To mark 20 years of Auroville Today, some of our long-term readers tell us which articles they enjoyed the most.
Tim: I have specially enjoyed the occasional appearance of the Colonel from his Club in the heart of St. James'. His contributions have always lightened my day, perhaps because his largely outdated attitudes and harrumphing way of expressing himself can only be taken as a source of amusement. We need more such pieces in my opinion, if only to offset the seriousness of most of your other articles!
[Coincidentally, the Colonel has just sent us his latest missive.]
I was enjoying my customary post-prandial nap when Hackett [Nurse Hackett] bursts in waving some paper or other at me. I was about to tell the old bat to bugger off – I enjoy my afternoon snooze, and I've earned it, dammit, I've done my bit for King and Country – but then she tells me it's Auroville Today.
Now I've always had a soft spot for your rag. It's one of the better reads since The Old Thunderer went aussie and The Telegraph stopped covering polo. Not that I read much these days, that's Hackett's province who, by the by, seems to take a special pleasure in reading me the obits.
Anyway, I like Auroville Today. Keeps me up-to-date with you chappies labouring away in a far-flung corner of the Empire. Damn hard work, what? Nothing but sand, flies and crocs as I remember, though there were also the tiger hunts. Oh, and the balls in Simla where those good-lookin' fillies up from the plains showed us a thing or two. Hmm. Where was I?
Now Hackett, who keeps a record of these things, god knows why, tells me your November issue will be your 20th birthday. Damn good show, chaps. Takes pluck, staying-power, kind of thing you need when hacking your way through the Auroville jungle or fighting them Afghan hordes.
Hackett also tells me that your Metro…Mitri…anyway your golden thingy in the centre is now finished and open for business. Great work! Bit like Las Vegas , what? Hope it pulls in the punters.
And colour, dammit, you chappies at Auroville Today have gone in for colour! Bit of a shock at first – I'm not one for change, like my kippers for breakfast, a sundowner or two before dindins – but got to admit it's brightened up the old rag. Maybe now you could run a few more pics of the female of the species? Just joking, what!
OK chaps, the Hackett approaches with her damn potions and infernal grin. Keep up the good work and remember the old Swahili proverb, ‘When the bird flies south, face the goats to the wall'. Follow that and you'll never go far wrong.
I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
A.J.K. Buckfast-Smytthe (Colonel, retired)
[As is customary with the Colonel's letters, we feel constrained to provide a glossary of terms that are not in common usage]
‘post-prandial' – after a meal
‘rag' – newspaper
‘after The Old Thunderer went aussie' – after Rupert Murdoch took over The Times
‘obits.' – obituary columns
‘fillies' – young women
‘pulls in the punters' – attracts the gambling fraternity
‘kippers' – smoked herrings
‘sundowner' – alcoholic drink consumed at sunset
‘dindins' – dinner
‘when the bird flies south…' – regrettably, the meaning of this proverb eludes us.
Sri Aurobindo as I knew Him.
A talk by Nirodbaran (September 1993, AVT 56)
Franz: For me was the September issue 1993 was a very special issue. Nirodbaran was the first speaker from the Ashram who spoke to us and it was the beginning of Auroville's opening up towards the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry .
On 14th August, Nirodbaran, one of Sri Aurobindo's personal attendants for many years, gave a talk in Pitanga Hall in which he shared his memories of Sri Aurobindo.
Your invitation came to me as a mystic surprise – I call it ‘mystic' because I feel that this occasion has been ordained by Sri Aurobindo – and I readily accepted it. It has made me think of Sri Aurobindo very much in the past month, and to pray to him to give me the inspiration so that I can truly convey to you something of what Sri Aurobindo is.
What I observed of his outer life over these years [1938-1950] – for I had no inkling of his inner life – can be divided into two categories; the impersonal and personal aspects… He started revising The Life Divine for hours on end, without referring to any books, like a machine that had been set going. He did not notice us – we were like shadows – and he was completely impervious to his bodily needs or the intense heat. In this way he completed the three volumes of The Life Divine before beginning to work again on Savitri.
This, then, was the impersonal aspect of Sri Aurobindo, which was the hallmark of his being and consciousness. But there were times also when he came down from his high consciousness, and would talk and joke with us; and these, for us, were the most beautiful times. We could ask anything, and he would answer slowly, in a few words, with a very sweet smile. But he would never look at us, and hardly ever call any of us by our name.
His humour encompassed everything. For example, during the war everything was rationed. And we, his attendants, among our other duties had to see that he cleared his bowels daily. One day we noticed he had passed very little. ‘Sir', we said, ‘What is this? Please try harder.' ‘It's war economy!' he replied. He was not one of these stiff, high and dry yogis!
“At the very end his personal aspect was also there. Before he passed away he embraced his great bhakta, Champaklal, three, four, five times in a vast recognition of his service. We were amazed. Then, a few minutes before the end, he called me. ‘Nirod, give me some water.' It was the first time he had called me by my name, and those few, sweet words are imprinted on my soul…..He was always poised, serene, above all attachments, perfectly free. He himself said, ‘There is nothing human in me'. But it wasn't inborn. He told us he had had many faults in his nature, but he had transformed his nature by sheer tapasya, by the practice of yoga, by identification with the Divine. For nobody can become a perfect man by his own efforts.
“So, brothers and sisters, you are indeed very lucky to come to Auroville, to do Sri Aurobindo's and The Mother's work through their Force. There are many wonders in the world today, but Matrimandir and Auroville will surpass all the other wonders because they are spiritual – and you will be the instruments of their creation.”
The hidden world of ammas (December, 2006. AVT 214)
Manoj: One of the articles that left a good impression on me was the one on the world of ammas. It touched me because you brought out a domain of life that is otherwise neglected or on the periphery of our collective awareness. Through this article, you highlighted the ammas with love and respect as an integral part of our collective existence.
Ammas, literally ‘mothers', are in Auroville parlance female household and community workers.
Their day starts, on average, at four in the morning. This is the time they have for themselves, when the men folk and the children are still asleep. It's time for some personal care. A short while later they go to the community tap to collect water – if they're lucky there isn't a long queue of other women. Back home, they light the firewood stove, and the cooking begins; breakfast and lunch for all. Soon the husband will wake up, and his tea must be ready. By seven, the children are prepared for school. Shortly afterwards the ammas cycle to their work in Auroville (a journey of up to one hour), which starts at eight or half past eight. Their cycles are loaded with a lunch box and often the family's laundry which they do during their lunch hour. Few Auroville employers object.
After their Auroville work is completed, the ammas cycle home. Then comes the cleaning of the house, the cooking of dinner, looking after the children and all the other household chores – the men never do any work in their homes. The ammas' day normally ends at ten or eleven….
Are they happy to work in Auroville? The reply is unanimous. “Very much so.” They all agree it is one of the better things to have happened to them. Why? “Auroville is such a peaceful place to work in – we have mana nimmathi (peace of mind) when we arrive here to work every morning.” “Here we have our own space to take care of, and we treat the houses we work in as our own houses, taking great care with things, sometimes even making kolams or arranging flowers,” says Gowri. “Sometimes there are children in the house, and the job becomes even more enjoyable,” adds Meenambal.
“There is a job security here that we don't have working outside. In the village there may be work one day and no work the next. And the regular salary that we get gives us an inner strength and confidence that we can do something extra for our children or meet a sudden expense without fear.” The attitudes of their Aurovilian employers, with respect to bonuses, severance pay, the health care scheme and pension scheme are also much appreciated….
Watching the ammas go about their work, one cannot miss the special spirit of joy about them, despite their circumstances back home. “When we meet in Auroville, we can unburden ourselves and share our difficulties.” There is an openness in the conversations and everybody knows each other's family life inside out. It is like a sisterhood.