We land through a curtain of white fog. I can only imagine what’s behind it: Delhi. The sun. In the airport building one can smell that there is something stinking in the far distance. It is just a light hint of something. I follow Stefan’s suggestion and buy a face mask – to be already equipped for my way back. But for now I head to Chennai first. In the plane I eat something undefinable. I learn it is „kheer“, an Indian rice pudding – very sweet with almonds and cinnamon.
In Chennai, four border officials are occupied with turning my electronic visa into a stamp in my passport. One of them is an apprentice, so they shout at him what to do. My fingerprints are taken and I have to smile into a small box that has a smiley on it and a friendly „Namaskar“: my photo is taken. Mani has already been waiting for me quite a while. Stefan’s driver is leaning at a fence with my WhatsApp photo opened on his smartphone and a sign in his hand. I am finally there! What a joy. We call Stefan to tell him that we found each other. „See you soon“, he says. The taxi ride will last three hours.
We make our way through chaotic Chennai, it seems to be rush hour. But maybe it is rush hour all the time. Drivers are honking and driving bumper to bumper. We pass bridges, shops, abandoned multistory buildings and huge billboards with portraits of actors or politicians, I cannot tell. Mani has a small figure of “Ganesha” under the front window and the sign for “OM” behind the steering wheel – the sign of the absolute and the ultimate source of existence in Hinduism. My eye lids are heavy but I try to grasp as much as I can. But after a while, I stretch out in the back and fall asleep. I only hear Mani rolling down the window from time to time to spit outside. When I wake up, it is dark but the scenery has changed. I can surmise a lot of green beside the road, we pass small street stalls, groups of cows are lying on the roadside and Mani is busy overtaking slower taxis and scooters. Finally, I see a silhouette of very tall man in the dark. I hop out of the car with a laugh, hug Stefan and say hello to his daughter Ananja. This is finally happening, it seems unreal. After meeting Anusha, Stefan’s wife, eating my first home cooked Indian food and handing over my IKEA porcelain (it is all intact !! thank goodness), I fall into a dreamless sleep until the next morning.
“What do you want to do?“ Anusha asks me. “I have only vague ideas and no plans!” She emails me the „News & Notes“ of Auroville, a weekly bulletin for Aurovilians and guests. So much to do! To get a first idea of the city, my first stop the next morning is the visitors’ center near the Matrimandir viewpoint. I walk about half an hour. The path to the visitors’ center is lined by stones – every one with a piece of wisdom belonging to a specific flower. That is what “The Mother” defined as virtues.
The temple is still closed due to the rainy weather of the last days (they are afraid that people bring too much red soil into the hall made of white marble) and I will try to get a ticket for Thursday. At the visitor’s center I walk through some smaller exhibitions – there is also one on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Their insights are present everywhere.
At the „Dreamer’s Café“ I meet Henrike, an anthropologist from Holland. She is also a „newcomer“ as the new Aurovilians are called. We chat about the idea of this place and the concept of money here. Because: Auroville is supposed to be a cashless place. As a tourist you have to register and as a citizen you are registered anyway and have an account number. Everything you consume is booked onto this account. Since I am visiting of only a few days, I do not get my own account but have to use Stefan’s. You pay every month according to your needs and what you have used and if you build a home in Auroville it belongs to the community. Plus: There is a kind of „starting fee“ to be accepted as a new member of the community. The first year you do volunteer work. How do people finance all that? „That is the contradiction“, Henrike says, „on the one hand, everything belongs to everybody and money means nothing anymore but on the other hand you have to possess or make some money to get here and to get started.“ So, also in Auroville, a little bit of capitalist reality sets in. „What kind of people come here?“, I ask Henrike. „In a sense, we are all dropouts, believing in a better life. And Auroville is the place, that is closest to this idea, I feel.“ Henrike works at Buddha Garden and as a vegetable courier. „This work is so good, so real. In Holland I was fed up with fulfilling the role as a scientist, like: studying, getting your PhD and researching.“ Breaking out of the hamster wheel of: work more, earn more, buy more, meet expectations that are not your desires. So, in a sense, I am in a refugee camp.
Almost lunch time, time to hire my bike. I do not want to walk all the way back. It turns out: Cash is needed because I am only a guest. Fortunately, Anusha lent me some money because I arrived (truly Aurovilian style) without any cash. I choose a mountain bike and try to convince the dealer that I get it without knowing where Stefan exactly lives. I just forgot the name of the community! It is „realization“, others are called „courage“, “surrender”, “creativity” or „namaste“. Finally, he is content with Stefan’s and my phone number. The deposit of 500 rupees is symbolic anyway if anybody really wants to illegally keep a bike.
I make my way back to „realization“ and join Stefan’s family for lunch. Devi has cooked. The housemaid is coming from 9 am to 4 pm, cleans up and cooks Indian food. What a luxury!
We all eat with our hands. Anusha explains, that it is the best way to mix the different ingredients and tastes properly and at the same time helping your stomach that has to mix everything anyway. So with every piece you eat you can decide how it should taste: a little bit more of gravy, a little bit more of something bitter, a little bit more of something salty. So every mouthful is a different experience. I never thought about food on my plate in that way. I am starving, so I just start working the food with my hands. still long for something like a carbonated coke but I start to make my peace with still water. And I should be happy to, because Stefan owns an Aurovilian water tank that filters and enhances ground water. The process is complicated: purification, reverse-osmosis (what was that again?? school’s too long ago…), bio-filtration, bio-dynamisation and – even if it sounds odd – the water is enhanced by lights and sounds and trace elements are added in ionic form. I just keep in mind: This water is safe, healthy and strengthens my immune system. That’s more I ever hoped for. I decide not to drink any other cold drink than this while being in Auroville.
After lunch I get carried away in a conversation with Stefan. We first watch a German image video of Auroville in which he has synchronized some parts. After that, Stefan has the idea of using one of his teaching instruments with me. He gets up and comes back with a pile of cards. Every one of them visualizes a need. Which are basic human needs like necessities? What is a desire? To what extent do I need a special need? What do I strongly long for? It all seems so trivial, but it is not. We talk about sharing and giving – something everybody wants to do. “If you share or give, you should do it with the bliss of a small child feeding a duck”. Why do I act like I act in certain situations? “Maybe your need for autonomy and freedom is so strong”. And where does it come from? Why is it so deeply rooted in myself? I have no clue. No matter where it comes from: “Sometimes people misunderstand something: It is you yourself who is responsible for fulfilling and expressing your needs. So if somebody does not make you feel wanted, understood, sheltered or belonging – it is your turn to act, to find somebody or something else.” Stefan says, a lot of values that we were raised in, have a connotation of a must without regard to your needs. Maybe your need is “rest” but your ethic and your inner voice says. “First do all the work, then you deserve to rest”.
Time flies. Stefan and I hop on our bikes and cycle to the community centre where the Aurovilians do their groceries. It is like a tiny supermarket with almost no processed or packed food.
Stefan grabs chocolate cookies and pays with his account number. It is time to go: A workshop class of about 20 young students from outside of Auroville are waiting. Most of them come from tribes and they are studying at a tribal university – for them, it is a big chance as is the seminar week in Auroville. So they all seem very eager to listen, learn and answer questions.The goal: They shall get to know more about the water cycle, soil protection and hygiene – like “What is the female menstruation”? With their knowledge they are expected to return to their home, being a multiplier. Today they also paint what they have talked about on cotton canvas.
Already stuffed with impressions and thoughts about myself, I have one last program item of the day: my first yoga class. Henrike had recommended Pitanga to me. They have a lot of “Iyengar yoga” I have never heard of. On Wikipedia, it sounds rather harmless and non-artistic – so I am in. Delphine is teaching with a heavy French accent and I do not immediately get the sense and flow of every posture. Well, there is no flow. It seems to be another form of Hatha yoga to me. The air in the yoga hall is sticky, mosquitos are flying around. I lose track of my meditative state of mind, lying in the stick asana, when Delphine suddenly asks who is menstruating. Or did I mishear something? “Ok, so if you have your period, do not lift your legs. The others please lift their legs one after the other.” This occurs completely random and scientifically not justifiable to me, but she is the master and , whatever, I am allowed to lift my legs. Yeah! Another posture involves balancing the yoga block between your thighs and sit in a 90-degree-angle to the wall. I start to feel dizzy and relieved when we finally fall back into savasana.
As usual, it is so hard to rise again, but I have a last adventure coming up: Cycling home through full darkness, with only my smartphone flashlight and a description of Stefan where to take turns. While I am paddling, I think what I often think when I am close to what feels like my personal limit: What am I doing here? And why? Of course I know what I do on the outside, but in a moment of diffuse anxiety this is the only thing I have in my head. (Stefan: „There have been rapes and thefts but very very few and mostly by outsiders“). Fortunately, I do not miss a turn and I only need 10 minutes to find my way back to the “realization community”. After having some left overs from lunch, my tiredness during this inspiring and very warm and humid day may finally result in the obvious: I fall into bed.