There are several places that one must visit in his/her life time. There are some places where one must visit only in imagination. If you ask me to rate Auroville in Pondicherry, I would say that it is one place that one should visit only in imagination. If you go there in person there are all chances of getting disappointed. Reason is simple. You have a lot of expectations about a place that you have been waiting to visit for a long time. When the place does not come up to your expectations you get disappointed. One of the famous columnists in Malayalam, late M.Krishnan Nair used to write repeatedly that one should not personally meet the writers and artists that one likes very much. When you read someone you create an idea about the writer. That is the real poetic justice. You willingly suspend the disbelief about the person who writes things that you really admire. When you meet him/her in person, there are all the possibilities of you facing disappointment. You may meet a person who is just ordinary looking and perhaps even complaining about the loans that he has taken from a bank to buy a car or house. You don’t expect that from ‘your’ writer. He is beyond all those worldly worries, you think. But things are different.
(Walkway to Auroville)
Before I set out for Auroville, in my mind I had this idea about the place: it is a place where you could sit in contemplation for hours together. It is a place where you could lose yourself and merge with nature. This is one place you might witness certain changes happening in your life. So early morning itself, after uploading my Pondicherry Diary in the blog, I get ready with my family. I share the enthusiasm of the kids. I wish I were like my kids or like any kids who are excited at the prospectus of travelling provided they are with their parents. If they are with their parents they could face any hardships without realizing that they are hardships. If they are ready for a journey, they get really enthusiastic because they like the unknown and unexpected. Grown up people like us don’t like the unknown and unexpected. We often prefer to travel by the chartered routes and are ready to witness the known or the things let known to us by others. In fact, when I get into the car I lose my age and become a child. I rediscover the child in me and prepare myself for the unknown and the unexpected. And I deliberately push out what I know about Auroville.
(The grand old banyan tree at Auroville)
Our car takes a left turn from the main highway and enters into a village kind of place. I feel for a moment that I am in Goa. In Goa you see the foreigners moving around in motor bikes and bikes. Or they must be spending their time in shacks sipping beer or coffee. It is at the vicinity of Auroville, a divine place hence the chance of people sipping beer or liquor is ruled out. People sip spirituality with the crumbs of Indian-ness. The moment I think about Goa, I get back to my older self again. And I realize that I have lost my childhood permanently. As the car passes through the village road where hardly a vehicle could pass, I see so many coconut trees cut down. There are cashew nut trees groves on the either side of the road. Driver, Prabhakar, tells us that there was a storm in 2010 and most of the trees were felled by that storm. It was one of the worst calamities in the area. I speak to him about Tsunami. He tells him about the rehabilitation works that he had done during that time.
(A shelter for walkers at Auroville)
Suddenly a car park appears before us. We are at the gate of the Auroville. Hoards of foreign visitors get down from their vehicles and move in groups. We also start our walking towards the township. At the information centre you are asked to watch a ten minutes long video about Auroville. Once you finish watching it you are given a free pass. If you are disabled, hurt or unable to walk, you can avail a shuttle service. If not you can walk for one kilometre to Matri Mandir, the dome of/for contemplation and meditation and watch it from a distance. The video says that if you are really serious then only you are allowed to go inside and meditate. I feel sting inside me. I see the video. Auroville was started by the Mother, the spiritual collaborator of Aurobindo in 1968. That means the place is forty four years old. The work for the township, which is conceived as a university of humanity, was started in the beginning of 1970s and it went on for another three decades and the final shape of Matri Mandir was established in 2004.
(Matri Mandir model)
I feel some sort of dejection in me while watching the film because the film says that anybody who has left their religious beliefs could meditate here. The township is run by a Trust but the donations come from people who willingly donate. There is no fund raising program for the running of Auroville. But then the question is why everyone is not allowed inside the meditation tomb? May be meditation is not meant for everyone; that it is the only answer that I could think of. Common people do not have enough time and mind to meditate. Osho Rajneesh, in all his irreverence says that meditation is not meant for poor people. Poor people are worried about their daily bread. But the rich has the time and space for thinking about spiritual elevation. In fact there is a lot of truth in Osho’s words. A tourist is a poor man. He is poor not because he lacks money but because he lacks space in his mind. He comes there with a lot of worries. If you are worried there is no space for meditation in your mind. You just want to experience the place and go. That must be the reason why Auroville authorities ask the visitors only to visit the Matri Mandir from a distance. If you are really serious you can come back for meditation. I am sure majority is not going to come back, not because they are not serious but because they are poor in their daily worries.
(This is how the meditation room looks like, they say)
I walk one kilometre. The grand old banyan tree is the centre of the Auroville estate though Matri Mandir is considered to be the centre. There are stone benches around it. And I sit in one of them. I look around and feel the ambience. Suddenly I feel that I have felt it before. This ambience there in every kaavu in Kerala, where I had spent my formative years. In my village there were at least three kaavu (a small forest like area near the temples). I used to spend a lot of time there with my friends. One of the largest Kaavus was in Varkala where Shibu used to live. We two used to spend hours together there. Sitting inside a kaavu itself was a rejuvenating experience. Then the same ambience I had felt in Sivagiri, Varkala where the Samadhi of Sree Narayana Guru is located. Also in the Gurukulam established by Nataraja Guru. As a Pre-degree student in 1985 I spent a lot of time in Sivagiri, sitting under the mango trees at the Sarada Devi temple at the foot of Sivagiri. I could spend many hours reading or just looking at things happening around. It never occurred in the context of meditation or contemplation. It was kind of spending time in tranquillity.
(Aesthetically subtle donation box)
Hence, Auroville does not give me anything new. I walk further and finally reach the golden dome of the Matri Mandir. Visitors could see it from a distance which is not less than two hundred meters. People generally take photographs. And meditation is the last thing that comes to your mind when you stand there and look at the golden sheen of the dome. Somehow I remember Subodh Gupta. I think at some point he could lay claim on this structure as the cover of the dome looks like large golden plates. After spending around fifteen minutes there, absolutely dejected we walk back to the main information centre. I know that there is a township in Auroville, where there is a library, residential estate, art workshops, school and so on. It would take a lot of time to see all those things. I have the number of a resident, who is an artist. But I decide not to call her as I think that there is not much to experience from here. We go into the boutiques and book stalls. The place looks like a mall. Everything related to Auroville is made into merchandise here. Somehow I am put off by all these. May be I was expecting too much when I was coming here, I tell myself.
I think of my own Ashram where I want to live with books, music and people. This would be an absolute research centre of arts and culture, where people could come and stay, do their research and go. I want to establish and live in an ashram where there will not be any merchandise or souvenir to take home. There will not be a shop. I am sure such an ashram would eventually get institutionalized and all what is peculiar to institutions would come in place. But couldn’t there be an ashram which would later become a research centre when the purpose of the initiator is done and he is gone. It should go to the people in some way. The best way is through a university, which is serious enough to promote research on art and culture. And it would be a place where a foreigner is treated as a national and a national is treated as a foreigner. And together they would treat each other as world citizens. No language will be superior in this ashram. I am on my way to create that ashram. I know I don’t have the resources. But when you are blessed enough to do your work resources would appear before you in abundance. I welcome you to that place where you would cook for yourself and share a portion of it with me. You would bring a book for others before you pick up one to read. You would sing a song for others before you listen one from them. And this would be a place where none initiates other into sex in the name of art or culture because to do sex you don’t need to go to a place like my ashram. You could do it elsewhere. Mine is a place for knowledge and awareness.