many occasions, during the period of detention, inquietude, solitary imprisonment, and mental unease because of lack of activity, bodily trouble or disease, in the lean periods of yogic life, these have come, but that day in a single moment God had given my inner being such a strength that these sorrows as they came and went did not leave any trace or touch on the mind, relishing strength and delight in the sorrow itself the mind was able to reject these subjective sufferings.


The sufferings seemed as fragile as water drops on a lily leaf. Then when the books came, their need had considerably lessened. I could have stayed on even if the books were not there. Though it is not the purpose of these articles to write a history of my inner life, still I could not but mention this fact. From this one incident it will be clear how it was possible to live happily during long solitary confinement. It was for this reason that God had brought about this situation or experience. Without turning me mad he had enacted in my mind the gradual process towards insanity that takes place in solitary confinement, keeping my intelligence as the unmoved spectator of the entire drama. Out of this came strength, and I had an excess of kindness and sympathy for the victims of human cruelty and torture. I also realised the extraordinary power and efficacy of prayer.


V


During the period of my solitary confinement Dr. Daly and the Assistant Superintendent would come to my room almost every day and have a little chat. From the beginning, I do not know why, I had been able to draw their special favour and sympathy. I did not speak much with them, but just answered only when they asked something. If they raised any issues I either listened quietly or would stop after speaking a few words. Yet they did not give up visiting me.


One day Mr. Daly spoke to me, "I have been able, through my Assistant Superintendent, to get the big boss to agree that every day, in the morning and evening, you will be allowed to take a walk in front of the decree. I do not like that you should be confined throughout the day in a small cell, it's bad for both body and mind." From that day on I would take a stroll everyday in the morning and evening in the open space before decree. In the afternoons it would be for ten, fifteen or twenty minutes, in the morning for an hour; at times I would stay out for two hours, there was no time limit about it. I enjoyed this very much. On one side were the jail industries, on the other, the cowshed — my independent kingdom was flanked by these two. From the industrial section to the cowshed, from the cowshed to the industrial section, travelling to and fro I would recite the deeply moving, immortal, powerful mantras of the Upanishads, or watching the movements and activities of the prisoners I tried to realise the basic truths of the immanent Godhead, God in every form. In the trees, the houses, the walls, in men, animals, birds, metals, the earth, with the help of the mantra: All this is the Brahman, (sarvaМ khalvidaМ Brahma), I would try to fix or impose that realisation on all of these. As I went on doing like this sometimes the prison ceased to appear to be a prison at all. The high wall, those iron bars, the white wall, the green-leaved tree shining in sunlight, it seemed as if these common-place objects were not unconscious at all, but that they were vibrating with a universal consciousness, they love me and wish to embrace me, or so I felt. Men, cows, ants, birds are moving, flying, singing, speaking, yet all is Nature's game; behind all this is a great pure detached spirit rapt in a serene delight. Once in a while it seemed as if God Himself was standing under the tree, to play upon his Flute of Delight; and with its sheer charm to draw my very soul out. Always it seemed as if someone was embracing me, holding me on one's lap. The manifestation of these emotions overpowered my whole body and mind, a pure and wide peace reigned everywhere, it is impossible to describe that. The hard cover of my life opened up and a spring of love for all creatures gushed from within. Along with this love such sАttvik emotions as charity, kindness, ahiМsА, etc., overpowered my dominantly rАjasik nature and found an abundant release. And the more these qualities developed, the greater the delight and the deeper the sense of unclouded peace. The anxiety over the case had vanished from the beginning, now it was a contrary emotion that found room in my mind. God is All-Good, He had brought me into the prison-house for my good,my release and the quashing of charges was certain, I grew firm in this faith. After this for many days I did not have to suffer any troubles in the jail.


It took some days for these emotions to settle and deepen. It was while this was going on that the case opened in the magistrate's court. At first the mind was greatly perturbed, by being dragged from the silence of solitary imprisonment to the noise of the world outside. The patience of inner discipline was lost and the mind did not at all consent to listen for five hours on end to the dull and bothersome arguments by the prosecution. At first I tried to continue the inner life while sitting in the court-room, but the unaccustomed mind would be attracted to every sound and sight, and the attempt would not succeed, in the midst of the noise going on all round. Later the feelings changed and I acquired the power to reject from the mind the immediate sounds and sights, and draw the mind inwards. But this did not take place in the early stages, the true power of concentration had not developed then. For that reason, giving up the futile attempt, I would be content with seeing, now and then, God in all creatures, for the rest I would observe the words and behaviour of my companions in adversity, else think of other things, or sometimes listened to Mr. Norton's valuable remarks or even the evidence of witnesses. I found that while spending one's time in solitary imprisonment had grown easy and pleasant, it was not that easy in the midst of the crowd and in the life-and-death game of a serious case. I greatly enjoyed the laughter, the jollities and the pleasantries of the accused lads, else the time spent at the court appeared wholly annoying. At four-thirty I would happily get into the police van and return to the prison.


The contact of human life and each other's company, after fifteen or sixteen days of prison life, made the other prisoners extremely happy. As soon as they got into the carriage the fountain of laughter and conversation would open and during the ten minutes that they were inside the carriage the stream would never cease for a moment. On the first day they took us to the court with great eclat. There was a small platoon of European sergeants who went along with us and they carried loaded pistols. At the time of our getting into the carriage a band of armed policemen stood guard round us and did some marching behind the carriage, the ritual was repeated at the time of our getting down as well. Looking at so much to-do some inexperienced spectators must have thought that these laughter-loving young lads must be some group of daredevil famous warriors. Who knows how much courage and strength resided in their bodies so that even with their empty hands they might be able to break through the impassive cordon of a hundred policemen and tommies. Maybe it was for this reason that we were being conducted with so much honour and ceremony. For a few days the pomp was kept up, then there was a gradual decline, in the end two to four sergeants would be there to take and bring us back. At the time of our getting down they did not very much observe how we entered the prison; we would walk into it as if we were returning home after a stroll, just as a free person does. Watching this carelessness and slackening the Police Commissioner and some of the Superintendents said angrily: "On the first day we had arranged for twenty-five to thirty sergeants, now we see that not even four or five turn up." They would scold the sergeants and make strict arrangements for supervision. Then, maybe for two days, two more sergeants would come, and again the earlier slackness followed! The sergeants found that the devotees of the bomb were quite harmless folk, who were not attempting to escape and had no plans to kill or attack anyone, so they wondered why they should waste valuable time in performing unpleasant duties. At first before entering and leaving the court there used to be a personal search, during which we used to have the joy of feeling the soft palms of the sergeants, otherwise no one was likely to profit or to lose from this search. It was clear that our protectors had profound scepticism about the utility of such a procedure, and after a few days this was also given up. We could safely carry with us into the courtroom books, bread, sugar just as we liked. They soon got the feeling that we were not there to hurl a bomb or fire a pistol. But I noticed that there was one singular fear from which the sergeant's mind was not free. Who knew which of the accused will have the evil brainwave of hurling a pair of a shoes at the glorious pate of the magistrate? Then the fat would be in the fire! For this reason entering the court with shoes on was strictly forbidden, and the sergeants were always alert on that point. I did not notice them to be keen on any other safety measures.

 

VI


The nature of the case was a little strange. Magistrate, counsel, witnesses, evidence, exhibits, accused, all appeared a little outer. Watching, day after day, the endless stream of witnesses and exhibits, the counsel's unvaried dramatic performance, the boyish frivolity and light-heartiness of the youthful magistrate, looking at the amazing spectacle I often thought that instead of sitting in a British court of justice we were inside a stage of some world of fiction. Let me describe some of the odd inhabitants of that kingdom.


The star performer of the show was the government counsel, Mr. Norton. Not only the star performer, but he was also its composer, stage manager and prompter — a versatile genius like him must be rare in the world. Counsel Mr. Norton hailed from Madras, hence it appeared he was unaccustomed and inexperienced in the common code and courtesy as it obtained among the barristers of Bengal. He had been at one time a leader of the National Organisation, and for that reason might have been incapable of tolerating opposition and contradiction, and in the habit of punishing opponents. Such natures are known as ferocious. I cannot say whether Mr. Norton had been the lion of Madras Corporation, but he certainly was the king among beasts at the Alipore court. It was hard to admire his depth of legal acumen — which was as rare as winter in summer. But in the ceaseless flow of words, and through verbal quips, in the strange ability to transmute inconsequential witness into something
serious, in the boldness of making groundless statements or statements with little ground, in riding roughshod over witnesses and junior barristers and in the charming ability to turn white into black, to see his incomparable genius in action was but to admire him. Among the great counsels there are three kinds — those who, through their legal acumen, satisfactory exposition and subtle analysis can create a favourable impression on the judge; those who can skilfully draw out the truth from the witnesses and by presenting the facts of the case and the subject under discussion draw the mind of the judge or the jury towards themselves; and those who through their loud speech, by threats and oratorical flow can dumbfound the witness and splendidly confuse the entire issue, can win the case by distracting the intelligence of the judge or the jury. Mr. Norton is foremost in this third category.


This is by no means a defect. The counsel is a worldly person, he takes money for his service, to gain the intention of the client is his duty, is what he is there for. Now, according to the British legal system the bringing out of truth by the contending parties, complainant and defendant, is not the real purpose, to win the case, by hook or by crook, is what it is really after. Hence the counsel must bend his energies towards that end, else he would be unfaithful to the law of his being. If God has not endowed one with other qualities then one must fight with such qualities as one possesses, and win the case with their help. Thus Mr. Norton was but following the law of his own being (svadharma).
The government paid him a thousand rupees a day. In case this turned out to be a useless expenditure the government would be loser, Mr. Norton was trying heart and soul to prevent such a loss to the government. But in a political case, the accused have to be given wide privileges and not to emphasise doubtful or uncertain evidence were rules germane to the British legal system. Had Mr. Norton cared to remember this convention it would not have, I feel, harmed the case. On the other hand, a few innocent persons would have been spared the torture of solitary imprisonment and innocent Ashok Nandi might have even been alive. The counsel's leonine nature was probably at the root of the trouble. Just as Holinshed and Plutarch had collected the material for Shakespeare's historical plays, in the same manner the police had collected the material for this drama of a case. And Mr. Norton happened to be the Shakespeare of this play. I, however, noticed a difference between Shakespeare and Mr. Norton: Shakespeare would now and then leave out some of the available material, but Mr. Norton never allowed any material, true or false, cogent or irrelevant, from the smallest to the largest, to go unused; on top of it he could create such a wonderful plot by his self-created and abundant suggestion, inference and hypothesis that the great poets and writers of fiction like Shakespeare and Defoe would have to acknowledge defeat before this grand master of the art. The critic might say that just as Falstaff's hotel bill showed a pennyworth of bread and countless gallons of wine, similarly in Norton's plot "an ounce of proof was mixed with tons of inference and suggestion". But even detractors are bound to praise the elegance and construction of the plot. It gave me great happiness that Mr. Norton had chosen me as the protagonist of this play. Like Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost, in Mr. Norton's plot at the centre of the mighty rebellion stood I, an extraordinarily sharp, intelligent and powerful, bold, bad man! Of the national movement I was the alpha and the omega, its creator and saviour, engaged in undermining the British empire. As soon as he came across any piece of excellent or vigorous writing in English he would jump and loudly proclaim, Aurobindo Ghose! All the legal and illegal, the organised activities or unexpected consequences of the movement were the doings of Aurobindo Ghose! and when they are the doings of Aurobindo Ghose then when even lawfully admissible they must contain hidden illegal intentions and potentialities. He probably thought that if I were not caught within two years, it would be all up with the British empire. If my name ever appeared on any torn sheet of paper, Mr. Norton's joy knew no bounds, with great cordiality he would present it at the holy feet of the presiding magistrate. It is a pity I was not born as an Avatar, otherwise thanks to his intense devotion and ceaseless contemplation of me for the nonce, he would surely have earned his release, mukti, then and there and both the period of our detention and the government's expenses would have been curtailed. Since the sessions court declared me innocent of the charges Norton's plot was sadly shorn of its glory and elegance. By leaving the Prince of Denmark out of Hamlet the humourless judge, Beachcroft, damaged the greatest poem of the twentieth century. If the critic is allowed his right to alter poetic compositions, such loss of meaning can hardly be prevented. Norton's other agony was that some of the other witnesses too were so caused that they had wholly refused to bear evidence in keeping with his fabricated plot. At this Norton would grow red with fury and, roaring like a lion, he would strike terror in the heart of the witness and cower him down. Like the legitimate and irrepressible anger of a poet when his words are altered or of a stage manager when the actor's declamation, tone or postures go against his directions, Norton felt a comparable loss of temper. His quarrel with barrister Bhuban Chatterji had this holy or sАttvic anger as its root. Such an inordinately sensitive person as Mr. Chatterji I have not come across. He had no sense of time or propriety. For instance, whenever Mr. Norton sacrificed the distinction between the relevant and the irrelevant, tried to force odd arguments purely for the sake of poetic effect, Mr. Chatterji would invariably get up and raise objections and declare these as inadmissible. He did not appreciate that these were being furnished not because they were relevant or legal, but because they might serve the purpose of Norton's stagecraft. At such impropriety not Norton alone but Mr. Birley could hardly contain himself. Once Mr. Birley addressed Chatterji in a pathetic tone: "Mr. Chatterji, we were getting on very nicely before you came." Indeed so, if one raises objections at every word the drama does not proceed, nor has the audience the joy of it.


If Mr. Norton was the author of the play, its protagonist and stage manager, Mr. Birley may well be described as its patron. He seemed to be a credit to his Scotch origin. His figure was a symbol or reminder of Scotland. Very fair, quite tall, extremely spare, the little head on the long body seemed like little Auchterlonie sitting on top of the sky-kissing Auchterlonie monument, or as if a ripe coconut had been put on the crest of Cleopatra's obelisk! Sandy-haired, all the cold and ice of Scotland seemed to lie frozen on his face. So tall a person needed an intelligence to match, else one had to be sceptical about the economy of nature. But in this matter, of the creation of Birley, probably the Creatrix had been slightly unmindful and inattentive. The English poet Marlowe has described this miserliness as "infinite riches in a little room" but encountering Mr. Birley one has an opposite feeling, infinite room in little riches. Finding so little intelligence in such a lengthy body one indeed felt pity. Remembering how a few such administrators were governing thirty crores of Indians could not but rouse a deep devotion towards the majesty of the English masters and their methods of administration. Mr. Birley's knowledge came a cropper during the cross-examination by Shrijut Byomkesh Chakravarty. Asked to declare when he had taken charge of the case in his own benign hands and how to complete the process of taking over charge of a case, after years of magistracy, Mr.
Birley's head reeled to find these out. Unable to solve the problem he finally tried to save his skin by leaving it to Mr. Chakravarty to decide.


Even now among the most complex problems of the case the question remains as to when Mr. Birley had taken over this case. The pathetic appeal to Mr. Chatterji, which I have quoted earlier, will help one to infer Mr. Birley's manner of judgment. From the start, charmed by Mr. Norton's learning and rhetoric, he had been completely under his spell. He would follow, so humbly, the road pointed out by Norton. Agreeing with his views, he laughed when Norton laughed, grew angry as Norton went angry. Looking at this daft childlike conduct one sometimes felt tenderly and paternally towards him. Birley was exceedingly childlike. I could never think of him as a magistrate, it seemed as if a school student suddenly turned teacher, was sitting at the teacher's high desk. That was the manner in which he conducted the affairs of the court. In case someone did not behave pleasantly towards him, he would scold him like a schoolmaster. If any one of us, bored with the farce of a case, started to talk among ourselves, Mr. Birley would snap like a schoolmaster, in case people did not obey he would order everybody to keep standing and if this was not done at once he would tell the sentry to see to it. We had grown so accustomed to the schoolmasterish manner that when Birley and Chatterji had started to quarrel we were expecting every moment that the barrister would now be served with the stand up order. But Mr. Birley adopted an opposite course Shouting "Sit down, Mr. Chatterji", he made this new and disobedient pupil of the Alipore School take his seat. Just as when a student asks questions or demands further explanation an
irritated teacher threatens him, so whenever the advocate representing the accused raised objections Mr. Birley would threaten him. Some witnesses gave Norton a hell of a time. Norton wanted to prove that a particular piece of writing was in the handwriting of such-and-such accused. If the witness said "No sir, this is not exactly like that handwriting, but may be, one cannot be sure," — many witnesses answered like that — Norton would become quite agitated. Scolding, shouting, threatening, he would try somehow to get the desired answer. And his last question would be, "What is your belief? Do you think it is so or not?" To this the witness could say neither "yes" nor "no", every time, again and again, he would repeat the same answer and try to make Norton understand that he had no "belief" in the matter and was swayed between scepticisms. But Norton did not care for such an answer. Every time he would hurl the same question, like thunder, at the witness: "Come, sir. what is your belief?" Mr. Birley, in his turn, would catch fire from the embers of Norton's anger, and thunder from his high seat above: "Tomar biswas ki achay?"


Poor witness! he would be in a dilemma. He had no "biswas" (belief), yet on one side of him was ranged the magistrate, and on the other, like a hungry tiger, Norton was raging in a circle to disembowel him and get at the priceless never-to-be-had "biswas". Often the "biswas" would not materialise, and his brain in a whirl, the sweating witness would escape with his life from the torture chamber. Some who held their life dearer than their "biswas" would make good their escape by offering an artificial "biswas" at the feet of Mr. Norton, who also, now highly pleased, would conduct the rest of the cross examination with care and affection. Because such a counsel had been matched with a magistrate of the same calibre the case had all the more taken on the proportions of a play.


Though a few of the witnesses went against Mr. Norton the majority answered in support of his questions. Among these there were few familiar faces. One or two we of course knew. Of these Devdas Karan helped to dispel our boredom and made us hold our sides with laughter, for which we shall be eternally grateful to him. In course of giving evidence he said that at the time of the Midnapore Conference when Surendrababu had asked from his students devotion to the teacher, gurubhakti, Aurobindobabu had spoken out: "What did Drona do?" Hearing this Mr. Norton's eagerness and curiosity knew no bounds, he must have thought "Drona" to be a devotee of the bomb or a political killer or someone associated with the Manicktola Garden or the Student's Store. Norton may have thought that the phrase meant that Aurobindo Ghose was advising the giving of bombs to Surendrababu as a reward instead of gurubhakti. For such an interpretation would have helped the case considerably. Hence he asked eagerly: "What did Drona do?" At first the witness was unable to make out the nature of the (silly) question. And for five minutes a debate went on, in the end throwing his hands high, Mr. Karan told Norton: "Drona performed many a miracle." This did not satisfy Mr. Norton. How could he be content without knowing the whereabouts of Drona's bomb? So he asked again: "What do you mean by that? Tell me what exactly he did." The witness gave many answers, but in none was Dronacharya's life's secret unravelled as Norton would have liked it. He now lost his temper and started to roar. The witness too began to shout. An advocate, smiling, expressed the doubt that perhaps the witness did not know what Drona had done. At this Mr. Karan went wild with anger and wounded pride, abhimАna. "What", he shouted, "I, I do not know what Drona had done? Bah, have I read the Mahabharata from cover to cover in vain?" For half an hour a battle royal waged between Norton and Karan over Drona's corpse. Every five minutes, shaking the Alipore judge's court, Norton hurled his question: "Out with it, Mr. Editor! What did Drona do?" In answer the editor began a long cock and bull story, but there was no reliable news about what Drona had done. The entire court reverberated with peals of laughter. At last, during tiffin time, Mr. Karan came back after a little reflection with a cool head, and he suggested this solution of the problem, that poor Drona had done nothing and that the half-hour long tug of war over his departed soul had been in vain, it was Arjuna who had killed his guru, Drona. Thanks to this false accusation, Dronacharya, relieved, must have offered his thanks at Kailasha to Sadashiva, that because of Mr. Karan's evidence he did not have to stand in the dock in the Alipore bomb conspiracy case. A word from the editor would have easily established his relationship with Aurobindo Ghose. But the all-merciful Sadashiva saved him from such a fate.


VII


The witnesses in the case could be divided into three categories. There were the police and the secret service men; there were people from the lower classes and other gentry, for misdeeds of their own, deeply in love with the police; and there were others who, because of personal failings and deprived of the love of the police, had been dragged unwillingly to give evidence. Each category had its own style of offering evidence. The gentlemen of the police would say their say, already decided upon, quite cheerfully, without hesitation, just as it pleased them, would recognise those they had to, without a shade of doubt, hesitation or any margin of error. The friends of the police would give witness with considerable eagerness, those they had to identify they would, but sometimes in their excessive eagerness they would even identify those who were not to be identified. Those who had been brought there against their wishes would say only what they knew, but this would come to very little and Norton would feel unsatisfied. Assuming that the witness was holding back highly valuable and certain proof he would make every attempt to cross-examine him and get the secret out of his system, by a surgical operation of the abdomen as it were. This put the witnesses into a good deal of difficulty. On one side stood a thundering Mr. Norton, a red-eyed Mr. Birley, on the other the great sin of sending, on false evidence, one's countrymen to the Andaman islands. Whether to please Norton and Birley or God, for the witness this question assumed serious proportions. On one side, temporary danger because of incurring other men's displeasure, on the other, hell and misery in the next life due to one's evil deeds. But the witness would reflect: hell and the next life are still far beyond while the man-made dangers might swallow him at the next moment. Afraid that they might be convicted of bearing false evidence because of their unwillingness to do so, such a fear was likely to be shared by many, since in such cases the consequences were none too rare. For this type of witness the time spent in the witness-box was made up of a good deal of fear and agony. At the end of the cross-examination their half-vanished life would return to their bodies and relieve them of the suffering. Some, however, gave their evidence boldly without caring for Nortonian thunders, at which the English counsel, following national habit, would soften. Like this so many witnesses came and went and gave such a variety of evidence, but not one helped the police cause in any way worth mentioning. One spoke quite plainly, "I know nothing, and cannot understand why the police have dragged me into it!" This sort of method for conducting cases is possible perhaps only in India, had it been some other country the judge would have been annoyed and would have severely censured and taught the police a lesson. Hauling hundreds of witnesses, gathered on a basis of guesswork, and without inquiring whether one was guilty or not, wasting the country's finances and keeping without any sense the accused for long periods under the hardship of prison life, it is worthy only of the police force of this country. But what were the poor police to do? They are detectives only in name, but without much power of their own. Hence to throw a wide net and catch good, bad and indifferent witnesses in this manner and bring them to the witness box, like pig in a poke, was their only way. Who knows, these men might have some information, even provide some proof.


The method for identification was also extremely mysterious. First, the witness was told, Would you be able to recognise any one of these persons? If the witness answered, Yes, I can, happy Mr. Norton would arrange for the identification parade in the witness box itself and order him to demonstrate the powers of his memory. In case the man said, I am not sure, maybe I can recognise, Mr. Norton would grow a little sad and say, All right, go and try. When someone said, No, I can't, I haven't seen them or I did not mark carefully, Mr. Norton would not let him go even then. Looking at so many faces some memory of the past life might come back, in that hope he would send him to the experiment to find out. The witness however lacked such a yogic power. Perhaps the fellow had no faith in the past life, and gravely marching, under the sergeant's supervision, between two long rows of accused persons, he would say, without even looking at us, No, I don't know any one of them. Crestfallen, Norton would take back his human net without any
catch. In course of this trial there was a marvellous illustration of how sharp and correct human memory could be. Thirty to forty people would be kept standing, one didn't know their name, hadn't known them at all in this or any other life, yet whether one had seen or not seen someone two months back, or seen such and such person at three places and not seen in the other two; — one had seen him brush his teeth once, and so his figure remains imprinted in the brain for all time. When did one see this person, what was he doing, was there anyone else with him, or was he alone? One remembers nothing of these, yet his figure is fixed in one's mind for all lives; one has met Hari ten times, so there is no probability of forgetting him, but even if one has seen Shyam only for half a minute, one would not be able to forget him till one's last breath, and with no possibility of mistake, — such a power of memory is not to be found frequently in this imperfect human nature, this earth wrapped up in matter and its unconsciousness. But not one, not two, every police chap seemed to be the owner of such uncanny, error-proof accurate memory. Because of which our devotion and respect for the C.I.D. grew more profound day by day. It is not that in the magistrate's court we did not have, once or twice, occasions for scepticism. When I found in the written evidence that Sisir Ghose had been in Bombay in the month of April, yet a few police chaps had seen him precisely during that period in Scott's Lane and Harrison Road, one could not but feel a little uneasy. And when Birendrachandra Sen of Sylhet, while he was physically present at Baniachung, at his father's place, became visible in his subtle body to the occult vision of the C.I.D. at the Garden and Scott's Lane — of which Scott's Lane Birendra knew nothing, as was proved conclusively in the written evidence — the doubts could not but deepen: especially when those who had never set their foot in Scott's Lane were informed that the police had often found them there, in the circumstances a little suspicion seemed not unnatural. A witness from Midnapore — whom the accused persons from Midnapore however described as a secret service man — said that he had seen Hemchandra Sen of Sylhet, lecturing at Tamluk.

 

Now Hemchandra had never seen Tamluk with his mortal eyes, yet his shadow self had rushed from Sylhet to Midnapore and, with his powerful and seditionary nationalist speech delighted the eyes and ears of our detective monsieur. But the causal body of Charuchandra Roy of Chandernagore, materialising at Manicktola had perpetrated even greater mysteries. Two police officers declared on oath that on such and such date at such and such time they had seen Charubabu at Shyambazar, from where he had walked, in the company of a conspirator, to the Manicktola Gardens. They had followed him up to that and watched him from close quarters, and there could be no ground for error. Both witnesses did not budge when cross-examined. The words of Vyasa are true indeed, VyАsasya vacanaМ satyam, the evidence of the police also cannot be otherwise. They were not wrong in their view about date and time either, since from the evidence of the Principal, Dupleix College, Chandernagore, it seemed that on the same day and at the same time, Charubabu had taken leave from the College and gone to Calcutta. But the surprising thing was that on that day and at that hour on the Howrah station platform he was found talking with the Mayor of Chandernagore, Tardival, his wife, the Governor of Chandernagore and few other distinguished European gentlemen. Remembering the occasion they had, all of them, agreed to stand witness in favour of Charubabu. Since the police had to release Charubabu at the instance of the French government the mystery has remained unsolved.

 

But I would advise Charubabu to send all the proofs to the Psychical Research Society and help in the advancement of knowledge. Police evidence — especially the C.I.D.'s — can never be false, hence there is no way out except to seek refuge in Theosophy. On the whole during this trial at every stage I could find, in the British legal system, how easily the innocent could be punished, sent to prison, suffer transportation, even loss of life. Unless one stood in the dock oneself, one cannot realise the delusive untruth of the Western penal code. It is something of a gamble, a gamble with human freedom, with man's joys and sorrows, a life-long agony for him and his family, his friends and relatives, insult, a living death. In this system there is no counting as to how often guilty persons escape and how many innocent persons perish. Once one has been involved in this gamble, this cruel, callous, reactionary social machinery, one can understand the reason for so much propaganda on behalf of Socialism and Anarchism, and their wide influence. In such a milieu it is not to be wondered at that many liberal and kind-hearted men have started to say, it is better to end and destroy this society; if society has to be preserved with the aid of so much sin and suffering, the burning sighs of the innocent and their heart's blood, its preservation would seem unnecessary.


VIII


The only worthwhile event in the magistrate's court was the evidence of Narendranath Goswami. Before describing that event let me first apeak about the companions of my days of trouble, the boys who had been accused along with me. Watching their behaviour in the court room I could well guess that a new age had dawned, a new type of children had begun to live on the Mother's lap. Those days the Bengali boys were of two kinds: either docile, well mannered, harmless, of good character, cowardly, lacking in self-respect and high aims; else they were evil characters, rowdies, restless, cheats, lacking in restraint and honesty. Between these two extremes, creatures of many kinds must have been born on the lap of Mother Bengal, but except for eight or ten extraordinary talented and vigorous pioneers no strong representatives of a superior breed beyond these two groups were usually to be seen. The Bengali had intelligence, talent. but little power of manhood. Looking at these lads, however, one felt as if the liberal, daring, puissant men of an earlier age with a different training had come back to India. That fearless and innocent look in their eyes, the words breathing power, their carefree delighted laughter, even in the midst of great danger the undaunted courage, cheerfulness of mind, absence of despair, or grief, all this was a symptom not of the inert Indians of those days, but of a new age, a new race and a new activity. If these were murderers, then one must say that the bloody shadow of killing had not fallen across their nature, in which there was nothing at all of cruelty, recklessness or bestiality. Without worrying in the least about the future or the outcome of the trial they passed their days in prison with boyish fun, laughter, games, reading and in discussions. Quite early they had made friends with every one, with officers, the sentries, convicts, European sergeants, detectives, court officials and without distinguishing between friends and enemies, high and low, had started to tell stories and jokes. They found the time spent in the court-room quite tiresome, for in that farce of a trial there was very little that was enjoyable.
They had no books with which to pass the time, and talking was forbidden. Those of them who had started doing yoga, they hadn't so far learnt how to concentrate even in a crowd, for them passing the time proved quite difficult. At first some of them began to bring books with them, this was soon followed by others. Later on, one could see a strange spectacle: while the trial was going on, and the fate of thirty or forty accused persons was being wrangled over, whose result might be hanging or transportation for life, some of the accused persons without as much as glancing at what is happening, around them, were absorbed in reading the novels of Bankimchandra, Vivekananda's Raja Yoga or Science of Religions, or the Gita, the Puranas, or European Philosophy. Neither the English sergeants nor the Indian policemen objected to this. They must have thought, if this keeps the caged tigers peaceful, that only lightens their duty. Further, this arrangement harmed no one. But one day Mr. Birley's eyes were drawn to it, to the magistrate this was unbearable and unpardonable. For two or three days he kept quiet, then, he could not hold himself any longer and gave orders forbidding the bringing of books to the court room. Really, Birley was dispensing justice so beautifully, but instead of everybody enjoying that and listening to his judgements, here was everybody reading books! There was no doubt that this showed great disrespect for Birley's dignity and the majesty of British justice.


During the period of our detention in separate cells, it was only in the police van, an hour or half before the magistrate's arrival and during tiffin time that we had some scope for conversation. Those who were known to each other from before would employ this recess to have a revenge for the forced silence and solitude of the cell and would spend the time in jokes, pleasantries and a variety of discussions. But the leisures were not conducive to conversation with unfamiliar people, hence I did not talk much. I would listen to their stories and laughter but myself did not join any one other than my brother and Abinash. One person would however often edge his way towards my side, this was the future approver, Narendranath Goswami. He was not quiet and well-behaved like the other boys, but looked bold, light-hearted and in character, speech and act, undisciplined. At the time of his arrest he had shown his natural courage and forwardness, but being light-hearted it was impossible for him to put up with the minimum suffering of prison life. A landlord's son, brought up in luxury and evil ways, the severe restraint and austerity of prison life had proved too much for him, a fact which he did not hesitate to express before others. The grotesque longing to be freed by any means from this agony began to grow upon his mind from day to day. At first he had the hope that by withdrawing his confession he might be able to prove that the police had extorted, by torturing him, a confession of his guilt. He told us that his father was determined to procure these false witnesses. But within a very few days another attitude revealed itself. His father and a moktar, a pleader's agent, began to visit him frequently in the prison, in the end the detective Sham-sul-Alam also came and started holding long and secret conversations with him. During this period Gossain developed a tendency to be curious and ask questions. At this many felt suspicious about him. He would ask big and small questions, of Barindra and Upendra, if they knew or were close to the `big men of India', and who were the people that helped the secret society with money, and the men belonging to the group outside India and in the different provinces of India, who would run the society now, where are its branches, etc. The news of Gossain's sudden thirst for learning soon reached everyone and his intimacy with Shams-ul-Alam too, instead of remaining confidential love-talk, became an open secret. There was a good deal of talk over this and it was noticed by some that these ever new questions would sprout in Gossain's mind after every visit from the police. It is needless to say that he did not receive satisfactory answers to his questions. When these things were being first talked about among the accused, Gossain himself had confessed that the police were trying to persuade him in a number of ways to turn into a "king's approver". He had once mentioned this to me in the court. "What did you tell them?" I had asked him. "Do you think I am going to listen to that! And even if I do, what do I know that I could offer evidence in the way they would like to have it?" When after a few days he broached the subject once again, I noticed events had moved a bit too far. While standing by my side at the identification parade he told me, "The police are visiting me all the time." "Why don't you tell them that Sir Andrew Frazer was the chief patron of the secret society, that would be ample reward for their labour," I told him jokingly. "I have said something of the sort," answered Gossain. "I have told them that Surendranath Banerji is our head and that once I had shown him a bomb." Staggered at this I asked, "What was the need of saying that sort of thing?" In answer Gossain said: "I shall make mincemeat of the.... I have told them many other things of that kind. Let the — s die of seeking for corroboration. Who knows because of this the trial may go phut." In answer I only said: "You should give up this kind of mischief. By trying to be clever with them you will be fooled." I do not know how far Gossain had spoken the truth. The other accused thought that he had said all this in order to throw dust in our eyes. To me it seemed that till then Gossain had not wholly made up his mind to turn an approver, even if he had proceeded quite far in that direction, but he had also the hope of spoiling the case by misleading the police. To achieve one's end through trickery and evil ways is the natural inspiration for a wicked disposition. From then on I could make out that, under the thumb of the police, by telling them fact or fiction, just as they needed, Gossain would try to save his own skin. The degradations of an evil nature were being enacted before our very eyes. I noticed how, from day to day, Gossain's mind was undergoing rapid changes, his face, his movements and manners, his language were not the same as before. He started to adduce economic and political justifications in support of ruining his companions through treachery. One does not often come across such an interesting psychological study.


IX

 

At first no one allowed Gossain to guess that his designs were known to all. He too was so stupid as to be unaware of this for quite some time, he thought he was helping the police quite secretly. But when after a few days it was ordered that instead of solitary confinement we would have to live together, because of this new arrangement we used to meet and talk throughout the day and night, and the thing could not be a secret much longer. At this time one or two of the boys had quarrels with Gossain. From their language and the unpleasant behaviour of everybody else Gossain could see that his intentions were not unknown to any one. When later he gave his evidence before the court, some English newspapers reported that this had caused surprise and excitement among the accused persons. Needless to say, this was entirely the reporters' fancy. Days ahead every one had known the nature of evidence that would be offered. In fact, even the date on which the evidence was given was known from before. At this time an accused went to Gossain and said — "Look, brother, life here is intolerable. I too would like to turn an approver. Please tell Sham-sul-Alam to arrange for my release." Gossain agreed to this and after a few days told him that a government note had come to the effect that there was a possibility of favourable consideration of the accused's appeal. After which Gossain suggested to him to eke out some necessary information from Upen and others, for instance, the location of the branches of the secret society and its leaders, etc.
The pretended approver was a man with a sense of humour, a lover of fun, and, on Upendra's advice, he supplied a number of imaginary names to Gossain, and said that among the leaders of the secret society were Vishambhar Pillay in Madras, Purushottam Natekar at Satara, Professor Bhatt in Bombay and Krishnajirao Bhao of Baroda. Gossain was delighted with this and passed on this reliable information to the police. And the police too rummaged the whole of Madras, and came across many Pillays, big and small, but not one that was Pillay Vishambhar, not even half a Vishambhar; as for Satara's Purushottam Natekar, he also seemed to keep his identity hidden in deep darkness; in Bombay a certain Professor Bhatt was found no doubt, but he was a harmless person and a loyalist, there was no likelihood of any secret society using him as a cover. Yet at the time of giving his evidence, Gossain, depending on what he had heard from Upen earlier, offered such ring-leaders of conspiracy as the imaginary Vishambhar Pillay, etc., at the holy feet of Norton and strengthened the latter's strange prosecution theory. With regard to Bir Krishnajirao Bhao the police perpetrated a hoax. They produced the copy of a telegram sent by some Ghose from the Manicktola Gardens to Krishnajirao Deshpande of Baroda.
The people of Baroda did not know of the existence of any one answering to that name, but since the truthful Gossain had spoken of a Krishnajirao Bhao of Baroda, then surely Krishnajirao Bhao and Krishnajirao Deshpande must be the same person. And whether Krishnajirao Deshpande existed or not, the letters mentioned the name of our respected friend, Keshavrao Deshpande. Hence Krishnajirao Bhao and Krishnajirao Deshpande are surely one and the same. From which it followed that Keshavrao Deshpande was a ringleader of the secret conspiracy. Mr. Norton's famous theory was based on such extraordinary inference.


To believe Gossain one had to accept that it was at his suggestion that our solitary confinement was done away with and we were ordered to stay together. He had said that the police had arranged it like this and kept him in the midst of the other accused with the intention of drawing out secret information about the conspiracy. Gossain did not know that his new business was known to every one long before, when he started to ask questions about those who were engaged in the conspiracy, and the whereabouts of the branches of the secret society, about patrons and contributors, about those who would now be in charge of continuing the secret activities, etc. I have already given examples of the kind of answers he received. But most of Gossain's words were false. Dr. Daly had told us that, by persuading Mr. Emerson, it was he who had brought about this change in our accommodation. Possibly Daly's was the true version; afterwards on hearing about the change in arrangements the police may have imagined this likely gain. Be it as it may, everyone, excepting me, was extremely pleased at the change. At that period I was unwilling to be in the midst of a crowd, for my spiritual life, sАdhanА,
was proceeding at a rapid pace. I had tasted a little of Equality, Non-attachment and Peace, but these states had not been yet fully stabilised. By being in company, the pressure of other men's thought-waves on my unripe young ideas, this new state of being might suffer, or be even washed away. In fact, it did happen like that. Then I did not understand that for the fullness of my spiritual experience it was necessary to evoke opposite emotions, hence the Inner Guide, antaryАmin, suddenly deprived me of my dear solitude, flung me into the stream of violent outward activity. The rest of the group went wild with joy. That night the big room in which singers like Hemchandra Das, Sachindra Sen, etc., were staying, most of the accused persons collected there, and no one could sleep till two or three in the morning. The ring of laughter, the endless stream of singing, all the pent-up stories began to flow like swollen rivers during the rainy season. The silent prison reverberated with noise and merriment. We fell asleep but every time we woke up we heard the laughter, the singing, the conversation going on as before. Towards the small hours the stream thinned, the singers too fell asleep. Our ward was silent once again.

 

Back>>

Sri Aurobindo(in Bengali)

-Translated by Sisir Kumar Ghosh

Wallpapers for DeskTop| For Mobiles| Screensavers| Message on 15 Aug'47| online Games| DeskTop Applications