Tim discusses human unity in Auroville, India

Tim Wrey, 80, lives in Auroville – an international, ‘Utopian’ township in the making in south-east India which today is home to over 2,600 inhabitants from 52 nations. The project, which is encouraged by the Government of India and endorsed by UNESCO, has been described as a living laboratory, devoted to an experiment in human unity.

Tim Wrey, 80, lives in Auroville – an international, ‘Utopian’ township in the making in south-east India which today is home to over 2,600 inhabitants from 52 nations. The project,…

We had been told by an artist friend in London that if we were going to India we must visit “the new ‘vibrating’ township of Auroville near Pondicherry, where people from around the world are working together harmoniously to establish a new way of living for mankind.” It sounded a bit weird, but something about how he described it and its aims caught our imagination, so alongside the Taj Mahal and other “must see” places we put it on our list.

In the 70s, I gave up my job and drove by Land Rover with my wife and 2 children, then aged 6 and 3½, the full length of Africa – across the Sahara, through the Congo jungles and East African game parks – to Capetown, then shipped to India, from where we drove all the way back to London, a journey of over 25,000 miles through 26 countries.

I was restless, longing to see the wider world and meet some of its wonderful people before Coca-Cola signs and blue jeans permeated even the most remote areas of Africa and Asia. Of course it was a major decision to leave my secure job in BOC Ltd, take the children out of school for a year, and travel the way we did, but my wife’s father was then living in South Africa, and going to see him gave us a reason to at least “do” Africa, which was a truly exciting experience.

We were not fully satisfied with the life we were living. Outwardly everything looked fine – good job, nice house, lovely friends, enjoyable social life, etc – but we knew we were just treading water. One can’t just drift through life like that. One needs challenges; one has to invest in life if one wants to get something valuable out of it. And by “valuable” I don’t mean in monetary terms. One has to give if one wants to receive, and we felt we were not ‘giving’ enough or doing enough for the world we live in, pursuing as we then were the typical normal life that everyone else was living. Our friend confronted me with the statement: “If you go on like this I’m going to change your name from Mr Wrey to Mr Grey!”

That hit me. I began to see that we were doing nothing significant with our lives, just following the same old patterns as everyone else, as expected of us by our upbringing, while there was a whole wonderful world “out there” to be explored.

A lot! When we arrived in 1973, five years after its inauguration, there was little to see, just a few buildings scattered around a vast expanse of open village fields, with scarcely a tree in sight. Today there are some 120 settlements in the 20 sq.kms planned area, and trees everywhere. In fact it is one of the major achievements of Auroville that by planting some 2 million trees it has successfully reforested the township and much of the surrounding area, which when it started had been officially declared as being in an “advanced state of desertification”.

Like the vast majority of people worldwide who long for peace, fraternity and harmonious living, we share the same concerns as they do. However, Auroville is a place of hope, a unique opportunity for human beings from around the world to work together, regardless of race, age, class, ethnicity, religious background, wealth or gender, towards a high ideal that has never yet been achieved in any lasting form.

Eventually I believe Auroville can become a role model, a source of inspiration for others to achieve the same. It is a point of light and hope in a world today tainted by areas of darkness, environmental degradation and chaos, a world driven – sadly – by massive greed, fear of each other and political game-playing.

I travel annually to see my children and grandchildren, friends and family. I always enjoy the visit, the orderliness and fairness of Britain and its people, the good food and occasional glass of wine, the ease with which everything can be done, the high quality of everything, the cleanliness everywhere, the fact that one can safely drink water from the tap and depend on the light coming on when one flicks the switch, the concern for animals and wildlife in general, and so on, but after a while – when I have seen everyone, caught up with their news and bought various things I need to take back with me – I start to look forward to getting back to India.

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