What are the challenges and satisfactions of working at the Visitors Centre?
Ramachandra has worked since 2000 at the Visitors Centre, where he is a key part of the Information Service.
AUROVILLE TODAY: What does your work involve?
Ramachandra: I look after the accounts, sales, book purchases, parking fees, etc. Along with other members of the Information Service team, I also have to answer a lot of questions from visitors and guests. We get 5000 visitors a day at present!
What kind of questions do they ask?
The most common questions are about Matrimandir. Many visitors have heard about it but don't know more. Generally I send them to the video hall and then to the Matrimandir exhibition upstairs. If they have further questions and I have the time, I'll tell them more. I adjust what I say according to what I sense is the interest and understanding of the individual.
Some visitors want help in finding a guest house. This can be very time-consuming as I have to find a place according to their budget and requirements. Then there are the people who want to know how to join Auroville.
Are there many of these?
After seeing the Auroville video, many people want to join! I explain the process but I tell them to think a hundred times before committing themselves as once you jump there's no easy way back. I also tell them they should have a good understanding of the The Mother and Sri Aurobindo and of what Auroville stands for.
When you talk about Auroville do you speak only about the positive aspects?
Yes, I always want to give people a good impression. I don't talk about the problems because people wouldn't understand them: you have to be living here to understand. If someone asks how successful we have been in achieving human unity, I tell them we are trying, that we are on the way. Generally I don't talk much about philosophy but about practical things. But if they ask about The Mother, I tell them how, at the age of seven, she was sitting on a chair and her mother said it looked as if she was bearing the whole world on her shoulders. ‘Yes,' said The Mother, ‘I am.' This always touches people.
How satisfied are visitors with their visit to Auroville?
Most people are positive about their visit. However, many visitors are frustrated that they cannot visit the chamber of the Matrimandir, even though I explain it is not a temple but it is meant for individual concentration. Day visitors are also disappointed that they cannot see more of Auroville. We should do more for them.
I think people should also be able to go to the amphitheatre and see the Matrimandir from there on Sunday afternoons, which is the only time some people can visit. Then, for those who really want to see more of Auroville, we could organize a daily tour and take them to places like Savitri Bhavan, Bharat Nivas, CSR and Shradhanjali in a non-polluting battery vehicle. Those interested in greenwork could also be taken to an organic farm or the Botanical Gardens.
What about visiting an Auroville community?
Many visitors want to see how Aurovilians live. The problem is that most Aurovilians don't want to be seen! They don't want to answer endless questions.
Could you also do more in the Visitors Centre to give a fuller picture of Auroville?
Definitely. The new exhibition on Auroville in the new hall is not yet complete, but it misses out many things. If I was redesigning the exhibition I'd put in the history of Auroville, how it evolved from a desert until today, and I'd make it clear what we are here for. The present exhibition is too ‘high', too symbolic, for the ordinary visitor, it doesn't give enough practical information.
I also think we could do more to create a special atmosphere by, for example, having beautiful flowers on both sides of the entrance to the Visitors Centre. This would give a feeling of peace and harmony as soon as people enter here.
It's also important that the people giving information are experienced, long-term Aurovilians; we have a good team but we don't have enough such people who are regularly present. Sometimes I'm here on my own.
How do you manage?
It can be difficult. Occasionally we get groups who have been drinking, and last month rowdies from a local village smashed a window here: that was quite scary. Also, when many people are clamouring for my attention at the same time, it's not always easy to control myself. But, in seven years, I only lost my temper once!
The other thing is that when you give and give to visitors you can become totally empty and exhausted. So I keep myself a little bit detached because I need to keep an overview of what is happening.
What are the satisfactions of working here?
The Information Service team is a very nice team. Then sometimes you meet special people, visitors who inspire you because they are inspired by Auroville. It's like when a candle is burning. The light shines out on all sides, but if you are below the candle you don't see it. In the same way, visitors often feel things - like the peace here - which we Aurovilians don't notice. Then some questions push me deeper into myself. To answer such questions I have to read a lot, and when I read The Mother and Sri Aurobindo I'm reminded of why I came here.
We also get many thanks from visitors for helping them. I'm always a little dissatisfied with myself when I answer a difficult question because I feel I miss out so many things, but generally visitors seem to value what we offer them. You only have to look at the many positive comments in the Visitors Book.