I intend to share this with a wider readership as these reflect directly on the economy we choose to build, live and leave as legacy to the next generation.
These are my observations of what we are given and how it is lived by the community at large, including the bio region inclusive residents. Individuality driven life style choices permeate at family levels and children and young adults take it to next level as our collective living institutions never solidified as is done in other cultures and groupings world over.
Auroville spends a large portion of its budget on education and children. Not only within Auroville but also in the bio region thanks for generous grants received and internally generated funds.
Education is free for all Auroville children.
Many local Aurovilians send their children to Pondicherry for education. They spend time twice a day, spend money on petrol, vehicle maintenance and brave road hazard with their children to drop and pick up these students to and from Pondy schools. And later these grown young adults also go to colleges outside of Auroville.
Some of the more affluent parents find the means to send their children to Lycee. Auroville van shuttles these students to and from Auroville to Lycee.
There is sufficient money spent outside over last ten years to have started an institute of higher learning had the parents put their heads and resources together. There is now a high speed fiber connection that offers to all the schools of Auroville the direct link to National Knowledge Network (NKN). A pan India education network connecting all institutions of higher learning. The NKN also is a gateway to education network in other countries such as USA and CERN in EU. We can have access to pretty much any research, educational material required for young adults to learn pretty much anything they wish and want.
A Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM land) is now setup where hands-on learning is happening. Fab labs can be setup for creative engagements.
What do parents and educators want to do?
That is the question.
Roads and Transport:
Today with the flurry of radial, crown and ring road segments and other dirt roads that have been put on the ground, we now have more paved road area in Auroville than built up living spaces. Really.
Our mobility has stagnated to two wheeler fossil fuel driven vehicles. Nay, we are rapidly moving to becoming a four wheeler city. Residents all go everywhere with powered two wheeler vehicles; even the workers, ammas, gardeners too join in this morning and evening transit rituals. With 200 taxis plying and equal number of private vehicles sitting pretty during most of the day and night time, our per capita energy footprint on mobility is quite high. None of these vehicle owners contribute to the central fund budget that gives money to Road Service which continues to maintain the road day in and day out using mostly government money. We are surprised that maintenance amount is low, we are putting our money into vehicle and road maintenance, burning it on fuel, and spending big money on security too with so much open access to all areas of Auroville.
Apart from the school buses for children, the fleet of bus and mini van pool is run for visitors by the VC/MM team, nothing for the community at large is made available from this revenue stream. There are more large vehicles plying in Auroville for visitors than for Auroville children or the residents. Our community mobility plan is not getting any traction. Our mobility culture is not conducive to community transport to any extent.
Electric rickshaw vehicles ply in tens of thousands now in many of India's metro cities. Our electric vehicle adoption is now very much feasible with myriad experimentations over last eight years and sufficient number of trained technician now locally available for repairing electrical vehicals. Just needs community support and collective will to make us use clean transport solutions. There are ways and means. We have to ask ourselves why we don’t do this and proceed.
How do we get all to participate in supporting our road infrastructure development, silent and quiet transportation with more shared auto style vehicles to shuttle guests and others who are not in a hurry to rush about within Auroville.
What do residents want?
That is the question.
One can walk about in many offices, town hall, buildings, campus and see fans running, lights on while no persons are around. One can walk about in Auroville and find air conditioners installed all across Aurovillle. Monthly installation rate of over hundred in the last month. We will saturate soon? Who knows probably we will have atleast one unit per resident it looks like. I know of one resident, put four air conditioners in last one year. More than the power consumption, the latent energy and material that goes into producing these machines also has an environmental impact in the scheme of things ecological.
Auroville’s electrical grid infrastructure is old. Housing complexes have wiring that were not designed for air conditioners which residents and offices have started installing and using. We are looking to use Government grants to shore up our electrical grid within housing blocks and community backbone as our average electrical usage has shot up over the last few years. All due to our generous donations to fulfill our daily need. As a community we are not willing to take minimum electricity in free subsidy as a conscious citizen and allow for the infrastructure development to be completed from the friendly donations. We are ok to take handout from the Indian tax payer money while we enjoy tax exempt status and burn free energy at offices and homes. Our air conditioning culture is bringing a class society where those on maintenance would not be able to afford an air conditioner. There is no free donation of air conditioners. Too bad.
Auroville lacks community level policy and economic development group and community has little say and oversight over fragmented municipal services that are running on their own limited capacities. Not because we are capable but really due to our ignorance and incapacity to structure ourselves or develop or attract talented young technocrats to work with us.
What are residents willing to receive in subsidy with a conscious choice of what our priorities should be?
That is the question.
It is said that next wars will be on water, the precious resource. It seems this summer we almost hit rock bottom. And yet, as I look at some of the bills for the water consumption for variety of consumers in the Industrial Zone area around SaraCon campus, I can see that some small families or entities use as much water as a campus hosting at least 40 to 50 persons working daily at SaraCon. Many others in Auroville put their own bore well and many others are not metered or measured on their water usage on free use.
I know residential communities connected to the Elephant water tower are charged high. Some don't put any meters on houses or apartments in other communities. Some areas have heavy water leakages and the residents don't bother to call for repairs. This is from the personnel who work in water service. Do we ever do water audit as a community?
Some of the older communities have aging water distribution system but residents say they don't have money to pay for replacing the water infrastructure, but most go abroad on summer vacations. I have heard people say that water meters don't work and that is why these are done away with. In my experience what I find is that people are not willing to work out issues and problems. I have seen water meters working alright.
Matrimandir gardens is an example of profuse watering during the summer that makes many people roll their eyes. Thank god for the rains. We will survive, I guess, but for how long. We wait for the lake.
What are residents willing to spend on for collective needs?
That is the question.
Housing, Home stays:
Auroville has a housing boom. Ok, in terms of pricing boom.
Old houses get sold at market rate, equivalent to inclusion of land which is in reality paid by donors, not even resident who sells the house.
Those vacating leave little maintained houses to move into newer apartments or houses.
Those moving in have to shore up part of their retirement into purchasing a pricey asset. But that is ok. They can still afford it. I guess.
No young persons can move in. No places for volunteers and professional, skilled aspirants who want to make a start in this community with just their enthusiasm, aspiration and talent.
No rental or lease based places that allows for meeting the simple needs and option to walk happily away if it does not work for them. Who would blame them for getting disappointed and leaving? We have elaborate and complicated system to pay back those who want to up and go. Actually we don't have places for people to move in. Most have to keep house hopping, or sitting as it is called and not homesteading.
Most on maintenance look for means for using that extra room or add an attachment to start earning a side income by running a home stay. Ask any resident and one in third will say they have a home stay or run summer house sitting while taking money -- of course to maintain the place while they are away as community does not support their house repairs.
Ok, to be honest, Auroville has a housing crisis.
We are not opening up simple, dis-mountable, communal living spaces in green belts or specified locations for young persons to start up. Just like the pioneers did. One wonders who is stopping the new generation to live it rough just like in the old days? Hmmm...
To be or not to be here?
That is the question.
We have as much choice of food as there are road that lead to them, that is literally, all over Auroville. What is it with food, eateries and restaurants that we have them mushrooming all over the places as much as home stays?
Fast cash with fast food is the mantra learned by all those outlets along the Auroville main road. The main road that starts from ECR comes up to Kuilapalayam, runs into Auroville, once or
twice around and get off at the Visitor Center into Edyanchavadi and towards the Tindivanam bypass. Eateries here, eateries there and ok Kashmiri shops in between, and ATMs.
Not easy to keep a cashless society with all the guest houses and guest foodie joints and all the cash that keeps rolling in. Auroville wants to have thriving economy, just not at the collective level.
The one and only Solar Kitchen that is community eatery joint cannot cater to breakfast or dinner and thus all the other competing eateries abound. Solar Kitchen has its own boutique eatery the only game in town that does not yet take cash. Anyway those on maintenance don't have cash and don't eat at the boutique eateries of Auroville. No, we are told that everyone likes to have their choices for satisfying their culinary buds and thus the plethora or dearth thereof. Depends on how one sees it, come every evening or after getting up in the morning.
One would go hungry just looking at the prices on the menu and the budget available on hand to spend. We are charged more than plush places of Pondy or Chennai even, but that is ok, we have enough floating clientele and the eateries are not really catering to the residents even though they sit on donated land, structures are collectively paid mostly or from revenue stream, while contributions are kept at. just say, some level.
Solar Kitchen and now also PTDC also offer food right next to each other. Talk of choices available. Multiple choices, multiple resources, multiple money trails, multiple money flows, limited collective pools, limited collective resource sharing, limited collective outlets, limited collective capability.
Why not all the Auroville eateries provide a fixed Rs 80/- dinner plate consisting of variety of choices from their menu to Aurovilians and young volunteers? And Rs 30/- for a wholesome breakfast?
It is possible to do this today. I strongly believe it is.
Who would do it?
That is the question.
Farms and Forests:
Let me not get started, as the forests take time to grow in silence. Long time.
The saw mills on Kuilapalayam road are busy cutting away logs from all around bio region, Auroville included, all the time and even now. Cyclone came and passed. Two that I know about in last ten years which created havoc, but blessed us with abundance in wood. Auroville could not setup its own saw mill to harvest our forest wood from this opportunity in disguise of calamity. No collective will or no collective capability. Maybe individual accountability is easier to maintain. Who has time to work on group assets, registry and accountability?
I still see many tractors full of tree logs being hauled from within Auroville once in a while, and I am not on the road most of my time. I wonder if they are only passing through carrying wood from other land owners.
I have not heard of bio fuel economic revenue to support forest budgets.
I have not seen any mulch business or green outlets of Auroville take root over the long decades.
It takes time to grow green economic roots.
I have seen Auroville farm lands sit fallow over the years. Stewardship have been granted and lands would yield result if work is done on these, one wonders?
We can at least grow bamboo and have pristine clean environment than barren lands. Bamboo will yield regenerative bio-fuel as income for the farm hands. Or lease these out and get back meager lease income to supplement farm budgets. Off set carbon, live green, bicycle and run among green covers of Auroville.
We have lands, we need people is what I hear, people who are willing to grow up as farmers.
Do we have volunteers?
That is the question.
Economic activities, outside work:
"I care for nobody, no not I
If nobody cares for me."
We have forgotten the good ol' miller of Dee.
We have become the King of I'dom.
We scout for our daily bread as no basic needs are met or given.
That is the general ethos of the Aurovilian on the threshold approaching the maturity of golden years. We are busy as ever can be chasing our own small pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
As eateries, home stays are on the rise, so are these so called activities of small scale economic pockets of earning. Outside work is found to be essential to "supplement" what is not possibly met from within Auroville. Our informal economy is equally large and similarly proportioned as is for larger India. Everyone is seemingly able to get the loans from friends and families to build and setup revenue streams on Auroville lands and properties to supplement their needs. But strangely the monthly contributions only remain the Rs 3150/- and don't much budge. Some contribute nothing, say bulk. Big units hold off their contributions or mechanisms get set for pools of money stagnating for collecting interest that becomes the contributions.
Very convoluted indeed, strangely most would understand, it took me some time to get the grasp of this real Auroville.
We are as fragmented as number of residents in the number of groups we form and the activities we host are mushrooming every day. Workshops, trainings, performances, eateries, boutiques, classes etc. But this is for the supposed large pool of visitors that frequent our nests and nooks every winter and now mostly every month with visitors from Bangalore, Chennai, and all over India.
We have services that earn money, and units that serve others. We are a mixed bunch to say the least. We love to retain our tax exemption status but loath to contribute a portion of our "profits" to the community kitty.
We want independence but cloud our transparency.
We want freedom but abhor simple discipline.
We want, we want, we want, what do we want?
That is the question.
What is it that I am doing here?
That is the question I need to ask often to myself.
Maybe we all do?
What are we doing that is different than outside?
Why do we believe we are a collective if we are broken fragments of humanity?
What is it that I need to do to belong to Auroville?
Do we even know what it means to be an Aurovilian in its true sense?
That is the basket full of questions.
We will have as many questions as living Aurovilians, but as long as we question ourselves and seek to find the answer in light of our Charter and ideals, that seeking is what is expected at the threshold of the golden year.
Who is willing to introspect for change?
Is that really a question?
October 7, 2017
The Miller of Dee
by Charles Mackay
There dwelt a miller, hale and bold,
Beside the river Dee;
He worked and sang from morn till night -
No lark more blithe than he;
And this the burden of his song
Forever used to be:
"I envy nobody - no, not I -
And nobody envies me!"
"Thou'rt wrong, my friend," said good King Hal,
"As wrong as wrong can be;
For could my heart be light as thine,
I'd gladly change with thee.
And tell me now, what makes thee sing,
With voice so loud and free,
While I am sad, though I am king,
Beside the river Dee?"
The miller smiled and doffed his cap,
"I earn my bread," quoth he;
"I love my wife, I love my friend,
I love my children three;
I owe no penny I can not pay,
I thank the river Dee,
That turns the mill that grinds the corn
That feeds my babes and me."
"Good friend," said Hall, and sighed the while,
"Farewell, and happy be;
But say no more, if thou'dst be true,
That no one envies thee;
Thy mealy cap is worth my crown,
Thy mill my kingdom's fee;
Such men as thou are England's boast,
O miller of the Dee!