Auroville is an experiment that works, says Mark Tully

As the Capital hosts the first ever Auroville Festival, Sir Mark Tully, well known writer and Chairman, International Advisory Council, Auroville Foundation speaks to The Hindu about the unique character of the city near Pondicherry and its importance. Excerpts:

What is the reason for holding the Auroville festival in New Delhi?

Delhi is a hub for international diplomats and audiences. The Auroville Festival is aimed at showcasing the city’s achievements so far. We want to draw people’s attention to Auroville’s role in the world, so our first step is a series of talks on the city: its experiments in urban design and architecture, afforestation and environmental concerns. Auroville’s approach to the economy is unique. The seminar we are holding will throw light on the city’s education, art, literature and crafts as well as collaboration with the local bio-region.

We have also brought several artists from Auroville and abroad, their products that include paintings, sculptures, pottery and photographs will reflect their lifestyles, skills, and innovations in different fields.

You are projecting Auroville as a model city, especially in terms of urban development and environment. How is it different from other cities?

Yes. Innovative architecture and environment-friendly building technology are two hallmarks of Auroville. We are developing the city in seven steps. When Auroville was founded 40 years ago, it was barren land… Now it is green with over two million trees and shrubs.

The people there make and use half-baked bricks for buildings. These are compressed earth blocks, made with soil mixed with a small amount of cement. These are cured and baked in the sun reducing the use of large amount of fired wood, thereby saving forests… The citizens have developed a hand-operated machine to make these bricks. These are used to construct buildings faster and create local employment too.

Auroville houses are uniquely shaped. They play with space and serene designs beautifully. Now our focus is on the building of the city itself. India’s foremost architect B. V Doshi is involved in the infrastructure of Auroville.

To be more environment-friendly, the city is also experimenting with solar pumps, and solar energy. It’s a home to the largest concentration of renewable energy technologies in India. Remarkable contribution from Auroville is a solar boat – one of the biggest in the world.

Auroville’s lifestyle is idealistic. Could you elaborate a bit on the philosophy of the people who live there?

Idealistic, yet it is working fine. The reason is that the city is habitated with just 2,300 people. And it has 50 different nationalities, including a large number of Indians. So, there is no domination of any one religion or country. We aim at making it 50,000 inhabitants’ city for now. The USP of the city is that it is a bridge between rationality and superamental consciousness. The mother coined this term and Aurobindo was a bridge between Mother’s thought of superamental consciousness and his own teachings. Auroville aims at becoming a model city of the future.

The Matra Mandir is our biggest divine centre. It can be a great tourist attraction. At Matru Mandir, soil of 124 nations and all the states of India was put in an urn in the centre of the planned township four decades ago. It marked a beginning of the collective adventure in human unity.

With such idealistic living, what role does money play?

It may be interesting to note that Auroville believes in a cashless economy. This is another experiment based on the city’s spiritual aspirations. Auroville collects together the resources produced by the community and makes them available to all as per their need without any exchange of money. So far it seems to be working, but visitors/tourists in the city need to open an account.

I see people fighting for landed property across the world, but in Auroville the land has no private ownership. The entire land belongs to the Auroville Foundation which holds it in trust with humanity as a whole. One can build a house but ownership will remain with the Foundation.

You say Auroville is self sustainable….

Largely yes. Auroville has the only Indian made mud-brick press which sells bricks all over India and exports to Africa, Sri Lanka, USA and Europe as well. Auroville also boasts of several farms and 150 commercial units ranging from architectural services to handicrafts, handmade stationery, incense candles, essential oils, food processing, garment manufacturing, metal working etc. It employs some 5000 people. These units contribute to the economy of Auroville.But the best part is that members of the community are supposed to contribute one-third of their earnings in running the economy, which they religiously do.