Ritam "Interview with Joy"
By Kosha Shah
Kosha: Joy, could you tell a little about yourself and your background and what brought you to Auroville?
Joy: I came here in September 1977, right in the middle of the conflict between the Sri Aurobindo Society and Auroville. I had finished my studies at the Ashram school and had done about two years of apprenticeship in the house maintenance service and at the Ashram Press. I had come to know Jean during that time and sometimes in 1977 he had decided to join Auroville. So I used to come and visit him on the weekends. Then on one weekend, while we were having dinner at somebody's house - it just happened. I was reflecting on that day's crazy events and somehow it was like a page which turned for me. I just knew that this was where the next stage of my life was going to be. I couldn't explain it in any way. Even after the weekend that sensation stayed on with me. It was so strong that suddenly after spending 14 years at the Ashram where my roots are, the place was no more the same; it was no more a home to me like it used to be. It felt like a different place. It was such a strong feeling that during that week I could go and see the necessary people in-charge and told everyone that I was going to Auroville. I think most people were quite shocked.
Anyway, that's how it happened and the following weekend I was here. We were about ten people from the Ashram who within 6 months had moved at that time to Auroville right in the middle of the conflict. Retrospectively I think I couldn't have come into Auroville without Jean because I needed that human support. The atmosphere was quite crazy and very intense. Then within 6 months, we started this new community called Djaima like in a desert, with only one palmyra tree growing there. We were pioneering a new community based on agriculture and alternative energy and we were very few. We worked hard for five or six years but after a certain time, the project being too big for its challenges to be met by so few people, the energy dwindled, we lost the impulse, the initial inspiration, and the will to continue. I was one of them. For me, living that pioneering life was often difficult and intense. After six years, especially after Anandamayi was born, it was not easy, and not only physically or materially. At that time, because we had cut ourselves off from the Sri Aurobindo Society, the funds stopped coming; actually for months and even years we had not much to eat but still we had great joy and enthusiasm in just being together and starting a new place. There were all these political tensions though and people got really worked up.
K: But were you aware that you were likely to have a very difficult life when you joined Auroville?
J: Actually, when I had the feeling that this was going to be the next stage of my life, it was because I felt that all the artistic activities which I was fully into in the Ashram at the time - theater, dance, singing - that Auroville was where it was going to continue although how and in which form, I didn't know. The funny thing is that during the first seven or eight years, apart from a little bit of singing, almost nothing of all that happened. I was really engrossed into being first a pioneer and then bringing up a child. It was only from 1985 that I got back to dance. Theatre, and music followed. One doesn't know what one has to go through to reach where one is supposed to. You hear a call and then you just follow it.
K: What was the area that you were working on in Auroville? You said earlier you were doing agricultural and pioneering work?
J: Yes, we called the community Djaima, which means victory to the Mother. It was a barren land where we planted each seed of each tree or shrub growing there today. We began a vegetable garden, an orchard, fishponds, set up windmills. Jean and I lived on top of the community kitchen, which was a capsule-cum-hut. Then a month before Anandamayi was born, we had the entire hut to ourselves.
K: This was pioneering work and then after seven to eight years you said you got more into what you were looking for connected to the arts, the reason why you came to Auroville.
J: The only thing that continued during the pioneering time was singing. There was a person named Pascal who lived in Aspiration and composed his own songs and many of us sang those songs together. This was really something which made me survive all those years of earthy pioneering. I moved out of Djaima when Anandamayi was three and a half years old because I wanted to go somewhere else and do something other than this. So after a few months of shifting around we found a place in Dana. At that point a dance team formed with Aryamani, Paulo, Jivatman and Ila who had moved in from Brazil. They had all earlier lived in a community in Brazil together, and they wanted to continue with dance here. So I joined them and it was like coming back to something that was very fulfilling. Then theater came. I was working in the kindergarten when Anandamayi was young, reading out stories to the children and because of that environment, I started writing plays for them. When Anu joined Auroville and took up dancing, she offered to choreograph. So we became a group of people who danced to her choreography.
K: During all these difficult years that you had initially, did you ever feel that you had made the wrong decision? You still felt motivated and inspired to continue to be here?
J: Yes, I mean there were times when it was very difficult and I asked myself the question is this really my place. I can't remember the exact circumstances when it happened, why that question came, I just remember it was so intense. Once or twice I think the question was so strong, I would go to sleep just offering that question to the Mother and the next day I would wake up as if no question had ever been in my mind - it was like answered from somewhere and the question was wiped out. But this question always remains - even now, in a way all the time. I know now that this is an essential part of our life here. This is not an easy place to live in. We are always confronted with ourselves and our own incapacities and we feel that we are so far from the ideal and what we should be. Yet, the miracle is there all the time, all around us, palpable on a different plane. You just have to be in a certain state to feel it all round you.
K: Could you just mention a little bit about the work that you have been doing with music, dance, and children's theater? What is the feeling with which you approached the work and when you have done something, what is the feeling that you get at the end of it?
J: In the last few years, apart from teaching a little bit of Sanskrit singing in schools and producing a CD of hymns and songs, I haven't really been very musically active. But I did help set up and organize regular Hindustani music classes for Aurovilians here. When Anandamayi was still young I had written and helped direct four plays for children and as for dancing, until a few years ago, I participated in many Auroville choreographies, over a span of about 15 years. As for your second question - I think that for most people who are in arts, it is just that we feel happy while in it. I feel a kind of fullness and when that fullness is there, I feel that something has happened, that I have reached something.
K: But there's also sometimes a need for recognition from other people. Is this also important?
J: Yes, I will not say that I am beyond it. I think there is a part of me which feels excited even though a part of me says it is not important and I'm not here for that. But sometimes something in me still gets caught. It's a kind of ego game. But what really brings me a deeper satisfaction is when even for a moment I have felt, during singing, or dancing or recitation, that I have been an instrument, that something has flowed through me or that I've been carried by something. When I reach that point, suddenly it doesn't matter anymore whether people have felt it or not, because it is a direct link between something else and me which is more fulfilling than anything else.
K: That something manifested through you?
J: Maybe. It was as if suddenly something else flowed through me, maybe flowing is the better word. It could be very simple, it could be just one minute, five seconds, but when you touch that, then you feel wow, that was not the usual me but much more.
K: Do you think it is something one can communicate to others, other artists or students? Is it something that one can tell people that this is the sort of thing that we are aiming for or is it something that everyone is left to themselves to seek for - what could be the expression of the soul? Because this is after all something that everyone can experience if they aim for it, and I am sure that being in Auroville in itself means that there is something higher that we are trying to aspire for over here. It's different from merely being outside and being a singer or a dancer because over here, you are consciously or unconsciously trying to reach that point within yourself. Is this something that can be communicated? How do you really express it to students, if you want to tell them this? Do you just teach them the externals or do you also tell them how to reach that point as a process step by step because it is not mental, but a feeling within.
J: Well I don't have any students, I just have a group with whom I sing. If anybody feels the need and asks me for indications, I could give, but it's actually very personal.
K: But how would they even know?
J: What I used to tell them - my dance students – is, “Just try to just forget yourself. When you are doing something, just try to forget yourself, be in what you're doing. Like if you're singing a song, or if in dance you're improvising to music, stop thinking about other things or yourself, try to identify yourself with what you are doing, the music, the thing itself.” This forgetting oneself is so important, I feel that's when the other thing becomes possible… being taken over by something else, being a channel… letting something else flow through you. The secret is in the forgetting of oneself. Perhaps it doesn't have to be great art. It's something very simple. I remember once some people came to perform. They were connected to Mother and Sri Aurobindo. It was, technically speaking, not very professional. But I remember there was a point, when they were doing something absolutely of no importance, when they and I became one because there was something else flowing through. And that could happen because I had reached a point of forgetting myself as an audience and they as dance performers. After a few seconds, when I looked around in the audience I felt they were also in the same flow. I understood that evening that actually it is not only the quality of a performance technically speaking, but the inner state of forgetting oneself which is important and to me more fulfilling.
K: And yet, when the instrument is perfect, the manifestation also becomes more perfect.
J: Yes, yes, this is true.
K: So, outer training also has that importance and the inner quality is also important.
J: Absolutely, both are important.
K: Okay, now can we talk a little bit about the education system in Auroville? How would you see its strengths and limitations? You have put your daughter, Anandamayi, as a student over here right from the beginning and now she's an Aurovilian too. How did you decide to put her here and not elsewhere?
J: Frankly, there were maybe one or two times, during Anandamayi's childhood when things seemed really difficult and so disorganized in the area of education, that I had thought, “Oh, it would be so good if Anandamayi could go to the Ashram school”, because that's all I know and I'm always immensely grateful for having studied there. After the split with the Society many areas of life here became dysfunctional. The schools also closed and for many years some of the children at that time didn't have any schooling and they still regret it to this day. After Anandamayi was born and when she was about two and a half years old, mothers who had children of her age, got together at somebody's house who offered space for starting a creche. Then the children grew older and they needed to go to a kindergarten and then again some mothers and maybe one or two people who were not parents offered to work for the kindergarten. This is how the school process started again. Then for the older children there were Croquette and Yanne in Douceur near Aspiration. They had started a school because they had their own children of that age who needed education. And then when that group grew a bit older, SAIIER was formed so Government grants could be channeled towards Auroville. Then Transition School began, again by Croqette, because his son and other children who were of his age needed a proper school. Then Miramukhi started, so Anandamayi moved from Transition to Miramukhi because I felt at that point that Transition school was not quite satisfying. Not only educationally but atmosphere-wise also, it was pretty wild.
K: But down the years, do you feel there's been a major change in terms of the education system here? Do you feel that it is now adequate and that the youth get what they need from this place, both in terms of external support from the teachers as well as what inwardly they would need to grow?
J: I will not venture on the inward needs because I really don't know. I'm not involved in the schools since quite a few years. I know that I took Anandamayi out of Transition school because I felt the inner part of it was not there at all. People were just trying to see how to get the children to sit down and do something, not run around all over. Miramukhi was started by people who wanted another quality in education, but then of course it went in a completely different direction. So I took Anandamayi out again and put her back in Transition even though it was still not perfect, because I preferred that kind of atmosphere to the very rigid religious attitude which Miramukhi had. Miramukhi's teachers wanted to follow the education as envisaged by the Mother. They really were trying their best and doing excellent work in certain areas, but I think I couldn't relate to it because I had a reference of the Ashram school. In Mirramukhi there seemed to be too much morality and sermonizing and I felt the children's vital beings were being completely squashed. This I found most unhealthy. In my times at the Ashram I found the education of the vital in general lacking in dynamism and creative energy but they were certainly not squashed. Things might have changed since then. Then again Anandamayi went back to Transition school and then she went to Last School. She still follows a few classes in Last School besides other activities.
K: Can you give some idea about the problem the youth over here face? I am especially talking about those who have grown up here, not just those who have come from outside and settled down, those who have gone through the educational system. Is there something that makes them special? You spoke about suppression of the vital and freedom and interpretation of freedom and discipline. How would you elaborate on that?
J: Auroville has an ideal which is based on some guidelines given by the Mother, some indications though very broad are free to be interpreted in many different ways. I think the problem is that the children really have a tough time relating to what people say and what they actually do, not only as individuals but collectively - the discrepancies. I think they are often lost. Another thing is that because most children here have parents who have come from the west, their vital needs are very different from that of Indian children. Even if they've grown up here, their vital needs are stronger and maybe on that level sometimes they feel a bit frustrated. For example, they feel that there are not enough youngsters around them, they find the stimulation of a group lacking. I think that is one of the reasons adolescents go out because they need to be in a bigger group, to be in a school with more children of their age because it stimulates them more. I suppose an Indian student would feel the same thing, but maybe not so strongly, and besides this is India and our home. In spite of all these differences, quite a few western children who have grown up here actually end up marrying Indians or people who are from the East. India does leave a very strong imprint on them. Some of them are now thirty but they still haven't come to the forefront of the community's life or its expression. By this I don't mean that they are not working but they don't come to the forefront. Perhaps they still don't dare to say what they think in front of a group of adults or simply that we don't give them the chance. I mean many of us would like that young people who are born and have grown up in Auroville should come and join the existing activities and take over the work that our generation is doing and do better than us. All those of us who have come here as adults have come with our own baggage. And I think it would make a difference if young Aurovilians come forward with another view because they are probably free of this baggage and show us that things can be done in another way.
K: To come to the next question, where do you feel we are going as a community? And how do you think we could move more consciously towards our collective goal?
J: Right now, to my limited view, it seems that we as a community are still acting pretty much like any other place. I feel that we are not focusing enough inwards but more towards the outward aspects of life. We often forget the reason why we are here at all. Let's say, our efforts and our energies are going more into the manifestation of something which we are not taking the time to look at. The principles behind what has to be manifested is not very clear in our minds. I think the main problem is that we are focusing on the outside; perhaps because it is easier. And as a collectivity, to be able to move towards our goal in the true spirit, I think we need certain basic qualities. Those which come to my mind right now are humility, sincerity and goodwill. I think humility and sincerity have to be really boosted up, that is if we want to go somewhere in the right spirit and for the right reasons. I mean, we are not here for just making another place with many activities, humanitarian causes and all those things. We are here for something more. So, unless this is in the forefront of our minds, we will just end up making another community like there are already in the world. For me, the key thing is humility because humility leads to self-questioning… are we doing what we have to do? Are we being what we are supposed to be? Because without these two or three qualities I don't think we can ever reach where we are meant to.
K: Just a little elaboration on what you are saying. Since you said that we don't concentrate enough on the inner aspect of being here and more on the outer, how can we really become conscious? Because after all, in one way it is an individual process…
J: Yes, absolutely.
K: ... and unless all of us realise the fact that this is the most important thing, nothing is true in a way. But do you think there is some responsibility of the collectivity to create a space or to create an ambiance or atmosphere in which the individual is made to move in that direction so that even those who are a little more casual about this place, could become a little more focused just by the very fact of being here?
J: Maybe I lack imagination in this field, but my understanding is that if the flame of aspiration burns sufficiently strongly in many of us, slowly it will grow into a fire spreading, like a contagion. So from a few individuals - of course it has to be done individually - it will sort of spread, and at that point something will happen. But I think there is no way out of the fact that we have to work as individuals on ourselves. I think we can always try to work out methods and try to create an ambiance, an environment or an atmosphere, but doesn't this also start with the individual? This means that somewhere within themselves the individuals have to accept to create this environment, which means that somewhere they have worked on themselves sufficiently to reach the point where they feel that an environment has to be created so that more people could feel attracted to it. More and more individuals must light up their fire with the will to change things - first of all in themselves which will then have an effect on the surrounding. I don't think mentally we can imagine systems which people will join and automatically something will happen. I think it's through contagion from individuals working on themselves sufficiently to create an atmosphere, a vibration which will then radiate outwards to all the people around. I don't know if there is any other way out.
K: To come to the last question. Now that you are a part of the Auroville Council, what is the additional perspective you have on Auroville? What are our limitation and strengths as a collectivity?
J: Well, ever since I have been in the Auroville Council, I actually get to see another aspect of Auroville where the problems are, very often conflict situations that we have to deal with between groups and sometimes between individuals. But otherwise we help make policies for different working groups, such as Entry Group, Economy Group, Housing Group, Development Group, etc. It's interesting in a way because on the one hand you have to deal with all sorts of problems, on the other it's like you have to find ways to move forward. For me, I see it as a challenge. Also what I see through this is always the same thing - it's forgetting why we are here, which creates the problem. And the ego of course, the individual egos which come in between what should be and what is.
As for the strength of the collectivity I suppose that according to the capacity for sincerity our strength as a collective would manifest and is already manifesting. There are individuals who are sincere to a certain degree and I think that is what is makes us into a collectivity with a certain vibrancy even though we tend to follow what is already known and done elsewhere because basically we are afraid of the unknown. There is something else. Something in Auroville which permeates even the earth and the air, something which drew many of us irresistibly to choose this place when we first stepped on it. This something I would call freedom. It's a freedom, which will raise up its head in spite of everything that would stifle it. This freedom which is there at the base of our existence and at the base of Auroville's existence is of course also our main problem, because most of the time, consciously or unconsciously we misuse it. We misuse our potential as human beings because we are ignorant, because we forget why we are here. The same thing applies to Auroville - we keep forgetting why it is there. And that's where the problems come from.
K: Maybe it is the vital which responds to this freedom rather than the higher self within us.
J: Yes, I think the higher self recognizes it, each one in his own way at that first instance, and the vital uses it, even abuses it.
K: What do you think are our limitations and strengths as a community? Now that you are working in the AV Council, you get to see the collectivity with a different perspective. How much different is your understanding at this point, now that you are a part of this process, than what you felt earlier?
J: Well, earlier I was only in a certain atmosphere which was relating to one aspect of Auroville which hopefully served as inspiration, all that wants to move forward. But being in the Auroville Council you face the more basic human aspects. Human in the sense all that which has yet to change, all that has yet to go through the process of transformation. So, in that sense I feel it's very interesting. It serves as a mirror also, very much. To put it in a simplistic image, in activities like dance and music, it's like a mirror turned upwards, and here it's a mirror turned downwards.
K: That is perhaps a more inner part and here we have a more external part of Auroville.
J: Yes, but this outer work too is very essential because unless all this is transformed… When the human… when the mind and the vital and physical aspects of Auroville, when they will evolve, I have a feeling that everything else, all music and dance, everything will be able to go a step further and our collective life will have a truer base. So maybe that's why, somewhere unconsciously, I decided to join the AV Council. I had felt in me personally the need to work out things which I've not been wanting to see. And I thought that by seeing them, working on them and offering them, I could contribute towards the collective movement forward.