The Turn of Wheel: a Spiritual Sojourn

This is a continuation of Part I

At about 4.30 p.m. on 4 April 1961,1 near the border between West Bengal and East Pakistan, I found myself caught in a crossfire, with close to 10 Pakistani soldiers with rifles and Sten guns, confronting me.  My single pistol was clearly inadequate. I went forward after directing my subordinate, a police inspector, to escape. He was saved. I was shot at, surrounded, overwhelmed, and captured.

I had on many earlier occasions, taken greater risks and fewer precautions. Yet here I clearly lost out. This incident took place on the Indian side of the border. In fact, the shooting was intended to injure me as I was not going in as deep as was desired by some. The bullet injuries were not deep. The kidney had been missed.

I was flown to Dacca on April 5. There I was kept in a room till 10 November 1961—a period of about 7 months. I was carefully guarded by 45 men under a J.C.O. There used to be a sentry at the door, one at the barbed-wire window, one at the bathroom window. They guarded me so closely, because it was rumoured that a helicopter would land to “rescue” me! Three pairs of watchful eyes looking at one for months is trying and unpleasant. They would not allow me a radio receiver as with my expertise they were certain I could use it as a transmitter.

            The interrogation was an interesting experience. It lasted for about three weeks. I saw miracles happen. The whole thing took a turn which seemed to save the situation. The Indian Government had no great apprehensions. Somehow, I experienced no fear, for I was sincere and loyal to my country. Something moulded events; something strengthened and guided me. I did not break down.

            I was now 43 years old, 2 years before my target date for studying religion. Religious books were the only ones I received. The only book allowed was the Bible at my request. They would not give me any writing material since I could “contrive” to send secrets. I must have read the Bible hundreds of times. I used to keep fit by walking one and a half miles morning and evening. About 60 turns used to make a mile. The first 60 proved to be the most difficult.

            The Bible was useful and fascinating. I would read some hymns cursing the enemy; that took care of my anger at the continued detention. Then there was the history in the Old Testament—lastly, Jesus who soothed, and I used to try and bless my enemy. So, all moods could be suitably exercised. The Bible kept alive defiance, faith and charity in me.

            So much for the hard knock. Then, sometime in July/August 1961 I fell ill. The floor was always damp; moisture used to seep up from below. I got breathing trouble. I wrote to the General about my health and suggested I be “finished off” instead of being subjected to the slow mental and physical restrictions Doctors examined me soon after and I was told that I was to be allowed to “sit on a chair in the veranda from 9 to 11 a.m.—two hours a day.

            It was with great excitement that I looked forward to 9 a.m. on the first day when I was first allowed to go out. The Army bell struck nine. A junior officer came with his revolver out. They used to be very nervous about me. I told him not to get agitated, I wasn’t going to run away. Nevertheless, he conducted me out. There was an easy chair. I was to sit, not to move or stand. One sentry was ready with his loaded rifle behind another 20 yards in front and next to me on a chair, sat my young friend with his revolver. An absurd setting, but I was not bothered.  My heart was singing.

            I sat down and put my hand out to touch the sun. It was sweet and warm—something so wonderful and rare, yet something I had taken for granted for so many years. There was a flower-pot—I touched a green leaf. I recall a gentle shiver. There was a ceiling above me, so I could not see the sky. It was later during my trial that I could once persuade my escort, a Pakistani Army Major to let me have a look at the stars and the moon and it was so beautiful!

            So you see, I learnt the charming friendship of the sun’s touch, the tender friendship of a leaf and was moved to grateful wonder at renewed acquaintance with the starry sky and a half-moon floating in the clear autumn night of Bengal—riches that cost no money.

            In September 1961, my trial began. After I had declared my innocence in open court, and after I had defended myself for about five days, our Government insisted that I have an Indian Counsel. I told the Deputy High Commissioner that it would be a waste of the country’s money as they planned to convict me in retaliation for similar treatment meted out to some senior Pakistani officer by an Indian Court in Kashmir. Yet, he insisted, and since the trial was in camera, I thought the Government probably was worried about some disloyalty on my part, or me confessing, either of which was a possibility. So, I agreed and applied as directed. I also had a purpose.

            The Indian counsel was Mr. Ghatak. I insisted on seeing him at my place for consultation. I had previously applied and got a Pakistani Major ostensibly to help me with my defence—but, really just to be able to talk to someone. Do remember that after my interrogation in April 1961 for over 4 months, I had talked only to myself. The Pakistani Major was to be present during the interview. He was very respectful to me.

            After discussions, I showed Mr. Ghatak to the toilet where I passed on to him a short sentence carrying the secret information I had gathered which I made him repeat. I knew why he had come. My purpose was achieved. The case mattered nothing thereafter.

            Before leaving, Mr. Ghatak said he was going to Calcutta to get further legal advice (really to convey my message). He told me that he would see my wife and asked me if he could bring anything. I said he must tell my wife the truth as to what may happen to me. He said, “Maximum 14 years.” I was first taken aback, then laughed and said, “Please tell my wife that now I shall have time to read ‘The Life Divine’. Please bring it from her.” He agreed.

           He returned on September 12 and the following day at Court he gave me The Life Divine, Vol.1 and Gitanjali in Bengali, which I had read only in English and, I think, also Tagore’s Balaka2 in Bengali.

On returning from Court, I started on The Life Divine and it just enveloped me. I read it with a thrill greater than when reading Agatha Christie. I enjoyed the questions posed, the answers given, the development of the theme, the summing up. I was being taught by a wonderful teacher. Sri Aurobindo framed, in more apt words, my own questions. He answered in a language which lit up what was within me. He summarised clearly for me stage by stage and I forgot my sorrow, my anxieties. I was in a world of happiness.

            The trial ended—my daily outings stopped. But now I was so contented that, apart from exercises, I even asked for a pack of cards. After dinner I used to play contract bridge alone—calling all the four hands, using four different voices. I used to play and keep the score for all the voices for exactly one hour every evening. Then I would turn to The Life Divine, which was so extraordinary to me. I had put question-marks against certain doubtful places so I could come back again and again, read and re-read them. And every time I found something I had missed earlier. By this time, I had an exercise book given to me, all duly paged so that nothing would be misused to send secrets. I found that writing passages out, copying extracts, helped in enjoying the book even more.

            By 11 November 1961, when I entered the Dacca Central Jail, I felt life had been good, “nature” no longer beyond touch, “man” not exclusively my guards and my trial no longer my concern. I even used to take The Life Divine to my trial to see if a new significance would emerge in that surrounding! I had found that the contents were “flexible” and seemed to expand as my understanding strove to grapple with the words. The special military court trying me had as its president Col. Allah Dad, an erstwhile colleague of mine in pre-partition Indian Army. He had given me a chair and did not object to my reading. After all, for the first four days, he had had enough of me cross-examining the Pakistan Army witnesses and reminding each one of them that bearing false witness led one to hell as per the Holy Koran!

            On November 10, at about 10 p.m., four or five officers came to see me. They were Lt. Colonels and Majors. I was told I was to go away the following day.

            On 11 November, I was told that my articles, a few letters, exercise books, etc., would be sent on later through Intelligence Bureau. No one would tell me where I was to go. Release? Acquittal? Anyhow, I put on the same clothes I had worn on 4 April 1961, requested for and carried with me The Life Divine Vol. 1, then heavily underlined in many places, as I felt I could spend hours without any other book, just reading and re-reading what I liked in it. This book was my only companion.

            On Armistice Day (11 November 1961) I was taken to court. I was sentenced to 8 years’ rigorous imprisonment by the Special Military Court at Dacca under Col. Allah Dad. Both he and my prosecutor,  Mr. Afsaruddin Ahmed (an ex-Central Law Minister, Pakistan) taught me that Law concerned FACTS and not Truth. Since 8 witnesses had stated that at the time I had been overpowered I was 5 yards within Pakistan’s Border, though not demarcated, and as I had no witness to contradict the evidence, I had to be convicted guilty.  

           I told the Judge that they had convicted me on false evidence given under oath by their officers and men and I intended to report the matter to Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the Army Chief of Pakistan. The court assured me that I could do so and that I could have copies of proceedings on payment. This was later denied to me because during the cross-examinations I had made the Pakistani officers and JCOs admit in court on oath that parallel intelligence agencies existed in East Pakistan which carried out intelligence operations against India. The Prosecutor wanted me to file a Mercy Petition immediately for which the time limit was 2 weeks. I congratulated him on his success and told him, “Mercy Petition after so much untruth! Never!” I amended that to add that I had been convicted through falsehood, forgery and fraud allegedly in the national interest of Pakistan and that my sentence should be quashed by the Field Marshal, it being a grave wrong to a professional soldier. He said I could appeal. I was taken to Dacca Central Jail. I bade good-bye to my Army Escort. Inside, someone wanted to see if I had a blade in my shoe. The greatest tragedy, however, was that the jailer took away my book for censoring by Intelligence Branch, as per rules.

            So, I entered the jail friendless. I was put in a place called Old Hajat, (Prison) till then occupied by security prisoners who had been moved to make room for me. 8 convicts, experts in murder and dacoity, were to be with me to take care of me from within the jail. I was to be in one part of a big hall and they in another part. There was an open door to separate the parts. I did not know then that they were to watch me at night within the barred room, nor that they would soon become my friends. Anyhow, here were trees, flowers, the open sky, and more space. I was happy at the location. I was told I could walk about within accompanied by wardens. It was a jail within jail, and I was alone. I had on the first day nothing to read. I was duly locked in at about 5.30 p.m. Before that, a lot of food was brought in. There was dim light as night descended in my room. Disgusted, I stood on my head for a while. The food was cold and very spicy and smelt of fish.

Introduction to Gita by Sri Aurobindo

            The next day I was told that my books could not be given to me earlier because of censorship regulations, but I could take some books from the jail library. A handwritten catalogue was brought. There I found the Bengali Gitar Bhumika (Introduction to Gita) by Sri Aurobindo.           

            In the Old Hajat, a kind of sub-jail within a jail, I read and re-read the book. Unlike The Life Divine, the Bengali text of Gitar Bhumika was as if meant for completely ignorant people like me. I liked to get ideas quite clear about mantra, yajna, chitta, budhhi, sanyam3 and other terms. I understood that yajna meant aspiration for union with God.

            After Gitar Bhumika, I decided to read the Gita. The jail library had a small pocket book size of the text in Sanskrit, but the script was Bengali. I had studied Sanskrit in my Delhi school days in 1931-33, some 30 years ago. But I discovered that I could understand the text, more or less. I liked most the lyrical chapters VII, IX, X and XII. They were easy to memorise.

            On 21 November 1961 they gave me back my copy of The Life Divine, Vol. 1. On 13 January 1962 I was first allowed an exercise book, as I had been wanting one to make notes from Gitar Bhumika. Except for two sheets of marked paper for letters every fortnight, I had not been allowed any writing material. Every single sheet or notebook that I had when under close arrest from 4 April 1961 to 11 November 1961 had been taken away to be searched for secret coded messages!

            The exercise book was, thus, very welcome.

          I started my study step by step, copying passages, writing reflections, trying to understand and absorb. I summarised the book. It took me three weeks.

      While reading the Gita in the light of Gitar Bhumika, the verse 17 of Chapter VI thrilled me immensely. Here was a technique to discard sorrow, very appropriate for me in jail, separated from my family, required to spend years in solitary confinement on false charges.

        It seemed God desired me to study religion. I had “pended” “religion” till I was to be 45, but at 43, “religion” was all I had to turn to.

        The warders guarding me used to perform their prayers while on duty by turns.. I told them that I was going to perform mine twice a day, after my midday bath before lunch, and later in the evening just after I was locked up. During my namaz, I hung a blanket over the bars of two full length windows as a screen. On my left I put a folding screen to escape the eyes of my guards for 40 minutes or so.

        Across the room on a table, for concentration, I had Sri Aurobindo’s picture from the cover of an issue of The Modern Review4 sent to me by my wife after her first visit. I used a table lamp to illumine this picture. Looking at it, I used to recite chapter VI of the Gita, waiting for my grief to drop away. What was most welcome during these half-hour periods was the privacy. It was to be my “namaz” and they left me alone. Then for a while, sitting on blankets over the floor, I used to begin my concentration practice. I found quite a few hints for practice of meditation because no one disturbed me. It was a bit difficult when I was put in cells just behind the mental ward. But the doctor of the jail kindly let me have some cotton. I had my ears plugged with them for over a year. That, incidentally, helped in concentration. I carried on the practice from February 1962 until, to my confusion and surprise, I did achieve some results in April 1964.

          Meanwhile, in April 1962, my wife had brought to me The Life Divine, Vol. II, The Bases of Yoga, Lights on Yoga and a copy of the Gita. They were all fantastic and fascinating to me.

          On 21 June 1962 the Jailor of Dacca Central Jail, brought me a copy of the Pakistani newspaper, Morning News. It said that on 20 June 1962 the President of Pakistan had REDUCED my sentence from 8 years to 4 years. I told the Jailor that I refused to believe anything unless given to me in writing. In July I received a written communication saying that the Governor of East Pakistan had indeed REMITTED 4 years of my sentence under Section 401 of the Criminal Procedure Code. From a study of the provisions of S.401 Cr.P.C. which the Jail staff had allowed me to see, I discovered that the President and the Governor had separate but parallel powers to reduce, remit etc. any sentence at their discretion. I studied the new Pakistan Constitution of 1962 and found a provision under Article 98(2) for anyone to go up to the High Court for redress.

              On 12 September 1962 I sent a petition to the Chief Justice, Dacca High Court, to the effect that I was being illegally detained and that of the 8 years sentence, the REDUCTION  of 4 years by the President as Head of State and the REMISSION  of 4 years by the Governor of the Province effectively meant that the term has been cancelled. I gave this letter to a young Deputy Jailor who used to visit me daily. He took it with him but said nothing would come of it. I, however, insisted and told him that such communication could not be stopped as it would be a contempt of court and a violation of their Constitution. He now looked a little concerned. In the evening he returned, told me that it had been forwarded to Government but it would be useless as national prestige was involved.

         First there was amusement at the stupidity of a soldier. Next came suggestions that I withdraw my petition. I refused. A Government official from their Home Department visited the Jail and through the Jailor I was told that a “genuine mistake” had been committed in conveying the President’s Order and the “truth” was that only 4 years had to be “knocked off”, not 8 years. They urged me to withdraw my petition to the High Court. This alerted me and I told them that my conviction was based on falsehood and forgery known to their authorities. I remembered what I had been told at my own trial: that LAW was concerned with FACTS and not Truth. I repeated that and added that I will act on FACTS apart from the moral issue of a genuine mistake and refused to withdraw my petition to the High Court.

           The result was soon to follow. On 18th September 1962, 6 days after my petition to Dacca High Court, they gave me two letters, both backdated to 3 September 1962: one cancelling the Governor’s REMISSION of 4 years and the other communicating the President’s which they showed out of consideration to me but would not give me a copy. My sentence accordingly stood at the original 8 years. The jail staff cancelled the entry of the REMISSION in my Jail Ticket and took away the Jail Ticket so that I could not do any more petitioning. I was also told that I would have to move from the present location of “Old Hajat”, relatively spacious, having held political prisoners in the past like those of the Chittagong Armoury Raid case and many ex-Ministers and political leaders arrested on promulgation of Martial Law in Pakistan in 1958. My new accommodation was to be “cell accommodation”. I was furious but kept quiet and the next day, 19 September 1962, wrote a second petition to the Chief Justice stating, with reference to my first petition, that the letter subsequently cancelling my REMISSION was illegal as NO provision existed in S. 401 Cr.P.C. for cancellation of a remission once given and entered in the Jail Ticket of the convict. Further, as the President’s letter of REDUCTION of 4 years was shown to me and as it existed, I was being illegally held. I demanded a sum of Rs.10,000 for each day’s illegal detention. What amazed me was the response from the Dacca High Court. They issued a Show Cause Notice to the Jail and to the Government, with a copy to me. All laughter in the Jail had stopped by then and I was regarded as a “big” lawyer!

       It was clear to me then, as I recorded in my exercise-book, that either through Divine Intervention, or through a comedy of errors, my petition for Review of my sentence of 8 years R.I. sent in April 1962 had produced two letters of Remission/Reduction of 4 years each. They were cancelling the Governor’s Remission, which they had thought was really conveying the President’s orders. Having been much wronged, and Pakistanis knew I had never entered Pakistan, they had produced 8 witnesses to say that I entered 50-100 yards inside Pakistan on 4 April 1961. The officer and 2 soldiers apologised and said they had to say what they did for “national interest”. I reminded them of the Islamic injunction that one giving false evidence was certain to go to “Jehannum”(Hell) and while shaking their hands advised them to atone for their sins, consulting the Maulavi Saab. Now God had given me a chance to hit back and it could be done legally. So, I remained adamant even when told that one Deputy Secretary in their Judicial Department and two clerks were going to be suspended for their “mistakes”.

          The Deputy High Commissioner (DHC) for India visited me on 14 September 1962 to verify that I was alive for the purpose of his sending Life Certificate for my salary which was to be paid to our joint account under a special Presidential sanction, so that the family would not starve. On other occasions we used to talk on archaeology or such subjects as his visits used to be the only intellectual exchange I had in Jail, my other companions and friends being only ordinary murderers, dacoits, rape case convicts or pickpockets. But on this occasion, he gave me an unpleasant shock. He said the Government of India could do nothing but suggested that I file a Mercy Petition to the President of Pakistan without pleading guilty. After he reassured me that I was still in service, I told him that for a Commissioned Officer to ask for mercy from a foreign Head of State was improper and I would not sign it. I told him that this matter should be first referred to the Chief of Army Staff in any case. That had not been done. I then told the DHC of my 2 petitions to the Dacca High Court, requested him to let me know if I was to withdraw them in view of the friendly relations between the two countries on the diplomatic level. As I was reading out my rough drafts, the DHC stood up from his chair, rather excited, and asked if I was talking of Habeas Corpus. I had no knowledge of Habeas Corpus and told him of the provision in the Pakistan Constitution under which anybody aggrieved of illegal detention could write direct to the Chief Justice of the High Court. I had acted on that. After writing the second petition to the High Court on 19.9.1962 and to my country’s representative the following date to advise through him my Government where the topmost authority had suggested I file a mercy petition without pleading guilty, I shed myself of any depression and awaited changes in my life in Jail. It soon followed. I was moved to cells.

         On two occasions before the hearing commenced, I was asked to agree to meet the Law Minister, East Pakistan. I refused. But these requests strengthened my hopes. During the hearing and immediately afterwards I was told by jail officers with access to the Home Department that I could NOT expect justice and necessary instructions had been issued. I told the DHC immediately afterwards that I had NO expectations from my case.

         The Dacca High Court first heard my petitions by a Division Bench of two judges. At my request, a Pakistani Barrister was chosen to represent me (Mr. Hamidul Haq Chowdhury). The Division Bench, in view of complex Constitutional matters, referred the case to be tried by a Special Bench of 3 judges. Justice S.M. Murshed presided over the 3 judge Bench. This Bench upheld my pleas that the REMISSION once granted and the convict legally communicated the same through an entry in the Jail Ticket, could NOT be cancelled. But I could not be released since the President’s Order dated earlier had already REDUCED my sentence to 4 years. Thus, the Governor’s REMISSION being of 4 years out of 8 years could not be given effect to. The sum total was that the cancellation of the REMISSION being held illegal, I had 4 years to serve.

          Justice Murshed had created sheer panic in the East Pakistan Government. They never expected Justice Murshed to refer to the President’s Order in his judgement. The letter was in a file that was shown to him during the hearing and he must have made a note. The reason for the panic was that though the President’s letter was dated before the date of the Governor’s remission letter, the effective dates were the dates of communication to the convict/prisoner. In this case I got the Governor’s letter of REMISSION first, which meant that my original sentence stood at 8 years. Hence, the President’s Order communicating REDUCTION of 4 years could be made effective by releasing me. From the press reports of the hearing I could see that this technical fact was being missed. But the Jail staff simply refused that I could have an immediate interview with my lawyers, or with the DHC for India.

            After reading the judgement, a copy sent to me free by the excellent High Court in Dacca, I drafted my notes to the grounds for an appeal to the Pakistan Supreme Court. In mid-1963, after the High Court judgement, while the DHC saw me as per his periodic interview, instead of discussing the archaeology of Iran and Anatolia, my favourites, I shocked him by saying that the High Court Judgement was wrong on technical grounds. Both the Governor’s and the President’s letters could be given effect to once the legal point is emphasised that the valid dates are not the dates of the letters but the dates of communication to the prisoner.

            By this time I must have become a favourite with the legal profession, certainly in East Pakistan. As the case was sub-judice, the Government of India could sit tight  and had proper answers to Lok Sabha questions about my “fate”. The Supreme Court appeal was agreed to by our government and was really political as the hearings of my High Court case had created a lot of political propaganda regarding the legality of the Ayub regime. To the young Pakistani Barrister who saw me on behalf of Mr. Hamid-ul-Huq Chowdhury, representing me at the High Court and preparing an appeal to the Pakistan Supreme Court, I gave a second point for an appeal. In Sind, during my service in 1942, Martial Law had to be declared in August 1942 for a month so as to suppress a local rebellion. I was a member of a summary Military Court. Some were given 3 months sentence. But as soon as the Martial Law was lifted, they had to be released. In other words, if the Constitution did not protect the convictions under Martial Law, such convicts sentenced under Martial Law Regulations had to be released once that was lifted.

            The appeal to the Pakistan Supreme Court on my claim for compensation on illegal detention, rejected by the High Court since both letters of the President and the Governor could not be given effect to, and a Constitutional point that once Martial Law was lifted, as a Martial Law convict I had to be released, created much interest in Dacca and even the DHC for India was all praise for my “brilliant” mind.

                In the Supreme Court proceedings, Mr. Siddhartha Ray, assisted by Mrs. Maya Ray, came to Dacca. I was delighted to see Mrs. Ray as besides my wife’s 3 monthly visits, I had not seen either a lady or a child for over 3 years. Mr. Ray was not allowed to raise the point involving the Constitution. No Pakistani lawyer would raise it either. So, neither Col. Bhattacharya, nor the Frontier Gandhi was to be released.5 

In the Pakistan Supreme Court all the 5 judges wrote their independent judgements. 4 were satisfied that the intention of the Government was that I would get a reduction or remission of 4 years and hence they could fault only the technical mistakes. I had no case. Since the Constitutional point was not argued, my plea as a foreigner was rejected.

         Most fascinating was the judgement of the Chief Justice, Pakistan Supreme Court, Mr Justice Cornelius. He held that if both letters existed, as pleaded by me, and as referred to in the High Court Judgement, I had to be released. But the President’s letter of REDUCTION was not an exhibit in the Case Book (this letter was only shown to me and in the High Court to the Special Bench shown, noted and referred to). Since the letter was not in evidence, the Court was concerned with the Governor’s REMISSION of 4 years, its cancellation subsequently and my petition against the cancellation. The cancellation was held illegal, confirming the High Court’s judgement and my plea. But the portion of the High Court’s judgement on the President’s letter was not upheld in the absence of the exhibit, the President’s letter, which the Government never produced except to show the file to Mr. Justice Murshed.

            Such was the drama. I had served the 3 years by the time the Supreme Court gave its five judgements.

          In strange ways the Divine rewards us. In 1964 Easter I got the Jail Staff to purchase at my cost the Holy Qur’an in Arabic desired by a fellow-convict who cooked for me in my last year. He had committed 15 dacoities in the Mymensingh area. A Special Military Court had handed down 15 years to him. His role in the gang was to be the hero in “Jatras” (folk theatre) drawing him to admirers. Next would follow visits to their homes and tips to the more active members of the gang. Curly haired, dark eyed, thinly built, he added a charming personality. From his stories and account of the trial, I felt certain that his sentence on 2 counts, 10 and 5 years respectively, had to be concurrent and not consecutive. That was the teaching in Military Law and must have been based on Civil Procedures too. Anyhow, I got him to sign a petition to the Martial Law Administrator, Zone “Z”, Dacca for a revision. He was doubtful but did sign. In about three months the Military Authorities confirmed that his sentences had to run concurrently. At a stroke, 5 years were abolished. He was in flood of tears and fell at my feet.

         I had been studying Urdu, Books 1 to 3, from the Jail Warders, particularly from one young, bearded, keen Muslim who belong to “Jaunpur School”. My cook-dacoit had seen this and, after his relief of 5 years, offered to help me in Urdu. He knew the script, but I knew better Urdu! It emerged that he knew Arabic. So, I left Urdu, after the 3rd book, and started Arabic. I learnt from him the script. The writing seemed to me very pretty like floral designs in articles of jewellery. I had a Bengali-Arabic translation book. Copied quite a few, including the 99 names of the Supreme Divine who can be called Allah, Rahaman or by many other gracious names. From the bearded Warder of Jaunpur, I obtained, what he called, “The Prophet’s Prayer.”

           Before I was to leave in October 1964, I asked my cook-convict, as also the other three, what I could give each as a token of friendly remembrance. My cook-convict wanted, with much diffidence, a copy of the Holy Qur’an in Arabic. Through the Jailor, I got a copy and gave him the Book. It cost Rs.15/- or so.

             I had read in Jail Sri Aurobindo in Gitar Bhumika describing the Prophet as the greatest of all Yogis (yogi-shreshtha), one who could pour out Spiritual Force so as to cause vast changes as desired by the Supreme. But I had no idea that the Book could be so beautiful as Yusuf Ali’s edition brings home to me. The language is so lyrical and touching. Such a Book needs to be read slowly with understanding, neither loud, nor silently. The last is difficult to me since as I read in silence, the heart reads or rather sings! The Divine gives back in more than ample measure. When I gave the Book in 1964 to one in distress, never did I imagine that I shall get this blessing.

In 1964, after two years, I found certain things written in The Bases of Yoga to be true. I served my sentence and was released on 31 October 1964.

Back with my family-my wife and our boys

So here I am back, acknowledging with humility the infinite love and care that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother shower on all of us. They waited with infinite patience to grant me that which I needed, yet of which I was superficially unaware. They tried their gracious kindness first with me in 1948. Then in 1961 they administered just the hard knock that I needed to turn to them. I was fully protected. No fear touched me. No harm was done. They have granted me gifts and kindness in abundance when I was in jail and ever after. So that is my story.

Following is Suprobhat Bhattacharya’s story about what she had to endure while her husband was incarcerated:

In 1961 we were staying in No. 1 Ballygunge Maidan Camp. On  April 4, I asked him to buy tickets for a cinema show and went to 16-B, Prince Golam Mohammad Road to keep our younger son Prodosh (aged 4 years) with my cousin Nilima-di. At 3 p.m. a peon came with the tickets and the message that the Colonel would not come and had gone on some work. I tore up the tickets for “Spartacus”. Then, at 9.30 p.m. Mr. Swain of the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB) came and said, “There has been firing at Bongaon. We do not know whether Col. Bhattacharya fired back or not, but he is wounded and captured by East Pakistan border forces.” 

For two days we did not know whether he was alive or dead. Then from East Pakistan newspapers and Dacca Radio news I learnt that he had a bullet injury and was at Jessore Hospital.

On  April 8, the SIB Deputy Director, Mr. Sinha, came to tell me that same old news and said that the person accompanying the Colonel had returned home. He waxed eloquent on what tremendous anxiety that man’s family had been through. I said, “His family spent one night in anxiety and got him back. Here I did not get any news for three days and nights about whether he was alive or dead and today you finally come with the old news that he is in Dacca under military custody. You all are called the Intelligence Bureau, but are very unintelligent!”

The DD came again on April 15, and said, “Be prepared for a long separation.” On November 11, the
Colonel was tried and sentenced to 8 years of rigorous imprisonment. The first letter, duly censored, from my husband came after April 20, 1961. From then on, twice a month we got his letters and could answer them.

I wrote to him, “Since you are in solitary confinement, this is your opportunity to find your ishta devata (chosen deity) through meditation and yoga. Therefore, read Sri Aurobindo. He found Vasudeva when he was in Alipore Jail in solitary confinement in 1908-9.”

I began sending him The Life Divine, Part 1, in the form of sheets typed out by Pradip and myself. Later, in the beginning of 1962, I sent him the book through the lawyer Ghatak. Subsequently, I also sent him The Life Divine Part 2, the Letters on Yoga and Bases of Yoga.

For four years I hardly slept properly. I wrote a very angry letter to Mini in the Ashram in May 1961. I had no faith in God or man and did not respect the Mother. I kept arguing with Sri Aurobindo’s photograph, asking, “Why should an innocent man suffer thus? How is it just? How is all this for the best?” Pondicherry memories were sweet and sad. Sri Aurobindo was no more, so what was the point of going there? Life seemed a wholesale failure.

We had to suffer in many ways. The telephone was disconnected and his pay stopped because he was not there to draw or receive the pay cheque. In May 1961 there was no money in the bank. The G.O.C., General Mishra, sent Brigadier Kullarh to enquire after my financial and security condition. General Mishra spoke to Mr Sinha, “You handle large sums of money and when one of your officers is captured and the family is in distress you can’t pay ad hoc sum of Rs. 500?” Then Mr. Sinha came with Rs.500/- to be adjusted against his pay.

Luckily his pay was drawn from the army and it was regularised and Mr. Sinha was paid back. He said then, “You are lucky as from the army you are getting pay cover. We do not have even that.” One Major Moitra who had worked in SIB under my husband (he was the one to have gone that fateful day but felt very scared so my husband went instead as his boss) came to search my house for any papers. I told him that he never brought any official work or paper home, yet he searched and found nothing. He took away some army books and papers of my husband from Staff College days.

I went see the General Manager of Calcutta Telephones, Mr. Cornelius, who kindly installed a phone in my name immediately which still exists.

In 1962 I finally received permission to see my husband in Dacca Central Jail. He wrote to me, “Do not bring both the sons—only one.” On that first visit I took Pradip (then 15). In 1963, I took Prodosh (then 5 years) with me. He did not like to see his father in jail and asked the embarrassed jailor, “Why have you kept my daddy locked up?” He refused to sit in the visitors’ room inside the jail, but returned to the vehicle outside until his father had to return to his cell and I had to leave.

I had been to see Dr. Radha Binode Pal of the International Court of Justice who was a great help. He came to my house after the conviction when Dr. Rani Ghosh, Principal of Gokhale Memorial Girls School came with the M.P. Mrs Renuka Ray. I spoke out my mind then, hearing which Mrs Ray said to Miss Ghosh, “Has he been tutored?” Dr. Pal wanted me to accompany him abroad to get me out of my depression, but no passport was issued to me as the government feared I would do propaganda against them!

General Mishra was transferred for having taken an interest in Col. Bhattacharya’s family’s welfare. Other officers and their families were banned from visiting us. I was ostracized and watched by the Intelligence Bureau, whose Director was Bhola Nath Mullick. But the hardest part to bear was when his case was discussed in Parliament where facts were omitted and distorted. Nehru even stated that as he was a retired Army officer (!) the government could not help. He told my mother-in-law and brothers-in-law that my husband had crossed the border. Bharat Sevashram swamiji told my mother-in-law that in Dacca Col. Bhattacharya lives in a bungalow, plays tennis in the evenings. All this was in 1961 after the kidnapping of April 4, and his removal in 1962 to Dacca Jail. Hearing all this, she did not believe my words but rather her Swamiji’s words (such disinformation used to be put about by the Intelligence Bureau because of the outrage in the national press over government’s inaction). I lost all respect for Bharat Sevashram and the talks and behaviour of their maharajas (swamis).

Finally, government chose a lawyer (Ghatak) who was not an expert in this type of case to go to Dacca to defend him during his trial. When he returned, his wife told him within hearing
of others, “Well, you got him 8 years, didn’t you!”

In 1964 the Colonel was operated upon for piles. When I went to see him, he was emaciated. He told me that during the operation he became separate from his body, saw it lying on the operation table and asked himself whether he should get back into it. He did not like the idea very much. I did not know that he had not been given the medicines which had been regularly sent from the Indian High Commission. Nor had the Deputy High Commissioner bothered to check up.

The same year, on October 31, 1964, he was released and taken straight to Delhi. I was informed on the phone and his suitcase was returned to me. He came home in Diwali, November, followed by Ananda Bazar Patrika. Pradip had run to the entrance gate of Ballygunge Military Camp and got into the car bringing him back. I cannot express my feelings at that time. I found his health ruined. He could not handle money or even drive his precious car which I had managed to maintain somehow for him to find on his return. He practised regular meditation in the early morning and evening and even at midnight. He had really done sadhana in jail and could even feel Sri Aurobindo’s presence. He wanted to come to Pondicherry but my mind was afraid.

January 1965 he was asked by his army Colonel to go to Jabalpur S.T.C. We packed and bought tickets. At noon came another order to go to Delhi and in the evening yet another order to go to Kashmir. Then I said, “This is very funny treatment by the army. They can’t decide where to put you. If you again leave for a non-family station, what happens to the sons and their education? I request you to resign from the army.” I actually gave him an ultimatum.

He wrote to General J.N. Chowdhury who accepted his premature retirement with full pension. General Chowdhury ensured that the unjust remarks recorded in his confidential report by the Intelligence Bureau chief, B.N. Mallick, were expunged wholly.

The Colonel then took a job with Voltas in Calcutta. In December 1967 my husband took one month’s leave and both of us went to Rameshwaram, Kanyakumari, Trivandrum and Thiruvannamalai. Everywhere he offered puja and took a bath as he still felt unclean after living for four years with thieves, dacoits and murderers.

On December 27, we reached Pondicherry, our second visit after 19 years. Sri Aurobindo was no more but I never felt so. December 29, was Mother’s Balcony Darshan. When we went to the Mother on January 5, 1968 she stretched out her hands to take the flowers. I broke down and could not stop the tears, weeping continuously, unable to see her face, thinking, “How mistaken, how blind I am! What can I give, Mother! I am not fit!” Mini’s welcome was warm, because I had not hoped for this. I got a lot of peace. Later my husband told me, “I saw Mother look at you so lovingly and felt jealous!” When he knelt before the Mother, he told me he looked straight into her eyes and saw her looking at him sternly, and prayed to her, “Burn all impurities, Mother, purify me and make me suitable for your yoga.” He felt a burning sensation inside and saw a small figure of Sri Aurobindo seated in the centre of his forehead (the ājña chakra).

This darshan was a unique experience for both of us. I had been filled with an insensate desire for revenge against those responsible for the betrayal of my husband into Pakistani hands and all the suffering that entailed for him and us. It was a feeling I did not wish to let go. I nursed it, yet it began feeling like a terrible load bowing me down under it. After this visit, it suddenly vanished, relieving me tremendously.

Over the years my husband’s views continued to change in spiritual matters and his faith
in God grew and grew to the last. During his second heart attack in July 1988, even in a state of
semi-consciousness, he exclaimed thrice, “Oh! Bhagwan!” When I told him of this later, he
repeatedly asked me to recount the incident. He was delightfully surprised, for he could not
believe that he had so much faith as to call on the Divine even when not in his waking

On September 4, 1988 he passed away suddenly at 11.45 p.m. My individual life ended on that day. It is a great consolation to me that I was able to keep my promise to him that I would be with him till his last moment on the earth. 

Author profile

After retiring from service, Lt. Col. Bhattacharya took the Ll.B. degree from Calcutta University to
prove to himself that his mental faculties were intact and practised in Bankshall Court and
Calcutta High Court till 1982. He also studied the B.Ed. course in St. Xavier’s College when
his son was a Lecturer in English there and also taught spoken English in the Institute of

He also written extensively. His writings include:

The Prophet of Islam, inspired by Sri Aurobindo calling him “Yogi shrestha” (Best of yogis).
Krishna of the Gita: reflections and the necessity for re-grouping the text of the Gita
A response to K.D. Sethna’s “Two Puzzles in the Gita” in the light of his own sadhana.

A seven act Bengali play on the last nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daulah based on extensive
research (Dasgupta & Co. 54/3 College Street, Kolkata-700073).
A treatise on the Portuguese Empire in India (unpublished); Memoirs of his early years
(unpublished); On the parable of the widow’s mite in the Gospel of St. Mark for a book by
Fr. Oswald Summerton S.J.

Born in 1918, Lt. Col. Bhattacharya passed away in 1988


  1. 4th April was the date of Sri Aurobindo’s arrival in Pondicherry in 1910
  2. One of his collections of poems
  3. chants, sacrifice, mind, intelligence and restraint
  4. An English monthly journal published in Calcutta
  5. The freedom fighter. President Zia-ul-Haq ensured an amendment to the Pakistani Constitution providing protection to Martial Law Courts before lifting his Martial Law

One comment

  1. Very interesting to know that against all odds Uncle still found solace in booKS from different religions.

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