& the Success story
Marti came to Auroville from France in 1983. She's an author, environmentalist, and former professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris. She has worked as a consultant to UNESCO and has been a Visionkeeper for the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN). She represented Auroville at the Global Forum in Moscow in 1990, The Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, and was part of the UN Wisdomkeeper's Delegation in Istanbul in 1996. She has received a Rollex Award Citation for her work on the environment. She loves nature and living in community and likes music, chocolate and finds CV's very boring and pretentious..
I have always been a nature freak. When I was a small kid, my parents had a lake cabin in a wilderness area of the Pacific Northwest. I would take our boat and paddle out alone into inlets full of rock cliffs and massive fir trees where bears browsed the blackberry patches, wrens built their nests, and rattlesnakes lay in the mid-morning sun. Years later, when I began working with the Ojibwe, Lakota, Iroquis, and Cree Indians, much of it was second nature. Somehow, my blood ran with the land.
Those were the days..
So maybe it was natural that I would end up in Success-Forecomers, the largest forest area in Auroville. My landing wasn't easy, but I felt totally at home in this natural setting. The work that the early pioneers had done here to begin the transformation of this barren desert into a forest, plus the later careful stewarding by Ed and George, gave this area its particularity. In the early days, watering the trees was done by bullock cart and I remember the stories about how the massive Bodhi tree above the Forecomer's kitchen got so high because people pissed on the ground around it to give the tree an extra boost.
Success is quite a unique area far from any neighboring Indian villages. So when light-on-the-land Success stewards George and Barbara left the place, Success just continued to vibrate on its own. The trees got taller, the brush got denser, and the endangered great-horn-owls flew circles over the canyon at night. Sometimes they came in through my open window. Already I was dreaming that this place might become a nature reserve.
Then shock struck..
Someone asked the AV Development group for the Success area to build an infrastructure for a natural dye factory. Do this to nature? Whoa, wait a minute. Horrified, I flew into action. I saw a few people and wrote a long letter to the Auroville News appealing to the community to declare this unique area a sanctuary. The response was typical for the Auroville community. When you try to launch something new, very often the very people of whom you would think that they would automatically pull behind it, have their doubts or view it critically. Some of the Forest Group stewards said, what's she doing, that's our area of jurisdiction. Some of the ecologists said, well a sanctuary, strictly speaking, should be off limits to humans, and after all, people walk there. A neighbor said, such a nice quiet place, I was thinking of taking my horses and kids and moving there.
Help and support
But the community as a whole, picked up on the idea right away. Ashok Chatterjee, a retired Indian Army general, donned his tennis shoes and we excitedly walked the area together climbing up and down the canyon's face. Regina and Rauf Ali started mapping the whole area, including the adjacent communities of Ravena, Newlands and Forecomers for an even larger reserve project. Bindu worked with the Indian authorities on the legal status of a strip of land adjacent to the Success Canyon and threatened by a housing development. Community residents Shivaya, Jaap, Clementine, with Joss and Kanyappan, and many others added their support. And one Saturday, we invited about 60 people, including many of our youth, to come for a 'return it all to nature' day. We hauled out bricks, granite pillars and the last remnants of human habitations from the site. A few weeks later, when Dr. Karan Singh, an Indian diplomat and then Chairman of the Auroville Foundation, came to walk in the area, he, too enthusiastically confirmed its potential as a wildlife forest area, and encouraged us to develop programmes with nearby University of Pondicherry ecology researchers.
A real feat
Since that time, support for the project has simply grown and grown. The forest group is fully behind it. A new Dutch land steward, Dirk, is living on the Success outer border. We are still missing segments of the land, but now the project includes a botanical garden, a medicinal plant centre, and an environmental outreach centre near the city area. Altogether the designated Success area comprises about 500 acres. In terms of the Americas or Australia, or Africa, it is a small area, but for India, being located near the burgeoning city of Pondicherry, it is a real feat.
So that's one dream that has come true. And with the help of a lot of other people and energy, the dream has grown beyond anything that I originally imagined.
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