Thursday, February 25, 2010

Many of the fixed ways that I saw the world were deeply challenged

It was truly an experience of “Incredible India” (as the tourist board slogan says). And like so many Westerners before and after me, I fell in love with the country, in all its grace, mystique, and contradictions. It was the first place that I truly awoke to the deeper spiritual dimensions of reality. It was the place where I was immersed in a culture so foreign to mine that many of the fixed ways that I saw the world were deeply challenged. And it was the first place in which I became truly grateful for every aspect of my life in the West, and awoke to how incredibly fortunate I have been to be born with such inherited wealth.

In the 1960s, Sri Aurobindo, one of India’s great revolutionary seers, decided that life was full of immorality. He thus conceived the idea for a city that was to act as an experiment in human unity. Somewhere that displaced the importance of material desires. A so-called ‘Township Utopia’ in the making. A place where ‘the only authority is the supreme truth.’ You get the picture.
His successor, ‘The Mother’, chose a spot that was once a flourishing forest of snakes, elephants and tigers – thanks to the British and the French, it had become a barren and eroded plateau. Forty years, a million new trees and some yoga later, Auroville stands as the ‘New Age’ city of our time. Matri Mandir (above) is the golden, spiritual-epicentre of all this – the place where ‘man goes to find his consciousness.’ It is space-age, looks bound for Star Trek, and altogether out of place in a land of organic farms and solar-powered forest retreats. But whatever twists your noodle.
At first, Auroville pissed me off. I wasn’t able to stay anywhere unless I committed to two weeks. I couldn’t even buy groceries, or a drink in a cafe, unless I had a membership card. In the end, I had to find an expensive guesthouse. My first thought, as I ambled past buffalos and mud, was that these people had given up their material lives to come and live on the set of Dallas. I respected that, but I had my doubts about a place that was supposed to be ‘open to all’.
From what I had seen, the sum of Auroville’s ideals didn’t quite add up. Matri Mandir was an expensive, day-trip tourist attraction, and in a place that prided itself on solar power and other eco-friendly methods, every single person rode a motorbike. Crime existed there, and I encountered some really brattish Western kids. There were some good people, and some good things going on, though.
I was walking along the road the next day with my backpack, not sure what to do, when an English guy on a motorbike asked if I wanted a lift. Next thing I know, I was working on his organic farm and living in a hexagon-shaped tree-hut.
I pulled up weeds and shovelled soil during the day, cycled through the monsoon and avoided cobras in the night.
Auroville, and Solitude Farm in particular, was like living The Blair Witch Project. There were countless evenings in which I felt fearful of my surroundings, but on my last night I bricked it.
I’d just been to a see an eco-film in the forest, and had left my bike at a cafe. When I returned it was gone. I wouldn’t have minded, but it was raining so hard I had to stand in the shelter. Bloody monsoon season. I waited for an hour but it didn’t let up. I was stuck, until a friend luckily came past and gave me a lift. It was so dark we got lost a few times, by which time I was completely drenched..
The entrance to Soltiude Farm was the opening of a horror movie. Little boy lost in a sea with no light. I waded through with a sense of trepidation: afraid of the seeping clutches of muddy rivers once known as a path, and the surround-sound of terror delivered by insects, geckos and God Knows What Else. It was raining so much it felt like time for a Noah’s Ark rematch. My flashlight wouldn’t work. This is starting to get ridiculous. A thunder bolt furiously blazed the sky. And I was close to crying like a little girl.
I survived the weather, didn’t cry and made it back to my tree-hut…and listened to Solitude’s soundtrack all night:

Novelist, poet and artist, Dee Sunshine, shines brightly, occasionally transcends the mundane with a blog that grabs you by the tender, fleshy bits and ... Thursday, February 18, 2010 The Matrimandir, Auroville
I have forgiven Auroville for their horrible, mindless bureaucracy after seeing inside the Matrimandir. Oh my God, it is possibly one of the most brilliant places I have ever been inside. From the viewing point outside, about 500 metres away, it looks like a giant gold golf ball, but one close inspection, it is a shimmering jewel of elaborate craftmanship. Inside, it is even more stunning. You sweep up a spiral walkway, over white carpet, up into the domed, pillared meditation space, which is lit by the sun pouring down onto a crystal ball. The light created, is soft and foggy, and without effort, you are transported into a meditative space. It was wonderful, incredible and many other adjectival superlatives... and worth every second of the forty years the Aurovillians spent creating it. So... from now, until I leave Auroville, I shall be visiting the Matrimandir every day.

As for Auroville itself, well it is almost impenetrable, a forest of dirt tracks leading every which way, and getting lost is part of the deal. I enjoy this though, scooting about on my motorbike, skidding on the sand, slipping into unknown places... it is a bit like Easy Rider, or at lerast that's how I feel. In
India, it goes without saying, not a single motorbike would pass a UK MOT, and as for safety helmets... well they are more or less non-existent. And that's what I love about India, none of that nanny state interference. Just before I entered this internet cafe I saw a father mount his motorbike with 4 children. Off they went, happy as clams...

My love affair with
India continues unabated. I wish I could endure internet cafes for longer, so I could tell you all my stories. So many stories to tell. Maybe next time I will bring my mini laptop and write in more detail... for now, I'm afraid these wee snippets will have to suffice. posted by Dee Sunshine 10:57 AM

I have had two almost full days to myself here at Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The silence of the place and the solitude it has afforded me have been luscious. There is a new meditation hall here now, with large images of Aurobindo and the Mother, who are of course revered as deities, a large wooden floor and even a mezzanine space. Posted by Cyprian Consiglio at 2:02 AM

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