Posts Tagged ‘Auroville’

Another Option

(Leaving Auroville, Part One)

Whenever I talk to someone about ecovillages, whether the person is a self-proclaimed environmentalist or not, at some point the conversation involves the other person getting defensive and insisting that my utopian visions will never become a reality. No one’s going to give up their privacy to live in a community. People are stuck in their ways, and they won’t ever change. You can’t just tear down all of the cities and suburbs that already exist and move people out to a bunch of communes in the middle of nowhere… I used to find this incredibly frustrating. I couldn’t put my finger on it before, but I always felt like I was missing an important part of the puzzle, like there was something that I just wasn’t saying.

Yesterday I went to talk to Priya, the British woman who started a twelve acre organic farm called the Buddha Garden. She settled down there after the Aurovillian sub-community she helped to found ended up being less of a community than she thought it would be. Before that, she’d lived in two other communities, one of them also in Auroville. After Priya told me about the problems she’d faced in her past communities, I asked her if she had any advice for people looking to start their own.

“Start with something you’re passionate about,” she said. “Or find a few other people and do something you’re passionate about together.”

That, and working together (everyone at the Buddha Garden works on the farm from 6am-9am and then eats breakfast together) are what she says are key. For a community in the city, she suggested focusing on recycling, but it could be anything.

It was during this conversation, right around when Priya said, “I knew that I wanted to live in a community, you see,” that I found my missing puzzle piece. Ecovillages are not a New World Order, but another option. Think about it- how often do we narrow down our living choices to city, suburb, or rural? Then we either live with our family, alone, or with a few roommates. But do we really need to settle for such a paltry buffet of lifestyles? That’s what ecovillages, or communities, are for me- a chance to eventually live in the way that I choose, instead of opting for one of the few options presented by society and the common paradigm. Priya touched on the beauty of this idea when she said that passion should be at the center of a newly forming community. Our passions are as varied and unique as I hope our lifestyles to someday be. What’s right for me may not be right for someone else. All I’m saying is, why aren’t we asking whether or not city/suburb/rural is really the best recipe? My argument is not for a world made up of ecovillages, but for a world where each person can figure out their own unique needs and then achieve them. And that brings me to part two.

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Finding Your Way

(Leaving Auroville, Part Two)

The three weeks I’ve spent at Auroville are hardly sufficient for me to claim to be an expert on this ‘universal township’.  What I can say, though,  is that Auroville is certainly different than anywhere I’ve ever been to in my life.  It’s complex and nuianced and constantly in flux.  I hope to come back here some day to figure out what really makes this place tick. 

I’m siting at the town hall cafe now, occasionally glancing up at the huge golden golfball called the Matrimandir, only partially visible behind thickly leaved tree branches.  In this moment know that leaving is the right thing to do, but not because I don’t like Auroville or because it wasn’t as much of a community as I thought it would be.  What I’ve learned here is that we each need to find our own way in this world.  We need to do what is right for ourselves before we can ever do anything good for others. 

And so the search for the answers to community living comes to a pause.  But the adventure continues.  I don’t know where I’ll go or what I’ll see, but that’s the beauty of it.  I am an environmentalist– I believe that the natural world influences and affects everything that we do, that we should live our lives in a way that is in balance with the world around us.  So my posts will most likely continue to be environmentally focused.  But just as I don’t know where my feet will take me in the coming months, nor do I know what my fingers will type.  My accesss to the internet will be limited, but I will keep posting, and sharing everything I see and experience (and I hope that you keep reading!).

Until next time.

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Solitude is one of the farms in Auroville’s green belt.  Their produce goes to Pour Tous, AV’s grocery store, and they also offer an organic lunch right there at the farm every day.


Solitude grows these red flowers called rosella- they taste like tart raspberries- to make rosella jam, or tea.

Rosella that was laid out in the sun to dry
Rosella that was laid out in the sun to dry

 Besides selling the food that they grow, the people who live at Solitude also offer the organic lunch (which has no set price- you make a donation), and some make clothing to sell to visitors.

They also get help from volunteers who stay in these little huts and work on the farm.  The resident’s houses are much nicer, though still simple.  The one I went in was made out of hardened mud that was painted turquoise, and felt like concrete to the touch.  Beams of dark wood ran through the hardened earth as a shell for support.
volunteer's hut

volunteer's hut

home at solitude, with solar panels in the foreground

home at solitude, with solar panels in the foreground

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Traditional buttons.  Ananya's working on the design for packaging these.

Traditional buttons. Ananya's working on the design for packaging these.

Village women weave the fabrics using techniques that have been passed down through generations. The silk, cotton, or wool from villages across India get wrapped up in brown paper and mailed to Auroville, to a business called Upasana. In Upasana’s airy sewing rooms and sunlit design offices, the traditional fabrics are transformed into modern saris, pants, and dresses. The clothing is eco-friendly, better than fair trade, and is preserving India’s rich yet waning textile tradition. And yet, none of those things seem to be Upasana’s purpose.


Lacey and Ananya with a shoe that Ananya designed and made from palm leaf

Lacey and Ananya with a shoe that Ananya designed and made from palm leaf

I found out about Upasana from my roommates Lacey and Ananya. Lacey is a fashion journalist from Louisiana, doing an internship at Upasana for ‘ecological design.’ She does the PR stuff for the different clothing lines and initiatives (Upasana also has an eco-bag campaign). Anaya is an industrial designer from New Delhi, and is one of the few young people (both her and Lacey are 22) who gets paid for her work at Upasana. I’ll definitely be writing more about both of these girls later; they have such interesting stories.


10am tea time.  Everyone was really nice; I got invited to come back whenever I wanted!

10am tea time. Everyone was really nice; I got invited to come back whenever I wanted!

One of the things that makes Upasana special is its unique working environment. There’s a meditation room for group meditation on Thursdays, or for workers to use whenever they need a moment to relax. At 10am everyone stops what they’re doing and has tea and snacks together. At 12 is lunch, and at 3pm is another tea break. There’s no rush to get as much done in as little time as possible, but Lacey says that the workers have an amazing output of products. Upasana’s clothing gets sold at retail stores all across India and Europe.


Ananya with her favorite piece; a mini skirt that has the story of the Hindu gods painted onto it.

The most eye-opening part of my visit at Upasana was the short talk I got to have with Uma, a woman from Northern India who is on the board of governors here at Auroville and who founded and runs Upasana. She said that it was inner development that needs to come first. All of the good things that come out of Upasana are a side effect of focusing on spiritual self-development. Yesterday Ananya said that everything that Uma does; the group meditation, the tea times, etc, it all comes down to people being able to live lives that are centered on spiritual growth. When I stupidly said something like, ‘In the US, we are super individual and tend to be isolated from people. Focusing on yourself can be good and bad, right?” She said, “You need to remember that the US is not a reference point for the rest of the world,” and then proceeded to both compliment the individuality of Americans and critique it.

I agree with Uma; I have to stop using the US as a reference point for everything else that I learn. But then, should I look for different references, or stop comparing everything I learn to something else? Upasana can be a good reference point when it comes to clothing and the atmosphere of a workplace. Whether it’s a reference point or a source of enlightenment, I have a lot more to write about it.

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In the US, it seems like we do all that we can to separate ourselves from nature.  Apples don’t come from a tree, but from a bin in the supermarket.  Milk comes from a carton, and no one ever has to think about the cow in Wisconsin that produced it.  The shirt on your back?  It was made by a young woman in China, whom you will never meet or speak to.  It’s not only nature that we’re removed from.  But this isn’t something we do consciously. We do not grow apple trees along suburbian streets, nor do cows roam in Central Park.  We do not know the parts of nature that we depend on to live any more than we know the people whose labor supports our lifestyles. 

In Auroville, things are slightly different. 

cows roam freely

cows roam freely

 on a practical level, this also reduces the need for lawnmowers.  There’s a little trouble when the cows decide they want to cross a road, but I haven’t seen any serious problems.

bugs are a part of everyday life

Admittedly, not every part of being so close to the natural world is appealing.  Bugs are a part of everyday life here, both inside and outside.

my friend Lea, from London, stopped to say hi to this baby goat on our bike ride to the beach

my friend Lea, from London, stopped to say hi to this baby goat on our bike ride to the beach

Nowhere is perfect.  Auroville has a lot of blind consumption too. But maybe we can learn from the little things that they might be doing right.  If we live near our apple trees, will we make sure that the ground they’re growing in isn’t polluted?  If we see the cows that give us milk every day, will we make sure that they’re not tortured or abused?  If we know the people who make our things, will we start to care about them?  We won’t know until we try…

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A shared vision

One of the best things about being here at Auroville is all of the interesting people that I’m meeting.  Today I was hanging out at La Terrace (the place that feeds my espresso addiction) and started to talk to my friend Diana from Germany about the evil of globalization, how we both hated Starbucks, etc etc.  We complained about lack of youth activism for a little while, and compared how the U.S. addresses the problem versus how Germany does.  Eventually we got to the place where all conversations like this tend to lead, to the point of,  “Yeah, globalization (or global warming, or hyperconsumption, or whatever else) is horrible.  But what can we really do about it?” 

But then Diana started to talk about how she wanted to open up a restuarant in the city in Germany where she was raised.  It would serve food grown on farms surrounding the city and be a place where people have healthy, delecious meals without having to worry about whether they were contributing to water pollution from pesticides or to global warming from transporting the food halfway across the world.  As soon as Diana started to talk about the restauraunt, she lit up.  The sighs against the impossibility of facing huge social problems were long forgotten as she started to explain the type of food she wants to serve and how she’d let local artists display their work there.  She never said that this would be her way of fighting globalization.  While she was talking about it, it didn’t even sound like a fight. 

It was great for me to hear her talk about this, because it reminded me why I’m so interested in ecovillages.  A lot of people assume that it’s impossible to do anything about the things that they know are wrong with the world.  But maybe we’re assuming we have to fight when fighting isn’t called for.  The first step is figuring out where you fit into the picture.  For Diana, it’s providing people with local food.  For one of my roommates, it’s designing ”eco-friendly” clothes.  For someone else it could be converting their car to biodiesel, or putting solar panels on their roof.  We can shape the world that we live in, but first we have to imagine it.

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Healing Water

It doesn’t come in an array of pretty colors like Coke’s Vitamin Water- to the naked eye it looks no different than ordinary H2O. Nor does it come in a plastic bottle that you have to pay $1 to use and then trash (or hopefully recycle). It’s called “dynamised water” and it’s produced by an Aurovillian company called AquaDyn. Supposedly it cleanses your body and can heal serious health issues.

I came across this special water on my way back from the farm this morning, when I stopped at the Visitor Center’s cafe for some hot chai and a bit of quiet time with Namoi Klien’s No Logo, the book that got me through my 22 hour plane ride over here. All of the public spaces around Auroville have plenty of water on tap, but when I went to get a glassful from here, my eye caught a display that briefly explained how this particular faucet dripped water that was bio-dynamic. I was hooked.

According to an article in The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, besides for filtering water, AquaDyn’s purifiers inject a cocktail of electrodes from various metals into the water. These electrodes help to treat different diseases and improve bodily functions such as eyesight. But Aquadyn doesn’t just sell their purifiers to customers all across India and Europe; they’ve set up a research lab here in Auroville to study water purification, and the different effects that sound vibrations and these electrodes have on it. I have a feeling there’s even more to it than that, so I’m going to e-mail the person who runs it here and see if he can give me a tour of the research center and a heads up to what they’ve found so far. In the meanwhile, I’m going to see if there’s been any other water research like this. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Click here to check out their Auroville website, and here’s another one that’s more in depth.

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