Our large group of 27 students waited for the buses to Pondicherry. In our group huddle, our logistics coordinator and local Aurovillian informed us of an incident that occurred in the Aurobindo Ashram located in Pondicherry. Our logistics coordinator told us the passed down version of the story, stating five women were kicked out of the Ashram due to tension between these sisters and the ashrams. It was rumored they all attempted collective suicide where three were “successful” and the others were rescued. There was reported concern about some immediate uprising against the Ashram with people throwing rocks through their windows.
With caution, we ventured into Pondicherry and received more second hand information from an NGO owner who said she had heard the story over the radio. Apparently, a case was taken to court regarding misconduct of one of the five sisters living in the Ashram and after years of cases and appeals, it was ruled in favor of the ashram that the sisters should be evicted. The sisters threatened to commit suicide if they were to be evicted. According to court orders, the police came to evict the sisters and one sister climbed to the roof and threatened to jump to her death. She was talked down and the sisters left the ashram. Following, the sisters and their parents, who lived nearby, collectively walked into the ocean to end their lives. The father and three of the sisters were rescued by fishermen and were sent to the hospital, while the mother and two other sisters died. Through word of mouth and media reports, we gleaned the details of situation.
When visiting a shop later in the day, we spoke with the owner about what had happened and spoke about the bandh where all shops will be closed in Pondicherry the next day, normally a regular day of business. The owner explained that out of respect for the family, the community in Pondicherry would be closing down most businesses for the day. Later, we discussed as a group the situation in Pondicherry and the unrest of the community. The community was upset at the police for evicting the sisters without offering them an alternative living situation. Coming from different regions of the world, our group spoke about the perceived responsibility of the police in such a situation with no easy solution. In the days to come, we hope to hear the remaining family members will be able to find housing and solace in their community of supporters.
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Tragic news upset our plans yesterday. From what could be determined by our local liaisons, Sacha and Tanya Elder and their local contacts, a mass suicide was committed in Pondicherry yesterday by a family that was evicted from the local ashram after a legal battle over sexual assault that lasted a dozen years. The Indian Supreme Court finally denounced the case, and required the family’s eviction. As a result, a transport strike was conducted in Pondicherry to protest the ashram and police for conducting the eviction. We could not visit Pondicherry out of concern that rioters would attack transport vehicles that were working in the area. In a brilliant piece of improvisation, our professors Charles Talcott and Tanya managed to reorganize the schedule for a productive day, and it happened to contain the most beautiful settings we’ve visited so far. First was the Auroville Botanical Gardens, a sprawling piece of land hosting a variety of local and foreign plants. We were guided around the areas of the gardens and explained some of the activities of the maintainers of the gardens. Income for the gardens is partially generated by providing consulting and planning to other centers, such as hotels, on their landscape design and how to make resource use in their landscapes more efficient. Seeds of native vegetables are sold for some income, but also to provide Indian farmers with access to non-copyright seeds.Groups from local schools also visit the garden, and the experience is made as fun and memorable as possible to give the children positive connotations with the environment. A devastating cyclone that hit a few years ago wiped out the tall non-native trees, and caused damage that has only just been overcome after years of work. The wiping out of old trees did provide the landscape with space for much needed growth. Next, we visited the Mohanam Community Center for Culture and Education. It is centered in one of the oldest houses in the village of Sanjeevi Nagar.Children were doing extracurricular activities in the back yard. Girls were learning a dance, and the boys too, but a dance that seemed combative nature in which they beat sticks together. Some AUP students tried to learn the girls dance with them.The patient women of the center taught us how to draw mandalas on the ground. Inside, the founder explained the efforts of the center to keep alive local culture by conducting classes in traditional practices, such as cooking, dancing, and other arts. It has taken a year to build the trust of the community before members finally spoke up and offered to teach whatever they could. Now, the center provides a space where all ages can expand their cultural appreciation, and where children can escape the rigid structure of learning in Indian schools and explore their creative capacities and have fun learning their heritage. We watched the children present different dances and chants, before being served a beautiful luxurious Tamil meal. Afterwards we were given a tour of the neighborhood and explained some of the cultural significance of what we saw, such as demon heads on door corners, and the origin of the name of the village. Finally, we visited the Auroville Bamboo Center, where a quirky odd couple named Matt and Walter explained the ecological and structural benefits of bamboo and the centers activities. Matt is a hyper-enthusiastic 10-month volunteer and Walter is one of the founders of the center, who gleefully interrupted Matt from time to time to remind him of what he had to mention to us. The center sells products made of bamboo, but gains most of its income from the workshops it conducts with foreigners in how to build and create goods with bamboo. Local women are employed making decorations and jewelry and men often make furniture. The free workshops also give local youth a chance to learn real practical trade skills that can earn them a wage to provide a decent living. It was a day of spirit and color, and nothing could have compared to the conclusion. Auroville hosted a Christmas market at its youth center. Various caravans, tents and huts of straw and wood were set up, with Christmas lights stringed between them over our heads not to be outdone by the zip line gliding kids through the forest canopy.This was the more adventurous alternative to being hoisted up on the enormous teeter totter and spun on the merry-go-round. There were local and traveling vendors of soaps, jewelry and clothes, in between a few food stands. Underneath one tent was a singer on a guitar, competing with the reggae and 70s music playing over by the crepe vendor, all of this surrounded by jungle. It was a market to rival a bohemian state fair. Just another day of extraordinary visions in a surreal montage of moments unique from the last.
December 16th, 2014
It was just one of those days that seemed to be slipping through my fingertips. No matter how fast I moved timed seemed to go faster.
With finals finally behind us, we set out for Charles de Gaulle airport, unaware about what we had just gotten ourselves into. While I can’t speak for the rest of the group, I can say that I was throwing things into my suitcase up until the last minute. I arrived at the airport late but so did most. It was just one of those days.
After we cheated in and sat down for a quick bite before boarding, we once again let time slip through our finger tips and before we knew it our flight was flashing “BOARDING” on the screen.
“We’re boarding?” asked Professor Talcott. You could count this as being late or you could count this as our transition to “Indian time.”
Two flights and over 12 hours later we arrived in Chennia, greeted by two taxi drivers with bottles of water and lays made of jasmine. But as circumstances would have it there was a problem that raised that we had to take care of and so we sat, exhausted and hungry in the cramped bus for a couple hours waiting to go to our new home for the next 28 days, Auroville, India. Once we finally got on the road, it was a long rickety 3 hour ride to the small town of Auroville, before we finally settled in. The rooms are not spacious, the beds a bit flat and hard but it will be an adventure nonetheless.
I knew little about Auroville before arriving, besides how relatively new the town is and that it is a town devoted to sustainable development.How do they use their environment for sustainable development? Are they influenced by Indian culture or do they operate somewhat separately? I came here to learn about developmental communications and for a new adventure.
Two days into arriving in India and dozens of mosquito bites later, I know this is unlike any place I’ve ever been but it is sure to be an amazing adventure full of memories, mosquito bites, and an invaluable experience.
- Kara Ferguson/ American University of Paris
As this is my first visit to India, I have to say honestly that I didn’t expect to see how important Art and aesthetic, more generally, are to the people of the region of Tamil Nadu (it would not be a mistake to extrapolate to the whole India I suppose…). Beauty seems to be everywhere starting with the water flower display (cf. image) that we could gladly admire when passing by at the lobby of the hostel. It was renewed with a lot of care every 10 days or so, in order for the flowers being displayed to always be fresh and therefore keep refreshing our mind every time we would be passing by… I also noticed how much attention is brought to the design of the water flower display so that the shape of the flowers is always harmonious. Usha, the manager of the hostel, once asked for the shape to be modified so that the colors of the outer circle would be more consistent with the color of the following circle.
Art is everywhere in Auroville and in the surrounding villages. Colors are extremely present and important starting with the ones that we see on the saris worn by women. They also are so generously present on the -often very impressive- Kolams created on the ground -by Usha and her team at the hostel- and in front of shops in Kullapayam village. “Kolams are thought to bring prosperity to homes” according to Wikipedia. Take a look a the Wikipedia article !
Music too is omnipresent. Very often, there is a very loud music coming out of the temples and it is that same music that would wake us up in the early hours of the day at the hostel.
Aesthetic is present in the smell also with delicious incense smells found all around the place in shops and open spaces.
Art and aesthetic are everywhere. This is for me a clear sign that we are inside a very sophisticated civilization.
“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls” Pablo Picasso
One of the most notable means of communication that we have been exposed to is the head bobble©™, a sign of successful integration to the Indian culture according to me. This is a very interesting gesture to be analyzed for the field of communication. It is very interesting at the many levels, including the anthropological level. The head bobble is an unavoidable “tool” of nonverbal communication to consider for achieving a successful communication in the Indian environment, in particular in the South regions. By successful communication, I mean delivering your verbal message successfully but most importantly a successful communication should make your interlocutor feel that you are a part of his/her group, which will increase the legitimacy and the weight of your discourse. A correct verbal communication that includes the head bobble is the upmost form of communication in Southern India, in my opinion.
Now, let take a closer look at the signification of the head bobble©™. The latter has a connotation of positivity, agreement, approval, conciliation, support and encouragement. An ethnocentric interpretation can be misleading, if taken from a western standpoint; the head bobble is far from expressing the hesitation or the polite “no” that we find in the Western world. Instead; the head bobble©™ carries a different meaning that regroups words and significations such as “I understand”, “ok”, “good”, “nice”, “beautiful”. A lot of people would be head bobbling when talking to us, in particular when they wanted to express hospitality, acknowledgement for our action during the visits at the units.
After several days of immersion, it was surprising to notice how some people had unconsciously -I believe- integrated the head bobble in their body language when talking to our fellow Indians friends in Auroville and its surroundings.
If you are interested in achieving The expert level (A+ with highest honors) in head bobbling, I highly recommend you to follow the instructions found in the guide How to Tilt Your Head Like an Indian, which will unveil all the secrets you need to know about this millenary tradition in Massive India …
Time is running out. It is only a day left before the presentations and the day after I´m leaving for the airport. The time has gone by so fast even though it feels like we have been here for months. We have done and seen so much, it has definitely been a different and wonderful experience coming here. Meeting all of the passionate and inspiring people, seeing amazing places and just experiencing the Indian culture has been more than I could have expected.
Looking back now on the journey I realize that I have not been able to make up my mind about Auroville, I have fallen in love with the idea of what it is supposed to be and many of the people are wonderful but there are some contradictions in the society I feel. It is supposed to be welcoming to all, but it takes time to become an Aurovilian and if you’re not then you are categorized as a guest, visitor or newcomer. I do understand that they are careful with whom they let in as a true Aurovilian but I am having a hard time looking past the categorizing of people and see that as a bit discriminating.
With that said I do like it here, it is very beautiful and peaceful. The people we have met during our visits to the different NGO´s have all been great. One thing that I have noticed is that they are very humble and do not like to get too much attention. When we applauded in the end of their presentations most of them became slightly uncomfortable and seemed like they just wanted to give back all of the applause to us again. Even though they deserve all of the positive respond I actually appreciated this quality in them. It felt genuine and real.
I have become more confident in my role as a communicator and have realized that the knowledge I need I already have. This is probably the most important lesson I have learned and will bring with me in the future. To learn that about myself is unexpected but I could have not wished for more.
This practicum here in Auroville, India has given me so much. I have developed new relationships, grown as a communicator, learned and seen a lot and just had an incredible time. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to come here and partake in this practicum, so for that I would like to thank everybody who has been involved and made this trip one to remember.
/Damla Mol, Linnaeus University