At Calcutta I had taken lessons in French at the Alliance Francaise and was able to read some of the Mother's books and her writings in the Bulletin in the original French. After settling down at the Ashram I wanted to improve my knowledge of this language, especially for speaking and writing.
For this purpose I turned to Madame Suvrata, an elderly French lady, who had received her new name from Mother. Formerly she was Yvonne Robert Gaebele. Her husband had been the Mayor of Pondicherry and she herself had worked at the Museum and the Historical Society, etc., retiring as the Chief Librarian of the Romain Rolland Library. I had got acquainted with her in connection with some financial transaction between Sri Aurobindo Society and her, and she gladly consented to give me regular lessons. I went to her in the evenings after playing badminton at the Ashram Theatre. Suvrata had her house opposite the Theatre.
After the French lessons I cycled or walked back home. The streets were half-lit and there were lamps and candles burning in several houses, with dance and music, and some families had their dinner tables spread on the pavements. The Creoles and other French nationals were the main inhabitants of that part of the White Town then.
Suvrata herself was one of the very few persons of pure French ancestry who chose to remain at Pondicherry after the end of the French regime, and her behaviour was typical of the French nobility. She once came to look for me when I was absent from the lesson session and I had not been able to inform her about it. Whenever she saw me on the road, she stopped to exchange greetings.
Her brother had helped Mother for her visa. She told me that when people complained to Mother against her or her brother, Mother always quietened them down saying that she remembered the service done to her by him in the visa matter.
During one of her visits to Mother, a costly gold brooch of Suvrata got loosened and fell down somewhere near Mother. She got it back at home with a letter from Mother expressing the hope that it was hers. How considerate Mother is, she would say.
Speaking of the early days, Suvrata told me that once it so happened that some official saw Mother sitting at the feet of Sri Aurobindo, and soon word spread about the French lady's beauty and the fact of her sitting at the feet of an Indian Yogi.
Ten years younger than Mother, she sometimes acted as her companion. When a plane landed at Pondicherry on May 5, 1930, Mother and she went to see it. I was just three years old then.
Suvrata authored several scholarly books, one of which was on the history of Pondicherry. Mother appreciated it and asked her for one more copy for the Ashram Library.
She admired Mother's mastery over the French language. She also mentioned that Mother did not like the rules of grammar to be broken. She was content with my progress in French. She remarked that my writing in French had got the French turn, and added that sometimes I even looked arrogant the French way.
Mother also remarked that my French was better and more French than that of the Ashram boys.
Towards the end, Suvrata had a long illness. Nata visited her daily then, for some three years, sometimes with flowers from Mother. When I was informed that she-was leaving for France, I went to her to say "Good-bye". Her elder daughter had come in October 1973 to take her. She informed me of her passing away at Vannes. The end came in January 1974 when she was 85.
Later, when her daughter came to Pondicherry on a visit, she called on me. I was touched to know that Suvrata remembered me in France with her usual affection.
There was a time when the evening meditation used to take place in the Ashram gardens with the Mother on the terrace. Suvrata had written a poem in French on 6 Sep 1945,'Soirs A L'Ashram', which I translated in 1967 and appeared in Mother India, along with the original French. The last stanza of this poem 'Ashram Evenings' is:
O! the splendour of the evenings in the Ashram gardens! Invisible descends...Joy, Sweetness, Benediction... Thou art there now... all is Adoration!
So beautiful and so mighty, Thy forehead crowned with a belt
Towards us Thou leanest... Thy silk floats in the air...
And suddenly, in us, all is wide, all is pure...
Towards Thee our hearts rise in a rhythm strong and sure,
Thy Light answers, enveloping our souls...
O! the splendour of the evenings in the Ashram gardens!