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March '03

One family

- by Alan

The opening session of the Auroville International meeting in Vérité Hall.

This February, for only the second time ever, an Auroville International meeting was held in Auroville. A perspective.

Often it's all a matter of timing. The first time many Aurovilians heard about Auroville International (AVI) was at the fag end of a hot, fraught Pour Tous meeting in August, 1983. As people got up to leave, somebody announced that Aurovilians had to decide, at that moment, on the wording of the statutes of a new organization to be based in Holland. "Sounds like another takeover," someone sourly remarked. In 1988, when the AVI groups decided to hold their first meeting in Auroville, their timing was again spot on, for they managed to arrive at a moment of maximum tension in the debate over Aurelec and the community's relationship to the Government of India. The result? Many AVI members felt overwhelmed, their concerns ignored in the larger imbroglio. "I never want to meet here again", grumbled one of AVI stalwarts as she prepared to return home.

Participants in one of the small group discussions

But this year AVI returned, and this time it was different. For one thing the meetings were held in Vérité, far from the madding crowd, so that one of the complaints was that too few rather than too many Aurovilians turned up for the sessions. This was not just a matter of geography: there continues to be widespread ignorance among Aurovilians concerning the purpose and work of the Auroville International Centres and their relationship to Auroville. One of the main purposes of holding the meeting here was to remedy this, which is why, on the first morning, the AVI members spoke about what made them take up this work. It was a profoundly moving session - as they talked of their 'love affair' with Auroville and of the challenges they faced in communicating its spirit in places like Russia, Kazakhstan and South Africa, the depth and quality of their contact was evident. Afterwards, one senior Aurovilian, who was attending such a meeting for the first time, said it had completely transformed her view of AVI: she understood now that we are really one.

During the afternoon session another relationship was explored - that of Auroville to the United Nations and its affiliated organizations. In recent years, concerns about securing the land and thus the integrity of Auroville's development have led to a number of initiatives aimed at increasing funding and gaining protection from adverse development. Interestingly, at least three of these initiatives involve the U.N. or its agencies.

Discussion of possible links with the U.N. led onto the second main topic of this year's AVI meeting - the development of the International Zone. Dr. Ananda Reddy began with a remarkable presentation on how to find one's nation soul. We were then reminded that Mother had wanted governments to be directly involved in the construction of the pavilions. In this context, there was a proposal that an appeal be made to UNESCO, through the Government of India, that governments of member countries follow up on UNESCO resolutions supporting Auroville by actively participating in the development of the International Zone as an international university campus devoted to human unity and global understanding. The AVI General Assembly presented this proposal to the Governing Board for their consideration, with the further suggestion that each government might send a few outstanding young people to Auroville for some months in order to understand the purpose of the International Zone. On their return, they would report to their government how it might best participate and be represented in the Zone.

It's easy to get high on ideas. Which is why, after the various pavilion groups had presented their plans, it was important that Gilles Boulicot and Angad weighed in with reality checks. Gilles pointed out there is little water in the International Zone, and that rainwater harvesting can be an expensive proposition even for generously-funded pavilion projects. Angad mentioned that some of the inhabitants of neighbouring Kottakarai village are very frustrated. In the early years much of their land was sold to Auroville but some of the villagers now find themselves with no money, no resources, and no jobs. Recently an extension of Kottakarai, Bharatipuram, has come up. These villages are situated partly in the International Zone, but Angad suggests that they could become living exhibitions of vibrant local culture rather than their being housed elsewhere in model colonies: "To develop the International Zone at the expense of the villages is absurd."

The last full day was taken up with guided visits to the International Zone and the Information Centre, and a tour of the endangered lands of Auroville. In the afternoon people broke up into smaller groups to discuss in more detail topics like fund-raising, the presentation of Auroville in the mass media, and linkages with the U.N. and governments.

Was this meeting a success? In many ways, yes. Veteran AVI meeting goers talked of experiencing a different community this time - quieter, more relaxed, but also more professional in its practical approach to the challenges of living here - and many were touched by how readily Aurovilians welcomed them as co-partners. To take but one example: at last summer's AVI meeting in the USA a proposal was made to include members of the Centres as full partners in the International Zone group based in Auroville. When the topic came up for discussion this time there was clearly trepidation among AVI members that the Aurovilians on the International Zone group would express reservations. In fact there was no opposition, and most of the discussion focused upon keeping the organization as fluid and open as possible.

There were still complaints from the Centres that they were sometimes left out of the loop, notably over the provision of information material like new brochures and videos, but these came across as niggles rather than indications of major fault lines. Nevertheless such concerns touched once again upon the larger question of the raison d'etre of the Centres and their relationship to Auroville. Over the course of the meeting various interpretations of this were offered: the AVI members should be 'watchdogs', ensuring that Auroville moves swiftly towards the ideal of a money less economy, the AVIs are there to raise funds and disseminate information, the AVIs can keep Auroville in touch with a larger world, the AVIs can promote research into areas essential to Auroville's development etc. etc. There is some truth in all of these. However, they all imply an instrumental relationship - the AVIs are there merely to serve Auroville - whereas the profounder truth may be that members of AVI are carrying the ideals of Auroville out into a wider world, attempting to embody, practice and anchor them amongst lifestyles and in cultures which are frequently not sympathetic or supportive. This is truly the yoga of the market-place, one of the hardest of all, and it's high time Aurovilians treat AVI members with the respect and appreciation due rather than viewing them as Aurovilians manqué or mere support troops.

In fact, from an occult point of view it's likely that all those connected to Sri Aurobindo and Mother have already been together many times through the ages. Thus any attempt to make distinctions between Aurovilians and members of AVI is ridiculous. We're family, one family, inspired and inextricably linked by a common ideal.

If this year's meeting has in any way illuminated this truth - and the evidence from some of the attendees is that it has - then it has more than fulfilled its purpose.

See also: AVI International

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