An interview with Shyama published in “Turning Points”
via At The Mothers Feed BLOG
I was married and lived in Uganda. My husband was a Bengali whose mother was a devotee. In 1961, somebody came to Africa to collect money for World Union. That person was Austin Delaney; a very colourful person. My husband had just come out with the first issue of a literary magazine he started. Austin being also interested in literature, writing, etc., had approached him. So we met.
I recognised in him… He came from somewhere where the light was. He didn’t have it himself, but he came from where the light was. We corresponded over the years, as my marriage became more and more difficult, on the verge of breaking up. That was my life basically, so it was threatened. We corresponded for years, it was not even so much the content of his letters; it was his steady friendship that led me through. Anyway, as often happens in personal crisis and difficulty, the questions became more and more pertinent. For me, a classic spiritual search: what is the meaning of life, why am I on this earth? To suffer? Too stupid… . This is not enough. And with a marriage breaking up and little children, it became very acute. Either there had to be something or I wasn’t interested in living. It was life or death.
Austin suggested: why don’t you come to Pondicherry on a visit? I had three small children, but I had also help, so I could leave. Around March 1965, I came to the Ashram on a visit. I stayed with Austin and asked to see Mother. She said, “Yes, come with Austin,” and that of course was that….
I still have such a vivid memory of walking into her room upstairs, it was her audience room in those days, not her private room where later she saw people; she had an audience room, Champaklal was the door keeper.
I wait in the heat there for quite a while, then he opens the door, it is a bit dim, she is sitting in a corner, in a chair – a small room – I look at her eyes, and it is like an instant recognition: I know you! And you know me! And you know me better than I know myself. And then you come to her and there she is, and of course one starts crying, because you are recognised. I have understood how deep that longing in everybody is of recognition. Somebody, ah, truly knows you and accepts you. And you feel this overwhelming love, the power of her love, which kind of drowns you. I have often thought of this human need for recognition.
I can’t remember how long I stayed in the Ashram, maybe a month. It was very hot. There were also subsequently deep experiences, like the first time I had contact with the psychic being. By this time, the last week or so, I had moved into Golconde and stayed there, and it started there. It opens, and then a panoramic view, you can see it all. And I looked, “Ah! Yes, it is true. Ah! It is like that!” You see all, you see for the first time your psychic being, you see that it is immortal. And I knew what I had to do with my life, and that obviously marriage, and even children, was not everything.
But I was still very attached to that relationship, so I went back to Africa, and there, only by again finding myself in the engulfing darkness, I realised the light I had been in. It was like two enormous church doors closing again, ohooo! But at least I knew now where to go. And it was a very difficult, very quick and very difficult breakdown of my marriage. Even for the three small children, my husband said, “You can’t take them to India, you don’t know, they will die there!” And to tell you the truth, what I had to do, this inner thing, was so strong that I was ready to leave them. I had to follow that. Then I had a dream which I related to my husband Rajat. I knew the dream meant the children had to come with me. I just related the dream to him, and then it was finished, the opposition ended. So half a year later, in December 1965, I was back in the Ashram with three little children, and that was how I came.
Q.: Some people speak of the Ashram as another Shangri-la?
We are so subjective in our evaluation. Yes, of course (to say it was Shangri-la was an exaggeration, I think; I am sure Mother was not too happy with many things), for sure it carried a sweetness, a gentle sweetness which, coming from the outside world was like a shock. You are suddenly bathed in this sweetness, this gentleness. Also I had three children, so I was always a little on the outside, never an “Ashramite”. I had my own finances, I would write to Mother and refer to her, but it was never… . I had an experience in which I saw that all wealth belonged to the Divine Mother. And giving to Her was just like when you find something, you recognise that “ah, yes! It belongs to you,” and then you simply return it. So after that experience, I gave her my money and my gold. Then I received a letter from her where she said, “I welcome your arrival in my arms”.
But I was never enrolled in the Ashram, or even worked in an Ashram Department. I had my own arrangement, I rented a house, with her approval. One would refer everything to Mother very much and of course I referred to her as my guru; Sri Aurobindo also; more perhaps. People tell you it was like Shangri-la. You see, people come to Auroville and say the same. They say, “You people don’t know what you carry despite so many things…” (which surprises us immensely). And yes, firstly, life made sense, there was a reason. Yes, life had a meaning, it was not just…
And is was so much quieter, this was in 1965. I think there were three cars in Pondicherry, two of them were in Mother’s garage; only bicycles, slow, slow, sweet, gentle, pre television, pre plastic. And yes, for me it was quite magic in a way, because when you have discovered the Divine, obviously everything is all right (laugh).
Auroville had entered the consciousness. By that time I had met Frederick and we used to come out here. Vincenzo was around in those days, he stayed with us. He had read in Planète magazine about Auroville and he had come. I had a big house in rue Dumas. I gave him a room. We had a car which Vincenzo had fixed up. It was an old taxi, he had painted it and upholstered it beautifully, though he had not done too much about the engine, (laugh) so a regular feature was pushing it out in Auroville.
For Frederick it was even stronger than for me: Auroville. But for me too, it was that dream. Mother gave me that dream of this ideal city, and of course something responded and said, “Yes, I want to live there with my brothers and sisters.” This was what I wanted.
Then very early, before the inauguration, we asked Mother: could we build in Auroville? She said yes. There was not so much land bought at that time. There was some around Certitude, and there was land at Fertile. I showed her photographs of these two places and a map, and she pointed to Certitude: “Here!” I said, “But Mother, there are no trees!” She said, “Then you plant trees!” (laugh)
So we went. It was probably in the middle of summer, but we didn’t have a clue, so we started digging holes and planting trees. We started working on the land there. The land first bought was the worst land. Certitude is on a run-off, a canyon starts right there, so all topsoil had washed off. We were no agriculturists; we were just full of faith! Totally naive, full of faith! We started working there digging holes, Frederick organised everything with vital fun. All his Ashram sport friends would come on the week-end, at night, and dig holes for trees. And to find trees… there was no nursery, no nothing, we had to go to Madras to get saplings, or get some from people in the Ashram. For many years we were engaged in settling in Certitude, planting. There was no electricity, no roads, nothing. We built a storeroom to put cement in, so we thought: “Maybe we move out and live there as well”. Then we extended it a bit, made a loft and living quarters. The children were at school in the Ashram. So actually we had a hut, our first little hut (which doesn’t exist anymore), a little keet hut with sand on the floor. We would come out on week-ends with the children, and dream of this city to be. That was even before the inauguration.
At the inauguration I read the Charter in Swedish, and that was such a tremendous experience. There were two ceremonies that Mother, if not initiated, put her force into. One was the inauguration of Auroville, and the other was the laying of the foundation stone of the Matrimandir. And there was a force that… Ah, tremendous! My experience was also of this tremendous challenge which Mother threw out to the hostile forces, to the anti-divine: “Here, here we stand. Here we fight it out,” as it were. A declaration: “Here!” The divine city is a dream that has been with man from the beginning almost. Jerusalem, Philadelphia, the city of brotherhood. It has been in the human psyche so long, so many attempts, and this is the latest. Here. And being a romantic and an idealist, it is so tremendous.
The experience of the laying of the foundation stone for Matrimandir was another occasion of this formidable force. I arrived alone in the dark of the early morning on my little Solex, switched off the engine and was struck by this almost physical force that takes your breath away. I went and stood at the edge of the deep crater and watched the ceremony. People in a long line were moving down the ramp to put a handful of pebbles into the cement mixer and I felt a Grace so powerful and abundant it was like a rain pouring over us all, and I knew that I couldn’t absorb it. We were like ducks impervious to the downpour (gesture of water rolling off a duck’s back). I wept for our condition.
Q.: How many of you were on the land?
There were Frederick and I, working on the land, not living permanently. Bob and Deborah were in Forecomers. Francis came, and a few others. Vincenzo had been staying out in this little hut for a while and then he said, “I am going back to gather a caravan.” Which he did. He went back, got these cars and people, from the Paris association mostly, and came. Before that, we were not more than twenty. A fellow called Garry Miller, there was Gene Maslow and Auroarindam. And then – it was hippie time – there was a floating population around the Centre, people staying for a while. Only Forecomers, something in Promesse (a maternity clinic, but nobody lived there), Orchard maybe, Monsieur Mercier. There was Jocelyn with her little daughter. Rod came very early, that is another one who stayed with us. People came trickling in. Piero and Gloria came fairly early.
I remember, when it was time to build, Mother said, “See Roger for a plan”, and he gave us a plan which would not have worked, it was this mushroom house on a stalk, so we rejected that. We tried to do something ourselves. We were friendly with somebody called Louis Allen who ran the Lake Estate, and I remember Mother saying, (conspiratory tone) “Oh, I know Louis, he is very costly! (laugh) Maybe Piero can try.” Piero had just come. So Piero made us a design.
We had water but there was no electricity. Even when we started with Auroson’s Home, we had to haul a cement mixer from Pondy, we had to bring a generator from Pondy. You could get coolies but no skilled labourers, no masons to talk of, no carpenters. They were all trained by Auroville. The level was very primitive. Small villages, poor, extremely poor, almost starving, illiterate. All the three villages. Very small. Maybe not even one tenth of what they are now. All just mud and palmyra leaves.
We were interacting a lot with Forecomers because they were also planting trees. What one did was look after the land. Planting and keeping it. It lasted for years, I don’t know how many, maybe ten, but could it have been that long? There were huge herds of cows and goats in those days. Every little tree had to be truly protected, not just from hundreds of goats but, you can imagine, the villages being so poor, even a little tree sapling was fire wood. So you truly had to protect them, and hot, hot, hot! The summer with dust storms, ferocious heat… It was many many years of pushing, pushing – like pushing a boulder up the hill: if you let go, it would roll back, all your labour wrecked – and harsh conditions. And then I remember, at some point it felt almost like a response from the earth, as if it said: “All right, I accept your labour, I will cooperate”, and obviously it corresponded with that time when, if you pushed the boulder and let go, it went the other way… and the forest grew. It is safe, now, it will not go back to desert. But it took a long time at the beginning to protect the efforts.
It was survival, but the fact is, it was a wonderful time. We were so full of faith. There we were all building the new world; what could be more fun? Of course we were immensely ignorant and naive, but that was wonderful, we were engaging in what we felt was meaningful work.
I am extremely grateful to have been there at that time, because all right we were very naive, and you look at it now, and you weep. You have been given this dream, and you look: what have we done? We. This is what we have done. I weep. But yes, I feel very grateful because how many people get to live their dreams? There are very few who get to really work for something they believe in, they are inspired by. There is no one to blame, it is us. And this is where I don’t know how to go on now. One sees what human nature is made of, how much it takes to turn it around.
When Mother left, it was a big mystery; she left her body, but she wasn’t gone. I did not feel the dream was shattered, it continued.
We were all so naive, we didn’t understand what the yoga involved: what a fundamental change had to take place. And I still don’t know how the change is going to be effected.
One of the strange things for me is: Here the Divine gives us a piece of land and says, “Build the divine city!” Total freedom. Total freedom! We are the ones who very shortly said, “Hey, Christine! you shouldn’t do it like that!”…
We can’t even hold that freedom …
The Centre was kind of abandoned by the administrators and this is where we felt, “No, this is a piece of sacred earth for us, you can’t just abandon it and run back to Pondy.” You had to be out there physically and do things. The inauguration was so tremendous, but then it was kind of abandoned. All those scaffoldings, those materials in the sheds, all that was stored – and later became many people’s houses. There was a kind of “administration” in Pondy (not just the architect and Aurofuture), some sort of administration, but those people were somewhat removed from the physical Auroville, in fact very removed. We wanted to engage in that. That also, of course, was at the bottom of our incredible conflicts and differences later. Bob was a painter. He thought about the urn, “let us decorate this”. He made a proposal to paint. It was just brick tiles around the urn, just red bricks, so he wanted to paint, and he had a scheme, with blues and turquoise. He asked Mother and she said, “Blessings”. So he got the paint and we started with Alice, Navoditte, and Deborah. Piero didn’t like it obviously, so he wrote to Mother, “Roger would not like this…” (laugh), so Mother said, “All right, better stop.” But you see, already we had started: “No, you should not do that.” I feel it is at the bottom of much of our problems.
The other problem of course is played out to this day: the residents vis-a-vis the planners – of whatever name (they keep on changing names), but whoever they are, the planners, the architects. There has always been this conflict, which is getting worse. All these forty years these people wanted a tabula rasa and we are messing up [by being here]. Because frankly they didn’t know how to build the city, they didn’t have the means to build the city. If they wanted to impose… – to some extent I have nothing against it, it can be done many ways: either it grows organically or you do indeed have a planned city and try to bring it down. But here we had a mess, because we had people who wanted to be there and live there, and it messed up their plans. And they had neither the means, nor the ability to actually help, to shelter the people who were out here. It was like that from the beginning. They were quarrelling in Pondy.
Q.: But Auroville has survived.
Yes, extraordinary, isn’t it? Yes, this is extraordinary. lf you doubt everything, it makes you wonder: how come it is still here? I think of these things and I don’t understand it (laugh). I don’t understand! I am extremely critical, you know, but it is hard to judge, because we forget. We forget how our consciousness was before. If we saw the past with our eyes today, we would say, “Oh, my God! Did I do that?” That is possible, I don’t know. But I miss the youthfulness, I miss the trust, the friendship, I miss that. I feel it is now very tight and mean, un-generous. I feel very hurt by the smallness, the lack of generosity and faith. It has become almost exclusively mental. And I am sorry to say, since the Government stepped in, it has become a place where one can no longer speak the truth. And this is serious.
We were still so young in a way, young in possibilities, now we have imprisoned ourselves in a lot of rules. At least we were a bit more open, laissez-faire, more than now.
I will tell you something more about the beginning. We had this car and we would roam this land – from Chinnamudaliarchavady walk the land up to Mattur, and from the coast over to Lake Estate. With the children. And we dreamt of the city. For us it was sacred, this land. This was the divine city. We approached it as such. One had recognised the Mother as the divine Mother, who had given me life – obviously the most extraordinary person, if you can call her that, that you ever met. This was a being like… Maybe if you had met Jesus Christ, you would feel the same. And in those days, if Mother said something, questions stopped (except when she said “Here,” and I said, “Mother, but there are no trees!”) but Her word…
Q.: Couldn’t we ask her what do to now?
This is also my dream. Couldn’t we sit and try to ask her, “Mother!” and open the channel? This mental logic only takes us so far, it is good for organising your office, (maybe not even that). Yes, this is also a very strong wish with me. I haven’t worked in those departments [working groups]. I don’t know if the attempt even is there. Even a thing like Entry: there are now all these small outer criteria. For me it is always: is that soul meant to be here, is there a psychic connection, is there something alive that thirsts for this? Nowadays it is other criteria: do you have money, do you live in Auroville, we don’t need this kind of profession, you can’t come in, etc.
But I tell you, I marvel also when I drive and I see all these trees. You remember, when the developers had bought that big piece of land which became the Botanical Garden, and you went there and saw the clear cut and the barbed wire, you went like that (gesture of strangulation), all you needed was a watch tower and machine guns, it was brutal – a real violation. And I felt, “My God, aren’t we even going to build the city before it is invaded and debased?” Then Auroville bought the land from the developer for a considerably higher sum. But the delicious irony of all this is that if Mother wanted a botanical garden, how would she get it, since for years no one could agree on where to put it, how much land to give, etc.? Now they were given this prepared land, clear cut, and fenced in (for obviously you cannot have a serious botanical garden without protection from cows and goats and people). So now the barbed wire is covered with bougainvillea and it is all very lovely.
And then, about this time [summer], I had to go to Villupuram. And driving back on a motorbike; summer, hot and dirty, you enter Auroville in the afternoon, and Ouf! Like a green oasis. You realise: of course people want to live here! Industrialists, people with money, of course they want! And what we would have to do is to go out in the surrounding area and help make that as beautiful as Auroville, so all these people with money would have an alternative. I believe that Auroville is meant for those who consciously choose Mother’s dream.
We have made this a paradise, compared to the surrounding country-side. What we have done here is miraculous. And that’s not even the town-planners; that’s the tree planters, who were looked down upon very much by the town-planners! They were messing their way. But it was a very strong experience for me. And I felt: yes, it is very right, the first thing we do is invite nature back into the divine city. First make a base. From the natural point of view, it is quite miraculous what Auroville has done.
But it has been so difficult for me these last years, I can’t identify, I am having such a hard time.
At other times I know: no, no, Auroville is decreed, it is decreed, and it will happen. After three hundred years, you will see the beginning. Auroville is a change in consciousness, everything else is auxiliary, houses and nice environment. It is for mankind, it is for this change that it is being built.
Human unity: it means a consciousness of oneness, at least in a sufficient number of people who have that consciousness. They are not here yet. So in more sober moments I say, in three hundred years it will be, but you will see only the beginning.
And when things go down, can they rise again? I don’t know. Yet people come. They say, “You don’t understand! You are like a light to us here, it is tremendous,” so…
That delightful joy, that everything is possible…