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First stop: India – Or in which I discover that my first tree is the banyan tree

It’s now been 25 days since I set out from Helsinki to Puducherry, landing in Chennai. I spent the first three nights in Puducherry, recovering from the travelling and jet lag, and adjusting to being in India, filling my senses with all the colorful sights and smells and sounds. You can see some of my pictures from Puducherry here.

Aviram, the founder of Sadhana Forest, with a young banyan tree, a daughter of the banyan tree at the heart of Auroville

And then it was off to Sadhana Forest, my first proper stop, a reforestation project in Auroville. Perhaps I am not meant to admit this, but I knew little about Sadhana Forest, and I knew even less about Auroville. But it turned out that I had been called to the right place. Given the working title of my book, ‘A History of the Future of the World in 10 Trees’, imagine my delight when I found out, when posting on Instagram, that Auroville was dubbed ‘The Future of the World in India’. Describing what Auroville is seems to be a challenge for anybody, and apparently gets harder the more you know about it. But the official description of Auroville is ‘a universal town in the making dedicated to the ideal of human unity’. And imagine the further delight when I found out that the geographical heart of Auroville is a banyan tree. I couldn’t have planned it better if I had spent days researching it. The banyan tree is also the national tree of India, one of the most sacred trees in India, and has been planted at Sadhana Forest as well. And so it will be the focus of my first chapter, although clearly it is one tree amongst many.

When I had enquired about the types of trees that are planted at Sadhana, the answer was that over 150 types are planted, all part of restoring the TDEF or Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest. I trusted that one tree would emerge to the fore, and am grateful that it did. The story of how the first pioneers of Auroville focused on planting trees as it was a necessity to enable them to live there, and the success that they have had, is an inspiring example of the invaluable role that trees play in healthy ecosystems. Without trees, there can be no life.

The communities in Auroville are named after different qualities, such as Gratitude, Humility, Joy - and Celebration

After 11 days, I decided to move to Auroville, so I could spend more time on research beyond Sadhana Forest and also on writing. It also enabled me just to slow down a little. I have written some and have more material that I need to work with, as well as some research pathways to follow. I am hoping that the four weeks that I have in Australia in April at an artist’s residency will give me the time and space to focus on bringing that chapter together, as well as undertaking research there.

It’s certainly different travelling with the aim of writing a book. Sometimes I wonder why I announced this intention to the world – but it is precisely because I can’t back out of it that it was a good thing that I did. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the idea, so it’s the least that I can do. As I overheard someone say in a café in Auroville: “The finger of the Buddha is pointing to the moon. It is about the path. And the fact that we are here and not somewhere else, that we are sitting here discussing, is an indication of the way the finger is pointing”.

I am learning to trust the process. And the next step of the journey, where the finger of the Buddha is pointing, is taking me to Sri Lanka, where I will visit a bodhi tree that is a Buddhist pilgrimage site and one of, if not the oldest, trees planted by humans. I am then undertaking an 8-day Buddhist meditation retreat in the hills above Kandy. I am hoping that this will open up my mind in a different way to listen to the trees.

I’ve also been enjoying taking time for reading and following different pathways. I’ve just finished reading ‘The Great Derangement’ by Amitav Ghosh. He provides a much needed counterpoint to what he describes as the Anglo-centric dominance of the conversation around climate change, and looks at the role of colonialism as well as capitalism in causing climate change. I plan to write more on this.

Until next time – love each day, (as a dear person wrote to me after we met yesterday and had an unexpectedly deep conversation – it’s about listening to each other, as well to the trees).

Olivia x

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Olivia Sprinkel
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