The cast and crew: Team Southern India

Date: 15 April

Location: the oldest colonial cafe in India, The Boulevard, Pondicherry

Notable sightings: no zoo 😦

My goodness, I seem to be overly capable of getting myself into trouble. Oh, nothing serious– but vaguely awkward.

For example, yesterday when we visited Auroville. Auroville is is seriously bizarre place. Even for India. It's an “international community” whose residents – who come from 125 countries – renounce all religion in search of the Divine Consciousness, following the example of the Mother. In the centre of this community, which is designed for 50,000 and nestled outside French colonial Pondicherry in a location chosen by the Mother through great concentration, lies the Matrimandir (Sanskrit for Temple of the Mother) which is a giant, gold lotus bud inside which (and forbidden to non-Aurovillans) is a giant crystal ball to aid those who wish to “concentrate” and outside which is a red sandstone amphitheatre for town meetings. Surrounding this oddly beautiful monstrosity are to be gardens, each of which will represent one of the Mother's qualities: gratitude, perseverance etc. The buy-in price isn't advertised but the consensus seems to be that it'd be high.

You know what, I'm just going to call it: it's a total cult.

The site of the proposed Gratitude Garden.

Anyway. Trouble. It's a 2km walk from the village centre to the Matrimandir and I walked well ahead of the group beside a dirt road. Aurovillans (you'd think they might have gone with “Aurovillians” instead?) walked and cycled past. I noticed one man in a full suit, in 40 degree heat/90% humidity. When I looked up five minutes later he'd stopped and was waiting for me. He wanted to know I did come on his bike to meet his family and polite but firm refusals weren't getting me anywhere. The his friends showed up. Thankfully, so did mine.
Then there was the time in Chennai the hotel front desk man came up to check on me – around midnight- “to see if the wifi was working” and “if I had enough towels”. Or the time in Mamulappuram where a bellboy kindly carried my bag for me (and left my 40-something year old kiwi roommate to lug hers) then refused to leave our room until he'd finally gotten out “Ma'm you look very nice tonight. Would you like to talk English with me?”
Finally, there was a mildly alarming incident when I went for an early morning beach walk in Mamalapurram and saw a line fisherman who, when he spotted me, slowly and deliberately prepared to and then took a pee while watching me creepily. I hightailed it.
On the streets I cover up, obviously, but still get hassled a little. I'd like to be able to politely say “go away” in the local language. Problem is, there are about ten of them and the best touters just pretend they don't speak whichever it is you use. Quandarary.
At times like this I'm beyond thankful that I'm being introduced to India on a tour, even if my group is a little odd. My roommate, the forty-something single Kiwi, was recently made redundant from a telco management job and has cut off all her red hair and come to India on a whim. She's nice, though prone to repeating herself and voicing whatever issue flits through her mind (“Shall I brush my teeth now….. or later? Oh, I think later. But perhaps….”) That said, we get on fine and she's a kind, respectful roommate — and keeps me in line and on time. Plus she does ashtanga yoga so we bond doing that. There's also possibly the most fabulously wonderful Sunshine Coast couple in their 60s that I've ever met. At first glance (and because I'm hideously judgey) they seemed a nothing couple, and a liability. I know better now. Originally from London, they've been together 40 years, been everywhere from Galapagos to Syria to Nepal, and are like Abott & Costello as they riff off each other. Sid has an informed opinion on everything and is overly fond of a tee-shirt that says “F*** Google, ask me” (though I prefer his “Sarcastic Comment Loading….” one.) Wendy is a smiling assassin who keeps pace with her husband and calls him “wart” because he “grew on me”. I've adopted them and want to, one day, be them. Other than that we have the following archetypes: soft-spoken Bahamian corporate lawyer and shopaholic (every shop we get to she seems to have been there first and made a lasting impression — meaning we're greeted with “Are you from Bahamas?!”), the jaded but funny single Sydney girl, the doddering Brirish ladies, the 2 Australian couples (the “cool ones” who just finished building a Habitats For Humanity house in Nepal, and the “whingy ones” with whom I am engaged in a secret game whereby I drink every time she makes a snarky comment – she's not yet aware of this game) and the gay Melbourne IT geek. I'm the youngest by almost 20 years. However, they drink like fish and shamelessly baby me so it's been a good start to my trip. Finally, our guide is Suki, whose name means “happiness” in Hindi and who is a terribly lapsed (he started the whiskey shots last night) Delhi Sikh who's 26 and pretty darn cool.
Less judging and more travel next time.




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