Classes have been interrupted by the summer holidays so I thought I would go somewhere and do something. My silence lately has been due to the fact that I'm in Auroville keeping busy with some volunteer work.
I took a train to Chennai Central. I know this 5-hour trip well by now. I was still on the train when I got a call from someone speaking hurried Tamil. 'English?' I asked. 'Taxi Pondicherry!' was the response. The taxi I had booked was waiting for me. 'White shirt. Entrance!', he told me before hanging up. When I stepped into the heat and humidity outside Chennai Central I was faced with many white shirts who all wanted my business. 'Taxi Madam?' 'Where do you want to go?' 'Mamallapuram?' 'Pondicherry?' 'Guesthouse, Madam?' 'Auto-rickshaw?' 'Where do you want to go?'
Soon I was in a white Ambassador hurtling past Marina Beach and then we were heading down the East Coast Road towards Pondicherry, with the breeze from the Bay of Bengal coming through the open windows. 3 hours later, after a stop for some coconut water, we took a right turn onto a road that headed towards Auroville. We passed a foreigner on a motorcycle wearing a blue turban and I thought this must be the right place. We passed many other foreigners on motorcycles with their children propped in front on the gas tank, Indian style, or clutching their parents' shoulders from behind.
Auroville is an interesting experiment in international living. It recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, commemorating the day when people from 124 nations mixed soil from each of their countries in a large urn by the banyan tree, giving birth to Auroville. Today 2000 people from 44 nations live here. The idea was to create a self-sustained eco-village. What's amazing is that this land was completely arid 40 years ago with no green cover. It was the pioneers of Auroville who had planted the many trees and shrubs which cover the township today.
It's nice to get away from the city for a while. On my bicycle I pass Tamil villages with women busy drawing water from wells, children playing ball, cows and goats wandering down the road, bullocks pulling a cart loaded down with hay. I'm in India. Then I pass a gate crowned with bougainvillea, with a sign that says 'Boulangerie'. Inside, I find croissants and pains au chocolat. I'm in Europe. Around me people are speaking French, Italian, German, Russian, Tamil... Where am I? Tea stalls rub shoulders with organic food shops. The residential communities are called 'Aspiration', Repos', Verité', 'Recueillement'. Everything closes at 5pm sharp. I'm in another world.
I'm posting a few pictures I've taken here but I realize they don't really reveal what Auroville looks like. That's why I'll call this a 'micro' view of Auroville. Hopefully I can post a more 'macro' view soon.