The Auroville Archives act as the repository for all important letters, documents, publications and other papers, photos, slides and audio/visual material pertaining to the concept, planning, inauguration and progressive development of Auroville over the years, with emphasis on the experimental nature of work done. All the collected material has to be protected against the heat, humidity, dust and insects by air-conditioning and humidity control in the present temporary habitat. Available data is also being converted into digital format. Among its most precious documents are copies of the Mother’s messages and letters on Auroville.
Under the careful and persistent guidance of Aurovilian General Krishna Tiwari, India, who lived in Auroville since 1976, the Auroville Archives was established in 1991 to keep a record of the progressive growth of Auroville over the years from its inception onwards, together with records of the difficulties faced and dealt with in the gradually evolving process of the township.
Auroville Archives is in a transition period: from a repository of old documents; it has to become Auroville’s active memory, which means that more documents need to be digitized and made easily available online (via Auronet and/or internet). This requires digitizing documents, sorting them out and posting them in a properly structured manner on a website so that what one is looking for is easy to find.
Auroville Archives Books and Publications:
The Auroville Archives enters a new phase
The article from Auroville Today, #358, May 2019
The Auroville Archives was established in 1991 by Krishna Tewari. For many years it was located in a temporary space in Bharat Nivas but in 2018 it moved into a new building in the Auroville Administrative Zone and the team was expanded. In a free-wheeling discussion, they talk about their work and their hopes for how the Archives can contribute to our understanding of the past, present and future of the Auroville experiment.
Auroville Today: Why does Auroville need an archive? Some people say that in the ‘Town of the Future’ we should be focused only upon the future, not upon the past.
Thambidurai: Auroville is a unique project on earth so future researchers need material to understand what it is and how it has evolved.
Gilles: Auroville is an intentional community. Mother spelled out this intention but this intention needs to be better known. She spoke a lot about Auroville between mid 1965 and mid 1973 and things evolved a lot during that time. It is important to understand this; you cannot plan for the future unless you understand the past. Fact checking is also one of our important roles. People are claiming that Mother said things which she did not say; this needs to be corrected.
Moreover, if it is entered in the right manner, the data that we are feeding into the Archives computer today could help with tomorrow’s planning. For example, the statistics we collect shows us we will have to build new schools for young kids soon because in two years the ages of the kids will make this a necessity.
Amy: Auroville is an ongoing experiment and people need to see for themselves how the experiments so far have gone. Hopefully we can learn from the things we have done in the past and do them differently in the future.
Gilles: If you look at Auroville Today you see how many projects were started but disappeared without trace. And we have a cupboard full of expensive planning studies by L’Avenir d’Auroville that never saw the light of day. We need to understand why this kind of thing happens.
But do you have enough information on past experiments to know why they failed or why plans were never initiated?
Doris: No we don’t. There is also a lack of information on ongoing projects. Take the Sacred Groves project. In Auroville Today some years ago you did look at some of the problems and tried to analyse what had happened but there was no follow up. We are three steps behind in everything.
If somebody wanted to write a comprehensive history of Auroville, do you think the Archives has sufficient material now to allow them to do it? Or are there significant gaps?
Thambidurai: We have a lot of material from the minutes of Pour Tous meetings, for example, but materials on other experiments are missing and need to be added to the existing collection.
Gilles: I think we have almost all the material necessary, it is just a matter of making it easily available through digitalising and classifying it. We now have a very comprehensive collection of Mother’s words on Auroville but this compilation is limited to her known words because we have no, or very few records, from some of the key actors (such as Navajata, André Morisset and Pournapréma) and Roger Anger kept notes of his discussions with Mother only during a short period. The last treasure trove we are missing is Roger Anger’s personal archives, which Jacqueline is presently sorting out. She told me she will share these documents with us when she has completed this task. We look forward to collaborating in assembling these pieces.
Francis: During the conflict with the Sri Aurobindo Society there were a lot of meetings when nothing was recorded, neither the discussions nor the decisions. And many other things from that time were not written down.
Amy: There are definitely gaps in our documentation. Somebody who is making a film on the Greenbelt asked for images and we have found there are a lot of gaps in that area of Auroville’s development.
Important material is also scattered between different archives or collections in Auroville – schools and research places like CSR. I think one of our primary roles in the Auroville Archives is to create a centralised repository of these different archives. I’m also making a digitalized repository of all the issues of the Auroville News, the News and Notes etc. to enable people to do research more easily.
Doris: We are doing the same with videos. So far, we have collected 358 videos on Auroville. We don’t have much documentation on architecture or real research on education. These gaps need to be filled before we can really say something about these topics to the larger world.
Do you see it is your roles as archivists to fill the gaps and do further research on the raw material you have collected?
Amy: Research and analysis of the factual documents needs to happen, but we are a very small team and our first work is to scan, digitalise, transcribe and utilise what we have now. While we can provide the materials, people need to come in to do the research.
Gilles: We can only do so much with our present resources. We keep our present collection of documents by topic in sixty steel cupboards. Unfortunately, we don’t have the human resources to put much order into these and it is being done on an ad-hoc basis. What we can do is make this material known, and then ask people to fill the gaps and analyse it.
Amy: Around 2000, the Archives conducted interviews with over 200 Aurovilians. We’ve talked about contacting some of them again to do a follow up and this would be one way of filling the gaps.
As archivists, do you believe that at some point you will have enough information to be able to understand this place? After all, in Auroville there are so many different layers and energies in play and that cannot be transcribed.
Gilles: But it’s like that all over the world: the most important things are often not documented. If you look at politics, the key moments may be two or three people meeting in a café and these conversations are not recorded. Also, people view the same events differently. People can understand the French Revolution, for example, from very different perspectives.
Amy: I don’t think I know what Auroville is by having access to all this information. I believe what we’re doing here is hugely important, but this question of being able to understand what Auroville is is deeply personal: Doris’s Auroville is probably a little bit different from my Auroville. I feel my personal understanding is deep and profound and fluid, not fixed, and I would not want to see this spelled out in a document. Rather, I hope people can live it out every day.
Gilles: I absolutely agree that there are as many Aurovilles as there are Aurovilians. I also think that Auroville is best understood by the soul, not by the mind.
Doris: At the same time, I have understood a lot more about Auroville through doing this work. For me, every day there’s something new.
Is material in the Archives available for both Aurovilians and outside researchers?
Are there or should there be any restrictions upon who can access it?
Thambidurai: There should be restrictions. The material is mainly for the Aurovilians. In some cases we provide material for non-Aurovilians who have been recommended by Aurovilians to ensure that the material will not be misused. Otherwise, anybody could come in and do anything they like with the material.
Gilles: There are some people who are genuinely interested in understanding Auroville or one of its aspects, but there are others who only want to look in the garbage.
Amy: We are a conscientious archive. Anybody can walk in the door or send us an email but we have a right and obligation to ask who they are and what their intentions are. We will have a conversation with them, and then we see.
Francis: As the Archives grow, more regulations will be put in place because a lot of sensitive information may come in, so some areas will not be generally available.
Doris: Regarding videos, the policy is clear. If an outsider requests Auroville videos, the request is viewed by Outreach Media and they tell me what I can give. But sometimes I go with my gut feeling, as happened recently when a young German student wanted material for his research on Auroville.
What are the areas in which people want to obtain material or do research?
Doris: Mostly it is people making new Auroville videos who want to include excerpts from old historical videos.
Francis: We sent 32 videos on Auroville to Doordarshan, the government broadcaster, when they wanted to prepare India for Auroville’s 50th anniversary and Prime Minister Modi’s visit. These short videos were broadcast on Indian TV every evening for five weeks.
Where would you like the Archives to be in five years from now?
Doris: I hope that a lot of the cataloguing will have been finished and made available for the Aurovilians.
Francis: I hope we have gone to the next level of service by linking all the scattered documentation and information together in one central point.
Amy: My dream is that we are viewed as an active viable service and people start to see the value of the work that is being done here. More and more people would be accessing the information, coming in to use the guest station, and generally making the whole place more dynamic.
What effect do you feel that an active, vibrant Archives used by many Aurovilians will have upon the larger Auroville?
Amy: I can tell from scanning issues of Auroville Today and the News and Notes that in this community we keep having the same conversations over and over again. So I hope we will realise that now is the time to move on.
Gilles: The problem in Auroville is that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. For example, a volunteer recently documented for us chronologically every plot that Auroville has purchased. But when I have looked at what was purchased and the plans for that period, there is a total discrepancy! What this shows me is that in the field of planning as well as in other fields of work, too many of us tend to have difficulty in acknowledging the reality of our situation and dealing with this reality. Unless we acknowledge our past mistakes, we are very likely to repeat them.
Doris: I hope that people will also be reminded of our positive achievements. We still have to solve a ton of problems but it is important that we respect what we have already achieved.
Francis: This Archives project is just beginning to bloom. Until now the community mindset has been short-term, just focussed on making it to the end of the month, while the whole process of digitalising and categorising material is alien to a large section of the community. But you get the feeling that eyes are beginning to open and more people are coming through the door with requests. The Archives is definitely going to grow as people understand its importance, for the work being done today will allow researchers in the future to evaluate our past as well as our current progress.