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Auroville Adventure


June/July 2005

Revelation reveals its surprises

In conversation with Carel

“That’s Bourbon Vanilla.” Patrick points at an orchid with waxy leaves, and shows a flower bud hidden in an axil. “Some years ago I brought a vine from La Réunion, the French island near Madagascar. It usually takes three years before the first flowers appear. We pollinate them by hand, then they’ll produce pods like big green beans, which develop their unique aroma after a special processing.” He grins. “We had our first Auroville vanilla three years ago.” Pointing at a tree with a particularly dark trunk he continues, “That’s a small ebony, a dioecious species; we have both the male and the female plants. That sapling over there is naturally generated sandal. And the bush with those red berries is coffee.”

Patrick

It’s early morning, I am on a guided tour through Revelation. Patrick, the land steward for the last 22 years, shows me around. The tour proceeds along small paths bordered by fruit and forest trees, passing clearings of farm land. Overhead, a large bird – a black eagle, confirms Patrick – soars the sky before alighting on a high tree. The sudden roar of a chainsaw followed by a crash indicates that tree clearing is in process. “They are cutting a work tree,” scowls Patrick. “The tree is too close to the overhead electricity lines. We have three such lines crossing Revelation, and every year we have to spend a lot of time and money to clear the undergrowth. We have removed the line for our well as we are now pumping with an Aureka windmill and a solar pump. But it seems to be very difficult to bury or remove the other lines.”

Revelation
The wedge-shaped Mahakali Park. The present Revelation area is in blue

Revelation is the name of an 85-acre area located in the north of Auroville. It is wedge-shaped, the tip towards the city centre, broadening out in the greenbelt. Revelation started in 1975 as a patchwork of lands owned by Auroville. The area was almost totally desertified. “The few remnant bushes in the northern part became the core of what we today call the Mahakali sanctuary,” says Patrick. “It is a wild area with ravines. We have done a lot of planting there – in particular the species belonging to the original flora of the area, known as Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest. We also did the complete water conservation work, with bunds and dams. As a result, the fauna has come back dramatically. We have spotted rare birds such as the endangered black eagle. But also civet cats, monitor lizards, jackals, hares, painted bats and flying foxes; even tortoises and rare barking deer have made an appearance. We have always kept this large area undisturbed and well-protected, to study its natural regeneration.”

The southern part of Revelation will become the future Mahakali Park, the largest park within the city area. “When I arrived in Auroville, the greenbelters had already started to plant many ornamental trees and shrubs in this area. For already at that time, it was clear this would be one of the future parks of Auroville. Many of these saplings have now matured into immense trees, creating the basis for a beautiful park.” This part is also home to the experimental Revelation farm. “We’ve tried permaculture, raised chicken for meat, kept chicken for eggs and did quite a few other experiments. Today we concentrate on producing milk and growing thirty varieties of organic fruits,” says Patrick. “But the animals of the sanctuary feed on the fruits, so there is a loss. We don’t mind, there is plenty to share.”

Forty-five year old Patrick was born in a Paris suburb into, as he says, “a rather bourgeois family.” Though his origins are half Dutch, a quarter British and a quarter French, he received a French education and studied higher mathematics before realising that this was not his way. “I took my backpack, and found myself at a later stage in southern France experimenting with wild life.” He joined a community in Ardèche and learned about Auroville as some of its former members had become Aurovilians. “I lived for 2½ years in a tepee in the mountains. It was the beginning of my personal yoga to come back to nature and get in touch with matter, studying the writings of The Mother, Sri Aurobindo and Satprem. For my 24th birthday I decided to come to Auroville. I had the proper preparations to become a pioneer as the city had not been started. Basically, the green belt was everything there was in Auroville.” It was December 1983. After a few months of wandering around, he settled in Revelation.

Patrick returned to France in 1986, after his parents died in a car accident. When he came back he decided with the Revelation community to use the money he had inherited for land purchase and reclamation. “We bought about 20 acres of eroded waste and canyon lands, consolidating and completing Revelation as we know it today.” Asked if there was any hesitation in using his inheritance for Auroville, Patrick pauses before answering. “Today I am basically broke. I live on an insufficient maintenance provided by the community. In a few weeks, I’ll have to return to France to earn money so that I can continue to live here with my family. From that perspective, I would have been better off keeping my money. But at that time, for us working in the greenbelt, land was an urgency and there was never any hesitation to donate for that.” He smiles, “So I think I did the right thing.”

Asked what he considers to be the biggest achievement of Revelation, Patrick points at the successful water conservation measures. “In the early days, when I started the sanctuary work, I employed people from the villages below. The land was so barren and hard that they doubtless thought I was crazy, and they were not very cooperative. Seven years later I introduced more TDEF species, and employed again some of the same villagers. They saw that a forest canopy had come into existence, and that their earlier work had born fruit. I got much better cooperation. Then, in 1996, extreme monsoon rains led to the flooding and even destruction of quite a few villages in Tamil Nadu. But the villages below Revelation were not flooded and the headmen understood that this was because of the huge quantities of water stored behind the dams in Revelation and Nine Palms, the neighbouring community. Today, as a result of all that harvesting work, Revelation is one of the very few communities in Auroville that still draws water from the first aquifer all year round. Now we have been asked to provide water to the Industrial Zones. But Auroville should realize that this water is only available because of all the green-work done.”


A simple bridge crosses one of the many canyons in Revelation

With the growth of the city, the concept of the Mahakali Park is gaining importance, though its present limits are being challenged. “We are having great concerns about the future road network proposed by the town planners that would cross Revelation and greatly reduce its actual size,’ says Patrick. “But I hope that the highest consciousness wanted by The Mother will prevail in that matter.” His views on the Park itself are slowly developing. “Mahakali is Mother’s aspect of force and strength. She demands unconditional surrender. We have translated that into a certain idea of wilderness, diversity and exuberance, leaving Mother Nature to do as she pleases, with a minimum of human interference. We have started to create pathways planted with evergreen vegetation around a long meadow and we would like to complete the work with flowering bushes and trees, bringing in water lines to create ponds, and other necessary infrastructure. Paths would be marked so that people don’t get lost, and there would be descriptions of the major trees and bushes. The main function of the park is for educational purposes, especially with Transition school nearby.”

The bottleneck, it appears, is the financial situation. “Revelation is in a critical situation and we need a regular budget for its maintenance as the Park doesn’t provide much income. A large financial input is necessary for its future development as one of the main Parks of Auroville. So far, the community hasn’t provided any support apart from paying partly for the wages of three watchmen – which haven’t increased in the last five years. And that is another reason why I return now to France, to raise funds for Revelation. I have concerns for the welfare of my workers who have been here for 20 years like me. They deserve better wages and social protection for their devotion to Auroville. To date, Revelation’s development has been funded by the Forest group and myself. It’s now time for Auroville to take up the challenge.”
Patrick has also started to practice teaching greenwork to students. He is currently building a computer databank about Revelation. “We are working out a project that aims at bringing international students to learn from Auroville greenwork achievements, using places like Revelation as a living university. The two thirds of greenbelt land that remains to be acquired by Auroville could become the educational ground for practical greenwork.” And he adds resolutely, “Now, with the global climate change, it has become extremely urgent to reforest the planet, specially the tropics around the globe. The Auroville greenbelt experience could contribute substantially to the cause of natural tropical reforestation, which is still very poorly known by the scientific community. We could help the youth today to undertake this challenge for their own future.”

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