10:30 AM – We have arrived in Auroville. There is no cell signal here, and internet cafes don’t appear to be conveniently located, so I am presently blogging off-line and will upload this post at first opportunity, probably a couple of days hence.
The philosophy of Auroville is an attractive one: community living, devoid of the interference of states and their agendas. Of course, in the absence of an organized economy, life here depends on an external infusion of cash. I’m not sure how this is achieved, but I suspect the residents (seemingly mostly Westerners) come with their savings and live off of that. The stay is certainly affordable. Our guest house charges us 500 rupees each (about $12 CDN), which includes 3 meals a day, free laundry, a private toilet and a free bicycle.
From what I’ve seen so far, this place has traits that are paradisical, at least for the casual tourist like me. I like it here, and am so far strongly considering returning to spend my final week in solitude here.
We are far from the bustle of urban India. The air is fresh, there is greenery everywhere. And my old friend Paula has just arrived. Gotta go…
10pm – 12 hours later. Hmm. Auroville was founded 37 years ago with the cooperation of people from 124 countries. Today, I’m told Indians make up the majority, with the French and Germans not far behind. What is it with the French and their penchant for wacky cult-like communities? (Raelians, anyone?)
Originally, Auroville was settled by architects and engineers. It is indeed an architectural playground to behold, with each culture/nation providing its own pavillion. (The Canadian and US ones are presently being built). According to Paula’s fella, though, the science types have given way to the New Age types, and man does it show!
Self-proclaimed “healers” now populate the place, and almost everyone wears smock-like garments that I know are actually traditional Indian garb, but here looks more like a funny uniform. (“Movementarians” anyone?) I don’t mean to mock these people, because their intentions are good and Auroville really is a fascinating and pleasant place. But I am constantly reminded of that 1960s show, “The Prisoner”, and of a particular Simpsons episode: “The leader is good. We all love the leader.”
Indeed, photos of “The Mother”, Aurovile’s late founder, beam down from everywhere. I am looking at one now in my room. It’s more than a little Stalinesque. And the economics of the place continue to baffle me. I suspect that the place can only continue to run on the backs of the underpaid labour class, Indians from local villages.
Despite all this, there is no denying that Auroville is a special place for people sharing a unique mindset. And I am indeed considering coming back next week for a few days to do a book reading and soak in all the freaky goodness.
Indeed, this is an excellent place for kids to grow up. There is natural beauty aplenty and lots of physical and mental stimulation. And like the rest of India, here kids can be kids. Today I met three 2-year olds, each of whom stole my heart in turn.
We also managed to gain access to the central temple’s “inner chamber”, an erie room of blinding white silence centred about an enormous crystal ball which is kept constantly lit throughout the day via direct sunlight reflected by sun-tracking mirrors. The chamber is magnificent, a place of frigid sensationless desolation whose silence was so complete that I found the ticking of my (recently won) watch to be deafening.
Instead of focusing on inner peace, however, I found myself observing the assembled meditators (mostly white folks). And it occurred to me: what would happen if one of them were to suddenly drop dead? So I spent the rest of the time concocting an improbable murder mystery scenario.
11:AM the next day – Hmm. Back in Pondicherry. Auroville was quite an experience. Even our cab ride back featured an icon of “the Mother” on the cabbie’s dashboard. Our guesthouse in Pondy is owned by the Aurovillians, too, and the Mother peers out from a giant portrait in the lobby.
Last night, we went to an outdoor guitar concert performed by a white Canadian Aurovillian who has adopted an Indian name (you know the type). The setting was magnificent. The amphitheatre is mind-blowing in its futuristic design, with the geodesic dome of the mandir behind the performer, and of course the incandescent full moon and brilliant stars beaming down upon us from above. I counted two shooting stars. The performer was one of those white fellows who has immersed himself in the superficial trappings of Indianness; his white daughter came up to play beside him, and she too had been given an Indian name. And his songs were modified sitar raags played on Western acoustic guitar. Not sure what to think… except that that, too, was an excellent setting for a murder mystery!