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Helping hands

The genesis of Upasana

Like the warp and weft of a cloth, Uma and Manoj took on different roles, separate in direction, but equal in significance. Uma’s focus was primarily on garment construction & fashion design, while Manoj set the tone for Upasana in terms of the overall architecture and design. Manoj Pavitran grew up in Kerala, in a little village he describes as paradise, surrounded by nature, peacefulness and animals. He reminisces a childhood spent playing with a variety of animals, from ants to dragonflies, to a worm whose occupation was to carry oil to the Divine. “They had a world of their own, the world of cockroaches was different from the world of spiders, and each was a kingdom”, he says in retrospect. Interestingly he recalls, that it was a time when children played with real things, not electronic gadgets like today.

He spent most of his formative years in Kerala, studying in Malayalam medium. After an education in Production Engineering, he soon went on to pursue a Masters in Product Design at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. It was only after moving to NID that the medium of instruction changed from Malayalam to English. The cultural shift, as well as language shift came with its own set of challenges. “Challenges come our way, only to awaken your potential”, he says. When he began working at Faridabad, that was when he encountered the unethical and unhealthy practices of the industrial world, which made way for the need to find an alternate path. It’s when this realization dawns, that the conventional life and its approaches are not satisfying, that the search to explore a deeper truth, and listen to one’s calling begins. The inner conflicts disappear and that’s when one begins to thrive wholeheartedly.

Having already been exposed to Shri Aurobindo’s teachings, he went on to explore life in an ashram at Ooty, which served as a transit for a period of ten months. On May 10th, 1995 he landed in Pondicherry with Shri Aurobindo’s vision of Internal Yoga, picked up a bicycle and cycled his way to Auroville- a place where Aurobindo's and Mother’s vision was put into practice. It was a community where people from all over the world came together to live as one, and it continues to live up to its ideology.

Ten months down the line Uma arrived in Auroville, as a volunteer, to work on a project at Auromode. And he happened to be the first person that Uma met in Auroville and that is how their journey began. Uma Prajapati Haimavati who hails from Bihar, grew up in an atmosphere where gender-based discrimination was a familiar practice. Born in a family of six daughters, society took pity on her father, for the financial burden they believed they would grow to be, due to the prevalent dowry system in India. She says, “It was only when I understood the value of becoming independent, that I choose to leave Bihar.”

Design was not an option for her, but rather a means through which she achieved her independence. Being good at art and craft, paved the way for design to become her tool to change the world. Her father questioned her need to travel all the way to New Delhi, to learn textiles, when there was a tailor just next door and he was willing to call him home to teach her tailoring. She wanted to be a designer, but that was beyond her father’s comprehension. Nevertheless he did allow his little girl to go to Delhi, which brought her to the National Institute of Fashion Technology. While she could read and write English, speaking the language was a challenge. Her entire medium of instruction changed overnight from Hindi to English, and there were moments when she struggled to comprehend her professor's teachings.

“The NIFT journey had a lot of challenges. It was not easy at all”, she admits. Having stood 2nd in class, her grades reflected just one side of the story, while her mental health was on a decline. With stress, depression, and other psychological factors taking over, her professor Sunita Kanvinde, suggested for her to take antidepressants, meet a psychiatrist and attend counselling. “That is how I made through”, she reaffirms. When she received her first pay cheque, in the year 1994, she stood looking through the window asking herself, “Am I happy today?”.

She was all of 24, with a good job and salary, with her dreams realized. Living independently in Delhi, with a promising future ahead, she confessed, “This isn’t what I wanted”. It was a moment of self-revelation, and that’s when it dawned upon her, that Delhi wasn’t the place for her. She says, “I was seeking life, that was clear”.

It was at a trade show in Delhi, that she first heard about Auroville. With two thousand rupees in her pocket, she arrived in Auroville on a two week design project, in 1996. Those few weeks, eventually turned into years. “From the beginning I felt the warmth of Auroville, something within me believed that I belong here”.

It has been close to 20 years, and there has been no looking back.

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