Shyam Sundar played a central role in the unfolding of Auroville in the early years as Mother entrusted him with the responsibility for the project.
AVToday: How did you come to take up that responsibility?
At the beginning of February, 1971, Poorna came and said that Mother wanted to tell me something very important. When I went to Her She immediately asked me, ‘Are you ready to do what I say?' ‘Yes, Mother.' Then She said that Auroville is not in good shape, there are difficulties there, and She wanted me to take up that very difficult work, although my health was not good. ‘You will have lots of difficulties, but I will be with you,' She said. And then She added one sentence. She said She would hold me morally responsible from now on for what happened in Auroville.
I've never been able to fully understand what She meant by this, although I began to get an idea when She gave me a very good scolding some time later for something which had happened there but which was beyond my control. I began to understand that I had to be a medium for Her. She would see me daily with my report and problems and She would help.
Practically, what did the work involve?
Everything! Everything came to me. I was sanctioning funds, channelling gifts and donations, in charge of transport, doing land purchase, office management and, of course, all the internal problems of the Aurovilians were being brought to me. They came with all sorts of ideas about freedom and anarchy which, while they had a basic truth, because of the Aurovilians' youth and inexperience were creating problems both for them and for Auroville. In my dealings with them I always tried to take a commonsense view.
There was also a necessity to bring some order into admissions to Auroville. At that time, anybody coming from abroad would get admission. So a proper entry procedure was instituted. Application forms were drawn up, a group was formed – comprising Andre (Mother's son), Roger, Navajata and myself – which met applicants, and then I would take the application sheet with our comments and a photograph of the applicant to Mother for Her decision.
Although She authorised you to do so, did you ever make a decision about admitting somebody or sending somebody away without reference to Mother?
No. My feeling was that it was a too complicated thing for me, or for any human being. Mother could see what I couldn't. We had met the actual man or woman but Mother, when She saw the photograph, looked at the soul of that person. She saw things as a whole, from so many points of view: the role of the individual, his soul position, the current situation of Auroville, how, if he's a so-called ‘bad force', it could be useful to Auroville, how, if he is a so-called ‘good force', Auroville may have to pay a price...
How good was the relationship between the Ashram and Auroville in the early years?
At the beginning it was first-class. All of us were interested in Auroville, and many of us went to the inauguration. And Ashramites were going there not only for functions but also to work for 3-4 hours on projects like Matrimandir. At the same time, if anybody from Auroville came with any request to an Ashram department, it was very cooperatively attended to.
In the early 1970s, however, Aurovilians were banned from entering the Ashram playground.
This is because the playground has been under the direction of Pranabda who is a strict disciplinarian and couldn't stand the bad behaviour of some Aurovilians. There was also a space problem. But it wasn't a blanket ban. If I and Madhav Pandit signed for them, then certain Aurovilians could still go in.
The real problems between Auroville, the Sri Aurobindo Society and the Ashram arose in 1975-6. Many things happened – it was all political – but the net effect was that Ashramites were completely stopped from working in Auroville.
Was the general feeling in the Ashram at that time that Auroville had somehow lost its way?
Yes. And I was blamed by everybody for everything. All emotions, all actions emanating from by the Ashram, the Society or Auroville were all attributed to me. And I was only there because of that sentence of Hers, that She held me morally responsible, that She had given me the responsibility for Auroville, and that I should never give up that responsibility on the grounds of incapability. At that period, I was completely isolated, Mother was my only support.
Of course we all commit mistakes, I committed mistakes too, and I sometimes wonder that if I had acted differently could I have averted what happened? But then I see that even then we might have committed the same mistakes. The main thing is the spirit in which we act. We all have to try our best.
How would you describe the relationship between Auroville and the Ashram today?
That time in the late 1970s was the lowest point in our relationship. Now there is a definite change both in the Ashram and in Auroville. People are more positive, perhaps because a younger generation has come up which is more open. Personally, however, I feel we lost a golden chance at that time. There was a new current in Auroville in the early 1970s, and I always had an expectation that if the youth trained in the Ashram went to live in Auroville then Auroville would succeed.
Today students from the Ashram school are still not allowed to come to Auroville.
So far as I know this is the view of the Physical Education department. I have heard Pranabda explain the reasons and I understand them. However, the problem is not insoluble.
How can it be solved?
There needs to be more discipline in Auroville while, from the Ashram side, there should be a readiness to forget what happened yesterday. There is a further difficulty, however; the Ashram is not the same since Mother left Her body. This casts more responsibility on Auroville.
In what sense?
Mother said, as far as I can recollect, that the Ashram is the pioneer, the central consciousness, while Auroville is a more outward expression. However, in the ‘divine drama' which is going on, we don't know which body will play which role at which point of time.
How necessary is it that the relationship between Auroville and the Ashram should be good?
It is necessary because we can learn from each other. We can also wrestle among ourselves sometimes! However, to achieve greater unity we must first unite in our hearts. Of course, fresh problems will arise, fresh causes of disunity, but we have to deal with them. That is why we are here.
A good relationship is also necessary because both the Ashram and Auroville are Mother's creations. Mother appeared quite disappointed with Auroville in Her last years (whether She was any happier with the Ashram we can't say!). She was sending strong messages to Auroville about the need to always tell the truth etc. and once I asked Her if these messages also applied to Ashramites. ‘Yes,' She said. In her consciousness there was no difference between the Ashram and Auroville. She always saw them as one.
And personally? What are your feelings about Auroville today?
I will always have goodwill for Auroville, for Mother's project. I always pray for Auroville and if there is anything I can do to help, in whatever way, I am willing. But, frankly speaking, I am not very happy with the present Auroville. Even if the Matrimandir is completed – and this is something I have looked forward to for many years – I wonder what it will mean if there is not also some inner development (points to his heart).
You feel that in Auroville today there is more outer manifestation than inner development?
And what about your relationship with those Aurovilians with whom you were in conflict in the past? I hear that Frederick is again speaking with you...
A happy softening and understanding has been coming in several of us at Auroville. In Frederick too… (Laughs) It is Renu, his daughter, who pushed him. Actually, at one time Frederick and I had a very close relationship. That all changed, but now we are together again.
Do you ever talk about that difficult period together to understand what happened?
No. The less we speak about it the better, otherwise the story-telling will start again. Let us rise above it.