Chali was born in the U.S., came to Auroville in 1969 and grew up here. She is one of the current coordinators of Future School. Shraddavan came in the very early days and presently helps focalize activities at Savitri Bhavan. Shankar was born in a neighbouring village, was connected with Auroville for many years and became an Aurovilian in 1994. He is the headmaster of New Creation School . They talk about what it is about the Auroville of today that inspires them.
Shankar: Compared to the outside world there is more depth here, a different perspective. Here people try to do things in a different way. It's the whole energy of the place around here, the Auroville vibe. Here we can have a meeting in which people disagree but at the end someone will say, ‘But we still love each other'. That's what I call the inspirational fibre of this place.
Aspiration community kitchen (circa: 1970-1971). Photo Dominique Darr.
Alan: The glue?
Shankar: Yes, that's right.
Shraddhavan: What inspires me is the fact that Auroville still exists. I can look back over 37 years and the predominant feeling I have is gratitude. Gratitude that I could be here, that I'm still here. And then to see people really working hard, doing their best. There's definitely always been this striving dynamism. Even during the worst times, when you would think nobody would have the faith to invest anything, still people were coming and giving all their money and building houses and buying land and trying to develop things. It's some kind of miracle, really.
Bindu: Is Auroville different now from the Auroville of 30 or 40 years ago?
Shraddhavan: I think it's definitely the same but we are different. We have grown, we have changed.
Chali: Many things inspire me in Auroville – where to start! Even though I was only a child then, I remember the energy of those early days and I think that energy is still here. And the ideals – the Dream, the Charter – they are very present for me. Not in the sense that I have big posters on my walls at home or anything like that, but they're there. I've also seen my parents giving up everything to come here. They had this faith, this belief, which was quite incredible. So that's another source of inspiration for me.
People ask me, ‘Why do you stay here? You had your life in the United States .' Yes, I did for a while and I was glad to have had that experience. And yes, life was good, but it was just...going along. And here, it's all the time highs and lows. There are moments where I feel like superwoman and I can do everything, and then there are moments I feel like crawling into a cave and hiding from everything because it's just too, too intense. But this intensity is actually part of what I love about being here.
Sometimes these experiences can push me down pretty far. Twice in the past twelve years I got to a point where I had to say, “What am I doing here? I'm leaving. I can't do this any more.” But I think there's also the knowledge in me that I won't stay down there at that low point. That's the thing: something so far has always just kept me hanging on just long enough to come back out of that. And even the worst moments didn't ever shake my faith in Auroville.
Another source of inspiration is that there are lots of opportunities here. People come with certain work experiences that can be applied in the community, but there is also the space to explore other aptitudes and interests that may contribute to the growth of both the individual and Auroville.
Shraddhavan: That's the freedom aspect. There's an open space here. Something new can always happen; you can try things.
Chali: And you have this freedom to follow the signs, to be open to a different kind of direction or guidance. You know, when I started the Center for Further Learning with Luc it just kind of fell in my lap. So I said, ‘OK, why not? I'll do it for a while and see what happens.' Later I thought, ‘It's not working any more', and we almost quit, but then something else happened to make me realize this is what I am supposed to do. There have been, and continue to be, many other examples of this ‘guidance' and inspiration over the years.
Shankar: For me it's like an evolving inspiration, it's like you keep on peeling skins off yourself, things fall away. When I first came, for example, I was very much into religious rituals and I felt that other beliefs were not really beliefs at all. But then somebody says something interesting, my beliefs shake a bit, they settle down again, then they shake a bit more, until…
But it takes a long time to change. And there's so much work to do. Once, one of the Aurovilians in my Tamil class said, “We need a multi-lifetime visa to do all these things.” I just laughed at him. But now I understand.
Chali: I like that. When I look at pictures of me when I was living in the U.S. I think, “Who's that?” That was only twelve years ago, but it feels like it was a different person. It was like one of my previous lifetimes, and now I am in my next lifetime and there will probably be a few more before I really go on to the next life.
Shraddhavan: When you feel these periods are whole lifetimes that means there are great and radical degrees of development.
Chali: I feel that very distinctly from my time here.
Shraddhavan: I think that what Auroville has given me is the opportunity to offer my life to something that feels really meaningful. I think that's an important thing for humans: you want to know that your efforts have some meaning.
Of course, when we speak of Auroville we mean different things. There's that immutable Auroville that we are so grateful for and then there's the present reality. One is the soul and one is the physical body and we want the two to be united. So if we see that the physical body, the present day life in Auroville, is not sufficiently connected with “The” Auroville it's often very painful.
But I have learned not to be attached to any particular form. Auroville is a marvellous home but it's just what we're engaged in at the moment. You can follow your path even if you're not living here any more. I'm very grateful for this insight. It means I don't have to get caught up in doomsday scenarios.
The Aspiration school jeep transporting the children. Photo Dominique Darr
Chali: I think the present doomsday-sayers in Auroville have a strong attachment to a very particular image of Auroville which they have developed. They don't acknowledge the fact that we don't know what is going on. Actually, it's O.K. if we don't know how we're going to actually materialize the ideals, the important thing is that these ideals are there. And even if we each choose different ways, we're all moving basically in the same direction.
Shraddhavan: I've come to the conclusion that this ideal city that we're aiming at is meant to be a product of a higher level of consciousness. So if we collectively haven't managed to achieve that higher level of consciousness, then Auroville won't be what it's supposed to be. It will be some kind of a show, not the real thing. The solution is not going to be purely organizational. It depends on there being a kind of critical mass of people who fulfil the conditions, who are true Aurovilians.
At the same time, I'm very concerned about our youth. When we came we were all in our twenties, we were very young and we had to take up responsibilities. I feel that many of the young people who were born here or came here as children might actually feel quite excluded now. They start their own businesses, they get some self-fulfilment in that way. But I feel this is a great loss to the community.
There are a lot of people, adults as well as young people, who are pretty disillusioned with the process in Auroville and don't offer themselves for community work for that reason. And I can understand that. There's a feeling that now it's all politics, that it's not about serving the community any more. But I believe most of the young people still believe in Auroville and feel it is their home.
Shankar: I would say the youngsters are O.K. These young people are coming back and maybe because of the politics the youth step back but their involvement remains strong. They're ready to step into the community and get into different responsibilities.
Shraddhavan: But where do all the politics come from? That's really bad for Auroville.
Shankar: Yes, it is a bad idea. A few years ago some of the Tamil Aurovilians formed a group. They wanted to do more for Auroville. That was good. But then it became a political play and they wanted representation on all the main committees.
Shraddhavan: Somehow we have the feeling in Auroville that to get something done we have to form groups. Then groups form against other groups.
Chali: But many people don't want to join groups, particularly Working Committee-type groups, for the same reason they don't want to go to General Meetings. They just see it as the same people saying the same things and nothing actually changing.
Then look at the way we communicate with each other. Sometimes I'm amazed at how little consciousness, how little thought, seems to go into what we say to each other and, more importantly, how we say it. I do think that's changing, though, that there is a much greater awareness of the importance of improving our community interactions, and that there is real effort and progress being made in this direction.
Shraddhavan: But I think there is some evolution in our social habits. For so many years the focus in Auroville had to be on the physical. Then the cultural scene began, there were some vital developments. I think that over the past seven or eight years there's gradually been this switch to a more mental level where we study and try to understand and go into things together. There are all kinds of study groups that are not just on the physical level and not just cultural workshops. I think if we can foster this movement it might cause a breakthrough to something that we could call a collective yoga. At the moment, if there's any collective yoga going on, I think it's unconscious.
Chali: It depends on what you mean by collective yoga. I think most people outside of Auroville associate the term ‘collective yoga' to be like a mass meditation or something, and we don't have those kinds of ‘rituals'. But people wouldn't be here if there wasn't an aspiration for something different, some aspiration for change. And this aspiration for change and the willingness to make it happen is a kind of collective yoga for me.
Shankar: Auroville is also collective karma yoga, there's no doubt about it. Everyone is doing their work.
Shraddhavan: That's really interesting because people really aren't doing it for money. Wherever you go, everybody is working hard and they're doing it because they want to do it.
Chali: And, yes, it's for self-fulfillment, self-development, but at the same time they're giving something to the larger cause; it's for the good of the community in some small or big way.