Wim van Megen

The first time I came to know Auroville was through a close friend of my fathers, the Franciscan priest Ruud Lohman, who lived across the road from our home. Ruud visited our home almost every weekend and also used to join us on our holidays. When I was 13 years old, Ruud made an overland trip to India and kept a diary, which was published in 1970.

Ruud narrated to us his many experiences and showed us the Hatha Yoga asanas, which he had learnt. My elder brother Paul, younger sister Carla and I were much impressed. At that time, our eldest brother Toine lived in another town for his studies, and happened to discover the works of Sri Aurobindo in the library of the university. In 1972 Ruud published the diary of a second trip to India. In this book he writes about his first year of voluntary work in Auroville. It was in that same year that Toine quit his studies to join Auroville for good.

Inspired by the stories of Ruud and Toine, and seized by the wonderful works of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, while at the sametime following an inner guidance, I joined Auroville in 1975. Prior to my departure, I had a lucid dream of being present in Auroville. In that ‘dream’ the construction of the city was completed and I was blissfully walking through gardens towards one of the entrances of the Matrimandir.

In 1975 I lived first in the Matrimandir Workers’ Camp, then at Fertile Windmill and later in Aurodam. In 1980 I moved to Indonesia, where I lived for twenty years. In the year 2000 I returned to Netherlands and joined Auroville International Netherlands in 2007, becoming Chairman of the Association in the same year.

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.