“Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.” Auroville's Charter.
Aurovilians are the natural guardians of Auroville, but this does not give them sole proprietary rights. If Auroville is serious about belonging to humanity as a whole, then it should aim to be inclusive rather than exclusive. What does this mean in practice? It surely includes helping guests to experience the underlying concepts as they operate on a day-to-day basis. But then, how can Aurovilians reconcile the desire to share the experience of Auroville with the desire to simply get on with life without being constantly disrupted by those following a different lifestyle?
One answer is to try to more closely match the type of guest who comes to Auroville with the type of guest that Auroville wants. But this can't be imposed by Auroville.
Potential guests may not know the right questions to ask or the right people to approach in relation to them. They will also have different reasons for coming and a range of interests they would like to explore. Interactive on-line and on-site information services could be more fully utilised. These don't require a huge expense or high ongoing personal involvement by overstretched Aurovilians.
It needs to be immediately obvious to potential guests that Auroville is essentially a practising community rather than a tourist destination, that they are invited to experience its life but not to disrupt it. It should be clear that if they want to visit Auroville it is they who will have to fit into the community rather than the other way around, while still being made welcome and honoured as guests who bring to, as well as take from Auroville.
Guests almost invariably have difficulty in finding their way around. Appropriate information spots would be extremely useful for getting one's bearings, identifying communities, and finding buildings in which events or courses are offered. There could be maps showing all or part of Auroville, with a ‘You are here' indicator.
Events and courses are a different issue. Increasing numbers of people are perceived as coming to Auroville simply for a cheap holiday and to attend workshops and seminars. They may have little interest in the underlying beliefs, aims, aspirations and issues that are an integral part of Auroville. Are these people the problem? Are the courses the problem? Once guests arrive with expectations that differ from those of the residents one or both groups are headed for disappointment.
Auroville needs to clearly differentiate itself, and what it offers guests, from the usual sort of activity-based holiday. This probably means that the laissez-faire model, imposing no effective control over what courses are offered and by whom, will no longer suffice. Auroville needs to ensure that the myriads of workshops and courses, which are part of the attraction to guests, are in line with its overarching principles, and function as a practical demonstration of its philosophy. This won't be easy. Yet the tensions that grow with each year of increased visitor numbers, increased levels of activities and lack of consensus on what is and is not appropriate should not be left to fester.
If all courses are required to reflect Auroville in some way, then guests who attend them will receive, besides the tangible course content, the intangible dimension that demonstrates the Auroville philosophy and thought, and the Aurovilian approach to life. How that is done, and what that might be, must be for the presenters and the community to decide. It may involve a restriction on non-Aurovilians giving courses, it may impose some requirements on course content, it could affect the use of the Auroville name or its symbols in identifying and promoting courses.
The question of whether and how much to charge is another issue fraught with difficulty. Are there ‘core' activities for which no fees should ever be levied? Matrimandir visits come to mind. At the other end of the spectrum, are there community services and courses which should always be priced to provide a decent return? There is currently no way of telling at first instance whether, for example, an advertised class is free, expensive, or suggests a donation. Of course, one can ring and ask. But it's hard to get at a logical reason for the differences in response, from ‘donate what you can for materials' to ‘it'll be five thousand rupees'. Guests who understand the aspirations of Auroville will not be looking for a free ride, but greater transparency in why certain courses are priced the way they are would be helpful.
Differential pricing for goods and services is another regular irritant for some guests. They see opportunism in differential charging which does not sit well with their other experiences of the Aurovilian generosity of spirit. It may be opportune to look at new ways of providing equitable access to desired goods and services without sending a message to non-Aurovilians that their money is the most desirable thing about them.
Guests often feel while they are here that they, too, are Aurovilians, and when they return home it is this feeling that they'll communicate to their friends, family and workmates. They are Auroville's ambassadors around the world and their influence is potent. Auroville can help to be an inspiring influence.