The auroville dome, which Suzanne Moore visited, under construction. Photo: Serge Duchemin
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In India, the next stage of evolution involves special socks and a substantial donation

There is no “money” in Auroville, yet the Indian boys at the café were soon bringing me patisserie for bribes. In the form of money.

Arriving in Chennai at 4am was grim. All I wanted was a cold beer. “Not possible. It’s the elections, madam. You may riot.”

I was at a hotel, waiting to be met by an inhabitant of a town I had become fascinated with. It exists to connect to a higher consciousness, and is described as “a site of material and spiritual search for a living embodiment of achieving Actual Human Unity”. Who would not want to go there?

Auroville was founded in 1968 by Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual companion Mirra Alfassa, “The Mother”. Aurobindo was remarkable. The first nationalist to insist on full independence for India, he was jailed for treason and kept in solitary confinement, where he had a number of spiritual experiences. He decided he must help develop transitional beings to become a Supermind. So the Mother created, first, an ashram and then, by 1969, Auroville, a township attempting to live a new form of collective life.

This is how I found myself in what basically looked like a bit of Charles de Gaulle Airport in the middle of a jungle in south India, trying to get a coffee.

There is no “money” in Auroville, yet the Indian boys at the café were soon bringing me patisserie – everything is pretty French – for bribes. In the form of money. I was shown to my room in a Zen house and told, “This is where the Dalai Lama stays.” They then served horrible porridge for breakfast, though I never managed to work out how to pay for it without money. So they seemed very annoyed.

It’s a huge place. One day I trekked miles to meet an old Aurovilian, with wild dogs running around me in the jungle. It was to talk about the philosophy of the place. He had a long, grey ponytail and spoke about repairing the hard drives of laptops for two hours, and then said he was too busy to say more, as he was having a dinner party. It was like something out of Lost. There were, everyone told me, “no drink or drugs” in Auroville. This was not the truth.

Some people there live in the most fantastic designer homes, others in shacks, but all the real work I saw was being done by Tamils. And no one else speaks Tamil, not even the people who have been there 40 years. Everything depends on complex rules, as all “communal” living must.

I was told off for talking near a banyan tree.

Eventually we were allowed into the Matrimandir, a giant golden globe that looks like a James Bond villain’s palace. We had to wear special socks to go in one of the “petal rooms”. It was purple and Star Trekky. We suppressed giggles and pretended to meditate.

A very annoyed Frenchwoman then explained to me that although everything was “shared” in Auroville, “You need to make a donation. How you say? A substantial amount.” The next stage of evolution costs. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns the future?

Photo: Getty
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French voters face a choice: Thatcherism or fascism

Today's Morning Call. 

Francois Fillon has been handed the task of saving France from a Marine Le Pen presidency and, by extension, the European Union from collapse, after a landslide win over Alain Juppé in the second round of the centre-right Republican party primary, taking 67 per cent of the vote to Juppé's 33 per cent. 

What are his chances? With the left exhausted, divided and unpopular, it's highly likely that it will be Fillon who makes it into the second round of the contest (under the French system, unless one candidate secures more than half in the first round, the top two go to a run off). 

Le Pen is regarded as close-to-certain of winning the first round and is seen as highly likely to be defeated in the second. That the centre-right candidate looks - at least based on the polls - to be the most likely to make it into the top two alongside her puts Fillon in poll position if the polls are right.

As I explained in my profile of him, his path to victory relies on the French Left being willing to hold its nose and vote for Thatcherism - or, at least, as close as France gets to Thatcherism - in order to defeat fascism. It may be that the distinctly Anglo-Saxon whiff of his politics - "Thatcherite Victor vows sharp shock for France" is the Times splash - exerts too strong a smell for the left to ignore.

The triumph of Brexit in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump in the United States have the left and the centre nervous. The far right is sharing best practice and campaign technique across borders, boosting its chances. 

Of all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most avoidable, so I won't make one. However, there are a few factors that may lie in the way of Le Pen going the way of Trump and Brexit. Hostility towards the European project and white  racial reaction are both deeply woven into the culture and politics of the United Kingdom and the United States respectively. The similarities between Vote Leave and Trump are overstated, but both were fighting on home turf with the wind very much at their backs. 

While there's a wider discussion to be had about the French state's aggressive policy of secularism and diversity blindness and its culpability for the rise of Le Pen, as far as the coming contest is concerned, the unity of the centre against the extremes is just as much a part of French political culture as Euroscepticism is here in Britain. So it would be a far bigger scale of upheaval if Le Pen were to win, though it is still possible.

There is one other factor that Fillon may be able to rely on. He, like Le Pen, is very much a supporter of granting Vladimir Putin more breathing space and attempting to reset Russia's relationship with the West. He may face considerably less disruption from that quarter than the Democrats did in the United States. Still, his campaign would be wise to ensure they have two-step verification enabled.

A WING AND A PRAYER

Eleanor Mills bagged the first interview with the new PM in the Sunday Times, and it's widely reported in today's papers. Among the headlines: the challenge of navigating  Brexit keeps Theresa May "awake at night", but her Anglican faith helps her through. She also lifted the lid on Philip May's value round the home. Apparently he's great at accessorising. 

THE NEVERENDING STORY

John Kerr, Britain's most experienced European diplomat and crossbench peer, has said there is a "less than 50 per cent" chance that Britain will negotiate a new relationship with the EU in two years and that a transitional deal will have to be struck first, resulting in a "decade of uncertainty". The Guardian's Patrick Wintour has the story

TROUBLED WATERS OVER OIL

A cross-party coalition of MPs, including Caroline Lucas and David Lammy, are at war with their own pension fund: which is refusing to disclose if its investments include fossil fuels. Madison Marriage has the story in the FT

TRUMPED UP CHARGES?

The Ethics Council to George W Bush and Barack Obama say the Electoral College should refuse to make Donald Trump President, unless he sells his foreign businesses and puts his American ones in a genuine blind trust. Trump has said he plans for his children to run his businesses while he is in the Oval Office and has been involved in a series of stories of him discussing his overseas businesses with foreign politicians. The New York Times has detailed the extentof Trump's overseas interests. 

TODAY'S MORNING CALL...

...is brought to you by the City of London. Their policy and resources chairman Mark Boleat writes on Brexit and the City here.

CASTROFF

Fidel Castro died this weekend. If you're looking for a book on the region and its politics, I enjoyed Alex von Tunzelmann's Red Heat, which you can buy on Amazon or Hive.

BALLS OUT

Ed Balls was eliminated from Strictly Come Dancing last night, after finishing in the bottom two and being eliminated by the judges' vote.  Judge Rinder, the daytime TV star, progressed to the next round at his expense. 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Helen reviews Glenda Jackson's King Lear.

MUST READS

Forget Castro's politics. All that matters is he was a dictator, says Zoe Williams

The right must stop explaining away Thomas Mair's crime, I say

It’s time to end the lies on immigration, says Anna Soubry

Get Morning Call direct to your inbox Monday through Friday - subscribe here. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.