Diving in the Village
Scotsman Jamie finds a new passion in
It's a balmy Sunday afternoon as I hike down to the brown oval
house by the East Coast Road to meet Jamie, the ex-diver. "Just
down the lane by the massage centre, before the pizzeria",
he guides me on the phone with a characteristic Scottish accent.
I am filled with both curiosity and some trepidation - probably
because he is a seaman. What's he doing in Auroville?
Jamie Beattie comes
as a complete surprise. Dressed in a grey white madras print lungi
(the tamil style wraparound), lean, ruddy, tanned, a shock of
shoulder-length blond hair, honey-green eyes; and he greets me
in hindi! I fumble, caught off guard, and then switch into rusty
hindi to answer back cautiously. Thankfully he returns to English.
"You know, I was
born in India - in Assam", he says. "Lived the first
seven years of my life here. My mentor was Sitaram. He taught
me everything. Kisindhoo, Mona, Bidu. they were my friends",
he goes off into a reverie lost in the reminiscences of the Assam
of his childhood. "My ayah was outrageous. I grew up on a
diet of rice, dal, chapathi. Hamare saath hindi me baath karthe
(they spoke hindi with me)." He breaks into a thick Indian
accented English, speaking in staccato. "I-spoke-Eng-lish-like-this
Suddenly he bursts out,
"Can you believe how it must have felt for a seven year old
to be taken away from the world he knew to boarding school? How
it would have felt to put up with stew!" The intensity of
his emotions hits me like a tidal wave. We both let it pass.
"Got here to Auroville
accidentally", he softly continues, "Landed here by
complete mistake! I will never criticize it - I don't think I
could. I think it works here.No where else it has worked - not
even in America! In Auroville, there is a great amount of love!"
he exclaims as if he has hit upon a supreme truth.
"I live 'outside'
of Auroville", and as if to apologize for that, he declares,
"I am Scottish; I am from the centre of Edinburgh - still
own a property there. I have been all around the world. I know
Calcutta, Delhi, Bombay, Singapore, Sydney, Adelaide. But nothing
comes close to Auroville. When I was 18, I lived in a Kibbutz.
One place in Auroville comes very close to that - Aspiration!
Some time ago, Joan and I were invited to stay there by this wonderful
Russian." Joan, his partner, is a voluntary teacher at the
New Creation School.
I let him continue in
his stream- of-consciousness mode. He is a story-teller, and I
can see that. I need to be patient.
What did he do before
he came here? "A diver for 20 years! Worked for oil rigs
to inspect welds underwater. I was the best man they had. I have
trained so many Indians too", he proudly declares, and quickly
pulls out his log book from years past; it dates from 1985. "See..."
It is a meticulous daily log unusually well preserved for its
17 years. There are entries of places I have only heard about
- Bombay High, Yarmouth, the North Sea - I can see that this was
his first love. "You have to respect the sea. You cannot
mess with it", he says gravely. "I gave it all up in
1995. Then I was taking care of adults with learning disabilities
until I came here; people with autism, brain damage, Down's Syndrome."
Suddenly his face lights
up, his eyes sparkle, and he gushes, "Priya, this story is
not about me! No! This is about Venkat. Him and his buddy Baskaran
- that's whom the story is about." The story has taken a
turn, and his voice begins to rise, "Every single god or
whoever preordains us to try and do our bare job. they got through
to Venkat and Baskaran! They are such damn good people - they
Finally Jamie reveals
what holds him to Auroville. The Auroville Health Centre runs
several outreach programs at the villages, one of which is a rehabilitation
and physiotherapy service for adults and children with physical
disabilities. Venkat is a physiotherapist attached to the Auroville
Health Centre, and Baskaran assists him in this work. "They
have carved up the Auroville villages between them, and they look
after everyone that is referred to them."
I know there is no stopping
Jamie now; this I can clearly see is his passion. "I have
been involved with them for two years - we go to colonies where
there are 'lower' caste people; we go into their homes and work
with them.You've seen my log book," he suddenly challenges
me, "I go down 600 feet over and over again. But I do not
have the courage that these two men have. You know they get slugged
by the villagers, they get slugged by everybody. and they just
take it. They are the people of this story! Please. please. please
write about them," he pleads. I nod mutely moved by his emotions.
Jamie abruptly stand
up, walks quickly to a far side table, and brings over a notebook
and his reading glass. He pulls out a little white note from inside.
I lean over and see a few names scribbled in - Pandurangan, Kumari,
Mutharasu. "I want you to write about these people,"
he says, and solemnly reads out their names. They roll off his
He talks first about
Pandurangan, a 44 year old man who used to work at the Matrimandir
until he broke his spine while clearing a tree at work. He lost
his ability to walk and therefore work too. His wife has been
given a job at Matrimandir since then. The Auroville Health Centre
provided Pandurangan with an external spinal frame. He has also
been undergoing physiotherapy therapy with Venkat, the fruits
of which have been recently realized. "Pandurangan has started
to walk!" exclaims Jamie, and his excitement is palpable.
"Now Kumari and
Mutharasu are another matter. They are sister and brother. They
are 4 and 5 years old. Both have microcephaly (very small heads)
- they both have stunted brain growth and cannot do anything without
help. We think the culprit was pesticides! Their father worked
in a field where they used a lot of it," he explains.
"I want to fight
for these kids! I want to take this up with the pesticide people!
I want to write to them. I want to tell them, 'Listen man, we
think there is a good chance that this is a problem from your
gear. How about some compensation, eh? How about some rice for
this family?' And then they can put a great big advertisement
saying that they, the pesticide people are good people; that they
take care of their responsibilities." I witness his indulgent
dream of a perfect world which I am lost in briefly myself. He
continues, "And then I realize it's India. You can't screw
anybody in India unless you go right to the top." His sigh
leaves me feeling heavy.
His tone lightens again,"You
know, the whole village was avoiding this family. Then we go in.
Venkat tells me - "Jamie, I am going to use you." Sure,
I say. "I begin to work with the children myself. I give
them baths; I handle them; I play with them. And guess what? Sure
enough, the next week, we see a young woman helping the family!"
I sense a quiet pride in his voice. "You know, sometimes
it's good to have a vellakaran (white man) do this work!"
Our meeting is coming
to an end, and my tape has just run out. I want to stay longer
and hear more of his stories, his experiences, his joys, his sorrows
in the work he is doing. This cocky and passionate Scotsman whose
heart overflows with love and tenderness for India and now the
people in the Auroville bio-region.
We bid goodbye for now. As I walk away with the western sun warm
on my face, he shouts out to me, leaning over his balcony, his
eyes twinkling, "Shukriya, behenji! (Thank you sister)"
My spirit fills with a strange sense of lightness and joy.