Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pondicherry: The French Connection


After the details of my Pondicherry trip begin to fade a little, I come out of my extreme laziness and finally decide to write about it. I open the word document on my computer and wait endlessly, slightly brushing my fingers against the keyboard waiting for the flow of thoughts to arrive.

As I try to put myself in the past days, I realize how much I miss Pondi. And moreover how much I miss the way I was there. As if a different person. That’s the funny thing about traveling. You end up doing things that you wouldn’t normally do in your day to day life. Not that they are in any way drastic or extreme. In fact the most basic things. But somehow you end up being judgmental about yourself when you are in your own town. Thinking unconsciously about the gazing eye of an outsider. Where as in traveling, the eye almost magically losses its prominence. You somehow just learn to be!

The journey began on the most beautiful note. As I catch the 5.30 am plane cursing the odd timing, I look out of the window and witness the most spectacular sight. The sun was gently coming out of the fluffy golden clouds. Like an extremely humble king. Illuminating the slightest corner of the sky along the way. It’s reflection on the blue water which isn’t blue anymore but just sparkling blonde. My heart is filled with bliss. I considered it a good omen and closed my eyes only to open it when the airhostess announced that we are in Chennai.

I came out of the tiny airport and hired a prepaid taxi. I looked desperately for my assigned driver, soon to actually realize that I am in whole new world. Rough looking men speaking an alien language which sounded kind of funny but did not fail to intimidate me. I dint let it show on my face and finally got hold of the driver. The hour long journey to the bus depot began. It was so damn interesting to see the colourfull Chennai from my taxi window. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I have never seen so many gaudy colours together yet making a spectacular sight. There were a few movie theatres I came across on the way with huge Rajanikant posters with even more elaborate garlands. Suddenly all the Rajanikant jokes viraling for the past few days seemed realistic. Walls painted with portraits of politicians, women wearing bright saris and the beautifully glowing dark skin with the smile on their faces, brought one on mine too.

You know what? I wouldn’t want to talk about my bus journey from Chennai to Pondi… because it was far from good. people squished together with the hot sun marching in from the window and Completely alien words dashing the ears. As if the clock had just stopped and made me believe that I will never reach Pondi. No matter how much I try to put it into the category of an “experience”, sorry! That does not in any way make me feel good about it!

But the good times were not too far. I finally reached my modest place of accommodation called the “The International Guest house” which is the Arabindo Ashram initiative with very cheap rates and a decent, spat clean room. I freshened up and sat on the wooden bed with white sheets. Wondering where have I come? With a hint of fear poking me from within, what am I going to do alone? For eight freaking days? Is it going to be as good as I imagined? And my sane voice replied without delay, “don’t worry, it always does!”

My exhaustion and insanity were both almost vanished after I woke up from a small nap. I washed my face, got dressed, tucked my newly bought aviator glares in my collar and got out. To begin with I went to the Arabindo Ashram which is just a 5 minutes walk from IGH. A beautifully quiet place with the most comforting vibe. Much smaller than I expected but falling nowhere short in beauty and magnificence. There a nice old man showed me around the place and gave me a few guidelines for my stay. The first thing you need to do is get the Ashram map along with the usual Pondicherry city map. It helps great deal with chalking out what you want to do. As I came out feeling nice and inspired, I just started walking aimlessly taking any turn basing purely on impulse. Checking out various book stores, shops along the way. Examining each building, creating compositions in my head, I kept walking. The sun was on the verge of setting I could see the beach now. Amazing! I walked towards the Gandhi statue. Most fortunately I see that a classical dance performance of artists across the globe was about to start. It was a beautiful open air theater right next to the sea. The wind was blowing my hair as if giving me company, welcoming me to this wonderful town. I sat there observing the foreigners. Although the performance was above average and failed to truly move me, its stunning setting against the sea and the creative lighting made the whole experience worth while. Giving me assurance that this was a beginning of an incredible voyage.

The “starving me” desperately looked for a place to eat. I soon found this tiny beachside café. Le café! And oh I was charmed! I was charmed by the modest beauty, the monochromatic photos on the wall, the arches looking at the sea outside and of course, an exquisite cup of Cappuccino! I sit there reading Kamala Das, getting inspired by the brilliance of this woman’s literary capacities. As I hear the clashing dark waves of the night sea, this pleasing sense of accomplishment filled my heart. I had landed!;

Waking up in the morning was not much of a problem. In any case I would get back to my room quite early in the night considering the in time for the guest house was 10.30pm. And I must admit I too was a little extra careful since I was traveling alone and all that was responsible for me was well… me! I would sit in my room reading, meditating or watching comforting chick flicks on my laptop laughing at the contradiction. A cute little lady with multiple piercings in her nose and ears would knock on my door every morning till I wake up and ask me whether I wanted tea or coffee? My response remained the same for all eight days, No, thank you! But yet she repeated the inquiry with equal zeal and smile every morning. At times, when I wanted to sleep some more, it would get a little annoying but yet by the end of the trip I had grown very fond of her.

My day mostly consisted of roaming around on the bike that I had hired. Arguing with the bike rental guy I realized, bargaining in an unfamiliar language can be equal fun! First couple of days with the food were exciting. French bread, sandwiches, salads… seemed all good! But by the fourth or fifth meal my body demanded some real food! I couldn’t even look at the cold, ruthless well formed piece of bread! I asked everyone…. The bookstore owners, waiters of the same French cafes, everyone! I even tried eating at the Ashram taking their one day pass… Its extremely cheap (20Rs for one day pass consisting breakfast, lunch and dinner) and serves basic yet good, nutritious food if you are willing to stand in the queue for a while. But I knew I wont be able to do this often… I just can’t eat so much rice! And finally I found this blissful little place called Surguru.. or was it Sadguru? I couldn’t even pronounce the name, yet it lovingly served me yummy Indian food for all my remaining days. Turned out, it was quite a popular joint and a lot of people vouch for its quality. Anyone who is visiting Pondi, this is the place for their regular nourishing meals. It was here that I met Lauren, Ariel and Shannon. These really warm American girls who were traveling around the world as a part of their ‘International relations’ study program. We hit it off right away and I had a great time interacting with them. It was so much fun making them eat chatanis, Dosas, Malai kofta and nervously waiting for their reactions. I can be considered guilty of showing off our yummy Indian food. But I was glad they liked it too. I often find it interesting to interact with people from foreign lands. And thing what I find most exciting? Similarities more than differences!

Sakhi Visited me on the weekend and it was a much needed relief to see a familiar face. We had a lot of catching up to do. One thing we both were really looking forward to, was an amazing meal at NCC. (The new creation cafe) It’s a pizza joint run by an Italian man which serves the most exquisite, authentic Italian food. The wood burning ovens right in front of you, Italian men and women serving you, add a tint of glamour to the experience. There is one thing that never fails to amaze me about us. We can have the most serious discussions about corrupt politics, complexities of art, feminism, pseudo intellectuals and without our notice with the utmost ease we switch to Gucci, Gossip girl, vogue and makeup… I love how we keep going back and forth with this… seamlessly….

So after a lot and lot of food we moved on to our favorite task! Taking pictures! Way too many of them. Such pictures somehow give the feeling of a chocolate cookie after dinner. You are done but there is still something to look forward to. A few hundred pictures, great meals and millions of words later I finally had to say goodbye to sakhi. which made me kind of sad and also made me realize that I will be saying goodbye to Pondi soon. I was awfully quiet that day. Driving back to the guest house I was looking around at the vivid coloured walls…. nonchalant lanes…. and was left with only one feeling… a desire to soak it all!

The night of 25th Oct, the one before I was about to start my journey back home, I was sitting…. once again on the pristine white sheets…. without any active, dominating thoughts but a muddle of varied emotions… most of it very pleasant…. I remembered the whole Arabindo Ashram family and their warm, encouraging presence…. the multiple discussions I had with them about artistic appreciation, honesty of expression. How I see myself, the world around me ….the validation of the quest to find a deeper value of life…and finally a few highlighted words…. “No one comes to Pondicherry if they aren’t meant to be” it all appeared in my mind aligned in perfect composition… I didn’t even feel the need to put it all together and make sense of it… it all felt right!

As I crosschecked my packed bags and tried to clean the remaining with an effort to put the room to its original self I noticed that my mind seemed empty…blank…. I instinctively touched the wooden, carved legs of my bed…. The little rack where I used to keep my cell phone… the desk where I sat late in the night writing random thoughts….I laughed at my foolishness…. A week isn’t a healthy period to get attached to nonliving things…. But somehow I allowed myself to be foolish that day… said goodbye to the bed, the floors, the desk and the white sheets… locked the door and hanged the key of room number 3 on the glass key holder at the reception area…. One last time!

2 comments:

Amit said...

Le Café...I see the place now that you've described it - the sea beyond, and the sound of the waves. The NCC - now that's one place that I want to go to. Really glad that you've had a great time there. I can almost feel the serenity of the place...

A good post. Some of those pictures you've mentioned would be nice. Any chance of seeing them?

Shweta said...

wow nupur tht was mind refreshing yaa...i was totally dr while reading this...it was u who have done the whole trip successful,u knw i never think of gng alone anywhr i mean trip of 8 dez alone...aaah never...bt nw i think i should try it once n cm out with such beautiful experience...truly i m feelng lyk tht..