Sunday, April 06, 2008

Exceedingly subtle, variations on the dead face, presumably because Aurovilianus needs to harvest all his or her energy for higher matters

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Current issue Archive copies Auroville Experience March 2008
The Auroville look
- Alan
One thing sadly neglected in the celebration of 40 years of Auroville's achievements is the Auroville look. This is all the more surprising since the Auroville look is much remarked upon by visitors. Many claim they have never seen anything like it anywhere else, which is hardly surprising as it is the unique product of 40 years of intensive evolution.
The Auroville look, or rather looks, is the distinctive way in which members of the species Aurovilianus aspirans communicate, or refuse to communicate, with other members of the species. It is essentially non-verbal and consists of a finely calibrated series of facial expressions coupled with extremely subtle movements of the head. These can signify an astonishingly wide range of meanings.
Let's begin with the one that is best known – the dead face. This consists of doing absolutely nothing, of looking at, or rather through, another Aurovilianus as if he she didn't exist. This is a very difficult look to achieve as it requires extreme self-control. Imagine. You have known somebody for almost 40 years, you may even have been in a close relationship, but at some time something unforgivable has happened – he or she burned your toast once too often or snuck in ahead of you in the Center Kitchen queue in 1978 – and now this individual is standing in front of you, obviously wanting to talk. So what do you do? You gaze ahead, not betraying, by even the faintest change of expression, that you are aware that this blot upon humanity is standing just two feet away.
When this is done well it can be devastating. Recipients of a superb dead face begin to wonder if they are, in fact, still there, and often surreptitiously pinch themselves. Because, who knows, Auroville is a funny old place and they may be having yet another of those out-of-body experiences.
The other Auroville looks are subtle, sometimes exceedingly subtle, variations on the dead face, presumably because Aurovilianus needs to harvest all his or her energy for higher matters. A particularly disconcerting variation of the dead face is the dead smile. In this case, you notice someone is smiling at you and, what the hell, you gather up all your resources and prepare to smile back. But on closer inspection you notice that the wearer of the smile has gone missing – they're not at home. In fact, some of these dead smilers have not been home for many years....
The subtlest variation of the dead face, the minimalis, involves a miniscule inclination of the head to one side all the while rigidly retaining a blank expression. This gesture, if one can call it that, can signify a number of things. It can include, “Hey, I thought you'd died years ago,” or “I've just come from a riot in Kuilapalayam”, or “Do you really want to buy that? It's full of aflatoxins.”
Skilled practitioners can even utilise the minimalis when approaching each other on motorcycles at a combined speed of 160 kilometres an hour. In this instance the look may signify “There's a serious accident ahead”, or “Watch out, there's another idiot driving on the wrong side of the road.”
The modified minimalis, a slightly increased inclination of the head that is held a split second longer, is reserved for more serious matters. “Are you playing tennis tonight?”, “I see you've got a new bike”, “Surf's up”.
Very occasionally a really flamboyant Aurovilian may, on meeting another, briefly touch their heart centre with their right hand. This gesture, however, is falling out of fashion not only because of the extraordinary energy that needs to be expended but also because of its ambiguity. Because while it may mean, “I'm overwhelmed to see you”, increasingly it may also signify, “I'm having problems with my pacemaker”.
The Auroville look is not easily mastered. In this sense, it is a good indication of how long someone has lived in Auroville. Newcomers tend to smile and fling their arms around each other at the slightest excuse. After ten years or so, the smile fades to a faint rictus and the arms find more useful applications, like carrying gas bottles. However, it is only after 25 years of rigorous yoga that the facial muscles acquire the necessary degree of rigidity to enable the Auroville look to be held in all weathers and situations.
So isn't it time that we offered this extraordinary achievement to a world sated with melodrama and sensationalism? For, clearly, this is the look the world needs.
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Current issue Archive copies The Auroville Experience

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