Archive | December, 2007

Christmas at Auroville

28 Dec

Here is a short video of Alexander Jiharet, a bell master from Russia, playing bells that he built over the past two weeks here at Auroville. The sound was amazing, I hope it passes through the video.



Merry Christmas!

24 Dec

Just wanted to wish everybody a happy Christmas wherever you are in the world. For those of us we know, we really miss you. For those we don’t we hope this wish finds you well.

Merry Christmas!

Anthony & Astrid

Auroville…The Grand Experiment

23 Dec

What do you get when you cross an arid plateau-which is now a lush forest, 25,000 Tamil villagers, 2,000 international residents from 71 countries, really bad potholes- which masquerade as roads, an alternative lifestyle, and a 70 meter golden golf ball?

You get Auroville International Township, a place where ecology and spirituality combine to make an alternative community open to people throughout the world. Auroville was founded in 1968 and the vision for it is that there will be 50,000 people living there in a sort of futuristic utopia where clean water, renewable energy, education and no money reign supreme. The charter of the city sums up these intentions nicely:

  1. 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.
  2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
  3. 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 realisations.
  4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.

The center of Auroville is the Matrimandir or Temple of the Mother that does not belong to any religion or sect. It is known as the soul of the city. When the township is completed, the Matrimandir will be the absolute center of the city and all buildings will emanate from it in a spiral, galaxy-like fashion. The Matrimandir itself is really a sight to see. The entire surface of the ball is covered in large and smaller concave discs that are embedded with golden pieces of glass. It is an engineering marvel and totally beautiful from a distance- especially at dusk when it is lit from below.

There are many issues holding back progress in Auroville though- a lack of housing is causing newcomers to have a difficult time of integrating into the township. Newcomers must go through an entire year to become an Aurovillian and they must also be able to pay for their own land and house to be built- which becomes the property of Auroville. The money exchange system is difficult too- Aurovillians get a small stipend (called maintenance) on which they are supposed to live each month. The maximum amount an Aurovillian can receive is 5000 Rs per month, or around 112.00 USD. Now, it can be done but it is difficult to be sustained on this amount and newcomers are not even eligible for this maintenance.

So while there are problems, there are many great things about the community as well. Education plays a huge role in the township and local Tamil villagers are being educated both as children in integrated schools and adults in handicrafts and vocational work. Ecologically, the 20 sq. km have been transformed in the 40 years of Auroville’s existence from an arid plateau with very few trees to an amazing jungle teeming with flora and fauna. While Auroville has a way to go to realize their goal it is amazing to see what they have accomplished in such a short time.

Astrid and I were only staying for a week originally, but we decided to find a longer term place and spend a few weeks exploring the township, doing some yoga, and looking into life here. It’s not a place where I think we would ever live permanently, but it is an interesting experiment. We’ll post more later.


Why the Hell is it on the Menu Then?

12 Dec

Imagine walking into a restaurant, sitting down and starting to look at the menu.  You look through PAGES and PAGES of foods… Chinese, North Indian, South Indian, Italian, French, you name it.  After about 15 minutes of looking and finally deciding on something you call the waiter over.

“I’ll have a lemon soda wi…” “Sorry sir no lemon today.” the waiter interrupts.  “Okay, how about a Coke instead?”  Head wobble.  “Yes on the Coke?” Head wobble.  “And one Palak Paneer…”  “No palak, palak finished.” He says.  “Okay, give me a minute here.”  Head wobble.  Ten minutes passes, you find something else on the menu and call him back…

“Okay, we’ll have the half tandoori chicken and naan…” “Sorry sir the tandoor is broken.”  “Okay, what do you have?”  “Noodles sir.”  “Noodles?”  “Yes, noodles.” “Okay, we’ll have noodles then.”

And so it goes, day in, day out…the daily game of finding out what the restaurant actually DOES have.  Which leads me to ask the question…why the hell is it on the menu when you don’t have it and you NEVER have it? 🙂 No lassi, no prawns, no this, no that. SIGH….

Oh well, it just adds to the fun of the daily routine here in India.


11 Dec

Only because I like the name better. They officially changed their name last October (2006) to Puducherry, but hey Pondicherry sounds so much better.

We’re staying in one of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram’s Guest Houses called Park Guest House. It is fantastic! Totally quiet, spotlessly clean, and RIGHT on the beach. The waves of the Bay of Bengal are breaking literally 500 meters from our balcony. There is a beautiful garden area with flowers and grass and it is very calm. There are a couple of rules, like you need to be in by 10:30 or the gate is locked, you can’t drink alcohol or do drugs, but those are easy. And if you abide by these rules, you can stay in probably the calmest place in Pondicherry and all for 600 Rs- about $15 USD.  Where are you going to get a beach front hotel for $15 anywhere?
We have been walking around for over a week now on wide, paved, clean streets, taking in the French influenced architecture and enjoying the Promenade that runs along the Sea. There are real bakeries here too, with croissants, brioche, real French bread, yummy! It’s amazing the food you miss when you’re on the road, but this has been nice.

The other day as we passed the courthouse, directly on the Promenade, a police officer came out and stopped us. He looked incredibly gruff and for a moment, I thought we had done something wrong. He reached out to shake my hand and asked where we were from. “The US.” we told him waiting for the ticket book to come out or something. He smiled from beneath his huge bushy mustache (huge mustaches are the norm inTamil Nadu) and asked if we had a camera. I didn’t bring it on that trip so he asked us to come by the next day and take a picture with him. We said we would. The next day we arrived and he told all of his friends that we came back to take a picture, so with rifles in hand, we all took a picture with him. He asked me to email him the pictures when we could. Now every time we pass the courthouse he waves to us!

We head off to Auroville, about 10km away in the next couple of days. I don’t know how much Internet access we will have but I’ll try to post as much as possible.


Indian Barbershops

5 Dec

I timidly entered the barber palace in Palolem, Goa being pushed by Astrid. “Your hair looks awful, you need a haircut.” She had been saying for a few weeks. Well here we were, my first Indian haircut and shave- I had to go through with it now…All I could see was the barber’s hand slipping during my shave and him running the straight razor across my neck, decapitating me instantly-or at least making a small nick with a lot of blood.

I sat in the plastic chair and waited for the next barber to become available. The television was blaring some old Hindi movie from the 70s, the smell of cheap aftershave hung in the air, and I watched people as they would come into the shop and use a comb or hairbrush and then walk out. One man came in, borrowed a pair of scissors from the barber, and then proceeded to look into the mirror right next to me while clipping his nose hairs!

Then it was my turn…I sat down in the chair and the barber asked me how I wanted my haircut. He grabbed the clippers and began to buzz my neck and hair and then he moved on to scissors (the same ones that were up the other guy’s nose a minute ago, but hey…whatever.) He finished and it looked pretty good, a little short, but still not bad. Then came the terror as he grabbed the straight razor and put in a new blade. He rubbed the shaving cream into my face and then lathered it with the brush. I knew this was it…I was going to die.

Shockingly, I didn’t die. In fact, it was the closest shave I have ever had in my life! And all for 70 Rupees, the equivalent of $1.75 US.  The shave lasted for almost two days before I started getting stubble again. If you’ve never had the opportunity to go to a real Indian barber then you really need to make it a point to get into one. You won’t be sorry.

Oh and by the way, don’t go into the ocean right after you get a shave…OUCH!


Leavin’ on a diesel train….

1 Dec

Hey all, we left Goa on the 29th of November from Vasco da Gama and took the 7312 Vasco to Chennai Express leaving at 2:30 p.m. and arriving in Chennai at 12:50 p.m. on the 30th. Once we left the little bubble of our beach shack and got on the bus, we were back in the “real” India and somehow, things seemed much easier this time, the bus transfers, smog, pollution and masses of humanity were just normal now like the trip to Goa just helped settle all of our experiences thus far. The train ride was a whopping 21 hours, our longest train ride yet! Now it may sound tedious, but being a sleeper train, it was actually quite nice, it’s only the last few hours that got a little boring.

Astrid and I were in the same berth as two men around our age from Chennai, Dhanan a tax assessor and fellow traveller who gets out to see India every November and Ramesh, an engineer working with Kone Elevators and managing escalator projects all over India. We all got to talking right away and it was fun to hang out with these guys. We found out Ramesh is getting married this coming March and plans to have at least 1000 people at his wedding! Congratulations on your marriage Ramesh! Too bad we’ll be back in the States, because we would have gone in a second! We ended up teaching them how to play the card game Uno and we played and talked for about five hours before going to bed.

Not wanting to stay in Chennai, Astrid and I decided to head straight away to Mamallapuram, about 50 km south of Chennai and Dhanan and Ramesh were so helpful with steering us in the right direction. Dhanan even made sure we got into a pre-paid rickshaw and saw us off to the bus stand! Talk about hospitality! Anyway, he is originally from the southern-most tip of India, a place called Kanyakumari, where the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea all come together. Since we were planning to go anyway and since he will be there at that time, he asked us to give him a call and he will show us around his hometown. Should be fun seeing a town from a locals perspective.

Anyway we are safely in Mamallapuram on the way to Puducherry (Pondicherry) in a couple of days. We’ll post more later.