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Community Life / Work

Water to Oil: Arulzmugam from Puncture Service

We have to surrender, Mother says, surrender yourself. If everybody feels like that we will go smooth, without any problem.

The Services of Auroville are the backbone of the collective economy; they are funded by the Central Fund, work without seeking a profit, and provide Aurovilians in their basic needs. One Service we cannot do without is the Puncture Service, which has been helping Aurovilians maintain their bikes free of charge for many years. We spoke with Arulzmugam, who has been there since the very beginning. 

Aurmurugan has been in Auroville since he was a small child, as his father was one of the first to provide services to Auroville, back then as a bullock-cart driver. “As kids we started coming to Auroville through my father, and then also through Meenakshi. She had a kind of evening school for people working in Auroville, what is now Illaignarkal School. It started in the Matrimandir Nursery, where my father was working. People would work full time and in the evening have class there.” Meenakshi noticed that for Arulzmugam, there were not many kids around to play with. “She asked me to go and stay in the children’s hostel in New Creation, so that I could go to school there. There were more kids my age, so she thought it would be easier for me. So I stayed there for a while.” He also became Aurovilian at this time, although the process was very fluid back then: “I just went to school there and one day they called me and said, “Now you are an Aurovilian. I was about 12. We grew up in this place and it naturally happened. Nowadays for some people there are difficulties, but when Mother accepts people, they will get through any difficulty, that is what I believe.”

Many schools in Auroville were only just starting up and not yet so well-established, so Arulzmugam was one of the first batches to go through Transition school, and later Last School. “I went through all the steps of Auroville education. Then when I was at Last School, we went to help at different services, so then already I started helping out at Water Service. My brothers were also there. I always like to be in a place, not just to hang around, but to do things. Already at that age I was quite disciplined, so I was going half day to school, half day to the Water Service.” 

The Water Service was at that time a workshop where people would come to have different things fixed – pumps, windmills, and eventually, their bikes. “I learnt mechanics there. We were there for nearly 30 years, and then about 8 years ago, we moved shop to this new location.” He now has a beautifully designed workshop that was put together with the help of his friends. 

Who You Gonna Call?

In their daily work, Puncture Service is always available to help Aurovilians free of cost. Your bike doesn’t start in the morning? One of Arulzmugam’s team will come during the day to check the bike and do small replacement and maintenance works. Most importantly, Puncture Service will come to the rescue if you have – you guessed it – a puncture. They will fix the problem on the spot, so that saves a lot of stress when stranded by the side of the road!

Managing the Service is not always easy, but Arulzmugam is trying to get everyone in the team onboard. “For managing the place, you have to be always behind it. The boys who work here grew up in the village, so they are not taught the same things that I was taught from a young age – you open a plastic bag, then you bring it to the dustbin. That sort of thing they don’t always do [laughs], so I am often cleaning and sweeping the place. I am executive here, but I do whatever is necessary. They are hardworking people but I don’t want anyone to wait for my order and I don’t want to be a policeman, so that is where I want to go with the team – that they can do things themselves, take responsibility, maybe even open their own place.” There is also the question of succession, as it is not so easy to find someone who wants to take over the daily managing of the Service, 6 days a week. “Some of the guys working here are becoming Aurovilian, so I help them to grow into managing the place.”

Another thing that can be a challenge sometimes: Puncture Service is depending on a tight budget which is not always easy to manage. Yet for Arulzmugam it is clear: no exchange of money! “I don’t like this commercially-oriented work, to exchange money… So that is why here at Puncture Service we have a little difficulty now, because our budget has been cut recently. Of course many Aurovilians don’t like this, so we are making a petition and see if they want to consider our request. They say, why not ask people for a little money for the Service? But for what did we come to Auroville? We want to be a good example to the surroundings, the world, the village; we have to be a good example. I think that is what Mother wanted, otherwise we are just doing what they are doing everywhere in the world.”

The Meaning of Service

Working in a service daily is important to Arulzmugam as it is his contribution to Auroville, his home. Already when he was ready to finish his schooling, he was clear that he wanted to serve. “People at that time always asked us: ‘What do you want to do, what do you want to become?’ I said, ‘I want to be always at service to Auroville.’ So what I said then, I am doing today, and I am proud of that. Whatever happens, you just do your work and everything comes through. This is what I believe and it happens to me, so I am still sitting here, and still I want to be service-oriented. For Auroville of course, which is my home – everyday I am here for this place, I live for it.” 

Arulzmugam’s work to develop the Service has paid off beautifully, and it is hard to imagine now their humble beginnings in the water workshop. “I enjoyed doing it for Auroville, so I also liked to work there [in the old workshop]. Still, it is also really a good feeling that it grew like this through me, I can say that. When I am older, I can be happy that it has been done for Auroville, that Puncture Service has come to this nice building and that we have really developed it. For a long time we were in this small place, gypsy-style, and now we are here in this paradise [laughs]. Everyone in Auroville knows how we were struggling, but really, when you help without expectation, everything comes to you. Everything is there that I need, and I think everyone should try to do this. Not to come to Auroville to develop yourself, but to come to develop Auroville. That is what I mean by service.”

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