The Growth of a Service
Auroville Today article, May 1994, “Auroville Archives”
If it was not for the untiring efforts of Krishna Tewari, the Auroville Archives would not exist today. “It all started in about 1985”, he said. “I was a member of the Task Force and the Auroville Council and began talking about the need of archives, but then nobody took the bait. There was no space for it and there was no money. When I continued to pester everybody I was told to have a look at the space below the Sri Aurobindo Auditorium in Bharat Nivas. That space was originally intended to serve as cable duct and for the air-conditioning. It was literally a dungeon: full of muck, insects, lizards and a couple of rats. We had the place cleaned out, painted and rubber matting installed against the dampness from underneath. That was in 1991, the beginning of the Auroville Archives.
“We started with a few cupboards and the material collected by Bhaga from the Laboratory of Evolution. And soon we were able to start protecting the documents against humidity and against excessive heat. The humidity in Auroville is about 95% for some of the year, which is pretty destructive for documents. A dehumidifier was the first priority, and was spontaneously donated by a German visitor. It is now 24 hours a day operational. It reduces the humidity to 50% but has raised the temperature beyond acceptable limits and we hope to have an air-conditioner soon to bring the temperature down to about 25C (75F). The material help for all this came gradually, from individual Aurovilians and Auroville units, and from donors outside Auroville. Many donations were given just like that, without our even asking for it, such as the donation of one lakh rupees from an Aurovilian who resides in England.” We take a walk through the Archives. While Krishna opens a cupboard I look around and see how Andrej, a Russian Aurovilian, is concentrating on cleaning photographic slides, a very laborious process. Another Aurovilian, Sundar, is studying document preservation. Before I have the time to talk to them the cupboard opens and I get absorbed in its contents.
There is much to find in the Auroville Archives. Documents from pre-Auroville days, photographs, slides, negatives, and copies of all handwritten material from Mother on Auroville are but a small part of this collection. Says Krishna: “People have been extremely generous in donating to the Archives original materials. There is, for example, the handwritten ‘Book of Births’, started in 1967 by Maggi Lidchi. Maggi would record the details of the birth of a child, leaving a space for Mother who would give the child’s name. This book goes up to early 1976, when Nolinida gave the names after Mother’s departure. And there is a photo book of the babies born in Promesse, kept by the lady doctor who helped to deliver the children, which goes from August 1969 to 1972.”
One by one the other cupboards are opened, and I see row after row of neatly ordered acid-free paper boxes with intriguing titles such as: Satprem’s letters, Auroville International Centres, UNESCO papers, Seminars, International Youth Year 1985, Correspondence with the Administrator, Matrimandir, Supreme Court Case, Struggle with the Sri Aurobindo Society, Parliamentary debates on the two Auroville Acts, Tibet and Auroville, “Extraordinary” Proposals. And hundreds of minutes: Minutes of the Tamil Committee, the Agricultural Committee, the Construction Committee, the Comité d’ Administrative d’Auroville. Minutes of meetings of the Coop, of Pour Tous, of the Auroville Council, of the Executive Council, of the Working Committee. Minutes of Matrimandir meetings, General meetings, Residents’ Assembly meetings. Press cuttings from different parts of the world. Copies of all Auroville publications. Copies of the Auroville News from its beginning. A full set of Auroville Today.
“Many institutions have agreed to help the Auroville Archives. The team of the Ashram Archives came to visit the Auroville Archives, and gave all possible support and a full photocopied set of all Mother’s handwritten notes on Auroville. I have not asked for the originals, as this place is not yet safe enough, but we shall see later. Recently I got the original silk scroll with the signatures of all the people who participated in Auroville’s inauguration in 1968. And I hope to obtain the second original of Auroville’s Charter, written in French by the Mother which is now kept in Her room. The first original was sealed and put in the urn at the amphitheatre during Auroville’s inauguration. And I have been told that there are certain other materials available in the Ashram in the room of Mr. André, Mother’s son, along with the flag of Auroville which was used during the inauguration. I hope that I will obtain permission to look at these materials as well. We have also obtained from the Ashram the original recordings of the “Aspiration Talks” by the Mother with early Aurovilians in 1970. Much material must still be with the Sri Aurobindo Society and with others, and I trust that in the course of time people will agree to donate it to the Auroville Archives.
There are three cupboards full of photographs, and a drawer with audio tapes of the voices of Aurovilians. “That is a particular project”, explains Krishna. “I keep asking Aurovilians to come and have their voice recorded, but they are very reluctant. However, I will keep the pressure. The tapes we have already recorded are extremely interesting as I ask people to talk about how they came into contact with Mother and/or Auroville, how they came here, what their views are on the future of Auroville and so on. The cooperation from Auroville units and working groups, in general, could be better. I would like to have a full historical record of all the Auroville units and services. But there still are reservations in the minds of some Aurovilians about giving papers, and I hope that that will change in time. I have invited people through the Auroville News to come and visit the Archives. I trust that, once they see the work being done, the attitude will change from reluctance to collaboration.”
And the future? “A plan has been made and discussed to modify the unfinished structure of the Karnataka pavilion (originally one of the state pavilions of the Pavilion of India belonging to the Bharat Nivas complex, eds.) into a permanent building for the Auroville Archives. It would consist of three levels: the basement would house the archives, the ground floor offices and meeting rooms and the first floor a library and accommodation for four visiting research scholars. Perhaps this is still a long way off, but I trust it will be done”. Interviewer Carel 21-3-1994
Auroville Archives, 2018
Krishna Tewari persevered and secured the needed financial support in late 2013 for the creation of a dedicated building with a grant sanctioned by the Auroville Governing Board. The building is a ground floor plus one, with well-lighted office and temperature-controlled collection areas. The archives were moved into the new building, utilizing the ground floor, in January 2018. The first floor is to be shared with administrative teams until the Archives will grow into that space as well.