After 40 yrs, Auroville still going strong Times of India 6 Mar 2008, Gautam Siddharth
Forty years after Auroville was inaugurated by Sri Aurobindo's leading disciple, Mirra Alfassa, popularly known as Mother, the new-age metropolis designed for 50,000 people today houses just about 3,000 people from 40 countries, with a floating population of temporary residents and transnational wanderers adding up to not more than 10,000. So is this the dusk of the 'City of Dawn'? Is Auroville a 1960s' idea whose time is past?
Member of the governing board Mallika Sarabhai, associated with Auroville for four years, disagrees. "I think it's a wonderful idea, even if a bit idealistic. True, Aurovillians have long way to go, and the world is changing fast. But it's in this fast changing world that the idealism of Auroville remains very much relevant." Says another resident Claude Arpi, journalist and author, living here for the last 30 years, "I would say the biggest achievement of Auroville is that the project hasn't collapsed. The vision behind it is alive."
But Auroville is not without its problems. Local sectional interests, nearly all of them villagers in its periphery, distrust "foreigners". Says Major General (retd) Ashok Chatterjee, director Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Eductional Research, "Unfortunately, some of the gram panchayats have gone to anti-socials. They think just because foreigners live here, they must be rich, and make all sorts of unreasonable demands." Says member of governing board Ajoy Bagchi, "While there are internal differences of opinion, Aurovillians know they can't survive without the goodwill of the villagers. So they have made them an intrinsic part of Mother's project by giving them direct employment."
Indeed, close to 5,000 men and women from the villages in Auroville work with the different communities under the Auroville Village Action Group, which disburses around Rs 7 crore annually for their services. And the spiritual dimension is sacrosanct: The activities of the communities are not supposed to be an end in themselves; rather, they are a means to take the inner journey towards self-fruition. The residents thank the government, which, they say, has gone beyond their expectations in supporting Sri Aurobindo's ideals. Despite their occasional differences, at the end of the day they are all one, united in the thought that brought them together: That it's possible for people of various nationalities, regions and races, to live in harmony.