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March 2009

 

Is there a slowing down?

- Carel

The global recession may take its toll on Auroville's commercial units. But Angad, the executive of Mantra, one of Auroville's pottery units, believes that other ills affect Auroville much more.

 

Angad at Mantra. Photo: courtesy Angad“It is quite possible that some Auroville units will be affected by the recession,” says Angad. “We at Mantra are certainly facing difficulties – our whole-sale buyers are having problems and that affects us.” For Mantra, the saving grace has been the investment it made a few years ago in participating in building a boutique at the Visitors' Centre with a few other commercial units. “This retail outlet is a great success; we have no middlemen and only modest sales costs. It has become our second highest income generator,” says Angad. Yet, there is evidence that sales at the Visitors' Centre Boutique are also down. “We'll probably make the same turnover as last year, but that is taking into account a price increase we introduced in April 2008 because of the rising fuel prices. In other words, we are selling less, but as fuel prices have meanwhile gone down and labour costs are up, we are getting about the same net income.”

Angad, though not overtly concerned about the decrease in turnover – “I have a very strong faith in the future as I have experienced that each time there was a true need, the solution would come,” he says – is nevertheless developing strategies for survival. One is to start direct sales via the Internet. Another one is to diversify, for example into murals and mosaics for pavements. “We have just started in this market and we've discovered a huge demand,” he says, and explains, “We have only a small production and a large number of customers from the upper echelons of society, and these people do have money and are buying – so I am not particularly worried.”

 

The units' contributions

Asked if he expects a change in the contribution the commercial units are making to Auroville, Angad replies in the negative. “Today, by and large, units are contributing voluntarily – the rule of contributing 33% of the profits as unspecified donation to Auroville is often ignored; many units give substantially more, in the order of 40% -50%, while the rest is largely ploughed back into the unit.” Yet, he is visibly irked by the question. “Why is it,” he asks, “that for the health of the Auroville economy we only look at Auroville's commercial units? Why do so many able-bodied adults, who all have the skill and capacity to survive anywhere in the world, all of a sudden when they arrive in Auroville, lose their capacity to earn and contribute and now come to depend on Auroville while outside of Auroville they would manage to support themselves? Mother said that everyone should work at least five hours every day including Sundays. Is that perhaps being taken too literally? For no service, leave alone a commercial unit, can be run in that way. You can't discharge any responsibility in Auroville properly in five hours a day. But this five-hours-a-day story seems to have become inscribed in sacred stone! Why are so many services not open in the afternoons or only at times that other people work? I think the wrong mindset has been created: that it does not matter to be inefficient or not to worry about what you are doing with your time. I am not saying everyone has to produce and make money. But to go to the opposite is something I have difficulty in swallowing.”

Angad considers that all Auroville adults should contribute, regardless of age or wealth. “All people, nobody excluded, should give the same amount of energy they would if they had to survive in outside society. Of course, there are shining exceptions and there are people who work very dedicatedly and put in many hours. But many Aurovilians could do much better and put much more energy into Auroville. I believe that the deficit of our economy is precisely that quantum of energy that is missing from those people. Aurovilians need to introspect seriously regarding their own output for the community. No one else can do this.”

 

The Auroville employees

Talking about working full-time, Angad mentions that Mantra's employees work much more. “They often take work home in the evenings. We then buy from them what they have produced. This has substantially increased our production, as well as their income. It is a win-win situation.” He sees them as family. “Many have been working for Mantra for years. I try to deal with them in accordance with one of the adages of The Mother, ‘to give according to capacity and to take according to need'. We have been helping them with houses and with loans or even with donations whenever we could and we felt there was a true need. In fact, I believe that some of my employees qualify to become Aurovilian by their sustained commitment to Auroville through their work and inner attitude. But this, sadly, is not the view of the members of the Entry Service. They judged that they do not know enough about Auroville because they couldn't speak English! And these people were born inside Auroville!” He is indignant. “People do not realize that one of the major setbacks of Auroville is that too few non-local Aurovilians speak decent Tamil. That is a huge barrier to our progress. Out of respect for where we are I have made Tamil the mandatory language in our workshop. These are other issues that need to be seriously addressed.”

 

The housing shortage

 Angad, it appears, has many other issues. “Discontent is the first step to progress,” he says lightly. A major one is his concern about the present housing policy where people are not allowed to build by themselves but have to join housing developments which offer marginal living spaces at huge costs. “This is stifling our development,” he says. “Our system is responsible. It needs to change.”

 

See also Angad ceramics page on this website

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