For forty years on one utopian community in South India has attracted people from around the world looking for an alternative to the consumer society but now modernity is creeping up on the community and threatening to overwhelmit. Presenter: Alana Rosenbaum Speakers: Hemant Lamba of the Aureville Working Committee ending; Penny Fowler-Smith, ex Sydney filmmaker and Auroville resident; Johnny Allen, Auroville resident; Gillian Chvat, Auroville resident (sitar music)
ROSENBAUM: A recital at Auroville, an experimental township in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The musician fuses eastern and western conventions, playing a contemporary tune on the sitar, a stringed instrument traditionally used in classical Indian music.Auroville itself is a fusion of east and west. It's a settlement based on the teachings of the Indian guru Sri Aurobindo and his French disciple Mirra Alfassa, knownto devotees as the Mother. More than half of Auroville's 1,700 residents hail from abroad. The community's goal is nothing less than to expedite human evolution. Hemant Lamba is a member of the working committee.
LAMBA: Auroville symbolises the creation of an environment which is conducive for that growth; Mother named it the cradle of the superman, the superman being the next stage of the human being.
ROSENBAUM: Sydney filmmaker Penny Fowler-Smith settled in Auroville a year ago with her Dutch partner and their young daughter.
FOWLER-SMITH: I never planned on having kids actually, but when I was pregnant I thought, 'If I'm going to have a child I want to be around people, to raise her around people who are more interested in leading with the heart than with the head'.
ROSENBAUM: Auroville is a small township built around a temple known as the Matrimandir, a giant structure resembling a gilded golf ball. This year the community marks its 40th anniversary. Johnny Allen, who studied architecture at the University of New South Wales,played a key role in building up the town in the early 70s, after following his wife to India.
ALLEN: I was married young at 22 and we had a small child, Jan and I sort of lived as artists in Sydney; she had a small printing press and I used to drive a taxi and it was a pretty rough life for a while, and I think it got to a point where it was so rough and so hand-to-mouth that she packed up her baby and came to India.
ROSENBAUM: But many pioneering Aurevillians travelled to India on a spiritual quest. Gillian Chvat left Australia as a teenager in the mid-70s. At Auroville, she helps provide sanitation to the surrounding villages.
CHVAT: I have no idea what my life would have been in Australia or some other place as an uneducated, unqualified person what I would have done or how I would have found that sort of self-expression.
ROSENBAUM: The region surrounding Auroville is undergoing rapid change. Wealthy Indians are buying up land near the township for holiday houses. Tourists are also converging in greater number. The Indian government plans to build a train station and airport near Auroville, but residents discourage visitors and oppose the move. Auroville itself is also rapidly evolving. In the early days, the township was a series of huts. Today, although no one actually owns real estate, many residents pay tobuild big houses staffed by servants. Allen, who still sleeps in a mud-brick house on the fringes of Auroville,, envisaged a simpler township.
ALLEN: I would have liked to have seen Auroville develop with self-sustainability as its highest priority and it was, in the beginning. The initial community that lived here was a small group of people who were fired up by the 60s ethic of build your own house, grow your own food, educate your own children, we can do it, we don't need any restraints from tradition, and so along those lines it would have been great if Auroville had become a little organic village full of mud village.
ROSENBAUM: But for many, the real disappointment of Auroville is the size of its population. The township intended for 50,000 people has only 1,700 residents.But Lamba says the social experiment is still in its early days.
LAMBA: The first 40 years have been establishment of a base, now onwards the next stage has already begun, it's to build a city and we will wait, there are certain environmental or political catastrophes that are waiting to happen, and around that time Auroville will become very interesting to people.