Travel: Pondicherry, India (Part 1)

During the spring of 2009, I lost my job.  Normally, I would just suck it up and work anything I could get.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get anything.  I was also in graduate school and conveniently spending my weekends racking up debt.  It was a point in life when one realizes, I need to get out.  I needed to get out of class, get out DC, out of my head.  So, on somewhat of a whim, I took my meager savings and booked a ticket to India.  Granted, this was not my first trip to the motherland, but it would be the first time I would be outside of Bombay – where my family is from – for any significant amount of time.  As if that wasn’t ‘away’ enough, I picked a place in remote south eastern India.  A once-small, still-medium, beach town called Pondicherry.  It’s where you go if you’re a dirty hippie looking for yoga and an ashram.  If you’re a dirty, French hippie, even better.  I am neither but I was going to do yoga and work for a non-profit in microfinance called Prime Educational and Social Trust.  I’ll get into my work there in the next post.

Here are some random city pictures.  I wish I could have bottled up the smells and sounds and put them here to truly show you the heady mix of curry, chai masala, diesel fuel, and ocean air.  The ocean smelled clean and felt cold, so odd next to the heat and crowded noise of the city.

One of the main streets. Most still use the French name though they have also been named in Tamil (not a translation).

The yellow building is a view of the French consulate on the ocean. Many in Pondi have dual Indian and French citizenship. Where the rest of the diaspora may have gone to London and New York, immigrants from Pondi went to Paris.

View from a three-wheel vehicle called an Auto. They are generally very cheap alternatives to taxis in most cities in India.

Here are some highlights picked out of an old journal and the photos to go with it.

“I am living in a guesthouse above the offices of the organization.  Very typical Indian construction, the roof top is quite nice in the evenings.  There are some mangy animals living in the courtyard: Rabeus the Dog – whom I call Rabies – and I may have an issue after he made a ceremony of bringing my shoe this morning.  Yes, just one shoe.  Actually one half of one shoe.  I can’t help it though, he’s disgustingly covered with the nearby sewer water and smells like the slum area we live near, but I still find him irritatingly endearing.  I slip him treats when no one is looking hoping he won’t eat another pair of shoes.”

“The air conditioner has been taken out due to cost issues and the massive amount of electricity it consumes.  (Though, I feel like the wires are there just for show and there may never have been a unit in my room)  It’s about 9000 degrees and 1000 percent humidity.  These are accurate measurements.  I’ve named my room Sauna du M, in honor of the city’s French history.  However, not all was lost when the frequent power cuts and the resulting, mainly decorative, ceiling fan almost brought me to rage-tears.  I have MacGyver-ed up a cooling system.  Yes, that’s a verb.  I found the coolest water I could, soaked towels, and placed them around the room on chairs and shelves.  There was a slight breeze from the window, circulating the most glorious air I’ve ever felt.  Once the power comes back on and the fan gets going, I’m in business!”

A few days later the entry from that day just reads:

“SO #*(%& HOT.”

There is what appears to be a sweat and/or tear stain on the page.

I remember about halfway through the summer we made our way to the Jardin Botanique in the French Quarter of Pondi.  It was lovely to get away from the work we were doing and just see what this small piece of nature had to offer.  The trees were a nice, shady alternative to burning our feet in the beach sands.  Here are some pictures from that side excursion.  The monkeys were by far the best bit.  I love monkeys. Especially ones that scream.

He was the misbehaving teenager of the group of monkeys. Shortly after this was taken he got into a heated argument over a banana.


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