Jeff of Discipline Farm
On the way to Discipline
Jeff doesn't look like a farmer. But then I'm not sure what a farmer is supposed to look like. Stocky and muscular with bulging biceps and a booming voice? Jeff is nothing of the kind. Of medium build and reticent personality, he gives the impression of keeping a low profile. Perhaps the baseball cap that almost covers his deep-set dark eyes helps. While I'm thinking all this he motions me to follow him. The plan is that he'll show me around Discipline farm. We are both on mopeds, but while I'm kickstarting mine, he's already disappeared along the dirt road. I increase my speed, uncomfortably wary of the slippery sandy grooves that can easily skid a less experienced driver -- which I am. Finally around a bend I find him waiting, a smile on his lips. I follow him again, this time more determinedly, and after many twists and turns through a rather dry part of the Auroville greenbelt, we reach Discipline, a 15- acre farm that Jeff has been looking after since 1994.
Organic fruits and vegetables
The farm is looking good. In the humid April heat, scores of papaya trees are laden with fruit of all sizes and, hidden under a thick glossy foliage, passion fruit is already on its way to ripening. As Jeff and I walk towards the farmhouse, I notice a large mound of tamarind pods that presumably await processing. On my right, five well-groomed cows, sitting under the vast shade of a service tree, contentedly chew the cud. It is 8.45 in the morning and already the workers, who include Tina, a petite newcomer, are absorbed in their several chores. In the simple thatch-roofed shelter that functions as a sales section, neat packets of freshly picked spinach and other organic produce are ready for dispatch to the grocery outlet of Auroville's Pour Tous.
Australian family farm
Among the first to introduce many varieties of Australian fruits and vegetables including yams, papaya, and beans, Jeff's successful management of Discipline should come as no surprise. Having grown up on his seventy acre family farm in Queensland, Australia, farming would, to use an unwitty variation of the much used phrase, surely be "grafted in his blood." But that's not quite the whole story. By the time Jeff had enrolled himself in a Geology course in college, he had clearly outgrown farming. Afterwards, he chose to be a teacher, at the same time pursuing his serious interest in painting and theatre. Jeff's love for landscapes, trees (which he enjoys painting) and the outdoors may be one reason why he continues to farm.
Jeff's entry into Auroville was quite accidental. While teaching for five months in Japan in 1981-82, he heard of the place and decided to visit. Discovery of Sri Aurobindo and his writings came later. So what was it like moving from one culture to another? Jeff smiles at the question. "While Australians are forthright, friendly people, people in Japan and India tend to mask their feelings. Both Eastern countries are culturally rich, but social conventions are forces that necessarily influence individual decisions." Like most people, Jeff liked Auroville for its tropical landscape, and its confluence of races and cultures.
Passion for theatre
Auroville has also helped him keep his passion in theatre alive. The unobtrusive person that he is, Jeff prefers roles that seem peripheral but in actuality are studies in human psychology. In a recent performance - Tina Howe's 'The Museum' - he played for example the role of a seemingly innocent man who has a penchant for walking into public places with a hidden can of paint. The audience is taken by surprise (and delight) when this shifty saboteur, after sitting quietly on a bench in the gallery suddenly, but stealthily, sprays one of the art displays.
Jeff's love of acting prompted him to initiate improvisation
classes in Auroville. A group of six to seven people meet once a week.
But does Jeff have any other interests besides farming, painting, and theatre? "I like cooking sponakopita (a delicious Greek snack much like the Indian samosa but filled with spinach and cheese instead of potato) and pizza for my son" he says simply. Jeff's eyes light up when we talk about his seven-year-old who is currently in grade one at Transition, the school where Jeff himself taught for many years.
Jeff's life is interesting. And full. Together with Angelika, his partner who works with disabled children at the Auroville Health Centre, he continues to enjoy the Auroville experience, its ideals and challenges. In return, he continues to offer his own contributions, organic and artistic, to the community.
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