Retired General Krishna Tewari established the Auroville Archives almost 20 years ago in temporary accommodation and he has been working there ever since. Why are the Archives so important and what are the challenges it faces?
Krishna Tewari (right) with Thambidurai
Auroville Today: Why does Auroville need an archive?
Krishna : The Mother called Auroville a ‘living laboratory'. As in any other laboratory experiment, it is important we keep a record of all that goes on. What we have gone through in the past 40 years is amazing. If we keep a true record we can learn from our past mistakes and we can begin to grasp the deeper dimension of what is happening here rather than just looking at things superficially.
How comprehensive is the material that the Archives have at present?
We have a lot of documentation concerning what The Mother said about why Auroville has been created. For me, this is the most important material that we have. If, for example, we keep highlighting what The Mother said about there being no personal possessions in Auroville, that everything belongs to the Divine, never again can a group claim in the Supreme Court that Auroville belongs to them. Then we have a lot on the planning of the township and on the functioning of various work groups. We also have important information from the Auroville International Centres. On my table now I have two new files – one on the controversy created by Peter Heehs' latest book, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, and another one on the background to and the enactment of the Auroville Foundation Act.
Do you believe that someone who wants to understand the deeper dimension of Auroville could do this if they studied the documents in the Archives?
Yes, but it would need a real study and take time. Also, there may still be a lot of missing information. For example, Roger Anger shared some of his important historical material with me, but I don't know if it is all. Part of the problem we have in Auroville is that various working groups and individuals don't keep records and, when they do, they don't preserve them. This is why I started the Archives in 1991. But while I regularly put out appeals for materials the response is not always encouraging. People are too preoccupied with other things.
But isn't the difficulty of getting material due to many Aurovilians not being interested in history? They would rather focus upon the future.
Yes, but we must know about the past if we are not to encounter problems in the future. We can't just live day-to-day. I think we are not prepared to face certain things in our past. Keeping a true record can be painful of course, it means admitting mistakes and failures, but we are all human and ultimately it doesn't matter if it helps us understand the past better.
Take, for example, Navajata, the Chairman of the Sri Aurobindo Society (SAS). At one time I was close to him – while I was still in service I had invited him to Kashmir to speak to the officers about The Mother and spirituality and he impressed everybody. This was one side of him. But he took a wrong turn when the SAS claimed ownership of Auroville. So all this information should be there in the Archives to enable researchers to see the truer picture, to understand that everything is not simply black or white.
I feel the present world crisis has a purpose behind it. Among other things, it is helping the truth to come out regarding certain issues. It is time that the truth about certain things came out in Auroville also, and the Archives can play an important part in this.
But surely one of the problems is that people's memories are defective. If no records were kept at the time, how can you expect people to remember what happened many years later?
True. Sometimes you get misguided by the ego. You say, “I did this, I did that” whereas the reality may have been more complicated.
How successful is the Archives in preserving the material that it has?
The enemies of paper are humidity, heat, dust and insects, and we have an abundance of all of them in Auroville. Firstly, we have to carefully and systematically preserve what we have from mishandling and the natural enemies of paper. Next we are gradually copying paper documents on to CDs but we still have much more to do and we don't have either the money or the manpower. Thambidurai and Iyyappan are my valuable assistants but we need more people to help with the routine work of conservation and the conversion of material and we don't get any volunteers coming forward. Maybe this interview will make a difference!
Now we also have a very restricted storage area. I have been shunted out of my old office in what I call the ‘dungeons' of Bharat Nivas (they were actually the ducting corridors for the power cables and air-conditioning system of the building) and although I was promised another room it's been occupied by someone else.
Then there is the power problem. All of the material in the Archives has to be kept under carefully-controlled conditions regarding temperature and humidity. But even though we have frequent power breakdowns the management of Bharat Nivas won't start the generator because they don't have the money to run it.
The real problem is people are too involved in their own projects; they don't understand the importance of the Archives.
What would you like to happen next with the Archives?
We need a new building, a permanent place with all the required facilities. I've already presented a proposal with a design but nothing worthwhile is happening. Nobody seems interested. Even our Governing Board and Foundation office do not show much enthusiasm for this vital need. That's why I am appealing for wider support not only for our ongoing work but also for the materialising of this new project.
You sound very pessimistic.
Through the last forty years Auroville has been through many ups and downs. Now, I believe, we are in the deepest part of a dip. However, I feel the overall movement is always ultimately upward. I believe, for example, that we are becoming more and more conscious that the way we do things is not correct, that we should organize ourselves in such a way as to make ourselves more presentable to the outside world.
As to the deeper picture, I remember asking Nolini many years ago why people were behaving so badly in this place which The Mother had created. He smiled and said, “Wait and see”. So I am not pessimistic as I am convinced there is a purpose behind all this.