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April '03

"Children learn what they live"

- by Abha Prakash


The vision and work of André Tardeil

When I first met André Tardeil in 1993, he was struggling for the future of New Creation, the community and its school that he had started some years before. The school for the 200 day scholars from surrounding villages was running on a meagre budget. Money for the mid-day meal, for school supplies, for sports facilities was scarce but André, putting on a brave front, was convinced that the money would come from the Mother. And it did.
Over subsequent years, I saw New Creation grow in terms of its material reality. The school acquired a complete staff of enthusiastic teachers who, under the guidance of Roy, the headmaster, took over the day-to-day running of the school. Workshops for vocational training were in process, and the students were responding well to computer and other facilities that were offered to them. Small industries related to carpentry, metalworking, stone carving and weaving were established. The village cooperative boutique, Arhandicrafts, was doing well, the reasonably-priced New Creation Guesthouse was full of visitors, and New Creation Corner had become the most popular eatery in Auroville. In the late 90s André's business acumen was much in evidence and seemed to go hand-in-hand with his idealistic fervour. He had a large network of people aiding him in his various ventures, though there were individuals who were unsupportive of him and his work.
For all his engaging simplicity, André's is a charismatic personality capable of drawing people with little difficulty. Guests who have visited New Creation once have usually returned for longer periods of time. Whether they are attracted solely to his vision of integrating Aurovilians and the villagers is difficult to surmise. To many, André represents a mix of vision and pragmatism. Whether it is his joyful indulgence of the village children in the newly-begun crèche or his unfailing presence at the community meal every evening, they see him giving a good part of his energies to the community and its concerns. Alongside all this they encounter him in his business avatar, his cell phone in his shirt pocket, engaged in various aspects of the self-employed businesses he has encouraged over the years.
André is perhaps one of the handful of Aurovilians who have never felt the need to take holidays or return to their home countries even for a short visit. Well-acclimatized, physically and socially to the South Indian milieu, he speaks Tamil with ease but has still not developed the taste for his wife's spicy curry dishes. Originally from France, André came to Pondicherry in 1972, having worked with the Auroville Association in Paris for two years before that. Having come with the Mother's approval, he gave his whole-hearted support and commitment to the "Auroville Dream." In the thirty odd years he has spent in Auroville, his focus has primarily been to assist in the creation of better conditions for the local villagers and their children whom the Mother named the First Aurovilians.
Since 1973, André has been an enthusiastic supporter of schools for village children in the immediate vicinity of Auroville. In 1973 he helped start the Udavi school in Edyanchavady and, in 1978, began New Creation School. Over the last twenty years he has also provided boarding facilities for children coming from financially unstable backgrounds or dysfunctional homes. Today many of these boarders are responsible adults who are working full-time in Auroville. Shiva and Kumar at the financial service are good examples. André also participated in the founding of the Kuilapalayam Higher Secondary School Trust with the support of Aurelec. Most of the children passing out of these institutions are able to get the education necessary to becoming self-reliant individuals in some capacity. Some of them have even opted for further studies in their chosen subjects. André believes "children learn what they live," which is why goodwill and harmony are essential elements in his educational experiments.
André's views on education are largely responsible for how he has been able to influence the economic development of the local population. He perceives education to be more than bookish learning, and something that makes its way out of classrooms into vocational training workshops that can more effectively enable students to independently run activities of their choice. "My vision is very simple. We didn't come to Auroville to do business. But part of what we should do is to educate the local villagers and entrust them to run activities for their benefit and also for the benefit of Auroville. Through training programs and through helping them create their own handicraft enterprises these people have the chance to grow and reach their fuller potential."
For all his achievements, the going has not been easy for André. Despite his single-minded zeal and enterprise, he has faced criticism and obstacles of varying degrees from within Auroville. His latest venture is helping Savitri, the initiator and manager of the popular New Creation Gym, in the construction of the first Auroville Swimming Pool for which 10 lakhs in funding is still needed. Anxiety relating to the completion of this project sometimes dampens André's spirits. But he does manage to bounce back much like the tennis balls he thwacks daily. In his late fifties, André is in good form. Perhaps playing one hour of hardball tennis barefoot on the gravel court may have something to do with it. Perhaps not.
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