Placing Earth in the Urn: Poppo

Only I wished to see her again.

I was 24, and I wanted to help the world. Simple. I joined a German governmental organisation, the German Volunteer Service. We had three months training in self-survival, baking bread, stitching, speaking English… They asked me whether I would like to go to India. I didn’t know anything about India, except the names of Nehru and Tagore. I imagined from childhood stories that India must be a big jungle, and I wondered whether they had any roads! 

I was posted in Osmania University in Hyderabad for six months in 1966. We were a group of thirty people, and when I came, they just gave me a big table, a chair, a pen-holder, and red and black ink. I kept myself busy.

In 1967-68 there was a famine in Bihar. The whole countryside looked like a bare field. During the college holidays I went there with UNICEF. The first job was sinking borewell concrete rings with a diesel engine in the villages. One day, rice, dahl and onion, next day, rice, dahl and onion, there was nothing else. I lost fifteen pounds, but it was a very big experience, and when I came back to Hyderabad, something had happened within me. I could not accept the world I came from anymore. Overnight, I dropped my Catholic rucksack. I was finished with that. The next year I went back to the same place in Bihar, building a school with electric poles from the jungle. Bihar changed my life fundamentally.

Eventually, I met with Carlos, a Consul General in Chennai. He said, ‘Oh, you are an architect. You know, they are building a new town, an international town, near Pondicherry.’ And he asked if I would be ready to go there, and I said ‘Yes.’ This is how I was invited for the Inauguration Ceremony of Auroville, in 1968.

I came to Pondicherry and stayed at Frederick’s house. One morning we were called in to practice how to put the soil [into the urn] for the inauguration. All the hundred and twenty nations had to line up in alphabetical order; it took some time. I was next to the French, and we started talking. There was a creeper with blue flowers nearby. I picked a few and gave some to the French people. And then I placed my two flowers in the French soil, and they put their two in the German earth. Our nations had always been enemies, so it was very symbolic, and it was very strong.

The day of the inauguration came, the 21st of February 1968. The atmosphere was vibrating. I could feel the enormity of this. I was young, I had just been called to be invited to participate, but the greatness of that moment… What I felt was the human unity, the international atmosphere… It was bright, of another quality altogether. On the 1st of March 1968, I wrote a postcard to my mother: ‘I feel strongly that this city will be the city of my life, because it cannot be otherwise. Auroville, the town of the future…’”

In the end, I only met Mother in 1971. We were a group of 6 or 7, standing on the balcony, waiting to go in. I went into the room. I saw this small little body there, I said to myself, ‘My God, so small!’ When it was my turn, I came forward and looked straight into her eyes. I became totally blank, smiling, and she looked straight at me for maybe a minute. Then she gave a sign: now you can go. When I got up, something in me was saying I couldn’t leave the room, I had to see her again. All that I had planned, to go back to Germany to study, it vanished. Only I wished to see her again. When I went down that wooden staircase, it was a descent into bliss and well-being. That moment, you cannot analyse or interpret, only experience. I was hooked. Finished.”

This is an excerpt from the book ‘Turning Points’ by Auroville Press.
To read more about Poppo’s journey, have a look at the book here.

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