Dutch Jaap den Hollander is one of Auroville's 'old-timer greenbelters', who staunchly continue the work on the land. Together with his German wife Ulla and their two teenage children, he lives in an isolated spot in Auroville's Green Belt, from where he oversees a large area of land cut through with canyons. Jaap never wants to stop planting new forests.
"I'm here since the early seventies. Through an article in the Hitweek I was aware that something was going on here. After studying electrical engineering, and working for Philips for some time, my then wife Lisbeth and I decided to take a break and look around for a year or so. India was our main target, and Auroville was one of the places we wanted to see.
So we ended up staying here. The atmosphere of that time really touched us. There was an enormous energy, impossible to describe. I can't say that I have had specific enlightening experiences here. Generally, in Auroville, the idea is to work on one's own development, but I have been more busy with working on the world around me. I'm practicing what is here called 'karma yoga', the yoga of work.
Doing what needs to be done
Originally I started by setting up a community. This implied the digging of a well, and construction of simple bamboo-and-palm leaf huts. I did farm work, and bought a cow, just because we needed milk. Presently I'm totally into re-forestation. We're trying to trace the remaining indigenous forest trees, which we find mostly around old temples. The seeds go to the Auroville herbarium, where they are cultivated, and once they have come up are planted out throughout Auroville's Green Belt. Although I work some ten hours a day, it doesn't weigh me down; it is my life. During the last few years we have regularly visited the West in the summer, due to the health situation of my parents and my wife. Holland, my country, then always strikes me as very clean and efficient."
Collaboration between Auroville and bio-region
Jaap observes that, thanks to Auroville, the Tamil population surrounding Auroville has definitely progressed. He thinks, for instance, of the improved health care, the education, the environment (largely re-forested) and the ameliorated water situation, achieved through erosion control. It makes more sense to work together with the villagers than to go into mechanisation, he finds, since that way the local population benefits, and a living collaboration between Auroville and its bio-region takes place.
Uneasy about all those gates and guards
But Jaap is not content with everything, certainly not with the more spiritual aspect of Auroville. "I hardly ever go to Matrimandir anymore. Since it has become a tourist attraction I don't feel very much at ease there. I get the shivers at all those gates and guards, the passes required. I can understand that it's necessary, but it used to be so different..."
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