We have an incredible freedom in Auroville to experiment with different aspects of our lives in a very accessible and integral manner. This is the Auroville I cherish.
I don’t have so many memories of my childhood, but I remember this very green place with red soil. The vibrant nature, all this flora and fauna. I really remember the monsoon, with torrents of rain flowing, and roads that became impassable because they were flooded and very muddy. Back in the 90s, life conditions were way tougher than they are today.
Childhood in Auroville felt normal to me, until I left for Paris at the age of 8. Then I quickly realised how unique Auroville was. Culturally, socially, and in terms of values, I felt very different from my new friends. The other kids were easily impressed when I would tell them that I got bitten by scorpions several times. To westerners, growing up in the middle of a forest in South India sounds like you came out of the Jungle Book – and somehow, that’s not so far from reality! I could really identify with Mowgli when I was a kid.
I remember the amount of freedom we had as kids in Auroville, with so many different activities. My parents had separated early and I would go walking alone as a kid, from one house to another. Going to school alone from the age of 5, coming back from school alone, just walking… the sense of safety and freedom were very present, and totally unlike my first years in Paris.
And then of course, in terms of education and social norms, there was a huge difference too. In Auroville I was very familiar with my teachers: we were all Aurovilians and part of a big family. When I arrived in France, my informality with teachers was taken as something totally provocative. You’re a human being, I’m a human being, we’re equal. But in Europe, most kids really had that “they’re adults, we’re kids” thing, as a sign of respect. This feeling of being the other’s equal in spite of the age is very unique somehow.
What also makes a childhood in Auroville special compared to other places, is how integral we aim for the education to be. We have a few things like ATB (Awareness Through the Body), which give you a sense of awareness from a very early age. Through the emphasis on art and creativity, children learn not only how to develop their rational mind, but also other parts of their being. And I feel that makes a big difference.
Choosing a Thesis
When I was 8, my father met someone in France, so he started going there more and more. My mom asked me if I preferred to stay in Auroville or to be with my dad. Actually I’m the one who made that choice: I said I wanted to be with dad, and we left. I did most of my studies in France.
When I finished high school, I decided to do a bachelor’s in Psychology, which left me quite unfulfilled. After that I looked at different options, wondering which approach would help me to both study the individual and the collective. Today, I understand that this quest may have originated from my early years here: Auroville is at the juncture of individual yoga and collective yoga, its aim is the union between individual efforts and a collective endeavour.
Psychology was too focused on the individual. Western Philosophy was a bit too much in the sky. Sociology was too much about the collective and not enough on the individual. I finally came to think that Social Anthropology was the most adaptive, because the basics of it are looking at the social context and culture, but through the lens of individuals living in it. It has that synthesis of individual and collective aspects.
For my Master’s, I really wanted to work on Auroville. The question I was asking myself was: in the context of the world that is more and more disenchanted, how do Aurovilians re-enchant their lives? How do Aurovilians do things differently? I started coming back to Auroville on a regular basis, and conducted a six-month fieldwork guided by this vast question.
The Space that Holds Everything
It’s very easy to get lost when one studies Auroville, because there is a lot you can talk about. Auroville is a place where there is so much discourse: people are used to talking about why they came to Auroville, what ‘called’ them, what are Auroville’s ideals and how they relate to them.
By chance, I participated in the Selection Process for the Town Development Council (TDC) in 2017, in which there were all these ‘Silent Presence Keepers’ that were called to stay in meditation during the whole process. That was my entrance point into the topic of silence, and I started thinking that there is something in silence that needs to be explored.
I looked at the moment of silence that we usually have at the beginning of meetings, and sometimes at the end. The key question was: how is silence a tool that helps Aurovilians to build a sense of community? How does ritualised, intentional silence pave the way towards human unity?
With the diversity we have in Auroville, we’re all living in our own inner realities, sometimes even in parallel bubbles. There are many little Aurovilles – which sometimes meet, and create friction. But the moments of silence are times in which everyone can agree; can reassert their aspiration to the ideals of Auroville without overstepping those of others. Silence is this space that can hold everything: it is possible to be united in this common space that we’re sharing, while reaffirming our own inner truths.
Since high school, I really felt that I wanted to come back to Auroville, but I was waiting for something to happen; to maybe meet someone, to have a family, or to make a living and then come back one day. I think a lot of Auroville kids in Europe want to come back, but they have a feeling that they have to achieve something first, to make enough money to contribute to a house in Auroville, to explore the world before they return.
For me, doing my Master’s thesis on Auroville and rediscovering it through that lens, was really nurturing. It made it much more alive in the now. It was not anymore in 10 years, it was like “okay, I feel that I want to be there right now”.
Re-enchanting the World
I’ve learned that different Aurovilians have different ways of re-enchanting their lives. I haven’t found one answer, there are hundreds of answers depending on who we are talking about. Personally, I feel touched by the nature we have in Auroville: how many flowers we have, all the birds, this whole ecosystem. I really feel the aspiration that this soil has been nourished with, and the joy that it radiates.
Going out of my place every morning, I rediscover this vibrant nature: the flowers, the squirrels, the birds, the trees, the red soil. That is one part, and the other is the freedom to grow. In a world that is becoming more and more closed, so laid out with rules and bureaucracy, we have an incredible freedom in Auroville to experiment with different aspects of our lives in a very accessible and integral manner. This is the Auroville I cherish.
In France, if you want to have singing classes, painting classes and to work out, you need a big salary. Want to have yoga classes or do therapy? You have to pay for it. If you want to get away from the system, you need either to be in the system first, to earn enough money – which is nonsense – or to get an inheritance from your family. Once you have a job, you have to keep it and stay on that one track.
In Auroville, one can explore all these aspects of life. We can try different jobs, nourish our beings with creative activities, and work on ourselves to walk on the inner path of progress. We have such freedom to experiment, beyond financial constraints. Integral growth is encouraged and nurtured. To me, that’s what makes Auroville magical.
That, and the flowers along the cycle paths.