The Beez Knees’ India Adventure Tour Diaries – Chapter 5

 

When we last checked in with Beez and CC in Pondicherry, Beez managed to somehow grow a moustache and have his balls massaged by a cell-phone addicted yoga instructor. The yoga guy has been disconnected and the moustache shaved, and soon Beez will visit the “utopian” society of Auroville.

 

Auroville

 

The lack of any official entertainment and our isolation was really starting to build in Pondicherry. For some reason, we had not met any new people in three weeks of living in Pondicherry. We tried to meet local Pondicherry Indians, but the language differences and the cultural gap between us generally doesn’t seem to lead to any real friendship (see above).

Corrina and I have been reading the exact same sources of information (Lonely Planet, Hindu Express, India Today, V.S. Naipal books) and our conversations have become a little ridiculous. We start telling each other about what we have read, which is usually followed up with a “ya, I read that too”.

We were quite concerned about how long our traveling compatibility would last. Sure, we’ve been a couple for eleven years, but we have only traveled together for ten days at the most and now we are going for 180 days. As I have started to become very bored, Corrina decided that I should go to the utopian society of Auroville by myself. She could paint and I could learn about Auroville and maybe meet a few new people. I was hoping to meet some interesting people, boy, did I ever strike a gold mine.

A couple days later, at 7:30am, I rode my bicycle from Pondicherry arriving at the Centre Guest House in Auroville at 8:30am. Upon arrival, I was instructed that I was “very early” for the 9am starting time and that I should wait at one of the two tables. I sat down amongst four people who were eating their healthy breakfast, none of them chatting to each other, so I assumed they didn’t know each other.

I rode my bicycle for the entire hour up a slight uphill grade to Auroville. As soon as I sat down, I realized that I was sweating profusely, so I reached into my small backpack and took out my camping towel to wipe the sweat off my forehead and off of my chest. I started to feel a little uncomfortable, wondering if this was going to disturb the breakfast eaters; were they thinking “oh, gross, sweating and cleaning himself at the breakfast table”. My intent was to just wipe my brow at first, but the sweat just wouldn’t stop coming! I tried to relax a little and started to observe my surroundings; large palm and banyan trees surrounded a nicely sculpted, red stone pathway and a building under construction. I didn’t book my accommodation because they were not sure if the course would occur, so I awkwardly just sat there at the silent breakfast table, soaked in sweat.

My intent was to take the “introduction to Auroville”, a four and a half day course, to learn more about the Aurovillian way of life.  I had already reviewed many publications about their community, (reading the monthly newspaper, Auroville Today, and 50 page book called “an introduction to Auroville”) so I figured I was going to be far more prepared for my introduction than the other tourists. 

The course must have a minimum of five people to proceed, or they will not provide it. It turns out that there are exactly five people, so we began. The introduction sessions were hosted by Ambre,  a French woman with two children born in Auroville. She has been in Auroville since 1976.  I have no idea how old she is, maybe mid 40’s. She was the French teacher for many years in the community and now is the hostess of the introduction program.

Auroville is a community which was envisioned and launched by another French woman many years ago called “the mother” who looked after the practical affairs of running Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram in Pondicherry (an Ashram is a place where devotees of a guru live and learn a spiritual path according to that guru). She was originally a devotee of Sri Aurobindo, but eventually attained a status very similar to his; revered and loved by her devotees.

Auroville was created by “the mother” to be a community that was different than the Ashram. In the Ashram, all members must be devotees of the guru and must be trying to become spiritually enlightened. Auroville’s goals are not as high, though no easier. “Aurovillle will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity… to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness” (from the Auroville Charter).

With these goals, Auroville has gone from a desert to a beautiful forest with attractive architecture. There are 2000 people who live here. The goals of self sufficiency and the removal of money from their society still have not been attained in the 35 years of its existence, but they are slowly moving forward to this goal.

 Our morning session starts with an introduction to the fellow visitors:

-          Danish woman, Atma, who first visited India in ’69 so must have been mid-50’s, but she looked more like 40 to me, had been to Auroville six months ago and was back again

-          Danish woman, Mia, friend of Atma, storyteller and circus performer

-          Korean fellow (25?) who understood very little English and was unfortunately zoned out the entire time

-          Dr. Luther, (29, Nashville) who is a spiritual healer with a PhD in alternative healing practices

-          And me, Beez, rock and roll musician

 Okay, well it looks like I’m definitely not Mr. Hot Shot this time!

 After our introductions, we had a lesson from a Dr. Joseph, a psychotherapist from Holland. Dr. Joseph has written a critical analysis about Auroville which is “banned” in Auroville because of the questions he raises about the community. He has a simple and clear way of presenting the philosophy, yet he indicated that he is rejected by the Auroville community because he is too rational. It is an understanding in Auroville that progressing to a unified culture will be beyond “reason” and will only be achieved by surrendering yourself to the divine power. But… this is the man that Ambre has chosen to introduce us to Auroville society!! It is a brave and powerful statement about Auroville that they have chosen this man to explain to us what Auroville is about.

Dr. Joseph indicated that there are two reasons for coming to Auroville; one is to run away from your problems elsewhere. This is the false reason for coming to Auroville. Human suffering results from conflicts in the mind, in Auroville, these conflicts are magnified, not diminished and so if you are not coming from a place of strength, living in Auroville could create psychosis. (so… why’d you stick around? –ed)

   As I walked around Auroville, I couldn’t help but ponder; would I like to live here? What skills do I have that would be useful for Auroville? Moving to Auroville is like one of those rare opportunities to be a pioneer. It seems that those with the skills to build things, grow things or teach people things would thrive here. That said, I can’t see what I would do here. Dr. Luther, the healer from the US, on the other hand has all of the credentials required. He would be wooed to come to Auroville, because westerners come for healing sessions and the healing communities could make a fortune from his efforts. I quite enjoy Dr. Luther’s easy going, matter-o-fact, attitude about his healing profession. I am considering asking him to do some “chakra cleansing” with me.

The rest of the week, our group is exposed to the many communities and workers in Auroville; organic farmers experimenting with worm compost, natural builders inventing new processes for using renewable resources and sustainable housing, forest workers who have been turning a desert back into the forest it was 200 years ago, educational facilities for poor village children, the construction of a communal building, town planners who are trying to create a city that is not suppose to be burdened with rules, and some of the industries that bring revenue into Auroville, (clothes manufacturing, natural dying).

 Auroville is supposed to house 50,000 people, yet after 35 years, there are only 1800 people.

 Here are some of the concepts that Auroville is striving for:

  • Auroville wishes to be an international community; the highest expression of human unity.
  • Money should not be exchanged in Auroville, all Aurovillians basic needs should be provided by Auroville.
  • Auroville should be self-sufficient.
  • Aurovillians do not own anything.
  • Aurovillians should work for 5 hours per day at a job that is meaningful for them.

 Unfortunately, it seems that the age old idea of “working for a living” has not yet disappeared from most of the Aurovillians lives. Work is divided into concepts of “useful” work and “useless” work. So if you decided that your meaningful work was playing bongos all day, this would be considered useless work.

 On Monday night, my first night, there was a movie featuring “the mother” and her philosophy. After our dinner, I jumped onto Dr. Luther’s motorbike and off we went in search of the “town hall”. Auroville is approx. 25 sq km with buildings and communities scattered all over. Apparently there are no road signs because the village people steal the signs for firewood. I have no idea if this is true, but I can assure you there are few signs, no light on the dirt roads around Auroville and very few recognizable sign posts. Although Dr. Luther is a talented, emerging spiritual leader, he advises me that he isn’t very good with directions. Hmmm… this wasn’t the best time to find out how much we have in common!

Of course, we got lost on the way, but as is common all over India, you can’t go far without running into someone who will point you in the right direction. We arrived at the theatre for the 8PM show.

There were about thirty Aurovillians in attendance, and the movie was played on a huge TV screen (about 6’X6’). The video consisted of still shots of “the mother” counseling a senior spiritual leader. The theme of their discussion was “appreciation”. Sometimes a psychological difficulty will revolve around a conflict in the mind of two (or more) ideals. The process of therapy (in our western society) is to bring these conflicts into the open, shed light on the situation to help the seeker to resolve his/her conflicts. In the east, there isn’t a tradition of therapy; the individual is generally more responsible for their own searching or discovery.

In the film, the senior spiritual leader has come to the mother because his family does not appreciate his work. Indian families are very bound to each other through a slew of responsibilities, traditions and expectations. Respect from your family is considered very important. The mother keeps telling the leader “have I told you that you were doing wrong?” He answers "no". She tells him he is doing his work very well. His pain originates from doing what is right for his community, yet not receiving any appreciation for his efforts. The mother reassures him again that he is doing his work properly, yet he cannot let go of his desire for appreciation. Certainly, if we think of a brilliant physicist trying to explain a new idea in physics, we who are uneducated in physics may not understand, let alone appreciate his efforts. But let’s face it, how many of us are willing to do work and receive no appreciation from those we are working for?

 The idea of the short film was for the Aurovillians and guests to ponder the concept of appreciation. It is a hard one to digest. If someone is doing work that is unappreciated by everyone, wouldn’t it seem that the individual was self-centred and uncaring? I guess the message is that it is painful when our chosen audience is unappreciative of our work, but we must transcend that pain as it is self generated. It has nothing to do with the value of the work, which is the true reality. Amazingly, this was exactly the same issue that Dr. Joseph was dealing with earlier in the day; lack of appreciation of his book by his chosen audience, the Aurovillians.

 Upon returning from the movie to the centre guest house, I discovered a group of young people (age range 18-27) sitting at a large round table. There are only two tables at the guest house, which encourages the guests to sit together so you don’t have to worry about sitting at someone’s table, or alone. It was at this table that I met a fabulous group of people.

Marta and Jordana, (age 24, Spanish, like to laugh and speak English well) are hanging out with a girl named Sita (18, Dutch, speaks English with an American accent) and a British fellow, Terry (27). During the week, Marta, Jordana, Sita, Dr. Luther, Terry and I gathered each night after our respective days of exploring Auroville to hang out. Marta loves chocolate and she frequently brought out snacks for the whole group. Jordana works in the film industry and wants to make documentary films. She thinks I am very funny (so obviously she is extremely wise and perceptive). Apparently I am very similar to a Spanish comedian. I had a blast, telling jokes, holding court, and playing lots of card games. Sita is only 18 years old, but she is very comfortable with herself and she is very social. She carries a German card game called “Set” which involves matching shapes. It looks easy, but it isn’t. It is a great tool for bringing people together.

Around this time, I started to reflect on the amazing number of fascinating people we have met during our trip. I wonder if the tourists who travel to India are a very unique subset of tourists or whether India changes people. Either way, it seems that most of the travelers we have met have been witty, intelligent, kind and open to understanding strange experiences - or maybe it’s been a long time since I was traveling like this. (that’s not saying much for the last ten years of Smugglers tours! – ed)

As soon as the Spanish ladies heard that Dr. Luther is a spiritual healer, they asked if he would perform a session with them. Dr. Luther is very willing to share his talents, so they agreed to do the session next day. One of Dr. Luther’s healing sessions is based on sound therapy. As far as I understand it, he interacts with your “vital” energy field (the energy that is found in a one inch layer on the outside of your body) and works with you as you both interact with your charkas. He has the ability to make a very low “froggy” resonance, similar to a Tibetan monk’s chant or a didgeridoo.

The next day, Jordana and Marta had their healing session. We were very curious, (Sita, Terry and myself) to see how it went. Each healing session is private. After Marta is finished her session, she returned directly to her room, she didn’t come to sit at the communal table. Jordana’s session ended similarly. They both looked very moved, effected, maybe even freaked out by their sessions.

Terry decided that he wanted to do it also. Terry has a business degree, and was working for Price Waterhouse writing government policy papers. He has walked on burning hot coals at a Tony Robbins’ seminar. He is a cheerful, proud, strong, young businessman.

He arranged his session with Dr. Luther on his last day in Auroville. Right after his session, he explained that he experienced something very powerful and he believes that Dr. Luther does have a talent. He indicated that at one point in the session, both Dr. Luther and he were seeing the same thing, a lotus flower. Well, Dr. Luther is three for three, he must be good!

After spending my time in Auroville, as well as various visits back there, I’m sure it isn’t a cult. In fact, it seems that they make it really difficult for you to move there. Corrina and I have had many discussions about whether we would like to spend another six months just in Auroville, but it seems like it is an all or nothing type of gig. It would be a great place to raise a family, until the children are about ten years old. The education system has caring teachers and a focus on encouraging the joy of learning.

If you are interested in a career in experimental, “self sufficient living” technologies (solar energy, natural building, rain harvesting etc) then it would be a great place live and work. But according to many of the Aurovillians I talked to, it is very difficult to get anything new done. This is likely because there are limited finances, government funding pressures, an excess in new ideas and an absence of follow through. Many projects fail because the people who start them are not interested in maintaining them. Housing is also quite difficult to get. It might seem romantic to sleep in a kit house (coconut thatch roofed hut suspended ten feet off the ground) for a few nights, but most “newcomers” do not receive any permanent accommodation for two to five years.  Living in the forest is not for everyone; particularly me. I can’t stand mosquitoes and bug bites and I would be a raving lunatic within a month. This is not to say there aren’t really nice houses, mansions even, in Auroville, but new comers aren’t going to be staying in those houses. So basically, it seems like a great place, but not necessarily for Corrina and I.

 

Our apartment in Pondicherry has an extra bedroom and separate bathroom, which has come in handy. After I left Auroville, I insisted that these fabulous people I had met should come to visit us, so they could meet Corrina. It seems that we now have house guests at least two times a week!.

Our first guests were Vicky and Nick. I met them briefly in Auroville. They are a thirty-something English couple, who were riding around India on their mountain bikes. Vicky’s parents own a hotel in northern England (near Harry Potter’s stomping grounds). They have a fabulous life style. Vicky runs the kitchen for the hotel, and Nick runs the bar. They work for eight months straight and then close down the hotel and take four months off. They travel around the world on their bicycles. I invited them for a drink and to go out for dinner. They had booked themselves a hotel room at the Park Guest house, which is run by the Ashram. It is the best value hotel in Pondicherry, but there are rules: No drinking, no smoking, and you must be in bed by 10:30pm.  We ate dinner but were enjoying each other’s company so much that we invited them to stay at our place to finish off the wine, beer and gin that we had at the house.

Our next week is a whirlwind of visiting guests. And some of the guests are starting to bring their own guests! The English couple, Nick and Vicky, were too hung over to continue their journey at 6am, as they had planned. They returned to the Park Guest house and agreed to go to dinner again that night. When they turned up on our doorstep for dinner, they had invited another couple along, Steve and Julie from New Zealand. My first reaction was “oh god, who are THESE people” before I even saw them!

Steve and Julie (both 40) had been a couple for 20 years and turned out to be great people. They’re living in Pondicherry buying outdoor furniture to export to New Zealand. They intend to open a store to sell all of their treasures. They have done this before with smaller items, but this time they are buying an entire ship container full of outdoor furniture. After they work each day, they go to “Seagulls” restaurant at 5pm for a beer. We’ve jokingly call it their office. For one week, we met them at the “office” at 5 and then went to dinner. I was very curious about their business and volunteered to help them on the day they are going to assemble all of the furniture and put it into their container.

It’s was a tricky business dealing with the Indians to assemble all of the furniture on the final day. Steve has arranged with all of the dealers that they have to deliver their furniture to the container, but his main contact refused. He insisted that Steve must hire a truck and a small army of Indians must go to pick up each of the pieces. The logic is that you can’t count on each of the stores to bring the goods to the ship container and that if you go and pick them up yourself you are guaranteed to get it in the container. This turned into a real nightmare for Steve and Julie, because the Indian work crew don’t start working until 2pm, which leaves them with only four hours of daylight.

Loading the truck was a real pain, as Steve tried to mime his way to communicate how he wanted the truck to be loaded. Steve and Julie are now the owners of these goods, so there is not as much care about the condition of the goods. Some of the pieces are quite heavy (maybe 300lb 12’ by  1’ circumference wooden pillars). As Steve was yelling at the Indians to load the truck, accidents would occur. Eight very small, but strong Indian men were pushing and straining to load these pillars. Steve would be yelling at them to keep pushing because Steve didn’t want the work to be spread over two days and daylight time was quickly evaporating. The loading of the pillars usually ended with the first Indian being crushed under the pillar yelling, in a voice that sounded like Tattoo from Fantasy island sucking on a bottle of helium: “help boss I’m stuck!” While Steve was coordinating the loading of the trucks, Julie was paying all of the suppliers and workers. At one point I heard her say, “I make mistake, I pay. You make mistake, you pay. Not "you make mistake, I pay” following a request for extra money because they had to unwrap their horrible job of wrapping their furniture with a thin layer of newspaper instead of the more hearty cardboard.

As the darkness arrived, the workers started to indicate that the rest of the work would have to be done the next day. Steve refused. I finally came in handy. (what had you been doing up UNTIL this point? –ed). I had brought Corrina’s flashlight to ride my bike. It is like a coal miners light which sits wraps around your head. I handed this to Steve (no one else had a single flashlight and the work would have been impossible to do in the dark). As I looked up at the container, it looked like Steve is Luke Skywalker leading his crew inside of the pitch dark container. From my angle, it looked particularly amusing, because as Steve turned to mime how the next piece should be loaded, he blasted them with the lights right into their eyes. “Help boss I’m blind!” It was at this point that I gave up on the fantasy of becoming an import-exporter.

I received an e-mail from Dr. Luther a week after I had left Auroville. The Spanish girls had gone north to teach at a school, Terry had gone to Delhi to see a friend, but Sita was still in town. Dr. Luther’s e-mail stated:

 

“You and your wife  are invited to a metaphysical
happening on Friday night at
Quiet Healing Center at
8:00. I will be leading an experiential group healing
session incorporating Light Energization work and
Brazilian healing techniques for contact with your
Cosmic Self.”

 

Alright, it’s time to take Dr. Luther for a test drive. Strangely (or was it pre-destined?), Marta and Jordana called us to say that they had such a good time in Auroville, they wanted to visit us for the weekend. Great, then all of us can go to the “metaphysical happening”.

Marta, Jordana, Sita, CC and I all arrived at the Quiet healing centre at 8pm. And let’s face it, the night was already a success for me because I got to sit next to four beautiful women in a small autorickshaw for 30 minutes. Another six people straggle into the room and we all patiently waited for the session to begin. We brought a very large bag of rose pedals for the ceremony. We went into the room and the twelve of us set up the room, putting out yoga mats in a circle, lighting candles to be placed at the end of the yoga mat and putting rose pedals where our heads will be at the other end. As we lay down, Dr. Luther took us through an exercise which lead us beyond our bodies; each of us had our own unique experiences. None of us felt cheated. Unfortunately, I cannot do justice in words to describe Dr. Luther’s technique, all I can say is that I sincerely feel things are… changing.

 

In Beez’ India Adventures Chapter 6, Corrina and I decide that we need a vacation from our vacation and head off to Kerala to be traditional tourists.

To revisit Chapter One, click here!, chapter two, here, chapter three, here, chapter four, here, or go back to the Smugglers homepage.