An interview with Joel, by Auroville Today
A New Book: The Sun-Eyed Children - Followed by a review
Can you talk about the mix of fact and fiction in your novel?
This book should be seen as an autobiographical novel. The main protagonist, Lionel bears some resemblance to me, but is not exclusively me. Any form of writing is partially autobiographic; you can’t properly write about things that you have never experienced as it won’t carry a deep truth.
There is an intermingling of pasts, presents and even future in your novel.
Even when I venture into historical fiction, it is the result of some intuitive knowledge which corresponds to past experience. For instance, in the chapters involving Joan of Arc; since early childhood I have felt a close connection with that period in history, with the events and the characters. It’s a deep connection experienced in childhood dreams and fiery intuitions, those things that you know, without remembering why you know them. I tend to believe there is a state of consciousness where there is no past, present or future; they all exist simultaneously.
Such concepts are more generally understood these days. For instance, in the movie ‘Interstellar’, there is this scene taking place within a ‘Tesseract’ that contains all time dimensions in one single location. Time doesn’t flow like a river – that is only for our limited human perception. Somewhere, everything which existed, exists, and will exist, is accessible in one single place. This corresponds to where the new physics is going towards. In the chapters of the book involving The Mother and Satprem, she demonstrates that she is not limited by space and time and can be everywhere and everywhen. She has access to this other non-linear dimension.
For example, when she described the Matrimandir chamber, it wasn’t based on any aesthetic or practical consideration, it was because she has seen it in the future as it would be. Similarly, when Lionel meets her and gets her message to go to the Himalayas, it’s not for a change of air, but because she has seen, yes seen, the great possibility awaiting him over there.
Jung talked of teleology and of the future calling us, does that inform your writing of Lionel’s journey?
When you are in the action, you are completely blind, it’s only afterwards that you can link the dots. But in the action, at least in my personal experience, it is total tragic blindness – you do not understand anything of what is happening to you. When Lionel was told to go to the Himalayas, there was no address given. And this mountain range is 3000 kilometers long! Only later you understand that it was not necessary and that destiny, or the Mother, or the Divine, whatever you name it, will bring you there inevitably. It would demand a tremendous effort to break this line of destiny. When you finally get there, then there are options and – most importantly – soul choices. For instance, in Rome there is an option for Lionel, whether to go East to Kabul or west to Morocco. Or in Munich, to jump into a bus or stay in Europe and continue his dilapidated life. These soul choices will always be leaps of faith.
This book has a strong flavour of the 1960s. How much did that influence the founding of Auroville?
I think Auroville was created by the spirit of the 1960s. Many of the people who came in the beginning, of course each of them had a different story and path, but the beginning of Auroville was a direct inspiration of the rebellious 1960s and 70s. Many of them didn’t have money, they started working here, living on ‘prosperity’ – a wonderful, simple system to provide for the needs of residents, that the Mother had put in place at the beginning of Auroville, which unfortunately became diluted in time.
AVT: Is Lionel’s story universal?
I am unable to say. I appreciate that, in the book’s foreword written by my daughter Kalki, she said “so what is this idea that the brain only takes in what it’s ready for? Does that mean that we are constantly missing out on details of the world we are not ready for?” It’s universal if it speaks to all. I have a cousin who read and liked the book, despite the fact that she saw in it only several unrelated stories. This book is made of several layers. All layers are not seen by all readers; despite this, strangely, they all like the book.
You met the Mother and Satprem. Was that experience in the book?
JK: Yes of course – you read it! There are three chapters – ‘The Mother’, “The Answer to the Question’ and ‘Interlude in Time’ – which dwell on my personal experience of meeting the Mother.
Lionel stayed dedicated to following his path, despite intense challenges, what kept him going in the difficult times?
JK: The answer to this is two-fold:
1) how could he reject a command brought forward by the one he has just seen, experienced as an avatar of the divine, and that clearly says: “this is the possibility of his life.” – that itself gives immense strength... and,
2) In truth, he had no choice!
Your write a lot about destiny. Do you feel this book wanted itself written, which some authors speak of?
Certainly, despite my earnest efforts to evade writing it, this book wanted to be written! Edzard kicked my ass to get me on the job. In the back of my mind, I always had the idea that some day these experiences would have to be put into words. I was very busy with other things, writing was not my speciality, my English needed perfecting. I was postponing and lazy while I didn’t realise it would be a much bigger job than I would expect. Thanks to Edzard who nagged me for months, if not years, I finally dived into the task. And I realised ‘Yes this is something which has value’ in terms of experience. Yes, this book had a destiny.
The book has a sequel.
Volume 1 is called Earth. Vol 2 will be Mars. I have started the sequel in a modest way. I believe that the expansion of mankind through space is inevitable as a natural part of evolution. It’s like the crossing of the Atlantic, for good or bad, it was unavoidable. The 2nd volume begins on Mars, but it’s similar to the first book in that there will be fluidity in the time line; past, future and present will flow in a strange pattern.
We can make a very beautiful Auroville on Mars! Mars is a fantastic opportunity for creating a new society with a minimal burden of the past. When we started Auroville we came to a red desert. Mars happens to be a red desert of another kind, except that we will need to wear pressure suits till we terraform the planet. Look how we have regenerated the desert of Auroville in just 50 years! I can’t imagine anything more challenging and appealing. Many will say “what’s the use of this?” To me, we are already there... Mars is just the beginning of mankind’s expansion in space.
This is a book for Aurovilians. It has been created by the same spirit that prevailed during the founding era of Auroville.
Interview by Peter Lloyd, Auroville Today
In the growth and busyness of today’s Auroville we can forget the many small miracles that contributed to its formation, those men and women of goodwill mysteriously drawn here, via dreams, books, synchronicities and all that chance entails. In the footsteps they left and are still leaving is a legacy of dedication to the ideals of our community that they help start to build.
Some of these stories of how the pioneers and subsequent followers ended up here, on the barren red soil of South India, are more outlandish than any fiction.
Joel Koechlin’s book, The Sun-eyed Children, catches the spirit of those founding years, how those ‘sun-eyed children’ were drawn to this unique divine experiment. It is also a portrayal of the hippy Zeitgeist, those who dropped out and tuned into to wherever their muse led them. Fate and how it calls us, weaves itself throughout this story; “Destiny had been whirling around him all the time, and in that timeless moment, she had caught him in her arms, squeezing him, leaving him breathless.”
This is a book of fact and fiction based on the journey of the protagonist ‘Lionel’, written with an authority that only life’s lessons bring, as he lives a life of rebellion, leaving France for his journey East, becoming a seeker. Travelling to Kabul and onto Varanasi, he is finally led to his port, or portal, Pondicherry. Koechlin does not disguise the hardships of the spiritual path in its lostness, the missed spiritual opportunities, the sheer struggle to wrestle with destiny, as well as the prosaic impacts of Indian travel on our bowels and our wellbeing.
Mixed in with Lionel’s quest in India are memories of previous incarnations, including those in the eras of Joan of Arc, Merlin and the Round Table, and even a reference to a future incarnation. After meeting The Mother and Satprem he is told to go to the Himalayas but not what he will find there. Again and again, Lionel learns the lessons of following the path of no instructions other than to follow the breadcrumbs back to our true self, the mythic journey of the Sannyasi of old.
At one moment in the book, weaving together past lives, souls gather to build the Matrimandir: wizards from ancient pasts and soldiers who had the grace to meet Her, join to build a City of the Dawn; “a reunion of mankind: a gathering of all creeds, colours, ages, and genders; all poised in a unified effort to embody the Divine on Earth.” Describing working on building the Matrimandir, and how all gave themselves with no thought of reward, "what more could one want when immersed body and soul in this fabulous adventure? There were no distractions in the desert. The greatest beauty was that the Matrimandir was their life and their life was the Matrimandir.”
As befits a translator of Savitri, quotations from the poem garland the story, as does the title itself. This auto-biographical novel carries memories, atmospheres and telling details, allowing us to experience some of that ‘twilight of an age’.
Peter Lloyd, Auroville Today