Utopia. Sure, it’d be – by definition – pretty nice, but is it really possible? How could one society be perfect for every single person that’s part of it? We don’t want to be party-poopers. Dreaming of a better world and trying to make it a reality is a noble urge. But, well, Wild, Wild Country, anyone?
At first glance, Auroville seems different. A self-declared “universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities,” this Utopian settlement in India has been going strong for 50 years. Not bad for a place that eschews money, religion, government, mass media and big-city infrastructure.
So what’s behind Auroville’s remarkable longevity?
A glorious charter helps. Based on principles of never-ending education and progress, spiritual advancement and unified humanity, it supposedly keeps Aurovillians focused and inspired. Ongoing protection and support from UNESCO and the Indian government can’t hurt either. Then there’s the city’s uniquely Utopian aesthetics.
Some folks reckon if you look the part, that’s half the battle won. Viewed from any angle, Auroville (aka the City of Dawn) looks every inch the harmonious Dream City envisioned by its guru founder, Mirra Alfassa. From the air, it resembles a map of the galaxy, a vivid reminder of its cosmic ideals.
On the ground, it’s equally impressive. A gob-smacking golden meditation dome sits at the city’s centre, in a district known as the Peace Area. Inside the dome, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into a late ’60s sci-fi movie, while Auroville’s green-friendly ethos means that nature – forest, orchards, organic farms – is never far away.
And its beautiful Modernist homes are serene, light-filled sanctuaries where positive vibes are practically de rigeur.
In short, the perfect visual embodiment of a Utopian dream.
But – and you knew this was coming, right? – Auroville’s got problems. A veritable “laundry list” of them, according to Slate journalist Maddy Cromwell, who visited in 2015. Yep, like anywhere else humans coexist, there’s crime (some of it very nasty), financial corruption, bureaucracy up the wazoo, and suicide.
Reality strikes again.