Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sometimes it is good to start in the beginning

When i was 17, in 1997, I visited the center for the second time. There was a talk on happiness. Unlike some of the other talks in the center, this one was an interactive one, and the audience present were active in discussing. I had been interested for a year or so prior to this visit, on the works of The Mother, having been introduced to them by a friend of the family. With little knowledge and a lot of opinions, I jumped right into the conversation, encouraged in it by an elderly man who sat in the front row and who also had a number of inputs to give to the conversation.

This elderly gentleman, I came to know later, was Patel uncle.  Through the course of fourteen years, I was to have a multitude of interactions with him. Of these, a few pop up prominently when i think of him.

Studying for A levels left me exhausted, with a terrible frustration with Physics and the question of why I had to study the subject. Being inspired by the works of The Mother, I looked at her books for answers to help me out from what I then thought was the stressful student life. Ofcourse, I attended the Sunday talks at the center, often dragging along my rather skeptical father, who accompanied me most of the time for the sole reason that I should not walk back in the dark to the bus station.

On one of these occassions, there was the Savitri by Heart talk, which, at that time, was given by Mrs Sonia Dyne. At the end of one talk, I approached uncle and told him that I wanted to read Savitri but was afraid that i wouldn't understand. He literally stuffed the huge volume in my hand and made me promise to read one sentence every evening. For a long period, I followed his advice, reading one line every day and signing my name at the end of the fullstop.

It was uncle who suggested that I stay at Anjana's house when I mentioned wanting to go to the ashram during the after exam holidays. Anjana aunty welcomed us gracefully and hosted, not only me, but also my aunt Chitra and her aunt, both of whom would become regular visitors to the ashram and to Patel uncle's house.

But the true highlight of my relationship with uncle Patel (though it is hard to single out one incident or event as a true highlight - lets just say that this is the one that I remember most fondly), was in the year 2000. My aunt Chitra, myself, Sandhya and Patel uncle took a walk along the beach of Pondicherry, where he spoke with us and told us about his relationship with The Mother, peppering his story with several personal anecdotes. I only remember snatches of the conversation, but I shall always remember sitting on the low wall on uncle's left, listening to him while the waves crashed on our back.   

I remember when uncle came back to Singapore in the fall of 2000 after having close to an year in India. I remember jumping for joy and hugging my mother when I heard uncle's voice over the telephone. When we began the website in 2001, uncle was the first person that I sent the prototype to. He gave me a silver pendant with mother's symbol on one side and Sri Aurobindo's symbol on the other. The pendent still resides on a chain around my neck.

As the years went by, Patel uncle was an advisor, not only to me, but also to the rest of my family. My father often turned to uncle for advice during times when he had to make difficult decisions and he would always respect uncle's advice. My uncles and aunts visited Patel uncle's house when they went to the ashram. The doors to his home were always open, his smile always in place, his telephone at the ready if we wanted to contact someone in the ashram or Auroville.

"This is my grand daughter.", he would say proudly, when he introduced me to people. And infact my grandmother got more than a little mad at me when i told her that Patel uncle was more my grandfather than my own grandfather.

The last couple of years, I have not contacted uncle very often other than the odd email and the phone call during birthdays and anniversaries. Two days before uncle's passing, I was biking home, listening to Dr Nadkarni's memorial lecture on my mp3 player. Perhaps it was the association with Dr Nadkarni or Mrs Dyne's voice giving the lecture, but uncle's image came to me, straight and sharp. When I got home however, the lure of housework and children blotted the image.

Later, I would think and reproach myself several times for not calling and speaking with uncle when the thought of him came. And it was this reproach and regret that nagged me as I wept by the body of the man who had adopted an unsure teenager as his grand daughter and entrusted her with the secret of Savitri.

Patel uncle touched lives the way no one else has. It seems to me that if I grow up to being a fraction of what he is, I would make a significant change in myself and in the world.

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