Amy, a Californian Newcomer, shares her experience of two years living in Auroville.
How did Amy hear about Auroville? “Well, from a travel book actually. I had quit my career in Human Resources in March 2004 and had been traveling for 7 months before I arrived in India . Just prior to that, I had been living in Basel , Switzerland for three months and loved the place. I even thought after my half-year trip around India I would return to stay. I never thought I would live in India – never, never, never!”
What were her first impressions of Auroville? “Not so good. I couldn't reconcile what I had seen on the Web about the spirituality of the place and what I saw with my own eyes. The ‘beach scene' didn't look different from anywhere else I had been. I heard about Auromodele and how it was called the ‘ Beverly Hills ' of Auroville, and I saw the poverty in the villages and the starving dogs. Plus the Aurovilians didn't seem very friendly. Nothing moved me here.
“I had already decided to leave for the next place on the map, and was checking bus schedules and all that when something happened. I saw a boy trying to kill a kitten. And in a matter of moments I found myself, a tourist, with a half-starved kitten on her hands. I called Ann, whose Animal Care signs I had noticed in my four weeks stay in Auroville. When I got her on the phone she said, ‘Sorry, I only do dogs' but then she drove out to meet me. And that was it.
“Meeting her changed everything about Auroville for me. There was something about Ann, and we connected immediately. I realized she had a very special spirit, utterly unique and she was the most selfless person I had ever met. I wanted to support her in any way I could. It wouldn't have mattered what Ann was doing; I wanted to do it for and with her.”
Amy stayed back in Auroville to help Ann in her animal care activities. “I rented a house near the ECR and settled in with my new kitten and started work. The Farm Group had just allotted a piece of land for Ann and her dogs. This was clearly something Ann was not going to be able to deal with alone and so I took it on.
“The project brought me into close contact with many Aurovilians. It was then I began to experience Auroville in a completely different way. Of course, none of us knew that within six months Ann would no longer be with us. She went into the hospital in April and left us in June.
“By then, I was house-sitting in Auroville, committed through to October. I had got my visa extended, but wasn't sure about staying here long- term. I felt there was an awful lot of hypocrisy and I couldn't reconcile the spiritual aspect with the materialism I saw. It was as if some of the people believed they had tapped into Sri Aurobindo's yoga, and were on a superior level. At meetings, this behavior showed itself in its clearest form. Listening skills were severely lacking. I know this may sound judgmental, but time and time again I saw people talking over one other, not listening to each other, rolling their eyes up in frustration and rudely telling speakers to sit down even before they had finished. Also, people were not prepared for meetings; half of the gathering seemed to think they were talking about ‘this' and the other half thought they were supposed to be talking about ‘that', and then they would repeat everything at the next meeting. There seemed to be a constant rehashing of the same thing. I could honestly see why eighty per cent of Aurovilians didn't attend these meetings.”
What has Amy's experience been as a Newcomer? “My personal experience has been golden as I have found meaningful work, a great place to live in, that is Creativity, and met a wonderful partner, Chris, whom I adore.
“However, I feel I am mainly valued because of my work. Luckily I have always loved to work; therefore Karma Yoga is a great path for me. In the mornings, I am at the new Pour Tous Distribution Centre and three afternoons a week, at the Future School library. But many Newcomers I've met have a hard time finding work that is suitable for them and they have not received much help or support. When you go to the Entry Group, it is explained in no uncertain terms that you cannot expect Auroville to support you for the first two years; you have to pay your own way, plus you have to work.
“Newcomers tell me they feel scrutinized and that it is a very uncomfortable feeling to live with. They observe a hypocritical situation as many Aurovilians do not appear to work or contribute in a material way, yet it is the Newcomer who is pressured about work and largely not supported during the Newcomer period.
“The other issue is accommodation. When I went to the Housing Service earlier this year to inquire about housing I was told there were sixty Aurovilians and eight Newcomers on the waiting list. I was blown away by this fact. How can you expect to attract more people to come and live here when there is no housing for them? The situation is absurd. Aurovilians are staying in houses designated for Newcomers and they don't leave because there is no housing, so there are fewer and fewer houses are available for Newcomers. For eight months I lived in a twelve square metre room with my partner. I was grateful but it was a ridiculous situation. How can people spend years house-sitting, anxiously waiting for the original residents to return at any time?
“Chris and I were very fortunate to get a flat in Creativity which we love. We had been staying in a small room in Creativity until this flat became available. When we expressed our interest, we were openly welcomed. Here, there is a healthy balance of community, autonomy, sharing and caring. About seventy percent of the residents help in the community, but that is voluntary. Actually, it is like a big family with arguments and hassles, and then a few days later everyone is laughing together. I am really thrilled to be living there. The only ‘bummer' for me is the current rule about no pets.” Amy adds, “Of course, there are many dogs around here and my work place so I get my ‘fix'!”
“Yet another issue for Newcomers is the language. Many are shy and lack confidence because of poor English or because they come from cultures where they are not encouraged to be pushy. I think you could be very lonely here if you were on your own.”
What are Amy's ideas on how Newcomers can make friends in Auroville. “I know very few people even though I have been here for two years. People keep to themselves here; they don't seem to get together socially like in other places. We may go to a film or a meeting together, but don't really speak to each other.
“Chris and Fabrice have had several interesting Newcomer events with introductory talks at Savitri Bhavan and meetings hosted in people's homes. These seemed to be attended mainly by Aurovilians from what I could tell, and not so many Newcomers. If in addition, the new people do not have access to the Internet, don't receive the News and Notes, or read the notice-boards, they may never get to know about these events. On top of this, if their ability to read English is poor they would have difficulty with all the above.”
How does Amy like India ? There is a long pause before she answers. “I have immeasurable admiration and respect for the ancient traditions here but I find the external environment very challenging. Sometimes it literally feels like my brain cells are boiling with the heat. And of course, there is the endless supply of bugs.
“But I like being with the Tamil women at the Pour Tous Distribution Centre. They have a lovely warmth and simplicity that I find refreshing. It is like a sisterhood, the way they support each other. They are not bogged down with ‘knowledge' and their personalities are not loaded with ego. Their lives are so different from mine. They cannot understand how at forty I am not married and have no children. They ask me how my mother and father are and I realize I haven't thought about them in weeks. Family is not a big part of my life as it is for them.”
What is the most important thing for her in Auroville? “For myself I want silence; and I need lots of it to cope with this chaotic nature of life here. Auroville is a place of Divine Anarchy and I feel it is still young and evolving. Often the result is five different people having five different ways of doing things. One could go mad if one refused to change! So, I try to be silent, try to step back from the external chaos and be humble. And I try to surrender to ‘Truth'. This I feel is my journey of transformation.
“However, the quality of stillness and silence available here, like in the Matrimandir, is like nowhere else. I go there often when I need that extra blanket of silence. It is such a beautiful gift for us, right in the centre of all this activity. Some perhaps find their silence in the Greenbelt , or down on the beach, and everyone is different. Auroville is a good place to do this journey of transformation; in fact it is ‘The' place for me. I feel so blessed to be here.”