Gijubhai Dave – An Auroville Newcomer at 87!
Girjashankar Dave, alias Gijubhai Dave, is a retired Principal of the Government Higher Secondary School in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India. He is also a translator of many books from English into Gujarati such as the acclaimed compilations from Sri Aurobindo’s and The Mother’s writings by A.S. Dalal, a book by SAIIER, Auroville, and another by (late) Kireet Joshi, an eminent educationist, pioneer of the Ashram School at Pondicherry and of the Auroville Foundation. Having lived and worked in the Ashram and Auroville during his earlier visits as a guest, Gijubhai returned to Auroville for good in April 2021 and applied to become a Newcomer. Just last month, in July 2023, he was accepted as a Newcomer by Auroville’s Entry Service. Here, he is interviewed by Aryadeep, founding member of LFAU & A4A.
(Below, “A” refers to Aryadeep, and “G” refers to Gijubhai)
A: Gijubhai, can you tell us about your early life?
G: I was born on 11th March 1937 in a town called Chuda in the Surendra Nagar district of Gujarat. My father was a teacher in a primary school. His meager salary was supplemented by a little income from agriculture and cattle. We lived in a rented house. Due to the family’s financial situation, my only option for my own education was to seek job-oriented courses. I applied for and obtained a scholarship for a Teachers’ Training College in Morbi and passed it with distinction. At the age of eighteen, I was posted as a primary school teacher to a small village called Dhandhalpur on 22nd June 1955. Thus began my educational career that lasted for the next thirty-eight years.
Along with my work as a primary school teacher, I also pursued higher education through external exams till I received my Master’s degree in Gujarati and Sanskrit from the Gujarat University. With improved educational merits, I also got promotions in my job – from primary school teacher to middle school teacher and, finally, as Principal of a Government Higher Secondary School, the position I held till I retired in 1993.
Also, when I became a teacher in a high school, in 1963 at the age of 26, I married a school teacher in a very simple way as my parents could not afford an expensive ceremony. To give you some idea, contrary to the prevailing custom of inviting a large number of relatives and friends on the occasion of marriage, only eight people were invited to my wedding.
A: Tell us about your discovery of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
G: In 1958, at the age of 21, when I was a teacher in the Middle School in Limbdi, one day, I came to know that there was a public lecture in the local Town Hall by Ambalal Purani, a former revolutionary freedom fighter who was well-known in Gujarat because of his work to establish body building centers (Akhadas) as a preparation for the freedom struggle. He had since long left those activities and settled in Pondicherry. I went to attend the lecture. I did not understand much of what he said in his speech but his strong personality, his voice, his self-confidence left a mark on me. I felt curious to know more about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
So, I started going to a local public library. There I saw a Gujarati magazine called “Dakshina” from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, edited by a renowned Gujarati poet Sundaram. I started reading the magazine, became its subscriber and began communicating with Sundaram. Sundaram would reply to each of my letters. I would also read philosophical and spiritual books by other well-known authors.
Strangely enough, now and then, I would tell The Mother inwardly, without fully comprehending it: “Mother, don’t go. I am coming!” There was no rational explanation to this intimate sentiment and inner communication.
But there wasn’t enough money to travel to Pondicherry. My meager salary and family debt did not allow me to travel. I had even to put rationing on my food. Due to a lack of sufficient nourishment at that young age, I often felt weak, bodily. Anyhow, I opened a post office savings account and started saving money with a view to travel to Pondicherry.
Finally, in May 1962, four years after attending Purani’s public speech, at the age of 25, I embarked on a train journey to Pondicherry.
From my town Limbdi to Ahmedabad, then to Mumbai (then called Bombay), then to Egmore station in Chennai (then called Madras) then to Villupuram and then at last I reached my final destination of Pondicherry at 5 o’clock in the morning!
A: What was your feeling on reaching Pondicherry?
G: Much before the train pulled at Pondicherry, I very concretely experienced entering a totally new atmosphere. It was very soothing. I began feeling such ease, such lightness and peace. Even today when I remember this experience, I feel happy.
A: That is somewhat reminiscent of what Mother had experienced at the sea while coming to Pondicherry for the first time – she felt Sri Aurobindo’s aura extending up to a few nautical miles in the ocean.
G: Yes. You feel that the very air you breathe has a different quality to it. You feel you are reaching a core of deep happiness.
A: The experience speaks of your psychic connection and opening to the Mother. There are lines in Savitri which describe your experience while coming to Pondicherry beautifully:
A: So, after landing at the Pondicherry railway station at 5 in the morning where did you go?
G: Sundaram had written to me detailed instructions down to what charges to pay to a shoulder rickshaw puller. Accordingly, I hired one such rickshaw puller and went to the Ashram Reception office which was situated where there is the SABDA bookshop today. Fortunately, someone was there at such an early pre-dawn hour. After I explained to him that I was coming from Gujarat for the first time for a short visit of the Ashram and gave the reference of Sundaram, the man guided the rickshaw puller to take me to the house of M.P. Pandit, one of the secretaries of the Mother and of the Ashram.
I knocked on the door of M.P. Pandit’s house and he himself opened the door. Yes, he too seemed ready for the day at 5.30 in the morning! He sought to know from me what help was needed. Then, he explained in Tamil to the rickshaw puller to take me to the house of Kunj Bihari, another inmate of the Ashram.
Kunj Bihari immediately made me feel at home and gave me a room to stay in. Due to the long train journey of over 50 hours, I felt like retiring for some rest when Kunj Bihari told me to get ready in five minutes for the Mother’s Balcony Darshan which was at 6 a.m. I was not aware of this but complied.
Soon I was beneath the Balcony along with a large number of the Ashram inmates … all waiting for the Mother to come. There was a pin-drop silence, all faces looking up.
Even before The Mother came to the Balcony, I felt a wave of consciousness coming and encircling me. I stood still, transfixed throughout the Darshan.
Even after people dispersed, I stood there overwhelmed. Kunj Bihari, who had brought me for the Darshan, too stayed put and did not interfere.
This experience was my initiation on the path of Sri Aurobindo.
A: How many days did you stay in the Ashram during this first visit?
G: Just two days. I must say that I felt like living there for the rest of my life and, in fact, presented the idea to Sundaram who laughed it out. While I was returning, after a minute or two of the train ride from Pondicherry, I palpably felt like I was entering into a disgusting and disharmonious atmosphere of the old world. It took me a while to adjust to this discordant atmosphere.
A: In all, how many times did you have the darshan of The Mother?
G: Total three times. One, the Balcony darshan I spoke about. The second was a Terrace darshan, and the last one was personal, in the Mother’s room.
A: Tell us about your personal face-to-face darshan of The Mother.
G: Having had the Balcony darshan and the Terrace darshan, I was very keen to meet the Mother face-to-face. It was probably during my visit to the Ashram in 1967, while I was in the Meditation Hall, that I saw a staircase going up to the Mother’s room. I took courage and started climbing it with a view to see the Mother face-to-face! Two Ashramites noticed it, caught hold of me by the collar and drew me back and made me leave the Meditation Hall. They were clearly angry at me while I was telling them: “Sorry, Sorry, Sorry”! Inwardly I was also very much hurt and angry about their behavior.
I walked past the Samadhi and came to a place where there is a drinking water tap near the notice board. Inwardly I started complaining to the Mother vehemently. I was so emotional that I was about to weep when a wave of strong vibrations materialized into a female voice and told me in my mother tongue Gujarati: “Nolini Kant Ne Mal” (Meet Nolini Kanta).
So, I went to meet Nolini Kanta Gupta. Surprisingly, at that very moment, he was coming out of his room. So there was no need to ask his attendant to let me go in. I introduced myself to him and said I wanted to have the Mother’s darshan personally. He asked my name. Then he told me that he would ask the Mother and send me a message.
The next morning, while I was standing in a line at the Dining Hall for my breakfast, an elderly Punjabi man came calling my name in Hindi: “Kaun hai Gijubhai? Kaun hai Gijubhai?” (Who is Gijubhai? Who is Gijubhai?) I came out of the line and took his message: “Mother will see you today at 10 a.m.” I was very much touched and hugged him.
A: Wow! Your anguish reached the Mother and then she guided you and arranged everything through Nolini-da.
G: Yes, this experience tells us of the Mother’s omnipresence. If our call is from the very core of our being, it reaches her.
So, at 10 a.m. I was standing in a line of about 10-12 people, all waiting to enter the Mother’s room. The entry door was such that you first saw the Mother from the back of her head. Then you came in front of her. Between me and the Mother there was a table. She looked at me and I looked at her. I have never seen such eyes in all my life. A door opened up within me: I saw and felt a sense of vastness, of immense felicity, of spontaneous Motherly tenderness, of reaching my true home.
I put my head on the table which was in front of her. She put her hand on my head and it was so soft, so soft, so tender. I lost all sense of my body, of my existence. I had no idea of time or space. But then Champaklal, one of the Mother’s attendants from Gujarat, put his hand on my shoulder and said gently in Gujarati, “Bhai, Samaya Thai Gayo Chhe” (“Brother, time is over”).
I stood up and was about to move when I saw Mother opening up her palm to receive something from Champaklal. Champaklal gave her two symbols – one, Sri Aurobindo’s and the other, the Mother’s – and she put them into my outstretched hands on the table. I was about to leave with my precious gift when I saw the Mother’s feet with white socks. So I bent down and touched Her feet.
Again I lost my bodily awareness. I felt like being there for all future time. Again Champaklal touched my shoulder and reminded me that it was time to move.
A: Gijubhai, all these are the signs of the psychic being coming forward and putting the mind and the outer being in the background during those extraordinary moments.
G: Well, at that time, I didn’t understand these things, but yes, in one of the compilations of A.S. Dalal, “The Psychic Being”, there are wonderful passages explaining the attributes of the psychic being – the feeling of a child’s love, trust, and security in the Divine’s arms.
A: You have translated that book into Gujarati. Give us the background of how you got involved in the translation of Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s books.
G: It was not something self-initiated. Always somebody suggested me to take up this or that book for translation. And I took them up wholeheartedly.
During my educational career, I occasionally used to write short stories, poems and essays which were published by different Gujarati periodicals. During Sri Aurobindo’s birth centenary, in 1972, when publication of the 30 volumes of the Centenary Library was announced, I subscribed to these by paying installments and started reading them seriously.
In spite of my initiation at Pondicherry and interest in Sri Aurobindo, I was still attracted to other charismatic spiritual figures like J. Krishnamurti, Osho etc. Once, in 1987, the secretary of the Krishnamurthy Foundation of India, Mumbai, suggested to me to translate J. Krishnamurti’s books. I translated three books with the guidance of two professors of St. Xavier’s college, Ahmedabad. These were published by a renowned Gujarati publisher in 1988.
Then, in 1996, during my visit to Pondicherry, a Charitable Trust related to the Ashram proposed to me to translate a compilation – “Health and Healing in Yoga”. I accepted the proposal and translated the book. It contained some 293 extracts from the works of The Mother and explores four aspects of health and healing: 1. Causes of Illness 2. Cures of Illness 3. Foundations of Health 4. The Cycle of Life.
The translated Gujarati book was sent as a complimentary copy to each and every member of the Sri Aurobindo Centers in Gujarat. Then, it was taken up and published by a prominent publisher, Gurjar Granth Ratna Prakashan, Ahmedabad and has seen 5 editions to date, with approximately 7500 copies sold.
This was quite encouraging. Thus begun my entry into translation of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
Once during my visit to Pondicherry, an inmate writer Shyamkumari asked me to translate into Gujarati her two books: “Vignettes of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother” and “More Vignettes of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother”. I liked those books because they contained the record of the life incidents of numerous disciples with the Masters. So, I took up their translations and the books were published by Gurjar Granth Ratna Prakashan, Ahmedabad and Vraj Publication, Pondicherry.
Next, another disciple made a proposal to take up the compilations of A.S. Dalal. I saw much value in those compilations. The first book I took up was “Living Within”, then “Living Words”. Finally, “The Psychic Being”. All the three have been published by Pleasant Gift Publications, Gandhinagar.
A: And you have also translated an Auroville publication, correct?
G: Yes. This book, “Mystery and Excellence of the Human Body” was originally published by SAIIER (Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research, Auroville) under the guidance of Kireet Joshi. It was teamwork of some fifteen Aurovilians.
The story is like this: Jyoti Thanki, a disciple and writer on Sri Aurobindo in Gujarati, told me that the then Educational Commissioner of Gujarat, Dr. Jayanti Ravi, was looking for a translator of this book and proposed to me to take it up. The 575-page translation was published by University Book Production Board of the Gujarat State. Obviously, the foreword of this book was also written by Jayanti Ravi who is now the Secretary of the Auroville Foundation.
It was while translating this book that I twice visited one of the earliest Aurovilians, Alain Bernard at his home in Auromodele, for certain clarifications regarding the text. He was most kind, helpful and patient with my queries.
The book carried some 200 Greek, Latin, German and English names of persons and places etc. It was not possible to translate them in Gujarati. My only option was to write their true pronunciation in Gujarati. But how to pronounce those words correctly? So I requested the learned British Aurovilian Shraddhavan, who left her body about a year ago, to help me with this. She agreed and asked me to give her a list of these names. Then, after a few days, she told me to meet her at the Ashram gate at 11 a.m. and sharp at 11 a.m., she turned up and gave me a CD containing the correct pronunciations of those names of persons and places.
Another book “Child, Teacher and Teacher Education” written by Dr. Kireet Joshi was also suggested by Jyoti Thanki. It was published by Children’s University, Gandhinagar and, in Gujarati, by the University Book Production Board, Gujarat State.
A: What are the books you are currently working on?
G: The translation of a written text puts you in touch with the author’s consciousness. When you translate Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s books, you unknowingly walk on their path. Also, when you translate, you put your consciousness into the text. I feel the vibrations of any written words strongly just as I feel vibrations of people near me. A. S. Dalal’s compilations carry a very high quality of vibrations besides clarity and precision of an intense light and force of our Masters.
In all, there are 15 compilations by A.S. Dalal published by SABDA. Of these, three that I mentioned earlier are already published and available for purchase. Soft copies of another two translations are ready to be sent to the press. Four other translations are in the proofreading process. The tenth one “The Hidden Forces of Life” is currently being translated. My dream is to take up all the remaining five compilations one by one to be published by Emergence Auroville – a new start-up.
A: Gijubhai, It is a joy to publish your books from Auroville. Besides printing the books, Emergence Auroville will also make them available on a print-on-demand basis for worldwide availability and with digital copies for those who wish to read only digital versions of the books.
A: Now tell about your reminiscences of your earlier visits to Auroville and Pondicherry.
G: I visited Auroville many times when Matrimandir was being built. I don’t remember clearly but perhaps it was in 1975 when I first stayed in a bamboo hut near where New Creation is today. It was a very special experience. The door and the windows were made of bamboo. If you wanted to open the window, you needed to take a stick and push upward and then put the stick between the window and the base support. If you want to close it, you have to take the stick out slowly and the window would lower itself slowly. I enjoyed very much living in such a hut in a solitary and silent atmosphere. I also have many happy memories of living in New Creation for two months in 2004 and teaching English at the Crêche, and meeting with the late Andre Tardeil very often.
Then, I shifted to Pondicherry and lived in the Ashram as a guest for 29 months and worked in different sections of the Ashram.
Once, I was a temporary manager of Samarpan Yatri Bhavan, an Ashram-related guest house in Pondicherry. The guest house had been built by devotees from Gujarat, primarily for Gujarati visitors. One evening a Bengali person came and requested a room for one night only. I asked him, “Sir, you are coming all the way from Bengal and a one-day stay is sufficient for you?” He replied, “A touch of the Mother is sufficient.” Who was that man, you know? It was Gautam Ghosal – professor of English at Santiniketan, West Bengal and a current member of the Governing Board of the Auroville Foundation.
On another occasion, I was standing near the Ashram main gate and wanted to visit Matrimandir. Unexpectedly, Madanlal Himatsingka (one of the major supporters of the Matrimandir’s construction) turned up in his car.
Without getting out, he told me that he knew me and asked whether I would like to join him for a Matrimandir visit in his car? It was a very joyous trip. He and everybody treated me as a friend. I was utterly surprised. What a miracle!
I also lived for two and a half years at the Aurovalley Ashram near Rishikesh. In close proximity to the Shaivalik mountains forests and the Rajaji National Park, the Ashram was built from scratch by a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, Swami Brahmdev. Plenty of people from many countries come there for their holidays and to feel the atmosphere.
In this Ashram, Swami Brahmdev placed this picture of the Mother’s eyes at numerous places:
A: Gijubhai, this time you have come to Auroville for good. What are your feelings? Your aspiration? It would be good if a man of your learning and experience offered a message to fellow newcomers and Aurovilians.
G: I am still at the learning stage here. I have no message for anyone.
By accepting me as a Newcomer, the Entry Board has honoured the words of the Auroville Charter: “… a youth that never ages” and recognised my aspiration to be a “willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness”.
I feel myself happier here than outside Auroville. I feel a higher kind of happiness here. I feel myself at ease, at home, fully protected, with no worry at all for the past or the future… I feel myself climbing to reach the stage which is, to quote from Sri Aurobindo’s words in “The Mother”:
“… beyond the border-line from the life of stress and suffering in the ignorance, into the truth of
‘my’ spiritual being, into its deep peace and its intense Ananda.”
When I visit Matrimandir – the petals, the gardens, the Chamber – I feel like I’m in heaven. I believe all the residents of Auroville are lucky to be here!
Auroville, August 2023