Where am I ?

On a sticky, humid, and hot Saturday afternoon the group sits in a circle blankly staring at one another, some contemplating NGO choices and others contemplating life choices. The suffocating silence is broken by Professor Talcott addressing us with a question, “What brought you to India over the middle of your winter break sweaty, hot, and tired?” A literal answer to his question would be to study sustainable development, but then you are confronted with defining sustainable development, and automatically his question is no longer a simple announcement but a reflective exercise over the past 11 days into sustainability, development, and Auroville; a vessel for these two concepts to blossom. For many Aurovillans Auroville has been a canvas, a space to create, experiment, fail, succeed, and repeat. With each visit to the different units you find it’s not a community of discovery but for discovery, an attempt at an alternative lifestyle.IMG_4041.JPG

On our first official day in Auroville we were introduced to Deepti, an Aurovillan citizen who has been a living part of the experience for 40 years, she provided insight into the vision of Auroville and presented us with this idea that everything done in Auroville or even outside of Auroville has to be done with consciousness and there will always be this ‘pressure of consciousness.’ This idea remained with me over the next two days and I became a bit obsessed, obsessed with how conscientious individuals have come together to intentionally create a community, obsessed with the consistent reflection and projection that must be utilized to ensure its existence, and obsessed with trying to figure where exactly had I landed. I then was plauged with the idea that the acknowledgement of consciousness is a painful state, you must steadily account for or monitor your actions because you understand that you yourself contribute to the ills of the earth. But the more Aurovillans we met the less I felt there were traces of a sadness but instead awareness. Aware that my actions affect others, aware that we must coexist, and aware that a conscious mind is an enlightened mind not saddened one, but within this enlightened state there is a greater responsibility.  IMG_3864.JPG

I cannot say my obsession has subsided just simply halted while I try to process the immense amount of information presented to us. My desire is to continue to understand how enlightened conscious minds can aid in a sustainable future. What Auroville has presented to us within the past 11 days is that sustainability and development are complex issues that emerged within the confines of conditioned social structures and how  we continue to develop will be determined by how we consciously address these broader issues that prevent many from beginning to imagine an alternative way of life.

Azalea Capers

Auroville Invites Itself To a Great Challenge!

What does it mean to create a sustainable city? The citizens of Auroville attempt to answer this question with the creation of their innovative city in the South of India. This is a place where all the NGOs are invested in certain aspects of sustainability. From micro finance organizations, transgender politics to social entrenepreneurships, Auroville’s entire ecosystem is based on embracing sustainable lifestyles.

As newcomers, almost half of our team attempts to better understand the idealistic city by posing a lot of questions as student researchers. We are trying to understand if Auroville truly stands for what it aims to be. What will the future of Auroville look like? Is this type of city, free from independent organized governance, the only alternative way of establishing a democractic society?

So far, many of our questions remain unanswered.
However, it is hard to deny the power of knowledge and intelligence that are invested in this city. From creating a co-op grocery store, to creating a botanical garden in the land of red soil, and a library that includes a multitude of languages, Auroville puts great effort into achieving its goal. It is certain that Auroville Foundation aims to provide better life standards for those around the Auroville community.

For me, Auroville is a new born baby in a country with a colonial past. It is hard to assume that a place with social pressure would be attractive for entreprenual spirits and innovation. In fact, it is not only our group that has been trying to find answers to our questions about Auroville, nowadays Aurovillians are challenging themselves with the  same questions as well. “We are trying,” say the guest speakers from Outreach Media, who oversee the media in Auroville. We don’t know if we will succeed or fail, if the methods we are pursuing are going to help us to solve our difficulties or not.This is what almost every researcher who comes to Auroville asks. They are sceptical but we are trying. When we fail, we learn from our mistakes. Because this is an attempt to find better ways to live.”

Even with the best intentions, it is human nature to bring self serving qualities such as ego and greed. Not surprisingly, when a former worker from the surrounding village wanted to take what he has learned from the community and to open a pottery shop in his village, the situation created tension. In cases like this the community does not feel like a winner. It feels like one contributer less. It is the Foundation, what the Aurovillians rely on. Accordingly, individual attemps that are outside of the organization are not beneficial to community. And, since the Foundation has no juridicial power, Aurovillians try to prevent unwanted situations by using social pressure. Maybe I understand it all wrong. Maybe I am confused. But realizing the power of extraordinary know-how brought to the community by the villagers carries an importance. However, limited funds with great facilities that the Foundation provides for its villager workers, seems to be an another local employment challenge nowadays for Aurovillians to overcome.

Elif Ogunc

Waste less by slowing down

At every turn, the exchanges we make amongst ourselves and our objects seem to increase at an unstoppable speed. A short visit to WasteLess and it was immediately evident we are living in a space of accelerated consumption. From mobile phones to t-shirts, when is a product considered old? The trend suggests that a product’s life is becoming shorter with each generation. When in a time our grandparents considered a t-shirt old at 15 years, today’s generation considers it old at six months.

Our desire to replace or upgrade our phones and t-shirts presents a behavior that invites more conscientious awareness, but perhaps accelerated consumption requires a more investigative look; maybe our smart phones and t-shirts are just the tip of the iceberg? Are there other “fast” consuming habits that may not yet be immediately noticeable? With 1.25 billion people living in India, perhaps this country is an incubator for accelerated consumption? Consider the basic need to wash one’s hair – most reading this might purchase a bottle of shampoo that lasts one or two months. In India, the same bottle may be too expensive or the purchaser may need to share the entire bottle among their community depending on the cultural expectations within a particular village. As a result, major brand marketers have responded to this need and created the single-use packet — affordable and readily accessible in the market square the day it is needed. Unfortunately, this approach is not limited to shampoo, but single-use packets are also produced to meet other daily needs such as laundry, body and dish soaps among other daily needed products.

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But what makes up the composition of these single-use packets? We must peel back the layers in order to take a closer look and see the unseen. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as a piece of plastic readily available for recycling. According to Ribhu Vohra at WasteLess, the design is composed of a multi-layer foil or laminated packaging film which includes not only aluminum but is also composed of very difficult to process plastics such as Termo and Termoset plastics. And because the metal component causes additional challenges, the single-use packets are not currently being recycled!

And it begs the question, where do all these packets go once the product inside has been used? If they are not being burned in a landfill, they often end up on the side of the road or worse, clogging drains possibly leading to increased cases of malaria and dengue fever.

It is becoming more evident, there is a seriously large problem contained in such a little package. Individuals wish to address their immediate needs, and corporations wish to increase their bottom line. The sale of these packets accelerates revenue while also accelerating the amount of waste in landfills, accelerating disease and pushing aluminum into water systems that may accelerate yet to be identified health problems. Furthermore, by meeting the immediate needs of individuals, brands are enabling the acceleration of thought to happen so swiftly that people no longer think through their purchase activity. By way of convenience, many brands have simplified our thought processes expediting our rate of plastic consumption.

Where do we go from here? The question at hand requires major shifts in not only how we think about the products we consume but also the space in which the life cycle of those products occupy. This is not a problem isolated to India. This is a global challenge — a challenge for us all to slow down, reflect and act consciously about our product consumption habits.

Alexa Newlin


Chidambaram and Pichavaram Excursion

Our first stop was the market to grab some fruits for our breakfast

Our first stop was the market to grab some fruits for our breakfast

At the Anandha Bhavan we had Idli-Sambar, a typical South Indian breakfast, along with Medhu Vadai a popular snack in Tamil Nadu.

At the Anandha Bhavan we had Idli-Sambar, a typical South Indian breakfast, along with Medhu Vadai a popular snack in Tamil Nadu.


Chidambaram temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in the town of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, South India. The temple is known as the foremost of all temples (Kovil) to Saivites and has influenced worship, architecture, sculpture and performance art for over two millennium.

Chidambaram temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in the town of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, South India. The temple is known as the foremost of all temples (Kovil) to Saivites and has influenced worship, architecture, sculpture and performance art for over two millennium.


Kali is the goddess associated with empowerment, or shakti. She is the mighty aspect of the goddess Durga. The name of Kali means black one and force of time, she is therefore called the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation, and Destruction.

Kali is the goddess associated with empowerment, or shakti. She is the mighty aspect of the goddess Durga. The name of Kali means black one and force of time, she is therefore called the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation, and Destruction.

Pichavaram mangrove forest, the second largest in the world

Pichavaram mangrove forest, the second largest in the world


-Chrystal Vavoulidis

I Did It All Wrong


Its interesting how we are learning about a space where alternatives are the norm and yet there is still this feeling that its all WRONG. Which begs the question of ‘what is wrong?’ Is thinking outside of the box wrong? Is innovation and originality wrong? Are we so stuck in our ways that doing anything different is inherently wrong? Is it wrong to not be satisfied with how apathetic we have all become to the world around us?

In a little over the last decade thousands of cotton farmers in India have become so desperately in debt they’ve committed suicide. The rising costs of farming, GMO crops and lawsuits brought about by the Monsanto corporation has driven them into crippling debt. In response to this tragedy a local fashion designer decided to change the way she did fashion in order to support her community. Uma, the founder of UPASANA spoke to us about the challenges of being a fashion designer that has decided to practice sustainable fashion. She tells us this “change doesn’t come easy. When you get hit and are crying helplessly that is when you find the change.” To her that moment was the loss of so many lives due to corporate greed and a general lack of consciousness. At first, this change, to her, meant 100% organic cotton. “I will give you organic whether you want it or not,” she states emphatically, “I will give you fashion, but I will make it my own way.” Her label states 100% organic cotton, her marketing and advertising all emphasize this point. This new practice has taught her the difficulty of effectuating change in a consciously unconscious society; a society that chooses not to see the damage caused by massive consumption and consumerism. The challenges of staying a float in a society that prefers not to think of their impact or simply does not have the luxury to think past their personal needs due to financial constraints.

When she is asked why she chose to use fashion as her medium for social change, she replies, “Because I didn’t know anything else. If I had known music I would have used music. If I were a writer I would’ve used writing…If I don’t think in a certain way, I will never act in a certain way” Over the years, however, she has found that organic does not necessarily mean sustainable. If organic means that you have to import your material then this is not necessarily sustainable. She is now planning to expand her label to include simply locally grown cottons and will not qualify her brand as 100% organic, though she does plan to continue supporting organic farmers.

When she promotes sustainable fashion and conscious consumerism she does not throw shame, guilt, and pity into the consumers face but is of the belief that “positive conversation has a far greater effect than negative conversation for a positive cause.”

Despite all the strength of conviction and character this woman has, one gets the sense she is very much disillusioned with the world and their reception of the new consciousness that is being awaked by people like her. She says to us over and over again “I did it all wrong,” she explains that she feels she jumped in blindly and had she known how difficult it would all be she would have done things differently. Instead of taking a leap of faith she might have taken baby steps in the right direction.

Auroville is a community of social entrepreneurs. We have been told several times that Auroville despite all its challenges is a place you can try, a place to experiment, a place to give up many preconceptions. Without a space like Auroville, Uma’s conception of sustainable fashion may have never come to be. In the greater sense of development, sustainability, social change and social entrepreneurship; we are coming to a place in the human collective experience where we are more open to alternatives while still remaining skeptical to change. “We are all looking for change, but change can be quite difficult,” sometimes it can feel like we’re doing it all WRONG.

Lina Reyes

It’s Free!


Who does one turn to in time of need? Our families, our friends, our religious or political leaders? Auroville is a village where community comes first. On the 26th of December AUP students took a visit to the Free Store in order to better conceptualize one of the many methods by which Auroville sustains itself. This store serves as a local market where Auroville residents can benefit from a range of commerce on a needs basis. One does not take more than is needed per individual or family. This concept of Free seems idealistic; however, in Auroville though you may Freely take it is generally expected that one must also Freely give. While 30% of the products range from local produce, the other 70% are imported to the village creating a challenge to remain 100% sustainable on local produce. However, beginning with nearly 100 volunteers, the Free store rapidly expanded to over 1,000 volunteers allowing for a higher range of intuition and support from local villagers.

In a world that seems to be tarnished by the self gain and violence, it seems rare that there have been no cases of stealing or robbery from the Free store, but how can one steal something that is Free? Perhaps when there are enough basic necessities in life to sustain everyone, the concept of stealing would seem inane. While concept of sustainability is still being defined, I feel that it should be a continuity of sustenance for a society. Sustainable development is a field that is constantly shifting based upon paradigm shifts or what seems to be important at the moment. It is not sufficient to say that sustainability provides enough in a society such as Auroville. On the other hand sustainability is a community effort that depends on all the strength from links in a continuous chain of effort.

-Ashley Boykin