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October 2005


An inveterate hippie at heart….

- Priya Sundaravalli

“In my heart I am a returning Aurovilian,” says Tlaloc, a Hawaiian – American – Australian of Japanese ancestry


“Turn it off!” screams 14-year old Darryl as Tlaloc walks away from a running tap in the biology lab. It is the middle of a beginner science class at Future School where first year students are becoming sensitized to water conservation. Tlaloc is satisfied – the message has been received.
Bare-torsoed, in khaki shorts, and his long jet-black hair held up in a pony-tail, Tlaloc paints the picture of the proverbial Auroville greenbelter. “When I lived in Fertile before, I only wore a loin cloth… so my shorts almost make me over dressed!” he jokes. Having lived in Auroville in its early years between 1974 and 1977, Tlaloc is ‘back this time for good', after a 30 year hiatus. “I guess it was time to return,” he says with a shrug. “I had been to Auroville five times since I had left. During my last visit in August 2004, it felt just right to move back.” And move back he did with a tourist visa, a detail that has gotten him into a tizzy with the Auroville's Entry group. “I have a 10 year visa and it makes no sense to spend so much money, to go back to Australia and get an entry visa. So I am not a newcomer and I am not recognized as a returning Aurovilian.”

Tlaloc (right) leading a tai-chi class on the roof of Pitanga

Of eclectic interests and strong green leanings, Tlaloc is still every bit an inveterate hippie of the seventies, and is not shy of being identified as one. “There were so many hippies per capita in Auroville at that time,” he recalls with a chuckle. “And we fitted right into Auroville's ethos because we already had lived collectively in communes and shared houses, and were exploring Eastern mysticism and spirituality… we had sort of left our Christian roots; and it was Hinduism that made sense to us.” In his early years in Auroville, Tlaloc grew Chlorella (spirulina), taught mathematics and life sciences at the ‘Pyramid school', and later helped Johnny and Jan with reforestation at Fertile. It was the latter upon which he based his Master's thesis for a degree in environmental education. “I would have been happy staying on, but my professor from Hawaii kept saying ‘come home, come home' and I kept saying ‘Not yet Gordon, Not yet!' but eventually I did.” (His departure coincided with the time Auroville split from the Sri Aurobindo Society.)
His university degree put him on another trajectory and for 3 decades he worked with environmental and social justice development NGOs and also taught at university on Ecological Sustainable Development. He made his home in Hawaii , California , and finally Sydney , Australia where he raised his son for 20 years. “I loved parenting more than anything I've ever done,” he shares. During all this time away, he continued to stay in touch with Auroville. “There was June of AVI in Santa Cruz who kept me updated with information. I was also supporting Fertile financially for many years, or sending a little birthday money of 5$ to many kids.” He also presented slide shows and talks on Auroville many times a year to different groups.
But what really brought him back? “I am not sure,” he muses. “It was perhaps the transparency of the Auroville News; I was very impressed by it. So I read many copies and talked to friends and I got to see a glimpse of what was going on, and that was really good.”
How has Auroville changed? “30 years ago, it was about survival, man!” he exclaims. “Just red earth – parched earth – little water – little food – and you lived on ragi and kambu. That was our mainstay. And we really adapted to the life of the Tamils in many different ways. But you see, that wasn't really much of a thing for hippies because we chose ‘voluntarily simplicity'. We saw what decadent bourgeois, middle class society was doing… consuming all our resources, and we realized that having conspicuous consumption in cars, homes, and of things of this nature was not really at the core of where we needed to be headed… And these hardships weren't really anything to us at that time. But now things have changed. You see more middle class life styles and more comforts … though many of the greenbelters are still there, living their frugal lifestyles…”
Does it bother him? “No, each one has to work out what ever stage one is in. You know it is easy for someone coming from the west who has had lots of things to reject them. But for someone who hasn't had those things, it only makes sense that they aspire for material goods before they can let go.
“In the past Pour Tous too reflected our lifestyle. It was very frugal and very basic and now it has all this fancy stuff – even dog food! But what is heartening now is that Pour Tous is moving back to basic necessities, and I think it is fantastic…
“Also back then, we weren't as friendly as now. We were friendly amongst each other, but with newcomers and tourists, we were sort of wary and didn't smile at them. I think people are much more friendly now; I notice on the road that people smile… The demographics too has changed. In the early years, Auroville was mainly populated by 20 to 30 year olds, and today the average person is much older. When you see older people in a community, it is a sign that life is getting more stable and easier.
“The children in those days used to amuse themselves differently – drawing, being in nature and doing things with their hands… Now it is more of computers or TV… Another thing was that 30 years ago, kids were choosing the adults they wanted to hang out with, and it was not necessarily their parents... Kids just moved in with other families, in different communities. The rest of the community never judged the parents of these kids. The benefit of multi-parents is that kids and other adults get to see different parenting styles, and this only enriches the child and future parents. I learnt my parenting skills from Johnny. He's the most compassionate, patient, and fair person I have met… and living collectively becomes a really valuable lesson in observing this. Now, there is still a lot of interchange but the families are more nuclear. But even now I see the kids have their huge peer groups; and they benefit from having so many brothers and sisters… and they have this larger group of people that they can relate to.”
Children and collectivism appear to be Tlaloc's credo. He agrees vociferously. “Yeah, yeah. Children are our future. And parents who come to Auroville are definitely more enlightened in this aspect – they see that this is an alternative to the mainstream dominant society, and they realize that they want to get away from that… And collectivism and communism are the vehicles to transform ourselves and our surroundings…”
With typical newcomer gusto and goodwill, Tlaloc has thrown himself into Auroville, including showing up at community and general meetings. He volunteers his time and effort wearing several hats in the process. Much of the day is spent at the Tsunami office exploring ideas for more human friendly habitations in house-rebuilding, or ensuring ecological sanitation in affected villages, where the danger of groundwater contamination by sewage is high. His interest in greenwork has him also involved in exploring drought resistant species for landscaping (xeriscapes). Through a website he hopes to link this information to the unique work on ‘ Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest ' already well established in Auroville. At Future School he leads a peer education and team teaching class, where ‘older kids will teach younger kids on environmental and sustainability issues by their own sensitization'. Four times a week at Pitanga, he leads a small band of dedicated beginners through the dance of Tai Chi. As for leisure… it is his time at the Kindergarten… “It is there I play – it's the little ones that give me my greatest joy!”
Being caught up in a bureaucratic limbo with his status in Auroville undefined doesn't faze him. So what's with his unusual name – “I never liked my real name and so I wanted a different name and I always liked the word ‘cloud'. Tlaloc, means cloud in Mayan and also refers to the god of rain. And it was in Pondicherry that I actually found my name 30 years ago in a UNESCO courier! And that was it!”

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