My life in Auroville at the Service of Truth
“Once upon a time … ” is how we begin telling stories, and here’s mine. Once upon a time exactly 50 years ago, there was a report about Auroville shown on French television and quite by accident, I turned on my TV that evening to that channel ! The next day, I called Jean-Pierre Elkabach, the journalist who made the film. After a few brief words, I got the information I needed and then made my way to 67, Rue de Rome in Paris to meet some Aurovilians. I couldn’t believe it – this place called Auroville really existed !And thus began my path to Mother and Sri Aurobindo. It was this film that began everything of what has become my life since 1973 !
To backtrack : I was born in South America at Cayenne, French Guyana and I came to France with my family in 1938 when I was two years-old. My father was in the military, which led his career, and us, to settle in France. Twenty-five years later, after the Rue de Rome meeting, I decided to go to India. With my two children, Pascal (11 and a half) and Nathalie (6 and a half), off we went, arriving in Mother India on the 4th of July 1973 and finishing our journey on July 5th at our destination – Pondicherry!
Aurovilian Alain Grandcolas welcomed us at the Auroville kitchen, which, at that time, was on the Pondy seaside.
Then we were taken to stay at a big guest house in town, at what is now the site of “Casablanca”, the store created by Aurovilian Dilip Kapoor.
Next was our discovery of India, and the love and affection of Indians for children – which at that time you could feel even more than now. It was something quite remarkable : there was their gentleness and heartfelt joy in meeting kids, in being in contact, in trying to understand them by gestures, smiles and mimicry. Their welcome and contact were always so touching !
And for myself, I felt in complete security in India and in the small city of Pondicherry where, as an extra advantage, the rickshaw drivers spoke French.
We were extremely lucky – we arrived in time for the privilege of seeing The Mother at her last Darshan on August 15, 1973.
Then we began to explore Auroville and the place that was destined to become the Matrimandir. This is how it was when I arrived :
And we discovered Auroville’s first community : Aspiration. The Aspiration community gathered people from different nationalities, although the majority were French, many of whom had come with the first caravan travelling overland from Europe. But getting to Aspiration wasn’t so easy! From the Pondy main road you then had to cycle up and up the sandy slope that led to Aspiration. My kids had brought their bicycles with them from France and then I quickly bought one so I could pedal along with them up to Aspiration, and Auroville!
Aspiration is one of the twelve qualities represented in the Mother’s symbol and I greatly resonated with it. So I was very happy when one of my Indian friends gave the name “Abhipsa” – “Aspiration” in Hindi – to my daughter Nathalie just a few months after we arrived.
In 1975 my kids and I took a year’s break and went back to France, returning to India in ‘76. I considered this my definitive return and I told this to my family, explaining that my goal was to live in Auroville, the international community founded by The Mother in 1968 and supported by UNESCO. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that I officially became an Aurovilian.
In the meantime, even though I had a degree as an education and career advisor, to have an income, I taught French as a foreign language to adults at the Alliance Française in the evenings. But I was also a volunteer French teacher at the Ashram School in the mornings, and in the afternoons I taught French to Indian Ashram School teachers who wanted to improve their level. In addition to that, I went out to Auroville to teach French to teenagers at Last School. I carried on working like this, going back and forth between Pondy and Auroville every day for about 13 years until I became an official Aurovilian.
Once back in India, my children had the choice of studying at one of the above : a developing Auroville school, the Lycée Français in Pondicherry or at the Ashram’s school. My son, Pascal decided to pursue his education at the Lycée Français and my daughter Abhipsa chose the Ashram School where she was accepted. Thus, my children each chose different routes which led them to life choices that have richly satified them. Today, Pascal has a fulfilling career as a history and geography teacher in a high school in the south of France. Abhipsa lives in Auroville doing recycling work using her great sense of creativity with a team of Aurovilians linked to the upcycling shop in the Visitors Centre.
Getting back to 1978, I learned that The Mother had asked Nolini Kanta Gupta, Sri Aurobindo’s first and oldest disciple, to give a Sanskrit name to disciples that corresponded to the name she herself would have given. Everyone called him Nolini-da (the “da” meaning “elder brother”)
As my birth-name, Claude, had little meaning for me, I went to see Nolini-da in his room just next to the Ashram’s Meditation Hall. He asked me a few questions and then told me to come back in a few days. That’s what I did, and then continued to do, bringing flowers each time, because he was waiting to receive an inner answer. Then one morning after about nine months of my regular visits, he said “Yes, your name is coming ! Return to see me on May 1st and I’ll tell you then, because this occasion should happen on a beautiful day!”
On May 1st, as usual I started by meditating at the Samadhi with flowers in my hands, before going to Nolini-da’s room.
He took the flowers from me and gave me my name : “Mallika”. He also handed me a card where he had written “Mallika, Purity “. At last I had an Indian name, what joy ! I thanked him enthusiastically and then went to put my head on the flower-covered Samadhi.
When I got up, someone told me that Nolini-da wanted to see me again. On my knees before the bed he was lying on, he showed me the same flowers that I had given him that morning – simple white fragrant jasmin flowers that Indian women put in their hair, the ones that flower-sellers carry in baskets on their heads, calling out “Malli, Malli pu” ( “pu” means “flower”).
Mallika ! – I was thrilled, and my Indian friends were thrilled for me. They explained that my new name Mallika is written with two l’s, the name for jasmin in South India. (Malika with one l comes from Urdu in the North and means princess or queen, which wasn’t the name I was given). The Mother had given “Purity” as the spiritual meaning for jasmin, and now that was my name ! It became for me the way to follow on the path of the Yoga of Mother and Sri Aurobindo !
Four years later in 1982, I legally adopted a Tamil boy who was only three months-old. Again it was Nolini-da who, at my request, chose the name. I gave a photo, and then the baby to Nolini, who held him in his hands. I waited outside his room, and after a few minutes I was called in. Behind the baby’s photo, Nolini had written the Sanskrit name “Subhadre” and its meaning in French ” Très Gentil” (in English, his name means “Very Kind”). Today, Subhadre has founded a family and lives in France, but envisions a return to where he grew up – Auroville !
The 12th December 1986 was the day of my decisive arrival in Auroville !! My companion and I had finally met the Aurovilians who were the first members of what today we call the Entry Group. Unanimously, as we say, they declared that we were welcome – and worthy!! – of being Aurovilians. It was a very simple process where everyone gave us their trust, feeling the great aspiration that was carrying us.
At last an official Aurovilian, I devoted my work to healing practices in addition to continuing on as a French teacher at Last School … and I also began my work at and for the Matrimandir,
In healing, I am a Massage Therapist with training in a multi-disciplinary bouquet of Eastern and Western techniques. Starting in 1983, I learnt and practiced massage and acupuncture and was qualified for these practices in 1986 by my teacher Dhruva Grinnell, who was himself an Acupuncturist, Masseur and Osteopath. In 1989 and 1990, I received degrees in Reiki 1 and 2, and then in 1994 and 1995 in Advanced Pranic Healing and Pranic Psychotherapy under Master Choa Kok Sui. I provide this healing work at home at Citadine where I have a special therapy room, and also at the Auroville Health Center (below).
The Matrimandir’s development has been a great focus of my Auroville life and aspiration. Early on, I became part of a group of Matrimandir workers and one role was to welcome visitors and answer their questions. I also was involved with “Matrimandir Nouvelles” which was a translation of the “Matrimandir Newsletter” into French.
Then the work in the Inner Chamber accelerated ! I had the privilege of being there and participating at these memorable landmark moments when :
– the marble panels were installed, the twelve columns were set up, and the white carpet that covers the entire Inner Chamber area was laid,
– and the pedestal representing Sri Aurobindo’s symbol on all four sides was put in place upon which the crystal coming from Germany was to rest.
And finally, the crystal arrived ! It was with great emotion that we were present and part of the process when the crystal in its protective box was hoisted up into the Matrimandir’s Inner Chamber and at last set upon the pedestal in the center. There it receives the ray of light that passes from above to go into and through its center, as regulated by a specially-conceived electronic apparatus.
Of course, from then on, many people wanted “to come and see” and the imperative question for the team became when could visitors pass through the Chamber. We had many meetings and discussions about this, but the best guide for us were Mother’s words in the Agenda. And she was very clear : “One hour a day, or one day a week … to see … “.
The Aurovilians in charge of the practical side of the Matrimandir work have learned how to best safeguard this space and have it respected by visitors and all who come. Over the years, good-sense rules have been established to protect this marvellous structure, this wonderful space, and its special atmosphere. Daily “Matrimandir Duty” schedules were set up for greeting and leading visitors.
In this way, the silence and harmony needed for entry is established, ensuring respect for this extraordinary place chosen by The Mother – the unique space of the Matrimandir and its twelve gardens. For many many years, I did “Matrimandir Duty” work, a privilege in the service of The Mother and the community.
Another privilege in my life was to travel to Japan – a country much loved by The Mother for its sense of beauty – to be a witness at a friend’s wedding. This gave me the wonderful opportunity to visit Kyoto where The Mother lived before her definitive return to Pondicherry on 24 April 1920 to pursue the “Adventure of Consciousness” with Sri Aurobindo.
Living in Auroville for these past 37 years hasn’t always been very simple but the joy of becoming part of this great outer and inner adventure has always guided me – to live my life here, help build the city – a garden city – and work in service to create an inspired and inspiring city !
It is true that as the days, weeks, months and years passed, the recommended and required unity for this great creation has often slipped through our fingers like fine grains of sand … instead of firmly settling in place to support our collective aspiration …
But I also feel, and I know, that despite the challenges, Auroville WILL grow and shine, WILL marvel, and WILL lead men and women of all countries towards the promised future : an integral change, a Supramental transformation for Auroville, humanity, and for Planet Earth.
After these many decades of joyful work dedicated to The Mother’s vision and the City of Dawn, my happiness still always soars when I’m seated under the Banyan Tree and see these words of aspiration which encircle it … the words which have inspired since the start and serve to guide us:
“AUROVILLE the City at the Service of Truth”
Auroville, April 2023
We thank the Auroville Archives and all the photographers who have contributed to the Archives over the
years for the photos which appear in this article.