Two months to the National and Municipal elections. Crime rates through the roof. The EFF calling for the slaughter of all white people and a general sense of anxiety and mild optimism as Rhamaposa, our new President has been elected. Prior to my decision to leave for Auroville, Tamil Nadu, Southern India is the question: “Are you staying or are you going?”
For those of us living in South Africa and privileged enough to ask ourselves the above question, I too was left feeling lost and very unsure of whether I did indeed have a place in this beautiful country. I booked my ticket for two months to explore the possibility of going to live in the sustainable community of Auroville and explore whether I could live somewhere else other than the land of my birth.
So with much optimism, a little anxiety and much excitement I boarded the flight to Chennai, meeting up with a fellow South African en route in Dubai and together we took a cab out of the chaotic airport and made our way 150km to the “Dream of Auroville”, stopping along the way for a welcome, sweet Chai.
The balmy weather of 36 degrees, the smells of spices, cow dung, rubbish, flower blossoms permeated the car as I opened up the door in Kuilapalayam, the little village 5km from where I was to stay just outside one of the main entrances to Auroville. I was greeted warmly by another fellow South African and taken on a orientation drive in his Bio-diesel car. Inside Auroville, it was clean, orange dusty gravel roads with the occasional eco brick roads designed in a cosmic-galactic circle of pathways leading to an unimaginable amount of different communities, each designed with a trippy space-dome, angular post 60’s architectural design, to post-modern and of course all positioned around a central-theme of the Matrimadir, a futuristic, spherical temple covered in golden discs, a design straight out of Star Trek.
It was hard to believe that this experimental community founded in 1968 by the spiritual leader Mirra Alfassa and Sri Auribindo, now a dry tropical forest, was once a sub-Saharan desert. Auroville sprawls over 20km interspersed by local villages and sandy beaches with the choppy warm waters of the Indian ocean, which I would swim in often over my two months stay.
Each week for the duration of my stay I would print out the Auroville news letter, and participate in the numerous activities offered; ranging from dance, theatre, yoga, choir activities, music, theatre and every kind of spiritual healing modality one might ever have heard of. I shared “Soulsound Harmonics” as part of a festival at the Matrimandir, to discover that this work was what the “Mother”had referred to as the “New Music”.
Days were spend eating delicious culinary delights of Northern and Southern Indian dishes. Vegan and vegetarian offerings made from organic vegetables and fruits harvested from Auroville farms. Gathering with groups of people to engage in music making, inspired conversations about the New Way of living. Meeting 100’s of inspired millennials volunteering on farms, schools and contributing to the growth and design of the vision of Auroville and of course nurturing new friendships with people from every cultural background and country.
I even found a Coffee Roaster to have a perfect cup of coffee each day. Later in my stay I volunteered on the Kottakkarai farm, making a permaculture chicken tractor, spending hours researching from Geoff Lawton, the permaculture guru. I spent hours with my host family at their bakery engaging my fellow Auro- villans and prospective new-comers in vibrant conversations, chai tea and cookies from the Ganesh Bakery.
I had my funky green scooter, an absolute necessity to get around the vast areas. I performed with Dj’s, musicians and other singers. I played my Djembe, laughed, danced, did vocal yoga every day and generally played for two months like a child, re-discovering my spirit again.
Each day the realities of India hit you like pleasure and pain, the dynamic contrasts of the beauty and severity of life. The kindness and harshness of surviving as a local in poverty, but never self-pity. The hard work and shear tenacity of getting through each day in this populated, plastic littered beauty of loud temple speakers blaring, the feral half-staved dogs barking, fire-works exploding to celebrate the death of a villager to be cremated at the entrance to Auroville, or the shock of seeing a young man hanging from animal hooks in servitude to Maragan the god of blessings.
Each day spent in vibrant participation existing in the craziness. The occasional scooter rides into Pondicherry which required every ounce of your wits to dodge the hundreds of scooters weaving in an out of streets with no particular rules except to get your family of four or five safely to wherever it was you had to get to. Making sure you didn’t ride into a cow lying in the middle of the highway, or fall into a ditch in the middle of the filthy, muddy pot-hold streets.
Each day got hotter and hotter and more humid, a wet sarong on the scooter served as ten minutes of air-conditioning. A welcome relief. Before long days drifted by, many good-byes as fellow travellers moved on to their various destinations, some I will remember always, some who have shared some precious moments, days, weeks, months…. Some who will fade away in my bank of memories, but each one a gift having added colour, insight, inspiration to my beautiful life……..
A quick sleeper bus ride up to Kodaikanal to cool down before leaving this Incredible country to explore what is left of the Indigenous forests, the motion sickness and exhaustion of hours of travelling to get back to Auroville to say my final goodbyes……. Will I be back…….
I’m not sure. I’m going to need to process all that I have shared and experienced and who knows what tomorrow will bring while you are making plans……