11 November 2011 marks the Birth Centenary of Mona Pinto, the erstwhile manager of Golconde, the oldest guest-house of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and a direct disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother whom we still remember with love and respect.
Born on 11 November 1911 to Ethel May and Augustus Lovegrove in London, Ethel Anne Lovegrove alias Mona was the eldest in the family of six children. Her family-members belonged to the Anglican Church. The date of her birth was unique—11.11.1911—and the Mother once remarked that her date of birth denoted progress. Mona was working as a secretary when, at the age of twenty-two, she met her future husband Laurence Marshall Pinto (a student of aeronautical engineering at the London University) on 27 April 1932 at a charity-concert of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury”. They fell in love and wanted to tie the knot but received no approval from their respective families. So Laurence returned to India to look for a job to support his future wife while Mona waited patiently for his ‘call’ to arrive. She had to wait for, in her own words, ‘3 years, 3 months and 3 days’, before leaving England for India to join Laurence who had, in the meantime, shifted to Pondicherry in 1934 and set up an export business and made himself prosperous enough to ask Mona to leave her country and join him. She journeyed all alone and reached India in January 1937. Laurence and Mona got married in the church Notre Dame des Anges situated on Dumas Street on 6 May 1937. The couple was soon blessed with a daughter on 16 November 1937 who was initially named Judy Ann but later renamed ‘Gauri’ by the Mother.
The Pintos had befriended some of the members of Sri Aurobindo Ashram like K.D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran, Ambalal Balakrishna Purani and Ambu. On 15 August 1937 Mona and Laurence had the darshan of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The darshan proved to be a turning point in their lives and the young couple decided to join the Ashram as inmates. Laurence received the new name of ‘Udar’ from Sri Aurobindo; when Mona requested for a new name for her Sri Aurobindo replied that he liked her name as it reminded him of Mona Lisa.
Golconde, the oldest dormitory for sadhaks of the Ashram was under construction when Udar and Mona became inmates. While Udar was closely associated with the construction of this architectural masterpiece from the very beginning, the Mother gave Mona the charge of preparing the bed linen that would be required when the dormitory would be occupied. Along with a small group of young ladies Mona stitched and embroidered the bedcovers with hand. Once Datta, one of the earliest sadhikas of the Ashram who had arrived in India with the Mother as her companion on 24 April 1920, visited Mona’s house and was immensely impressed by the way she maintained cleanliness at her residence. She reported to the Mother: “I have been to Mona Pinto’s house. She keeps her home spotlessly clean. She may be the one to look after Golconde.” The Mother too was aware of the qualities Mona possessed and hence when Golconde was opened Mona was given charge of the dormitory and she continued to do the work till her last days. She became one of the most ideal instruments of the Mother’s work and it was courtesy her orderliness and constant personal supervision that Golconde attained the great reputation of being an ideal cave for the sadhana of integral yoga.
Krishna Chakravarti rightly remarks about Mona Pinto in her article titled ‘The Empress Abdicates’ published shortly after Mona’s demise on 21 May 2004 at the age of ninety two : “The upkeep of Golconde, the meticulous attendance to its cleanliness, to maintain its rules and regulations laid down by the Mother were the only concern of Mona. She would be there morning till evening. No other activity could take her away from Golconde. She would devote all her life in this empire of hers—its garden, its buildings, inhale the atmosphere of thiscaveofTapasya… [Golconde] represented her aspiration, her dedication, her devotion to the Mother. It represented her inner growth, her spiritual progress…”
Both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were quite appreciative of the work Mona used to do at ‘Golconde’. The Mother had once remarked about her: “She is someone who truly loves to do things well, and wants to do them well and whatever she does, she does lovingly and very well.” And in one of her birthday cards to Mona, the Mother wrote: “Here is one more occasion to tell you physically what I tell you so often when we meet in the night. How much I appreciate the quality of your work and how much I rely on your faithful steadiness. We are very close inside although we meet rarely outside, but my love and blessings are always with you.”
The work of organizing Christmas celebration was also given to Mona by the Mother. From decorating the Christmas tree to arranging the Christmas gifts and handing them over to the Mother for distribution Mona materialized the Mother’s concept of the celebration of the Festival of Light. An ex-student of the Ashram School rightly remarked about Mona: ‘All over the world children have a Father Christmas. We actually had a Mother Christmas!”
Mona Pinto was stunningly beautiful and was the embodiment of grace, politeness and elegance. Today, on the occasion of her Birth Centenary we remember her with profound love and admiration.
With warm regards,