The Promise and Tragedy of a Utopian Society Through Someone’s Eyes

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It is so intense that its focus is sometimes very narrow. More history of Pondicherry, the French colony where Auroville was born, would have been helpful, along with more examination of how India’s colonial history has shaped Auroville, which has left a remnant of both extreme respect for white Westerners and whiplash against it. In its creation, foreigners took advantage of global inequalities and India’s poverty. Could my mother and her devotees, if they were in Europe, claim the same open land or return to the same cheap labor (both human and ox)? Meanwhile, Indira Gandhi’s administration is seen through the lens of whether the Emergency (suspending democratic freedoms in the face of civil unrest) is all good for Auroville, not what it means for India in general.

But Kapur’s subject is Auroville, not India, and the place turns out to be equally terrifying and beautiful. “Better to Have Gone” ends with an unexpected lightness, even transcendence, as Kapur helps us see what Auroville is giving her, still giving her despite the pain. In his descriptions of the landscape made so fertile by those early pioneers and the sphere at his heart, he conveys the inner harmony and harmony, the peace he finds there.

The autophagy of utopian experiments seems almost inevitable, perhaps because communities founded on ideals rely on individuals to sustain them. Purity is in the eye of the beholder. Places like this have repeatedly become laboratories not just for political, spiritual, or economic experimentation, but for what people do to each other in the name of human development.

Still, Kapur is rightly impressed with Auroville’s ability to survive its darkest hours and endure for half a century. It is also influenced by what it represents: the rejection of tradition, ambition, materialism, individualism, and all the other treadmills on which we walk recklessly. The questions Auroville seeks to answer lurk deep within all of us: Is this the only life form? Are these the only ones that matter? Few of us will live in places like Auroville, but perhaps we all need them.

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