Saturday, September 24, 2011

AUROVILLE

Auroville is a dream...or almost a dream....is it because it isn’t fully realised yet?...maybe. Or maybe it is because it still holds out the promise of what can be. An idea so beautiful, so simple in principle that it is an example of what humans can achieve...or what we ought to achieve...
Yet, 40 years on, Mother’s grand vision still remains unrealised in totality, although the basics are in place. The township is a magnet for people from various parts of the globe seeking different things, creating a microcosm of the universe. It is home to around 2000 Aurovillians; the permanent residents, and has a floating population of around 10000...there are people with varied interests – artists, writers, architects, travellers, musicians etc; people with different religious values and languages; all adding to the variety and diversity, creating a mutually harmonious existence called Auroville.
The Matrimandir
 
The 'Roads' in Auroville
One of the first things that you notice when you reach the place is that...you seem to be lost in the middle of nowhere..Its trees all around – nothing but trees. The various shades of green being contrasted with the deep red of the earth. Yet, it is a far cry from the barren landscape the early pioneers of the township found when they started out. The passion, courage and faith of these people who believed, is something to be marvelled at, to be admired. Auroville is an amazing example of how nature can be rejuvenated and brought back to life through human intervention. Through a massive afforestation drive, the barren land was brought to life. Water harvesting techniques were used to save the rain water which normally would have run down to the sea barely 8km away. The process is still going on...there are dedicated areas where forests are cultivated, bunds are created to store the rain water, soil nourishment happens..
Auroville is a way of life....there are residents who practice farming – who literally grow their own food. Organic farming in the true sense is seen. It is interesting to see Europeans and other foreigners living here attend to basic things like milking their cow...People here don’t mind doing things with their hands....its an art that most of us seem to have forgotten...Bikes are the most common mode of transport here. Almost no cars...the ubiquitous Royal Enfield Bullet is found in many avatars...ridden by hairy tattooed guys, to the old milkman with his milk jars hanging on either sides and to even old ladies with white hair!! A few of us might remember the old ‘Moped’, which has all but disappeared from all our cities, towns and even villages. Yet, in Auroville, it is a preferred mode of transport. You can hire one of these for a single day or even a longer period from one of the various bike renting annas...


Outdoor seating in Ar.Dharmesh Jadeja's house


A Community in Auroville


The Matrimandir forms the nucleus of the township. This golden shaped dome is at the centre of the Aurovillian universe from which all things radiate out. The township is divided into various communities; each nestled in between the large forest of trees, connected by dirt roads. Architecture plays a major role in these communities, with each community having their own individuality – be it in form, material, technology etc. Yantra, Prayatna, Courage, Creativity, Acceptance etc are some of the communities...There are also guesthouses around where the visitors can rent for their stay.
There is an interesting concept of ‘house sitting’ followed here. The foreigners who have settled here often go back to their native countries for a period of time every year (also to earn some money there, which when converted into rupees increases in value). While they are away, they invite temporary residents (often students and youngsters who are in Auroville) to stay in their houses. They are allowed to use all the facilities including furnitures, computers, kitchen etc, in return for maintaining the house and often, caring for the pets...the concept is a mutually beneficial one, wherein the floating population gets to stay in real homes without paying rent and for the homeowner, the house and the pets are taken care off. What makes it ever so admiring is when you think of the amount of trust that is placed, most often in total strangers...


Indus Valley is a restaurant based on the concept of voluntary donations


Auroville is a happening place as far as architecture is concerned. Since its initial inception, architecture has always been at the forefront of Aurovillian development – right from the shelters made by the pioneers to all the various research that is happening presently. A lot of interesting techniques are practised here, which are lost in mainstream commercial architecture practised elsewhere. Here; nature, materials, ecology, society, culture...all play a part in evolving a true appropriate architecture. There is a freedom to experiment, a freedom to ‘not conform’...which often gives rise to a lot of innovative design & research happening, especially with alternate materials and technology. Earth architecture, ferrocement, vaults, domes, filler slabs etc are some really interesting stuff. Energy, especially alternative energy forms a big part of Auroville. What the world is now realising in terms of climate change and global warming, people had realised here long ago and were practising a lifestyle in tune with those principles – the main difference being that here in Auroville, they really believe in what they preach and practise. There is even a ‘Solar Kitchen’, which is a large community kitchen, where all the cooking is done with the solar energy captured by a large solar disc. Waste segregation at source is a very simple concept practised here that has so much scope for implementation across all cities. Here, plastic wastes are segregated from organic wastes and are disposed off and recycled separately. Windmills; an image from our childhoods, are seen peeping out from the tree tops. They are mainly used for pumping water.

'Realisation' Housing project

Wind Chimes in Verite
Yet the sad truth is, these ideas have somewhat failed to spread to a larger audience, circulating and being practised by only a limited set of practitioners and followers – thereby being constrained within and around Auroville. They have yet not been able to achieve transformation on a larger scale, which is so crucial to maintaining the balance in a developing populous country like India, where resources are always in demand. Auroville is almost like a mirage...a vision which we always keep striving for. Yet, the simple truth is that, for something like Auroville to exist elsewhere, the people have to change...there has to be more dedicated action and faith, than mere hollow words and promises. Auroville is a way of life which has to be embraced by all involved........it is a promise for our future...



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