Picture the scene: UWCMC rests under the dark, solemn night sky. The creeks of the crickets only accentuate a vast stillness engulfing the campus. No stone moves, no leaf falls.
Suddenly, at 3 am in the morning, an animal of steel, a bus, enters the parking lot. One by one, 20 lights turn on. One of them is mine. I rub my eyes and glimpse at the blue packed rucksack next to my bed. It’s time to leave.
And that’s how my project week began. I was part of a group of 17 students and three teachers that went to the Bamboo Center at Auroville in Pondicherry, a place on the other side of India.
It took two trains and a bus ride to get to our destination. Between these two we even managed to fit in a visit to a children’s home in Chennai. Funded by the NGO, “My Name is Kumar,” it serves to provide money for the university education of people from low-income backgrounds. It also extends a hand to street kids, providing them education, sanitation and shelter. It was truly humbling for me to behold the pleasure of the small things in life: kicking a ball, playing on a swing. Just an arm around the shoulder put wide smiles on the children’s glowing faces.
Three hours after that wonderful experience, we entered the gates of Auroville.
Auroville isn’t just any other ville. It’s an experimental society that is no one’s property politically. Strange as it might sound, it doesn’t belong to the Indian government. It was founded by a mystical French lady, Mirra Alfassa (more commonly known as ‘The Mother’), who was the spiritual associate of Aurobindo Ghosh. In fact, the Auroville Charter, or the preamble to “The Mother’s Agenda” (the constitution that auroville abides by) states:
(reading in a tranquil, fragile female voice)
“Auroville belongs to no one in particular. It belongs to humanity as a whole. But to be a part of auroville, one must be a willing servitor to Divine Consciousness.”
It’s perfectly normal to go “Whoa!” after reading “Divine Consciousness”.
Auroville seems like a cult. It’s populated not only by Indians, but also people from around the globe, seeking spiritual bliss, and peace with nature. As a person of material tastes, I have never fully warmed to such philosophies. I believe that interaction and involvement with the material isn’t just important: it’s necessary. Hence, a pursuit of abstract spirituality has never appealed to me, especially given that I do not believe in the existence of a “soul” or “spirit”.
Anyway, our job extended to only the Bamboo Center – very much a real place. It was a fantastic time. We spent long hours plodding with drilling machines, sandpaper and cutters, trying to make masterpieces of wood. Day by day, we got better with the tools till the point that the absence of a machete in our hands or dust on our clothes felt strange. Each of us made something substantial-from lampshades and jewellery to dreamcatchers and tables. I’m eternally grateful to all the workers, who had the patience and openness to teach us and let us use their space. I feel we truly achieved the essence of the project week – to experience something different, and learn something new.
Crucial to Auroville is the MatriMandir (a word which literally translates to Mother Temple). Situated in the centre of the village, it is a golden ball with spaceship-esque interiors. Beams of red light, a white slope running through the entire building and cylindrical glass chambers make one feel as if in the midst of a sci-fi movie. However, it’s a place of meditation. It has meditation halls inside it, which are floored with white carpet and are as serene as a vacuum. Visitors to the halls aren’t permitted to make even the slightest of sounds. We entered with shut lips and white socks on our feet, for 30 minutes. Being inside the chamber is an experience in its own. It feels like a homogenous continuum, with not a speck of disturbance.
However, most importantly, all of us gained memories. Memories of each other, of the place we visited and of the work we did. We know ourselves and each other better. We stumbled upon surprising common facts about each other, hilarious incidents and serious conversations. It’s what we take back that we shall cherish.
I’ve mentioned Auroville being a cult earlier and I’ll add a final observation to this jumbled Project Week Recount of mine. Standing on the red sand of Auroville, I asked myself, “How can anyone follow this cult and live here?” I put this thought in the drawer of all the unsolved questions in my mind, until the answer popped up when I was almost right at home.
Just as the bus was entering the gate I realised that UWCMC is my cult. Once I cross those gates, I enter into a world secluded from everything else. Perhaps those outside these gates have the same qualms that I have about Auroville. And then I know the answer: It’s a leap. I challenged myself when I decided to become a part of UWCMC. I took the leap to get out of my comfort zone and attempt something that few before me had attempted. I guess the same goes for Auroville.
– Shashank Sule
Class of 2016