Better to Have Gone

I’ve been to Auroville, the famous hippie outpost in South India. It was hard enough deciphering the whos and whats of this unique destination. Pondicherry and Auroville offer a respite for travelers making the tiresome trek away from India’s urban metros. We checked this place off our travel wishlist.

What I never really understood was the hows and whys of Auroville until I read this book by Akash Kapur. Why did this place come into being? How did they make it happen? Akash Kapur shares an unvarnished portrayal of how his own family grew up in Auroville, experiencing its communal glory, as well as its tribulations. He and his wife Auralice (a childhood friend back then) left to pursue an Ivy-League education in America and professional life in NYC, only to return married and in search of answers to troubling questions about Auralice’s family lineage. By unmasking harsh truths, Akash and Auralice re-discover their spiritual roots thanks to the spirit of the longstanding community buttressed by Auroville’s long-departed founders Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Other gurus and revolutionaries gain mention, too.

Auroville recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Its glorious journey has been fraught with struggle and the loss of spiritual martyrs — including Westerners who funded Auroville when the community was cash-strapped. The preponderance of Akash’s storyline is with Auralice, her mom Diane, her wealthy stepfather, John Walker, along with a hard-fast French devotee of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. There’s also a heavy element of politics between factions within the community. Auroville would not have crystalized into a seemingly polished gem if not from the tremendous pressure and dangerous undertakings of these earliest Aurovilians. This book gave me a new outlook on Auroville and its ambitions. As the theologian Martin Luther once said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

Aurovillians never stopped planting trees or kept themselves from dreaming of a better world. Akash and Auralice continue to reside in Auroville, raising their children in a much-improved community. It’s not ready to take on the world, but I’m sure more Western seekers will find refuge there if they can gain admittance. Highly recommend this book if you are a spiritual seeker: Link