…by definition an idea like Auroville attracts misfits.
I first came to Auroville when I was 11 years old in 1977. I remember little except that I saw, it must have been a picture or a model of the City. I was so fascinated by its shape. This spiral thing, at the time it looked very intriguing. I had no other contact with Auroville afterward. Until I was 18, I was living in Calcutta. Because I am a Bengali, Sri Aurobindo was a familiar name that came up in conversations.
Then much later, a couple of friends of me and my wife moved to Auroville and they were organizing a workshop. They had asked us to spread the word in our circles to find participants. Unfortunately, the rate of participation wasn’t going up very much, so at the end of it my wife said that she would go to Auroville and take part. We came here and visited for two days, that was in March 2015. I had formed an opinion about Auroville in my head already; I remember thinking that it was a strange place. When I came, my plan was to read my books, have a little holiday, and then go back. We met people here and got interested, and eventually decided to move here. We came in 2015, from an affluent lifestyle, five bedrooms, three cars, housekeepers, and so on – we moved into one room with a roof made of woven palm leaves. The realization that you don’t need as much as you think you need was, for me, a significant learning. And I wanted to be here; what I saw here was the possibility to do some experiments, especially in economy, education and governance.
We love that Auroville is so much forest, filled with birds and mammals, although this living in nature also has its challenges. For example, a few days ago one of our dogs had an encounter with a porcupine – after it, the poor dog had these long needles sticking out of his face. We had an emergency operation at home, in the middle of the night. All of this is part of the adventure.
The second part of the beauty of living in Auroville is the diversity. I could not survive in a singular-minded community. I love the fact that there is diversity here, not only in cultural backgrounds but also in ways of living, ways of being, ways of thinking. So that’s what I find fascinating. And also, here you can try things. Not all of it is fully supported, but you still have that opportunity. What we are trying to do here with the Residents’ Assembly, for example, to govern by plenary, it is possible to do this here, and it would be much harder to do the same in a regular city in India. Or the fact that I teach in a school and I have complete autonomy over how I teach the subject. Here we get the space to try out new things, and that is great. There are other intentional communities, but none have the space for personal action and autonomy as we have here. And then, in many other ways, Auroville is actually not as different to the outside world as one might think.
The way I would describe Auroville, if I were honest, is that it is a fascinating idea, but by definition an idea like this attracts misfits of one kind or the other. While there is a lot of interesting work and there are a lot of interesting people, there are also people that I cannot resonate with so easily, who have strange ideas. The other thing I would say is that we talk about Auroville being alternative and all of that, but in reality there are many things where we are very similar to the outside world. For example, our economy is no different than the economy anywhere else. Or other things, like that in building, concrete is still the material of choice, so we build houses like ovens that are not adapted to the climate and that you need to air-condition. Or you have these natural houses, but then no privacy. All kinds of strange things like that.
The challenges that I face now are two, one external and one internal. The external challenge is that all of the things I am interested in, governance, education, or economy, requires community participation. So the challenge there is how to have reasoned conversation with people who have very different worldview, and how to then arrive at a synthesised way of moving forward. That is a tremendous challenge. I still don’t know how to overcome that.
The internal challenge, which is a very personal thing, is that I don’t know if I truly want to be part of this experiment or if I am telling myself a story, so that I can enjoy the wonderful place that I live in. Perhaps I want to rationalize why I live here, so I am saying all of these wonderful things about experiments and autonomy and things like that. So the challenge is that I am not sure if I am being truly authentic about what I am, and what I am doing here. That’s an important part of living here actually; constantly challenging my assumptions, even about Auroville itself.