Dhruva has left me the names of fellow disciples who
have agreed to be Interviewed and details of how they can be contacted. He then
rushes off to his clinic; we are to meet again at the recorded performance of
I find a letter from my wife saying she is still snowed-up,
and a postcard from Father Bede Griffiths confirming I can visit him when I
In a walled-in garden with bougainvillea falling
all over the place and many potted plants are two white wrought-iron chairs.
I am sitting in one waiting for Maggi Lidchi; she comes out of the house with
a glass of lemon water for me — kind and thoughtful; it’s extremely
Before she starts her Interview she says she wants
to know something about me. Why shouldn’t these people know something
about a person who is barging into their private lives to disappear again carrying
fragments of information with no control of how it will be used? I’m surprised
so many have trusted me so far: perhaps it’s because I am also on a spiritual
path and they sense I have no ulterior motives. Dhruva has already asked for
a copy of the transcript of his Interview to check certain passages; everyone
should be satisfied that the material is correct.
So after giving Maggi a five-minute breakdown
of highlights from my strange life, to which she listens incredibly attentively
— she is such a sweet person — off we go into the house. We start
on her life; she is speaking English with a Kensingtonian accent, but she is
getting slower and slower, and when I ask her about her relationship to Mother
— for I have already been told it was a close, personal one — no
words come out, only tears…she is unable to go on.
After some time she says: I’m so sorry…it’s
just a bit painful…if you come back tomorrow I’ll try again…I’m
sure you understand.
Well — yes — I do: I also had a close
relationship with my own guru, and he too is no more on this earth
The next day the Interview still cannot be finished;
Maggi is more tearful. But on the morning before I leave Pondicherry it falls
into place. She doesn’t feel she has done justice to her relationship
to Mother, but still it’s remarkable in its understatement; I feel a little
of Mother’s fragrance comes through.
I was born in Paris. When I was 17 I found
a French translation of Sri
Aurobindo’s: Essays on the Gita. I bought it not knowing why… something
attracted me to it. I read the essays for two years. And I can say without undue
modesty that I understood them not at all; but I was compelled to continue reading
them. One day something opened and they became clear — they must have
been absorbed somewhere. Something then happened which was so important for
me that I didn’t immediately grasp that these essays had been written
by a living person; at the time Sri
Aurobindo was still alive, so technically I suppose I could have taken a plane
and come to India…it never occurred to me to write to the publisher.
I did however go on looking for other books
Aurobindo; I found The Synthesis of Yoga — only the first volume had
come out. I read it to the exclusion of everything else for several years. Finally,
when I found out the author had started an Ashram in India, I also found out
he had just left the body.
This must have been in
the early fifties.
Exactly. In any case, I wanted to come to the Ashram for I knew if there was
a teaching for me anywhere this was it. It looked as if it would be difficult
to get to India — I was married, living in South Africa. Someone urged
me to write to the Mother: I explained I had long wished to come to the Ashram
but it seemed impossible. A reply arrived a few weeks later — my first
from India. I was excited but it just said when the time came I would certainly
come to the Ashram. I thought: That’s nice and encouraging, but I couldn’t
see much chance. Not long after, I had to leave Africa — I was living
in Mozambique — to look after my dying mother. This made me realize that
if I could leave for six months it was perhaps possible to also go to India.
In 1959 it did happen; I had to go a round-about way and not startle my family
too much: through Manila for a UNESCO Conference, then Japan, which was all
right too, then India, which was my true destination.
You came straight to
Oh yes — it was a pilgrimage, although I wasn’t sure what would
happen. I came to the samadhi
Aurobindo, and something did happen…I knew I had done the right thing.
But there were things in the Ashram — the Indian form of devotion —
which I wasn’t prepared for; things which can be startling to the Western
mind. I associated this with the Mother rather than Sri
Aurobindo. I wasn’t too happy seeing photos of Mother’s feet stuck
up everywhere. And when I was offered photos of Mother which had been blessed
by her, something in me withdrew and I became upset. It seemed to me if the
Aurobindo had founded wasn’t working, where else in the world could one
Someone who knew about this turmoil going on in my
mind suggested I ask Mother for an Interview, she being entirely responsible
for running the Ashram. Well, when I saw her, all reservations fled; in fact,
when I looked into Mother’s eyes, everything resolved and tears began
pouring down my cheeks. Nothing else mattered — nothing mattered at all.
Then I realized something I had read in Sri
Aurobindo’s books but had never taken in: her consciousness was the same
as his, though it manifested differently. When I understood that, I didn’t
mind what was going on in the Ashram — it was irrelevant to the fundamental
thing I had come for. That consciousness touched me, so I never again worried
about the things that had first worried me. I went back home to put my things
in order, then returned to stay for good.
Does that mean you had
the approval of your family?
No. My husband realized once I came here it would be the end of our marriage.
My mother had died, but I can’t say my father and brother regarded it
favorably, yet when they saw I was happy here, after some years, as it were,
they gave their blessings.
What did you have in
mind once you decided to stay? Did you wish to meditate, do seva,
or get into the crafts?
It was entirely yoga. When I was in Africa I was meditating
for at least six hours a day and I read for another three hours. The moment
I got here everything stopped: I didn’t want to meditate, and soon I stopped
reading. There was a part of me that hadn’t settled down in India —
to Ashram life — and found itself jammed-in and went on strike. It was
difficult; obviously the major part of me — the soul — had chosen
to be here, and it wasn’t going to be at peace anywhere else. But something
else would say: No! — and block complete integration. I started thinking
that is the end of my yoga for this life…I just have
to sit it out.
This went on for two years, and my health was affected
by the conflict…the heat didn’t make it any better, but I have since
found one can live with the heat if all else goes well. I had such constant
dysentry that I had to leave for a while — my father sent me an air ticket.
But when I was out, and in spite of the lovely climate, I wanted to get back.
Did it take long for
you to be able to return?
Only two months — I never meant to stay away. But suddenly everything
became unblocked: then I suppose I had the decisive experience of my life by
It was an inner awakening? Yes.
Can you speak about your
relationship with Mother?
Well — it was rather close…that’s most difficult, rather personal,
Did she give you any
form of initiation?
People were touched by her and recognized her as their guru — yes — there was an
She gave a mantra?
Yes, in fact, but one can only speak personally. She gave me a mantra without my asking. But if people
asked for one she would give one. It wasn’t like in other Ashrams where
once they accept a disciple a form of initiation is automatically given. The
mantra she gave me was in French; I haven’t
seen it anywhere else…but it was given for a special reason.
Mother didn’t lay
much stress on doing meditation?
In the years I was in contact with her, in speaking to her and through reading
disciples’ letters to her in which they asked for meditation instructions,
she didn’t encourage it much, no. She used to say: I never had time for
meditation, and what I understand true meditation to be is when something takes
you by the scruff of the neck and compels you to meditate; to sit down and expect
the mind to be quiet is often fruitless and you would do better to read Sri
You must have spent much
time helping her with letters.
Yes, indeed. Everybody would write — there were hundreds of us, thousands!
From little children to — well — everybody…You see, she wasn’t
seeing people towards the end; most people only saw her once a year on her birthday.
So people wrote to her, and that was the main form of contact other than inner
contact. She was running the Ashram at a practical level also. I wasn’t
the only person reading the letters to her, though. There was a time when she
was available three times a day, but when I came she had stopped going out or
playing tennis, which she loved.
Can you describe your
life here now?
I teach at Knowledge — our center of education — what is called
the higher course. This year it is on Creative Writing, although the first word
is redundant to me.
Are these courses open
No, just for our students. We believe in small classes; they are aged about
17 to 18 and are mostly Indian. For several years I did courses on mythology,
legends and fairy tales. And I once taught the younger children science and
How long have you actually
been resident in the Ashram?
It’s been twenty years now.
But how do you spend
most of your day? Can you say?
I give this course at Knowledge in the mornings at 7.45. I have no set meditation
times. Sometimes I go to the Ashram before I start the day’s activities.
When I come back I write. Of course, when Mother was here I used to do other
work for her…there were translations from French into English. Until recently
I worked on the centenary edition of her work. But now apart from the teaching,
the time is my own. I am involved to a certain extent with a home for little
This house you are living
in, is it part of Ashram property?
It is. It used to be the stables of the house next door in French Colonial times
— of course, we have built on to it. I love these walled-in gardens.
Could you share anything
personal that Mother would tell her followers? You must have heard so much.
What can one say?… Something that she must have said to ten thousand others
but every time I was with her — reading the letters, putting down the
answers as she dictated them — her advice was the same: Surrender to the
Divine! — Surrender! Perhaps through this constant contact with her one
was able to give oneself up to the Divine will — to offer oneself to the
Divine Will. It’s the only way to solve anything. I suppose this was her
greatest gift; so what she said about surrender is what has stayed on with me.
That decisive experience in my yoga is centred around this: One simply
says yes to everything that happens to one.
I was touched the other day by a retarded child in
Italy who for the first time has begun to realize she is different; her parents
took her to a priest and he gave her a prayer-like mantra — very simple: Si, Signor,
si, Signor. Acceptance. One always must say: Si. One never says: No —
unless one is crazy. If the Divine has any interest in you He will see that
you don’t say No…He will put enough pressure on you to make you
Here’s something personal: one day Mother asked
me if I prayed. In fact since that decisive day I don’t, because if you
are saying: Si, Signor, you know everything is being looked after and you trust
that, as you don’t know what the right thing is, it’s rather a waste
of time praying for anything. So now, if I am hard-pressed, the only prayer
is: Let whatever I do be according to Thy Will. This was the reply I gave mother.
She said: That’s very good…there’s just one work lacking to
make it perfect, add…spontaneously!
That was Mother’s message finally. There’s
no longer any effort in anything one does once we don’t have to bend our
will to it. Mother often said: For those offering to go through the transformation,
they must be prepared to go through whatever they have to go through…
then she would add: But be happy, be joyful!
This is how she spoke
to her followers?
You know, she hardly ever spoke — she gave silent darshans. One of the beautiful things
in my memory of my time with Mother was watching people’s reactions to
her. Quite often I would be asked to arrange an Interview for somebody…so
many would come, it was difficult at times. I remember one person who spoke
non-stop, often critically; you must know about intellectuals barging into Ashrams
and what a pain they can be. For two days right until the moment she went up
to see Mother this woman never stopped talking — quite amusing but snide
remarks about devotees and aspects of Ashram life which to outsiders can be
regarded as ridiculous. We went up at last, we saw Mother. Mother didn’t
say anything. They just looked into each others’ eyes, and she was struck
dumb. She left 36 hours later without saying anything, she just sent me a note:
“I finally realized why I had to come to the Ashram…”
That often happened. One would take in a strutting,
arrogant person and he would come out melted — weeping copiously not knowing
where the door was. One had to edge them out gently by the elbow to prevent
them going out through a window. They would then sometimes sit on the steps
weeping helplessly, not being able to say why. It was as if the true being of
the person swam up to the surface when they saw Mother. She was so kind…
she would give people flowers whenever they came to see her.
What was Mother’s
It was like walking into a different world; it was like being suspended half
way between heaven and earth because of her presence. The room was always full
of flowers and a sort of spiritual fragrance. The light was incredible. Then
there were the French perfumes she wore…all this is not easy to describe:
you must know what it’s like to be in your own guru’s presence.
When I left you the other
day I commented on the marked physical resemblance you have to Mother. Did she
ever mention this?
When I first came to the Ashram, Mother asked me where I was from. I told her
I was born in Paris but I didn’t have any French blood as I was of Spanish
Jewish descent, my father having been born in Turkey. She said: Oh, Maggi, just
like me! Then I told her half my family were from Turkey, the other half from
Egypt. She said again: Oh, Maggi, just like me! We went into whether we should
speak together in English or French — she was also born in Paris. But
when I told her I had learned my French from an English governess and that I
spoke it with an English accent, she again burst out: Oh, Maggi, just like me!
Well, I am telling you this, but it was one of those little things.
A final question. Could
you say something about your writing? I was told your second novel is about
to be published in London.
I write. Just novels… I’m working on the third now which Gollancz
is interested in — they published the others. Obviously if you live in
an Ashram for twenty years something of that life creeps into your writing.
I enjoy writing enormously; I think it’s because the mind goes quiet.
I’m lucky in that one is allowed to express this freely here. There are
so many ways of enjoying spiritual life. The great thing is joy. We are not
ascetics here, you see.
The Aurobindo "Mother"
45 years after arriving at the
ashram, still lives there. She has published a number of books on
(see Interview 26) wrote in November 2005 saying: "Maggi now leads
a rather 'retired' life, hardly sees people, but her health is good and
she has become even more special and beautiful with the passing of the