It is a place where magic is still possible.
“I grew up in a household of devotees in Orissa close to Calcutta. My mother and father were devotees of Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and because of that, we would come every summer to Pondicherry. During those visits we also visited Auroville. That is my earliest memory of Auroville, coming to Matrimandir when it was just a camp.
I remember that we were driving in the bus and we went past Certitude corner. There were about three or four horses with young white children on their back, galloping through the vast field. I was six years old, and I turned and I said to my parents, “When I grow up I will move to Auroville.” It came from this feeling that anything could happen, because where in India would you see blond, blue-eyed kids galloping on horses? Auroville had something magical to it. This always attracted me.
I was 21 when I first moved to Auroville. I had applied for studying abroad, but these were the days of snail mail, and my application had been delayed. So I ended up having a whole semester free. During that time I came to Auroville on my own for the first time. I cycled from Pondicherry up to Auroville, ended up under the Banyan Tree, flung my cycle to the ground and lay down. I felt like I had arrived home. That night, there was a full moon, the flowers were in bloom… it was magical. I stayed for a couple of nights, and volunteered at the Matrimandir.
I sent a letter to my mom, very sentimental and emotional (laughs), that I will stay in Auroville and not go abroad to study. I come from a normal middle class family, but we didn’t have a lot of disposable income. So my mother replied, “Alright, but we will not support you if you make that decision.” She asked me to see the world first and then come back. So I went to the USA to get my master in English Literature, and I came back to Auroville when I was 24 years old.
Looking back, I was grateful for my mom’s advice, because of two things. When I came back, I wasn’t as romantic about Auroville anymore, compared to before. And the other thing is that it was so important to get a perspective of western culture and also an appreciation for it before coming back. I feel that all the Indians living in Auroville should once experience western culture and all the westerners should live with an Indian middle class family. It will help us all understand each other. In the early days, I faced what I call unconscious racism– when people express certain things without realising that their views are racist. I came when educated Indians from outside of Tamil Nadu came to join Auroville and the westerners who were already here had a very narrow idea about Indians. It took them a while to overcome this stereotype. It was not a strong discrimination, but I did feel it
The beauty of Auroville is that it is still a society that gives us a vast amount of freedom. There are no social norms, no social expectations on how to behave, how to dress. This is not only the beauty, but also the responsibility. How you are growing is decided by your inner motivating force. You have the responsibility and power to direct the course of your life. That is the biggest beauty for me. And it is amazing to live in a place that is so green, just to have a daily contact with nature. Even if you work in an air conditioned office, you can cycle to work every day.
In Auroville we do not have the pressures and challenges of the mainstream world, and in my experience, this also can inhibit your growth. For example, my biggest skill is writing, and soon after joining Auroville I realized that I was one of the best writers of the community, so there was no further way for me to grow. If I would have been out in the mainstream, I might have found an excellent mentor to further my skills. So in a certain way I feel like I lacked this support. Everything I did from my twenties onwards to further my skills was driven by me, but I feel I could have developed more with some wider exposure. On the other hand, when I look at people my age in the outside world, I see that they are domain experts with very specialised knowledge in a small field. I am not that, but I do feel that I am a grounded and holistic individual, and this is only because of the Auroville experience.
A lot has changed though, especially in our organisation. I remember in the early years, when I was still so in love with Auroville, I was sitting in one of the Residents’ Assembly meetings and it was packed with 200 people. We were all sitting around and arguing and I was thinking, “Yes, this is a place where I have a say in the governance.” Today we still have the right to say everything, but the processes have become so bureaucratic, they are almost choking us. It has become very difficult. This idea of peer-based working groups, participatory democracy, however you want to call it, has both its positive and negative sides.
What I learned here is the power of my own capacity; it’s when you put your mind onto something that you can do it. Auroville gives you the opportunity to develop. I think even today if you would like to pick something up outside of your experience or education, you can go and find people who will provide you the learning experience. In that sense, it’s a place where magic is still possible; magic in the sense of, that there is a possibility for the unexpected to happen. Auroville gives you this opportunity, to explore, to take the next step from within yourself. If I want to challenge myself, I can find that here. That’s the kind of development I want.”