July 26, 1967
(Mother, laughing, holds out to Satprem a note she has just written:)
"The goal we aim at is immortality. Of all
habits, death is certainly the most inveterate!"
We could call our world "the world of bad habits."
There has been for some time, I don't know, a sort of benevolent, smiling and ... constructive irony. As if a "spirit" had come. Then, there is another thing (but I know that one), which Sri Aurobindo used to call a censor. He told me, "You have a very strong censor in your atmosphere." It kept criticizing me constantly, all the time; not so often now, but it's still there. And now and then, it tells me, "But you shock people! They expect something noble, great, imposing, and you always speak in an ironic tone!" Yesterday again, some people came to see me - and jokes keep coming to me all the time. I tell them jokes, and I see ... (laughing) I see their appalled looks!
Something seems to be constantly telling people, "But don't take things seriously! ... Don't take things seriously, that's what makes you unhappy! That's what makes you unhappy, you must learn to smile," and so on. And above all, to make fun of ourselves, that's the most important thing: to see how ridiculous we are - the slightest pain and we are full of self-pity, oh! ...
At times one protests....
It's a very odd atmosphere, and amusing. But it's a very good cure for that inveterate disease which self-pity is.
The body is full of it, it pities itself as soon as there is the smallest
trouble - and
that makes it terribly worse.
And then, what goings-on ... The goings-on of the School, oh, those are ... priceless stories! But yesterday evening, I suddenly became indignant about a boy, the boy who had been accused of copying. He asserted he hadn't copied, and I saw he hadn't (but what I saw was almost worse!), and I said, "No more exams" - a dreadful row everywhere! Then K., who is really a good boy, wrote to me, "Should I not rather tell the boy that you decided he hadn't copied, because he must be worrying?" I thought, "Poor K.!" But anyway, it was a nice gesture, so I said yes. Then he called the boy, told him what he had to, also that exams were abolished and the whole matter was over and done with. As soon as the boy left him, he went and told his friends a world of lies: that I had asked K. to apologize, to express regret and reinstate the boy, and a lot of fibs ... a series of terrible lies (and lies about me). You understand, I had had a movement of sympathy for K. for what he had done; it shows a sort of nobleness of soul in him: he was so convinced, but he accepted what I said and made that gesture because he thought the boy must have been worrying. Then the boy's thoroughly disgusting reaction ... I had to restrain myself (inwardly): I was displeased. I had hoped, on the contrary, that that goodwill would give rise to a somewhat noble response, but all that is a sort of degradation.... Yesterday, I was on the point of giving the child an inner slap - I stopped myself from doing so, but he has clearly put himself in a bad spot.
Now they write to ask me, "How can we know whether the children follow if we don't have exams?" I had to explain the difference between a sort of individual control coming from observation, a remark, an unexpected question and so on, which allows the teacher to place the child, and the other method in which you are told, "You will have an exam in eight days and the subject will be what you have learned" - so everyone starts reviewing what he has learned and preparing himself, and that's that: the student with a good memory is the one who passes. I explained all that. [[Here is the text of Mother's fourth and last note on the subject: "Naturally the teacher has to test the student to know if he or she has learnt something and has made a progress. But this test must be individual and adapted to each student, not the same mechanical test for all of them. It must be a spontaneous and unexpected test leaving no room for presence and insincerity. Naturally also, this is much more difficult for the teacher but so much more living and interesting also. I enjoyed your remarks about your students. They prove that you have an individual relation with them - and that is essential for good teaching. Those who are insincere do not truly want to learn but to get good marks or compliments from the teacher - they are not interesting. "(July 25, 1967) ]]
If I had been a teacher, my objection to this decision would not
all have been from the teachers' point of view, but from the
students' because I remember my studies, and had you not been
obliged every three or six months to review what was learned in
school, well, you know, you'd have just let it slip away.
Well, too bad!
But it's a sort of discipline that makes you review things.
If you aren't interested enough in the subject to try and remember it and retain the result of what you've learned, well, too bad, it's too bad for you.
The students' point of view is false, the teachers' point of view is false.
The students' point of view: they learn just to appear to know, pass their exam and cram their heads with all kinds of things.... The teachers' point of view is to have as easy a control as possible and be able to give marks without giving themselves too much trouble, with as little effort as possible. As for me, I say: each student is an individuality, each student should come not because he wants to be able to say, "I have studied and am going to take my exams," but because he is eager to know and comes with the will to know. And the teacher must not follow the easy method of giving a subject and seeing how everyone answers, whether the answer is good or bad, conforms to what he has taught or not: he must find out whether the student's interest and effort are sincere, and everyone according to his own nature - for the teacher it's infinitely more difficult, but that's education. And they protest.
As regards the teachers' point of view, I certainly agree entirely ...
Yes, but they are the ones who protest! (Laughing) The students don't. But I wrote the teachers: the students who want to please their teacher or learn by heart in order to seem to know what they haven't understood, well, those students aren't interesting - and they are always the ones about whom I am told, "He is a good student!"
But you know, I remember, I clearly remember my attitude when I was studying,
and I clearly remember all my classmates and which one was to me an intelligent
girl, which one a word mill.... I have some very amusing memories about that,
because I couldn't understand what meaning there was in learning in order to
know (I had a tremendous memory at the time, but didn't make use of
it). And I liked only what I had understood.
Once in my life I took an exam (I forget which one), but I was just at the age limit, which means that I was too young to sit at the time of the regular exam, so they had me sit with those who had flunked the first exam (I sat at that time because it was autumn, and then I was old enough). And I remember, we were a small group, the teachers were greatly annoyed because their holidays had been cut short, and the students were for the most part rather mediocre, or else rebellious. There I was, observing all that (I was very young, you understand, I don't remember, thirteen or fourteen), watching the whole thing: a poor little girl had been called to the blackboard to do a mathematical problem, and she didn't know how to do it, she kept spluttering. Me (I wasn't being questioned just then), I looked and smiled - oh, dear! The teacher saw me and was quite displeased. As soon as the girl was sent back, he called me and said, "You do it." Well, naturally (I loved mathematics very much, really very much, and also I understood, it made sense), I did the problem - the chap's face! ... You see, I wasn't in that [in the small outward person]: I was constantly a witness. And I had the most extraordinary fun. So I know the way children are, the way teachers are, I know all that, I had great fun, really great fun.
At home, my brother was studying advanced mathematics (it was to enter Polytechnique [[ The famous Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. ]]), and he found it difficult, so my mother had engaged a tutor to coach him. I was two years younger than my brother. I used to look on, and everything would become clear: the why, the how, it all was clear. So the teacher was working hard, my brother was working hard, when I exclaimed, "But it's like this!" Then I saw the teacher's face! ... It seems he went and told my mother, "It's your daughter who should be studying!" (Mother laughs) And it all was like a picture, you understand, so funny, so funny! So I know, I remember, I know the reactions, the habits.... That's why I didn't want to look after the School here: I thought it would be a headache and everyone would go after me! Then I was forced to because of that copying affair. But now I find it funny! (Laughing) And I tell them outrageous things!
It's such fun, such fun!
For a time I attended a private school: I didn't go to a state school because my mother considered it unfitting for a girl to be in a state school! But I was in a private school, a school of high
repute at the time: their teachers were really capable people. The geography teacher, a man of renown, had written books, his books on geography were well-known. He was a fine man. So then, we were doing geography; I enjoyed maps more completely because it all had to be drawn. One day, the teacher looked at me (he was an intelligent man), he looked at me and asked, "Why are towns, the big cities, found on rivers?" I saw the students' bewildered look, they were saying to themselves, "Lucky the question wasn't put to me!" I replied, "But it's very simple! It's because rivers are a natural means of communication." (Mother laughs) He too was taken aback!... That's how it was, all my studies were like that, I enjoyed myself all the time - enjoyed myself thoroughly, it was great fun!
The teacher of literature ... He was an old fellow full of all the most conventional ideas imaginable. What a bore he was, oh! ... So all the students sat there, their noses to the grindstone. He would give subjects for essays - do you know The Path of Later On and the Road of Tomorrow? I wrote it when I was twelve, it was my paper on his question! He had given a proverb (now I forget the words) and expected to be told ... all the sensible things! I told my story, that little story, it was written at the age of twelve. Afterwards he would eye me with misgivings! (Laughing) He expected me to make a scene.... Oh, but I was a good girl!
But it was always like that: with that something looking on and seeing the sheer ridiculousness of this life which takes itself so seriously!
All those things have come back these last few days, because of this affair [at the School].
I can recall only one instance when I took things seriously, and even then, I put on a serious LOOK. It involved my brother, who was still quite young (he may have been twelve, or less: ten, and I eight - no, nine and eleven, something like that, mere children). My brother was quick-tempered, he was easily angered and would speak very bluntly, almost harshly. One day he talked back to my father (I forget about what); my father was furious and put him across his knees (my father was an extremely strong man, I mean physically strong), he put my brother across his knees and ... (laughing) started spanking him; he had pulled his pants down and was spanking him. I enter and see that (it was taking place in the dining room) I see that, see my father, look at him, and say to myself, "But this man is mad!" And I told him, "You stop at once, or I'm leaving this house." (I was two years younger than my brother.) And I said it with such seriousness, oh! And I was resolute. And my father
... (laughing) was flabbergasted.
All those memories have come back like that. So now I remember to what extent - to what extent the consciousness was already there. But it was amusing.
And the ease: whatever I wanted to do I could do. But there was one thing (now I understand, at the time I didn't know why it was so): whatever I wanted to do I could do, but after a time, I had experienced the thing and it didn't seem to me important enough to devote a whole life to it. So I would move on to something else: painting, music, science, literature ... everything, and also practical things. And always with extraordinary ease. Then, after a while, very well, I would leave it. So my mother (she was a very stern person) would say, "My daughter is incapable of seeing anything through to the end." And it remained like that: incapable of seeing anything through to the end - always taking to something, then leaving it, then after a time taking to something else.... "Unstable. Unstable - she will never achieve anything in life!" (Mother laughs)
And it was really the childlike transcription of the need for ever more, ever better, ever more, ever better ... endlessly - the sense of advance, advance towards perfection. A perfection that I felt to be quite beyond anything people thought of - something ... a "something" ... which was indefinable, but which I sought through everything.
So all that has come back to be sorted out, put in its place, offered (gesture upward), and now, it's over.