…as soon as I opened the door I understood that I wasn’t going anywhere
“I arrived in Auroville in October 1968. You could say I came about it backwards: First, I went into Pondicherry and met the Mother. I got blown away by her. I asked whether I could stay in the Ashram, and Mother said, ‘No, you’ll get into trouble in the Ashram.’ But she said I could stay in Auroville if I wanted. So I had to find out what Auroville was.
How it was back then? (laughs) Empty. There were seven other people back then, who were living in either Promise or Pondicherry. I came to Auroville and helped a friend build his house. We would take a Range Rover from Pondicherry to the center where the Banyan Tree was, and we would come back in the evening. One evening I missed it, and I slept on a cow dung floor. It was beautiful, it was exquisite.
I did this for a while, coming in and out of Pondicherry. Then another friend of mine said he was going back to Canada and asked if I would take over his place. I said, ‘Oh, boy.’ (laughs) At the time there was a drought, and we had only a bore well in the area. I spent most of my days filling up barrels of water for the villagers in Kottakarai. A friend of mine, Bob, asked me to help him build a dam. So I moved to Forecomers, where we built two dams. After about a year or two, Bob went back to America, and I stayed on for four or five years.
After that, I went to work for Mother’s Secretary for Auroville, Shyamsundar, collecting data for him – what people were doing, what people needed, how they were living, what it was costing people. And in my spare time I would wander over to this construction site called the Matrimandir. I would look at it and wonder what it was about, why it was necessary. I mean, did India need another temple? (laughs) Eventually I got involved there, and suddenly, I was getting very high off working there. I ended up doing work there every day, all day, seven days a week, for another five years.
Of course things started changing when more and more people joined, sure, sure. When you have nobody to contradict you, you can think what you want, do what you want. Nobody is there to tell you that you are wrong, but the more people come in, the more ideas you have, and the more conflicts arise. But at the Matrimandir, for many years, the vibration was just so beautiful that there was little conflict, no great upheavals. The atmosphere was magic. Sheer magic. I was working for Piero. The magic moment for me was to define the point where the four ribs came together at the top. It was interesting to do with the limited tools we had.
After about five years, during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, I got ejected from the country, sent out of India. Two of us, Savitra and I, we got thrown out. They thought all Americans to be CIA agents. We went real quick to San Francisco and got tourist visas for India (laughs). So we came back after three months, and we were arrested at the airport, with armed guards and everything. They said they would send us back to England. A fellow named JRD Tata called up the Governor, and the Governor put a hold on it. They held us for three weeks in the VIP lounge in the Bombay airport, but finally, after an investigation, they released us back into India.
I stayed a while longer, but I ran out of money. I tried to live on the Aurovilian maintenance, which was something like 38rps a month… I don’t know if that’s accurate, it’s just what comes to mind. But I couldn’t do it, it was too little. And at the time, Shyamsunder wanted me to write a project for Auroville. I got a professional grant writer with a Phd (laughs). I saw another aspect of Auroville that I hadn’t seen. So I went back to the US. I thought it would take me about a year to replenish my supplies, but it came closer to eight years. I found that the Mother gave me one thing I could not afford in America, and that was a conscience.
I was married for a while to Leela, whom I met in the US, I think about 13 years. She said, ‘I’ve been following you around America for eight years, I want to go someplace.’ I said, ‘Great! Where do you want to go?’ And she said ‘Auroville!’ I said, ‘No! Any place but Auroville!’ (laughs) We sold the house within three weeks, and suddenly, I found myself on a plane back to India.
We got out of the taxi at 3AM. The deal I had with Leela was that we would come back here for one year, but as soon as I opened the door I understood that I wasn’t going anywhere. The thing I had been searching for these eight years in America, I found it instantly in Auroville. Even today, living in Auroville, I see myself as a very fortunate person.
I got very involved. You can’t name a thing or group I wasn’t a part of. And over the years, I also started documenting a lot what was going on, and I have seen some big changes. Back then, everybody that was here, was here for the same reason – the Mother’s dream. That isn’t necessarily true today. When we came here, it was with an attitude of ‘what can we give’, and somewhere along the line that switched over to ‘what can we get.’ I think this change came somewhere in the eighties.
Another thing is that the goal of Auroville is human unity, and the work is building the city. I think we have changed the work to the goal. So building the city is now the goal, and people see Auroville as a new-age spiritual retreat. For me, the process of that goal, of human unity, is so beautiful. If we could have behaved in a better fashion, we could have created something much more harmonious. But Mother also said it will be hundreds of years before everything will be how she wants it.
Yet what stays the same is the vibration. If you can become more receptive, what follows is the intensity, and it is through the intensity that growth takes place. The Mother’s Presence is still here.”
Jack AlexanderDecember 14, 2020 at 8:34 pm
Fun, Francis was (as Mary and I referred to them) among the “AV Pirates” ….. a group of swashbuckling, larger-than-life personalities that populated the landscape. Colorful, tough, hard working men with big vitals and generally good senses of humor. (Now let’s compare Lila’s story…equally interesting and wonderful I would say) this is wonderful reading. Let’s get Doris to put it into a video.
Maggie GreerJanuary 2, 2021 at 11:11 pm
So fun to read, Francis. I agree with your perspective about the goal and the work. Yes, let’s hear Lila’s story.