Thursday, July 23, 2009
In a random conversation with Payal, on chat, she mentioned that she really wants to go to Pondicherry this year end sometime. And like the rest of the world, even I wanted to go there. Just after sometime, my boss called me in his cabin to tell me that because my senior had backed out, I was to go to Chennai on work. So, it happened that easily. =)
The next afternoon I was in Chennai, with Pondicherry in my mind. The pilot warned us that the temperature outside was 33 degrees- an unexpected and unpleasant degree for those currently spoilt by the nippy weather in Bombay.
So I and the unfamiliar art guy reached our comfortable service apartment that the company had booked us into. I was dizzy with the heat and vaguely remember that before I passed out, I was glad to turn the ac on.
Day 1. Thurs.
We reached our office to find out (much to our horror) that we are actually called to work on something completely drastic, from what we were made to believe in before we took our flight there. So clueless and confused, I decided to sit around, enjoy a good lunch (at 5 in the evening) of some spicy Chettinaad food. The day was meant to pass by and tomorrow I’d consult the client’s website as my savior and guide.
That night we went to meet some people, who knew a friend back home. And it was nice to meet them to understand the city better. With hopes of finding some city info. insights and inputs, we entered their house with some beers.
Day 2. Fri.
Was mainly about waking up really late and reaching office. doing 2 corporate av’s. and heading out.
Post work, we met our new acquaintances and went to a mallu food chain called Kumarokam where we ate a lot. I was slightly disappointed with the beef fry there. You will also be, if you eat it from Kerala. =)
So then we ended the night again early with some drinks. Headed back to our service appt. to get a good night sleep that will refresh me for working on a holiday.
Day 3. Sat.
Finished off work by afternoon. Met the Chennaiites who picked me up in their car and drove me around the city showing off famous places and structures. I had my lunch at Pupil, this small rest. At Besant nagar beach. If you go there, you can safely order a beef burger and enjoy it too. We went past Marina beach and Citi centre. Spensors, which is a BIG deal for anyone who’s from Chennai, (because it’s the city’s largest and the oldest mall) didn’t hold my interest much. We went to the ECR (east coast road) and straight in to the crocodile park. Yea, there’s one huge place where they’ve got Crocs of all regions and religions. You can even get to hold one, a two month old croc and see them jump at the meat thrown at them by the keepers there.
This whole drive was tiring indeed and I was glad to reach to my appt. to shower and get ready for 10 downing street- an English pub, very popular and not so English. Unfortunately, just as were had started enjoying ourselves, the cops came to shut it down early because of some religious celebration that begins on that day. So we took our party to a beach house, about one hour away from the city.
There I was with lots of unfamiliar faces relying on my beers to get me by. Unfortunately some prick had it while he was chilling in the pool. For most of the night I sat drenched and cold (some drunk girl pulled me in the pool, leaving my hand bruised and me, annoyed) trying to shuffle between the 12 passable songs on someone’s ipod. There were whiskey drinking competitions and there were shady Canadians. There were flirtatious college kids who later puked all over themselves. And there was a bunch of rowdies who drank themselves silly. So the night was filled with spiked drinks and fake accents. At 8 when I finally reached to my appt. I’d had enough. All I needed was a trip to Pondi and some good sleep. And of course a good cold shower and breakkie.
Day 4. Sun.
Woke up and headed out as soon as I could to Koyambedu bus station. Took the first bus to Pondi and slept off in the bus, in anticipation. Woke up thirsty and saw a local Tamilian woman seated next to me, staring at me. She wanted to know the time and I’m glad I got that cause it wasn’t any help trying to explain that I don’t understand anything else that she might want to ask me. So we tried our best to communicate and then I gave up and stared outside the window into the beautiful, dry spaces outside.
Finally, I reached Pondi and took an over charging rick to the Aurodhan- an art gallery converted into a hotel, right near the Aurobindo ashram. I checked into a n expensive terrace room as I was uncertain if I’d get another reasonable place. Atleast, now I know where to go. (the best option if to stay in one of the Ashram guesthouses for Rs. 150 a night. Cheap and safe.)
I headed outside my hotel towards Aurobindo Ashram. I made it just in time to see it because at 6 they shut the gates for visitors. I realised that meditation and keeping shut is not really my thing. It was beautiful and had a lovely selection of cactus and flowers but after roaming around I went outside. On the streets again, I entered Adya Arya Bhavan, a pure vegetarian rest. Overpriced and crowded. I ate my first Aaalo chaat (expecting it to be south Indian in some way, I was disappointed. It was very Delhi.)
Longing for some local knowledge and information, i decided against my original plan of not calling this man whose no. Shikha had given me. So I called this Tabla teacher (who is an acquaintance of my friend here) and introduced myself. After an hour of shopping for incense sticks and talking to shopkeepers in an effort to absorb as much local news and strolling around, I was at the Sunday night flea market with this stranger. We discussed Bengali art and his story of landing in Pondi. He told me about his 9 year old daughter who speaks fluent French and about his ‘foreign students’. About the tight Ashra schedule and how one can have all their meals in 20 Rs. organized by the ashram…etc etc.
Back in the flea market, everything was dirt cheap and I happily bought my clothes for the next day. My damages after buying 2 t shirts - 40 Rs. =) After a while, I headed alone to the beach and enjoyed the cheer around. There were beautiful, clean and simplistic houses that were built in French style. There were happy people riding their bicycles as outsiders like me tried to get a good picture of them.
Finally, at 8:45 I went to Sea gulls (a terrace restaurant). I ordered some very dodgy looking Hakka noodles and a large Signature. Enjoying the breeze and my own company, I ate/drank in silence, thinking and often smiling to myself.
After this, I walked a bit, but my bag was too heavy to carry around, so I took a rick and went to Casablanca (a huge retail store). they didn’t allow me in despite my repeated pleading. At 9:30, I was late for to enter the store but of course it wasn’t late to get a couple of breezers to take back to the hotel. So I stopped by and went to my hotel with two cheap Lemon breezers. Watching tv and sipping on my cold drink, I called it a night.
Day 5. Mon.
Woke up. After a quick shower I rushed out to meet the Tabla player who had arranged for a taxi for me. My plan was to head out by 10, for Auroville, visitor’s center after which I was to go to Mammalapuram and then straight to Chennai. Just in time to pick up my bag, shower, If I wanted to, and head for the airport. I secretly hoped I keep up with his schedule.
After having upma, my last meal in Pondi, I met my guide and new friend, the very polite and very Tamilian taxie driver. We communicated mostly in sign language but to his credit he made a good effort to speak by using all his eng vocabulary. We drove peacefully in the heat of south india. I slept off reading a boring book I’d taken along with me. On reaching Auroville, clicking pictures along the way I entered into the shop. And got scared seeing the price tags and came out buying pot pourrie because I really have a knack for spending my bucks on unnecessary things. By this time I needed a snack and went to the café after collecting my pass for Matri mandir. If you’re going there, here’s a warning. If you think that cheesecake in the glass shelf out there is anything as divine as the one you see outside the Osho ashram, think again. It’s small, inedible and it costs 45 Rs. The moral is, not all ashrams that have white people hanging around, know their cheesecakes. Here’s another tip. If you’re in a hurry, like I was, you can skip the 15 mins long documentary that you have to watch before collecting your pass at Matri Mandir. But you have to think of a very good reason to tell the keepers there. I managed. =)
Now I was walking towards the open gates of Matri mandir. I entered into this huge space with trees and a massive dome. It was beautiful. Look at pictures for reference. I can’t give you too many details because I didn’t go inside it.
I went back to my taxi and we sped towards Mammalapuram. On reaching there, my taxi driver ji and me took a stroll together, inspecting ancient ruins like excavators on a study tour. It was really gorgeous and hot. If I wasn’t feeling so dehydrated, I’d get more pictures (of myself) clicked around those huge pillars. The carvings were interesting. I can bet I saw a carving of a cat being worshipped, on one of those walls. Obviously I walked away.
After gulping Pulpy orange in 2 sips and being coaxed into buying 3 beeded necklaces from a woman outside the temple, we headed back in full speed to get something to eat. I wanted a good, heavy meal (non-vegetarian only). Because of miscommunication, I ended up eating dosai from a pure veg Aiyar rest. We were now on our way to Chennai. And I was baked and looking forward to the rains in Bombay.
Did a quick stop by in Chennai at a cyber café and took out a print of my ticket. Headed to my appt. to pick up my bag, cool my face in front of the ac and watch some television in the solitude of my room. Stopped by to say bye to the few people I had met in Chennai, and bought some last minute Mysore Paak packets at the Chennai airport from the Shri Krishna shop. I boarded my flight at 8 30 pm.
Bombay wasn’t waiting for anything or anyone. It was raining when I landed because of which I landed one hour later than expected. And reached home to sleep and energise myself for a routine day at work.