Wednesday afternoon, mid March '01, I have an appointment with Agnes at Hermitage to write a story about this large and indescribably beautiful Auroville settlement for the website.
Cycling through Auroville
Instead of running out there on the motorbike, getting the article, and rushing back to Auroville, I invited two friends to cycle the roughly seven kilometres there with me. Cycling through Auroville, over the green land, through the villages, very often helps me to link much better into the actual required task. The early summer heat (we're in March '01) did not matter; we packed our swimming suits, because on top of the hill of Hermitage a refreshing pool awaited us.
There is no better approach to writing about Hermitage than pedalling towards the place, working hard to reach there. Having crossed the Madras Road and the village of Morattandi, a different landscape to that of the Auroville plateau greets the visitor.
Round slopes, all scarred by erosion, and pockmarked rocky soil. Hard sun-baked land covered with pebbles. This seemingly unfertile hilly desert is being covered slowly by some greyish green-silver work trees which are multiplying on their own these days.
The Hermitage landscape is of such an indescribable beauty, with its large open horizons, that it is no wonder that this place was discovered by the cinema world. Its untouched wilderness has inspired many breathtaking scenes of adventure. For me, it is not only the sense of adventure which this earth conveys to me. With each step I take, each glance I cast, I am acutely aware of the hardship and courage required to live in such isolation.
Ever since the land was bought for Auroville in the 1960s, now and then a handful of people - virtual hermits, of course, like artists and young pioneers - have been attracted to the place, ready to take on the challenge of living in such a wide space of barren land, isolated from Auroville's main body. Even now Hermitage's residents are more exposed to the villages around them than to Auroville, where neighbours in most cases live in calling distance from each other. I recall especially the struggle of a French woman. She tried to settle in the late 80s and put down her roots into the hard soil. What a challenge! A woman on her own in the heart of Tamil Nadu! In those days, understandably, she was continually having confrontations with a gang of local pebble diggers who had been accustomed to exploit that stretch of land for years. These men could not accept being hindered by a single woman in their unruly habits and money producing activities.
This shows a little what strong and determined characters are required for the pioneer life!
120 acres of Auroville land
Since 1990 a German lady, Agnes, has been living in Hermitage. During the first years there she was assisted in the work on the land by Bernd. The very first and most urgent task done in those years was the layout of terraces and bunding in order to avoid further soil erosion, and to retain the little topsoil left from the pebble digging. Through the financial support of a Canadian fund, the first plantations could be laid out.
Today Arnold is the land steward of Hermitage, sharing with Agnes the responsibility of caring for these 120 acres of Auroville land.
Enormous potential, but...
Now, when my gaze wanders over the vastness of the
land, I have to admit, yes, an incredible place with still an enormous
potential if there would be... maybe... more helping hands, more funds,
But would it then be still Hermitage, the same beauty?
The light of the earth
When I ask Agnes how she feels about it, she answers with her happy smile that this is paradise for her. And yes, she is right. So many of us who have chosen to work in this particular field of Auroville's adventure carry this catching, silent ray in the eye, the light of the earth. Or, as Zohara, the Israeli journalist who wanted to hear my story of Samriddhi the other day, observed: there are people working the land here who do 'meliched kodesh', which means 'noble, sacred work'.
Written by Biggie
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