My earliest recollection of the Mother goes back to around the mid 1940s. Our family was accepted in the Ashram by the Mother in 1944 when I was two years old.
I remember my pre-school classroom which was located in what is now the gymnasium. In around 1946, the Playground was acquired. The first physical activity I did in front of the Mother was rabbit race, hopping on all fours across half the length of the Playground under Her watchful eye. Being short I was pretty good at it! When the slide was constructed in the Guest House, Badol and I were the first ones to come sliding down, with Her standing at the bottom watching us!
My first memory of the 2nd December programme which was held in the Playground until 1952, was Dayakar attempting a summersault over the vaulting box — which is still there — and hitting his lower back at the far end of the box. He was bedridden, but the Mother visited his home across from the Harpagon every evening on Her way back to the Ashram.
Soon after, the Tennis Ground was acquired, and the athletics competition began to be held there. The running races were held in the morning on the ocean boulevard (Beach Road) with the finish line being the entrance to the Tennis Ground, closest to the tennis courts. The other events were held in the evening when She was present. I remember watching Gangaram and Suman competing for first prize in high jump.
These competitions moved to the Sportsground in 1952. She used to come to the Sportsground after Her tennis. When She played tennis, I used to be Her ball boy, along with Sunil-da and my brother.
For all the running races, She held the tape at one end at the finish line. For all the other events, She was seated close to the venue watching every performance intently, not as a casual observer. Once I was doing hop step and jump and jumped from quite far behind the line. Arun Kumar put the tape down at the take off line, as he should have. After the measurement was completed She asked him to place the tape from where I had actually taken off!
Nothing gave us more joy and excitement than being able to perform before Her. I recall, on many occasions over the years, finishing first in athletics events. And when I went in line to get prasad from Her, I got double the amount and a memorable smile!
An example of how closely She observed everything when we were in front of Her is the following incident. I lived next door to the Ashram, above the Atelier. One morning, I came racing out onto the street and was faced with a bicycle. Having no option, I jumped over the front wheel, landed on my legs and bruised my knee. I did not bother to get first aid for fear of drawing my parents’ attention. That evening, I came in front of her for Prasad. She asked what I had done to my knee! I proudly stated “J’ai knocké mon genou.” She laughed heartily at the new French word I had created! Nothing escaped Her gaze, internal and external.
Being good in gymnastics, specifically vaulting and agility (floor exercises), I had been participating in the 2nd December programs in Her Presence from a pretty young age. In all the years I participated from the late 40s, I missed once in 1952, due to an ankle injury during the practice. I got to perform on Pranab-da’s birthday, October 18th, every year. I was chosen to perform floor exercises in the Playground when Jawaharlal Nehru visited the Ashram.
Even after She had retired from external activities, She remained involved and informed about the Physical education activities. I recall that in 1961 or 62, I cut my chin while practising trampoline and required a few stitches. When Udar, who kept Her abreast of the preparations for the 2nd December program, informed Her of my injury, She wanted to know whether I would be able to participate on the 2nd, which I did.
I left Her physical presence in 1964 to pursue a doctoral program in Chicago. I left with Her Blessings and the love and discipline of physical education that I had imbibed by the example She set, day after day, year after year. I promised myself that I would make every effort to keep myself as fit as the last time I performed before Her.
In those days there were no gymnasiums or fitness centers of any kind in the U.S.A. I exercised in my small room in the attic of a house, where I used my chemistry textbooks as dumb-bells! Later, I had access to tennis courts but no place for gymnastics. The luxury of the facilities of the Ashram were non-existent in the richest country of the world! Note that She started the gymnasium in the 1940s, but health clubs came into existence in the US, and later in other parts of the world, four decades later. Note also that both girls and boys participated in the same activities together, based on ability, not gender. It is still not the case in most parts of the world. Neither was one’s age an issue. I recall Nolini-da participating in long jump competition with children much younger than him!
From the time of our marriage (by the Mother in 1966), Hansa and I have both remained focused on keeping our bodies fit by exercising regularly, in addition to working professionally together for two decades and raising two sons, Niraj (name given by the Mother) and Uday (named by Champaklal-bhai).
Every time we came back to Pondicherry was when I could practise my gymnastics. When we came to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Mother’s birthday, as usual I was practising my back flips in the Sportsground. I was thirty-six years old then. Chitra-di must have noticed because she went and asked Pranab-da if I could participate in the Darshan day performance in the Playground. He consented, and for the first time I did multiple back flips, finishing off with a back somersault. Being permitted to participate after being away for fourteen years was, for me, an affirmation from Her.