Gardening with children at Matrimandir Nursery
by Narad, 2010
The Gardening Class for children was for me one of the highlights of the 1970’s, a time when we were introducing new flowers and breathing and living in the Mother’s atmosphere, so strong in those difficult days of the first twelve years of Auroville. It was the first time I had worked with young children and I look back on it now, 35 year later with great joy since I am once again taking classes with children of all ages through the Matrimandir Gardens and working with the Ashram students as well.
I had wonderful times with these little ones, from the age of 4 or 5 to 14, for we would have all kinds of projects. One of them was to plant bulbs of 'Mental Prayer' on a hill that Roger had designed to the south with soil removed from the future lake. This required an extra day so every Sunday morning the children gathered at the ‘little mountain’ and when we had completed our planting months later, we had planted 10,000 bulbs of ‘Prayer’. It was one of the most beautiful sites in the ‘Peace’ area.
The ‘Childrens’ Gardening Class’ became very popular and more than 30 years later when I came for lunch one day at the Solar Kitchen I realized how much it meant to the children. I was very surprised when two lovely young women with babies on their hips came up to me and each gave me a big kiss and then introduced themselves at Kali and Kripa and said, “We were your students!” Then Taddy met me and said how he enjoyed the classes. For someone now in his 70’s this was indeed a very special blessing.
These are some of the classes I remember. Of course, flowers and Mother’s flower significances were highest on the list but we did many other things as well. We studied the soil and learned how man can help Nature re-build and re-energize her soil and make her more beautiful. We planted flowers and seeds, took walks to see the native wildflowers, and even made soap, with each child drawing or impressing a symbol or flower on their creation. Although Nilauro no longer remembers this, as he was only five, one day we actually made a ‘Rainbow Plumeria’, ‘Psychological Perfection’ by grafting different scions onto a dwarf rootstock. All the children took part in this, making the cuttings and wrapping the grafts in tape. I remember how concentrated the children were, intent on learning about the land, the beauty that we were aspiring to manifest in the Matrimandir Nursery and later in the Matrimandir Gardens, the study of the trees we were planting and how the forest would grow up in Auroville.
There was a Brahmani kite, the one with the white breast, who had been injured and Dietra was nursing it back to health. As he gained strength and began to fly he made Auroville his home. His name was Akhnaten, Ank for short. At the Matrimandir Nursery we had a central kitchen to feed about twelve Aurovilians working to build the first stage of the gardens. We had written to Mother about the difficult food situation and She gave us permission to start a kitchen in the nursery with a greater emphasis on hygiene and nutrition. Occasionally we would take some of our food, especially a roll or piece of bread back to our homes. Then, before we were even aware of what had happened Ank would have flown silently behind us and snatched away the piece of bread without ever touching our hand. We would suddenly notice that our hand was empty and then hear Ank’s high pitched laugh as he got away with the goods.
Ank was especially fond of the children’s gardening class that I held every Wednesday and would never miss attending.
He would come, right on time for the class and then fly from branch to branch as the children walked through the nursery, attentively watching whatever we were doing. Of course he also had a favourite game, especially with Chali, in which he would fly just over the heads of the children and snatch one of their hats or scarves and fly away with a raucous laugh and eventually drop the piece from a tree.
One day I was at home eating a piece of cheese. I walked outside and there was Ank sitting on a trellis just outside the house. I offered him a piece and he happily grabbed it and sat in front of me and ate it. Thus began a ritual that lasted perhaps more than a year. About three times a week Ank would come to the house for his piece of cheese. But he didn’t just wait outside. I would open the doors (we had double doors about 1 1/2 metres wide) and he would dip his wings (which were more than 2 metres across) and fly into the house and perch on the top of the door and wait for his piece of cheese. This ritual delighted us and would give me an opportunity to talk to him and occasionally, not often, he would let me stroke his breast. These were moments that will live with me all my days. One day, after he had been coming to the Nursery for over a year we heard a tremendous screeching noise in the sky and looked up to see two tiny dots. The screeching continued as one of the dots descended and we saw that it was Ank. He came to the trellis outside the house and continued to scream and call and finally we saw the other dot slowly drop down from the sky. Ank had found a mate and he wanted to introduce her to us. Of course, being totally wild she was terrified but Ank kept calling to her and she finally landed on the trellis near him. He came into our house, had his piece of cheese and they both flew off together with a final high pitched goodbye. We never saw him again.