week 3 – halfway house

I’m currently sitting in Lamakaan cafe, it’s a cool spot with a shady courtyard. There are always tons of events and workshops here and always seems to be filled with lots of interesting, passionate looking conversations over chai (It’s a shame I don’t understand Hindi or Telugu). It’s a place I love to come and people watch.

There is an older gentleman sitting on the edge of the courtyard, he seems to be the old soul of Lamakaan watching over everyone. He is rather skinny with strikingly grey eyes, slick back greying hair, wearing a sheriff style shirt with dusty jeans. He in fact helped me move my table under the tree whilst saying with a kind smile, ‘this is your home.’ Hmm…

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Lamakaan cafe

However, notably so, out of about 30 or so people in the courtyard I am one of about 5 women. ‘This is a man’s world’ pops into my head. I am not one to get bogged down in feminism, sexism etc…however, during my time in India I have to say it is clear and so vividly obvious that Hyderabad is still certainly a man’s world. I remember sitting on my flight from Mumbai to Hyderabad being one of the very few women on the flight, and again last week when I was waiting for my Client in the café of business hotel… I was the only woman!

Well enough of my ramblings, lets get to week 3, the half-way mark of the Social Starters programme..time is flying!

I spend a large chunk of the week working in t-hub, a co-working space for start-ups, investors, incubators and accelerators. It’s been interesting to have complete flexible working as my Client does not have an office. But I have found I much prefer to work in a café and more so co-working spaces, rather than working at home. I like to make sure I have separate spaces for work and rest and I also like to be working with other people. The food at t-hub is also great, you can get an organic thali for 100 rupees! However, although being immersed in the start-up, enterprise bubble is incredibly exciting and inspiring, I sometimes can’t help but question whether the push behind the sector it is entirely economically sustainable.

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Wall decor at t-hub

Other highlights of the week include:

  • Jewelry making at Colour D Earth, we are all pleasantly surprised by what we produce.
  • We meet Bala Vikasa an international development NGO, it is interesting to hear about their history, ambitions and particularly their community-based approach to development.
  • We finally crack our Bollywood dance – Humma Humma.
  • We do sunset yoga on our apartment roof! We are lucky enough that Clare, another volunteer here, is a superstar yoga teacher.
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Handpainted necklace

On Thursday we’re off on our second and last weekend trip to Auroville in Pondicherry. Ahh….where to start?! We travelled via an overnight sleeper bus to Pondicherry. It’s a rocky ride and I’m pretty sure I am in sleep purgatory all night, holding on to my bunk! We reach Pondicherry and are all overjoyed that we survived the crazy bus (it reminded me of the Knight bus in Harry Potter). Pondicherry is an old French colonial city and we have breakfast in a little French café. I begin to miss crazy India, complaining to the others that we have been in there too long!

We then make our way to Auroville via tuk tuk. I did not know much about this place beforehand and had entirely neutral expectations. Auroville I come to learn is an experimental township, whose purpose is to ‘realize human unity’…

We are staying at a small, quaint little guesthouse owned by a curious, endearing and very softly spoken man called Selvaraj. Our first adventure begins by getting on a bus from the Solar Café to a umm …forest. Clare has organised this and its fair to say that none of us had a clue what to expect. We end up in a place called Sadhana Forest, which we learn has been set up to create a community of volunteers to reforest the previously arid and dry piece of land. We tour the forest, learning how volunteers from all over the world, including families and children, live off the ‘fatta the lan’, like Lenny says in Of Mice and Men. We are then treated to a free vegan meal and a documentary film screening. It’s a very interesting experience, one of which I can’t really put my finger on, but I find it curious how some of us in the developed world are almost trying to go back in time to live the simple life.

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Tour at Sadhana Forest

The next day we meet Gopi, a previous Social Starters Client who runs his own Auroville tours. Gopi has grown up in Auroville and its fascinating to hear his experiences and perspectives on things. I get on the back of Gopi’s motorbike and we take a tour around various Aurovillian charities, social enterprises and businesses. We visit Wellpaper, Lively Bamboo, and SVARAM, a music and sound therapy organisation. I have missed the ‘people’ element of my Client project in Hyderabad so I am really happy and inspired to meet some of the beneficiaries of the enterprises in Auroville.

That night on the way to dinner we get caught up in a religious parade for the Hindu God called Kali. People are dressed up, few are having trance-like experiences and men are walking with fire lit sticks. I felt both a little uneasy and also completely in awe of what was going on. The religious culture is so heavy and rich, it is incredible to see!

And finally our last day before getting the knight bus back to Hyderabad, we take the tour into the Matra Mandir. I have drafted this paragraph various times and I am really struggling to put into words my rather enchanting experience here! The architecture and interior of the mandir is breathtaking and everyone is made to be silent whilst walking through the mandir. We are taken to the mediation room where I have quite a surreal experience meditating which I really can’t describe…so I shall leave it at that.

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View of Matra Mandir

We fuel up on masala dosas, grab some beers on the side of the road before bracing ourselves back on the Knight Bus to Hyderabad. (It actually turned out not to be as bad as the way there).

So that’s halfway through the programme and Auroville was a really special way to mark it. Excited to see what the next half brings!

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