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June-July 2003}

Drawing the Future

- by Abha Prakash

Five hundred and forty children imagine the future city

"Auroville Stadium 2052" by RalphMatrimandir 3000" by Issa

 

Imagine an Auroville in time to come. A city with a body, heart, and soul, perhaps tempered in fire and gold. A river-fed island of rich green in a blue sea, anchored by a white buoy. Where zebras run across the golden beaches in the light of the rising sun. Where penguins and reindeer brave the tropical sun with equal tranquility. A city with a free canteen, and a grocery store in the shape of an apple. A place where a giant rotating ferris wheel functions as a school (and play area). Where skiers glide down snow-clad Matrimandir slopes. Where rocket-powered humans with diaphanous grasshopper wings soar overhead on meditative journeys.

"Wheelschool" by Ludovico"Cityshape" by Valentina

Hard to imagine? Not so for the 540 children who enthusiastically participated in the recent drawing contest "How do our children see the future of the city?" Organised by the Land for Auroville team, the contest was open to three age-groups: 7-9 years old; 10-11 years old; and 12-14 years old. Of diverse economic, social, and cultural backgrounds, the children belonged to schools in Auroville and the surrounding villages that are coordinated by the Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research (SAIIER). Selection of winning entries was a difficult task considering differences in quality of facilities and equipment that were available for students. But an effort was made to spread the prizes over as many participating schools as possible. The nine winning entries were by: Ludovico (Transition), Arun (Udavi), Tamilzarasi (New Creation School), Chandra (Last School), Valentine (Home schooling), Satish (Transition), Rajappan (Udavi), Dhanalaxmi (Kuilapalayam Trust), and Sridhar (Ambeth Nagar Night School). All nine winners were offered a plane ride over Auroville.

Made on plain white poster paper with crayons, sketch pens, and water colours, the drawings display literal, and sometimes outrageous representations, of what Auroville is or should be. While most submissions were untitled, a few ambitiously futuristic ones came with headings. "Pour Tous 4422"; Matrimandir 3000 A.D"; "Auroville Stadium 2052 World Cup" are worth a mention. Objects commonly associated with the Auroville landscape such as coconut palms, the banyan tree, the sun, windmills, the beach, and keet-roofed huts populate more than a few drawings. The Matrimandir, not surprisingly, was the single most represented object in the contest. While most children drew their inspiration from the existing significance of the building, a few daring ones took liberties one can hardly imagine. "Future Zoo", for example, depicts a long shot of a giraffe and its young playing ball inside the dome. Another shows a rotund snowman, atop the Matrimandir, wearing a Charlie Chaplin hat. A Matrimandir spaceship lookalike about to take off for an unknown destination is another visual that stalls the viewer.

Roughly speaking, the drawings could be divided into three categories. Idyllic scenes of the village, imaginary lakes encircling the Matrimandir, and views of the greenbelt, and the beach, focus on the city's natural richness and the coexistence of its urban and rural way of life. Animals with human characteristics, and those not native to the region also fall under this category. A drawing with igloos nestled in the Auroville greenbelt, while animals socialize with food and drink not too far away is one of the fun representations that is easy to catch a person's fancy. The spiritual centre of Auroville - the Matrimandir and the Banyan Tree - was, as I have already mentioned, the most popular subject among the contestants. It was also the most creative category. A sunflower with a small Matrimandir as its centre growing in the shade of the Banyan is one example of this unconventional perceptivity. Another showed the Matrimandir dome sprouting flowering trees from its outer surface. Snowflakes falling on the golden sphere with its red and green base the colour of Christmas is yet another eye-catcher. The third category was the unabashedly futuristic one, more adventurous than the other two, which represented Auroville in a fiery rocket-powered age when everything - humans, trees, and buildings - would be in harmonious motion, propelled by their own energy dynamic. Two winning drawings, by Satish (9) and Ludovico (10) of Transition School, belong to this category.

Snowflakes, igloos, lakes, pyramids, golden sands, fire, rocket technology - one wonders what these elemental depictions of water, fire, and ice finally represent? While it would be a hard exercise to ask all five hundred and forty children how they set about translating their inner visions onto paper, here is a brief look at what some of the winners had to say about their specific drawings. Valentine (12) of Home schooling, and Chandra (13), of Last School, both drew composite views of Auroville. Valentine focused on the urban map of Auroville, with the Matrimandir at the centre surrounded by a huge lake, and the rest of the cityscape comprising of an apple-shaped grocery store, a school built like an open book, and an "alien" airport. The inspiration for the lake came from the exhibition at Aurofuture where such a lake idea is currently under discussion. "I think it's a great idea. It would solve the water problem and it would be fun to reach the Matrimandir by boat instead of on foot," she says with remarkable candour. What about the alien airport? What does it mean? "It means that in the future alien spaceships would need a place to land. And Auroville would be the only place where it could happen!"

Chandra's drawing was inspired, she says, by an aerial view of Auroville she had seen in a photo. Focusing only on the natural landscape of the city she also drew the lake around the Matrimandir with the rising sun behind it, and lots of trees and windmills, with village settlements in between. "Of course Auroville will be the greenest city on earth so trees must be abundant. Will rivers make the land more fertile?" she reflects.

Fertility, abundance, and respect for nature is a concern that speaks out from more than a few drawings. A student of Udavi School, Arun (9) envisions Auroville as a city where the village, with its natural modes of living, contributes to the greater good. A smiling sun peeping over treetops that overlook the Matrimandir and a little girl fondling a calf beside a river, is how one would describe his beautiful sketch. In similarity to Arun's very life-like depiction of Auroville, Dhanalaxmi (14) of Kuilayapalayam Trust School has drawn the Auroville bonfire celebration, an actual event that brings the resident community together three or four times a year. Of remarkable precision, depth, clarity, this painting captures the spirit of Auroville regardless of time. Shy and reticent, Dhanalaxmi said she decided to make this drawing after coming to know that for her family and other people in her village, the bonfire is the one event that they truly appreciate about Auroville. An occasion for silent prayer, togetherness, and remembrance, the bonfire is and always will be a part of the Aurovilian ethos.

The children's drawings were a visual and conceptual delight that far surpassed the expectations of the organizers, and the rest of the community who got the chance to view the exhibition, first at the Tibetan Pavilion, and later at the Centre of Indian Culture where it was on until May 25th. Warmly appreciated by everyone, the exhibition is an example of how the visions and dreams of children in Auroville are as important as those of adults. And perhaps how they can sometimes revitalize the forgotten dreams of adults caught in the mundane circle of day-to-day life. Who knows, some of these dreams drawn in wax crayons and water colours may one day translate into a more tangible reality or bring the community closer together in the future planning of the city.

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