Published on September 24th, 2013 | by Charu Suri
4 Auroville, India: a Barter Town Without Borders
It is almost dusk. We have driven for a few hours on a brilliant day, on a freshly-tarred road past Mahabaliphuram, in search of a town that could have been a philosophical mirage. At least that is what it sounded like to me.
Auroville is world famous for its unusual lifestyle. Located in Pondicherry in the state of Tamilnadu, India, it is so familiar to me because this is the state where I was born. And yet, despite this familiarity, it is like an orphan in my mind: a travel idea that is often mentioned in passing, usually preceded by the words, ?Have you heard of??
My family and I eventually found our Japanese-style guest house, Afsaneh, after driving in circles on the poorly-lit roads. Despite the unplanned adventure, I did not feel terribly stressed. My blood pressure was not at teeth-crushing New York City levels. In some strange non-mathematical way, I knew it would all work out.
We must have missed this sign at night
My mother enjoys the peace and quiet of Auroville
Our guesthouse?s spartan but elegant restaurant
It would seem as though the premise of Auroville, which calls itself a ?universal city? had seeped into our veins. After speaking to several students who were either farmers, cooks or baristas, I came to the conclusion that people don?t seek Auroville; rather, it is a mindset that finds them. During my childhood I had heard all about the concepts of humanity, the manusya (a Sanskrit word called ?coming from the God Manu?) and the idea of true selflessness as a way to reach the Godhead. I had often thought that only Rishikesh was the one place in India where one could achieve a complete state of moksha or enlightenment. After two days of lotus-filled pools and quiet meditation, my mind was more balanced.
Like all unique things, Auroville began with a strong vision; in this case, the vision of humane saint Sri Aurobindo and a French former businesswoman who became a disciple of Sri Aurobindo (in Auroville, she is affectionately known as ?Mother?; her real name was Mirra Alfassa).
While not exactly a chemistry lab, it is considered an experimental township, with ideologies and codes of practices quite unique to the township alone. When we finally found our guesthouse, it was exactly as I imagined it to be: small, neat as a polished pin, and white.
Located in Viluppuram, the ?City of Dawn? offers one of the most refreshing ways that people can coexist. In an age with news on increasing acts of inhumanity, bomb threats, and terrible news, this government-less township is a living dream.
Matri Mandir is the large meditation hall that looks space age-y inside
My mother and I wheel our suitcases to Afsaneh, just one of the many guest houses in Auroville
School in session at Auroville
In Auroville, a pharmacy is filled with medicines that are labelled, but they have no prices. It?s an effort to keep residents coming back only for the basics?necessities, not luxuries. Residents live on the barter system: they offer their talents in the form of cooking, cleaning, music and theatrical arts in exchange for room and board. ?The entire idea of personal gain is not here,? says one resident. Of course, all this would not be possible unless the township had initial funding, and the Central and State Governments of India, along with UNESCO, believed in the concept of international understanding of peace.
My Japanese-style guest house is quiet (we are the only ones) and I loved the vegetarian meals and the lotus-studded pond. The shining Epcot-like Matri Mandir was where I went to practice meditation. It felt a little modern inside, like a polished space shuttle inside, with spotless marble floors and a hall filled with those meditating.
?Auroville was created initially with soils from over 70 different countries scattered on the ground,? says an elderly gentleman who leads us into the Mandir. Over the course of my insightful weekend there, I met so many people from all countries: France, England, America, Canada. There?s no right and wrong here: you can practice your own faith, and propose ideas for the betterment of the community.
I switch on my television screen and listen to news of explosions, gun control issues and shake my head. The barter system died centuries ago, but in many ways, I just loved the idea of being truly free, without the shackles of currency.