Tales from Pondicherry

Its hard to describe how India has been so far, and anyways I’ve only barely been here a week. Instead, below is a collection of notes that might give you a sense for what its been like.

NYTimes Photo of Pondicherry, along one of the main north/south roads

Pondicherry is not a beach town, but its definitely an ocean town. There’s a constant breeze from the ocean that reminds you of its presence.Its not the “real India” in the sense that its not very representative. Poverty isn’t in your face, the streets are relatively calm and manageable, and there aren’t throngs of people all about. The NYTimes wrote an excellent piece about Pondicherry that I read only after leaving and that struck me as spot-on to my experience. Read it here.
Yesterday as I exited a bank I was approached by a beggar asking me for money. Generally its my policy not to engage or give money, especially when there’s not an obvious physical impairment, so I proceeded to get on my rented motorcycle. At the same time, a kid who I’d seen around selling little cloth bags approached and said “hello”.
He was watching my interaction with the beggar, and said to me “This guy is crap!”. Naturally this enraged the beggar, who started trying to hit him! The kid jumped on the bag of my bike, and we roared off together with the beggar still trying to strike him! I couldn’t help but think that it was like something out of a movie.
We had a good laugh, and I drove along the beautiful beach road before dropping the kid off. One of the bags was a beautiful blue color, so I gave the kid $1 for it with the intention of keeping my camera in it.
I met a guy named Rob who is starting a SCUBA school in Pondicherry and he invited me to go surfing with him the next morning. I fell asleep the night before around 8pm, curled in a ball on my bed writhing in pain emanating from my stomach. I woke up at 5am feeling better, and killed time working. At 9am, after getting quite lost, I found my way to Rob’s house and we packed up the car. The car had a flat, but after fixing that we were off. It was only the third time I’ve been surfing, and there weren’t that many waves in the semi-dirty water, but I was able to stand up once, which was a first.
The night of the World Cup match between the US and Slovenia, Rob and I decided to head to a local bar to watch it. He was going to pick me up from the coffee shop I was at around 6pm, but at around 5 it started raining. Raining HARD. There was an unbelievable amount of rain, and the water was coming down in torrents. By 6pm, it had turned into a flood, and the water was knee-high on the street! Rob dutifully arrived at 6, and I ran out and jumped into the car.
We made it about 100ft down the street before the engine died. We looked at the engine, which was flooded. Rob noted that “We’re done, screwed” as he realized we’d have to abandon the car. We pushed it down the street to a safe spot, and then hopped on my motorcycle to get to the bar.
There was a question as to whether we should just walk, but when I thought about it for a second, there was no way I was going to give up an opportunity to drive a motorcycle through a flood. We hopped on my bike which I’d planned to leave at the coffee shop and made our way slowly and not-so-surely to the bar. If we’d have hit a hole or lost our balance and fallen over, we would literally be submerged. Considering that my laptop was on Rob’s back, I couldn’t let that happen, so driving through the flood was a bit like walking the highwire. It was the first flood I’ve ever been in, and I gotta say it was pretty awesome, especially since safety wasn’t really an issue.

Not my photo, but the flood was similar to this, though there was less light outside.

– Pondicherry is a pretty small place, so most of the foreigners know each other. I kept on running into people I’d met before, usually in the company of someone else I’d met separately, only to find that those people already knew each other. It was eerie how often this happened. It made Pondy seem welcoming, and it was nice to meet some travel companions, if only for a few days.
After six days, I was content with my time spent in Pondicherry and anxious to get to Bangalore. On a Tuesday night, I hopped on a half-sleeper bus for the 9 hour drive to Bangalore. The World Cup had thrown my sleep schedule off, so I was only able to sleep for the last two hours of the trip. At 6am, the driver’s shrill voice awoke me from my slumbers and informed me that I’d made it to Bangalore.
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