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September 2007


Fearlessly pursuing a dream

- Priya Sundaravalli and Manjot

A profile of Adhi, manager of the Botanical Gardens' environmental education programme.

I f there is a quality that can define Adhi, it could be ‘fearlessness', for Adhi never hesitated in pursuing what he felt was the right thing to do. “Ever since I was a young kid I used to admire the Westerners planting trees around Aurodam canyon, across from my mother's house,” says Adhi. “We boys would be foraging for wild fruit trees, and there was this one navapazham tree that we'd be under. And watching the Aurovilians, I felt like joining Auroville. I even expressed this wish to my mother, but she stopped me,” he remembers. “And being a kid I couldn't protest".

“Auroville was always the dream. When I heard that Auroville had bought this plot of land and they were going to start a Botanical Gardens there, I was very excited because I saw this could be a way for me being connected to Auroville, and being a part of a project from the very beginning .”

Adhi has been involved with the Auroville Botanical Gardens since the inception seven years ago, and now is a crucial element in the team. “I came in with little knowledge and skills, and over these seven years I have learnt much and taken up more and more responsibility,” he says. “And the learning never stops!”

Now he looks after the Gardens' administration and accounts, coordinates volunteers, trains and supervises workers, coordinates and facilitates the visits of school children and other visitors, and does the more hands-on work on the Gardens alongside Paul – working with seedlings in the nursery, and planting trees. “Recently, I've started to design and create dry landscapes both within and outside Auroville,” he adds.

Adhi comes from the village of Edaiyanchavadi . He attended Udavi School . “But since it offered only up to 10th Standard, I moved to the government school on Koot Road . And what a contrast that was!” He smiles at the memory. But he achieved his high school diploma, and was ready for college. But fate would decide otherwise. “I had a place in a college in Cuddalore, but the bus fare of twenty rupees a day was just too expensive for my family. They told me to find another way to study, and take up a job instead.” Adhi settled for a compromise. He signed up for a distance-learning programme offered by a nearby university, and simultaneously found work as a carpenter's assistant. With his skills in woodworking, Adhi was soon making more than anyone else in the family. “Within a year, I had my own team of carepenters.

“That's when I heard about the plans for the Auroville Botanical Gardens. And my old dream came back – to be involved with Auroville.” Adhi immediately went to see Paul to ask him for a job. “It took much convincing, but Paul did hire me as a worker,” says Adhi smiling widely.

The next few years were spent in helping Paul on the land with the planting of the Gardens. “I had no special knowledge of botany or ecology; just a love for trees and a belief in the dream of the Botanical Gardens. The learning happened as I worked.”

In 2004, Adhi applied to become an Aurovilian, and was accepted. “About the same time, Paul offered me a space to build my house.” With a team of his own, Adhi built a beautiful pucca tiled house that now stands amidst a personally landscaped garden.

How does he feel about losing out on formal education? “When people ask me if I am qualified, I tell them that I have learnt everything by doing. Of course I would've liked to have had a degree, but I sign-up for informal educational courses. For example, three years ago, I went to Bangalore and completed a certified village botanist course.”

Recently, Adhi made a short trip to other botanical gardens along the east coast of India all the way up to the Sunderbans in West Bengal . “I wanted to visit these gardens to get ideas on how to develop the Auroville Botanical Gardens further,” he says. “It was a fantastic experience meeting colleagues who are also passionate about the need for conservation and have dedicated their lives to Botanical gardens. It made me connect with the larger family.

“There is still a lot to be done in the Auroville Botanical Gardens,” says Adhi. “I am just very happy to have been involved from the very beginning – in a place where one can see a transformation from nothing but a dream to a full reality.”

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