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Jan 2002

Interview with Dr. Mary King

- in conversation with Carel

"I could have given more"

Mary King

Dr. Mary King came to Auroville to attend the meeting of the International Advisory Council and stayed on for a few days. She shared with Auroville Today some of her impressions.


AVToday: Ms. King, you have been member of this International Advisory Council (IAC) since December 1997. What has your experience been?

Mary King: Rich. I've very much come to appreciate the creativity and the dynamism of the Auroville community. The effort of Aurovilians to live their lives by the highest ideals is something that appeals to me, and I felt very privileged to be able to support that effort. I like to think that this International Advisory Council has had a constructive effect on a number of fairly important issues, and that it is a help for Auroville that a group of sympathetic outsiders based in Europe, North America and Sri Lanka are joining hands to help manifest what Aurovilians are working on. During this visit I have experienced a tremendous sense of momentum, more than during any of my previous visits. We could discern real progress actually taking place.

AVToday: Mr. Bala Baskar, the former Secretary of the Auroville Foundation, observed in his parting interview that the community has hardly made use of the goodwill of the members of the various Auroville International Advisory Councils to further Auroville's cause. Do you agree with this view?

Mary King: I think he has a point. For example, I have never received a proposed program, in advance, before arriving in India to attend an IAC meeting. The agenda for the meeting and the topics for discussion were until this meeting handed to me after I arrived - when there remained hardly any time for preparation. This time I was also asked to give three lectures after I arrived but, therefore, I had to speak without notes. The time of the IAC members when here could certainly be better utilized.
For example, when you have one of the most highly recognized environmental scientists in the world on the IAC, Dr. Norman Meyers, I would imagine that there would be an entire program waiting for him and that there would have been felt a need to consult and obtain his critical assessment. He can offer an objectivity that is otherwise unavailable on what Aurovilians are doing in a particular area. But as far as I know, this hasn't happened.

In between our yearly meetings, we have given help whenever requested. For example, at the request of Auroville International, we wrote letters to the United Nations to recommend that Auroville Inter-national be granted observer status. It appears that they were useful, and I think that our recommendations as knowledgeable outsiders helped.

When Dr. Swaminathan was chairman of the Governing Board of the Auroville Foundation, we wrote letters to the Government of India in support of efforts to obtain land for Auroville.

I think all of us would be happy to do more. As the IAC members are obviously not acting out of self-interest, our recommendations are seen as impartial, and as offering a more objective reading of the situation than Aurovilians who, after all, would be pleading their own case. The Aurovilians should try to capitalize it this potential more.

Apart from these actions, there was little or no contact with the Auroville Foundation in between our meetings. To keep the fires burning, I stayed in intermittent contact with Mr. Bala Baskar..

AVToday: In the discussion about organization, you observed that the Working Committee needed strengthening.

Mary King: Yes, I feel very strongly that the Working Committee needs to be strengthened, enhanced, and revalorized. The Committee works without power and glory. At present they only seem able to deal with chronic problems and crises. I can't blame them for not being able to do any forward thinking, because the day-to-day work is immense. In that respect, the idea to create a separate Unity Committee is excellent, and it has great potential.
I have heard that some Aurovilians think that people who serve on such administrative bodies are on a 'power trip'. But if one wants power, one would not come to live or stay in Auroville. One is attracted to Auroville because it offers freedom and the opportunity to realize in this world the actualization of certain high ideals. That freedom requires discipline, and the taking of responsibility in order to accomplish one's aims. A minimum of organization and concerted action is required in order to protect the freedom of all individuals involved. Aurovilians should realize that their freedom is reliant on groups that are willing to work and assume responsibility. I don't see 'power' anywhere in this equation. Perhaps there could be a study group to explore the notion of freedom, and Dr. Kireet Joshi could be asked to give a lecture on this topic. To me, freedom expresses itself in the willingness to assume responsibility

AVToday: You observed in your speech to the Aurovilians on the roof of the Solar Kitchen that you had a particular interest in organizations that elect to run themselves by consensus, but you place question marks at the possibility of consistently reaching consensus.

Mary King: It is again a question of how you use your freedom. We had received a copy of the document on a new internal organization, called "Towards a Divine Anarchy," and I mentioned in our meeting that consensus as an ideal is wonderful, and I support it completely, but in my experience, it also can be misused. The quest for consensus can open the door to manipulation. It is marvelous as an ideal, but, again, it requires discipline. So I would suggest that Aurovilians must be selective about using it. Every once in a while the community must be able to allow a decision to be taken by other means. Sometimes you have to take a short cut and be pragmatic. There is a time and place for everything. I am not saying drop it, I am saying be clever and be practical.

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