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Annotated letter dated 17 January, 2009.
17 January, 2009
This morning I was informed that you have “decided to hand over Madhavji’s” office to Chandranath “for sale of photographs” and that he has already confirmed his acceptance of our office space; accordingly you had then sent word to Dada “for his information” only. I found this message very distressing and went to Dada for verification. He confirmed that you had sent a message along these lines to me, but that you have not consulted him at any stage, and that he had only been informed by you indirectly and by oral message. On his part he said that he does not wish to take possession of Madhav-ji’s office since it was given by the Mother for a specific work which should continue.
Several years ago — long before the publication of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo — it was decided by the then Trustees that the office space used by M.P. Pandit would remain at the disposal of his associates until the death of his sister, who passed away last year. Since then Ranade has resisted the handover. He knows that the timing of the Trustees' action on this matter has nothing to do with the biography controversy. His attempt to pretend otherwise is striking proof of his dishonesty.
I write to you in great pain on realizing how low you have let yourselves fall in sheer pettiness and foul politicking! You are systematically and persistently attacking all those who have played an active role in exposing the perversions that Peter Heehs is spreading about Sri Aurobindo through his latest book. I wonder at how misplaced your priorities are!
Shocked by the rude manner in which Ranade addresses the Trustees of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the reader may overlook the falsity of his accusations. Once again: the book has nothing to do with the agreement that existed between the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust and Ranade, nor with the violation of this agreement by Ranade, nor with the consequent action of the Trustees.
Your declared reasons to take over the office “for sale of photographs” is a sham as that is the worst place for any sales since no visitor is permitted on that side. Your surreptitious arrangement with Chandranath, bypassing Dada’s authority, smacks of irresponsible and petty scheming. Your intention was obviously to create a divide in the Ashram by pitting Chandranath against Dada to divide the PED, and to pit them both against me – and all this just to serve your petty political ends and personal grudges against those who have stood firm in exposing Peter’s defamatory book. Truly a disappointing state of affairs!
"Dada" is the director of the Ashram's department of physical education. He has no authority in this matter. What Ranade is attempting here is to create a divide within the Ashram, in the hope that this will help him get out of a previous agreement.
I was further appalled to discover that under your instructions Matriprasad has begun to build dossiers of information against each one of us involved in exposing Peter’s book by actively seeking out anyone who might have personal grudges from the past, in order to “build cases” against us. This is a dangerous precedent reminiscent of the rise of Fascism and I hope this does not signify the beginning of a Fascist phase in Ashram life. History will judge you harshly for such actions. Dear Trustees, we all respect you and appreciate that you carry many responsibilities on your shoulders. We also understand that you can make mistakes – as can anybody. In Peter’s case you had given him permission in good faith. Nobody blames you for it.
No dossiers matching Ranade's feverish imagination exist. The allusions to Fascism are telling, for it is Ranande himself who uses mass mobilization techniques reminiscent of Fascism in order to carry out his agenda. It would be distressing if the Ashram Trust did support a movement launched by someone for strictly personal reasons (as, in this case, Ranade's jealousy of Heehs's academic achievements and his ambition of becoming a celebrated TV guru). Also noteworthy is that not even a paragraph marks the transition from agression to sympathy in the above passage.
But when he is exposed as having abused your good faith, and when he abuses our Master and Guru and insults our Mother and perverts Their teachings to win personal and dubious academic and financial rewards, you surely have the right to withdraw your permission and limit or undo the wrong that has been committed by misuse of your permission.
It requires more than a touch of egotism and hubris to advise the Ashram Trustees about their rights. Nowhere outside the sordid imagination of people of Ranade's ilk does Heehs abuse Sri Aurobindo or insult the Mother. Now that his biography is more readily available, many readers have begun to ask how Ranade came up with these ridiculous charges and what his motivations were. Heehs has given the "financial rewards" of his writing and speaking to the Ashram from the time of his first book (1987). His donations exceed three lakhs of rupees. The academic recognition he has gained as a result of his books and papers have raised the profile of Sri Aurobindo in the academic world. If Heehs has obtained permission from the Managing Trustee, Manoj Das Gupta, to quote from the works of Sri Aurobindo, it was more as a matter of respect than as a legal requirement, since the quotations fell easily within the fair use provisions of the Copyright Act. To speak of a "misuse" of this permission is absurd.
Everyone supports you in the exercise of this right. But rather than withdrawing permission and withdrawing the book which insults and defames Sri Aurobindo, you are choosing to attack all of us who have stood up on behalf of devotees in support of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother! Your distorted sense of priorities is astounding, and quite disgusting. Why are you attacking us now? We have only served to protect Sri Aurobindo’s reputation and the Ashram’s interests.
What is disgusting is Ranade's insulting language. Observe that he makes himself known as being in conflict with the Ashram Trust. His "standing up on behalf of the devotees" is thus revealed as an attempt to emerge as the leader of of a mob which attempts to influence the decisions of the Trustees and eventually achieve more formal forms of power. The Trustees are aware of Ranade's motivations and have seen through his professions of looking after the Ashram's reputation and interests.
We have only worked to expose distortions in Peter’s book. We have never criticized any of you.
As noted above, Ranade and his allies have used the book issue as a means to attack the Trust, destabilize the Ashram, and promote their own interests.
We have never even criticized Peter Heehs personally.
This statement takes one's breath away. Ranade's email of 25 September 2008 is filled with personal abuse. All substantive portions of the complaint against Heehs in the Orissa High Court were transferred bodily from this email. All three court cases against Heehs would be unthinkable without Ranade's vitriolic emails, blog posts, and malicious gossip, all of which attack Heehs personally.
We have no truck with any of the associations that have put cases against the Ashram.
Ranade refers to entities like the Beneficiaries Association and the Inmates Association, which have been involved in cases against the Ashram over the revised edition of Savitri and other matters.
All we have done is to expose the book. And with enough effect that Peter’s supporters are unable to justify him anymore and have taken last resort in openly abusing us on personal grounds through public internet forums. They feel threatened by our exposure of their game.
If Peter's friends are alarmed, it is neither by Ranade's real or imaginary actions nor by the real or imaginary effects of these actions. They are alarmed by the readiness with which the lies spread by people of Ranade's ilk are accepted, by the widespread tendency among followers and devotees of Sri Aurobindo to look the other way under the pretext of maintaining "peace and harmony", while the world at large, which needs Sri Aurobindo more than anything else, gasps in horror at the militant fundamentalism of his "disciples." The Trust has of course seen through Ranade's ambitions and does not find anything in his "exposure of Peter's mischief."
But what threat do you find in our exposure of Peter’s mischief? What interests have you compromised with that you now find yourselves compelled to protect Peter and attack us instead?