The great are strongest when they stand alone
A God-given might of being in their force (Sri Aurobindo)
This is how I think of HervéLassemillante.
I meet Hervé at the launch of the Ombudperson’s Report on the Rights of Children in 2017. We are talking about Rita Venkatasawmy’s mountain-moving passion and action-backed faith in doing right by those most vulnerable. It is one of those days when the finger of fate is pointing and an unusual window is temporarily open. I cannot recollect how this happens but we start talking about Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo captures both my heart and my imagination partly because my mother, Nir, used to read him. Partly because the figure of a young Indian – who goes to study at King’s College in Cambridge; comes back to India a revolutionary; is accused of terrorism by the British administration and imprisoned; has a revelation through the visitation of Vivekananda (defunct) while in prison; leaves politics and tellsthe Mahatma on coming out of prison:you continue your work and guide Indian politics, and I will go south to Puducherry and create a new world for all humanity – could not be more alluring.
Aurobindo is not for the faint hearted, he is revolutionary in every sense. He is also dense, esoteric. I had wanted to understand Aurobindo but did not quite know where to start.
Hervé, I discover, has been reading Aurobindo and The Mother for more than 30 years, has the biggest collection of Aurobindo resources in his private library that I had seen until I went to Auroville and is a devout scholar and lover of Aurobindo. Where do I start? Sri Aurobindo’s most acclaimed, Savitri, is almost impossible to get into.But once you do, says Hervé, there is a mechanism that sucks you into the book and it becomes unputdownable. The magic only happens, he says, when you read a few pages every day, just a few, but you must do so every single day, and always out loud because the sound structures of the poem carry much more than the written words that our eyes capture cognitively. Impossible to find a copy of Savitri anywhere in Mauritius and Hervé generously lends me a copy. I am hooked on Savitri for many reasons. Just one of them is that in theworld literary canon, starting say with Gilgamesh 1800 BC, almost all quest stories are about men who set off on an impossible journey and come back miraculously triumphant. Another is that while our pilgrim souls navigate the collective space, our quest is always a lonely path, or rather the collective and the individual are inextricably bound. The liberation of that one scintillating drop liberates the whole sea. This is a passage that Hervé was particularly fond of:
A day may come when she must stand unhelped
On a dangerous brink of the world’s doom and hers,
Carrying the world’s future on her lonely breast,
Carrying the human hope in a heart left sole
To conquer or fail on a last desperate verge,
Alone with death and close to extinction’s edge.
Must cross alone a perilous bridge in Time
And reach an apex of world-destiny
Where all is won or all is lost for man. (Aurobindo, Savitri, Book 6, Canto II)
We discuss the Aurobindian theory that the Earth is about to be shaken by various cataclysms as she rises from the old structures of the 3D to be reborn into higher vibrations. It is a time of culling, shifting, of death in myriad forms, one of accelerated consciousness transformation, when humans are called to gather all the tools gathered so far to transcend into the superhuman. My bags are packed. Christmas 2017, I am on my way to Auroville, dragging along my friend Etienne Schenesse, devout atheist, on a pilgrimage. On Christmas day I am in the Matrimandir, the inner temple of Auroville and the following day at the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo. The enchantment that every pilgrim experiences in a sacred place is their own. Suffice it to say that for what this experience brought me I am most grateful to Hervé. Of course, Aurovilleitself as a world project has not worked but I think increasingly of ashrams not as man-made structures fixed in time and space but as spaces in our hearts, places from which we perform ourselves into the world.
Farewell, my friend, reading andmeditation companion. I am sad for Mauritius that the invaluable knowledge and wisdom you hold has not been shared with it. You wanted to do so through an Aurobindo conference in Mauritius and yet, in that characteristic touching modesty of yours, you did not think you would be ready or worthy. It is little wonder that Aurobindo is barely known in Mauritius. He has no time for the structures that divide and enslave us into believing in our own spiritual or racial superiority over others. No time for duality and othering, the very things that we excel at doing.
The sadness is ephemeral though and I shan’t shed a tear for I believe that as you ‘crossed alone a perilous bridge in Time’, ‘all was won’. There are not many men or women who will walk the earth like you have. My heart fills with joy and gratitude to you for introducing me and guiding me step by step towards a great master. I know that Sri Aurobindo awaits thee with open arms. You are home in the presence of great souls. In every moment of every day,Roshni, you used to say, we are called upon to choose consciously who we want to be, for who we wish to become, we already are. Om Namo Bhagavate, which you introduced me to, is a good point on which to bid you farewell on this side my friend. I invoke the Supreme and bow down to the rising divinity (within) so it may be One. Until we meet again.