I lie across a ledge on the open terrace of Auroville’s Solar Kitchen. Inspiring my words are the soothing melodies of an aged man’s flute. His music attracts chirping birds to the lotus pond below, from their hiding spaces in the surrounding forest. I feel a sense of déjà vu, like I’ve seen this place before, maybe in a story I once read. I come here on some evenings to read Thoreau in the fading light of dusk. And he to play his flute. We haven’t felt the need to exchange words yet. This is Auroville; a bit like entering a dream, and a bit like waking up from one.
As the sun sets, the night slowly engulfs the shimmering solar bowl. On sunny days, this is literally the food bowl of Auroville; Solar Kitchen below serves organic food cooked with solar energy to the township’s residents. Like many restaurants here, it doesn’t accept cash. Outsiders like us can get an Auro Card made at the guesthouse we’re staying in, and recharge it with cash at the town’s financial services centre. Some might argue that’s the first step in excluding outsiders and keeping money within the system, but personally, I enjoy the cashless living.
As we drive our two-wheeler, often along dirt roads through the forest, it’s hard to imagine that just over forty years ago, Auroville was a barren wasteland. The visionary thinking of a French lady, Mirra Alfasa, reverently referred to as “the Mother” (read her story on Wikipedia), has transformed the region into forests and farms, grown organically. Although just an hour’s drive from Pondicherry, the air within the township is so pure that we slept through our first 48 hours!
Before arriving in Auroville, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Little has been written about it, and I’m slowly beginning to understand why. Even after living here a week, it is difficult to capture in words what Auroville is about, or why I’m staying for another ten days. There’s a smattering of guesthouses and quaint cafes, there are centres for the spiritually inclined (though I don’t venture much into those), and there are plenty of volunteering opportunities on farms, schools, and conservation initiatives. Yet, there’s a sense of space. There’s a sense that even if you choose to do northing, no one’s judging you.
We dabble our feet in a little bit of everything; the basics of organic farming, sustainable food practices, simple living, vegan meals, debates on clean energy, film screenings on world issues and such. We have little connectivity, and the internet room closes at 6 pm, along with most cafes and shops. I enjoy the downtime on most days, but feel desperate on some. Truth is, being here inspires me to contemplate life, appreciate the little things, and write.
There are stories about the transition of the Aurovillian community since the Mother passed away; about the fate of volunteers; about the exclusivity; about the bubble that is this township. I’m not judging it so fast, because where else in India can you witness such an incredible effort to conserve nature and live off the earth?
I’ve only been here a week, but a part of me already wants to protect this little paradise. A part of me felt elated at seeing visitors who demanded plastic bags and sachets of ketchup, being told off. It is high time we start educating ourselves about the little ways in which we are affecting the environment around us. I’m not oblivious to the contradictions that spur anti-Auroville debates; I can feel the white-skinned exclusivity, I can tell that even though many of the conservation seeds are sown by Aurovillians, the people harder at work are village folk from the surrounding region. But that’s the thing with a utopian idea like Auroville; you will always expect more.
Have you stayed in Auroville? What were (are) your impressions?
Any contributions to my travel fund (in kind or otherwise) will be highly appreciated!