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November 02


Diving in the Village

Scotsman Jamie finds a new passion in Auroville

- by Priya Sundaravalli



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 - Did-not-know-any-Eng-lish-until-I-was-sent-to-boar-ding-school-in-Bri-tain."

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 really are."

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 tongue easily.

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!" he grins.

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.

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