Celebrating Christmas: an Interview with Gauri Pinto—by Anie Nunnally
[Gauri told me that she was born Judy Ann Pinto on 16 November 1937 to Mona and Laurence (Udar) Pinto. They had just had their first darshan of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo a few months earlier. The Mother had requested that the baby should be born in the hospital in Bangalore where Udar’s aunt was a doctor, as there were no good hospitals in Pondicherry at that time.
After six weeks in Bangalore, she was brought home to Pondicherry, but was fragile and prone to sickness. There was much concern over the new baby’s health, as she was not taking her food properly and was underweight. She did not sleep well during the night and kept her parents awake and concerned. Doctors were consulted and Udar and Mona entered into correspondence with the Mother regarding the matter.
Gauri Pinto is a teacher in the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.]
Anie: What was your earliest recollection of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo? What were you told about the Mother in early childhood and when did you realize she was someone special, not like everyone else?
Gauri: When we used to go for the balcony darshans when I was still very small, I would say “Big Mama is coming, Big Mama is coming.” I was brought up essentially with no religion. I was very close to nature and animals. When I thought of God, I saw Sri Aurobindo’s image. Also, I did not think of the Mother as a human being. It wasn’t planned out for me that she would appear as a Goddess, but that’s how it was in actuality. The Mother told my mother that I was a very old soul.
When we would go up to see Mother on darshan days, she was like a mother to all of us. She taught us children so much. We would sit down before her and she would pet us on the head. We would go to the Mother and have lunch with her. The queues were long waiting to see Sri Aurobindo. We would see him four times a year. I saw him up to the age of thirteen, at which time he left his body in 1950. He was for me the personification of compassion. There was always so much light around him. I always saw this light around him and a loving, compassionate smile on his face.
Once I was bitten in the face by a dog and became frightened of all dogs after that experience. My father’s aunt came to visit and felt it was not good for me to be so afraid of dogs. On her next visit, she brought me a Dalmatian puppy. I was so scared that I jumped on the table to get away from it, but eventually I grew to love it. The Mother named the dog “Spotted Beauty.”
When it was time for Spotted Beauty to be mated, the Mother arranged for the dog to go to “visit” her friend, Madame Baron, the wife of the French governor of Pondicherry. They had a male Dalmatian, so Spotted Beauty went to live in the governor’s mansion! She gave birth to a litter of seven pups. I took them to the Mother and she was so charmed by the dogs that she took all seven into Sri Aurobindo’s room. He did not touch them but watched them run about. One pup, however, went and sat at Sri Aurobindo’s feet and stared up at him with a transfixed expression. Mother said, “That is the one Gauri should keep.” Mother named it “Beau.”
Anie: How did the tradition of celebrating Christmas develop in the Ashram?
Gauri: The first Christmas we celebrated was in 1938 when I was just one year old. It took place in our house called “The Red House.” The guests were Nishta (Margaret Woodrow Wilson), Ambu (our very close friend, the young hatha yoga teacher who looked after Nishta), and François Sammer (one of the architects for Golconde). Nishta made a big star to place on the top of the tree that year.
Later in 1943, when other children joined the Ashram, the Mother asked my mother to arrange the event for all the children. The Red House lawn was used and we arranged games, prizes, and gifts for the children. Hats were made and everyone wore a paper hat. All were made by Golconde residents. Even special crowns were made for the Mother and Sri Aurobindo! Dyuman used to come out into the streets and blow a trumpet on Christmas day and a special hat was also made for him.
When we moved to Fenetres on Rue St. Gilles, the celebration continued there. When the house got too small, we shifted to the Playground where the Mother came to distribute the gifts to all the children and grownups. Finally when the theater was bought by the Ashram, the celebration was held there and the Mother came to give out presents and to admire the tree and all the decorations.
The Mother gave importance to Christmas. She told us that the initial celebration had come from the ancient Chaldean tradition (from the people who lived in the region of southwestern Asia on the Euphrates River called Mesopotamia, and among whom astrologers and magicians flourished).
The wise men of that time observed that the calendar days toward the end of the year were growing shorter and shorter (at the Winter Solstice) and people became worried that they would be engulfed in darkness. Then they began to notice that around the end of the month the days had begun to grow longer and that there was a return of the light. Christ’s birthdate ultimately became fixed to this time of year as a symbol of the return of the light.
Eventually the Mother stopped coming to the theater and asked my mother to distribute the gifts. She said to her, “I am there in you, so you do it instead.” The chair on which Mother sat is placed in front of the tree each year. The tree is decorated by the residents and staff at Golconde, and the Christmas celebration remains a joyous event in the Ashram. We continue to distribute gifts to all Ashramites and guests.