Some thirteen years ago, when I was a teenager studying in Last School , Christine Devin was my French teacher. She was one of those teachers with the precious gift of being able to instill the thirst for learning in her students. All these years later, I now have interviewed her. This is not a conventional profile. Christine is someone who much rathers talk about her work, in which she is always immersed, then about herself.
In 1974, the second caravan of people who had traveled overland from France arrived in Auroville. On board was Christine Devin. Over the years, quite a number of the young people who had arrived in these early years have left. But some have stayed, and Christine is one of them.
When Christine arrived, she started working in Pour Tous, together with Claire and Surabhi. After a couple of months, though, both of them left, and Christine was left in charge of running the distribution centre. Then, at the time of the conflict with the Sri Aurobindo Society, the Pour Tous Fund was created, and she joined the team which had been formed. “That was the beginning of financial independence for Auroville. The Pour Tous Fund was the seed of whatever came later, and is today known as the Central Fund. At that time, we worked in the small building in Kuilapalayam which later became the post office. That was Pour Tous,” she remembers, “that is also where the Pour Tous meetings started, in that small, small space. It was crowded, but there was such an amazing energy!”
Christine worked in Pour Tous for ten years. She stopped because, amongst other things, she wasn't happy with the direction the Auroville economy was heading. And she also wanted to do something different. During her final years in Pour Tous, she had started studying Hindi. And it so happened that at that time the Auroville Press, which was then headed by Claude Arpi and located in Fraternity, was working on bringing out the Mother's Agenda in Hindi. “The translation from the French original had been done by a pandit from Benares ,” explains Christine. “As I was still a beginner in Hindi, I was just supposed to type it out. But then we realized that there were a lot of mistakes in the translation, and we actually had a lot of editing and proof-reading work to do. So, Abha, Uma and myself started working on it together, taking it sentence by sentence, and comparing it to the French original. Now computers, at that time, just weren't what they are today. The machine at the Press, which was, I believe, one of the first computers in Auroville, kept crashing. We also had a complicated system to type, involving a lot of codes in the Hindi script. Also, we didn't have the possibility to print out our work, so we had to do the proof-reading on the screen itself. Then we would send whatever we had typed for photo-composing in Madras , and they would send us the print out. If there were any typing mistakes, we had to start all over again. So this work took us a few years, but finally we managed to bring out the Agenda in Hindi.”
Later, Christine was also involved in education, teaching French and History in Last School for a few years, while at the same time continuing to work at the Auroville Press. She also started studying Sanskrit.
In 1997, for the 50th anniversary of India 's independence, Auroville was invited to present an exhibition in Delhi . The idea came up of presenting a slide show along with music, which would illustrate and accompany some of Sri Aurobindo's texts. “We didn't want to speak about Sri Aurobindo, we wanted Sri Aurobindo to speak for Himself,” explains Christine. “So a team of us, including Olivier, Serge and myself from the Auroville Press, started working on this idea. I made a script, based on Sri Aurobindo's Independence Day message. We illustrated each of the five dreams He had for the future of India and the future of the world, with other texts He had written. For instance for the last dream, which is a step in evolution, we added a passage from Savitri, which Roger Harris read very beautifully. Except for a brief introduction where we spoke of His life, all the texts were by Sri Aurobindo, and were illustrated with different slides and accompanied by a soundtrack which Didier had worked on. Though we had very little time to work on this slide-show, the result was very powerful. And I think the main reason is that audio-visuals are really the media of our time. The show had a great impact on a lot of people in Delhi ; it was really Sri Aurobindo coming alive for these audiences. A lot of people came, amongst them many well-known Indian personalities.”
Since the slide show had been so well received and there was such a great response, Christine soon returned to Delhi and, together with Jyothi Madhok, who was a member of the Governing Board at that time, as well as others, she presented the slide show in many schools and universities there. She then went on to tour other states where she presented it in the educational institutions of various cities.
Some time later, they were invited to participate in another exhibition. And for the occasion, the team, which again included Christine, Serge and Olivier, started working on a new slide show The Genius of India. “We presented extracts from Sri Aurobindo's The Renaissance in India , where He speaks of the genius of India , as well as some of His texts on the main qualities of the Indian mind. Then we illustrated those texts with Olivier's photographs.” This second slide show had a great impact on the audiences as well. For the next couple of years, Christine toured the country, a few months at a time, presenting The Genius of India in various schools and universities. Apart from Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, she brought the slide show to schools and universities in Bombay, Pune, as well as, though less extensively, Bangalore and Chennai, in the South of the country.
Later, a film was made on The Genius of India. “I still feel that the slide show is an excellent medium to present Sri Aurobindo's texts,” stresses Christine, “First of all, as far as image quality is concerned, there is nothing like a slide. When projected, the power of the text, which is the main thing, the power of Sri Aurobindo's words, is really present, it vibrates. Film is powerful too, but it is a different medium, it doesn't have the same impact.”
Auroville Press Publishers also released a book on The Genius of India, in its Vande Mataram series. “In this series, which we have published in both French and English, we have different textson India , essentially from Sri Aurobindo, which we illustrate with photographs. One thing we realized, while touring the country with the slide shows, is that there are a lot of people, even in India, who do not know about Sri Aurobindo, who do not even know that he was involved in the freedom struggle and worked towards the independence of India. So we felt that the wider Indian public could be introduced to what Sri Aurobindo has written about India . I think these books can be of great interest even for people from other countries, who come to India and want to understand why they are so fascinated, or why this country is such a mystery. I must say that since I have worked on these texts, I have a feeling that there are things I had never understood about India , that I understand much better now. It was very enlightening.”
Another series which Auroville Press Publishers has brought out is Tales and Legends of India. There are tales from the Ramayana, and texts by Kalidasa, and all have been adapted from the Sanskrit into French by Christine. Roger Harris then translated the French adaptations into English. “I call them adaptations,” explains Christine, “because although the texts are quite close to the originals, I have taken certain liberties while translating them. For example Kalidasa's Shakuntala was written as a theatre script, yet I didn't render it as one, I adapted in into a tale. I also skipped certain passages.
“I can not say that I have learned Sanskrit, I can only say that I am learning Sanskrit. I am definitely not a Sanskrit scholar, for that I would need a whole lifetime, and I am involved in too many other things,” she continues, “But even without being a pandit, when you read a text in its Sanskrit original sometimes, it is so extraordinary, so beautiful, that you tell yourself, you've never read anything in any other language that even comes close to it, so you want to try and render it in your own language. That's what happened to me with each one of these texts. And I think that if one loves Sanskrit, even if one isn't a scholar, one can attempt this work. For me, the universe of Sanskrit, and the universe of Sanskrit literature is really like an ocean, an ocean of beauty. And you dip your little toe in it, and touch it with the little knowledge that you have, which is really like a very little window, but nevertheless, you touch something which is real. In Sanskrit there is such richness, in sound, sense, meaning, there is such depth, such power. It is incomparable, but on the other hand, I still feel that my adaptations can bring something to those who can not have access to the Sanskrit originals.”
There is also the Pavilion Series. “We have released a few books in this series, some are in French, others in English. The idea is to publish texts which have human unity and international understanding as a focus, and from there on to present different personalities, stories or historical events, that can show either the genius of a certain country, or the meeting point between several countries,” explains Christine. Two new books in this series were recently released, one written by Claude Arpi, on the last days of Pondicherry as a French colony, as seen by the then British general council. The other book, written by Christine is Unir des Hommes – Jean Monnet. “When I discovered Jean Monnet, which was quite recently, though he is a rather well-known French personality, I felt what an extraordinary man, what an extraordinary life! So immediately I started to do some research on him and his life. Jean Monnet was one of the important precursors of the unification of Europe . All his life he worked at uniting people, during the two World Wars as well as during times of peace. He felt that ‘collaboration' between countries wasn't enough. In times of peace things would go well, but he had seen that in times of war, or crisis, each country thought about their own interests first. So one of his great ideas was the fusion of sovereignties; that each country would delegate a portion of its power to an institution which would be above all these countries, and would be independent, and could act independently. So this was one of his great dreams, on the basis of which, slowly by slowly, the European Union was built, in spite of all drawbacks. What I immediately felt, when I started reading about Jean Monnet and his life, was that he was an instrument of human unity, that he was an instrument of Sri Aurobindo. During my research, I came into contact with the Foundation Jean Monnet in Switzerland . And they allowed me to access a lot of interesting archives and documents, which Monnet himself had presented to them. And when I read his personal diaries, where he looks at himself, analyses his nature, questions himself on how he can progress, I really felt those were the diaries of a yogi. And that is how I presented Jean Monnet in my book, as a yogi, as an instrument of human unity. When it came out, I presented a copy of my book to the president of the Jean Monnet Foundation, who was actually a very close friend of Monnet. And he was very interested, not by my book, but by the fact that I had presented Jean Monnet in a different light, which is actually the light of Sri Aurobindo. That was new to him. At the same time, he told me I had really perceived and captured the essence of Jean Monnet's personality.”