I was 24, and I wanted to help the world. Simple. I joined a German governmental organisation: German Volunteer Service. My wish was to go to Afghanistan. We had three months training in self-survival, baking bread, stitching, English etc. They asked me whether I would like to go to India. I didn’t know anything about India, except the names of Nehru and Tagore. I imagined from childhood stories that India must be a big jungle, and I wondered whether they had roads! India was next to Pakistan, so I said okay.

I was posted in Osmania University in Hyderabad by the state of Andhra Pradesh without them informing the Department of Engineering College. I was there for six months in 1966. I kept myself busy.

In 1967-68 there was a famine in Bihar. The whole countryside looked like this [bare field around]. During the college holidays I went there with UNICEF. I got a Japanese Suzuki. The first job was sinking borewell concrete rings with a diesel engine, in villages. I lost fifteen pounds, but it was a very big experience, and when I came back to Hyderabad, something had happened within me. I could not accept the world I came from anymore. Overnight, I dropped my Catholic rucksack. I had come for that purpose but… 

With  that  empty rucksack, the next year I went back to the same place, building a school with electric poles from the jungle. This changed my life fundamentally.

I met with Carlos, a Consul General in Chennai. He said “Oh you are an architect. You know, they are building a new town, an international town, near Pondicherry”. And he asked if I would be ready to go there, and I said “Yes”. I was invited for the Inauguration Ceremony.


One morning we were called to practice how to put the soil [into the urn] in an alphabetical line. All the hundred and twenty nations had to line up; it took some time. Because of this, I was next to the French, and we started talking. There was a creeper with blue flowers nearby. I picked some. I kept gave some to the French people, and kept some. And then I placed my two flowers in the French soil, and they put their two in the German Earth. We had always been enemies, so it was very symbolic, and it was very strong.

The inauguration day came.

The atmosphere was vibrating. I could feel the enormity of this. I was young, I had just been called to be invited to participate, but the greatness of that moment…

What I did feel was the human unity, the international atmosphere, like what you may feel in the Olympic Games. It was bright, of another quality altogether.

If you would like to readt the full interview and many more please have a look at "Turning Points" here.