Service in the context of the ideals of Auroville means that one feels one is being cared for. I think that the whole system on which Auroville is supposed to be built is a system where you give your energy to something that is useful for the community as a whole and, in exchange, Auroville takes care of you. It takes care of you in terms of food, of looking after your teeth, of driving you safely to Pondicherry, it takes care of you when your roof needs to be repaired; that's basically what services are there for. I would go even further. Take the Dental Service. It's a service that has been running for many years, and when you enter the Dental Centre you experience a certain atmosphere. You feel you are entering a space that is an Auroville space where there is a conscious effort to keep a certain vibration, to make it alive, and to translate that vibration into the quality of the work one is doing. I think that's a very important aspect of what a service in Auroville should be.
Where is Auroville in relationship to that ideal?
In the way that we are organized in Auroville today, if you run a service and want to rely on what the community can offer you it is very difficult. It is difficult because the Central Fund, or the Economy Group that overlooks the Central Fund, does not have the means – it has only a small portion of the resources of Auroville at its disposal – and so the services are underfunded. Only a fraction, and I would say even a small fraction, of the money that is available in Auroville, either from units or from personal money, or from wherever, is pooled and decided upon by the community. So what has developed more and more is a system where if you have a particular need, you have to go and ask the units, or individuals, for money. And that, according to me, is one of the things we have to stop as soon as possible. We are forcing people to ask another Aurovilian for money, and that Aurovilian has the power over the money. Sometimes that person can be more conscious than a group, but Mother said something about the power of money, and that Auroville is a place where there shouldn't be that aspect.
Originally, the way Auroville was organized was in terms of free services for all, but what we have now is that many services are forced to charge, and it is not a pleasant picture.
How do you think that change came about?
My gut feeling or answer is it began the day we decided to give maintenances to people. Somehow, at that time, something changed. The emphasis shifted from the community looking after you to everybody having a personal account.
The Financial Service also came into being then. Before that we just had the envelopes, we all sat together every week and decided in which envelope the money would go. And when one particular area of work needed more money, we would put more money towards that. Everybody from the different areas was there, we would discuss the situation with each other, but this personal contact is something that we have lost now. Now it's more like you send an email, and you're lucky if you ever get an answer.
So for you, the day Aurovilians started receiving maintenances was the turning point?
Yes, it was the watershed.
And at that point, a lot of the services were already in place?
Yes. There was the Water Service run by Maurice, the Electrical Service run by Toine – the major services were already there. And they were all covering their running expenses from what the Central Fund was able to give them, the Aurovilians weren't being charged for these services.
When did they start to charge Aurovilians to run their services?
I'm not sure, but I know that at one point, many years ago, the Electrical Service was asked to charge a certain tax on top of the bill in order to be able to run the Service, and this began a movement. In some respects it might have led to more efficiency, but the mode of functioning has changed completely, and that system of functioning was the uniqueness of Auroville on the economic level. Now it is more like, “OK, you need something, you pay for it. If you don't have the money, too bad,” and that is not particularly an interesting model to follow. We came for something different, and for a while we lived it with all its imperfections. Many of the people who lived it are nostalgic about it. It is a feeling of having lost something very precious.
So we are constantly pushed more and more to deal with our own scene, and it's something that encourages egocentrism: “Take care of yourself and the rest will take care of itself.” Visitors are very surprised that Auroville is like that: that our common facilities – our roads, our public buildings – are fairly derelict compared with our ‘own' villas.
What I also feel, talking to some people who run services, is that they have the impression that they are not heard, that they are not acknowledged when they point out that they need more money for the service to survive. Some of them perceive it as a kind of dismantling of what they have been doing for many years. For example, the puncture-repair service still does not charge people who use it, but without adequate funding its assets are disappearing. Such services are being pauperized, and that's simply not right, that's not something you do to people who have been working for Auroville for many years in a perfectly nice way.
And I think for us to say as a community that we can't help them because there's no money is not true. The money is around, we're not paupers, but we are organizing our society in a very individualistic way.
So what should be the next step?
The way I understand we should function is that the money is given to central services and they, in turn, take care of the individuals. So when this new Pour Tous started to emerge, for me there was no question of saying I would not participate. It is the only practical move that I know of, since years and years, that tries to return us to the ideal.