This interview came about very spontaneously, much like a lot of beautiful things in life. Poorva was visiting Auroville and staying in a community guesthouse. With an hour to spare before she headed out for her meetings, Poorva decided to walk around the guesthouse and soon found herself at the doorstep of Durgeshnandini, who was sipping her morning chai. The two smiled at each other and exchanged snippets of their lives. Poorva’s request for an interview was graciously accepted and thus began a conversation about family bonds and marriage.
Read on and find out how this Banarasi girl ended up in Auroville.
This interview is part of our Auroville series. Auroville is an experimental township in Tamil Nadu. Over the next few weeks we will be presenting a few stories from this intriguing place.
Durgeshnandini, 32 years, Teacher, Auroville
Interviewed by Poorva Dinesh
Why did you decide to give us an interview on family?
Family is very important to me. For me, family is more important than friendship. I don’t know why. That’s how it has been from childhood.
First my older sister came to Auroville. My mother supported her decision. My father didn’t support her decision of coming here, but slowly he understood that this was the right place for her. Without both their consent and support, we wouldn’t have been here. In a family, a member might take time to understand. If one family member is strong, the other members should let go.
If your son wants to go somewhere else, will you let him go?
It is his life. I didn’t give him birth so that he looks after me. It was my choice to give him birth. I don’t depend on him. It is his life, he can choose.
Has there been an incident in your family that has been very difficult to deal?
I got married to a South-Indian. When I go to Banaras, people say I got married to a “Madrasi“. I don’t know…people still take time to understand that we are all the same. It doesn’t matter where you were born. That way, even my husband’s side can call me a North-Indian…
Does them calling him “Madrasi” hurt you?
Yes, it hurts a lot.
Does it hurt your husband?
In which language do you and your husband communicate?
We speak in English, and sometimes he also speaks in Tamil. But my sister’s children are pucca Tamil-speaking children. They also speak Hindi and English, so does my son.
Do you know how to speak Tamil?
When I came here, I learnt spoken Tamil for six months. But I know only basic words like “come” and “go”.
So you came to Auroville without your parents. Is that right?
We are four sisters in all. First my eldest sister came. Her name is Sangeeta. Then we wanted to come and find out for ourselves where she had come, so the three of us came later. Our parents didn’t accompany us. I was 16-17 years old. She was supposed to pick us up from the station, but she forgot that we were coming. We kept calling her at work. I started crying. I was the youngest. My older sister took charge. She is a strong person. She consoled me and said we would find the address ourselves. We asked people for directions, changed busses and finally reached Auroville. In the meantime, my sister got to know we were on the way and she started crying too wondering how on earth would we reach Auroville by ourselves. When we saw the community she was living in, we were shocked. We exclaimed, “You are living in a hut! What is this?” She told us to come inside and see the place first before judging. It was like a regular house with all the amenities except that it had a thatched roof.
Did you decide to continue staying in Auroville after this visit?
I had just finished my 12th when I came to Auroville. I had to return to Banaras to finish my college. I finished my masters in Banaras University, and then told my mother of my decision to return to Auroville. I came here, started working in a school (Durgeshnandini’s nephew chips in “Transition school”) and got married after a few years.
Did your parents visit you here?
My mother came with my brother, but my father didn’t come. He passed away a few years after my mother’s visit.
So your father has never seen Auroville?
Auroville is very different from Banaras. Did you ever feel home-sick especially after marriage?
It wasn’t all that bad. We know we need to go somewhere after marriage. Even if I had stayed back in Banaras, I would have gone somewhere else after marriage.
Also, in Banaras we lived next to the river. It was always noisy and crowded. Probably if I was somewhere else, I would have missed home, but in Auroville, it is not like that. People from across the country and world live here.
My sister is here so its easier for me. We spend a lot of time together, and so do the brothers. Her children come to my house. Sometimes, you tend to see your nieces or nephews as others’ kids, but with us all the children are from the same blood. So this helps me a lot. If I call my sister’s son, my husband feels good because he also happens to be his brother’s son.
So this actually strengthens the family bond…
We both babysit each other’s children. This really helps. One more thing, my mother-in-law is very good. She is very accepting. She can understand English, but can’t speak the language. Although my sister speaks Tamil, I don’t, but despite the language barrier, my mother-in-law and I connect. I feel both the couples are made for each other.
The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic. But we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
Love means caring. If you care, you get love in return. If you want to receive love, you need to do something for that person, but with a lot of respect. You can’t demand that someone love you back.