A whiff of France in South India ( A day in Pondicherry)

By Kriti Mazumdar

One fine evening early June my travel fanatic father came up with a brilliant idea, a quick weekend trip to Pondicherry! I was game for this sudden plan. I got on a battle with the IRCTC website and booked our tickets in the Puducherry Express. Surprisingly there was no waiting list and we got confirmed seats. I wrapped up office early Friday evening, and then the father daughter duo headed straight to Yeshwanthpur Railway Station. We were in an almost empty AC compartment. It was cold inside, you I quickly got inside a blanket and dozed off. I was awakened by the beautiful bright morning light.

As we got off the train, a big yellow board on the platform that read ‘Pondicherry’ greeted us. There was a sense of warmth in the air. I was excited as I had heard a lot about this quaint Union Territory, but had never visited it before.
Soon typical auto drivers swarmed us. Each one had a different plan for us. Some donned the hat of a tourist guide and offered to take us through a city tour. My dad and I politely declined their gracious offers and followed our good old map to the Aurobindo Ashram. After a 3 km long stroll, we were suddenly surrounded by a boulevard with lovely blossoms on tall luscious trees. The hustle of the city gave way to a charming tranquillity that seemed to soothe us despite the scorching June heat. As we inched further towards the famous Ashram, the colours of the buildings turned an ash blue with white borders. It was as if the whole place had taken a peaceful refuge in the coolness of these hues. Soaking in the simplistic beauty of Pondicherry, we stood at the entrance of the Aurobindo Ashram. Devotees thronged the Ashram in absolute silence. At the Samadhi of the Great Saint, Rishi Aurobindo, there were a group of people meditating in peace. We toured around the place quietly, consciously trying not to make any sound with our footsteps.

Once we had covered the entire circumference of the lovely Ashram, my dad decided to go to the Ashram Office. While speaking to the personnel there, he happened to find reference to two of his old acquaintances from Bengal. He was thrilled and in his desire to meet them, noted down there address.

Soon afterwards, we were on our way to meting one of them. This man happened to be 75 years old and in amazing health. He managed a small office as service to the Ashram.

“Are you visiting Auroville today?” He asked Dad.

“No Sir, we just have some hours in hand. Auroville is for another time.” He replied.

“Oh wonderful! In that case I will take you around place to experience the French culture of Pondicherry.” He was bubbling with excitement to have found an acquaintance from his native place.

Our first stop was at a gorgeous little patisserie. We had some lightly sweetened croissants and a cappuccino each. I finished my snacking with a rich apple pie. Next we headed to a very old bakery that has been in operation since the 1940. The smell of freshly baked bread enchanted my sense and I took deep breathes to take in a good fill of the delicious aroma. Wafting through the air, as the trail of goodness got fainter; we stepped into an idyllic library nestled in one corner of a French named lane. We entered the library and a immediately felt reverent towards the scripts and pages that were houses within the carefully kept shelves. An entire section was dedicated to Sree Ma and Rishi Aurobindo’s writings. Among them were memoirs, journals, books and poetry written by the Mother and the Great Saint.

Our next stop was a local school where our guide’s granddaughter studied. As her school got over, she came running to her Grandpa and they greeted each other in perfect French.

“She has French in her curriculum so we speak in that tongue so that she can get enough practice.” He clarified because they were Bengalis and still speaking a foreign language with each other.

The little girl hopped along while we made our way to a nice restaurant. After a hearty meal of Rice and sour cream topped mussels and a lovely pan fried fish, it was time for a catnap. Our Bengali friend arranged for a small room in a cottage to retire for the afternoon. I spent the hot afternoon reading an RK Narayan classic, while Dad snored away to glory.

As the sun made way for the dusk, the heat turned into a cool breeze. We got ready, and after some tea and toast made our way to the promenade. Huge white waves lashed against the big black rocks that made up the beach. We strolled along enjoying the pleasant view of the shoreline and the nice breeze. We came across the famous Gandhi Statue at the end of the promenade. A young artist was performing a Sitar concert on an open stage. We stood mesmerized listening to her play. The show climaxed with a roaring applause from the audience. It was close to 8 pm by then. So we decided to make our way to the railway station. Our train to Bangalore was at 9:15 pm. After a brisk half an hour walk, we reached the station. We had physically left behind the little French lanes, but carried it in our mind. The happy faces, the warm generosity, the calm and the beauty shall forever be etched in our minds.

As always thank you so much for taking out time and reading my blog.

Always keep smiling, it makes you look beautiful!

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  1. Thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. Keep sharing such great experiences with us.