A Review of “An Atrocious Biography”
From the grammatically inaccurate term ‘Lives’, gets unleashed this narrative style of insinuations about Sri Aurobindo- as if the Mystic lead double lives, one imagined for him by himself which his followers and the world began believing as well, while the other ‘human aspect’ to be exclusively discovered through this self appointed and ambi-dexterous style of writing pseudo history- Deshpande shows how each left handed compliment accompanies a dismissive, negativist, suggestive insinuation about Sri Aurobindo.
In fact only when we read R Y Deshpande’s Atrocious Biography, it gets clear how academia and intellectuals get honey trapped by this irreverence towards a Spiritual stalwart, forgetting fact that the gems they hurry to attest as scintillating insights are from someone who has no academic grounding, no formal education in history writing or doesn’t have a post graduation least to say possess a PhD in historiography or any mentionable qualifications in any other discipline. If we are to go by R Y Deshpande, we are hearing the brilliant take of an American ‘taxi cab driver and a high school dropout’, about one of twentieth century’s most profound Mystic, and a Cambridge alumni who was proposed the Noble prize for Literature.
When we find Columbia University agrees to publish this pseudo-history as ‘authentic’ and over every other earlier Biographies also in the opinion of the cabby historian written off as all just ‘Hagiographies’- and all this lead to a natural consternation and controversy, Scholars, writers, media men line up taking sides for ‘academic’ freedoms- all this Circus of politicized academic activism reflects poorly on the present status of academic studies.
This Academic decadence and rot of western Universities is largely due to its Politicization, and R Y Deshpande shows this unmistakably drawing clear parallel of the Lives with the flawed methodology of Wendy Deniger’s enormously absurd and Freudian deconstruction of Hinduism. Rajiv Malhotra’s Invasion of the Sacred obtains a case study in the Lives.
It is Inquisitorial in style, empty and pretentious- R Y Deshpande demonstrates this for instance regarding Sri Aurobindo’s Prose.
He tells this over tens and tens of pages ( 50 pages listing around 20 different Prose Styles of Sri Aurobindo)- drawing Classification of Prose Style through Thomas and Turner for the Literary academics to see for themselves the diversity, depth and mastery of English prose by Sri Aurobindo and leaves the beguiled scholars baffled taken for a taxi ride.
He meticulously shows one sample of how a competent and qualified Literary Critic would actually see in the mere voluminous ‘output’ as the author of the Lives would have us see in it and necessarily miss because he lacks the competence in Literary criticism. To show the contrast he takes us through Gautam Gausal’s highly technical dissection and comparative analysis of Sri Aurobindo’s Prose as could come from only any Professor of English as he was at Tagore’s Shantiniketan unlike Peter devoid of appropriate academic faculties for any sound assessment and rightly concludes-
“ But what has Sri Aurobindo common with these three authors, that he should have been grouped with them? Dryden’s greatest achievements were his Satire; Ruskin was concerned with with Social justice and influenced the formation of the Labour movement; Virginia woolf as novelist experimented with the stream of consciousness carrying psychological and emotional motives. ..it is a mistake to put these disparate things together which only show, more than the sheer insensitivity of the author, his total lack of understanding of both.
We should consider ourselves lucky that, he does not put together Harry Potter and the Life Divine.”
If we attempt to grasp any ‘Human Side’ of Sri Auriobindo, again we are left with a de-humanized caricature and this is shockingly established in the insinuation that Sri Aurobindo misleads, ignored or in short was sort of abusive with his wife- unless we read what Deshpande produces from records the facts of a loving and caring husband helplessly stranded inside political currents, financial hardships and his deeper commitments to a higher calling.
Deshpande gives the complete picture-
“This is from page 20 of Nirodbaran’s Talks- Mrinalini (Sri Aurobindo’s wife) –
There was a mention in her horoscope that her 32nd year would be critical. Sri Aurobindo knew it and wanted us to remind him about it when she would be 32. But all of us forgot except my mother. She was at that time in Ranchi. Hearing about the illness she hastened to Calcutta but Mrinalini Devi passed away within half hour of her arrival. When she learnt that we have not informed Sri Aurobinbdo, a telegram was sent to him. On reading it Sri Aurobindo said “ Too late ! “
My cousin who was there at the time wrote to my mother:
Today I saw tears in the eyes of the stone-hearted-son-in-law.
With the telegram in one hand, he sat still and tears were in his eyes’.
Sri Aurobindo told him too that Mrinalini’s soul had come to him soon after her death. Also a photo of Mrinalini Devi that was on the mantel-piece is said to have fallen”
We note that he had kept her photo on the mantel-piece.
Deshpande next asks- “this incident of Sri Aurobindo having tears after being informed of Mrinalini’s death is not in this biography. Is the letter which says Sri Aurobindo had tears in the eyes sent by Saurin to his mother is (it not there) in the Archives?”
Deshpande also furnishes for us that evident fact in Aurobindo’s letter to his father-in law.
“ I have not written to you with regard to the fatal event in both our lives; words are useless in face of the feelings it has caused if even if they can express our deepest emotions.
God has seen good to lay upon me the one sorrow that could still touch me to the center.…the physical tie between us as you say is severed; but the tie of affection subsists for me. Where I have once loved I not cease from loving. Besides, she who was the cause of it, still is near, though not visible to our physical vision”
He also points how even Mother Mirra would be sent back as Aurobindo’s financial conditions were then precarious and asked to return after the conditions improved enabling support to the seekers- a fact that gets suppressed and other motives attributed to Sri Aurobindo suggesting a falsified picture of a neglectful and abusive husband.
Suppressio very, suggestio falsi abounds every single insinuation in this Inquisition by this pseudo biography- a litany of half truths and –plain lies as we are shown by Deshpande.
Besides he shows how this Inquisition of Sri Aurobindo is bitten by the Freudian bug.
“What makes the book bit silly is when we see the author sniffing around, which looks almost desperate, to find some evidence of sexual dynamics in the Lives of Sri Aurobindo. His ‘scholarly research’ to find the reason why Sri Aurobindo married is a case in point.
His dive into some selected poetry of Sri Aurobindo to analyze its plot shows a little Freud in the closet. It is laughable to say the least. I wouldn’t say that these adventures have added any depth or credibility to the book; to me it looks rather pathetic.
This Freudian bug is evident in many places”.
We can concur with Deshpande when we see a summary diagnosis suggested about Sri Aurobindo’s hearing and obeying a voice to proceed to Pondicherry- to many people it may suggest Schizophrenia.
Carl Gustav Jung who founded the Jungean school of psychoanalysis after his departure and revolt from Freudian school also heard voices and even saw and interacted with invisible entities called Philomena.
Should this be left to the quacks to sit as his Shrinks- and we derive our understanding from ‘people’ who are suggested that Jung a genius and pioneer of psycho analysis were indeed delusional and might perhaps be a schizophrenic? And all of Jung’s works is to be understood in that light as delusional? –this seems to be the case with Sri Aurobindo being psychoanalyzed by quack hands of the author of Lives of Sri Aurobindo.
Highly qualified psycho analysts have studied Sri Aurobindo’s life and eminent psychologists have written about him. Sri Aurobindo’s psychological ideas are now considered as pioneering new branches of Integral Psychoanalysis and they may not have time to hear from cab taxi man shrink his suggestive diagnosis of schizophrenia.
In fact the attempt to falsify and distort Sri Aurobindo is taken note by none other than Ken Wilber in his introduction to A S Dalal’s ‘A Greater psychology’-
“ I would like to take this opportunity to clear up an unfortunate Slander that has been circulating about Aurobindo, namely that some of his writings have a racist overtone. In particular, sections from The Human Cycle have been quoted to allegedly show that Aurobindo was advocating the superiority of certain races. In fact, as those passages make quite clear. Aurobindo was ridiculing and condemning those who think in that fashion.
Less than honest critics have simply taken those sections out of context and presented them as Aurobindo’s views, whereas they are clearly the view he is convicting. Aurobindo’s integral embrace is, if anything, the opposite of racism”.
Interesting soon as this eminent Psychiatrist clears the table off ‘less than honest critics’ distortions of Aurobindo and we must have quack shrinks, unlettered Literary critics, self taught historiographers all rolled in one and serving at the table our only ‘authentic’ and ‘scientific biography’.
So should we learn from the eminent psychoanalyst our human side of Sri Aurobindo or from the polemics of politicized academics and shrinks who have no basic degrees in psychology or read our human aspects of his history from such incompetent Freudians and instant celebrities made of yellow journalism?
What is clear from above elucidation of Ken Wiber also shed light on this Slander of Sri Aurobindo, as racist, Hindu fundamentalist and now lately schizophrenic, and organizing political murders, as an ongoing venture attempting skillfully to insinuate, distort and falsify that has been going on for some time.
Koenraad Elst the Belgian Indologist and social critic once made everyone share a good laugh- while he interacted with an Online audience.
It was a discussion on How to save Sanatana Dharma?
He was told by a Hindu woman how Christians constantly attack and mock Hinduism.
She was perplexed that Christian evangelism heaps insults on its divinities and distorts and talks disparagingly about even very refined ideas of her faith- despite Hinduism’s tolerance and respect towards Christianity.
How is that sophisticated ideas of Hinduism is dare systematically be deconstructed and Hinduism attempted to be dismantled and shown as inferior?
Why do the Christians do that? Do they hate us?
Koenraad replied – you want to know the truth, real truth why Christians do all that insults and attacks your hindu gods?
Because they Love you! “”
After a good laugh- he explains how this love works in the minds of the- missionary.
He is convinced that Salvation can be obtained only through Christ that is his own faith system.
Out of this conviction he labors ‘out of love’ for the blighted ignorance of the pagans to be replaced with that factual news of deliverance.
This age old missionary antagonism of the West, unrecognizably embedded in their Re-narratives seems now the cross of the ‘Intellectuals’.
They out of real Love for the Objective narrative, labor now to emancipate the faithful from the clutches of simplistic ignorance and adoring about their gurus and paths.
The believers are told how they are doing a labor of love, to emancipate you from superstition and childishness about what must according to their views be the subtle facts missed out in such misplaced faith.
The light isn’t sufficient, they are informed in authoritarian styles of lecturing- if you remain immersed in that credulous and babyish beliefs.
It needs the Saviour light, authentic scholastic insights of the Intellectual who often then turns out whoever is the most cynical man of the day, whoever makes the most scathing attacks with a veneer of dedication exceeding the faithful and a professed Love for the objects they venerate.
Never mind fact this Intellectual also happens not to possess the required expertise in the concerned fields to proffer such worthless opinions-
They will be hailed as ‘scientific’ and all critical suspicion suspended demanding Freedom of expression.
The behavior, attitude and premise all through, being no different from that of the missionary who heaps insults on the pagan deities in the street corners of India.
About whom Vivekanada makes note- “if all the dregs at the bottom of the world’s oceans are collected, that wont be a fraction of what missionaries hurl on us and Hinduism’
Now this dredge work, a labor of love- is done by academics.
R Y Deshpande’s Atrocious Biography lays bare all the pertinent elements to this controversial biography of Peter Heehs.
It refutes thoroughly the insinuations and exposes the hollow claims to be the authentic or scientific reading of what must be even the Human side of Sri Aurobindo.
He had done this all the while he was being denied the same privileges granted by the Ashram Trustees to Peter to equally have access to the Archives- and says confidently he would have dug more glaring distortions and imaginative narratives.
We are unable to comprehend why then an author attempting to show the fallacies of a biography using such Archives material is not encouraged but even denied access by an ashram that is expected to stand up for Sri Aurobindo’s image diminished by other incompetent hands?
R Y Deshpande’s Atrocious will remain not just as thorough rebuttal showing the substandard and vacant biography by Peter heeh, but also is a single source book for any subsequent researcher who would go into investigating Sri Aurobindo’s biographies. This more than justifies the unconventional style of presentation of the book, containing all the discussion threads around the controversy from both sides in full, and on that score acquires its indispensible academic significance.