From a challenging past, Grace found Auroville and carries her dreams into its future
Grace grew up in a Gandhi orphanage in the Dindigul District where she and her brother had been left when she was just six years of age. There she was raised to live in simplicity. “We could only wear cotton,” she describes, “had regular prayer time, simple meals and a structured discipline.” Bold in her youth and curious about the world around her, it is not a surprise that at the age of seventeen she began to dream of other things. “I would go walking every day five kilometers to and from school. On the way I would see many women dressed in beautiful colored silk saris going to their jobs. Their lives seemed so independent and I thought I would like to be more like them.” So, after completing the eleventh standard, Grace's ‘mother' from the orphanage who was a doctor helped her to secure a job in a hospital where she worked in the records office for family planning while studying to become a nurse.
Two years later, Grace was re-acquainted with a friend, Sarasudevi, whom she used to dance with as a child. Sarasudevi was from Edaiyanchavadi, participated in Auroville activities and invited Grace to come and stay with her in this growing international city. Grace's curiosity guided her to make this adventurous step even though her orphanage mother went against her choice and told her that if she moved to Auroville, she could not return to the orphanage. Still bold in her actions, she packed up her meagre belongings and came to live in a keet roofed room in the community of Bliss. Living with Sarasudevi, she began to attend Last School where she was determined to work on her English, a subject that she had struggled in so far. “It was all so different,” describes Grace, “I felt like I was living in a jungle, and there were all these different cultures and people around me. Then after just five months, my friend Sarasudevi left the area for a job and I had to decide what to do as I was now living on my own in Bliss and the nights could become quite lonely and scary. It was at this time that I met my future husband, Nagappan. He was also studying and sometimes he would give me a ride home after school.”
Regardless of the budding romance, Grace decided to return to the orphanage where her mother said “I told you so” but helped her regain her job at the hospital. During the following two years, Grace spent her monthly allowance of Rs.50 on evening classes to learn typing and continued her romance with Nagappan through letters. Following the line of a good love story, Nagappan proposed marriage and Grace had to decide between two worlds that she knew and cared for. She was offered a job in Auroville as a teacher at New Creation School . This helped her feel secure in her decision, pack her bag and once again disappoint her mother whose loving discipline could not stop this young woman from following her instinctively adventurous nature. Typical of young love, Grace remembers her return to Auroville with fondness. “Nagappan and I had not thought about anything,” she laughs. “We did not think about how we would get a house or pay for food or anything. Nagappan was also in school and all we thought about was our love.”
Today, after seventeen years of a happy marriage and two children, Grace, in the maturity of adulthood, still faces life courageously. She spends her days working at the Matrimandir, for the Water Service and running the Auroville Today office. Apart from her daily work though, Grace has a personal dream she has carried with her for years. It is to have a women's centre in Auroville where the women of Auroville can come together. Presently, Grace's participation in the active women's group gives hope for such a project in the future. “Two years ago,” she explained, “I began to study why the women's group of Auroville had started and stopped so many times. Then some other women and I restarted the group while trying to keep in perspective why it had not worked before. This is a group for women who want to study more and learn. They want to go on outings maybe without their husbands and children and they want to get together for talking and sharing their feelings.”
Grace presented her larger dream of a women's centre to the group recently and it was received well with many women saying they have had the same dream. Their dream is for a centre where all these activities and more can take place. “It would be a place where we can have a library, some computers, a meeting room, a space for dance and crafts and many other things. My dream also includes some rooms where women can come and stay for a night or a couple of days if they need where they are safe and comfortable. Also, there should be space for a caretaker.” Grace also discussed how this venue would be ideal for women who marry into Auroville, speak little or no English and feel a bit lost in their new environment.
Though the group is open to all the women of Auroville, it holds a unique opportunity for the Tamil Aurovilian women because their work and home lives do not provide many opportunities to get together with female peers, without being mothers or wives, and simply enjoy themselves. “In February we started the new women's group. In March, for Women's Day, we held a two day seminar where we danced, sang, took karate classes and discussed issues that are important to us. We also talked about making short plays to take to the villages where we would show how drinking and other abuses can affect us women and our families.”
With each meeting the group is growing. At the most recent one, forty two women from Auroville came to share. “We decided to make a list of the things we would like to learn and do. Thirteen points were agreed upon such as embroidery, painting, yoga, tailoring, singing, dance and beautician work. Afterwards the co-ordinators of the women's group met to discuss what would be realistic to start now and we decided upon tailoring, singing, embroidery and painting.” Thirteen women have started meeting twice a month to work on their embroidery and several get together for singing classes. A painting teacher has yet to be found but the women hope that t-shirt painting and their embroidery can bring in some funds to cover basic costs for small outings and such. The group now meets twice a month at varying central locations in Auroville.
Another aspect of the women's group which will be incorporated into the centre's program is readings and translations of the works of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo, as well as parts of the Auroville News and Notes and excerpts from the Auroville Web to be better informed about the community and its spiritual background. “I was thinking of what we can do here that is good for the whole of Auroville and I realized that more knowledge of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo would be good, not only for us, but because it will pass down to our children and that is what we are here to do – to build something new for us and for the future.”