20 Nov 2014

The Domestic Bills of the Ashram Aristocrats – by Bireshwar Choudhury

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust pays each inmate of the Ashram a monthly allowance for engaging domestic workers to help them in their daily chores. Recently the minimum wages of domestic workers has been hiked up by the Government to around Rs 150 rupees a day, which comes to around Rs 4500 a month. As the Ashram Trust could not afford to pay the higher wages, it drastically reduced the number of hours of domestic help for the inmates. For example, those inmates who had been sanctioned eight hours of domestic help have now been re-sanctioned only four hours to match their existing allowance. Those who had only four hours have now got only two hours despite, in a few cases, their old age infirmities. But what is really shocking is that the allowances of Jhumur Bhattacharya and Gauri Pinto, two elderly highfalutin ladies of the Ashram, have not been touched at all! Why? Because they enjoy the favour of the present administration and were once upon a time in the early days of the Ashram School “very close to the Mother”, which now seems to be the standard excuse for being thoroughly spoilt.

Guess how much they receive as allowance for their domestic helpers – more than Rs 20.000/ each! Gauri Pinto must be spending half that amount if not more for the luxury of maintaining half a dozen dogs, which makes her large French style colonial house a kennel rather than a human habitation. Jhumur Bhattacharya, who has all the pretentious airs of belonging to an artistic Bengali family, has to have a team of maids to clean every nook and corner of another palatial house she occupies practically alone. This is the state of present day Ashram ruled by its aristocracy, an aristocracy not of the spirit but an upper class gentry which has formed over half a century and is accustomed to a life of luxury. No doubt this privileged class does not want a change in the administration, for if the change comes, who is going to pay for their lavish expenditure on domestic helpers, building repairs and maintenance, air-conditioners and electrical appliances apart from the transport, special groceries and numerous other facilities freely available at the Ashram’s expense?

A few of these “aristocrats” will proudly give the excuse that when they came to the Ashram in the forties their parents offered all their wealth at the feet of the Mother when the Ashram was in dire need of funds. That they all lived a life of austerity in the early years, that they did not ask for anything from the Mother but instead gave away whatever they had, that nothing was more important at that time than serving Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and how comfortable and happy they were without any modern amenities. Two answers immediately come to my mind:

(1) Are past offerings to the Ashram a justification for the inordinate expenditure at present? Is past generosity an excuse for the present exploitation of the Ashram’s resources? If so, it means they are only clever investors charging a high rate of interest on the one-time advance deposit they made out to the Ashram sixty years back!

(2) Certainly spiritual principles and wealth need not be at loggerheads, especially in a Yoga which accepts life, but why give the excuse of spirituality and Mother’s Grace to retain their lavish lifestyle in times of financial constraints? In other words, Gauri Pinto can look after as many dogs as she can bear with and Jhumur Bhattacharya can avail the services of as many domestic workers she needs to keep her palatial house spic and span provided they pay for it themselves.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous Comment:

    Of the crores that flow into the ashram coffers to sustain the 1000 odd inmates, why grudge the six dogs, most probably the only beings that are closest to the divine in the ashram than all the gossipy, grouchy, arrogant, selfish, lazy impostors. The world would be a better place if humans cohabit with all living things.