Friday, 22nd April dawned quietly. The only sounds were bird-calls, the somnambulist buzz of bees and...an unfamiliar kind of puffing, wheezing, that was slowly growing in intensity. Suspecting something mechanical, I climbed the windmill but when I looked down, there, spread out below me, was a vision of Biblical proportions – hundreds of beet-red Aurovilians of all shapes, sizes and conditions furiously pumping cycles of all shapes, sizes and conditions. Of course! It must be Earth Day, 2005.
(See the Photo Gallery)
Earth Day, the day on which humanity acknowledges and celebrates its only home, Earth, has been celebrated worldwide since 1970, except, that is, in The City the Earth Needs. To be fair, Wim started jolting the collective consciousness a few years back by showing excellent environmental videos on this day, but until this year there has been no community-wide programme or involvement. Enter Jos, Lisbeth, Regina and a host of enthusiastic youngsters who decided that Auroville Earth Day, 2005 would be different.
“Auroville Motor-Less!” was the slogan for the day, hence the lack of dust, the bonhomie and the internal combustion-less silence, broken only by the crash of yet another geriatric cyclist on a mechanical fossil failing to negotiate one of Martanda's mountainous speed-breakers.
“Reclaim the Streets” was the theme of the morning. Three ‘Earth Stations' were set up where schoolchildren conducted traffic surveys, played environmental games and companionably banged on saucepan lids whenever an a misguided Aurovilian passed by on a motorcycle. Then on to lunch at the Solar Kitchen which was enlivened, as it desperately needed to be, by an alternative vehicle show: a live demo of electric vehicles and a chance to actually see what is normally as elusive as the Snow Leopard, the legendary Bio-Bullet. The Bio-Bullet runs on plant oil, hence the constant nasal promise, for those who ride it, of a tasty fried snack. Seriously, using plant oil rather than diesel reduces pollution by up to 50%, and plant oil is ‘carbon neutral' so it doesn't contribute to global warming. One of our resident boffins, Manfred, has been running converted diesel engines on plant oil for three years and is convinced it is the fuel of the future. (In case you were wondering, he estimates we would have to plant and harvest 50 hectares of oil-seed trees to replace the present diesel consumption in Auroville).
After lunch everybody cycled, staggered or limped to the Town Hall where we listened, among other things, to presentations on Auroville's sustainable mobility concept (seemingly still some years from materialization) and Pondicherry 's alternatively-powered public transportation system. Here, a fleet of electrically-powered tempos is already plying the streets at a running cost of Rs 1 per kilometre, which is about 18% cheaper than conventionally-powered vehicles.
At 3 p.m. those who still had energy on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year could sneak off for a magical mystery tour of Auroville's cycle paths, led by ‘Lance' Gillian. At 4 p.m. the rest of us, after rehydration therapy or, failing that, the administration of Last Rites, flung ourselves desperately towards Kalabhumi for the Grand Finale. Here there was face-painting, a hot-air balloon launch (of the Working Committee, it is rumoured), story-telling, juggling, the Giant Globe, food, films, music, all climaxed by The Lorax. This was a delightfully-acted play about the Onceler who spends his time chopping down Truculer trees to make Thneeds (don't ask me). Only The Lorax protests against the destruction of the trees (but not, unaccountably, of the English language). Finally the Onceler learns the error of his ways and gives the last Truculer seed to a child to be planted as the beginning of a new forest.
At this point Jos, the Earth Day Supremo, was nudged on stage to say a few words. “Every day should be an Earth Day,” he bravely cried to the exhausted bodies piled up in front of the stage. “Let's keep the ball rolling by making cycle paths more attractive and by providing a good, alternatively-powered public transport service for Auroville.”
Later, as I puffed my way homewards, my knees clicking like castanets, I realized that, after all, it had been a great day – plenty of laughter, plenty of play, spiced with good information about how we can redeem our relationship to the Earth.
Good on yer, Jos and all your helpers! Here's to next year.