Slicing through the pools in Auroville
Swimming pools are not exactly a new phenomenon in Auroville. Which Auroville kid doesn't remember the plunges in Samata's pond or in New Creation's square community basin? But having ‘your own pool' is another story altogether. “There was lot of resistance when I came with the idea of a pool as many Aurovilians consider it a luxury, while I think of it as a medium to exercise and keep the body fit,” says Francis. The azure waters of the community pool he operates in Recueillement ripple under the crisp winter breeze. “Would you believe it if I told you that this water has not been changed for 4 years and 2 months?!”
Francis was an avid sportsman used to daily runs and swims in the ocean, a temptation many Aurovilians find hard to resist in summer. It is quite another story during the monsoon when currents are rough and the water turbid by the red run-off. But that was not the reason for Francis building his community pool. It was a hair-raising encounter that ended his tryst with the ocean. “It was on the day I got stung by a jellyfish. But I continued swimming. And then I bumped into a dead body in the waves. That decided it for me.” The experience led him into dreaming about his own pool. “I saw then a movie starring Jack Nicholson in a lap pool – not a pool for recreation, but purely to exercise and train!” With great excitement, Francis scoured the internet, gleaning information about lap pools. “But then pools are expensive to build, so I had to make money first.” He came up with the idea to make hammocks and sell them in the USA . “But sales were not as brisk as we had forecast, and it took 6 long years for the profits to grow into a decent fund.” Francis immediately quit the hammock business and began pool construction.
“We originally wanted to follow Olympic guidelines with a 50-metre long pool, but I did not have the money or the water.” He settled for half the length. The pool is 2.5 metres wide with a depth of 135 centimetres at one end and 145 centimetres at the other, deep enough to do the ‘Olympic turn-around'. “Its construction is very basic – a concrete rectangular bowl, tiled for waterproofing. Several architects put their brains together – Suhasini, Anita , Leon , Rolf and Brigitte – and it took just 3 months to build. That we all remained friends at the end is a miracle!” says Francis with a wide grin.
A pool is high maintenance. Besides the daily chlorination, Francis uses a pump to rotate the water for filtering through its three systems. “This has given me an outrageous electricity bill.” The swimmers who use the pool on a continuous basis contribute to the pool's maintenance. There is a great demand for its use with a long waiting list for a time slot. Children's classes also happen, with Clare as instructor. Opening daily at 6 a.m. , the pool sees a steady stream of swimmers until 7 in the evening. About a dozen people show up every day in summer with the only a trickle coming in winter. “Only the tough and relentless Germans seem to brace the cold waters. There is one lady who does 1.5 kilometres 6 days a week, all year through!”
With the popularity of Francis's pool, a few more lap pools have been built. In Auromodèle, Maurice and Agathe opened an almost identical pool at the beginning of March this year. This pool is also booked to its capacity with an endless waiting list. But the most ambitious community pool project yet is the one started by Savitri at the New Creation sports complex, with support from a few Aurovilians. Close to completion, the half-finished blue tiled ‘hole in the ground' languishes, awaiting a last injection of funds. “We need only 10 lakhs rupees (US$ 20,000) to finish it,” says Savitri. “With the last lakh of rupees that remained after the land purchase and creating the initial infrastructure, we managed to erect a wall around the area.” It is to be a larger pool, 25 metres long and 10 metres wide, and Savitri is excited about the possibilities it will offer to the Auroville community and the village. “We plan to have kids coming from the two sports programmes – New Creation and Dehashakti. We want to encourage and train those interested in swimming. So there will be a lot of integration and mixing. Naradi, an instructor in our programme, is certified in aqua sports. She will offer group classes in water aerobics.” Savitri also feels that the pool will be a ‘mini-economy' by itself as it will bring in the some employment opportunities for some youth. “It is all Karma Yoga, and this pool is in the ‘now' – so why not make it happen now!” she asks forcefully.