|neat tree at Auroville|
So, this morning I took a taxi to Auroville, the experimental intentional community based on Aurobindo and the Mother’s philosophy. The taxi driver had been waiting around the corner for me for almost 15 minutes, until I called his dispatch again and they got him to pull up to my place. How weird is that? I am just supposed to know that he is going to be waiting for me around the corner? Why did you ask for my name and room number at my guest house? Right.
So Auroville is pretty spread out and I went to the Visitor’s Centre first, of course. They claim in their literature that they are not supposed to be a tourist attraction so they don’t really cater towards brief visitors – but they do have this big info centre with an expensive café and shops etc. I got my free pass to go see the Matrimandir, and would have to be content with just seeing it from a distance, since you have to book at least the day before if you actually want to enter it. That rule is designed so that it remains peaceful and does not become too touristy. Auroville has a city plan that is laid out in the shape of a spiral galaxy. It is really cool on paper. The “soul” and centre of it all is the Matrimandir, which took from 1968 (Auroville’s birth) to 2008 to complete. I have to say that it is particularly gorgeous, and is one of the most beautiful man-made structures I have ever seen.
It is set apart, alone, in a vast field, shining like sun, and it is not a tomb or a temple – the only thing that it houses is a room, made entirely of white marble, with the largest crystal sphere in its centre which catches a single stream of natural light for the room.
|Model of Matrimandir in visitor's centre|
It is made for ‘concentration’ (read: meditation) only. You have to watch a video the day before and right before entering. It is meant to be a symbol and a testament to divine consciousness, and this I find enormously refreshing.
|inside matrimandir: web|
I wandered around some other buildings there, and the whole place smacks of Star Wars. Designed in the 70’s, trying to be ultra-futuristic, it looks like some of it’s buildings or spaces could easily have been found on Tattooeen (sp?).
|Her desk is below this object on the bottom floor.|
The Tamil girl sitting at the reception in the main administrative building had this funky round cockpit to work from. I asked her if I needed to buy a guest bank account in order to buy food from the famous Solar Kitchen. She didn’t know (turns out I did). So then I couldn’t resist asking her how the rebel alliance was doing against the Empire. She didn’t know that either. “Yeah, they never tell us little people.”
It is a commune, really, and most of the stuff is members only. But as I looked and looked, I realized that the place, for all its fame, is not doing that great. Proposed as a living space for “up to 50,000” , it is a permanent home to just less than 2,000 members, and an additional 900 locals. Their original city plans are no where close to being realized – only a few of the intended main buildings were built.
|One of the original plans. cool eh?|
|Current layout. You can see - black spots are buildings. Not exactly the vision yet...largest object is the visitors centre...|
I am guessing that the matrimandir took all their money for a long, long time. Plans calling for bodies of water and light rail are clearly out of the picture. In fact, as I ventured into places I probably should not have been, I saw city design specs which belied the fact that current structures are terribly sparse and barely indicated any kind of cosmic design that may have been intended. What is the problem? Well, maybe for them, there isn’t one – they just figure it is a futuristic vision and will have to wait for the future.
But by noon literally bus-loads of tourists were piling in. The cafeteria was insane for lunch, I saw at least 5 classes of school kids coming through. Surely they could harness greater income from this. I think that as much as they don’t want to call it a tourist spot, it clearly is, and they might as well cash in.
It is a shame, really. I mean, I gues the people living there enjoy it enough. But as a visitor, I could barely wring information out of people. Maps of the place cost 12R – not a big deal but they should be free – and there is no offering of tours or general information about the place. The Visitor’s Centre just has more pictures of the Mother and Aurobindo and talks about how glorious their vision for the place was fifty years ago.
Honestly, this whole Aurobindo and Mother thing is really getting to me. I am not sure why, exactly, but I am thinking about it. There are continually these enormous photos of them everywhere – and it bugs me for some reason that they particularly like the 4 by 5 foot photos of the decrepit, drooping and tired looking Mother – who is much revered in all manner of other semblances. Now, clearly these two had some great ideas, and yes, they were visionaries, but so are a lot of people. They certainly weren’t saints – though they did good works and helped people live better. I dunno. The whole thing just hits me the wrong way. The say they didn’t want a religion, but it sure as hell seems like people treat it as such. And it would be one thing if they were magical, divine creatures accredited with miracles or divinity. But even that is not true – they were just writers and philosophers who managed to get a following. Hmm. Something is still not fitting here for me. Not sure what it is. But, I can tell you I am pretty tired of seeing them everywhere.
I fell asleep briefly after lunch, under the epic banyan tree that has a radius of 50 metres.
This is all one tree! Banyans drop new growth from their outstretched branches that reach down to the ground and grow roots, eventually looking like new trees growing into the rest. But, all of this is one tree, and that is pretty cool. It is over 100 years old and it is the physical centre of Auroville that they chose when Mother put her finger on a map somewhere close to it when choosing the site for the town.
Leaving, I was waiting for a taxi again which really didn’t seem to be showing up. These guys really suck at this. I mean, the first time I called the guy said sure, a taxi to Auroville Visitors Centre, and then hung up. He didn’t tell me where to wait, which entrance, or what kind of car. So I called him back and asked. I also mentioned that these things may be valuable to future customers. Well, after waiting almost 20 minutes again, an auto-rickshaw driver came to me and started haggling with me. And at this point I was ready for a deal – so we agreed on 150R (car would have been 170). Well, it was a noisier ride, and he was mistaken on where he was taking me – though not by much. I told him to go to “Mother’s Guest House” which is right across from where I am staying. He took me to the “Mother’s Seaside View Resort”. When I directed him another 5 minutes to my place and got out, offering 150 – he got really mad. He wanted 200 because it was further. I told him that was B.S., since we agreed on a price to this place and he made the mistake. He told me it was not his problem but mine, and refused to take any money below 200. This was quite bizarre. I tried to talk him down. I offered him 170 to be nice. But he was making a scene. People came out to see what was going on. A Polish lady came to my side and only made things worse. In the end, I left 170 on his seat while he was ranting to another guy, and just walked away. Didn’t feel great, but I wasn’t going to give in. I’ve been in Pondicherry for what, 3 days, and I know the difference. He has lived here all his life.
So, that was my little eye-opener before dinner. Not looking forward to ashram food again tonight, but I don’t have the energy to go searching.
update: didn't eat at the ashram and am resolved not to! happened across a place that I had heard recommended 'surbuda' and though noisy, it was decent. had dessert - so there! pistachio and saffron ice cream. sometimes....
Man, I feel like utter crap this morning. Yeah, I know - sugar. But it's not Just that. It is 10, and I have yet to garner enough energy to leave my room – let alone stand up for a long time. And I slept from just before 10 to just past 7am. I don’t know what is going on, but something has to change. It is almost a full week that I have felt mildly sick, and this is no way to spend my precious days in India. I am not enjoying this in a healthy way. I have a hard decision to make, I believe. It is possible that the Malaria medication is doing at least some of this – the energy sapping anyway, which could influence my immunity. I have asked many people during before, and during my stay, and I have only come across 1 other person taking the medication, and from I can gather, Malaria essentially does not exist in the places I am going to, or if it does, it is very very rare. So, I have to decide if I should stop taking it to see what happens. I know, I can hear my mother’s voice now – but if it is making this big a difference, then it is a question of whether I want enjoy India or be safe and and unhappily stuck in my room. This area, Pondicherry, is extremely safe, so I think I will stop taking it for the next few days. I can always start again later. Frankly, if it makes a difference, it will be very much worth it. I have had zero energy the last few days, even though my sinus cold has largely cleared up – and this is way past the excuse of acclimatization. The only other thing could be some wicked allergy that I did not know of before – so I suppose an alternate strategy could be to take some anti-histamines and see if anything changes then. We’ll see. I have things that need doing today – I want to rent a new bike, find a phone to call home, confirm my train bookings through an agent, and find a post office to possibly send some books and gifts home. I haven’t really bought any gifts yet, though –since I just haven’t done too much shopping. I think I am just going to wait and buy everything in Kashmir. I saw some cool teas and treats I would love to send home, but it just has not been realistic. OK! I think I am going to try to nap before noon.
|Another model of proposed Auroville. Still about 100 years away, I'd say.|