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September 2004

Passings: Silvano Nalesso

- by Barbara

‘Silvano was the first person I met when I came to Auroville…' How many people have written these words to Tineke, Silvano's partner, in the past few weeks! The emails are still pouring in from friends, family and acquaintances around the world, ever since the fact that Silvano had left us became known. After a sudden and brief illness that threw off his balance in the physical, a balance that proved impossible to restore even with excellent medical intervention and care, Silvano lapsed into a coma some 22 hours before making his final exit – ever so gradually, rising into his soul and gracefully withdrawing his being, inch by inch. He chose the 15th of August as his departure date…chose it quite consciously, it seems, since several days earlier he made it clear to Tineke and the doctors gathered round his bed that he wanted ‘to go home for Sri Aurobindo's birthday'. At that point, the doctors laughed, knowing how far he was from a point of recovery that would allow him to come back home to Auroville so soon. But, as often happens given our obtuse shortsightedness, we all failed to understand what he was telling us. Two days before Sri Aurobindo's birthday, it became clear which ‘home' Silvano was talking about.

Silvano was a man who largely kept himself to himself while simultaneously giving himself freely through service to others. I remember him most keenly in his role as caretaker, provider – first, in the Centre Kitchen, back in the 80's when it was the largest collective kitchen in Auroville, at a time when there were no restaurants yet in the township. He organized teams – everyone had to do a duty, either cooking or cleaning, once a week, but in the end I think he wound up doing most of the work himself, along with a small team.

Before he became chief chef, he used to work on the construction of the Matrimandir in a ‘beam team', a job that entailed fitting the half-ton beams into place high up on the scaffolding, to form the space-frame of the Matrimandir.

Earlier still, he worked at Aureka (when it was still called Toujours Mieux), after arriving in Auroville in 1981. A native of Padua , Silvano learned about Sri Aurobindo while he was still in Italy in the mid-70's. He came to Pondicherry for the first time in 1977, along with a group from the centre at Castel St. Pietro. Several of his close friends who came here on that same trip now live in Auroville.

In 1982 Tineke had taken charge of the Centre guesthouse and the guests used to take food in or from the Centre Kitchen. And there began, somewhere in between the little arguments about how much the guest house should contribute to the kitchen, a long and dynamic partnership between Tineke and Silvano. Over the years, the two of them built up the guesthouse from three small rooms and two keet capsules, capable of sheltering eight guests, to what it is today: a 46 bed guest house with a spacious dining room capable of seating 80 people.

Meantime, Silvano and Tineke received hundreds of guests from all over the world, and Silvano became famous for his pizza. Universally appreciated by Aurovilians and visitors, it was their Tuesday marathon: the roaring fire of the wood oven, lit at 2 p.m. , was just the right temperature for the pizza to cook by 7 p.m. It was not unusual for 100 people to turn up for dinner on those evenings!

All this would have been quite enough in itself, but not enough for Silvano; for on top of this he drove his little jeep into Pondy every day to buy the vegetables, light bulbs, toilet paper, gas bottles, etc., that kept the whole place running. He had done the same run for years on end on his motorbike, a handloom towel wrapped around his head to protect from the searing sun. (Later on, it was his Borsalino hat, brought specially from Italy for him. Unfortunately, though he looked so elegant in it, for some reason he only wore it in the car when he went to Pondy!)

His days were long, beginning early with the preparation of breakfast for the guests and ending only after dinner had been served. Twelve, thirteen or more hours a day, seven days a week. He was a dedicated worker for Auroville who didn't want to refuse any request even if it meant more work for him. A perfectionist with a strong aspiration to improve, exceed, an organizer who gave great attention to detail. This aspiration was his motive and his engine – and, it has to be said that he had his priorities right; for though he served his Auroville brothers and sisters and countless visitors and VIPs and endless guests, always with goodwill and a smile, he knew for Whom in fact this work was being done.

Silvano was a man in a hurry. He always had something to do. The kind of peace we saw on his face and felt in his presence, after his death, was something he never had time for in his life. At his well-attended funeral, his friend Eugeen sang a Latin hymn followed by an aptly chosen poem of Sri Aurobindo's called ‘Is this the end'. The last two stanzas go:

 

‘The Immortal in the mortal is his Name;

An artist Godhead here

Ever remoulds himself in diviner shapes,

Unwilling to cease

Till all is done for which the stars were made,

Till the heart discovers God

And the soul knows itself. And even then

There is no end.'


A few days later, Tineke thanked the community for their support and love. As she put it, “He expressed his wish to go home on 15th August. And so he did. In his inimitable style: dressed in his favourite clothes (vest, of course), his Borsalino hat, his bag, pen in pocket and visiting cards, and his cell phone (which as a Divine Joke somehow went along with his bag in his coffin). If you try to call, the response will be, ‘I'm sorry, the person you have called is temporarily out of station'.

And so he is. Ci vediamo, Silvano,

Love, Tineke”

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