The beachfront in Pondicherry is very long. An enormous statue of Ghandi towers above the steps leading down to the beach. A dishevelled little man, his throat encased in a ragged scarf, read Len’s palm. All is well for a prosperous and happy future, he was told. In a courtyard behind a high wall, surrounded by gardens and in the shade of a tree we found the burial place of The Mother. The tomb itself is a large slab of marble and also contains the remains of Sri Aurobindo, The Master, who founded his religious community in Pondicherry after fleeing the British in his native Bengal in 1910. The air was thick with the smell of incense and the scent of flowers. Long, silent queues of people waited their turn to place flowers and offerings and to pray, their eyes at all times on the large marble tomb. Absolute silence was enforced and people making offerings and those who prostrated themselves before the tomb to pray, were after a few moments, reminded, “Please be moving along.” The atmosphere was very reverential but had a strange quality to it. In some ways it was almost like watching a sideshow at a fair.
A warning sign in thick yellow lettering on a battered black hoarding, stated, “Chance taker, accident maker!”
We arrived in Tiruchirappalli about lunchtime and after checking in, spent some time ducking in and out of various bars and eating establishments, looking for somewhere to eat. After an hour we gave up and headed back to the hotel’s dining room. Later we ventured out again and found some wonderful little shops. We had to walk through the bus station which proved a rather risky detour. Besides the thick clouds of nauseous fumes belching out of the exhausts, we discovered that the drivers were not too mindful of anyone walking anywhere near their vehicles.
Anne and I roamed around the shops. Len preferred to wait outside, people watching. We happily fossicked among the goods packed into every last inch of space. Many items hung from the ceilings and were crammed together on the pavement at the front of the shop. We purchased quite a few items at a small supermarket. The husband was at the till, the wife wrapped the purchases and the beautiful daughters helped customers to select their goods. Every item was painstakingly handwritten twice, once on the purchased items’ docket and then into a huge ledger. Another tiny shop had shelves crammed full with anything you ever wanted with hardly an inch of floor space to turn around in. Near the hotel we discovered a movie theatre showing James Bond movies non-stop. Long queues formed, diminished, reformed with the keen mostly barefooted patrons, waiting patiently in a cloud of hot dry dust for admission to the next screening.
Once again we decided that the hotel’s dining room was the easiest option for a meal. One of the adjacent bars was decorated to resemble a Western cowboy saloon with life-size moving figures and the thermostat set to what felt like minus 10 degrees. After dinner a young boy, splendidly attired in a white suit, shared his birthday cake with all of the guests. It was a magnificent birthday party and we were pleased to be included.