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A tourist generally has an eye for the things that have become almost invisible to the resident.
What he lacked in talent he made up for in gusto. I was with a dozen of my students who were travelling from DePaul University in Chicago on a study abroad trip and this was their very first impression of Ireland. I cringed and tried to ignore the atonal reveller. Their response, it turned out, was at odds with mine. 'That's American rap!' one of them chortled. 'Why is he rapping Kendrick?' The oddity of the situation entertained them, and they discussed it with a fervour typically reserved for matters of greater significance.
One thing I've noticed over the years of bringing my students to Ireland – my homeland – is that they pay rapt attention to the little things. This heightened and delighted attention to the ordinary, which manifests in someone new to a place, does not seem to have a name. So I have given it one: allokataplixis (from the Greek allo meaning 'other', and katapliktiko meaning 'wonder'). In Modern Greek katapliktiko and the related word katataplixie can be used to register astonishment. Admittedly, in Ancient Greek the family of words surrounding kataplêxis sometimes signified 'terror' and 'panic'. It is, however, the note of pure 'amazement' and 'fascination' present in this word that I want to celebrate in my neologism.
Allokataplixis, as I use the term, is the gift, usually unacknowledged, that the traveller offers to the places they visit.
For the past five years, I have travelled around Ireland each summer with a bunch of allokataplixic American kids. Almost everything draws them in. In the city, they never choose to stay downstairs on the bus – there's just too much to see from the upper deck. Marvellous to them also is the slight smell of salt in the air when you arrive in Dublin, the raucousness of seagulls crying overhead, the low-rise and higgledy-piggledy appearance of the city's architecture, the garrulousness of the people, the little fossils embedded in the bridge that spans the pond in St Stephen's Green, the 99 Flake ice-cream cones, the inclination of Irish people to traditional music, the almost unfathomable reverence in the west for uilleann pipers, the omnipresence of sheep on hilly tracts of land, the unhealthy deliciousness of Tayto crisps, the intense greenness of the vegetation, the yellowness of the butter, the perennial greyness of the sky, the presence of poets – actual poets – in the streets, Martello towers, walled gardens, the frankness about matters of mortality, the way the elderly habitually cross themselves as their bus lurches past the churches, the vat-loads of tea consumed, the vat-loads of stout consumed, the strangeness of Ireland's youthful drinkers hailing Budweiser as a premier beer, the national addiction to sweets, the quantity of dog shit left to gently steam in the thoroughfares, the medical acumen of pharmacists in 'Chemist' shops, the casual insults that friends sling at one another, the extravagant length of the midsummer's day, the gorgeousness of the sun setting on the Atlantic viewed from the beaches of the west, the melancholy slopes in County Kerry that were abandoned during the famine. And so on.
There is, of course, so much to learn when any of us visit a place for the first time and it would be easy to assume that information passes in one direction only, from the host nation to its guests. Yet over the years that I've been bringing students to Ireland I've observed that their thirst for fresh experience is contagious. It oftentimes brings out the best in people. A tourist generally has an eye for the things that, through repetitive familiarity, have become almost invisible to the resident. What is revealed need not always be congenial of course – visitors can make the resident aware of the shortcomings of their home: litter in the streets, poor service, even troubling cultural attitudes such as xenophobia. A tourist can stir within us a recognition of both the delicious strangeness of mundane things and our own unseemly peccadilloes.
This annual migration to Ireland that I take with Hugh Bartling, a climate policy wonk, and our students, is focused primarily on the ecology of our national parks. Unlike the United States, where such parks are often regarded as wilderness areas, in Ireland there is an acknowledgement that even remote landscapes are as much a product of cultural forces as they are of nature. To instil an understanding of the history and resilience of these traditional, cultural landscapes, we prepare our students before they leave by reading a great quantity of Tim Robinson's work. Over a period of four decades – from the 1970s until his recent departure from Ireland – Robinson walked, mapped and wrote about the west of Ireland with verve and enormous grace. Those who have read his brace of books on the Aran Islands – Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (1986) and Stones of Aran: Labyrinth (1995 ) – or his trilogy on Connemara – Connemara: Listening to the Wind (2006), Connemara: The Last Pool of Darkness (2008) and Connemara: A Little Gaelic Kingdom (2011 ) – will know the story of his coming to Ireland fairly well. Jaded from the European art scene, Robinson and his partner visited Inis Mór in the 1970s and elected to stay. A local postmistress mentioned that a map of the island would be useful. What began as an index of place names mushroomed over the years into one of the great European literary projects of the last several decades: the work includes maps, books, a Gazetteer, essays and lectures. A central metaphor in Robinson's body of work is the notion of the fractal – a geometrical pattern that shows the property of self-similarity at various observational scales. Snowflakes and coastlines are examples in nature. Robinson writes that the fractal promises to be a rich 'source of metaphor and imagery' in literature and life. He continues: 'Like all discoveries it surprises us yet again with the unfathomable depth and richness of the natural world; specifically it shows that there is more space, there are more places within a forest … or on a Connemara seashore, than the geometry of common sense allows.'
Robinson, the one-time tourist, became one of the great natural and social historians of that part of the world. Though the work is rightly celebrated, what is not always noted is how Robinson, as an attentive outsider, awakens even his Irish readers to a recognition of the fantastical in the mundane landscapes of the west. Robinson is, in other words, a great writer of allokataplixis.
One does not need, however, to be an outsider or a tourist to be allokataplixic. Is it not the task of most writers to awaken us from the dull, the flat and the average sentiments that can dominate our lives? Many of the Irish writers that my students read before travelling have a knack for noticing the marvellous in the everyday, and of making the quotidian seem wholly other and amazing. Robert Lloyd Praeger, the great naturalist of the last century, is one such writer – as he travelled the rural counties, some of his greatest botanical discoveries were made right outside the guesthouse door. J M Synge, especially in his often-neglected writing on travels in Wicklow, Connemara and Kerry, is another such writer. And James Joyce, that profound naturalist of life's epiphanic moments, specialised in observing how the ecstatic intrudes – sometimes painfully – into the everyday. My students read the story 'The Dead' as an ecological text, for it provides an abiding account of a rupture between Ireland's supposedly refined east coast and its feral west. At the conclusion, Gabriel Conroy, cuckolded by the ghost of Michael Furey, his wife's dead boyfriend, takes a melancholic psychological journey across a snowy Ireland to that boy's grave. Joyce wrote in one of his most celebrated passages that the snow 'was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried.'
I'll mention just one more recent writer, if only to illustrate that a new generation of allokataplixic writers is emerging: Karl Whitney, author of Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin (2014). In Hidden City, Whitney becomes a visitor to the city of his birth, a tourist of the commonplace. In one brilliant chapter, he inches along beneath the streets of Dublin, following the courses of rivers that have long been paved over. In another, he follows the excrement of the denizens of the city out to the sewage treatment plants and, once treated and refined, follows the liquid discharge out into Dublin Bay. Not since Leopold Bloom defecates so leisurely in an early chapter of Ulysses has urban excrement been so vividly described.
Last year as we crossed the Midlands, we walked out on the boardwalk at Clara Bog in County Offaly, where by chance we met with a local out on his morning constitutional. Tommy was a former worker for Bord na Móna, the Irish semi-state body that oversees the economic development of peat for use as fuel. He is now an enthusiastic conservationist. That my students took such a delight in the bog seemed to ignite something in him. Noticing that one of the students carried a tin whistle, he volunteered to play a couple of reels and so we listened to the blast of a few tunes out on the bog on an ordinary Saturday morning. He said he'd never done anything like it. Allokataplixis is contagious.
I don't suppose one needs to live a life of perpetual astonishment. After all it's adaptive to forget. Our daily grind is perhaps easier to endure in a state of mild amnesia. Muscle memory sets in, routine takes over, and one day seems the same as any other. But days go by, the years hum along, and one can careen towards senility without being unduly startled by anything at all. Surely, there are times when we must be released from our moorings and free ourselves up to notice the peculiarities of everyday life. Our greatest writers have, as often as not, lived in a state of astonishment – this is not an easy burden. But in a quieter register and perhaps in an equally instructive way, even the everyday tourist can alert us to the remarkable in our home terrain. When we are ourselves tourists, we notice things. But even in noticing how tourists are alive to their surroundings, might we not learn something from them? Observe the tourists on Dublin's Grafton Street listening to the buskers, or watch them marvel at the lights on Broadway in New York. Witness them sip their ouzo at the Acropolis or behold them picking their way across the newly minted basalt lava-flow in the Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. They've brought their allokataplixis with them.
Thanks to my wife Vassia Pavlogianis for discussions on the Modern Greek words for wonder, and to Dr Sean Kirkland of DePaul University in Chicago for a tutorial on the Ancient Greek etymology.
The author of "Auroville: The City Made of Dreams" talks about the difficulties of establishing (and writing about) utopian societies.
And is creating alternative realities something only cult leaders do? Stasia Budzisz discussed these and other questions with Katarzyna Boni, whose reportage Auroville: The City Made of Dreams was published in Polish in June 2020.
Stasia Budzisz: You came across one of the communities of Auroville, the city of the future, by accident in 2009. You knew nothing about it, but what you found frightened you, and you decided to run away. What happened there?
Katarzyna Boni: I was travelling alone around the south of India. At some point, I felt that my journey made no sense; all I did was check the landmarks off a list from a travel guide. I figured it was the right moment to try some volunteering. I found a local community that planted trees and decided to join it. And so I ended up in Auroville, although the community was located on the outskirts rather than in the city itself. When choosing a project to volunteer on, I didn't even know I was applying to an Aurovillian community – I just liked the idea of planting trees in exchange for food and shelter. I only learned about Auroville itself from my pocket guide. Two weeks in, I didn't want to stay for a moment longer. I ran away to the Himalayas, at the exact opposite end of India. Several factors had prompted my reaction. First of all, I was at a stage of my life where I was changing jobs. I wasn't yet in my thirties; I was still trying to give shape to my identity. I knew my dreams, but didn't really know what to do with myself and what path to follow in order to get there. In the community, I met people whose situation was similar to mine, except they genuinely believed this place was going to save them. And I am severely allergic to this way of thinking, as I don't believe in blind idealism. Back then, I saw Auroville as a settlement established by Americans and the French, convinced that communism was the best thing to happen to us because they forgot to ask Poles about the reality of it. I was cynical and mocking about Auroville.
You wrote that you wondered whether Auroville was a cult, and yet several years later, you went back there and wrote a book about a utopia. How did you come up with that idea?
The idea to write a book around this topic had been there for a long time; I even set up a whole separate project about it. But then I started working on a reportage in Japan – Ganbare! – and it consumed all my attention. I decided that my 'utopias' could wait and I shelved them for later. Then, just as Ganbare! was published, I got back on track with that topic. At first I thought I would write about various places that try to bring utopian ideas to life and are currently on different levels of realization. I was interested in the energy found at various stages of making a dream reality, how this energy changes over time, and how dreams and reality start to influence one another. At some point, I had a several-pages long list, including intentional communities and ideas for whole new nations (such as Liberland). I thought I would visit several places and then see what I might write. I wanted to visit South Korea, where a city of the future was created based on technology to facilitate every aspect of life. To me, Songdo is at the very beginning of its journey towards fulfilling this utopian dream. I wanted to visit Christiania which, as it seemed to me, was near the end of this road. I perceived Christiania as a ripe dream, if not overripe. I don't know how much of it was true, since I never ended up visiting. Auroville was supposed to be the place to illustrate a dream in the process of being realized. I started with it, and once I took a good look at it from up close, I decided it deserved its own book. I think I made the right decision.
Why do you think that?
Auroville is one grand experiment. People came to the desert with their children and started establishing a new city, this new world from which a new kind of human was supposed to emerge. Auroville turned 50 in 2018, and I was curious about its children and who they grew up to be. What worked out, and what didn't. I no longer needed other stages of utopias to describe what I found interesting.
Generating a new human species does sound a bit frightening and cult-like.
I had the same impression, which was why I ran away from Auroville the first time I was there. Once I returned, I knew I would have to face my reluctance. Indeed, some people there spoke in a very cult-like way. One of my interviewees said Auroville is inhabited by 12 clans that, in his opinion, provide a very natural way of distributing social roles within a community. There was a clan of priests, a clan of businesspeople, a clan of farmers. Still, Auroville is definitely not a cult. There is no initiation ceremony required for someone to stay there, even if they live there for a year, as I did. The trial period one has to undergo is a time you need to understand what the point is of working for this community. I recently spoke to an Aurovillian about how they're handling the COVID pandemic. I asked whether the city helps the businesses (which are, in fact, owned by the city, since due to a governmental solution, Auroville is a foundation with an array of non-governmental organizations underneath. Were the taxes lowered, for example? My goodness, did she take an offence! "Kasia, what are you talking about? It's Auroville that needs me now, not the other way round. Now more than ever." I realized that, once again, I had missed the fundamental truth about Auroville: it's the citizens who make the city, and they are not 'made' by it.
Auroville is not meant to provide a comfortable life; all it gives to its people is the means of basic survival, and everyone must take care of the rest. It is the citizens' responsibility to make sure that Auroville – the idea in which they believe – survives. Therefore, the question Aurovillians ask themselves is "How can I support my community?" rather than "What can I get out of my community now?" It's the complete opposite of the situation we are experiencing here, but I would not call it a cult. Those people have an idea that they believe in, and they understand it's not possible to achieve it from the position of making demands. They have to roll up their sleeves and work for it. As for a new species of human, it all depends on how literally we read into this concept. Siri Aurobindo, an Indian philosopher from the University of Cambridge, whose thought served as the blueprint for Auroville, insisted that humans are not the final stage of evolution and that something else will appear after us. However, Aurobindo considered it from the perspective of consciousness rather than biology, as he believed we can still become better versions of ourselves. That's how I see it. But in the 1970s, some people believed their children's consciousness was already more advanced than everyone else's. I'm pretty sure they were soon cured of that conviction. Today, nobody means a new species of human literally.
What image of Auroville did you have in your mind when you returned to this city to write a book about it?
I tried to keep my mind open, although I was going there with my own thesis. While my work on the book about Japan had taught me that such preconceived notions tend to go down quickly, I still need them for inspiration and ideas; they draw me into a new subject. The starting point was the dreams that shape reality. In Auroville, it's perceptible. Before the humans arrived, there was nothing there, just emptiness. Dreams and reality were my first lead. Then, I wanted to see what they managed to achieve within those 50 years and what they did not; whether our society could learn from it, too.
In your book's title, you refer to Auroville as The City Made of Dreams. Why did you choose dreams as the starting concept?
I wanted to write about a place in which one can see how dreams shape reality, and how reality shapes dreams, as well as see the moment in which the dream is no longer just that. It's the moment when the reality has changed your goal so much, it's no longer what it was when you were at the beginning of your journey. What to do then? Will you decide that you have changed along with your dream and want to keep going at it, despite it being different? Do you stick to it or leave it all and change your life again?
How much time did you spend in Auroville?
One year, not including my first time there in 2008, but it was not a year all in one go – I split it into several visits. Initially, I thought I'd make it three stays – two months long each time – but after my first visit, I already knew that was way too little time. The first visit allowed me to get into the community, but it was still just scratching the surface. I was only beginning to realize who was who and which issues I found interesting, but I didn't even manage to conduct one interview. Not because the people of Auroville are wary of strangers or don't want to talk to outsiders. They are simply very busy. Sometimes, they told me they could meet me in three months from now, which was why I needed more time. Aurovillians don't have whole days at their disposal to spend talking to reporters and journalists, of whom many visit. The city saw a surge of journalists in 2018 when it was celebrating 50 years of existence. I was in a more comfortable situation, as I had arrived in Auroville a year before. It was a good time to start working on my project. Over the course of my first two months there, I realized the subject could fill the entire book. The next two months gave me my first interactions with the main characters of the story. That was when I decided to go back there for eight more months – also because I just wanted to experience normal life in Auroville. Did you know that in total, I spent four years working on this subject?
That's a long time. You wrote that at some point, you thought about staying in Auroville for good.
If you live somewhere for a year and, due to the nature of your job, you try to get to know it in-depth, understand it, learn as much as possible about it, at some point, you get really drawn in. It's natural to ask yourself whether you would like to stay there.
You had to dig deep into the memories of Aurovillians, but in your book, you point out that those who reach the community today are not focused on the city's past. Where did you find documents on the history part of your book if they don't teach the history of Auroville in their schools?
I did it bit by bit, in snippets. Of course, I looked for information in books about the first years of Auroville – in the Pioneer's biographies and in my interviews with them. However, some things reached me as single sentences, dropped during my trips around Auroville, for example. This way, I learned about the conflict that divided the community in the 1970s, and I started researching it. If you keep asking, then sooner or later you will get some answers. But at first I didn't even know myself what I was looking for. I grasped at various threads, arranged meetings and interviews, not knowing whether they'd take me anywhere at all. I often felt like I was stumbling in the dark. On the one hand, I knew what interested me and what questions to ask. On the other hand, I had no idea where it was going to lead me and what story I was going to tell. As if I was wandering around a labyrinth with many exits, each of them leading towards a completely different landscape. This experience was radically different from what I discovered when working on Ganbare!. In that book, it was obvious that I was writing about ways of handling trauma and loss. That was the core of my conversations and the people I chose to feature in that book. And here, everyone – not only an Aurovillian but someone just passing through Auroville as well – could be a potential character. The breakthrough came when I met Auroson, the first child of Auroville. He was the first aurochild and the first new human.
When exactly did you meet?
I found out about him during my second visit to Auroville. We made contact, but we did not meet at that time. In November 2017, when I came over for eight months, we were already in touch on a regular basis. We talked for many hours, and we became friends.
Who were your sources?
I divided them into two groups: those who could tell me their personal stories and those who could explain how Auroville handles the development of society. That is – how Aurovillians work on changing the system, how they look for solutions and which solutions have already been put to the test. When talking to the former, I wanted to know what made them come to Auroville. I also looked for people from both sides of the conflict that divided the community. I was very fortunate, since many of the Pioneers came back to celebrate the city's 50th anniversary. Most of those interviews did not appear in the book since they were very similar and repetitive: arrival at the city, meeting the Mother, transformation, then life in the desert. As for the latter group, I wanted to know what Auroville does about various areas of life that it wants to improve, such as education, management, economy, architecture, culture, health and nutrition. I tried to meet with the people responsible for urban planning, with farmers, teachers, mediators, and with people who were brought up in Auroville since early childhood, at various stages of its existence. In order to draw in the children, I organized a creative writing class in one of the schools, but it was not very successful. Only one girl came back.
Thank you. Discouraging people from writing is a very useful thing to do.
In your book, you admitted that you didn't talk to everyone you wanted to interview. You didn't find the courage to chat to Jurgen, even though you had spent several months waiting for him in a café. It's a very honest admission for a reporter. Did you get cold feet?
I turned out to be a reporter who's afraid of people. No, I did not speak to him. At that moment, it was more than I could have dealt with. It's not like I was waiting there just for him. The 'café', or rather a tea-serving booth, was a place I had already frequented earlier, before someone said: "Oh, you must talk to Jurgen." I started coming more often, Jurgen was never there, and when he finally showed up, I was taken by surprise, so instead of coming up to him and introducing myself, I just kept on drinking my tea. I was not in the mood for talking, and I found him a little intimidating, too. I could have always spoken with him later, after all. This happened several times. In the end, I found it embarrassing to start a conversation at that point. What would I even say? "You know what, Jurgen, I've been sitting here smiling at you, and it's lovely to drink tea in silence together, but I'm actually a reporter and I've heard of you before. Could we talk about your life now?" I realized that I don't have to come up to him. That not everything in my life has to revolve around doing research for my book. Sometimes, it's good to let it go. I felt similar about a certain woman. I waited three months to talk to her, and then it turned out I couldn't make conversation with her – she just frightened me.
Did you learn any other hard lessons while writing about Auroville?
It was difficult to decide whom I should describe and how to do it. I resolved not to write about my friends (whose stories were fascinating, and I would have loved to tell them, but I could not do it precisely because of our friendship). The relationship you establish with someone as a book interviewee is different than a relationship with a friend. This could also lead to a grudge; perhaps some of the things they shared were said in confidence granted by our friendship, and only some were meant for publication? It was also important for them to know whether I viewed them as friends or just book material. Auroson was the only exception to this rule, but our relationship was clear from the very beginning. Still, we became very close and sometimes I was not quite sure whether I was talking to him as a reporter or as a friend.
In Auroville, I came across one more difficulty that I didn't have to deal with in Japan: here, many people simply refused to meet with me. In Japan, it was also easier for me to conduct the interviews, as they were all focused on just one topic. I arrived at a place wrecked by a tsunami, a place recovering from a trauma. Both I and the main characters of my book were clear on what we were going to discuss. In Auroville, it was much more difficult. I had to serve as a guide to a conversation whose topic was incredibly broad. I sought out turning points in a person's life, something that made them chase their dreams, but I also looked for something that defined them, showed who they were, where they started and where they arrived. So I could have said: "Tell me all about your life, since your birth until now, and only then will I start asking you more detailed questions." Of course, this was usually impossible. Therefore, the course of the interviews usually depended on how aware my interviewees were of the turning points of their lives.
In Japan, it was obvious that our conversations were all built around the events of 11th March 2011 and everything that came after. People exposed their emotions in front of me, but they did not have to look for some meta-level inside themselves that would allow them to view their lives from an observer's perspective. My role is to facilitate entering that level with my questions. In Japan, I knew what questions to ask. In Auroville, I had no idea.
On top of that, the question about the meaning of our existence was always hanging right there in front of us, and that's the most difficult question to handle, as it provokes banalities. Especially when writing a reportage on spirituality. There was one more problem at hand – I realized I find it easier to write about strong, painful emotions. They're so overwhelming that they turn out to be enough to draw readers into the story. In Auroville, there is no drama. All we get is mundane day-to-day life. I had to problematize it and find a way of describing it so that it remained interesting and absorbing, despite its lack of emotional highs and lows.
Do you think Auroville's existence makes sense today?
Yes and no. I think it depends on how we approach this city. After all, we don't need Auroville to change the world or to work on becoming better versions of ourselves. It's not like the world won't survive without it. Auroville has no importance to the world. Seeing how India – and the world in general – has moved forwards, we must keep in mind that Auroville has become somewhat stagnant, especially when it comes to technology. Still, just because I lived there doesn't mean I understand everything that happens there. I keep asking questions. I think that Auroville is not pointless, because there are people still coming there today, wanting to try the thing it has to offer. This way, they can take something out of it, other than various ecological solutions – for example, they can discover that they don't need Auroville to change. But this city provides an impulse, teaching them to ask the right questions. In my opinion, Auroville shows that change, while being slow and difficult, is actually possible. It requires enormous open-mindedness, endurance and conviction. The fact that changes happen so slowly is less comforting; today, we need changes to take place much more swiftly. But perhaps it would happen faster if more people worked to make them come true?
So how is the 1968 utopia different from the 2018 utopia?
The premise remains the same, but it's the concept that was successful, not the city itself. The final vision is so vague that everything can work out – there is no ultimate goal, no ideal you strive to achieve. All we get is a clue: creating a place of human unity. Of course, it was said in advance that the city would reach its peak once it housed 50,000 people. Next, we would have to set up more communities until they covered the entire globe. But this recipe provided no measures. You have to try and figure it out yourself to make it happen. Auroville is not an escape from reality, because here, everyone takes responsibility for their actions. Everything is clear from the very beginning. Even the omnipresent Mother had no rigid guidelines to follow.
What was your relationship with Mother?
I don't want to say who Mother was. But it is thanks to her that Auroville exists at all today. She convinced UNESCO and 124 countries to support its conception. She was a charismatic woman, a woman who could change people's lives with just one look. She kept on changing their lives even after she passed away – many Aurovillians insist they can still feel Mother looking after them. I didn't manage to establish a relationship with Mother. It's not like I didn't try to. Today I think I respect her, although I did not like her at first. I had my doubts about her, precisely because I saw her as a cult guru. Even though she is no longer alive, everyone – even those who are not very religious – keep referring to her words. I found Mother unsettling. Perhaps it was because I had never met someone so charismatic, even though I know such people do exist. She could evoke genuinely extreme emotions in people. When telling me about their meetings with Mother, Aurovillians had tears in their eyes. And yet, I didn't trust her, as I didn't trust the whole narrative that grew around her. On top of it, she stared at me from the photographs almost everywhere I went. As if she actually was the Mother of the People. I felt invigilated. I saw no love in her gaze.
Sometimes, people who have met John Paul II say they experienced similar emotions.
Yes, I also thought of this comparison when I was thinking about other charismatic people I might know. I think that meetings with John Paul II evoked similar emotions: elation, understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, concern, tenderness, love. People who describe their experience of meeting a person they considered charismatic often report it in a very similar way. I did not feel comfortable around Mother, but I knew I could not write my book without her.
The structure of your book is very purposeful. From the very beginning, we don't know what to expect and how the story will unfold. Was that your conscious writing choice when you started to put it all together?
No, it emerged during the writing process. I knew I wanted to write the story of a city through the stories of its people and that each of these stories had to push the city's story forward. But I had no idea what the final form would be. It was the same with Ganbare! – I had two drafts ready before I understood how to make a book out of them. In this case, there were even more drafts to work on.
Your book ends with a brutal statement about what life is.
Perhaps I needed Auroville to understand that.
Parts of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.
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