Dhanalakshmi talks about her journey from the Indian Civil Services to a new life at Savitri Bhavan.
“I come from a very middle class family in Madurai and my husband and I broke conventions when we decided it was time for us to move to Pondicherry to first live in the Ashram, and then to Auroville. I knew what my family's reaction would be so I did not tell them that I was leaving my secure, well-paid job of 23 years in the Civil Service. It was only when my brother rang my office and was told I was no longer there that they discovered my plans. “Are you mad?” he asked. “What about the children – they need a good education. How can you be so irresponsible?” I could not give him any answer as I could not speak to any of them about Mother's compelling call and my response to it. Even after all these years they are still angry with me. Once a year, I go and visit my mother – that is all that is left of my old life.
“My husband and I had founded the Sri Aurobindo centres in Madurai and other towns in Tamil Nadu; our house in Madurai was used as a centre, and still is. For years we had been coming to the Ashram once a month and in 2003 we decided we could wait no longer. The call was too strong.
“We came to the Ashram and spent five very happy years there. I loved my work caring for the flowers at the Samadhi and later at the Residential Care Home for the elderly Ashramites. I always felt Mother was supporting me. I felt Her in each and every action. It was as if She was in the air, as if I was breathing Her in and out. For the first time, I learnt to ride a bicycle – it was a great and significant achievement for me. I am sure Mother made me do it as I had always been terrified of cycling.
“The first year in the Ashram was difficult for my husband, Sriramulu, as he could not get a transfer from his job, so he had to commute. This involved him using three buses for travelling 150 kilometres every day. But Mother cared for us and after one year he was able to get a transfer to the Revenue Department in Vanur, only 10 kilometres away.
“He has always been very supportive of my devotion to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and he calls his particular way the path of Karma Yoga. He works for the State Government in the Revenue Department for village administration. Because of his many years of experience with local government he is very knowledgeable about dealing with land records. He has been a big asset to the Ashram indirectly in these matters, and now he is helping Auroville. He just works in his own way by responding to requests for help with “Let's see. I'll look into the matter.” This is the way he does Mother's work. He would like to retire from his job and involve himself more with this valuable work, but as I only get a pension of 3,000 rupees a month he has to keep working as we have to educate our two sons.
“Our oldest boy Krishna is 19 and is studying at Thiruvannamalai Engineering College and comes home most weekends. He never visits the Hindu temples now but loves Auroville, and his favourite treat is getting pizza from the Bakery for his breakfast before going to Matrimandir. Mother said that the parent should guide the child until he is 18, then after that he can be on his own. I have followed Her advice and now he can choose for himself. Aravind, our younger boy, is now 11 and goes to school in Pondicherry . He has to go in a rickshaw every day which is expensive for us, but we feel this is the best education for him.
“When I now look back on my own childhood I can see that spirituality has always attracted me. I remember when I was a young girl I loved to go and sit in the Rama temple on a Saturday afternoon, often alone, and enjoy the atmosphere and especially the prasad. I remember how I used to like to walk through a burial ground on my way home from school and feel the peaceful atmosphere, whereas my friends were frightened to come with me. Maybe the fact that I went to a very pucca Hindu private school which emphasised discipline and high thinking contributed to my turn of mind. It is as if the seeds of my present life were sown many years ago.
“We have been here in Auroville as a family since last February and have had no real difficulties except for the usual one of housing, but after a while a friend offered us her apartment for a year in Petite Ferme so we are very fortunate. People have been very loving and respectful towards us. I worked at first grass cutting in Matrimandir gardens, but after a few weeks my skin began turning very dark and I got blisters on my arms from the hot sun so I had to give it up.
“I now work at Savitri Bhavan helping Shraddhavan. This is the perfect environment for me. The very place lives and breathes the atmosphere of Savitri. I can feel it in the air.
“My husband and I work with Varadharajan to create a space where devotees from other Tamil Nadu Sri Aurobindo centres can come to Auroville and spend time with us. We sometimes invite a group of Aurovilians to join us and last year 15 ladies from the Mirra Women's group spent a weekend with us. We feel it is important to inspire and sustain people from other centres who are less fortunate than ourselves who are blessed to live here.
“I am perfectly happy to be here. I can feel how Mother has poured Her love on our family. Do I have any ambition at all? Not really, except for a childish one to go up in an aeroplane and see how the world looks from above.”