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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."

Mother's Agenda III, 16.10.62


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 necessary? Perhaps.

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 Trivandrum.

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 into another.
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.

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