I remember, my first visit to Auroville many years back, like it was yesterday. A friend who was working at an architect’s studio there invited me and that was the beginning of a long and fascinating love affair with this beautiful place. I was overwhelmed by the cordial smiles and the very affable nature of most of the people I met there. But what amazed me the most was how the early settlers had worked on a dream to transform what was once a barren and dry stretch of land into an oasis of green. Sustainability and eco sensitivity were the key words all through those years and even today. Over the past 44 years, Auroville has now grown into this green forested expanse with over a hundred settlements nestled amidst this landscape.
On the 28th of December this year, Cyclone Thane, with wind speeds of 85 mph and tidal surges of about 1.5 mts, hit the east coast of south India. Auroville was right in the path of the cyclone and had to bear the full brunt of the winds. I reached there on the night of the 30th of January and even on my way from Chennai, I could see the dark silhouettes of fallen trees all along the east coast road. It seemed a lot worse than I had expected. But then it was dark, I could hardly see anything much through the tinted glass window of the bus and the drizzling didn’t help either. In Auroville, the night seemed to make everything calm and peaceful, like before. Standing on the terrace with the gentle breeze for company and listening to the sound of the waves, I somehow felt a sense of relief assuming that the cyclone hadn’t changed things too much there.
The next morning though was different, very different. I decided on taking a long walk, a walk down memory lane, it had been more than 4 months since my last visit. As I walked through those places which had been so familiar to me for years now, I couldn’t help but feel this enormous sense of pain and grief. The place had changed. The trees which had made everything else seem more beautiful were now lying dead against the land. They had been uprooted or had been bent and disfigured after being hit by the winds. The ones that stood tall seemed to be depressingly lonely with most of the others around them having fallen. Later on in the day, an Aurovillian I met at a café told me that almost 40% of the trees had been hit. All through the day, I started looking for signs of this devastation wherever I went. Houses which had no roofs, fallen trees, lots of chopped timber lying in huge piles everywhere, shut shops and sudden empty looking patches of land.
But as always, Auroville didn’t fail to surprise me this time too. Nobody there was really discussing the cyclone and its aftermath. People seemed to have understood that the only way out was to stop cribbing and move on. It was quite evident that the work to restore Auroville had begun and that it was being done quietly and efficiently. Everyone knew that it would be a long process and there was a lot of work involved but then Auroville always believed in working together towards a larger goal. Over the next 3 days, the cheerful faces ensured that the signs of devastation became blurred backgrounds to all that was beautiful there. The fallen trees suddenly became like huge canvases which fostered and brought to life paintings full of beautiful flowers and young saplings in bright shades of green. People working on new and better housing or even repairing their houses seemed to be brimming with energy that was not seen before. It for sure was going to be a long and arduous road and there might be many setbacks on the way, but then what other option did they have? The enthusiasm of the people there and there stunningly positive outlook immediately after such a crippling natural disaster made me believe that optimism and faith would never let us down.
I spent three days working there out of an office in a community named Progress and to say the least, it was a beautiful and phenomenally productive experience. Eating a basic Indian meal for lunch at Indus Valley was more fulfilling than the food that I have eaten at some fancy restaurants in Bangalore. Playing basketball with a ten year old boy on the dusty uneven half-court at Certitude, one of the worst-hit communities in Auroville, on a hot Tuesday afternoon was most definitely more enjoyable than the games I’ve played in some of the air conditioned indoor courts across the country. Chatting with people there and seeing them look at the future with so much hope was better than going to some of the best clubs and spending time with people who were trying to drown their struggles with alcohol only to wake up the next day with bad hangovers.
After my stay in Auroville, I am now pretty sure that I too would want to struggle all my life but not to earn loads of money or to fit into a system which only demanded more every time. The struggle I want to be in would be the attempt to stay away from the demanding and eternally dissatisfied parts of the machine that we call society! The struggle, for me, began a couple of years back but conviction and belief may have come only now. This might be like a never-ending road trip and may not even make sense to everyone around me, but to me, it will be a wild ride on the highway of life going towards a destination called joy. My glass is half full and it will remain that way. As American author Ursula K. LeGuin so wisely quoted,
“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”