Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bus Journey – Chennai – Pondicherry - Auroville

The bus stops at a toll gate, on the outskirts of Pondicherry. I am in Auroville. It is a small town inspired by the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo.  It was founded by Mirra Alfassa (also known as "The Mother"). She spoke about the vision for this township with her first public message as such, "Auroville is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity." It is a collection of properties located some 12 km north of Pondicherry.  These properties mostly comprise of alternate communities that have their own philosophies and approaches to living. Vegan Communities, Musical Instrument Shops, Environment Protection Communities, Organic Food Shops, Yoga Centers are some of the objectives of these alternate communities. I was here to spend a week in one such alternate community, called the Sadhana Forest.

The mission of this community is reforestation and water conservation. Yorit and Aviram Rozin founded this community in December 2010 to firstly ensure water stays on the land, for nature to do its work. They understood that desertification was not just a physical problem, but also a social problem. They build bands and canals to ensure water flows through the land. Over a 1000 volunteers come to Sadhana Forest every year. Working with these volunteers, they also aim to reforest 70 acres of severely eroded, arid land on the outskirts of Auroville. The community welcomes volunteers on any day between Monday to Friday before 2 p.m. They do not charge for accommodation. They charge for three meals a day which comes up to INR 400 (less than 7 Dollars a day). 

The volunteers stay in communes together and each volunteer is given a cot and a locker to keep his or her valuables. Volunteers spend 25-30 hours a week volunteering. You get to choose from a mix of volunteer activities, like composting, recycling, forest duty, watering plants, cleaning the pool, cooking and more. When I visited Sadhana, we had to work two shifts in the morning. The first shift started from 6 am to 8 30 am and the second shift started from 9 30 am to 12 15 am. The community came together for breakfast in the time in between. Lunch and dinner were the other two important times the community came together. The volunteers were free to spend the rest of the day as they wished. A library space, swimming pool, community center, wifi area, children's land were some of the facilities that the volunteers could use in this time. Every Friday, guests from Pondicherry and nearby cities would come to Sadhana, for an Eco Film Club event. Films that relates to Sadhana Forest were screened.  A tour of the project is also organized for the visitors before that. A Community Sharing event is held every Tuesday, the whole community will come together and form a sharing circle. Every member is encouraged, to share whatever is on their mind. It is beautiful to observe people that have met each other for the first time, to open up and be so vulnerable in these gatherings. The Open Stage Night or Non Talent night is held every Wednesday, where anyone can perform whether they have a talent or not. This was all the information I got from their website. But I knew being there, would be a whole different experience. So there I was, at a highway toll gate, waiting for a member of Sadhana Forest to come pick me up and take me to the community. I was excited for the week ahead...


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