Zackaria

Zack was born in Egypt and had a materially privileged, though lonely, upbringing at a time when Islam was more tolerant, open-minded and progressive.  At a young age he discovered the joy of reading all kinds of literature in his father’s marvelous library and the world of books became his refuge and later his life’s calling pursued through academic studies.
During the tumultuous times ​following ​the revolution in Egypt​ in the 1950’s, after his family lost most of their possessions and his father died, Zack put all of his efforts into his academic studies hoping to win a scholarship to study abroad.  At the age of 20 he realized this dream and found himself doing post-graduate work in Germany. There he became acquainted with Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga through a German compilation, “Der Integrale Yoga” and felt these inspired words filling a void that all his intellectual pursuits had not been able to.
A profound turning point came when halfway through his doctoral program he fell into a severely debilitating depression where life had no more purpose.  At a crucial moment of despair he remembered the Integral Yoga book and gazed at Sri Aurobindo’s photo which shifted something deep within, leading slowly but surely out of the depression and into the beginnings of his spiritual life.   In Germany he met and married his wife, a fellow scholarship holder, but soon found an insurmountable conflict growing between his outer married life and inner spiritual life.  Though his wife was sympathetic and they continued the marriage for 30 years, moving from Germany to Cairo, to the U.S., in the end they parted as dear and respected friends and Zack was free to pursue his sadhana unencumbered.  This led him to Auroville, back to the U.S., to Switzerland, back to Cairo, changing life paths, careers and relationships, still finding the challenge of the outer circumstances at odds with the inner ideal.
Finally at the end of a short visit to Auroville 10 years ago, he received the Adesh, the inner command (and in this case also the outer command) of what he ultimately understood to be a kind of fulfillment of his life’s purpose:  to translate Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s works into Arabic.  In 2008, Zack returned to the Lodi Ashram and devoted half his time to Ashram work and half to his translation work and to the development of his website which served as a vehicle of outreach into the Arab and Islamic world, to allow some Light of Sri Aurobindo’s teachings to penetrate into the chaos and barbarism of fundamentalism that is raging there.  The translation work continued to expand with the publication of 3 books and numerous essays and articles.  He continued to grapple with ways to reach the Islamic psyche in a non-threatening way, inviting Muslim readers to perceive the possibility of a spirituality that grows naturally out of the Islamic faith into a wider Light.
In Zack’s words, “The reason I have left Egypt to spend my remaining years in an ashram dedicated to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is that I find this ashram to be, for me, the most suitable place to deepen, in and around myself, that solid peace… the peace on which, in the long run, a divine life can be established on earth”.

Below are links to Zack’s various writings, many autobiographical.  Hope you may enjoy reading through–it is quite a legacy and testament to this unique and beloved child of the Mother.  Plans are underway to keep Zack’s website alive and well in perpetuity so that his work may continue to inspire those in the Arab world and elsewhere.

Website: sriaurobindo-inarabic.com

Translated books:

Luciano

Somewhere in the mid-nineties, Luciano joined the team in Annapurna and has worked with them ever since, taking care of the farm’s daily deliveries of milk and cheese, transporting Tomas’s daughter Usha to and from school in Auroville, and passionately studying Tamil in Auroville’s library in between. When he moved in 2011 to Realization, Usha could join him in his flat for her further studies, and will deeply miss her second father.

Due to his illness, Luciano went back to Italy in 2014 where he was hospitalised and now passed away.

Andrey Grig

Our Aurovilian brother Andrey Grigorachtchenko from Russia, passed away in the family’s house in Djaima at the age of 58. After a sudden faint, he left his body, possibly caused by a genetic ailment as also his father had passed away in such a manner. His sons were with him at the time.

Called by Auroville’s ideals, Andrey came on his own to Auroville in 1985 where he was welcomed as the first Russian and lived with Sven and the late Helena in Ekta, Auromodele. He soon returned to Russia, where he and his wife Svetlana decided to go to Germany to make some money in order to both join Auroville. They arrived here in 1997, with their two young sons, Terentij and Ivan, and were accepted as Aurovilian in December ’98.

Daniel Wilms

August Timmermans narrates his experience with Daniel, “Daniel Wilms was part of my special circle of friends that comprised of John Boonen, from Newlands, and Alan Klaas, from the Matrimandir Nursery.

We could enter deep conversations and share some great laughter. Daniel was the manager of the Nursery when I asked him if I could join, in 1981. Narad had left the Nursery responsibility in Daniel’s hands, and fortunately he could use an extra hand. Daniel was dedicated to his work from the perspective of yoga and put all his heart into it. Because of that, he had an excellent connection with the Tamil workers, who all liked him. What was not to like about him?, he was spirited, open-minded, had a great sense of humor, was passionate, and a true yogi, inspite of all the personal challenges in his life. It was always a joy being and working with him.

After he had left Auroville, we miraculously discovered that we had chosen the same country to work in, Thailand, where I lived in Bangkok, and he with his wife Chika and daughter Johanna in Chiang Mai. Daniel was from Germany, and died in 2003.”

William Netter

Dressed in white in his all white room, in his 70-somethings, with white hair, he sits drinking black tea and looking outside into the blue skies. William Netter, born in the USA, and through family ties connected to Hollywood and celebrities of all kinds, seems more like a film director himself in his white director’s chair, pulling strings like a puppet master.

Wild years
“I had more publicity as an American in India than Liz Taylor,” he says. But before India could enjoy his presence, William had spent some wild years in his home country, running a steakhouse in Greenwich Village, being involved in showbusiness and teaching literature. He attended New York’s School of Interior Design at night, went to Foredom University, and joined a Jesuit Order. “I was really way out in those days. Still am… in design.”
Intuition calling

During a visit to Puerto Rico, he felt a strong intuition calling him to India, and went for a 6 weeks tour with some ‘humanity’ professors from the New York area.

“I was totally knocked off my horses when we attended the 1968 New Year’s Day meditation at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Kireet Joshi showed us around. We then traveled on, returned and joined the inauguration of Auroville before going back. “I was moved deeply,” he recalls.

Back in the US, he started reading Sri Aurobindo and found himself building his first house in the residential zone of Auroville shortly after this first encounter. “I lived in it for 6 weeks, and then gave it to another Aurovilian, Amrita, who still resides on the same spot.”

State Bank of India

William became member of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and was appointed by the chairman of the State Bank of India to do the interior design of the bank’s new central office building in Bombay. We cannot tell the whole story as Willam told it to us (we might crack the website space!), so let’s just fast-forward a bit.. The work was completed and the building inaugurated. Shortly after this, a major fire lead to doing it all over again! That’s what one calls Karma yoga, isn’t it?

“Actually, when David Rockefeller visited the final result, he said that it was the most beautiful bank premises in the world. But no-one told me, anyway. I would have made T-shirts!” laughs William. He is indeed very funny. “I used to make the Mother laugh. My name was given to me by her. My brother, the film maker, however, calls me Billy,” says William.

Hollywood

Hollywood; that’s where he envisions his future plans. A movie, directed by at least Steven Spielberg, special effects, state of the art perfection, the works.. The story? Savitri! William has spent the last three years writing and designing a book about his passion, Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem ‘Savitri’. The book is now released and it’s wonderful.

The non-house

Until things get going, he will be staying in the second house he built in Auroville, the non-house. Two hexagons, a pyramid, a ship’s deck, a spiral staircase, lots of triangle shapes, ceramic tiles, inside-outside and, of course, all in white. “The minimal connects with the consciousness. If my work is successful, I’d like people to pause and lower their voices. Comfort is not a big deal with me,” he says.

That’s why the inner chamber of the Matrimandir is his favourite piece of architecture in Auroville. “The inner room was the precise vision of the Mother. Simplicity is everything. All my designs are influenced by this,” says William.

Courtesy: Julietta Kühle

Mia Berden

Is there anyone who knew Mia and doesn’t smile, with a sudden rush of warmth to the heart, at the mention of her name? For this indomitable lady was one of those rare individuals who had succeeded in integrating into her modest outer life the beliefs and qualities of a loving and enlightened soul. She met the difficulties of a long life lived through troubled times with the kind of courage and optimism that Sri Aurobindo claimed to be indispensable to the truly spiritual life – in the words of an English poet: “the courage never to submit or yield and what is else not to be overcome.”

The injustice of the human world pierced her heart when she was very young. Brought up in a Catholic family, a misguided emphasis on the dire consequences of even minor transgressions of the ‘rules’ caused this sensitive and intelligent child to suffer agonies of guilt, as she once confided to me. Yet an inborn strength of character caused her to see the sadness of the human condition and resolve to do something about it. It was not in her nature to feel bitterness or to blame.

Although Mia’s life appeared very simple in its outward pattern, behind it lay a rich fabric of experience and inner struggle. She had lived through the years of a world war and endured the scars it left behind. her abiding interest was undoubtedly the support she gave to Auroville through the foundation Stitching de Zaaier and her work with AVI. through this work she could give expression to an abiding love that sought to enfold the whole world in its wide embrace.

I came to know Mia only in her later years, mainly through her commitment to AVI and her interest in Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri, which I shared. she had initiated the collective study of Savitri with a group who met regularly in her small apartment in The Hague. this work continues with an expanded membership and great success in inspiring other enthusiasts around the world.
One day she telephoned me with a note of urgency in her voice. She spoke of a remarkable dream-vision which had made a deep impression on her: she had seen the Earth as if from space, with beams of bright light emanating from certain points on the globe. An inner voice had told her that these points represented the places where Savitri was being read with a sincere aspiration to know and to understand. From there a force went out for the transformation of consciousness. Mia urged me to do all that I could to promote the study of Savitri at many places throughout the world. She spoke of this very often.

Mia had faith in the Mother – a faith that must have helped her greatly during the illness that troubled her final years. She suffered from an accumulation of fluid in her lungs, which built up to the point where it affected her breathing. Every three weeks she had to make the jouney to a hospital for the fluid to be drained off. The doctors could not pin point either the cause or the cure, and so it went on. Mia told me that one night she felt very ill and in need of immediate help, but what could she do alone in her apartment, in the middle of the night? She decided that she would contact the hospital immediately the next morning.

Eventually she fell into a very deep sleep, from which she awoke to find the symptoms – gone! She felt completely well. Nevertheless she took herself to the hospital for a check up. The doctors were completely baffled, since her previous visit the fluid should have uilt up again, how had it suddenly disappeared?

Mia’s ‘family’ had to extensions in different directions. At one point in her life she had adopted as her daughter a young girl from Africa who had some how been abandoned. Mia’s attraction towards Africa and its people was evident in her life and she undertoo the responsibility of trying to build a bridge of love between two very different personalities and cultural traditions. It was a brave attempt and the resulting relationship not always easy for her. Her other family, beyond any doubt, was AVI and the Aurovilians.

As a member of AVI, Mia represented the Netherlands, and it always seemed to me that she epitomized in herself the soul of that nation, a soul forged in the struggle for existence against the tidal forces of Nature and the encroachment of occupying foreign powers; a sea faring nation of pioneers and bold adventurers unafraid to venture into unknown waters. These soul qualities of a nation owere somehow reflected in the character and personality of Mia. This insight challenged and changed my own view of AVI and made me see it in a new light: more than just a random collection of individuals, each one of us represents a strand in the tapestry of human inheritance that will one day manifest, in all its diversity, as the International Zone.

I have told the story of mia as I knew her, aware that there is so much more to tell. So much more that could be written about AVI itself, and its role in the development of Auroville, and the many remarkable people who have contributed to it. I think of them all as I write, and I know that Mia herself would wish to be remembered as one of their company.
Mia passed away peacefully in 2011 at the age of 97.

Courtesy: Auroville International, the worldwide network of Auroville Friends.

Nisha


Hailing from Chidambaram, Nisha came to Auroville and married Raj, who works as sysop in the Auroville Language Lab. The couple lived in Inspiration. Being a trained nurse with earlier experience in other hospitals, it was but natural that she came to work in Santé.

“I met Nisha in 2013 as I joined Kailash clinic, in 2015 we moved as a team to Sante. I noticed her exceptional loving care and truly believed that her small gentle hands have healing power. I visited her one month before she passed and last time one week before. I was awed by her courage to fight the terminal decease and strong will to live, even as her body was failing there was a fire that burned in her eyes and and determination that made me believe in a miracle. I will always cherish Nisha’s courage and dedicated love of Raj (her husband) in my heart.” says Helena on Nisha.

Chris

“Few of us know that Chris is one of those who got a living first contact with Auroville.

In the early seventies, arriving overland with his own Mercedes van, from Promesse side, between the tar road and Edayanchavady, he perceived suddenly a difference in the atmosphere. Later on, he identified that it was an atmosphere specific to Auroville. Thus started his adventures in Auroville.”, Alain Grandolas


Huta