Members of the Governing Board and International Advisory Council held meetings in Auroville at the end of July. These were their last meetings as their term of office is about to expire. From left to right: Mr. Ramaswamy, Secretary Auroville Foundation, Dr. Marc Luykcx Ghisi, Ms. Ameeta Mehra, Sir Mark Tully, Dr. Karan Singh, Mrs. Aster Patel, Ms. Mallika Sarabhai, Dr. Doudou Diène, Dr. Vishakha Desai, Mr. Ajoy Bagchi.
Auroville Today asked Dr. Karan Singh, Chairman of the Auroville Foundation, for his thoughts on the present situation and on the nature of his relationship with the community.
Dr. Karan Singh answering Alan
Auroville Today: The last time you visited you talked about a new phase in Auroville's development.
Dr. Karan Singh: I had a very strong feeling that the completion of the Matrimandir and the erection of the Sri Aurobindo statue in Savitri Bhavan marked the end of one phase of Auroville and the beginning of another. This morning particularly I felt a demonstrable change of atmosphere and attitude in Auroville. Instead of the usual litany of woes and grievances, each working group that I met had something new that they wanted to do. The whole emphasis seems to have shifted to the next stage of Auroville's development, which is the building of the city. The setting up of L'Avenir d'Auroville, the town planning group, is a symbol of this shift. It represents a convergence of energy whereas before there were opposing camps.
You have been criticized for making many important working groups sub-committees of the Governing Board rather than of the Residents Assembly.
I think the Governing Board had to set up these committees, otherwise they would not have happened. As far as I'm aware, in the last forty years the Residents Assembly has never had a quorum – I consider 10% of the adult residents the absolute minimum. How can you leave decisions about setting up an important committee to an Assembly that sometimes numbers no more than forty people and where twenty-five people can constitute a majority?
When a previous Secretary to the Governing Board took his leave, he said that he hoped Auroville would become increasingly autonomous and independent. He stressed that the Aurovilians should fulfil their rightful role and not see themselves as part of the Government of India .
I don't think the Aurovilians have ever been part of the Government of India. The Auroville Foundation has been set up by an Act of Parliament. To that extent you can say, in the broadest sense, it is part of the Indian structure. But there is no question of Auroville being part of the Government of India.
Regarding the issue of land consolidation, in a meeting today you made strong statements about the primacy of the inner city circle and the need for people who live outside that circle to be prepared to move there.
I never suggested that all those Aurovilians who live outside the city area should now consider moving inside; there's no question of herding everybody there. But what we have been told is that people who own land in the Auroville city area are no longer prepared to sell it; they want land exchange instead. Therefore, it follows that if we have 1,000 acres of land outside the inner circle and we need 150 acres inside the inner circle, we will have to start doing some kind of a land swap.
Broadly, the policy is that wherever possible we should try and disturb the least number of people and yet acquire the maximum amount of land. Now it's for the Land Consolidation Committee to sit down and prioritise which areas you can exchange with the least amount of disruption. But there may have to be sacrifices made by some people in order to consolidate Auroville: in any great endeavour there has to be some sacrifices from time to time.
However, we should provide facilities so that the transition is as painless as possible. I'm suggesting that a large donation from the Suzlon company, which was made specifically to purchase land, should be used instead to create housing for those who are relocating. We still have to put this to Suzlon, it is their decision, but I don't want to be in a position where if we can't buy any land – which is the case at present – we can't use the money.
Regarding what you term the ‘Sri Aurobindo movement', a few years ago you mentioned you saw it growing worldwide. Have your recent international travels and contacts confirmed this?
There have been many negative developments around the world in the last three to four years. In my view, the most negative development was the invasion of Iraq which was quite unjustified and which has cost the lives of one million Iraqis. This has thrown the whole world community out of gear.
However, along with this, I find there is a great craving everywhere for the inner life. This is not just connected to Sri Aurobindo – there's a lot of interest in yoga, in Zen Buddhism, in the teaching of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar etc. The Sri Aurobindo movement is not a mass movement, it is much more subtle, more personalised. To expect it to become a mass movement is wrong.
At the same time, I share the view expressed by several members of the International Advisory Council that Auroville has to get more involved in the world beyond its borders. I was very happy to hear that several projects involve Aurovilians doing work elsewhere in Tamil Nadu. But you have to go further, into India and beyond. Auroville is a laboratory where people are being trained in the art of holistic thinking and integral living and this message needs to be taken abroad because the world is going through a very deep crisis.
On a more personal note, some years ago you wrote a novel, ‘The Mountain of Shiva ', in which the protagonist gives up everything to pursue his inner development. How far does this reflect your own deepest wish?
True, Ashok, the protagonist of that novel, is my alter ego. He is more or less what I would have been if I had not been born into public life. But I had no choice in the matter.
Has that very public life been a hindrance or assistance in relationship to your personal sadhana?
Public life has been a great assistance to my inner development. It has given me an unprecedented experience of interaction with all sorts of people. At the same time, I have tried to shed outer responsibilities. The strange thing is, whenever I try to give something up….Take, for example, the question of whether I should continue to be the Chairman of the Auroville Foundation. I feel I've done it for ten years, that perhaps someone else should take it up now. But the moment I say that, everybody (including the people who may not have been so keen on me) says, “No, no, please stay.” So how does one get out of these things?!
But you do have a deep connection with Auroville.
The whole Auroville experience has been a great learning experience for me. I remain indebted to Auroville because it has strengthened and deepened my psychic relationship with Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.
Quite frankly, the inner purpose of my visit this time was to assess whether I should continue as Chairman or not. And I must say that after this morning's meetings I'm going back with a more positive frame of mind. I really did feel for the first time that things are beginning to happen here.
Dr. Karan Singh taking a ride in an electric golfcart along a section of the planned Crown road
Interview by Alan and Carel
Photo credit: All photos courtesy Giorgio