Youth and Young Aurovillianhood
In reflection on last weekend’s activities and festivities, we have often spoken of what it means to be a child, a youth, a young “adult” in Auroville- where life is free and limitations of most kinds are seemingly nonexistent or arbitrary at best. In a place where “merry Christmas” was thrown around as often as “Sri Aurobindo” might have been on any other day- it was strange (or maybe perfectly correct) that the celebrations in order had nothing to do with “Christ” or religion. In a gift economy, the holiday presents were more like tokens of appreciation where “purchases” take place as a collective contribution to the community; take something give something. Saturday, during day one of the Youth Center Christmas festival we waded through a sea of aloe-vera-green face painted, happily half-clothed and flower-crowned children. They traipsed around, holding fistfuls of fake money to fund their endeavors of game challenges and bodily adornment. The landscape at Youth Camp is very much like jumping face-first into a scene out of Peter Pan, the Lost Boys have taken over this section of Auroville, and tree forts and ziplines abound. This mystical playground landscape perpetuates the surrealistic feeling most of us have had since arriving to it’s extreme.
The festival was much more of a communal celebration of a large-scale familial unity rather than a specific holiday-oriented and consumer-based fete many of us would be used to. Entering the space as a tourist, at home among the many other Canons and Nikons, I felt slightly invasive and more like a critical zoo-goer than a welcome participant. Fortunately, Aurovillians don’t care too much to question the place of others so long as you blend yourself in with the celebratory craziness. I happily received a better understanding of being raised as a true Aurovillian wild-child. All products of liberated and free-spirited parents, they exist with the whole world as a playground- an understanding which certainly allows them to be perhaps the most truthful representations of themselves, unfiltered. In fact, “youth” is not reserved for the young here. As is understood in the practices preached in Auroville, all of life is a learning process and youth has nothing to do with age. In a sense, all Aurovillians are wild children and unapologetically unfiltered.
The trouble is, with no defining lines the progression to a participatory adult member provides a very difficult transition for those who are so comfortable in their naked/painted existence. We’ve encountered many people with Western educations and understandings who continue to valorize more highly a society which makes more aggressive attempts at seeking human unity. We are left, as traditional University students, to wonder at the way we’re so desperate for a necessitated paper-proof of our educational achievements (Auroville doesn’t give diplomas). American teenage-rebellion dreams of breaking free from our chains. In the “Land of the Free”, most of my youth was (and continues to be) spent questioning systems of power and authority and dreaming up the many ways in which I could subvert and destroy them. From a pseudo-anarchistic standpoint, I fascinated myself with idealizations of living unrestricted and untraceable. Here, where that lifestyle exists as some degree of a reality, I have become mildly disenchanted by my own passions in that way. I have found that, as always, a compromising balance of the in-between might be best. There is a stark and frightening contrast between the impoverished lives of the surrounding children who struggle just for access to education and basic human necessities like food and water and the children who are raised with the planet as their playground; a belief in human unity unfortunately doesn’t negate social difference. In speaking with one employee of an after-school care program for what is an amalgamation of Aurovillian children and Tamil children (kids from the local villages), I received a melancholic explanation of the desperate happiness of the village children at simply having paper to draw on as compared to a certain sense of entitlement that was representative of the children who had been raised in Auroville. A belief that the world exists as a ball in the palms of their tiny hands, the ideas of Western society and cultural practices far removed from their everyday lives. They are raised to feel like anything is possible, but also relatively unknowing perhaps of what exists outside of their community which is in many ways shut off from the non-idealistic practices of outside-Auroville spaces.
Additionally, the way that the Auroville economic system works provides that there is virtually no posssibility for “escape”. No one here earns money, so no one can save money. Children who grow up here don’t technically have access to funds, which means no plane tickets out. In truth, Young Aurovillianhood is a lifelong existence, one of a committed lifestyle to a place that is both a fairytale and as I have read somewhere “the silicon valley of social entrepreneurship”. For the moment, I am happy to soak up the positive ideals and massive social change being approached, while I still remain critical about whether or not I could hack it as an Aurovillian Wild Child.