They Were There When Utopia Meets Dystopia


One of the beliefs of mothers and Sri Aurobindo was that humans could evolve to have a higher consciousness that allowed them to transcend physical limitations. There were whispers that Anne, who had been working on her yoga for years, could achieve immortality.

This type of thinking continued after his death, along with other members of the community, including Walker and Maes, who developed an aversion to Western medicine in favor of yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, and focus. Walker died of an illness that was never diagnosed, but those around him suspect he has a kidney infection or an intestinal worm, both of which are easily treatable. Maes died from the poison she had taken and refused treatment.

“One of the book’s central questions is: At what point does faith turn from the edge of the abyss into darkness?” said Kapur. “Utopia and dystopia are very interconnected.”

After Graft’s parents died, Walker’s sister brought him to New York, where he first experienced the advantages of modern civilization: running hot water, washing machines, refrigerators, and cars. He also faced culture shock as the lack of a formal Western education in Auroville left him unprepared for New York’s school system.

He remembers being stunned by a test question about a push-button phone. “It was a question that would be very obvious to many people, but I didn’t grow up with a phone,” Graft said. He adapted, eventually entering the University of Southern California and then graduating from Columbia University.

Kapur’s parents—his Indian father attended classes at Sri Aurobindo’s ashram as a child, and his American mother grew up on a farm in Minnesota—had more moderate beliefs. At some point in Auroville’s history, the community went through its own version of an anti-establishment revolution in which zeal was rewarded, books were burned and schools were closed. To ensure his education was never interrupted, Kapur’s parents moved to nearby Pondicherry and at age 16 transferred to boarding school in the United States, then went to Harvard.


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