(note: again its been months since I’ve written. I may later post about our relaxing weeks in the Dominican Republic, and the exhausting weeks of fevers, rats, leaks, sleep deprivation, relentless rain and passport/visa expiration that had brought us there, but this post is about why I love living in Auroville.)
I haven’t written much about the town of Auroville since we arrived here a year ago. Until recently I was focused 99% on the day-ins and outs of surviving with a 2 year old and it took me a while to get a handle on what this place actually is. But now Trekker is nearly 3 and though his budding independent streak occasionally leads to a battle of wills which must be navigated, life as a single mom of a little one has become exponentially easier. The number one reason for this is that I am finally (generally) getting a solid nights sleep. Our lifestyle of long active days in Auroville seems to be the major impetus for this.
While “lifestyle” is currently the major driving force for us to be in Auroville at this time in my mothering, lifestyle is only one aspect of this place which was founded 48 years ago on a deeper philosophy and hope for a “new” society.
I will rate Auroville in each of the lifestyle categories I’d set out in the previous post Searching for the Best City for Single Moms with Toddlers, but I would do everyone a disservice to not also include at least one paragraph summarizing the uniqueness that separates Auroville from all other cities.
Firstly, Auroville is more of a small town than a city, though it does offer much of the international culture one might find in major cities. Here’s a brief self description, from the website-
“Today Auroville is recognized as the first and only internationally endorsed ongoing experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness, also concerned with – and practically researching into – sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind.”
yadda yadda, but it actually is truly interesting.
While environmentalism/sustainable living wasn’t on my original criteria, it should have been. Auroville was started in 1968 when 5,000 people from 124 nations came together in ceremony to inaugurate a large, mostly scrub-brush area which would be the future township of Auroville. The early pioneers came to Auroville when it was nothing. They planted trees and dug wells and now 48 years later Auroville is situated in a thriving forest made up of a hundred+ communities. And though the current population is only around 2,500, Auroville has managed to survive all these years and the dream still exists.
As for the spiritual stuff- well, no one has pushed that on us at all and without reading up on it I probably wouldn’t have noticed that most of the people around me are so ‘deep.’ The philosophy behind Auroville is based on the teachings of a spiritual teacher called Sri Aurobindo who lived from 1872 – 1950. I honestly haven’t read too much into him but in skimming the surface of his beliefs, via quotations around Auroville’s Visitor’s Center and from reading wikipedia, I see no reason to flee the place. Here’s my simple interpretation of Aurobindo’s directive: Practice meditation to get past your ego/ junk in your mind, and you may eventually connect with something more divine. Same principle could be applied to practicing art or music really. And I’ve found the same to be true in my TM practice. But again, I take a “keep it simple stupid” approach to my spirituality. I might add that the 34 thick, large sized, hard–covered volumes from the “Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo” left in the apartment we are renting imply that there may be a bit more to it.. But for now I’m happy with my KISS version and the Auroville lifestyle.
On to lifestyle:
Well firstly I should explain that I am in Auroville as a “guest”. There are 3 types of people in Auroville- guests, volunteers, and Aurovillians. The price of everything gets slashed for volunteers and costs almost nothing for Aurovillians. To become a volunteer and / or an Aurovillian, one must dedicate 35 hours of volunteer time per week in some capacity to Auroville. I have been volunteering here and there since we arrived, but I’ve yet to find the time to dedicate 35 formalized hours per week to the cause. This is largely because of single parenting and because I’m attempting to create an online business to keep us afloat. Trekker is only in school for 15 hours a week. Additionally, I have creative project ideas out the wazzoo that sideline me daily from the tasks at hand. But that’s a whole other topic for another blog post. Anyway the point of NOT living in a big city with a full time job was so that I could raise my own kid… Now for the bottom lines:
Our studio apartment
My favorite restaurants
Transportation- currently we rent a scootie for $35/ month but since we mostly ride our bicycle we could drop that cost.
Yoga classes cost < $4. Tango, salsa, singing, and pilates classes, (if I could only find the time to attend them) cost even less. Mind you, all of this seems cheap when compared to the cost of living in states but for here I live a somewhat extravagant life. And as I mentioned, if I were to become Aurovillian, all of these prices would be slashed greatly. But for now, I should be able to make enough money from outside sources to maintain this lifestyle in Auroville as a guest. Oh, and one more monthly cost- Auroville “guest contribution” = $65/ month.
Outside of the scene pictured above, not so much. There are some musicians around and even a few bands so there is something happening but …. This is definitely not Williamsburg, Brooklyn c. 2002.. But no where is in the world is either, including Williamsburg. Brooklyn .. Anyway Auroville does seem like a good place for talented (or otherwise inspired) individuals to dedicate some time to their craft and /or get exposed to something they might have never considered. I saw a guy play “the bones” at an open mic night recently..
Plenty of weirdos:
Yes! Auroville isn’t exactly bustling with weirdos in the down-town-big-city, old Coney Island, nor golden-hearted, queer, Bowie-esque kind of way, but the place does boast some very special originals indeed.
In perspective- the place was built out of nothing as a “new society” by pioneers from the late 60’s = the founding mothers and fathers were/ are idealistic hard-core radicals with original ideas, practical knowledge, and skills. That any city was built by and is still inhabited by these types of people from that era is rare and absolutely refreshing to me.
And where else can you live next door to a house that looks like THIS
Active street life/Walking city:
I grouped these two categories together for this post because Auroville neither has an active street life nor is it really a walking city. However it does offer something different, and perhaps more enjoyable, that I hadn’t considered in my previous rating system: beautiful bike paths through a forest!
Auroville is a magical 2 wheeler town where people navigate windy dirt roads through the forest by motorcycle, scootie, moped, and bicycle. Just getting from one place to another can feel like a leisurely stroll through a botanical gardens. Not a bad way to get around.
There do seem to be artists around- I’ve noticed flyers for art openings here and there- and have even been to a really great show at a beautiful gallery, but as is the same for the music category above – I wouldn’t call it a “scene”. As far as I’ve noticed, Auroville, in it’s non-competitive glory, lacks the camaraderie created when struggling artists slug drinks or coffees together for minimum shift pay to buy enough time to dedicate their souls to their art-form in attempts to some day “make it” in the capitalistic “Art World.” Of course its hardly true that a person has to be a barista to be an artist (teachers and museum security guards get pretty crappy pay too 😉 ) but there is something to say for creating work from within the cultural context of a creative community of struggling dreamers. There is a certain edginess there and maybe boundaries get pushed a little further…Or this may be some outdated romantic notion left over from my 20s. This is a subject to be explored further in a later blog. As is the whole notion of the “The Art World” and the value of location.
But all that said, if one’s soul calls for them to be an artist, solely, Auroville could be a peaceful place to hone one’s craft as an outsider but he or she may not end up as an Aurovillian unless her/his art-form also happens to be seen by the community as being for the greater good -ie if she/he can make at least some of their artwork count as volunteer hours towards the 35 hour work week. But “Art World” aside, creativity does abound here and can be seen in much of Auroville’s architecture and many theatrical performances that are regularly put on. My neighbor’s new house could also be viewed as a work of art.
Strong culture of dancing:
I’ve yet to attend a freestyle dance party but Auroville does boast a Tango scene, a Salsa night, ballet classes, flamenco, and capoeira (which could count as a dance.) The most fun I’ve had dancing so far was while emulating a boyband dance from a “Just Dance” youtube video with my 9 Year old neighbor. And it was genuinely fun. But I’m a mom and I choose go to bed around 9pm, so there may be something else more freestyle going on somewhere in the dark hours… Or perhaps a family oriented early evening dance party could be started…
Kid-friendly restaurants and culture: totally. all of them.
Lots of playgrounds/ kids stuff:
Indeed!! skate ramp, dirt piles, granite piles, trampolines, no shoes necessary ANYWHERE, trees to climb, kids everywhere, responsible pre-tween neighbors that play with Trekker, older kids everywhere that know little ones by names and treat them like family, swimming pool, playground at the sports ground, sports ground includes tennis, bad mitten, basketball, volleyball, ping-pong, cricket, and football (as in soccer). For the record I have never been much of a sports fan but Trekker seems to be heading that way so this place may be a good fit. As of now though he seems to prefer the dirt and granite piles above all else..
Auroville also boasts more than one horse-back riding school as well as circus classes. And something of note for later- many of the Auroville teens move out early and live together in a community of treehouses…hello teen RADness…
So is Auroville the best city for single moms with toddlers? I’m starting to realize that the answer to this question really depends on the mom. In my world view it is an incredible place to raise a kid but I should touch on a few negatives before all the single moms of the world pack up and head over-
1) climate is H-A-R-S-H. Like seriously. It gets reallly really hot in April/May/June. The humidity is uber high. The rain pours relentlessly for a month+ in fall (like it really does not stop raining. at all. Google “chennai flood 2015” to get a better picture.) The sun is extremely strong at this latitude and because the humidity is high its impossible to find a decent sunscreen that will stay on your face so if you have sensitive skin like I do you may soon find yourself with a leathery orange-peel look if you don’t constantly wear a hat (beauty side note- I’m currently experimenting with replacing all soap with a fancy bacterial spray to compliment my membership in the shampooless “no-poo” movement for the last 3 years- its been 2 weeks of spray so far, so good. post coming soon!)
2) outsiderness – if you aren’t from India and you aren’t an Aurovillian you will have to deal with being an outsider. Auroville does not boast that everybody-hugs-everybody Northern California vibe. Outsiderness is the case in most ex-pat settings and is easier for some than others, depending largely on one’s personality and nature. That said, Auroville is a multinational town so culturally you won’t be too unusual here no matter where you are from, as compared to when traveling elsewhere in India. However, due to the high number of transients and tourists that come through Auroville, especially during the nice season (Dec- March,) the long-termers here have naturally developed a fairly tight-knit community amongst themselves, and this *could* feel slightly alienating to the average passerby. Naturally this becomes less the case the longer one stays.
3) language – everybody here speaks a zillion different languages and one of the more common ones is broken English. This means that Trekker, nearly 3 and in his prime time for picking up other languages, is hanging out with his bi- and tri- lingual Spanish, Taiwanese, Tamil, and Russian friends but only developing his bilingual capacity with English and Broken English. This is the #1 most frustrating part of being here for me at this time and we may need to head to a Spanish-speaking country for the summer just to take advantage of this special window of effortless language absorption in Trekker’s life.