A friend of mine has been asking me to write a post on the various people I have lived with, interesting as that may be several of them are my only readers and I do not want to jeopardize that. But it is a holiday, and I would rather write than clean the house which is infested with animals big and small, it is a mini-zoo.
My first stint at living away from home was in 2004-05, while I did my architectural internship, in Auroville. I had the wonderful oppurtunity of living with the most patient woman, M. She was working there, older and was looking to set up house. I was out of home for the first time, and was overwhelmed by new experiences and the wonderfulness that was Auroville.
M and I became instant friends, she is one of the most relaxed people I know. We decided to move in together. My best friend Beaky (he has a beak like nose, and is named after Buckbeak the hippogriff and if I had to describe him in one word it would be languid) was doing his internship in Auroville as well and moved in with us.
Auroville attracts a large floating population in the winter, with long term tourists filling up all the guest houses. Our motley crew had no where to live, so my boss, let us stay in this large room, christened ‘dormitory‘ for the occasion.
Soon a estranged boyfriend/ex boyfriend who heard I was in Auroville, the land of the free decided to move in, (SPONGE ALERT!!!!) and he was followed by another friend (SMELLY) who decided to do his internship there as well. I took them all in, without asking M !!!!
I currently live with a little one, who is so well behaved, she lets me know a week in advance if she is having friends over. I must have been a nightmare. It is quite embarassing really, I was just so oblivious to her rather obvious discomfort.
The dormitory was a large hall where we spread our beds on the floor, with one window that overlooked a jam factory. That ensured that the room smelt nice, or in reality balanced smelly’s body odour. That boy didnt believe in bathing or laundry. All of us lived out of suitcases, but he had a giant pile of clothes on the floor next to his mattress. He would plunge his hand in and pull out a shirt to wear, without checking if it was dirty or clean, and then plunge his hand in again and grope about till he located his foul smelling deodrant. The young are blessed with high tolerance levels, and in retrospect I don’t think it bothered me much then. Infact the memory of it bothers me more, but M, the poor girl.
At one end of the hall, there was a flight of 5 steps that lead to an elevated room which functioned as a kitchen/dining area, though it had no furniture or a gas stove. We had one electric cooker that made maggi quite effeciently and there was one toilet for the 5 of us.
Everything about the space spelt disaster, but we were happy, young and free. We had friends over, met new people, explored new cultures. My favourite memory of the place is of the bonfires we had. The dormitory was in the middle of a large tree filled campus. We would collect firewood, siphon out petrol from one of the bikes, and sit around the giant blaze with our preferred toxins. Often we threw in potatoes and onions, fished them out from the black embers and ate them wih butter, and despite the petrol they tasted delicious.
We would spend our Sundays on the Auroville beach, endless days of swimming, and napping under the shade of palm trees. It is really the best kind of Sundays, and I would give anything to get them back again. I have to soon move to a city with a beach, I am not meant to live in landlocked areas.
Beaky and I were on our way to the beach one Sunday, on his trusted TVS 50 and we noticed that everyone was running in the opposite direction. The closer we got to the beach, the more it seemed like an exodus, people were carrying the old and the young. We asked a very panicked youth, who informed us a rhinocerous was on the rampage. In truth the tsunami had just struck the coast of Tamil Nadu creating much destruction and havoc.
One night, a month or so after we moved into the dormitory, we heard disembodied voices from the terrace. They were speaking a very guttaral ancient language and it seemed that several men were holding a heated conversation. Spooked, we ran out for a quick inspection, but the night was quiet, with just the odd cricket making its presence felt. We could hear the voices only indoors.
We began hearing the voices every now and then, and would drag our beds adjacent to each other in a straight line and often hold hands and fall asleep feeling safer because of the proximity. On some investigation, we learned that an archaeologist was storing giant burial urns in the basement, in the hopes of starting a museum.
The voices became a regular part of our lives, but we decided to move. I don’t remember now if we moved because of the voices, or because we wanted to go our separate ways, but we began looking for accommodation in earnest. It was rather unfortunate that Beaky, Smelly, The Sponge and I found a house before M and she was stuck with the voices alone for two weeks. We even rescued her one night, when they got a little overbearing.
The dormitory stayed empty for a while and then a middle aged couple moved in. I met them in Auroville a year or two later, and asked them if they heard the voices as well. They nodded very casually and said, they were very happy there, for they got a good vibe from the voices. Then it struck me, that our fear was that of the unknown, a fear of the mystery, for the voices did nothing more that talk to each other, which would not even suffice as a plot for a badly made horror movie.
After the dormitory I lived in several houses in and around auroville. One of the most enriching and difficult ones, was a beautiful one room house in a forest. This house had no electricity, and you had to sleep in the terrace, which was covered by a thatch roof. So my bedroom did not have walls, just a roof. There was a windmill right outside, and the creak a creak of the blades turning at night was one of the most reassuring sounds to fall asleep to. There were nights when there was no wind, when the windmill glared at you in stony silence, and that is when I would fervently thank Benjamin Franklin and count the days till I returned to Chennai.
It has been 8 years since Auroville, M and I are still facebook friends,I did mention that she was patient, though I have successfully moved galaxies away from The Sponge and Smelly.
I wish/wonder if I could go back and live there now, the same way, or if my tolerance for comfort has reached a point of no return. Bumpy bus rides, lack of electricity, frogs and an occasional snake in the toilet were things that never caused 21 year old me any alarm, I think/hope that the 29 year old me, would still enjoy the quiet, the green, and the solitude, and embrace the idea of of falling asleep to the sounds of a windmill.