Residents of Courage speak about the experience of building community.
In 2000 Auroville was closed. The Entry Group had decided not to register any new Newcomers. Applicants just had to wait in line until Auroville opened its gates again. Why? The Entry Group termed it a housing crisis. There were not enough houses for Aurovilians, they said, so why take new people?
Working groups and architects tried to tackle the problem and came up with new housing projects. Rêve (French for ‘dream') was one of them.
Rêve was conceived as a low-cost housing project with subsidised living spaces. The project would provide 16 regular flats for families or singles, one Newcomer apartment and two youth apartments, to be funded by the Housing Service.
Aurovilians who had been living in inadequate accommodation eagerly signed up. Then the problems started.
There were dissensions between the project holders and the architects and the residents began to lose faith. Swadha, a French national born in Auroville, wrote at the time, “We have awakened from our rêve. We have now agreed to call our community Courage, as this attribute of the Mother was the only one of her twelve attributes that hasn't yet been used to name a community in Auroville.”
Swadha has lived in many Auroville communities so she is able to compare them. “Aspiration, one of the first settlements in Auroville, was a great experience in the early days. No one really had their own house; we had shared accommodation in huts. And there was a community kitchen. Courage is different. Here we have more privacy within our own four walls, but we don't have the promised common facilities yet. My mother Laurence and her partner Kamel were the first residents to move in. Shortly after, I followed and then my twin sister Swaha. Because of all the unkept promises nothing was really ready. The first years we spent all our free time fencing, planting and gardening.
“The apartments had been planned and built without walls around the kitchen and terrace space so the first monsoon took its toll. There were wet floors everywhere. After my son Kilan was born I decided to close the open space. Although I enjoyed being close to nature, too many animals were part of the household and the wind constantly blew the gas stove out.”
Suresh, an Aurovilian from Puduchery, works at Nandanam School and the video library. He recalls, “My son Sauman was born the day after we moved into Courage. Slowly we converted the house to our liking and needs. Originally there was no bedroom door, no proper windows, poor ventilation, a leaking ceiling and sweating walls. I approached the Housing Service to rectify these mistakes. They promised to take care of it but to this day nothing has been done. So I had to take a loan, which I am still repaying, to do all the work myself.”
The manifestation of Courage Phase II took two years. During the construction stage the architects resigned and the original design of the identical apartments changed. Residents constructed walls and windows appropriate to their means. Soon there was as much variety in the designs as in the residents.
David Nightingale, one of the original architects, is still emotional when he recalls what happened: “I had been involved at the design stage of Phase I and had also agreed to be the site architect as construction began. However, due to disagreements between our office and the Development Group regarding the delegation of responsibilities, I ultimately refused to continue in this role. I still stand by the basic concept of the project, but I had originally hoped that the apartments, whilst being adapted for individual tastes, would have had more of a unified language in the facades.
“In the end I feel it was a good attempt to create something new in Auroville. But I still feel that if our architects' office had been allowed to supervise the project some of the basic construction errors might have been avoided.”
One continuing headache is the wastewater treatment plant. Courage is not the first and probably not the last community to struggle with a non-functioning water-treatment plant. Anand, a former Ashramite, takes care of it. He explains: “The water still smells from bacteria. After many different tests I now concentrate on using various plants to clean the water. But this doesn't always work well as people still put too much detergent in their water and dump everything in their toilets, whether it is harmful or not. Each individual has to become more aware.”
Integrating the subscribers of the 18 new apartments of Phase II into the existing development went smoothly. Basic guidelines were agreed upon concerning noise, parking, garbage separation and monthly contributions for water and the watchman. However, the proposal to share the costs of other common facilities like landscaping, community gates, improved fences and a covered parking space raised issues. Basically, there were two parties – those with more and those with less money. But when someone was not able to contribute their share, there was always someone else who stepped forward and donated more.
Shelter from the storm
Courage is a good example of a community which helps others in times of difficulty. So far, space for two families in need has been wholeheartedly provided. Paul Vincent has lived in Auroville for 34 years. Here is his story: “In the course of that unbelievable village gang war two years back I became a target as I was acting as the Police Liaison. At that time, my family and I lived in Acceptance and our house was isolated, so we were forced to relocate for security reasons. Within a month I was told that Courage was ready to receive us. The community members had all been consulted and had agreed. After we moved in I received more threats. So we closed the balcony with a grill and the Security Board agreed that I would have a 24 hour guard for a few months.” Even his close neighbours seemed to be fine with that solution.
The guard is gone now, and Paul, his wife Dhanalakshmi and her 2 children, are a valued part of the community. “Except for three or four residents the majority here are without financial means. But when we have problems, we all sit together and solve them. I thank this community for receiving us,” concludes Paul gratefully.
A successful venture
Today, Courage is home to 42 adults, 15 children, 4 young people and 1 newcomer, all from 12 different nations. There are also some cats and Gotlib, the dog (who, once in a while eats a cat or two). The Courage community has the highest density housing in Auroville and it is working out well. The well-balanced mix of Indians and other nationals spices up the neighbourhood. Evidently, the new name provided a strong base for the Auroville masala.
Suresh concludes: “Despite all the setbacks, our community is the best! There is space for the children to play and sometimes we come together for pot-lucks and community work like cleaning up the place or repairing the fences. We respect each other's space and the overall atmosphere is good. This is a wonderful bunch of people.”