Living in Auroville means I am in contact with myself to the upmost capacity.
I was born and raised in Chennai, and once I finished my studies, I worked in NGOs and finally joined a funding agency that supported NGOs in Pondicherry. I did that because it was convenient, my parents were living close by. I had never heard of Auroville, before I came to Pondy – all I knew that there were white people, even women, on big bikes on the streets of Pondy, which was something out of the ordinary for me.
I wasn’t very fond of my work with the funding agency so I decided to apply for a PhD in the US, which gave me some free time for about 3 months. I met a young woman from Auroville, and she told me that she was running an education centre, now the Life Education Centre (LEC), and where she would need my help for three months. I got accommodation in a keet capsule. For me, it was a big adventure.
I first came to Auroville in December 1993, on the day that the Dalai Lama visited. I was a city girl in the jungle (laughs). I worked for three months and my results from the US did not come; so I thought okay, I have another three months to go. The work was making me so happy. To go around in a bus collecting the teenage school drop-out girls and then we would have a class with all of them, where I was teaching them about social work. At some point during that time the centre received a grant from the Japanese Government to set up a printing and production unit. The guy who had applied for the funds and drafted out the project was long gone, and since I was the only one who could work with computers, I was told, “Okay, you go accept the grant and set up the printing unit.” In June, I received my results from the USA, they said to apply again next year. By December 1994, we had set up the printing unit and started training village youth. I ran this printing unit until 1999, when we had to close this down as it was not economically viable due to limitations in infrastructure, and then donated the machines available to other non-for-profit enterprises in Auroville.
After that I was asked if I could join the newly opened Social Research Centre, so I did that. I worked with this Canadian man, who had started a economic and financial research study of Auroville. In 2003 he decided to go to Canada to finish his PhD and he said he would be back in 3 years. Of course, he couldn’t come back (laughs), and I stayed on.
Living in Auroville means I am in contact with myself to the upmost capacity. I am closer to myself today then I was even five years ago, and back then I was closer to myself than ten years before that, and so on. In the beginning when I came here I saw so many issues and paradoxes that bothered me a lot; now not so much. We have a lot of social difficulty, people difficulties, and we are a community with a very high fragmentation; but it will only get better. Everything has a place, everything can always be made better. I don’t think I could find another place that I could call home like this one. I am happy, yes I am happy that I’m here. God has blessed us!
My passion is my chanting, I chant for at least three hours every day, one hour in the morning during all my busy morning chores, and two hours, leisurely, every evening. Some people might say it has nothing to do with Integral Yoga, as chanting is a form of bhakti, devotional yoga. But it is my sadhana. One has to understand; chanting became important to me as a way to relate to my culture, to understand it better. Chanting also deepens my own understanding of the Tamil culture, something that was missing for me in my childhood years.
I grew up in a traditional Brahmin household, but without the yoke of all the mores and customs that come with that. We went to convent schools, and while we were very free as children, we never had much of an idea about our own culture. Our maternal grandmother was the only one in our house who kept me and my sister in touch with our culture through everyday bedtime-stories, from the epics, like the Mahabharata and Ramayana. We never missed knowing about our culture, because we didn’t need it. By the 7th grade, we even switched over to French as our second language, because Tamil became heavy, politicized and difficult to learn and we couldn’t relate to it anymore. The only option was to switch over to French as a second language, for its ease. This meant we were cut away even from high-school level exposure to Tamil literature!
Now when I came to Auroville late 1993, and started working with village girls in LEC, I started re-using my spoken Tamil on an everyday basis. This meant I had to start learning to speak the formal language, and LEC was a good place because I could do this slowly. Over the years, my spoken Tamil improved. Today I can speak the formal language in public events, but with simple, non-pedantic expressions that directly touch people. Otherwise, Tamil can sound so far way and out of reach from people’s hearts.
Reconnecting to the language, the culture, was important to me. So in 1999, when I started my personal journey of getting in touch with my culture through its sacred texts and music, using chanting as a medium for this knowledge, I reached new levels of understanding. By bringing my knowledge of chanting to the local girls, in difficult learning sessions over the years, I was able to relate to them better and also understand them more deeply, through sharing stories and history. Today I can see why certain things are done in a particular way around here, and while I don’t accept a lot of it, I can understand it well and I am open to knowing about it. Having said this, I do not wish to change anyone. Each has to go through whatever life has offered them, and make the best of it.
In Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, my sadhana is just to kindle that flame of individual yoga within myself through a slow process of understanding and accepting myself, and at a very small scale, to help ignite other flames for the collective. Each one uses their own methods,- some through their daily work, some through their art, music, some through their official roles in the collective, some through learning more about the Yoga, and for me, it is through chanting. No practical methodology has been enforced by Sri Aurobindo and Mother, and this is good. Otherwise we would be an ashram, in uniformity. For us, it is to discover our own path and find out what tools we need to walk it.
And finally, the basic line is this: do what gives you the love and passion, and then growth automatically takes place, within you and around you.