This one goes out to Pondicherry
When I mention Pondicherry, the wife rolls her eyes in the classic “not again!” expression. With good reason. I can’t stop bitching about our trip. A total disaster. Maybe this post will be the end of it.
It could’ve been the fact that I expected too much. An image seared into my mind was of lying wasted on the beach drinking beer. (I can’t not go when someone tells me this.)
I will divide this saga into parts so that people who relate may laugh-ter each section and come back with renewed vigor. Those who get offended can blow off some steam before starting the next section. Those who don’t find it funny, the sections don’t matter, you may skim to the end.
We set out with family friends, which was the only saving grace of the trip because we all suffered together and that made it funny as hell. The drive was pleasant enough but the suffering started in Chennai when contrary to all known facts we ate the worst idli-sambar ever for lunch. That set the tone for the drive to Puducherry. Dusk fell, roads diverged, directions weren’t sought (the men were driving) and traffic was hellish. As we approached our destination I spied a traffic cop wearing a hat that looked like it came from a Gendarme. I wasn’t wrong. Such pretentious bullshit! I thought the cowboy hats policemen in Bangalore wore were funny, but this topped it literally.
We chose a homestay inside the city. Ridiculously expensive so I expected something decent. Getting to it was the first issue. People are generally bad at providing directions. We are generally bad at receiving them. Compound that with two frazzled drivers, late night, language problems and a mind-bogglingly unhelpful caretaker on the phone who insisted the house was where it wasn’t. We knew because we’d been doing pradakshanas around that area for an hour and the best we’d come up with was a slum and a pan-shop.
A passing foreigner – Frenchman to boot – offered correct directions and we finally reached at 11pm – over 12 hours since we started from Bangalore. To be fair, the house was wonderful. Old, full of books, well-maintained and the lady who owned it was pleasant enough. But the caretakers were other-worldly. I kept the door locked lest they burst in with knives to slit our throats.
The First Breakfast
The next morning we awoke famished and head to the kitchen for the much vaunted “Made-to-order breakfast”. The table was set invitingly and had fresh glasses of OJ, a basket of hot croissants and another with baguettes. We took our seats and the cook brought us heaps of butter. Delighted, wife and I took a croissant each, slathered it with butter and started eating. There were two more croissants left but we decided to pass in favor of other options (this fact is important and you’ll see why). I summoned the cook and said “Please prepare my omelet with two eggs and cheese”. Silence. Amazement even. I thought it was a language issue so I backtracked and asked “English?”. She replied “Tamil or French”. What the FUCK? After much gesticulation and breaking of eggs I finally conveyed my wish. The reply was superb: “This all you get. Continental Breakfast. French”. Stop. Dogs and Indians Not Allowed. Stop. I was aghast. So what was all this “made-to-order” business? “You choose juice. Watermelon, Orange”. Gobsmacked. I could’ve hit her. Absolutely willing to kick me when I was down she fired a parting shot: “No more bread. One for each of you” she said referring to the hot, soft croissants. And she left. Good decision on our part not to touch the other two croissants. That would’ve made our traveling companions (who hadn’t woken up yet) very croissant indeed.
A short while later our friends emerged from their room, fresh, scrubbed, looking eager and victorious. The guy clapped his hands together Punjabi-style in anticipation of the feast awaiting him and yelled “Aur bata yaar! Kya khaaein?”. I told him. The rest is history.
Pondicherry – the shitty itself
Still famished and in an utterly crapped mood we set out to explore our environment. The ladies wanted to “shop for local handicrafts”, something I couldn’t stand those days so we let them get to it while we searched vantage points for beer-drinkage. There were promising words like “Promenade” and “Rue de la something” all over so we tried our best to have a French Riviera kind of time and went searching for the beach. As we neared the Promenade, we noticed a firang strolling in a bikini. Promising. Then we saw the Promenade. A wall separated us from the sea. Beyond the wall were stones that couples in Mumbai use as a backdrop for getting-it-on at Marine Drive and there was no sand in sight for miles. The road had benches though. Slightly disappointed by this we cheered up at the prospect of cheap and plentiful liquor. We drove to the shop and demanded our rightful quota of Kingfisher, extra strong. “Light not there. Beer hot”. We weren’t from England so that hurt. We meekly accepted four cans of the warm brew, and determined to have a good time, went back to the benches at the Promenade and looked around for a place to sit. Eager to emulate those visions of “chilling” I decided to kick back on the sidewalk. A passing policeman stared at me and shook his head. Forlon, I sought the nearest bench and we shpritzed open our cans. The bastards were even bigger killjoys than the Promenade. No froth, no zing, tasteless and as flat as Keira Knightley. From the corner of my eye I could see a hideous statue of Mahatma Gandhi. I had a total English, August moment. Those who’ve read the book will know what I mean. Gandhi seemed to be grinning at us. Mocking our pathetic attempt to chill out.
Hopes smashed we drove back to find the ladies. They were doing OK. Lots of leather and crafts and hippie-junk around. Since we were in the middle of the city, good food somehow seemed scarce, so we went to a local food court and ate some atrociously priced, shit-laden hotdogs and burgers. The only bright-spot was the fact that the joint was owned by that girl Ayesha (from Black) and she was at the table with us. Fuckity whoo!
By now totally desperate to have SOME semblance of a good time we decided to have a meal at “The Promenade”! Pondicherry’s only Five Star Hotel! Views of the sea! (exclamation marks mine). The hotel was owned and operated by Hidesign and that became apparent in the elevator which was lined with foul-smelling leather. Freshly-killed fare possibly. They had a rooftop restaurant. Yay. The place had mood-lighting, making it impossible to navigate in the night. Some tired, atrociously-dressed Mumbai PYTs were lounging at a couple of tables. The guys had their shirts open to their navels, wore chains and had gelled hair that kept it stuck to their necks. Andheri. Maybe Pali Hill. I can never tell.
Once seated, we ordered drinks and food. First shocker. Everything was vegetarian. Second shocker. Everything was tasteless. It had no spice, no salt. We called the waitress and politely (as much as our growing hunger and impatience would allow) requested her to re-spice everything. Two things returned from the kitchen. Our food and the waitress. One of them was salty. She told us the chef said “this is how the French cook it”. I checked the menu. It said Tofu Salad. Which motherfucking Frenchman eats tofu salad? What was wrong with a little salt in our tofu? I mean I had GANDHI staring at us 20 feet below. He’d whack her with his Dandi if he knew what was going on.
To cut a long story short, we skipped to dessert. By the good graces of Hindustan Unilever, we enjoyed some unspoiled Walls ice-cream, pulled many banknotes through our noses, feebly complained to the restaurant manager and left.
On the way back we saw a grocery store. The poor chap was about to close for the night. Bread was purloined along with a few sad-looking tomoatos. Pondicherry had got to them too. We went back to our rooms, avoided the Vampirish caretakers and feasted on good old butter-tomato sandwiches. Bliss.
Ab Auro Kya?
Day 2 entailed a visit to the must-visit Auroville. It was during the drive that I noticed beaches. Ah of course! The beaches must be OUTSIDE a city which borders the sea no? The ashram was bleh. The instances of “Auro” Auround the ashram were fascinating. We started building imaginary Auro-businesses just to amuse ourselves. The drive was long and rather pleasant. Predictably the density of hippied foreigners per square foot kept increasing as we neared the ashram.
The temple of the Ma or whatever was closed that day. More bleh. After much unnecessary sunbathing we turned back. Oh wait, food. A recurring theme. I don’t remember what he had that day. Something tasteless and insignificant.
Home Sweet Home. Ah wait, not just yet
That was enough. The next morning we wanted to quickly pay our quart of blood to the caretakers and vanish but the owner insisted on chatting us up. She also understood only French and Tamil so most of those 15 minutes were spent in increasingly irritating gesticulation that attempted to convey much gratitude for letting us live and return home safely.
We stopped for breakfast at a “Cafe” by the Promenade (again….gluttons for punishment no?). It felt like we were in France. Non-French in France that is. We were ignored, the table was set 10 minutes after we took our positions and the menu was, of course, overpriced. The heat was stifling and it was showing on our faces. One of the “Ramus” took pity on us and switched on the air-conditioning. We ordered the Big Lebowski. Everything they had starting with cornflakes. 10 minutes gone, no sign of cornflakes. Two battered toasts hit our tables at some point during the wait but they were definitely past their sell-by date and remained ignored. Finally me and my friend got up, went to the counter and started preparing our cornflakes ourselves. Suddenly the Gallic universe was upended and out came the proprieter wearing a lungi and apologizing profusely. They served the rest of the fuck-all breakfast on-time. A foreigner entered during this show and occupied one of the tables. Two minutes later the AC was fuller-blast and the soft strains of Kenny G floated mellifluously from tastefully hidden speakers. That kinda summed up the whole experience for us.
Indians Go Home
I’ve never driven faster or happier back home from anywhere. The first thing we did after opening the door was to prepare some rice, waran (Maharashtrians rejoice, I know my roots), mix the two with ghee and a dash of lemon and salt. We hadn’t uttered a word since we came home and the next word out of everyone’s mouths was “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah”.
In my opinion the Indian Govt has two options: Let the Indian Army invade the place and set their mental polarities right. Or request the French Govt to provide French passports and get them the fuck out of India.
There. I’ve said it. It was cathartic.