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Ann Riquier

The secret is compassion

"Now is the time to trust, respect and recognise each other. But before we can do this, we have to recognise ourselves."

It is amazing that Ann Riquier can still believe in trust and respect, as she has seen and heard so much to the contrary. What most people in the world only know from the media, Ann has heard first hand: she has written two books about the Tibet issue, and when I read them I had to cry.
I wonder how Ann can still laugh? The secret is compassion, she says, and because love is the energy of life which goes beyond death. "It's just not possible to go through evolution without compassion..., that would leave only the intellectual way. We have to integrate compassion into our daily lives," she says.

The French years

Before Ann (born in France in 1947) jumped into Auroville's daily life some 18 years ago, she was working as a journalist for a French women's magazine and was in charge of Auroville International France in Paris. Here she says: "I just knew I would come to Auroville one day and participate in the experiment, because it was the only project in the world where you don't see the end: it is always in process. And I wanted to go deeper into myself and go through my ignorance, overthrow the fears and blockages. We are here to liberate our conditioning, our programmed reflexes accumulated through education over uncounted generations. We need to come back to the primordial state, the roots of the human being. We are here to understand what we are doing on this earth: it's a big responsibility for ourselves and the world."

Tibetan connection

Since childhood Ann has been emotionally connected to Tibet and its culture, but this didn't keep her from discovering Auroville and its background. "Mother and Sri Aurobindo have shown us the path of permanent, unending education. I still feel like a child, forever learning, and therefore I find this experiment so fantastic. We just never can say, "Now I know…, full stop!" Each and every day you discover something more, something new.. These inner adventures go always deeper, always higher," says Ann.

The Auroville adventure

Finally arriving in Auroville in 1984, Ann worked in Pour Tous, the food distribution centre which was started in 1974. At the time Auroville was in a bit of a crisis, and Ann found herself practically alone with the employees, facing the job. "The workers, who are still there today, showed me the ropes. Jean leGrand joined, too. Because of the situation, there were quite a few difficulties. There was no collective money to buy goods from Pondy, and I had to tell people time and again, "If you want a food basket tomorrow, please bring money today."
Even so, this was my most beautiful time here. It was hard work, from 7am to 6 pm. Pour Tous just was never closed. Somehow you became the big Mama for the people; you were concerned that they get good food. It connected the spirit of Auroville. Nowadays the general mentality and spirit have changed a lot. And Pour Tous functions like a small supermarket," says Ann.
Ten years later she switched her work to Kottakarai Guesthouse. Afsaneh, its founder, was in Germany, and Ann managed the place for some 4 years while living on site. It was during that time that she started visiting Dharamsala.

Tibet calling

"Since my childhood I was somehow waiting to get in touch with the Tibetan people, so you can imagine my great joy and gratitude when finally I got connected through various projects in Dharamsala. The paradox is that Tibetan teaching made me understand Mother and Sri Aurobindo so much better.
I'm learning enormously from the Tibetans themselves: "all these people, with so much suffering, but always ready to give and to smile. I feel our modern civilisation has lost something. We're too much involved in the drama of life, and we're totally hypnotised by our egoistic way of thinking. We have forgotten the simplicity, and our inter-dependence. The world is a big family with different cultures, and inherent in these cultures is a gift which we have to share, not to fight."

Kalsang and Ngawang

In Dharamsala she met with Kalsang and Ngawang, two 16-year old Tibetan teenagers who both went to school there. When the opportunity arose for them to go for an apprenticeship in Auroville, Ann became their contact person when they arrived at Kottakarai Guesthouse after three days of travelling. Six months later, when they asked to stay for good, Ann told them on behalf of Auroville: "You are totally free to stay here, and if tomorrow Tibet were to be free, you can go back and bring to your country what you learned here in Auroville."

Meeting the Dalai Lama

"For my work, His Holiness has given me ample chance to have interviews and private meetings with him and to understand what the real meaning of 'compassion' is. I am very grateful for this. He showed me the path, and what it means:

responsibility, compassion and inter-dependence.

Personally I feel that it would be interesting for Auroville when all of us here start integrating these three qualities into our daily lives. Generally speaking, there is already a higher understanding here regarding issues such as human unity, the environment and other world issues. But compassion is essential..."

Paroles de Tibétaines

Ann's interest and involvement in the Tibetan issue has resulted in two books written by her. The first book is based on interviews with Tibetan women over a period of two years, which took her eventually nine months to write. She went back and forth from Auroville to the refugee camp in Dharamsala, staying there for a few weeks at a time, sometimes a month. This first work is published as 'Paroles de Tibétaines' and was released in 1998 in France by Plon. (Its German translation is called 'Leih mir deine Flügel, weißer Kranich'.) It is a breathtaking report of three Tibetan women who are now living in India and describe, in their own words, their former lives in Tibet, the brutal torture and terror, the destruction of their culture by the Chinese government, their dangerous escape to India, and their new lives in exile.

La légende du Karmapa

"After my first book, the editor asked me to do the story of the Karmapa, and this resulted in 'La légende du Karmapa', also published by Plon. Through my books I want to highlight what is happening in Tibet, and the way the Chinese government is undermining the Tibetan race, its culture and environment. The Tibetans have now brought their culture to India, where it originally comes from, and their heritage is shared with the whole world."

While writing, Ann made sure not to be cut off from everyday life in Auroville. She continued doing plastering work at Matrimandir and, being a journalist herself, was collaborating with the Auroville Outreach team in their work of accompanying journalists and film makers from India and abroad during their explorations of Auroville. "This activity always enables me to rediscover Auroville again, and to realise the growth and evolution of the township," says Ann. "We can learn from each other, trying to recognise in each other the inner beauty and strength for building a more harmonious world."

Here and now

When, at the beginning of 2001, Auroville's Entry Group announced that a new procedure of receiving Newcomers into Auroville was going to be tried out, Ann decided to join and work with its core group. She is also preparing a new book, continues to work with Auroville Outreach, and after many years of living in a first-floor apartment in the Prarthna settlement, is now looking for a new place to stay. "Ground floor! To feel the earth again and getting grounded…"

- by Julietta


Ann's e-address is dolma@auroville.org.in 

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