Baazigar – Week 9 : Pondicherry
(For earlier posts on Kashmir, Amritsar, Mcleodgunj, Mussoorie,Delhi-Gurgaon, Mughal Sarai – Varanasi, Bangalore click here : Baazigar Series)
Unity in Diversity – This is Brand India’s biggest tagline. We learnt it in school, we were made to write essays extolling the virtues of our nation and how people from so many ethnicities live in “peace and harmony”. As we grew older, it became “relative” peace and harmony because grown ups ask more questions. That this “relative” was in comparison to our neighbor is no secret. But our generation has now grown out of this habit of having our neighbor as our constant point of comparison and taking pride in being better than them. We have bigger fish to fry now. We have China and USA to compare ourselves with in our ambitions to become the next superpower. While the jury is still out on how well the nations brought together fusing multiple ethnic identities actually manage to do, what with USA being a strong example in favor and USSR being a strong example against it, I don’t think we are doing too well at this point. The more I travel; I get this impression that we are only barely sticking together, almost stuck together by spit, and not some more reliable adhesive. While I may have written and read reams on “Indianness”, I really wonder now what it is that is holding us together. I have no answers but I wish to find one.
I had heard a lot about Tamil pride and their insular culture. I have close relatives and friends who are Tamil who have been wonderful companions and guides. But here I was in a Tamil union territory and suddenly it hit me – these guys hate me! I have been shoulder tackled by a beggar, refused to be talked to in English by a waiter who talked to the foreigners right next to me in pitch perfect English and much more. I met with a small accident here when my scooty ran into an oncoming bike at an intersection. We both rushed to the hospital. The other rider, a local, was immediately attended to while I was made to wait for an hour for no reason at all. They took down details of what happened from both of us. The doctor was then trying to convince the other guy to lodge a police case against me even though we both agreed it was nobody’s fault. I was finally attended to an hour later and was asked questions like whether I was drunk and if I had consumed drugs. These questions are fine. But they were never asked to the other guy. It made me wonder how it would be to be a Bihari in Maharashtra.
Pondicherry is beautiful. It has the romance of a French village and the madness of an Indian market living side by side in parallel lanes. Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram is a wonderfully peaceful little place, albeit the members maybe a little too serious and strict. You just enter the ashram and you hear so many Indian and international tongues spoken all around you, that you marvel at the man’s circle of influence. I guess his teachings would appeal to me more at a later age when I understand and seek spirituality and peace. The Goubert Avenue – the road running parallel to the sea – Pondicherry’s own little Marine Drive is charming. It has some wonderful structures along the road and is very clean. In the night, when the full moon is reflected in the calm sea, with the soft lights of the Avenue beyond it and the silence around it, one can see why so many Frenchmen never went back and settled here instead.
Pic 2 – Another moonlit night at Goubert’s Avenue
The Matrimandir at Auroville, 14 kms away from the main city is also a wonderful architectural marvel. The Auroville beach is your typical fishermens beach. I managed to cycle my way there and back and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have had. The winter hasn’t arrived at this coastal city yet and that’s why the gardens of this city are so important. The real difference between the humidity of coastal cities and the dry heat of landlocked cities is that there is a constant breeze blowing even on the hottest of days in coastal cities. So all you need to find is a garden bench under a tree and the heat won’t matter to you even in the middle of a humid afternoon. The food here is wholesome and varied, although my guess is the sea food maybe the more important variety to be tried here. The cafes here are unique and charming. Each of them have a different mixture of Tamil and French traditions and thereby a distinct character.
Pic 3 – A charming cafe at Auroville
Just as I was writing this blog post, praising the place and criticizing the people, something else happened on my last evening here. Right in front of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue at Goubert’s Avenue, there was a weekend Mela going on. There were stalls put up all around and a stage erected. A dance troupe was performing on stage to a mix of English hiphop and Tamil film songs. I made my way next to the stage to have a closer look. Suddenly these dancers started pulling people onto the stage to join them in the dancing. Before I knew it, I was on stage matching step to step on a Tamil film song, which I was informed later was the latest song from Superstar Vijay’s film Thuppakki. We all had a good laugh about it and post the dance I shared a cup of tea and some notes with the troupe. Right there, I saw harmony – between them and me.
On my way to the room, I realized something. Our past generations have seen a lot. They have their biases and pasts which limit their ability to have an open mind. We have grown up in a time with shared histories, tragedies and successes .I don’t know what sort of glue kept us together for the last 67 years, but I do know the glue that can work now is this generation. If we manage to ignore calls for dividing us on ethnic lines in our jobs, festivities and lives by our leaders, for the first time, we can move towards a nation not held together just by spit.
I have always wanted to write a murder mystery but never found the courage to. A small intimate town is always a good place to write a murder mystery peppered with quirky characters. I have attempted just that here in Pondicherry.
Off to Tirupati-Hyderabad tonight. Religion and history are going to be my main themes over the next 7 days.
(Kunj Sanghvi will be writing about his experiences in each new city every week on InsideIIM.com. At various junctures on this trip, he’ll be found working over cups of coffee in coffee shops across the country. He’d love to meet, talk, discuss with anyone who’d care to meet him; just to know the city and its people better. Follow him on twitter here – @kunjsanghvi. He blogs here.
About Kunj – Kunj Sanghvi is a B.Com graduate from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics and MBA from Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad(MICA). Prior to plunging into this adventure he was a Senior Manager at Hindustan Times. He has also worked with whatsonIndia.com in the past. )
You may be interested in :
Results of the InsideIIM Recruitment Survey 2012