Dave and I have been to Pondicherry so many times that it doesn’t feel like a holiday destination anymore, feels like second home. It was the place we went to, when we first took a holiday together; it was the place we went to, when we didn’t have much of a budget for an anniversary holiday because we were building our home; it was the place we went to when we badly needed a holiday and didn’t have too many days to spend. Most people feel that way about Goa, I for one have never understood what the big deal about Goa is, some say it’s the sense of freedom you get when you step there. I don’t know… I feel that way in Pondicherry, to me it feels like Goa without the hedonism. I remember feeling incredibly stress-free and liberated as we walked back from our lunch in a restaurant after some amazing french food and fine. I kept repeating the words ‘comfortably numb’ throughout! Of course I was all heady from the wine and the sun! Our holidays there were always peaceful and made of good food, relaxed times and some crazy shopping. We ate locally available food (the picture below is that of unleavened whole-grain bread, topped with locally made peanut butter and banana slices), followed rules and sometimes had a glass of wine or margarita. Everything was done in moderation.
In 2011, one of our friends suggested that we all go together to Pondicherry, since we were the couple who knew so much about the place. After a lot of pushing and prodding we finally booked our tickets to Chennai in the extended weekend of 15th August. While both of us thoroughly enjoy the company of our friends, we were a little apprehensive about how our holiday would pan out, considering we were such different people. We almost missed our onward flight thanks to how easy going one of our friends was, he was packing his stuff just before we left for the airport. After a nail-biting ride to the airport in a cab driven by a disgruntled driver who absolutely refused to step up, we narrowly made it to the flight.
The other couple were waiting for us in a car near Chennai airport (it was their first holiday without their 1 year and a few months old daughter) from there we would drive down to Pondicherry. But hey one of us just had to have Sushi in a certain restaurant before we left for Pondicherry since his Shraawan discipline of no drinking and no non-veg just got over, never mind the traffic or anything else. So we spent some time trying to locate that restaurant. We all got lessons in eating Sushi with chopsticks (it’s only for the very dexterous and I am , not one). Four of us had to squeeze into the back of the car, and took turns trying to sit in a way in 3 people sat comfortably as one of us sacrificed comfort for the others. We reached Pondicherry at 10 p.m., checked-in and quickly set out to have dinner. Now again since there was one alcohol-thirsty person from a month, who had to have beer or any form of alcohol, we left a lot of dinner places looking for one where they hadn’t stopped serving alcohol because it was past 11 p.m., all places were crowded. At around 12 we finally reached a restaurant, where they were serving dinner at least, there was no alcohol here either (although technically speaking we had wine bottles within reach on our tables, we just couldn’t have the wine). By then none of us cared, we ordered pasta and it was the best that I had had in the world. Hunger sure is the best sauce. We realized after dinner that the hunt for beer was still on. After a few phone calls to someone in Hyderabad, our friend found out where you could pick up beer from at 2 am in the night. To cut a long story short, yes finally we did manage to find that elusive beer in some shady place. I still can’t believe what a guy will do for beer! We took our friends to some familiar places and also checked out some new ones. shopping places, restaurants, ashrams. We had a birthday celebration of one of us and it was fun, trying to sneak in a cake, when he was the one driving us around all the time, so much conspiring and planning for him to finally tell us that he knew what was in there. Huh!
The morning after the birthday celebration in the night, we went to a breakfast place (we had seen it when we tried to get into this bar/pub called Le Space and it was right opposite it), I don’t remember it’s name now. But it was beautiful: white-washed walls, a very pretty gallery space with contemporary art on it, a big book rack with books, a very pretty terrace (which wasn’t functional yet) and an extremely pretty waitress dressed in a green Lucknowi Kurta that matched the color of her eyes. We all sat on a table under a huge tree. When we asked for a chocolate croissant, the French woman who ran the place looked up from the book she was reading, down her super-snobbish nose, let out of puff of smoke to inform us that French croissants were always plain. That was our new learning of the day. We had a beautiful breakfast of Omelletes, toast, croissants, juices. While we were having our breakfast, a white bougainvillea flower wafted in from nowhere and gently settled on Dave’s Papaya juice. We saw it as a sign that the Gods were watching on us to make sure we were having good time. Felt blessed.
For all our differences in personalities, circadian rhythms, regional origins and food & beverage preferences, shopping styles, we did have a terrific time and bonded a little more.
I have a picture of us around that breakfast table on my fridge and sometimes it feels like the place is beckoning me/us all to come there again. Or maybe now that we’ve experienced Pondicherry in all it’s hedonistic glory, we could try a new place. To quote a cola ad from my childhood, “What is Life without food, What is food without friends and what are food friends without…?” Travel?