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Auroville Experience

November 2007

As a community, we need more openness

Priya Sundaravalli

Rakhee moved to Auroville in the year 2000. She had come from Gujarat to attend a short course on pottery at Golden Bridge in Pondicherry . There she met Dharmesh, an Aurovilian architect who was involved with Ray Meeker in the ‘fired house' project. The alchemy of the kiln brought the two together. And Rakhee stayed.

“It was not an easy decision. I had just built a little studio in my parent's house in Baroda . To close that, leave it behind was almost unthinkable. But perhaps the streak of the artist in me won over and I decided to start a completely new life here.”

Rakhee confesses that she had no idea about Sri Aurobindo or The Mother or what Auroville was about. “I only knew there was an ashram in the town.” Auroville was indeed a big culture shock. “It was nothing like what I was used to. The attitude and approach to life was totally different from the outside world. People seemed cooperative rather than competitive; aspiring to high ideals and the ‘no-money economy'; and so much freedom. Overall, life seemed more deliberate and slower.”

Her first experience of community was in Aspiration, a time that ‘blew her away'. “I am an extrovert by nature and like having people around, but here was this community kitchen where 45 people were eating everyday, three times a day, and sharing every thing. I wondered how in the world it worked!”

But she took to community life. “Of course, Dharmesh's presence by my side helped a lot. He was always telling me who's who so it was as if I already knew many Aurovilians!”

A year later, motherhood immersed Rakhee even deeper into the community. “For me, having Uttara has opened a whole new side of Auroville – the world of Auroville parents. Now she is about 7 years old and goes to Transition school. Every day she comes back with so much to tell and share. For me it is a whole new way of seeing and understanding Auroville.”

However, it was only a few months ago that Rakhee became Aurovilian. “I didn't mean to delay it this long. I felt like I was an Aurovilian the first day I came here. But I wanted to take my time; I didn't want to become Aurovilian just because my partner was.”

What have Rakhee's challenges been along the way? “Loneliness. Initially with few friends I felt very alone. But when my daughter arrived it became better as I was so busy. However this feeling of being alone still hits sometimes – even though I now have plenty of friends and work in the studio.

“What I have noticed in Auroville is that if you are not occupied in doing some kind of work you can quickly get very frustrated. And here one can have the highest ‘highs' and lowest ‘lows' in very quick succession. It is a kind of emotional roller-coaster I have never experienced before.”

“That we may not have ‘material generosity' is fine, but do we as a community have openness?” asks Rakhee, a potter who has been living in Auroville for the past seven years. “Openness to let people experience Auroville in the way they want to?”

It is a topic she says came up in the discussion group that she is part of. “An Aurovilian was saying how upset she gets when visitors who are long-term guests put their children in Auroville schools and then they go away and never get involved in any kind of activities. But I see this as one way of getting into Auroville. There can be different ways for different people to get to know Auroville.”

Rakhee in her seven years in Auroville has kept herself busy, first as a designer of handmade paper, then as a craft teacher at the middle school. Now she runs her own small production pottery with two helpers. She also organizes workshops, bringing artists or crafts people from other parts of India and facilitating interaction with their Aurovilian counterparts. Recently she has started to offer an informal programme for Auroville's architecture interns – hands-on pottery sessions at her studio. “For these interns, it is another glimpse into Auroville life. This kind of relating with the outside world is very energizing and everyone comes out feeling good.”

Recently she has started to collaborate professionally with her husband's architectural unit, Buildaur. “I do the ceramic interiors and detailing for their architectural projects.” She says her favourite collaborative project is Club Mahindra's Zest, a holiday resort in Kodaikanal. “I did not know that working together like this could be fun. We are very supportive of each other and I enjoy the interaction and challenge. The way architects think is completely different from artists. So when these two things combine, functionality and aesthetics, it seems like a winning combination.”

Priya Sundaravalli

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