This report is about Pour Tous (originally named 'FOR ALL/POUR TOUS), a wonderfully progressive establishment in Auroville initiated in March 1972, based on Mother's original encouragement. The work on this organisation, which still fully functions, began through Aurovilian Clare Fanning, who shares here her story and a history of the unit.
Supply for Aurovilians of the first hour
"I wrote this project in early 1972 at the age of 23. After living for more than a year in Auroville, I had become keenly aware of the need for an Aurovilian service dedicated to supplying Aurovilians with what they needed in their various fields of activity, so that they could be free to concentrate on the work to be done. I very much wanted to see such a service established, as individuals having to go to Pondicherry or Madras for supplies wasted much time. When, on top of that, I read Mother's definition of 'money', I was determined to put my energies into creating that financial protection around such a supply service. Mother told us that money was the Divine's power in the material world, but that it was, unfortunately, in the hands of the vital forces. She added that it needed to be won back for the Divine. So, it seemed clear to me that if Auroville was to be the materialisation of a Divine Dream, the money to supply this Dream - without the internal exchange of money - needed to be protected.
In those days Auroville did not have its own administration, except in Pondicherry, where one would find, in the Auroville beach-office, rows of large wooden desks devoted to admin matters upon entering. One could see Aurovilians in lungis and kurtas waiting there to collect sometimes large amounts of cash from this or that Fund in order to advance the work. It was frustrating not to have an Aurovilian administration in Auroville itself. When the administration of Auroville eventually shifted to Auroville in 1976-7, it came to be localised behind the 'For All / Pour Tous' building, where money and supplies were centralised.
My proposal letter to Mother was short and to the point; I even went away to sit quietly and put into few words what was the understanding in my head. The proposal said, "Mother, if one day Auroville is to function fluently for need and demand without the internal exchange of money, perhaps the time has come to create that 'proper channel'. We could begin in a temporary building and see how things evolve." And in an additional note given at the same time, not wanting to draw too much attention to that 'channel', I asked: "Mother, if this is the work to do and money comes in for it, what should be the name of the bank account?"
This is it! This is it!
In those days, all new ideas were presented to Mother through Shyamsundar; so also this one. Having read the proposal and follow-up note to Mother, Shyamsundar said that he had never seen her so happy, and that she said excitedly while pointing her finger in a tapping motion, "C'est ça! C'est ça! Donnez-moi une papier et stylo !" ("This is it! This is it! Give me a paper and pen!") She then wrote in large letters 'FOR ALL' and in smaller letters 'Pour Tous'. (It may be worthwhile noting that, at the time, Mother almost always signed her name as 'Mira' in cases pertaining to Auroville projects. The original paper, glued into a rosewood symbol of Auroville and signed by 'Mira', is presently available in the Auroville Archives, and may one day find its return to the Financial Services.) As to the further development of a project, Mother used to encourage each Aurovilian to lead their project according to their own consciousness and sincerity.
Prayer for bank account
Without the permission of the Sri Aurobindo Society, which was in charge at the time of all Auroville accounts, I went to the State Bank of India in Aspiration to open the 'FOR ALL / Pour Tous" account. This was done together with Surbhi Patel, the first young Indian girl to live in Auroville's boarding school, hereto encouraged by her avant-guard grandfather Kalyanjibhai Metha, then speaker of the Lok Sabha and a firm believer in Auroville. At 18, Surbhi had decided to live in Auroville, and agreed to work with me.
Before going into the bank to co-sign the account, the two of us said our prayer that it would, one day, radiate the Divine's power so that the monies could be protected for Auroville's manifestation.. And so it started. It took about two years to build what became known as the first 'Pour Tous' building adjacent to Kuilapalayam, neighbouring the Aspiration settlement (where it presently still serves as the Aspiration post office). FOR ALL / Pour Tous effectively opened for service on February 28th 1974. The first service provided was only for food and basic supplies. The place had a joyous atmosphere, with a small team working in constant 'surrender' to provide the best possible customer service. Surbhi played an integral part in the success of this work, fully sharing the workload.
The system starts
So now there was a system in place! Accounts were growing daily. For efficiency sake, everyone had to have their order in by 6 pm, so that lists could be worked out for the next day's shopping by bullock cart in Pondicherry. All accounts were 'on deposit' only; there were no cash transactions across the counter. A small percentage was taken to support the work, but prices were never raised above the actual Pondy purchase price. Pour Tous was not conceived as a commercial undertaking to make money, but as a service to help supply what was needed at the best price. (Sometimes, our prices were even better than the Ashram's, which simply occurred because the north-Indians doing the shopping for the Ashram could never match Madhasudan's negotiating skill as a Tamil Aurovilian in a Tamil market place!)
For all Aurovilians who had personal accounts, plus work units and some community kitchens (in those days there was little or no cooking in huts at home), monies were regularly deposited. For Aurovilians under Prosperity (an automatic system whereby, upon receiving Mother's approval to join Auroville, all Aurovilians could receive housing, food, clothing, a bed & bedding with mosquito nets, and toiletry items), I collected once a month their money for food maintenance from one of those desks at the beach office in Pondy. I would also collect for most of the community kitchens. All cash was then put into the 'FOR ALL / Pour Tous' account in Auroville. Yusuf Patel, Auroville's own chief accountant at that time, monthly audited our books. All the then functioning work units committed themselves to contribute 10% of their turnover after a year of operation. By year's end we had separate accounts for every work unit, every community kitchen, and almost every Aurovilian. I'm proud to say that we never had money unaccounted for, with the exception of a one-time theft of 50 rupees. By the summer of 1975, knowing that the organisation was well established and no longer depended upon my presence, I could leave to complete my studies in France. Surbhi, Christine Bernard, Jayalakshmi and accountant Ellumalai (from the adjacent village of Kuilyapalayam), knew how to take care of everyone.
Pour Tous baskets and meetings
In 1976, the 'order' system changed into a uniform basket delivery system, due to monetary restrictions, in which food items that were bought from the monies available were equally distributed among the residents, along with their share of Auroville-grown agricultural produce. Meanwhile, Auroville started having weekly general meetings which were called 'Pour Tous' meetings. These gatherings, which went on under the 'Pour Tous' name for quite a few years, saw some heated times that were not always characterised by wisdom, but rather by human touches, specially when Auroville's legal identity came into question and created serious divisions of opinion and strong emotions. Even so, we reached a general agreement and stuck to it, namely, that the food baskets would be sent to each and every Aurovilian regardless of his/her ideas or (political) opinions. Those were turbulent years, until the Supreme Court upheld the Executive Order of Parliament in 1982 and stated that Auroville represented the highest ideal of India and that nothing should 'thwart' it.
Present (year 2003) situation
After the first five years, the original Pour Tous building became too small, and we moved to another building nearby. As the services grew, so did the dimensions of accounting. A very sincere and solid staff developed a complete and well functioning computerised accounting system, and moved with it into a building next door.
During the subsequent years, the words 'Pour Tous' have come to mean - in the minds of most people - the name of the 'store', and 'Pour Tous account' the channel via which almost all transactions within Auroville today are processed under its current 'Financial Service'.