Eric Ramanujam

On 19 March this year, Eric Ramanujam passed away at the age of 58 in PIMS where he had been taken due to advanced jaundice. While perhaps not having met him in person, many of us know his beautiful and educative wild life stone paintings placed in Pitchandikulam, at the visitors walk way to VC, as well as at the ECR toll plaza. Starting out at Aranya in 2000, where he studied, drew and wrote about the Indian Horned Eagle for several years, he later moved to Pitchandikulam where he was employed as wildlife biologist. His detailed, gentle drawings, combining black and white ink with colour, are found in scientific articles, books and papers all over India. A detailed obituary by India’s Sanctuary Nature Foundation is given here below.

Thank you, Eric. May you be in peace.

OM~

Obituary by Prasad Natarajan of the Sanctuary Nature Foundation.

Artist for Wildlife and Nature deeply mourns the death of senior wildlife illustrator and owl researcher Eric Ramanujam!

Eric was very supportive of AWN’s initiative’s and easy to approach. He was readily reachable giving his inputs and suggestions on any project. One of the first artist to come forward to display his artworks in the annual show in 2017.

Eric was employed by Pitchandikulam, a unit under Auroville Foundation, as a Wildlife Biologist. He has a background in the Advertising Industry (which he left because of the skull duggery and deadlines he, as junior staff, had to endure) and took to autecological / behavioural studies of the Indian Eagle Owl and associated nocturnal predators and prey in 1997. Since 2002 he has undertaken field studies of the Kaliveli wetland complex (near Pondicherry), Adyar wetland complex (in Chennai) and Shevroy Hills of the Eastern Ghats. In Pitchandikulam he created an ‘Art Collective’ – a group of wildlife / nature artists / illustrators working together to manifest outputs on a commercial scale. So far, the collective has been successful with working with Government departments (for example, Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust on the Adyar Eco Park and Gulf of Mannar Biodiversity Reserve Trust), Corporates (like WIPRO Technologies) and many NGOs (for example WWF-Delhi) in addition to quite a few private clients. This initiative is our major foray into a ‘studio based’ culture.

Eric Ramanujam authored “In Achilles’ Footstep – Adventures with The Indian Eagle-Owl”. Brilliant illustrations and in-depth knowledge sharing on Owls of India.

His last paper was on Wildlife art and illustration – combining black and white ink drawings in the Threatened taxa Magazine. Link to his paper can be read here: https://threatenedtaxa.org/JoTT/article/view/7455/8010

Eric was Mammal Category Award Winner of 2017 Artists for Wildlife and Nature Annual show.

His contributions to nature art, science and his love for owls will live forever!

Bryan Walton

This is to inform the community of the passing of Aurovilian Bryan Walton who was among the early pioneers and has always kept strong and live connections with Auroville and many of its old-time pioneer residents. Bryan had been coping with recurring cancer and made the transition on 8 March surrounded by his family in Wisconsin, USA.  He was 80 years old.

Having worked in educational audio-visuals, Bryan left the USA in the mid-sixties for India in search for a better life and eventually came to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in June 1971. Along with his then partner Sally, he had several meetings with the Mother who approved of their idea to start a handicraft community as village development work near Kuilapalayam, which she would name ‘Fraternity’. (https://vimeo.com/517078368/e9ada0315b?utm_source=email&utm_medium=vimeo-cliptranscode-201504&utm_campaign=28749)  Although he had no experience in either crafts or business, Bryan felt a deep ‘yes’, and bravely started the Fraternity project in February 1972, now fifty years ago, with many other Aurovilians and his wife-to-be Fanou joining him over the years in the work. The original 15 acres of sand with hard red clay below it and only two palmyra trees on it, flourished in the subsequent years with gradual cultivation of the land and, helped by Poppo, the original keet sheds morphed into permanent handicraft buildings, a kindergarten for workers’ and village children, and an overhead tank for fresh water. The proceeds from the production of handloom and other craft products supported the training of local village women and youth, the running water system for Kuilapalayam, and the kindergarten with daily lunch, medical care and lessons in Tamil. Bryan’s extensive photographic documentation of the progress and life in Auroville at the time form a precious addition to Auroville’s archives.

Pressured by the challenging circumstances Auroville went through in those years, Bryan and Fanou left in 1980 with their two very young children, Auromarichi (Christian) and Aurelia, to USA where they lived in rural Spring Green, Wisconsin. With another couple, they imported art and craft products from Auroville and other parts of Asia, and found markets through their retail store from where they could always be of generous help to Auroville. Bryan also returned to his old skills and developed a virtual treasure of colourful and highly artistic audio-visual presentations, quietly narrated by himself, based on his wide range of interest, and pieced together from his research into Sri Aurobindo’s and Mother’s works, integral yoga, other inspiring world views, art works, books, articles, pictures and many many hours of work. During his last year he was able to upload most of them, as a fine gift to Auroville, – a complete list with links will be available on the Auroville website. (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC85DC0zOXxbzDsyMw5vKdqA)

Bryan was also active member of the Board of AVI USA and served on the Board of the AVI Association since 2007, where his calm participation, dry humour and hands-on knowledge of life in Auroville was an esteemed commodity.

Since mid-2021 Bryan has been coping with a returned, aggressive cancer eventually resorting to two different sorts of chemotherapy. When these Plans A and B did not work for him, Bryan decided to switch to Plan M: “For me, no fear of the Great Adventure of the Spirit with Her, the Mother is with me, she’s with us all.  Since 22 or so coming first back from India, I was ok with the ultimate adventure.“

He now has embarked on that new venture, and we salute and let go, with utmost love and gratitude for this soft-spoken, always friendly co-traveler on the path, who endeared himself in fraternity with so many of his colleagues, workers and co-Aurovilians throughout his life.

Go and Come, dear Bryan!

Our warmest condolences and strength go out to his wife Fanou, and their three children Christian, Aurelia and Leo, their families, and to all his friends both here and abroad.

OM~

Francis in conversation with Bryan & Fanou, 2009
https://vimeo.com/529655760

Bryan & Fanou from Auroville Video Productions on Vimeo.

Sanjeev of SAIIER

In the very early morning of 24 February, our friend and brother Sanjeev Aggarwal of SAIIER passed away in JIPMER due to cardiac arrest at the age of 70.

Sanjeev came from Delhi to Auroville at the end of 1981 and was, with his legal background and formation, the right person to continue from 1992 onwards the immense challenge of bringing to further fruition the Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research (SAIIER), which had been set up in 1984 by Kireet Joshi and Alain Bernard. The Institute now oversees the many schools and other educational projects in Auroville and bioregion, and Sanjeev has been the main drive and pillar of strength in the organisation throughout the years. Certainly his focus on Auroville’s Udavi school in Edeyenchavadi village made the school expand enormously, and the teacher staff and pupils will sorely miss him. Sanjeev’s greatest joy was in enabling young people to discover their goal and potential in the context of Auroville. His very regular tennis and badminton session with his students was part of this approach. He loved the concept of Gurukul and brought up four girls. His continuous support and advice will be missed by many.

Sanjeev also enjoyed being a good host – many fondly remember having him make a cup of tea for them. He was happiest when in the company of small children and will be remembered for his sincerity and generosity.

His other passion was immersing himself in Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri. Having been member of the very first Working Committee from 1991 onwards, he continued taking up innumerable administrative functions and, with them, the accompanying complexity and tension. With his strong-willed character and deepest dedication towards the development of Mother’s Auroville, Sanjeev took wholeheartedly part in Auroville’s communal meetings and debates where his absence will be strongly felt. In the last years, he curtailed his administrative work due to stress related problems.

Sanjeev’s body remained at his ‘Mir’ house and was cremated in the afternoon of Tuesday March 1st at the Auroville mandapam with many of his extended family, friends and students attending.

Our warmest condolences go out to Sanjeev’s partner Miriam and their foster daughters Elene, Manjula, Saranya and Dakshini.

OM~

Dakshina

Dakshina, a dear US-based friend and spiritual sister to many, passed away on 19 February due to cancer. She was the profoundly inspired and inspiring devotee of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother who founded Sri Aurobindo Sadhana Peetham in Lodi, California, a haven for weary travellers on the path where numerous Aurovilians and Ashramites have visited and stayed throughout the years. Through her Auromere brand, she distributed books, shampoo, incense and more, of which 10% of the proceeds were donated to Auroville while the balance supported the ‘Lodi Ashram’ as the centre was mostly called. Dakshina also served on the board of the Foundation of World Education and built Mother’s House for guests visiting the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry.

We very sincerely salute a true sister and comrade on the path, and our warmest condolences go out to the Lodi family and all her many friends.

OM~

Amit Bawa

This is to inform the community that in the evening of Friday 18 February our dear friend and brother Amit Bawa passed away due to cardiac arrest at the age 48. Hailing from Srinagar, Aamit came first to Auroville in 2008 and became Aurovilian in 2011.

Aamit, with his friendly, outgoing and ever-smiling nature, was a welcome figure in the various Auroville services to which he contributed, such as Deepanam School as learner and facilitator, as member of the Matrimandir Access group at Matrimandir itself and the Visitors’ Centre, as active participant in children’s school camps, and more. In the later years he oversaw Swagatham guesthouse in Bharat Nivas, where he also peacefully lived with his cat family and transformed the gardens into a true flower paradise.

His dedicated and cheerful presence was evident throughout, and he will be sorely missed.

After his parents arrived from Srinagar, Aamit’s remains were cremated at the Auroville mandapam in the late afternoon of Sunday 20th.

OM~

Axel

It is with a heavy heart that we would like to inform the community of the passing of Axel Johann Björnsson.

Axel passed away peacefully in his sleep in the night of the 14th of February in his home in Vilcabamba, Ecuador at the age of 59, after a long struggle due to a failed surgery. He was cremated on the 19th of February in Loja, Ecuador, in the presence of his girlfriend, his sister, and oldest daughter.

His funeral is currently being planned for July, in the presence of his entire family in his home country, Iceland.

Axel joined Auroville in 2005 and was, as many may recall, not only an enthusiastic actor in the Auroville theatre group, but also a maths teacher at Transition school.

He had left Auroville in the beginning of 2013 for a new adventure in Ecuador, South America. This is where he built up his own business, a restaurant, which quickly became the place to be in town.

Like many of you will remember, he was always a joyful and happy person, there are definitely many moments of laughter he will be remembered by. He will be greatly missed by us all for his unique sense of humour and joyous ways.

We bid farewell to our dear friend with the following words…

I am free

Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free,
I’m following paths God made for me
I took his hand, I heard him call
Then turned, and bid farewell to all

I could not stay another day
To laugh, to love, to sing, to play
Tasks left undone must stay that way
I found my peace … at close of play

And if my parting left a void
Then fill it with remembered joy
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss
Ah yes, these things I too will miss.

Be not burdened… deep with sorrow
I wish you sunshine of tomorrow
My life’s been full I’ve savoured much
Good friends, good times
A loved one’s touch

Perhaps my time seemed all too brief,
Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief.
Lift up your hearts and peace to thee
God wanted me now
He set me free.

Sawitri, daughter of Sonja and Krishnaprem from Angiras Garden,
informed us of the passing of Axel, her step-father

Saraswati Helene

This is to inform the community that our dear friend and sister, Aurovilian Saraswati Helene Champaloux, passed away in France at the age of 75 after a long struggle with cancer.

Saraswati received her name from Champaklal in 1991 and joined Auroville two years later. Being a painter, her vision and technique of her expressions gradually changed due to her inner research in light of quantum physicists and the readings David Bohm and Fridjof Capra which aligned with her experience. She held several exhibitions in Auroville such as the Angel’s theme exhibition in September 2000 at Pitanga, which was deeply inspiring and had a wonderful presence.

Apart from her artwork, Saraswati worked at the Auroville Health Center and Auroville Earth Institute. She was known for her warmhearted nature, always giving love and support to the ones around her.
The funeral of Saraswati’s remains took place in France on 16 February, and Auroville friends bade her farewell during a silent gathering at the Matrimandir Banyan tree in the late afternoon of the same day.

Our warmest condolences go out to her daughter Anata and grandson Raphael.

OM~

E. Krishnamoorthy

This is to inform the community that in the afternoon of Monday 24 January, our good friend and brother E. Krishnamoorthy of Sangamam passed away in Pondy’s General Hospital, where he had remained in treatment for a head wound caused by a road accident on January 12th. He would have been 50 next month.

Krishnamoorthy originally came from Kuilyapalayam and worked from the early nineties onwards for the then Auroville Messenger Service, as one of the ‘messengers’, distributing the Auroville News and other post items on his bicycle to the various communities. At the time this was the way Aurovilians communicated with each other. With his open smile and upbeat demeanour, he was often received as a welcome presence in those still much quieter days without email or even telephones. After years of riding his bike over sandy paths in the hot sun, he worked for some time at Solar Service and Abri Electrical Service, and more recently at UTS where he handled the phones and did administrative work. In 2017 he had made the big step to become newcomer and joined as Aurovilian in 2020.

Thank you, Krishnamoorthy, for having been with us so long. May you rest in peace.

Our warmest condolences go out to his family, wife Castoury and their two sons, Madhiazhagan and Mahendren. Krishnamoorthy’s remains were cremated at the Auroville mandapam in the late afternoon of January 25th, with family members and many of his friends attending.

OM~

Chitra

This is to inform the community that in the afternoon of Thursday 13 January, our dear friend and sister Chitra Balaguru passed away due to suicide in her Humanscapes home, which she shared with her husband Balaguru and daughter Praveena. She was 39 years old.

Originally hailing from Chennai, Chitra came with her husband and small daughter to Auroville in 2013 and officially joined in March 2016. Having experience with senior care, she naturally gravitated towards the Auroville Health Services where she has been working as hygiene inspector and care giver for almost ten years. She was much appreciated by both AVHS and the many recipients of her care, who saw her as a conscientious, friendly and always uplifting presence in their lives. She will be sorely missed.

Chitra’s body was cremated at the Auroville mandappam in the morning of 15 January with members of family and friends attending.

Thank you, Chitra, and may you find peace. Our warmest condolences go out to the family.

OM~

Peggy Rustomji

In the early morning of 15 December, Peggy, the mother of Jehangir and Rishad Rustomji, first generation of students of Auroville, passed away in her home in Kodaikanal. Both her sons were with her during the time of transition.

Some of us affectionately remember her sitting in the school bus that would bring students and teachers from the Ashram and Pondicherry to Auroville in the seventies, – in those halcyon days when we embarked on the Auroville adventure on an empty canvas.

OM~