Alain Bernard came to live in Auroville in the early 1970s. Over the years, he has been prominently involved in many aspects of Auroville's organization, notably education, finance and governance. Today he works at the Auroville Coastal Area Development Centre and participates in the work of the Auroville Press. He is also a member of the Security Task Force.
Alain Bernard, Photo:Alan
Auroville Today: You've lived here for a long time. How do you perceive the Auroville of today?
Alain: Auroville at present can be a bit disconcerting. Take the land issue. At a recent meeting, somebody said there is no need to worry about Auroville not being able to acquire all the land because it is Mother's project and She will look after it. What do I know? But, objectively speaking, if She is looking after the land acquisition then She doesn't seem to be making such a good job of it!
Regarding land, there is also the complication of Aurovilians relentlessly trying to implement plans made many years ago without seriously considering new developments happening around us. For example, at one time Paul of Maroma wanted to buy land to the north of Auroville as a site for a new workshop. The then Secretary, Mr. Bala Baskar, supported this. He warned that a huge financial power was growing around Pondicherry and it would try to bulldoze everything in its way, so Auroville needed to acquire as much land as possible. But our town planning group opposed it because they said Maroma had to be sited in the Industrial Zone. So it didn't happen.
Perhaps they feared that Auroville would be somehow diluted, weakened, if they modified the plan?
Perhaps, but why are we afraid of this? Yesterday, when I visited the Matrimandir, I had a strong impression that, come what may, Auroville will become what it is meant to become. I also feel that when we have a bigger population we will be more of a power in the region and, if we have the right consciousness, this will mean that we will be able to acquire land we have ‘lost'. That story is not over.
There seems to be a lot of fear and insecurity in Auroville at present.
Yes. Partly it's to do with the Indian visa laws – the fact that people who have lived here 40 years have no special status, they can be told to leave at a moment's notice. Even though the Government of India has, broadly speaking, dealt very fairly with Auroville and the Aurovilians and it is not likely to happen, still there is a de facto insecurity. Also, Aurovilians are not getting younger so if they had to return to their country of birth many of them would have a very hard time, particularly those who have no personal resources. All these are like layers and layers, and they make people very sensitive to issues of money and visas.
In addition, quite a few people living on a maintenance feel insecure when they see that some fellow Aurovilians are sometimes treated with brutality if their activity comes under scrutiny. While we have very high ideals, we do not have a practical economic philosophy with clear principles. This is a real problem. To take a practical example: how do we evaluate the true “usefulness” of an Aurovilian to Auroville? Surely the economic criterion is only one among many.
Then, when you see an apparent drive from some quarters to force Auroville into a more bureaucratic mode, you realize Auroville could end up as a kind of department of the government and you wonder whether you would want to live under such a regime. Even I considered living elsewhere. But then, if I returned to France , what would I do there? At the same time, it's true that the kind of abiding faith which I had in Auroville for years is not exactly the same now.
Some years ago, you stepped back from playing such a prominent role in the community. Why?
For one thing, I've been a bit burned by incidents which have made me lose confidence in the fairness of this community. For example, when there was voting for our first Working Committee, I was one of the candidates. But a campaign was waged against people like me, perhaps because we were seen to be too closely associated with a particular orientation, and, through a system of negative voting (which was only used this one time), we came bottom of the poll.
Since then, I have repeatedly declined to be on Working Committees. After all these years, I don't feel like being in the forefront any longer. I prefer to support, to advise – and, anyway, I believe that younger people should take the lead now.
One thing I feel is that, in our meetings, we have lost the capacity to ‘listen'. In the past, I felt that in meetings people had ‘antennae': they would be listening to what was going on, but at the same time there was a deeper listening going on because they knew that the answer had to come from somewhere else. I don't get that feeling now. Most of our meetings have become ‘flat', horizontal. I think we need to discover the vertical dimension again.
You seem to find the present situation rather bleak.
There have been advances. I feel the present Working Committee has behaved commendably in calling together competent people to discuss specific issues: they have not succumbed to the pressure of creating so-called ‘representative' bodies.
I always felt that the Working Committee and Council should tackle problems through giving small groups of competent people the responsibility to go into something and make proposals. After that, of course, the proposals should be subject to community-wide debate, because there is still the danger of a small group wanting to control. That's a big problem we have in Auroville – groups who want to control, who want to ‘clean-up' Auroville or impose some kind of uniformity. I'm not a control person; perhaps I'm even a bit too loose. But my main feeling is that if someone is doing a good job, you support that person, even if all the ‘correct' bureaucratic procedures have not necessarily been followed. And if they need to follow specific procedures, you explain this to them with sensitivity. Unfortunately, good communication is not a forte of some of our present groups….
Have your attitudes changed over the years? At certain times you have been associated with groups and individuals who held strong views.
Ideologically I have never been extreme – I'm more a ‘floater' than someone who is driven by an overwhelming passion – but it is true that I have been associated with remarkable individuals like Satprem and Kireet Joshi. When Kireet became Chairman of the Governing Board I had high expectations: I felt he could help Auroville improve a lot. I must admit I was somewhat disappointed. He has this very high conceptual vision, but when it comes to applying it to ground realities, there is always a difficulty. Kireetbhai is a wonderful person and I have enjoyed immensely working closely with him, but it shows that there probably cannot be any ‘saviour' of Auroville. I expected too much.
In fact, I would now question an overwhelmingly conceptual approach to doing things in Auroville. I'm quite certain that the reality of this place is wideness – that there are many different paths to the ideal. This is probably why so many different things coexist in Auroville at present.
Kireet, though, has played a very important role in Auroville's development – in particular, in the formulation of the Auroville Foundation Act. Kireet said then that we had to make a sacrifice – ideally, he said, the government should not be so heavily involved in Auroville – but he felt there was no other way to protect Auroville. Because while we can see the inconvenience this Act is creating for us, we don't see the problems it has avoided. Suppose we had no legal status, imagine the kind of pressure we would be under from local government, MLA's etc. So I think the reality is that Auroville still needs quite a lot of protection from and the involvement of the central government because, in India , nothing big can happen without its support.
And the support of Something Else?
Yes. In the Auroville story, there have been quite a few miracles, and the passage of the Foundation Act was one of them. Imagine, on August 18th, 1988 the Act hadn't even been drafted, yet on September 5th it was passed by both houses of the Indian parliament. This must be a record. Moreover, through some Divine maya, the Act was passed unanimously by the whole house. So I'm certain that Auroville had a very special support at that time, there was clearly a Divine intervention.
Do you feel that Auroville still has that support today?
When I visited Matrimandir yesterday I came back with the feeling that Auroville is far from over. I also think the world evolution is also going on, although Auroville's role in that is something of a mystery. I'm reminded, though, of the time Mother redefined heroism. She said that today to be heroic is to be united. I believe that. Maybe now that the Matrimandir is completed, there is a new possibility for the Aurovilians to come together. For the Matrimandir is surely a very powerful statement.