This past weekend, I took the 10-hour train Friday night from Bangalore to Pondicherry, to visit the coastal town with its French colonial past, and also to visit some pioneering social entrepreneurs from Unlimited Tamil Nadu, in the universal alternative-living enclave of Auroville.
Saturday and Sunday I spent touring Pondicherry. I strolled along the Bay of Bengal, examined geologic specimens from all 28 Indian states at the Pondicherry Museum, soaked in the sights and
sounds at the Grand Bazaar, and hung out in the evenings on the guest house terrace with a raucous group of retirees from Bretagne in France. On Saturday I also went to Auroville for the first time and visited the Matrimandar, the gleaming spherical center of the
Aurovillian utopia. I was pleasantly surprised to speak more French than English, with the combination of my Parisian-couple-run guest house, and majority-French volunteer cohort at Unlimited.
Monday and Tuesday I spent in Auroville with
the Unlimited Tamil Nadu team, and several of their entrepreneurs. In Auroville, I also visited a spirulina farm (and brought home some tasty spirulina balls!), organic farm attended by an international bunch of tanned WOOFers, the Center for Scientific Research and the Earth Institute (which promotes natural and appropriate building materials and clean energy). I zipped around Auroville on a combination of scooters, motorcycles, and auto rickshaws, and also slugged a bit on foot for a few long hours. Tuesday evening was spent at the home of Gijs, the Unltd TN founder. Gijs made a wonderful soup of Aurovillian vegetables and sliced Auroville bread while the Dutch girls and I spent a good 45 minutes grating a massive beet for the salad, and chatting about their farming experience in the universal city. With our hands died perfectly magenta, we ate happily and discussed the Unltd business plan with several of the French volunteers.
The Unlimited Tamil Nadu incubatees were a diverse group of
entrepreneurs, tackling social challenges from public health to sustainable food chains, and
from waste reduction to market linkages for garmentproducer groups. One notable entrepreneur I met was Jessamijn, of EcoFemme. We chatted for a half an hour in her small, colorful Auroville office about the washable sanitary napkins she was producing with SHGs in rural villages. While EcoFemme is sold to
mostly online and export markets in the US and Europe currently, the pads are produced in rural India. She has a team doing some research in villages, and may start sales aimed at Indian markets in the near future.