My Journey to Auroville and the Urban Farming Project
(For the version in Italian please click here )
It was the second half of the 70’s when I decided for the first time to go to India, perhaps after having read the booklet n.4 of “ Going to India (“andare in India”), published in 1974 as a supplement to a magazine called “Alternative Press” (Stampa alternativa); there, for a number of reasons, such as lack of money and the fact that I was still a minor and the risks of hitchhiking, the dream did not manifest.
Was it better this way?.. Who can say? Maybe I would not be here today telling you these things, and perhaps I should be thanking my friends, who with strength dissuaded me from embarking on such a crazy adventure, and convincing me that probably I would not have reached the destination (not to mention the return to Italy!). It would have been a difficult journey, absolutely impossible to do it as a hitchhiker.
So, 36 years later, when I least expected it (yes, as things happen when we least expect them ) I was finally able to initiate this dream of a long trip through South-East India toward the state of Tamil Nadu, with Auroville as a destination, where I stayed for 5 weeks.
I say “long trip”, but actually there is no comparison between the adventurous hitchhiker trip planned at the times when I was a youngster, and this one. Now I was “comfortably” sitted in an International flight for only 10 hours, even though with 3 layovers! But I can guarantee that it was all worth it, so much that I can say I will return!
Once arrived in India I immediately received a warm welcome from those few friends of Auroville whom I had already contacted from Italy. Out of these my dear friend “Ishta Devata”, a very spiritual person (of Belgian origin), who has helped me a lot to organize my travels: Ishta I am very thankful!
But once there I met many more people. Truth be said, I had already made friends before arriving to India, on the airplane, by talking to other Italian passengers such as Paolo Magnani (from Emilia), a very sweet guy interested, like me, to Sri Aurobindo’s Spirituality. He was travelling with some friends for a tour of South India, and we were supposed to meet a few days after in Auroville. Unfortunately I did not imagine, that already the day after I would have changed phone card with a local number, in order to save money and to facilitate the contacts with the Aurovilian friends during my time in India: hence, Paolo and friends, in case you are reading this, I apologize to you and I invite you to contact me by email! Thank you 🙂
Out of the Aurovilians I met a very nice and friendly Luigi (Zanzi) whom, contrarily to me, was one of those who really left to India hitchhiking in 1972, from his hometown of Ravenna. Not only he safely arrived in India, but also he decided to stay! Thus a long-standing Aurovilian, who has now become one of the administrators of the city in the making, and he’s now living in a community of Auroville called “Citadines” (Auroville is constituted by around 134 smaller communities scattered in the area). He is practically the person responsible for throwing the basis of the Urban Farming Project, as he’s always been interested to reconcile in the best ways the urban development of the city (a development that is indeed mediated, but always impactful) with an ecological spirit of the teaching of master Aurobindo, as he himself told me when we had a chance to talk in his favourite spot, in the open: two massive natural rocks of a dark colour, well polished, on which he loves to sit and entertain guests in the community gardens. In that spot, Luigi told me, along other things, that he had been one of the pioneers of Auroville, and a good collaborator of the architect Roger Anger, the main planner of this city wanted by Mère (of whom he married a niece), with his characteristic spiral form. This galaxy plan has rays which he calls “lines of force” in which different habitat and residential building will be developed, all of a low height and completely immersed in the green of flourishing gardens, within a large forest. The forest itself was reintroduced, following a miraculous effort by the pioneers to convert this deserted land following the inauguration of Auroville in ’68.
Anger was also the main designer of the famous Matrimandir, a spherical building dedicated to Mère (Mira Alfassa) and placed at the centre of this city-galaxy of which it represents the core and the spiritual heart. This is the privileged space for meditation and contemplation for the Aurovilians, along the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry where himself and Mère are buried.
As I was describing at the beginning, I stayed there for 5 weeks, and already in the first week, due to the special magic that resides in Auroville due to its spiritual research and volunteer practices, I met (in order of appearance): Roby (Roberto), Ricky (user Jaof on BIOsCAMBIO), both long term volunteers along the already mentioned Luigi and finally the young Aurovilian Jeremy; all making up the team of the Urban Farming Project.
A few words with them were enough to tune in and this way in a few days, with a big surprise for me, I was nicely introduced into the team!
The Urban Farming (City Centre) project represents much more than the ordinary Transition Town because, contrary to the latter, the transition is starting from Nature (largely uncontaminated, wild in some areas) toward a new form of urbanization that ought to be a “full immersion” into Nature. This will be done through the identification and development of human activities as compatible as possible with Nature, in a continuous relationship of “ research of the daily life” as experiences of knowledge lived in an innovative way for our spirit; it is not the experience of the Transition Town of the western metropolis, refusing its old industrial-economic model, although partly dependent on it, which is trying to collect and unite small island of alternative and collective green habits in order to gain back a relationship with nature nowadays lost to a mentality of profit. This old model has nature as only an urban kit, even when the goal is to link it to a more sustainable approach of alternative economies, including the approach of self-production and self-reliance.
In Auroville the main connective tissue is “the forest”, which continues to be the leading actor, and in its biodiversity it maintains its original character of an unique and complex organism, always in balance and that enriches itself as new scattered organic forms, included the urban one, grow and evolve in a plot made of human settlements, gardens, pensile green horticultures, as living forms of “lived green”.
It is a relationship with nature that does not resemble the parasite behaviour of humans, who is trying to surpass its condemnation of life-long consumer, earning a relationship of symbiotic, mutualistic and evolutionistic organism, where man becomes the new species as hoped for by Aurobindo. Here man renounces its role of imposer and takes part in the universal process of nature in a mindful way, aware of being only one species together with a myriad of other organic and inorganic forms of life and, by paying attention not to exceed its protagonist role to the detriment of other living beings tries to relate with their essence, from the depth of its spirituality.
So, the same self-production of organic foods of the Urban Farming (City Centre) project of Auroville is not finalized at the mere self/reliance of humans in an urban settlement, but the organic horticultural activities become a pretext to learn and deepen lessons of solidarity, abundance in richness and intensity of life. This our prodigious nature teaches us through its higher organisms, the vegetable organisms, who are wiser and autotrophic, who had since the beginning of life the intelligence to develop a way of living with an ecological foot-print “ inferior to 0”, using intelligently all 4 elements of nature such as water, air, fire (understood as sun light) and earth, managing to feed, directly or indirectly, the whole ecosystem.
The Urban Farming project is not the only project that arouse my interest: there is a plan to collaborate with my friend Santo (another dear long-standing Italian Aurovilian) of the Botanical Gardens, for the design of a small aerobic depurator (nitrate/de-nitrate process) for the treatment of the dark waters and the saving of “muds” to be used for the production of composted soil for the nursery. In this way the human produced organic waste, generated by the town (in nature there is no such thing as waste as we speak of organic materials) is turned into a resource. Finally, I can foresee my collaboration with Gilles of Auroville Bamboo Centre about a project of self-construction of low cost houses in bamboo, useful to aid the settlement of the young newcomers who have limited financial resources.
On the other hand, from this first trip to India, I really had a chance to get to know and appreciate the other face, still undiscovered of Nature in a sub-tropical setting, still based around the simple life of Indian villages (albeit all those hygienic short-comings and social contradictions), an environment rich in bright colours, intense smells and tastes and, for me, as I am a lover and attentive observer of these things, it was truly like getting to know the other hidden side of the moon!
Dhartisatra (alias mimmo)
Per chi avesse intenzione di collaborare al progetto di volontariato AV Urban Farming con una propria donazione, può andare a questo link dove vengono indicate le modalità, ricordandosi però di specificare nella causale del versamento “Urban Farming Project“. Grazie di cuore!