An Afternoon in Hermitage
- by Varenya
The experience conveyed here
is nothing new, but it has helped me through difficult situations and it
is my wish that it may work also for you.
Once I was living on a
deserted piece of land in Southern India. My life during the two years
and three months I spent there was that of a pioneer of sorts, in the
sense that when I arrived, the land was totally bare of even the
frailest blade of grass. No tree had survived the onslaught of grazing
cattle from the nearby villages, apart from a few dwarf palmyra trees
and a baobab.
For one who loves challenges and solitude, prayer and communion with
nature (yes, even stones are natural, and so is a bare earth baked under
a scorching sun), it would have been hard to find a more ideal setting.
But at times, when faith in God and one's good fortune gives way to
self-pity and the sadness of being alone, when one feels weak against
the violent assaults of an inner turmoil, even the most exciting life
can take on the guise of a nightmare.
One day, I was pumping water from a shallow well I had dug for the
burgeoning dream of "my" bird sanctuary. This particular day
had been a hard one right from the moment of setting foot on the ground.
Everything had gone wrong that could possibly go wrong: the house was
surrounded by cows when I woke up, my dog had disappeared, all
matchboxes were damp and I couldn't start the fire, villagers had broken
the fence, workers did not show up and someone had stolen my watch. A
mess of a day like one has to face, sometimes, when stars suddenly think
it wise to meddle with human affairs. And there I was, pumping water at
the hand-pump. And I remember, though it was early afternoon, the sky
suddenly became very dark. Dark grey clouds appeared at great speed and
it became almost night right in the middle of noon. An awesome feeling
came over me like at the end of a world, and the whole scene is engraved
in my memory, as vivid as if it had happened yesterday. How lonely, and
lost, and powerless I felt, at that moment. I may have cried, one hand
on the long green handle of the pump, and life flashed through my mind
as it may do when death arrives.
But suddenly, while the
first heavy drops of rain started to fall and the sky struck the land
and the four corners of heaven with its wrathful lightning, some funny
thought arose in me. I felt projected twenty years ahead of that
particular moment, and looking back. And what did I remember from these
extraordinary circumstances? What remained of the fear and anguish that
had tied knots into my stomach? Only beauty. The incredible beauty of
the scenery, the sweetness of little timid flowers growing around a
small hut covered with palmyra leaves, budding creepers, a water jar
filled with fresh, clear water, and birds, lizards, frogs, harmony, and
the joy of being alive. Knowing that these would be my memories, I
became aware of them being present and enjoyed this downpour of loving
rain over the open-armed and welcoming Mother earth.
This happened thirteen years
ago. And to this day I remember. There will be a time when today's
insurmountable difficulties will have left behind them a taste of
sweetness and harmony, when years will have softened the hard and sharp
edges of life and through the veil of an apparent drama, a smile will
shine, a smile that was always there.
Varenya spent 12 years
in Auroville and has just recently returned after 10 years away. She is
at present involved in maintaining the Auroville website.
Dancing in Byzantium
- by Roger
"Il me semble que
je suis en train d'apprendre beaucoup de choses, justement sur cette
transition qu'on appelle la mort. Ça commence de devenir de plus en plus
irréel. C'est très intéressant."
December, a quiet morning,
it has just stopped raining, outside a lush greenness, the sound of
birds, and far away the rain-enraged roar of the ocean. Almost empty
muddy roads, the sound of "ammas" cycling by, cheerful
laughter can be heard from the road, the full throated kettle-drum sound
of the brain fever bird comes from the garden nearby.
Travelling in Kerala I felt
you close. It would come on me suddenly - I could sense you sitting
across tables, or present in the corner of rooms.
Walking through the forest
of Thekkadi, or on the long bus ride down to Quilon I was alone with my
thoughts and frequently with you. Our minds are like receiving stations;
one has to know how to adjust channels when one ruts into routine. There
are frequencies difficult to catch like colours beyond or behind the
visible spectrum and which come to us through the static.
I hear you, whole
conversations in my head, I can even make out the intonation of your
voice. Your voice a whisper, clear as light in the clamour of the storm.
It comes and goes suddenly out of the nowhere. I'll think of you and a
conversation will ensue. At times, I feel I'm picking up on your
presence, at others just raiding the jumbled storeroom of my mind, the
grab-bag of my past. Much recedes unrecorded by the surface mind but
registers subconsciously and can be retrieved when the barriers of the
mind break down. Memory does not register time, but intensity. Is memory
independent of the mind? Haphazard, unsequential, the penumbra of life's
unlit interiors illumined by a sudden flash, an intrusion of grief or
insight. The surface mind registers but more often than not deforms what
the intuition receives. And how real is memory? Vistas of splendour
haunt us like the partial translation of a half forgotten text, the code
to which we lack.
The distance created by your
death at first saddened and surprised me - I didn't expect it, or want
to believe it would exist - but I now feel I have come to know you
better, acquired a deeper feeling for the different sides and shades of
your personality, the human complexities of your conflict and struggle.
Taken by the beauty of your aspiration, transfixed by that etherial
flame, the shadows went unnoticed and were refused.
We are all pursued by our
shadow, our dark familiar angel, anchored in the dusk, partner in the
dance that called us down to earth. Born under the sign of Saturn you
were fascinated by the dark side of life, the shadows of another sun.
You created situations that were the opposite of what you sought,
through the very roles you chose. "Je me suis fait lointaine,
intouchable"- you remarked, as you called all the while for
affection and intimacy. But you would show us you would be loved. You
played with drama and tragedy drawing others into it dancing your final
act out bravely and alone in a last dark tango of body and soul. Was it
But now, can you care about
our contradictions now in a world that moves to other laws? Be true to
one's fragments, I would have said a few months ago. And so I write
unweaving time with words. Windows blow open, a telephone doesn't ring,
the past whispers of presences, absences, your urn and ashes in the
hall, as velvet sanctuaries of dream haunt an asphalt world.
Roger Harris is a founding
member of Auroville Today. This story is from his unpublished novella
'Dancing in Byzantium'.
She who listens to the voices of the world
- by Yanne Dimay
Simon sleeps. His chest
rises and falls steadily, his breath at last calm. The fever has gone
down, as predicted by Doctor Shankar Subramanian. The minute I had
introduced myself to him, I realised that something serious had
occurred. Shankar Subramanian immediately brought me to this hotel where
Simon had felt unwell. He had not hidden his concern to me as regards
Simon's extreme state of weakness.
I cancelled my trip to
I sat on the ground, my back
against his bed, a parchment pad of writing paper on my knees.
It is imperative that I
forget nothing, that I not trick myself, and fulfil the need to write
the truth in all its obscenity. My brain boils over with images, people,
words. Too many new sensations have confused my spirit. I need to get
back to what is essential. I need to organise my intimate mess. I need
to create approximate facts and unveil lies to render the absolute
truth. I need to listen to my inner voice, tell this story, translate,
refine my thought, but also and above all, bring my whole being to
unveil itself without judgement or reticence. The most difficult thing
is just getting started. The beginning is never what one might have
thought it to be, it has to be preceded by a devastating emotion. How
far back must I go to find the source of what is now in the process of
radically changing my life?
The best would be to tame my
memory so that no interpretation gets in the way of the sequence of
events, I must describe more than feel and react, conduct my
introspection stealthily, but without pushing the spirit behind closed
doors. Never before having felt the need to explore the very depths of
this story have I felt the need to write.
First I must not forget that
I began this journey on someone else's behalf. This journey which was
supposed to have been a parenthesis, a holiday of sorts, has transformed
itself into a trial, an ordeal, a journey into my inner labyrinths. I
observe first hand the predictable slipping of one personality and life
How long has it been since I last spoke French? With Simon in Nallapuram
we communicated in English during our working hours. Those rare moments
we found ourselves alone we spoke a bastardised French enriched with
English and Tamil words. The last person who I really spoke to in my own
tongue was Jacques.
I was not aware of the pain born of this situation. I now realise in
passing that my language has eroded. Foreign words have come to haunt my
dreams, and images are no longer born of full-fledged sentences. My
thought has narrowed itself down a prisoner of primal statements born of
the paucity of my English and the impossibility to communicate with
locals anything more than the vital basics. Is it this suffering that
impels in me the need to write or the imperative necessity to leave a
trace of myself? It has taken all these days and this late tropical
afternoon to dare to just move my pencil. Will this answer all the
questions I carry within? Strangely enough even if today I know that
that there is no going back, I feel no nostalgia or regret. Sometimes I
do miss, like a fugitive eclipse, the grey Rouen skies, the bustling
noise of the town, the bistros and my family. But the only thing that
weighs me down is the absence of silken rustle of the French tongue.
Yanne is a founding
member of Auroville Today. Presently she lives in Paris where she
published the novels Pour L'amour de Kali, Les montagnes bleues, Kali ,
and Celle qui écoutait les voix du monde from which this piece is
excerpted. The translation is by Roger Harris.