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Auroville Experience

June-July 2008



- Priya Sundaravalli


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Giorgio Molinari's ebullient presence can be found in all events and celebrations whether it is within Auroville or in the festivities of our village neighbours. With wonder in his eyes, a spring in his step, and a trusted camera in tow, who is Giorgio and what's his story? Seventy two year old Giorgio Molinari has been living in Auroville since October of 2003. But it was almost thirty years ago, that Milan-based Giorgio first came upon Auroville – serendipitously, of course, as with most of us similarly led here by destiny.

As a photographer specializing in architecture, Giorgio had come to India to record Le Corbusier's buildings in Chandigarh . The year was 1979. At the insistence of his Indian host who advised him that if he “really wanted to see interesting architecture” he should go to Auroville, he found himself on a south-bound train to Chennai along with his photo equipment plus a bicycle.

Giorgio remembers being dropped off from a rickety bus in the middle of nowhere with vague directions on how to get to Auroville – instructions that involved a canyon and a banyan tree. When he finally made it, he was far from disappointed.

The strange buildings rising from the red earth in the barren plateau of Auroville of the late seventies captivated the Italian. “Matrimandir was so beautiful,” he says, his eyes glazing over with the memory. “There was no outer shell and yet it towered above looking so huge and majestic.” The image of that early Matrimandir he captured in a compelling black and white slide. Appearing almost heart-shaped, the solid hexagonal core of the inner chamber is surrounded by the rings of walkways floating up...

With his visit coinciding with the total solar eclipse of 1979 that was visible from South India , he felt doubly blessed – the rare natural phenomenon he of course caught on film from beneath the banyan. In all, it was a month of magic and the memory of that time never really left Giorgio. He returned to Italy with a complete set of Sri Aurobindo's and The Mother's works, which he “read cover to cover”.

In the years that followed, Giorgio kept in touch with his Aurovilian friends, Piero and Gloria in particular. It was in 2003, after attending an exhibition on Auroville in Paris at the United Nations, that Giorgio suddenly felt the urge to visit Auroville again. “I felt the time had come for that.” He spent six months as a guest and in the end, made the decision to permanently move to Auroville the following year. He bought himself a one-way ticket and he began wrapping up his life in Europe .

That was when tragedy struck – Giorgio was afflicted with a severe stroke that left the entire right side of his body paralyzed. He describes the moment as the beginning of a new life. “From one minute to the next, my life had changed.” For it was then he says that he experienced “total silence”; and what welled up from within was a child's curiosity and wonder. “I wanted to understand what was happening to my mute and unresponsive body; and I could see it all with such detachment.”

As someone had just presented him with a digital camera, he immediately began documenting all that was happening to him using his functioning left hand. A collage of stills followed of the subsequent weeks in hospital – a blur of the ER, nurses at their stations, a gurney attendant with a beatific expression on her face, life support machines, visiting friends with eyes full of worry, a cool and remote doctor, and many, many self-portraits of a bug-eyed Giorgio. All of these he later put together into a seamless poetic stream-of-consciousness-type short that he titled New Moli.

“It was a period of silence, a time to observe and just surrender,” he says. “But there was no sadness.” The stroke did not change his travel plans. “On the contrary, I was even more determined to get here.” Giorgio put himself through grinding rehabilitation to be ready for the journey and life in Auroville. “I arrived as planned; the only difference was that I was in a wheelchair!”

It was the time that Arka was being built, and it was tailor-made for Giorgio's needs. He took up a wheelchair-accessible ground floor apartment, and supervised the construction of his first floor studio, confident he would be walking again. Indeed Giorgio recovered, regaining most control of his right side, and is busier than he ever remembers.

Always ready to offer himself for any photo shoot be it for the Matrimandir or the Savitri Bhavan – he has just completed scanning and printing 473 original paintings by Huta on Savitri – he has also become the unofficial staff photographer of Auroville schools, commercial units that need product shoots, and even working groups who want to capture their short period of togetherness. And all these images he shares freely with his trademark generosity. When asked about it, pat comes the answer, “Nothing is more fulfilling; I find great happiness when I can share.” Finally, being over seventy, any comment about old age? “What old age!!”



Enjoy the other Photo Gallery of Giorgio

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