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November 2003

Auroville Today is 15 years old

Beware the first editorial of a new journal or magazine. Its high-toned statement of intent is likely to read, years later, as little more than a mélange of wishful thinking, naivety and preoccupation with issues which have long since faded from memory.

While Auroville Today's first editorial, sixteen years ago, was mercifully brief it cannot be said to have completely escaped the above faults. At the same time there was a genuine desire to manifest something different. This was the time when dogma stalked our general meetings as the community heatedly debated issues like Aurelec and the government's involvement in Auroville. Meanwhile, Auroville's only window to the world - the Auroville Review - had stopped reporting on day-to-day events in Auroville, filling its columns instead with quotations from Sri Aurobindo, Mother and Satprem. It was against this background that we made our promises: Auroville Today would focus on the here and now, it would provide a meeting-place for differing perspectives, it would open a door upon a lesser-known Auroville, and it would try to maintain a standard of civilized discourse. Brave? Unrealistic? Both, perhaps. But after 15 years we continue to use them as our benchmarks.

So how have we done?

Concerning the 'here and now', we've provided regular coverage of key topics like the economy, environment, education, Matrimandir, building the city and relations with the villages, making Auroville Today an invaluable - in fact, unique - history of Auroville's development over the years. What we hadn't anticipated, however, was how many issues we couldn't cover, either because they would show the community in a poor light, or because discussions were at such a sensitive stage that we didn't want to jeopardize the outcome through insensitive reporting, or because as most of the team are technically 'foreigners' with few rights in Indian law, we were only too aware that we could receive quit notices if we were perceived to be making statements offending sensitivities. For Auroville Today is read not only by Aurovilians and friends and supporters abroad: it is also read in government offices and foreign embassies in India and Indian embassies abroad.

All this meant we were nudged further into the conservative section of the reporting spectrum than the team would prefer. This tendency has been reinforced by our second goal: for in our wish to provide a meeting-place for understanding different perspectives it was important that we were perceived to be unaligned, or at least able to grasp the larger picture. This has its drawbacks, notably in our sometimes having to sacrifice the 'edge' which spices journalism the world over (the edge has been further blunted by our policy of allowing interviewees to read and change their articles before publication). Increasingly over the years, however, we've been willing to talk about not only our successes but also our failings as a community, and to ask hard questions as a means of stimulating debate. In this sense our role has expanded from passive reporting to being, at best, initiators of change.

Have we opened a window on an unknown Auroville? We've certainly introduced our readers to many of the lesser-known activities taking place in the community. As to individuals: some of the Aurovilians profiled in Auroville Today are not well known. Others may be better known, yet often something new is revealed. For here we talk not of geography but of people's hearts, of the innermost feelings and aspirations which, in this community, are rarely shared publicly. Who knows what community blockages, what deep tectonic plates, have shifted irreversibly as a result of somebody revealing something about themselves in one of our interviews?

For ultimately, if we're honest, we don't really know what we're doing with Auroville Today. We embarked on a voyage with a clutch of promises, but once the coastline faded we've had to chart a course as much by intuition as by sextant. More than once we've thought of abandoning the whole enterprise as seemingly bigger and better ships (a new website, for example) hove into view, but we kept sailing on because of the enthusiastic support of our readership and because we feel we still have something unique to offer in the hunt for that elusive species, Auroville today.

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