Due to the heavy monsoon here and the almost constant power-cuts, it is now November 25th… But yesterday i wrote this, intended to be published the same day, so I’m doing it right now at last, while the Internet connection is holding!…
To live in an intentional but also international place like Auroville exposes you to many cultures other than the one you grew up into. You end up more easily with a companion from another culture, for example. It’s what happened to me: I lived for five years with an American from California at a time when I had not yet been myself to the US and knew next to nothing of the American ways, and my English was still not used to the American accent(s).
This morning at the long ‘Early Breakfast’ table in the Community Kitchen, as I mentioned that today was one of the Ashram ‘Darshan Days’, and I explained briefly why, someone mentioned that today happened to be also Thanksgiving Day.
I was very happy to hear that: usually, being unaware of the exact date, I miss it and realize too late that it is passed already. This time that I know it is today, I want to dwell a little on some nice memories of yet another American, a great black lady, who made me discover Thanksgiving:
She was a diplomat, and had been at various American Consulates in Geneva and elsewhere before choosing at the end of her career to be posted in Chennai (then still known as Madras) so as to be close to Pondicherry and Auroville, that she had visited several times before.
She knew all the Americans in Auroville, because she kept an open house for them all: she had money, excellent taste both for house decoration and for cooking, so her apartment in Madras, made up in the lavish classical Indian style, was a dream of high fashion and artistic luxury, plus a dream of unbelievably good food in huge quantity.
Evenings at her place had become legendary among our Americans; even I had heard of her hospitality. Her cook had been trained especially by her in person, and she was an exacting boss, but the results were worth it.
One year she sent out an official invitation to all the US citizens here, for Thanksgiving. My companion of course went… with me in tow.
On other occasions I had felt shy and hadn’t accompanied him, but that time I did, and boy did I enjoy it!!!
I was one of the very few non-American persons there that evening, so I didn’t understand much of the conversation, but you don’t need any translation to recognize fabulous food and beautiful surroundings. I remember my awe when discovering the ancient, carved wood furniture all over the place, the elegant, comfortable armchairs and sofas, and the extraordinary center piece: a full bed ‘à baldaquin’ with, thrown on it, filling it up to the edge, dozens and dozens of colorful, sequined cushions of all sizes, on which you were irresistibly tempted to fall and lie down, so inviting it all was.
The feast was fantastic too. Our long, graceful hostess was as usual perfectly dressed for the occasion; already thin from the disease I learned later that she had, she didn’t eat much, I noticed. But ever busy bringing new dishes in, she pampered everyone else. I kept looking around, wide-eyed… The scene was slightly surrealistic, compared to how primitive our life was then in Auroville: all around me were those Aurovilians I knew in a different setting, that time more or less nicely dressed, but most of them famished as usual, and unabashedly wolfing down food and drinks as soon as they were served on the superbly decorated tables, until at last things slowed down a bit and happy faces could be seen everywhere smiling contentedly, as people started sitting back against the richly embroidered cushions and almost forgetting to eat. It was a memorable sight to watch from my little silent corner, free that I was to observe everything without having to listen to anyone because of the language problem…
When her retirement came and she moved at last to Auroville itself, that lady kept giving again for years nice dinners in the beautiful house she built, and then in the smaller one she lived in finally, here in Repos itself, but gradually it had to come down to less people and celebrations somewhat more private, as her health deteriorated further. At some point she had to go back urgently to the US for treatment; as I was not in her circle of close friends I don’t know anything after that.
Wherever she might be now, whether still in her physical body or not (or perhaps in a healthy, small new one by now!… perhaps right back already in her beloved Auroville!…), I dedicate this to her, as a heartfelt reciprocal ‘thanksgiving’ from me the non-American to her the aristocratic but so kind hostess who long ago introduced me in such a fantastic, generous way to the American Thanksgiving…