Pondicherry, Auroville and the journey home to Athoor
16.10.2015 - 18.10.2015 30 °C
A tearful farewell to Mark was mirrored by an emotional hello to my Mum at Chennai airport after a pretty painless journey via Dubai. She met me with a hand-made sign saying "Welcome to India, Louise Calton"!
A crazy journey through Chennai followed, dodging a hundred motorbikes, other cars and buses with a constant honking of horns. All the things I've heard about driving in India are true, the highway code goes out of the window as you just find a space where you can and the two lanes painted on the road become five. Families of four squash onto one bike with the father driving, their toddler between his legs holding the handlebasr, the children's mother, in a beautiful sari, sitting side-saddle on the back holding a small baby - no one wearing helmets!
After a quick freshen up, we're on our way to Pondicherry (Puducherry) - this was a French colonial settlement until 1954 and the French influence is still strongly felt. In the French quarter there are old colonial buildings, bakeries selling croissants and baguettes, and we heard a few French voices walking through the town. Perhaps this was a gentle introduction to India as it seems to be a halfway house between Europe and the "exotic East"!
We walked down to the waterfront and I got my first glimpse of the Bay of Bengal, albeit in darkness. This pedestrianised area is a welcome break from the honking of horns and taking your life into your hands. It seems that, in Pondy (as it's affectionately known), the choice is either risk being mown down by a motorbike walking along the road or break your leg on the broken pavements (I have a feeling this will be a re-ocurring theme). But this just adds to the excitement of the whole experience.
After a drink in a beautiful courtyard with loads of blue fairy lights (and where the owners put on "Getting Jiggy with It" by Will Smith - certainly I hadn't anticipated that!) and a European meal in another lovely restaurant, we went back to the hotel to crash!
The next day we decided to go to Auroville, a short drive outside of Pondicherry. What an interesting place - an experimental town which, in its own words "wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.". It's very different to the real life of Pondy, whilst it bills itself as not a tourist attraction, there were many tourists coming to see what it was all about.
As a socialist, the vision of "[an] ideal place [where] money would no longer be the sovereign lord; individual worth would have a far greater importance than that of material wealth and social standing. There, work would not be a way to earn one’s living but a way to express oneself and to develop one’s capacities and possibilities while being of service to the community as a whole, which, for its own part, would provide for each individual’s subsistence and sphere of action." resonated with me loudly.
What I really found interesting was the lack of religion, in fact, there was a specifically non-religious sentiment - "Auroville is for those who want to live a life essentially divine but who renounce all religions whether they be ancient, modern, new or future.". I was left feeling that phrases such as "the supreme Truth" felt too restrictive, isn't one man's truth another man's lie? Is there such a thing as a universal truth?
With all these thoughts buzzing through our minds and conversations, we made our way back to Mum and Naren's home in Athoor (a 6 hour journey South West) where I can finally unpack my things and write my first blog in these surroundings...