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Auroville Adventure

April '03

Not all sun, sea and sand

- by Sunaura

The notice board at Repos beach

Repos, a beach community, works to create a relaxing place for residents of Auroville while facing many challenges

Entering the gates of Repos, you find yourself on sandy grounds shaded by tall coconut trees. Children are running about bare-bottomed while surfers clean their boards in the sun. Groups of people sit around small circular tables discussing life in a leisurely fashion. Some lie in hammocks reading or simply relax to the methodical sound of crashing waves. Rainbow colours splash the walls of the Sunbliss Café where you can buy fresh fruit juices and sandwiches. A small blue gate leads you out to the beach where groups of people or individuals lounge on their blankets and beach towels as others swim out into the warm waters.
Residents of Repos work hard to keep this Auroville beach community as it was originally intended to be: a place of rest (the English translation of Repos) for Aurovilians and their guests. Today, eight Aurovilians and five Newcomers, including children, live in Repos and aside from making it their full time residence, they work together to provide two recreational outlets for Auroville. One outlet is the community itself and the other is the beach area lying between Repos and the ocean where beach-goers can feel comfortable spending an afternoon. But there are many challenges concerning beach harassment, sweet water depletion, relations with the neighbouring villages and the expectations of visitors, as well as the unpredictable waters of the Bay.
For some years after the Repos community was established, the beach remained a place for fishermen and was used as a local toilet. The arrival of Aurovilians in their western swimwear brought disturbance for everyone. Beach harassment and thefts were a constant concern and Repos residents worked to find solutions to these problems. One of the most important initiatives was building a good relationship with the neighboring villages. Chinnamudaliarchavady lies to the south of Repos and survives as a fishing village. With their fishing rights, they felt that the beach was theirs and the new influx of visitors was threatening their position. Through communication and contributions to the village, conflicts were eventually settled and the fishermen agreed to share the space. Bommayarpalayam, lying to the north of Repos, is also the home of many fishing families and similar approaches had to be taken. Although today there is a much greater understanding between these villages and Repos, it is still a delicate situation and a relationship that can't be taken for granted.
Another challenge for the Repos community is dealing with the harassment from beach visitors. Western swimwear is far more revealing than any dress a Tamil woman would wear in public. This is a temptation for many men with nothing better to do. They arrive in groups, often inebriated, and walk up and down the beach gawking at women, trying to get the best view possible and sometimes verbally harassing them. Another temptation is there for petty thieves who see expensive cameras, and other valuables lying in tourists bags on the beach while the owner enjoys the waters. In an attempt to eliminate these problems as well as to protect people from drowning, Repos organized a team of life guards. The lifeguard's work is a difficult one on all these accounts and deserves appreciation from the Auroville community. After receiving permission from the local police, sign boards were put up in both English and Tamil saying "Kindly respect our privacy." This is only calling upon a natural sense of courtesy and restraint and works very well with Indian families and most individuals. Yet some people react, feeling that a bunch of foreigners have no right to dictate boundaries on an Indian beach, especially considering that beaches in India cannot be privately owned. An example occurred two months ago when a group of six men from Pondicherry nearly drowned after consuming alcohol. One of the lifeguards managed to bring all six men to safety who, after recovering, proceeded to roam the beach and harass women. When the lifeguard asked them to move down the beach, he was beaten up and the police had to be called.
The Bay of Bengal is unpredictable with its strong currents. Individuals have drowned over the years (though none from Auroville), despite the presence of the lifeguards who undergo intensive training once a year with a Swiss swimming master and regularly practice with an experienced swimmer from the Repos community. However, many Indian passers-by who don't know how to swim shouldn't be an additional responsibility for the life guards as is the case now.
The infrastructure of the Repos community faces its own daily challenges. Over the years, it has grown to have two showers for swimmers, a hand-pump for rinsing bodies or surfboards, toilet facilities and a friendly little café called Sunbliss. But the public area is not that large and the facilities are ill-equipped to support the increasing influx of those seeking a day at the beach. For example, salt water percolated into one of the two wells last month and the community members are trying to raise the needed Rs.50,000 to buy a desalination device. With this and other concerns on their minds, residents of Repos feel very strongly that Repos is not meant to be a commercial beach resort. However, it is a continuous work to keep drawing lines and one that is not very gratifying.
On a more local level, many Tamils who are not residents of Auroville but who live in close proximity and perhaps work in Auroville feel they too should have access to Repos, which is granted whenever possible. Also, tourists from abroad who have no connection with Auroville see the gates of Repos as the public entrance to the beach and want access. At one point the watchman at the Repos gate was given a list of Aurovilians so that he could regulate those who entered. But it was difficult to do this and eventually it was given up. Auroville guests do show their guest card, and an Auroville identity card may help solve the problem in the future.
On a wider level, Repos receives calls from cities like Bangalore from families asking to rent ten capsules for two weeks. Why? A lot of the interest is due to the efforts of the Pondicherry Tourism Department which has been marketing the area as a beach resort. As Pondicherry is a seaside city, this has attracted many vacationers. Unfortunately, the beach in Pondicherry has vanished and there are few other resorts nearby. Repos residents would like to encourage the Pondicherry Tourist Department to create attractive resorts, which could benefit all. In the meantime, many tourists learn about Repos and come in the hope of finding a place to stay. When they are told at the entrance that they cannot come in and must follow a narrow path cluttered with trash that leads around Repos to the beach, negative reactions can be expected.
Another challenging relationship is with Periyamudaliarchavady. This is the village bordering the road that leads to Repos. Often in villages, the main road is used as a social ground for the community. Men and women sit on their front porches while the children play games in the street. With the increase of traffic from beach goers, this has become a dangerous situation. Many families have chosen to put metal grills around their porches to keep their children safe. But this is not a very satisfying solution for people who naturally live in community. Repos residents tried to create a parking space on the main road but it did not work. On a more positive note, Periyamudaliarchavady residents have seen ways to benefit from visitors and many have opened little shops, café's and guest houses.
Yet, with all these daily challenges, a space for relaxation has been created and many enjoy this community and the beach beyond during their time off. The process of communication with neighbours and friends is also seen by residents as an opportunity for a wonderful learning experience and is especially important where one is consciously working to live without cultural boundaries. And in the early morning hours, when the colors of the morning sun glaze the waters, or at night when the full moon rises with an illuminating orange glow, all the problems seem far away.



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