Auroville

Five degrees! That is the temperature difference between Auroville and the surrounding areas in Pondicherry.

When the intentional community of Auroville first started in 1968, the land was barren – dry, red, clay-rich soil, denuded of vegetation. Now, the only red you see is on the small footpaths and roads that are overwhelmed by green. Birds, attracted by the flowering trees and bushes, have come, nested, and stayed, including a resident flock of parrots. There are ponds and fountains and water tanks; and “dynamized” water to drink. There are no street lights, so you can see the stars!

Bhavana Dee, a friend of CharityFocus, writes a history of Auroville that you might find interesting if you’d like to learn more about the community. We met Bhavana briefly the night before we left to return to Chennai on our short working visit to Auroville. She recommended that when we return, we take the 3-day orientation to Auroville. Three days! You can take half-day tours of most major cities anywhere in the world.

Mark, Smita Jain and I took a bus from Chennai to Pondicherry on January 5 to work with Hemant Lamba and the Auroville Intranet team on a central information portal to facilitate the coordination of NGOs working on tsunami relief and reconstruction in Tamil Nadu. The almost four hour ride (marketed as two and a half hours!) on a Government bus via the ECR (East Coast Road) gave hints to some of the politics and economics at play along the coast. Long, narrow strips of land stretching from the road to the beach, most empty, some with homes or hotels occupying a small fraction of the property, far from the road, and several relief tent camps closer to the road.

We never got to see more of Pondicherry than the bus station and Kaarthik Pure Veg Restaurant. We got an auto rickshaw immediately after lunch for the half hour ride to Auroville.

The first thing that hits you about Auroville is that there are so many Europeans; French, Italian, and German are the languages most often overheard. The other is a sense of suspicion that surrounds any newcomer. “Why are you here?” is the silent question on everyone’s mind. Once your place in the world has been established, and your purpose in Auroville sanctioned, people are much friendlier, but not more relaxed. There is too much to do. You had better have a purpose too, because idle tourism is not encouraged here. Even finding out about Auroville via the website is not considered a worthy form of research – long-time Aurovillians rather you read books about the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

We saw nothing of Auroville except for Aurolec, which houses many small companies working in IT, architectural design, and ecology, where we shared a temporary office, and Vikas, the community where we spent the night, in Auralee’s son’s bedroom. We’re really looking forward to learning more about Auroville on our return.

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