Gérard, Fabienne and their daughter recently returned to live in Auroville after leaving in 1989. Why did they leave? Why have they returned? What changes have taken place?
Gérard travelled overland with the first caravan from France, arriving in Auroville in late 1969. He planned to stay for one year, “but then I met Mother”. His first work was planting trees around Aspiration and helping construct the school. When the Matrimandir excavation began, he was one of a small group of Aurovilians who turned up every morning to crowbar the rock-hard laterite. He remained working at Matrimandir for the next 20 years.
Fabienne arrived in 1984 from a community in the Ardèche which already had strong links with Auroville. She worked in Pour Tous, on the Farm Group accounts, and finally with Prema in Auromode. After moving from community to community she settled with Gérard in Dana, where their daughter was born.
But then, in 1989, they left Auroville. Why? “I had already been working in the Sudan ,” explains Gérard, “on a short-term contract to earn money for the upkeep of Dana community. Then I heard that Satprem was dissatisfied with Auroville and that the Agenda team had moved out. It felt like something was going on that we could not be part of, so I thought, ‘O.K., I'll just continue working outside'.”
For the next 14 years the three of them lived in many different parts of Africa and the Middle East . Gérard moved from contract to contract, working mainly for oil companies. Often he was working in countries where free speech was impossible and the political situation was very volatile. “But I learned in Auroville that when I have a problem I should give it to Her,” says Gérard. “And always She gave me an answer. You learn that nothing is impossible when She's there.”
In 2003 they decided to return to Auroville. Why?
“We never left!” says Gérard. “Although we had no outer contact with the community, almost every night I was in Auroville, often working on Matrimandir.” “Yet, physically, Auroville seemed very far away,” says Fabienne, “like something we couldn't reach any more. We felt we were in exile.”
Partly, this was self-imposed. She explains that they deliberately avoided any contact with the community during those years so “we could evolve in our own way. We didn't want to be influenced by anything that was happening here. When we came back it was really our choice.”
“Sometimes,” explains Gérard, “I got this image of Matrimandir as a kind of light which gives direction to the soul when it leaves the body. It's like our souls were wandering and we had to come back here to make a new experience, a new life. So returning was not a mental decision. I felt my contract with Mother was not finished, that we had to come back to finish the job.”
But can't that work be done anywhere now? “Mother's Force is everywhere,” agrees Gérard, “we felt it. But Auroville remains a special place. It's a laboratory where we can consciously accelerate the process. And this is the moment – there's a work to do. It's like something inside which you cannot escape.”
“You need a place where you can work on yourself to find the new world. And it's difficult, very difficult, to work on yourself when you're living out there,” says Fabienne. “There's never time, something is always catching at you. Here in Auroville you can adjust your rhythm of work according to your inner needs.”
Today Fabienne works in Auroville Outreach, informing and receiving those who want to know more about the community. Gérard is back at Matrimandir. “Matrimandir and the gardens is the place where you can reconnect, go back into the mental silence. Then you can take it with you when you go into action again.”
Action. In the 1970s and 80s Gérard had been very active in opposing the Sri Aurobindo Society's attempt to claim proprietorship of Auroville. He had also been critical of those Aurovilians whom he described as being ‘less engaged'. How does he look back on that period now?
“I was part of the so-called ‘French group'. Many of the things we did then were maybe not the truth, but sometimes the Divine uses the unconscious to get things done. I don't regret what happened, not for one minute, because I think at that time it was the way to be and we could not let Auroville be in the hands of the Sri Aurobindo Society. Now things have changed. What is possible now may not have been possible then.”
“We've changed too, we've definitely changed,” says Fabienne. “Perhaps we're more comprehensive now, more able to appreciate ...I remember when we first revisited Auroville in 2000 our first reaction was incredible gratitude for those who had stayed on, who had kept this place going.”
“There's a sentence in the Agenda,” says Gérard, “where Mother says, in reference to Auroville, that she doesn't want this or that, but this and this and this: no exclusivity. It's only a small sentence, but I've learned...Now if I have a strong opinion and try to insist on it against others, I feel uncomfortable. But if I can accept it has to include both this and that – even if the ‘that' is something I completely disagree with – often there comes out of it a true answer which is much more than my or your opinion. It's a kind of alchemy.
“Ultimately, it's nothing to do with morality, with ‘right' or ‘wrong' – I don't know anymore what ‘right' or ‘wrong' is. I just know when I am with Her and when I am not with Her. And when I am not with Her I feel very bad. So it's a matter of calling Her, more and more.”
While Fabienne and Gérard are very happy to be back, they have no illusions about the present challenges facing Auroville. To Fabienne, the Auroville of today seems “very mentalised. We have to be careful not to fall back into the ways of the old world.” They point to the “New Age spirituality”, the bureaucracy and the politics, and the danger that Aurovilians will become, in Satprem's phrase, functionnaires of the adventure – creating a safe space for themselves rather than pushing hard for something new.
“When you're confronted with these problems,” says Gérard, “you can get depressed and leave, or you can make an inner movement and offer it to Her. Then, if you are sincere, you know the change will come. When the difficulties are at their maximum, there's a strong possibility of something new emerging. But this will happen quicker if the Aurovilians really concentrate upon this, if we choose for this every minute of the day. Mother has given us a work in Auroville, to discover the new world, to make the transformation. Now the pressure is very great, now is the time to do this. We both feel this very strongly.”