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February 2008

 

40 years of Auroville: an impression

- Alan

 

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Order out of chaos, the extraordinary emerging from the jaws of disaster – the pattern was there from the very beginning. The weeks before Auroville's inauguration were messy, chaotic. Meetings, arguments, bruised egos. The delegates turning up in dribs and drabs, some only intent on having a good time.

And then comes the morning itself. Beautiful – of course – the buses lined up neatly, everybody getting a seat. The convoy toils across a dusty plateau until, “Look, look” – a large orange balloon floating high above a banyan tree. Beside it, at the centre of a depression circled by temporary awnings, a small white marble urn shaped like a lotus bud. Around it, the ashram students, sentinels in spotless white. The crowd seats itself, quietening, beginning to realize they have stumbled into something extraordinary. At 10.30, the sound of a gong. Silence. A snatch of organ music, then Mother's voice crackling through the tannoy, “Salut d'Auroville a tous les hommes de bonne volonte…”

75 minutes, that's all it took. Then there were refreshments, a small exhibition to look at round the banyan, and soon everybody was clambering back into the stuffy buses and clattering back across miles and miles of shadeless laterite towards cool showers and an Ashram lunch.

For many months nobody returned. The banyan grew dustier and goats wandered past that lunar bud sprouting improbably in the midst of a tawny desert….

Dawn. The canyon wall burns vermilion, red, green, as the sun slides across its face. She's on a high ledge, practising dance steps for tonight's performance (everybody's invited), while a young boy, splay-footed, swishes his goats up the track below.

As the sun climbs higher, the day densens, the silence broken only by the crack of copper-pods and the whine of tiny flies. Evening will bronze the laterite before the cold, clear stars wheel up into the darkness.

While the adults dug, carried water, planted, built, swept out community kitchens, for the kids it was an endless playground. Clambering, dirty-fingered, on the bus to rattle down to the sea, riding ponies across forever, buzzing through the bazaar. And always safe because always held close by the old lady in Pondy who smiled, and made you feel warm inside.

One day her door closed. Some time later he saw her again, under lights and whirring fans, surrounded by the crowd. Afterwards he walked to the sea: monsoon breakers, a slate sky. Everything was thinning out, trickling through his fingers. Nothing made sense any more….

But at the centre her Matrimandir was arcing higher and higher. The workers still only a small group, arriving at 10, stubbing out beedies, retying tundus, before clambering up the structure. Simple stuff. Unclamping, clamping pipes, fixing rods, preparing shuttering and, on the big days, pouring cement for another section. Sometimes the students came at night from the Ashram, slung chetties from hand to hand within that cathedral of scaffolding, then slept out under the stars. Building Mother's temple.

But a rent had opened and slowly, slowly, the knife entered, turned. Separating those now moving to the long, deep rhythms of the land from those stirred by visions of a futuristic city. Separating the loin-cloths from the dhotis, the harmonisers from the warriors, the long-haired deracinés from those embedded in one of the world's oldest cultures.

And so it whirled along: meetings, alliances, closures, new alliances, the metallic taste of fear, violence, prison, everybody suddenly dashing off to another emergency, living on their nerves. But beneath it, for some, a joy, an exultation. A bond, a mutual recognition, born out of wildness.

When the Society left, the urbane justices entered. Now Bharat Nivas mornings begin with tea and The Times of India, visas are regularised, a Master List of Aurovilians drawn up. The schools reopen, a more ‘rational' economy is discussed, new groups form to lay new foundations.

But the head of steam is too great. The Society defeated, the knife now turns to explore our entrails, searching out ‘impurity', dividing one from another, separating those who, till now, have journeyed so far together.

And so begins the great in-turning, the drawing in to family, unit, self. Meetings, movements, passion, suddenly all are suspect. Individual creativity, so long smothered, shimmers and spurts as new branches form, but the trunk is weak now, hollowed-out.

And so come the testings. A lush forest, lusher lives, the hard, hot breath of modern India, a government offering protection, big brothers offering guidance and advice.

Reason promises to temper the solar flares, the daemons of dust and spirit which drive us over the edge; which drive us to exceed.

Normality settles like a great, grey cloud.

Some leave. Others hew to their work, seeking beauty in miniature, abandoning the larger canvas. Few now labour at community's rock-face.

And all the time, now flowing, now stumbling, now seduced into long and wayward diversions, the work at the centre continues. The chamber emerges pristine from years of dust and sweat, the crystal arrives from another dimension, and the still space at the centre builds and builds.

And now that density is streaming out far, far beyond a dusty plateau, recalling us – refractory, smut-nosed children of the Dream – to an adventure we embarked on long ago.

May it irrigate our deserts, submerge the bunds that divide us and dissolve the fortresses of our hearts. May it sweep away our sureties and deliver us, once again, to the Unknown.

Enjoy the Photo Gallery of the completed Matrimandir

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