At 11 o'clock in the evening, Kuilapalayam is something of a ghost town. But while everybody else would have shut shop and gone to bed, likely or not one small figure would still be bustling around with a bucket full of bread scraps, a crowd of dogs at her heels. Until recently, that is. For Ann, ‘Animal Care' Ann, passed away in June after a severe illness.
The spontaneous outpouring of affection and appreciation from Aurovilians and villagers alike at the news of her death was evidence, if any was needed, that Ann was a very special person. Born in New Zealand , she came to Auroville in the mid 1970s. Coming from a farming family, she loved animals and, from the first it seems, was always surrounded by them. As she had some basic veterinary knowledge, Aurovilian friends started asking her to treat their pets. Word got around, and soon her constituency had spread beyond Auroville to Kuilapalayam and other local villages, where the condition of many of the animals was dire: the countless abandoned, wounded or terribly suffering tiny pups and dogs were the silent victims of poverty and ignorance.
Ann set to work to remedy this. On her old moped she carried a large tub which she filled with food scraps from the bakery and community kitchens before redistributing them to her ‘children', the hungry village dogs. Once the feeding was over, the medication would begin. As rabies is endemic in India , Ann, assisted for many years by Kittu and, later, Radhakrishnan, initiated a programme of mass-vaccination in the villages. “We set up a system,” explains Kittu. “We picked a few individuals from each village, and told them to contact us if there was any sign of a rabid animal.” Once a sighting was made, Ann and Kittu would track the animal (once for a full day all the way to Pondicherry ), capture it and then put it to sleep. “Even with a rabid dog, Ann always looked for the most humane way to put it to sleep,” says Kittu. “This in itself was an example to the villagers.”
Her rabies work was the most high-profile, and dangerous, aspect of her work and perhaps her greatest social service, but there were plenty of other diseases she had to deal with. For example, canine distemper – a highly infectious disease which can lead to an agonizing death for an animal – took up more and more of her time. The distemper vaccine is expensive, but through her contacts with vets (who were always happy to help her, often free of charge) and animal workers Ann discovered that the far cheaper human measles vaccine is just as effective. She also discovered that large doses of vitamin C worked too. “She made many small discoveries like this,” says Kittu. “That is why it's important that all her efforts don't to go to waste.” You only have to see the healthy animals in Kuilapalayam today to realize how successful those efforts have been, and what a strong riposte this is to those who criticized her for caring for village dogs. “As a result of our work, pups are healthier and more attractive, and because of that people want them more and there are less uncared for dogs wandering around,” she once explained.
Ann was on call day and night: “She was the most dedicated to her work I have ever seen in Auroville,” says Turiya. “She was a workaholic,” says Kittu, “She never took a break and I don't think she ever slept more than 2 hours a night. She was treating animals in villages stretching from Marakkanam in the north to Pondicherry in the south, all on her old moped. She needed a jeep, a team, but she never considered herself: she was a giver, a complete giver, that's how she wore herself out. Even in hospital she kept getting out of bed to greet her friends. We had to tell her, ‘Ann, you're here to rest.' Near the end, when she was very ill, a doctor came to examine her. She told him, ‘Don't come too close, you may get infected.' He was very touched. He said, ‘I've never seen such a noble lady. She's so sick but she's only thinking about me.' And immediately he went to the chapel to pray for her.”
Ann's simplicity and humility caused many people to misjudge her. “When I came to Auroville and saw her for the first time,” remembers Aryadeep, “she was radiating a pure and innocent simplicity, with the smile of a herdswoman. I told myself, ‘So in Auroville not all people are intellectuals or studying Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.' How wrong I was! She loved books: Sri Aurobindo's Life Divine was one of her favourites.” Bhavana recalls that when Ann was living in Fertile she listened to tapes of Mother's Agenda all day long, learning French in the process. Aryadeep remembers asking her on one occasion if she would like him to bring her something from Pondicherry . “Yes, a kilo of consciousness,” she replied. In hospital, near the very end, she asked a friend to put something on her behalf in the Auroville News and Notes. It was a quote from Mother: “Do not be sad – things happen because they have to happen and finally everything leads to the ultimate victory of the Supreme.”
“I'm convinced,” says Kittu, “that she was already transformed inwardly but many people didn't realize this because she neglected herself.” In fact, Aurovilians were shocked to learn recently that for a long time she hadn't had a home but had been sleeping in a tiny room under the State Bank of India in Kuilapalayam. This led Amy and other friends to raise funds for a house and compound in which Ann could live and look after her needy animals. Unfortunately, it came too late.
“In many ways, she was not made for this world – she was too naïve, too trusting,” says Kittu. “For example, she never wanted to ask anybody for money.” “Sometimes,” remembers Radhakrishnan, “she'd tell me she couldn't pay my wages. But then she'd go up the road and meet somebody who would spontaneously give her money – often exactly the amount that she needed!”
Rita remembers being one of the Aurovilians who affectionately told Ann: ‘get your act together'. “To which she one day responded, ‘My act is together, Rita'.” After witnessing the outpouring of love and affection from simple villagers at her laying in and funeral, and how Ann's face changed after death from that of a prematurely old woman to someone young and fresh, Rita changed her mind. “You indeed have your act together. Sorry about that stupid advice.”
“ Saint Ann . She always was,” wrote her close friend, Bhavana, recently, “We loved to have her look after the rabid dogs, and she loved to do it. But she didn't inspire me to care for them, she ‘overdid it' I felt. And yet, she was an exemplary woman – always striving to do her best, self-effacing, hard-working, caring.” Ann herself was anxious not to be portrayed as a latter-day saint. A few years ago, in the only interview with Auroville Today which, reluctantly, she agreed to, she told Jesse that “I'm often short-tempered and selfish.” “Ann may not be perfect,” observed Jesse after following her around for an exhausting day, “but the dogs of Kuilapalayam don't seem to mind. Although the small, skinny, sand-coloured almost-pup yelps and winces as she forces the distemper medicine down his throat, the moment she finishes the procedure and walks away, the animal rushes to her side with the air of a living being recognised for the first time in its life.”
Kireet sums it up for all of us: “You did a work none of us could. You were a beautiful woman.”
(Ann Plummer, Aurovilian, 57 years. Died 25th June, 2005, cremated in Adventure.)