Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ananda Pune - A Plan, Letter #17

I’m always amazed at the marvelous variety of talents we have in the Ananda communities. It’s almost assured that a Sangha member can be found with the right skill-set to solve whatever problem comes along. That certainly was the case for us in India when JT Heater and Alex Forrester came all the way from Ananda Village to help us plan the Ananda Kriya Yoga Community in Pune. Working with our local architect, Amardeep Singh, JT and Alex extracted from us a unified vision, and translated our thoughts into a visual design for presentation to the public, Swami Kriyananda and prospective members.

When I wrote last month's weblog post, a group of us had just returned from touring our property in Pune. Immediately, an invitation was sent to JT and Alex requesting their help. JT Heater is a professional, resident architect at Ananda Village with many years experience in design. Alex Forrester, also an Ananda resident, is a professional community planner and highly knowledgeable in the science of permaculture. Amardeep Singh is a local architect whose firm we have chosen to prepare plans that can be navigated through the Indian regulatory process. Together, these three great souls were able to coalesce our ethereal concepts into a realistic plan of action.

As I've mentioned before, we are developing a multi-use community with a retreat, institute, hospice, school, monastery, commercial area and residential quarters for 100-200 people on 30 acres of land in the countryside outside of Pune in central India. We now own about twenty of those acres but hope to have title to all by the end of the year. As funds allow, we'd like to buy additional, adjacent land, but for now we feel that thirty acres will allow us to begin.

If you look at the map above, you’ll see that development is densely clustered in the lower, northern half of the property. (The missing North arrow would point down.) The upper half of the property, much of which is not shown, rises into steep hillsides in excess of 30% gradient, making it unsuitable for building but, positively, creating an undeveloped backdrop to the community below. To the north (down on the map) and below the bordering road, are cultivated paddy fields of local villagers. The view in this direction from the community is across a broad, agricultural valley toward hills in the distance, three or four miles away.

The community’s design is a combination of elements found at Ananda Village mixed with the high-density housing found in Ananda’s urban, residential communities in Palo Alto, Portland, Sacramento and Seattle. On the left (east) side of the map, you will see a guest retreat complex and a Temple of Light. In the center are apartment flats served by a village/community commercial center. To the right (west) will be larger houses, a school, hospice or some combination of these elements. Two alternatives are drawn on the far right. On the upper, right side of the map is a home of Swamiji and a monastery with seclusion “caves” adjacent. At the entry will be reception offices and a boutique with a landscaped garden offering a beautiful view of the temple on the hillside above.

One of the nice features of the design is that the elevation contours run across the land from left to right as shown on the map, allowing for pedestrian traffic to traverse the community on an easy grade. You will be able to walk from the houses on the far western edge to the temple without having to climb the hillside. It’s only a walk of a few hundred yards. We hope to limit interior traffic to electric carts and bicycles, but both Vidura and I have our doubts about how well residents will conform to this. From our experience, people don’t really like to walk, even though they affirm that they do. We keep joking that people will drive into their living rooms if given the chance. I think those of you who live at Ananda Village know what we mean. Somehow we have to construct a design that lets residents get reasonably close to their destination while still keeping the cars in check. We’ll see.

Our next step is to show the plan to Swamiji for comment. Nirmala and Dharmadas flew to Rome to show him our progress, bringing with them maps, drawings, and a three dimensional model made in an amazingly short time by Amardeep’s employees. It’s quite something. They have said that Swamiji's first reaction has been very positive. Assuming few changes are needed, more detailed plans will be drawn and we’ll engage engineers to do calculations and design for all of the infrastructure needs—roads, water, electricity, sewage, etc. While this is happening, plans can be refined further, more land purchased, applications submitted, budgets set and serious fundraising begin.

We’ve been promoting this particular project since last fall when Swami visited Pune to see the property we have now bought. It’s hard to excite people about something they can’t see and can hardly imagine. Cooperative communities aren’t all that common, after all. Yet, even with these obstacles we’ve had dozens of people express interest and many have been willing to give an initial donation to help with the land purchase. What most want now is a firm plan, a graphic design, a list of requirements and details about what their costs will be. These are the questions all of us want answered and we have local residents working on them.

Ananda Village in California was a “build it as you go” project where it took ten years to provide basic services and houses that were more than country cabins. That model worked well for us because we were young and it conformed to the “hands on” spirit of the times. We were learning as we grew, both in how to build a community and in our attunement to Master's teachings. Our city communities were able to purchase already constructed housing complexes and improve them, thus creating a community much more quickly. Here, we must develop from scratch a mostly "turn-key" project within a short time frame. To do this, we need large sums in advance and then find ways to pay it all back. It is a daunting prospect. One idea is to have potential residents “buy” flats so that we can use their money to first build the retreat, community buildings, Swami's house and infrastructure. Can you guess the problem with this approach? How do we build the residential flats for when people come, furniture in tow? “Details, details, Jaya. You just need more faith. It’ll all work out.” Right!

One thing we all agree upon is the need to attract people who are spiritually motivated foremost. That’s why we’ll begin with construction of our retreat, creating something like The Expanding Light. For this, we’ll depend heavily on donations, and I suspect we'll provide for residential needs with funds provided by those who choose to make the community their home. Naturally, everything will be built in phases, so our task now it to raise a few million dollars to get the project off the ground. Simple! Who knows? Maybe we’ll attract a sponsor.

I’m sure some of you are interested in coming to see for yourself our new land. If so, you may want to visit next February. We are planning to have an international retreat in Pune similar to what we’ve done the last four years in Gurgaon. It’ll be a four-day event in the city. From there, everyone will have a chance to visit the property and Swami may even dedicate the community at that time. It’s highly likely we’ll also organize a pilgrimage to spiritual and cultural locations in South India to coincide with the retreat, so you may want to start planning now.

I’ll keep posting updates as our plans unfold. For now, I don’t think much will happen until the fall and Swamiji returns from America. This is the time of year many in the ashram take vacations and return to America or Europe, so it will be quiet in Gurgaon until the hot season and monsoon are over. Things are, however, proceeding in the background, and once fall comes, we should have a clearer idea of our next step. Many of us are hoping our ashram shifts to the city of Pune, but for now, Gurgaon, the official "City of Malls" remains our home