by Sorana Ionascu
People often say there is a huge dissonance between expectations and reality. Personally, I always thought of this as one of those clichés that make you cringe and you end up agreeing with only out of courtesy. India proved me wrong. About half-year ago, as I was drafting my application essay for the Practicum, I vividly remember including some thoughts along the lines of how this trip is going to change me forever. At the time, I was fully confident of the persuasive power my declaration would have on those who read it, but I only half-heartedly believed in the statement itself. In my case, I tried to limit pre-departure research because I wanted to live this experience on my own, unmediated by other people’s interpretations. India and especially Auroville was surrounded by an aura of mystery, best defined by “well it’s going to be different”. Still, I was not convinced that I would go through any life-changing process. Coming from Eastern Europe, pretty much anywhere I go in the world is an encounter with a different culture, so up until I arrived on Indian soil I was not expecting much more than an intense culture-shock.
I could not have been further away from the truth. In the past weeks, I was overwhelmed by the learning process that grabbed me and has not yet let go. India, especially Auroville, truly teaches me something new every day. And it is not only theoretical information; it is mostly valuable knowledge about how to live in harmony with nature and build a relationship based on respect. As the Earth’s resources are depleting, people here are trying to find tangible solutions to the problem and incorporate them into their everyday lives. Be it solar panels, composting toilets, recycling or planting trees, Aurovillians are constantly fighting to diminish their negative impact on the land. The first few days in India were an exercise in learning how to reconnect with nature. But it was not as easy as it sounds, as there was a lot of adapting involved. You are put in a situation where you have to forget the lifestyle you had back home. But it is not just slightly altering your behavior. You have to be willing to learn how to put the interest of the community before your own concepts of comfort. And trust me, it is not easy at first, but it sort of grows on you.
While I was barely getting used to this new approach to life, Cyclone Thane came by and left us with complete devastation. Looking at the bigger picture, this catastrophe taught us an important lesson in modesty. The lack of water and electricity combined with the witnessing of the destruction in the region is almost too much to explain in words. The first thing that comes to mind is gratitude that we are still alive and unharmed. The emotion that follows the appreciation is a sense of guilt, which leads to an encouragement of giving as much as we can to the community through our work on projects.
Every day I wake up with the impression that I am still dreaming. Half of the time I am overwhelmed by everything that is going on around me. Auroville is a constant learning experience that I will never forget. The culture-shock is indeed present, but it slowly becomes a minor element in the background of a lesson on adaptation and an attempt at understanding. While trying to arrange the confusion currently going on in my head, I stumbled upon a quote from Sri Aurobindo, Auroville’s main spiritual figure: “what the soul sees and has experienced, that it knows; the rest is appearance, prejudice and opinion”. With that in mind, I leave you dear reader to draw your own conclusions.