Dressed in white in his all white room, in his 70-somethings, with white hair, he sits drinking black tea and looking outside into the blue skies. William Netter, born in the USA, and through family ties connected to Hollywood and celebrities of all kinds, seems more like a film director himself in his white director’s chair, pulling strings like a puppet master.
“I had more publicity as an American in India than Liz Taylor,” he says. But before India could enjoy his presence, William had spent some wild years in his home country, running a steakhouse in Greenwich Village, being involved in showbusiness and teaching literature. He attended New York’s School of Interior Design at night, went to Foredom University, and joined a Jesuit Order. “I was really way out in those days. Still am… in design.”
During a visit to Puerto Rico, he felt a strong intuition calling him to India, and went for a 6 weeks tour with some ‘humanity’ professors from the New York area.
“I was totally knocked off my horses when we attended the 1968 New Year’s Day meditation at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Kireet Joshi showed us around. We then traveled on, returned and joined the inauguration of Auroville before going back. “I was moved deeply,” he recalls.
Back in the US, he started reading Sri Aurobindo and found himself building his first house in the residential zone of Auroville shortly after this first encounter. “I lived in it for 6 weeks, and then gave it to another Aurovilian, Amrita, who still resides on the same spot.”
State Bank of India
William became member of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and was appointed by the chairman of the State Bank of India to do the interior design of the bank’s new central office building in Bombay. We cannot tell the whole story as Willam told it to us (we might crack the website space!), so let’s just fast-forward a bit.. The work was completed and the building inaugurated. Shortly after this, a major fire lead to doing it all over again! That’s what one calls Karma yoga, isn’t it?
“Actually, when David Rockefeller visited the final result, he said that it was the most beautiful bank premises in the world. But no-one told me, anyway. I would have made T-shirts!” laughs William. He is indeed very funny. “I used to make the Mother laugh. My name was given to me by her. My brother, the film maker, however, calls me Billy,” says William.
Hollywood; that’s where he envisions his future plans. A movie, directed by at least Steven Spielberg, special effects, state of the art perfection, the works.. The story? Savitri! William has spent the last three years writing and designing a book about his passion, Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem ‘Savitri’. The book is now released and it’s wonderful.
Until things get going, he will be staying in the second house he built in Auroville, the non-house. Two hexagons, a pyramid, a ship’s deck, a spiral staircase, lots of triangle shapes, ceramic tiles, inside-outside and, of course, all in white. “The minimal connects with the consciousness. If my work is successful, I’d like people to pause and lower their voices. Comfort is not a big deal with me,” he says.
That’s why the inner chamber of the Matrimandir is his favourite piece of architecture in Auroville. “The inner room was the precise vision of the Mother. Simplicity is everything. All my designs are influenced by this,” says William.
Courtesy: Julietta Kühle