"Children learn what they live"
The vision and
work of André Tardeil
When I first met
André Tardeil in 1993, he was struggling for the future of
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.