Auroville after many years
It has been nearly 15 or so years since I was last in Auroville. The utopian community and settlement just north of the union territory of Pondicherry (now named Puducherry) was motivated by the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Their pioneering experiments with sustainable living in a south Indian context has long attracted my interest and admiration. I use a video that documents their experiments with afforestation, energy use, biodiversity conservation and low-impact architecture in my IB Environmental Systems and Geography classes. The film is a great resource and always makes me want to take the students to Auroville for a week of work-study. So far that has been impossible but I will continue to build links in the hope of taking students there in the near future.
Auroville, of course, has changed a great deal in the years that I have been away. The Matramandir has been completed and there are complex barriers in place to keep the busloads of tourists away from it. Because of this I could not photograph the banyan tree that overlooks it but was able to spend time with several other banyans nearby. The townships on the periphery have grown and the dusty road that leads up to the plateau from the East Coast Road has now been done in concrete. The interiors still evoke the sense of peace with the cycle lanes leading through groves or eucalyptus and native tropical dry-evergreen forest. This time I brought my family and it was gratifying to share the place with them.
The highlight was taking Lenny to visit Johnny Allen (now Auroville) at his hermitage in Fertile. There are a kaleidoscope of personalities and lifestyles in the community but Johnny lives my idea of the vision. He uses locally available materials for construction, the power comes from the sun and biomass and the impact on the ecology is minimal. He is still using a biomass-fueled Stirling engine to make peanut butter and dosa mix and chutney every Saturday. This was the engine that had first brought my father Merrick here. I had tagged along on several trips in the early 1990s. Johnny’s home is set amongst towering trees, thatched workshops and cowsheds. He is just the sort of teacher that helps you understand the practical side of sustainable living. Lenny was given a personal tour of the Stirling engine, a compost toilet and models of housing units that Johnny is designing for young people. The significance of Johnny’s example may have eluded Lenny this time but he enjoyed playing in the tree houses and variety of swings created from recycled life preservers.