On the fringe of Auroville is a village named Edayanchavadi, and 3 km of unlit forest roads from there is a property owned and inhabited by a small, acclaimed repertory theatre company.
At night and at dawn, the sounds of prayers from temples in the vicinity can be heard, blared from microphones. By day, if the actors aren’t touring, drumming and voices emerge from their theatre. This is supposed to be a quiet place, and it both is and isn’t. Sometimes it’s eerie, and sometimes it’s all about the earphones. I’ve been thinking about these and other co-existences since the middle of December, when I arrived here.
There are cows, and owls – the former provide for the dairy needs of residents and guests. At any given time, I’m scratching an insect bite and worrying about bigger ones from the erratic resident dogs. Still, I stay within a Laurie Baker-style guesthouse with an inner courtyard and an inspiring rooftop. In the wilderness, I’m in more comfort than at home, where I neither have my own bathroom nor someone to clean it.
I’ll live here for a month. As the recipient of Sangam House’s Lavanya Sankaran Fellowship for 2008-2009, I’ll, ostensibly, write. But coming at the end of a very significant year for me, this residency feels much more like a time for inventory-ing than for story-ing. I dislike that my emotional excavation coincides with all the stock-taking and list-making that this season brings, because I’ve never bought into the optimism many enjoy at the ends of years.
There are other co-existences here, some of them more resentful ones. The community of Auroville, already noted as a kind of fancy ghetto, is one. There’s a sense of entitlement here that is strikingly distasteful, given the fact that it’s supposed to be a utopia of enlightened humanity. One resident I met said that having grown up in India, her children no longer like “normal food”. “You mean French food,” I pointed out, but I don’t think she got it. She went on to protest that Aurovilleans are given “only” one or five year visas, and that someone had been denied a renewal because he’d built planes, which obviously wasn’t a security threat. (I waited for her to finish before telling her I’d once done monthly border runs in another country, and found our government fairly generous in comparison).
As the only Tamil-speaker associated with the residency at the moment, I play translator, mediator and general diplomat between the housekeepers and the non-speakers. They co-exist somehow. Chatting with the workers, I’m aware of an irony: I’ve had to decline a film offer to play a character not unlike them because I cannot shift gears into a new project so quickly. More co-existence: between my ambition and the acknowledgement that things happen in their own time. It’s like opportunity knocked, but I have to talk to it from behind the door because I’m not dressed to meet it yet.
But I am waiting for what is for me the most important co-existence for now: the confluence of space and stimulus. Some of the writers have set targets for what they intend to produce here. I have come with the simplest, most painful, of goals: to mourn. I must find a way to have my life co-exist with my grandmother’s death. In a little while, there will be a little writing. In the meantime, I’ll simply watch. There’s more here than meets the eye, as I’ll tell you soon…
This is what I wish for you, from somewhere near Edayanchavadi, for the coming year: may your lights and darknesses co-exist in the perfect chiaroscuro. It’s also my wish for myself.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.