By Rajendar Menen April 2006Auroville is packed to the brim with stories. Every person here has an interesting tale to tell. it is a working human experiment, constantly evolving and, miraculously, still moving in the direction it was meant to.Auroville wants 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.'The Charter:o Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.o Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.o Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realizations.o Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.I was in my late teens when I read this. I read it over and over again. It was quite different from acne and girlfriends and hockey matches. I was doing my post-graduation at Madras University. The large Gothic library where I did most of my reading faced the Bay of Bengal. It lay calm, unruffled, a lazy blue then; a long way from the turmoil it would unleash from its breast in the form of a tsunami several decades later. Old ceiling fans tried to wipe away the humidity dripping from my face and clenched my shirtsleeves in a stranglehold. The sun swarmed all over, seeping into every crevice of this large, ancient building built by the British, leaving it threadbare of secrets.I continued reading.Then came the Mother's words: 'Let your highest aspiration organize your life.'The call had come. I had to go.That evening I took the four-hour bus journey to Pondicherry, a slim bag clutching my shoulders. Buses left every half hour from the terminus next to the Madras central station. The picturesque East Coast Road, which makes the commute quicker and far more exciting these days, wasn't ready then, but the ride, packed with an assortment of seekers, had its own distractions.I booked into an ashram guesthouse without trouble and spent the next few weeks exploring Pondicherry and Auroville, 14 kms into the heart of wilderness.It was tough, the sun glared angrily and long cycle rides over burnt road were both strenuous and dangerous. Large buses and lorries hurtled past, as dust got into the eyes, and primordial India swept past on bullock carts and colorful saris with pots of water on black, heavily oiled heads.Long kilometers away, Auroville had taken birth. Red dry earth, happy scorpions and large Tamil settlements with perennial water problems stared you in the eye. Matri Mandir, the most visible symbol of the new consciousness, to be adorned with the world's largest crystal on completion, was still emerging from the earth. If this was the embryo of the dream that had plans for mankind, I was disappointed. My little mind saw nothing special.The Mother had said that the 'new world' would begin from here. Several people, mostly foreigners then, got down to shorts and T-shirts and started digging. The new world would begin from under the red earth. It would sprout like green grass, they said.I cycled back to town in a pool of sweat and grime, had a bath, swamped a few beers and slept with many dreams. 'I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my eyes and all is born again,' said Sylvia Plath, the poet. I was smitten. Was it the red earth, a scorpion bite or the dream of Auroville?I wandered the labyrinths of Pondicherry the next few weeks. I shyly sought the red earth of Auroville again and again. Maybe, I had missed something. Possibly, in the fist of the void that I couldn't unveil, was the secret dream. Finally, empty-handed but not disappointed, I went back to my studies in Chennai. But I returned countless times in my thoughts, in my spirit and in my soul to the haunting image of dry, red earth spreading across the border from Pondicherry into Tamil Nadu without care, still hiding the seed of promise along with the pebbles and shoots of grass that gathered on its back. Bullock carts trampled all over it and cobras and scorpions raised families in the large crevices that had forever escaped the benevolence of the monsoon. Yes, without doubt, I was too young and immature to grasp the enormity of it all. But the magic of the unknown remained and I doodled with it.I visited Auroville again recently. It was bustling with people and activity. The red earth was now a green belt. Hundreds of thousands of plants and birds and animals woke up at daybreak in a cacophony of joy and ran home at twilight satiated by the stirrings of new discovery. Exquisite guesthouses and residences had spawned. Small-scale industry had taken root, healing centers had sprung up and a visible prosperity had visited the land. Two-wheelers roared through the undergrowth and what Mother called the 'divine anarchy' of Auroville was in ecstatic bloom. The Matri Mandir shone resplendent in its gold casing on the exterior and a silence that even blocked out the hush of the breeze within it.I had made several visits in the interim and so the flowering of Auroville wasn't entirely unexpected. I met with scores of people over the years, and am recounting a few of my encounters in no particular chronology or order of importance. Those I talk about don't represent the core group of Auroville. Neither do they fashion its agenda. But they live in the foliage of its wilderness and are privy to the joys and sorrows of a vision that is unfolding under the patter of their unknown feet.'I came here finally after a long, long journey,' says Prabhadevi in English with a lot of Italian in it. We are at Quiet, a settlement on the fringes of Auroville, bang on the beach. It is a clear night sky. A slice of the moon sidesteps an onrushing cloud and a sliver of light crashes into the ripples below. Quiet is bathed in the shimmer of a gently woken moon and the muted strains of a flute coasting from nearby. Huts of fishermen scatter the beach sands. Their boats, nets and fatigue drone gently in the cool night breeze.Prabha is Italian. The quintessential seeker, she overdosed on life, married, broke up and found Krishna. With it began the long journey to India. The search continued. Finally, several journeys and 'incarnations' later, she found Pondicherry and peace.'I will never leave,' she tells me. 'There is magic here. Just look at it. Look at the moon and the sea and the miles of beautiful land. I am blessed.' Prabha lives in a large tastefully done up hut built on two levels. From her bedroom, the sea is visible in its various moods. Sometimes, it calls out to her and at other times pretends to be in slumber. The sea has many faces, and Prabha has seen them all.She has three cats who meow relentlessly for food and walk restlessly around the refrigerator. Surya, the smallest and most pampered, sharing its colors with the sun, is always coaxing her for more. Sometimes, large black snakes slither in and hide, once even the thatching collapsed in the monsoon. 'But all this is nothing if you look at the larger picture,' she tells me.Prabha is beautiful and petite. Her long golden hair falls to her waist. Every day, she gets on her Luna and rides to Pondicherry for yoga and reiki classes, does seva in the ashram batik department, visits the Mother's samadhi and returns home in the evening to a simple vegetarian meal. Friends drop in, the classes go on, the heat and the rain pound the land and, sometimes, when she feels like it, even at midnight, she skinny dips in the beautiful blue waters kissing her home.It is a life of peace and contentment. A long journey has come to an end and another, much more significant one, has begun.Pitanga and Dana are two of several settlements in Auroville. The road is long, narrow and lonely. It is a moonless night and I ride heavily on luck to get around. The wind is heavy with raindrops. I lift my scooty to full throttle and search the landscape for a route with headlights that sear the night sky.Celestin is tall, dark and slim with thick shoulder length curly hair. She is in a white shirt and blue shorts. Ordinary canvas shoes encase her feet. We met at a music concert and she pillion rode with me to her home in Bliss, another settlement not too far away.Celestin lives with two cats in a tree house so fragile that I lose several heartbeats stepping into it. She hardly eats anything, munching most of the time on raw salads and whatever else the forest drops on her dining table. It is an offbeat and reclusive existence. But she loves it, and has the guts to walk into the darkness without even a lantern.'I am from Jaffna in Sri Lanka,' she tells me. 'I came away before the trouble started. I have spent my entire life searching for meaning. J.Krishnamurti influenced me. He came to Sri Lanka for a lecture series. I hung on to every word. I was obsessed. After listening to him, I lost all fear. I just changed from inside.'At night the forest is filled with eerie sounds. You see nothing, but you hear a lot even at elbow range. You look around frantically, but no human or animal form is visible. The night has its distinct language. Wild cats jump on the table and lap up the spilt tea, then get distracted by a wandering mongoose and decide to chase it. Snakes, owls, rodents and foxes swish through the dark undergrowth. It is a beautiful night. The air is pregnant with rain, tree leaves carry droplets, and the earth, wet, fertile and caressed, is as coquettish as a newly wed bride.The bush is thick. Tiny paths cut a swathe through it. For one unused to the secrets of the night or of the bush, every step can be a frightening experience. But for Celestin, frail and vulnerable a
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