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Auroville Adventure

December 2004

My school is Auroville, and I am still learning

- by Priya Sundaravalli

A free-spirited Kumar shares his story

“Hey, I don't want to have this Tamil banner in front of me,” declares Kumar firmly but in a friendly tone. I had just asked him what his perspectives were on being a Tamil Aurovilian. “I was born in Kuyilapalayam into the Tamil culture. That's all. I don't regret my background and I don't take advantage of it. I am a human being and I like to live in Auroville and I don't want to put any colour on me!”

Kumar in his house at DjaimaBorn in 1966, Kumar did his early schooling in Kuyilapalayam and then moved to a school in Pondy. “In those days, the village school had classes only up to 5th standard. Then you had to go out to study.” But this was soon put an end to by his family. “I was a bit wild actually,” he says sheepishly. “On the way back from school, I would make trouble with my friends, beat them up and so on. And then there used to be these fields along the way where we stopped to play until it got dark and so we came home late. All this was quite heavy on my parents, so they stopped me from going to school.”

With nothing to do, Kumar began to hang out with the Tamil Aurovilian youth from Kuilapalayam. “All of Gordon and Jean's students – the Rathinams, the Selvarajs – were there. Many of them were living in Udayam, so I tried to stay with them there.” Soon Kumar found himself drawn to Aurelec, an Auroville business unit dealing with electronics. Kumar introduced himself to Ulli, Aurelec's executive and asked if he could join the company. “Imagine, at that time I hardly knew how to speak English, let alone being able to read or write.” He was taken in as a ‘soldering boy', assigned the task of joining cables and doing odds and ends. He remained in Aurelec from 1979 till 1991. “It was there I became Aurovilian, I don't know how and when.” He recalls that time as the most ‘glorious' period of his life. “In those days lots of resources were available and nobody blocked you from learning. So if you had motivation you could do anything you wanted to do.” It was at Aurelec that Kumar taught himself to read and write English, and learn about electronics. “I am 100% self-taught,” he says proudly. “No formal schooling. The management made up of Ulli and others never treated us like local boys. They encouraged us, gave us money for our education, and kept us psychologically boosted all the time. They always said ‘You are good,' ‘You're doing well'. Not once did they tell me that what I was doing was wrong. That somehow kept me going.”

Kumar left Aurelec soon after he met his sweetheart Kala. “It was time for something different.” The two started living together, and two years later, married each other. Did their families approve of their living together? “Both Kala and I are very independent and we do what we like to do,” he replies. “Also Kala comes from one of the first integrated families in Kuilapalayam and all of them were involved with Auroville one way or another.” Kumar believes that life in Auroville is ‘fantastic' and does not warrant worrying about what others think about you.

With Kala by his side, Kumar found his entrepreneurial spirit come to the front. “I wanted to be self-supporting now that I had my family. From my experience in Aurelec, I knew I enjoyed electronics and hardware.” So Kumar put the knowledge and skills he picked up at Aurelec to use. He provides services for the power systems that support computers and occasionally assembles computers for private users. “All that I am doing now is totally what Aurelec gave me. For me my work experience was the most valuable gift besides the people with whom I worked, and those who placed their confidence in me.” Kumar has a straightforward approach to his work. “I don't run around trying to get x amount of money each month. I work only with people whom I like, and with whom I have good contact – that way I am happy and they are happy. And believe me, I am kept busy.”

Besides electronics, Kumar is also involved in small-scale farming. He stewards a piece of land in Djaima where he cultivates fruit trees, and he supplies the produce to the Solar Kitchen and Pour Tous. “I find farming very relaxing. It gives me a break from the monotony of the computer world.” With the orchards close to his house, he also finds that farming is a great way to have the whole family involved and spend time together.

Kumar feels some concern about the attitude of youngsters in Auroville. “This coming generation does not seem to recognize what Auroville provides for them,” he says. “They do not realise what opportunities they actually have and they are not fully using it.” Kumar and Kala send all their three children to Auroville schools. His oldest daughter Gayatri, plans to do her O and A levels at Future School . About the controversial topic of sending Auroville children to outside schools, Kumar has this to say. “I really oppose it because I feel people who do that take Auroville's energy and put it outside.”

What connections does he feel he has to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo? “I don't want to lie. Till now I didn't even realize these things and I am not a yogi yet,” he says with a smile. How about the Hindu religion? “I am not at all religious. But we celebrate all the festivals; Deepavali, Pongal… and that's because of the kids. They love it. When festivals come, they get all excited. It is psychological. ‘Oh we have to get new clothes, new this and new that', and a lot of food has to be cooked.” He adds, grinning, “This whole week, they have only been eating.” (Deepavali ended a few days ago)

Kumar turns suddenly reflective. “I am here and I do my work. There is a lot to really discover within ourselves. I think it's only in Auroville one can do this.”


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