Who's a true Aurovillian?
PEOPLE LIKE US
Kishore Singh, Business-Standard :: New Delhi December 20, 2008, 0:01 IST
Because it’s the closest settlement I have from my temporary home in a guest house outside Pondicherry, it’s natural to be drawn to Auroville, though once you get to know it, there’s disappointingly little to see or do there. You could eat at the cafeteria, or shop at the trendy little stores that, for all that Aurovilians claim about their lack of mercenary incentive, are just a tourist rip-off. Or you could wait for the arrival of a new species of man who will inherit the earth and make it a kinder, gentler place — that generation, naturally, being brought up as an Aurovillian ideal.
I look around to see if this super-species is anywhere in evidence in Auroville, in the babble of voices of people from around the Western world who seem to congregate here because it is a miniature reminder of the habitats they have left behind. They’re dressed in what they suppose Indians wear, only the Indian visitors are very differently dressed from them. The Europeans order garlic toast and pasta and lasagna, the Indians want dosa and biryani. After a few days you can tell the Europeans who tend to hang around here, though the Indian visitors never seem to come back. And the super-Aurovillians are nowhere to be seen.
By a strange fate, my guest house is not in Pondicherry but in Tamil Nadu, though Auroville is, of course, in Pondicherry. It is another matter that it has its own charter and could be its own country. Certainly, you can’t buy land here — the Aurovillians must vet you and decide, after you have hung around for a few months, whether you have the makings of their new race that is interested neither in competition in the workplace (though you need to volunteer to do some work, any work), before they give you free land on which to make your own house, or find you a place in a tree-house that has already been built.
A few thousand volunteers inhabit this space, their children don’t go to formal school, and life from the outside, looking in, seems very, very strange indeed. All Aurovillians are fed free at a huge solar kitchen (any visitor, necessarily accompanied by an Aurovillian, must pay), and though electricity used to be free till some time ago, apparently the rising cost of power required for air-conditioning and television means they must pay for their utilities now. Fortunately, most don’t just depend on their volunteer work but find other means to support themselves for a little bit of money — sometimes also enough to go back home to Europe for a holiday, which, they complain, they find too expensive on their Auroville earnings.
The land around the Maitri Mandir — a gilded geodesic dome in the making for forty years and only just completed — is an enchanted forest. Here, on its uncarpeted roads, if you go after dark, you might come across groups of inter-racial children riding horses late into the night, or others picnicking in the moonlight, or even groups of singers, like heralds, waiting for the new age of mankind to begin.
Alas, mankind seems doomed to repeat the same mistakes, whether in Auroville or elsewhere. One night, in the company of some Aurovillians, we are to go out to dine in some style to Pondicherry, but the choice becomes a debatable issue. We want trendier places, our Aurovillian friends would rather we went to a family diner. In the end the deal is clinched on the issue that we can hardly be around where their children might be out, making a night of it — it would embarrass the kids as well as their parents.
In Auroville as well, the new generation of teenagers seems only to be tawdry rather than superior.