A couple of weeks ago, Dave (my husband) and I took a short holiday to Pondicherry. This time around, we decided write a blogpost about the trip. D finished his version two weeks ago, my part has been pending since. I am intent on finishing it today, lest, this become one of those projects that never saw the light of the day. After all, Done is better than perfect. This post has both our accounts, which will conflict and contrast sometimes and at other times complement.
Life in PY
D: When Suneeta and I married, we both knew that this was our chance to live our lives all over again. Reprieve all the growing up in lieu of our respective deprived childhoods. Although we never spoke about it, it was clear from our behavior with each other that this relationship was not even going to try to be a mature one. Suneeta found the stuffed toy she never had in my tummy, her pet rabbit in my ear, and something (I am still trying to figure out) in my shoulder. I found my fantasy muse – intelligent, unkind and inspiring – in her. And for the fabled grandparents’ house that most kids from our childhood would brag and gloat about so much, we found Pondicherry.
We’ve been to this surreal place five times now. Starting with our very first holiday in 2002. Since then, we have formed our views, likes and dislikes, favorite places to eat and shop and relax in the small village-town. This year has been the most busy we have been our entire lives. So a four-day holiday meant a lot to us. There was no time to waste to even think or research about a destination. Our grandparents’ house it had to be.
S: My domestic help broke a very dear and precious mug leaving me heartbroken and with the resolve to replace the missing one with a new set…It was time to go to Pondicherry! Unknown to me, a very precious bowl had been broken too and hidden away. I would discover it much later and there would be many denials. But let’s not digress.
We packed stuff the morning we had to leave, this time I packed just the right number of clothes and the footwear I wore, was the only one I was taking along. It was going to be 3 day trip so this time I decided to be sensible. We also packed an additional suitcase (we knew we’d be shopping for a lot of crockery). After check-in, we had to catch breakfast, but only one of us got it, we ate it even as airline lady called out our names. We boarded the plane in the nick of time.
D: Pondicherry greeted us with rains. It was falling heavy and thick even as we set out for an evening walk. Suneeta, as is her instinctive skill, quickly guided us through a narrow lane flanked by tall green trees, to a bakery. Of all the conceptual names you find in Auroville, this one is called Ganesh Bakery. The Ganesha, in Pondicherry, Suneeta observed, has multiple hands. Is this the case with the Ganeshas in Hyderabad also? It did not seem so.
D: Mildly dripping with rain drops, we had – for the first time in our lives – a simple, strong and perhaps healthy beverage – black coffee with jaggery. For me, it had everything I want in my coffee, without the things that I dislike – milk and sugar. We made mental resolves to make this our default coffee back home as well. Later during our holiday, I smiled over her shoulder when I noticed Suneeta pick up a couple of packs of jaggery from an organic store. My muse acts with clairvoyance too sometimes.
S: What seemed like a pleasant cloudy evening suddenly turned into a downpour as we walked out of our guest house at around 4.30 ish. We were a little far, so there was no going back, we tried to find some shelter and ended up at Ganesh Bakery (the place we set out to go to in the first place). Our cab driver who drove us from Chennai mentioned the place and said it had all organic goods. The place was dark and we couldn’t see anything in the display. We told him to get us coffee and Samosas.
D requested the owner of Ganesh Bakery to call us a cab, he did. So off we went to this place called Kuilapalyam to try and access Internet to send an email to a food blogger I was corresponding with. I came across a store that sold casuals, and while D tried hard to connect to wireless, I shopped for some stuff. The food blogger, Pallavi of the spectacular and immensely popular food blog veggiezest had recommended a few eating places. We decide to try a place called Villa Shanti. After sending an email to Pallavi telling her that I had brought a little something for her from Hyderabad and it would be great to catch up, we left for Pondicherry.
My first thoughts on entering Villa Shanti were, “Crap I am not dressed for fine dining!”. It appeared like everyone around was dressed for an evening out and the place itself looked like the kind you dressed up to go to. I went straight to the wash room to freshen up and was very amused by the paintings on the wall, used to mark the male and the female bathrooms. The male one had Dushyant peeking over leaves and the female one next to it had Shakuntala giving Dushyant the come hither look. Naughty! A few brush strokes over my hair, a couple of dabs of compact and some lip gloss later, I felt ready to dine at Villa Shanti. I loved the ambience, we took a seat opposite to the bar that had some interesting murals of the same characters. We ordered Sangria and it came with a few things to munch along (bread with different kinds of dips) and other accompaniments.
D: That evening, based on a recommendation by a Pondicherry-based food blogger Suneeta was communicating with via email, we went to Villa Shanti. We loved the art on the walls and those beautiful tall doors. I had my first Sangria. It was non-alcoholic and tasted very strongly of cinnamon. I did not like it much, but as a first experience it was interesting. I enjoyed leafing through a very interesting magazine called Bonjour India. It showcased some very interesting photographs of Indian architecture influenced by French and other European cultures.
S: The Sangria was alcoholic, but there wasn’t enough wine in it for us to feel buzzed. The food wasn’t all that great. We probably ordered the wrong stuff. The overall experience was great and we had a good time!
On the way back to our guest house in Auroville, we heard the Tamil version of the Neele Neele Ambar song and when D realized the guy was playing from a CD, he requested him to play it again. It was kind of romantic. The guy played it twice again till we reached our guest house. It was just 9 pm. In our regular lives, dinner time is a little after.
S: The next day I woke up to a text from Pallavi saying she’d like to meet us up for coffee or dinner and she was super-excited about what I brought for her. The excitement and energy was palpable in her text. So we carried the box of Tahini & Almond cookies and some other stuff I had picked up from Hyderabad for her.
D: The previous time we were at Pondicherry, we were holidaying with our friends. Two other couples. On one of the mornings, we had stumbled into a very charming place for breakfast. Café des Art. This time too, Suneeta and I were particular about having at least one breakfast there. We went there the morning after we arrived and were surprised to see that the place had changed a bit. For one, it was called Artika. The person running the restaurant then, a green-eyed French girl as Suneeta recalled, was not around. There was no bookshelf. And we were sure that one of the two bougainvillea trees was missing from last time. Although, the current owner assured us that there the said tree never existed and there was always only one bougainvillea tree. Anyway, so we ordered breakfast and discussed the things that changed. The place was still comforting, with its interesting walls and vibe. In the small garden that surrounded our seating, Suneeta noticed a wooden Hanuman kneeling in the soil. He wore wings. Those wings looked very Greek. For a while she pondered over the existence of wings on Hanuman. Then she exclaimed – wings of course, pavan putra!
S: One of the most important reasons I wanted to go to Pondicherry, was to visit this place. I had blogged about it earlier. The place, despite all the changes, made make me extremely nostalgic. The food had changed the ambience, the service too. Not necessarily for the better (Imagine a waiter getting you two kinds of juices, fruit and black coffee, all at the same time!, also getting you runny scrambled eggs, without asking you what kind). It was still decent but too many things had changed. Later when I asked the owner if the management had changed, he mentioned that he and his ex-girlfriend used to run the place earlier. Yep! I could see the place was missing a woman’s touch! There was interesting art around though, scenarios of Angels slaying demons in Grecian costumes (much like the Hindu Goddesses), Krishna with his arms flung around his two wives. Hanuman with wings that looked Greek too! I wondered if the theme of the place was Irreverence or Liberty. D asked the folks at the place to keep the goody box with him and we’d go back around 5 ish to pick it up again. We didn’t want to lug it around.
D: We decided to go to places that were familiar to us – Casablaca and Aurofern. We reached Aurofern just when they were closing for lunch. First we went to Kalki Boutique, bought a few things and then went to Casablanca, I remember how we kept returning to Casablanca on our first visit to Pondicherry. How we had been smitten by the skylight. The skylight is not visible anymore. The place is a bit cluttered. Maybe, signs of growth. But we still liked it. I wanted Suneeta to buy these really weird t-shirts that look like gunny bags in which rice was shipped. She wouldn’t. She’s too cool for that.
There was still time for Aurofern to open for lunch and we had time to kill. So we headed out to another favorite destination. Bindaas Café. After a few wrong turns in the auto (you can trust my muddled memory for that to happen), we reached the location. Only to learn that the place has been closed for the past two months. Later, when Suneeta and I met the food blogger – Pallavi – she said that the owners had temporarily shut shop and were looking to shift. I wondered how much the rent for that place would be – it was a dance school, a library, a book store and a café. There was a poster in Casablanca that said we could rent a four-bedroom bungalow near Pondicherry for 20 thousand a month.
S: After Casablanca, we went to Aurofern, a small boutique for foot and leatherwear stuff. It’s a very beautiful store with a skylight, a pond with orange fishes underneath and some elegant installation art on the wall. Their designs are simple and basic. I bought three pairs of footwear and large bag. Dave bought one pair of what he called turtle footwear. We went back to Artika to hang around and pick up our box. I ate a crepe with banana and Nutella filling.
Pallavi got caught up with some urgent work and we decided to meet the next day for dinner. We rushed to Auroville, before the boutiques in the visitor centre closed. I quickly bought all the stuff that I needed (mugs, bowls, whatever I could lay my hands on) before getting shooed out of the store. That’s the thing about Pondicherry, politeness goes out the window once it’s closing time. The Pondichery and Aurovillean folks know how to separate their work and personal life. It was just 6 pm and we were tired. Instead of going back to the guest house and returning again, we went to Kuilapalyam for an early Pizza dinner (another recommendation by Pallavi). We went to what was earlier called Pizzeria and now was Tanto. The place looked even more charming and we sat outdoors. This place was a case in point how you can make a small not-so-expensive place look very attractive with a little bit of thought. We both loved our respective Mediterranean pizzas the veg. and the non-veg. versions along with non-alcoholic beer. We got home to a dark guest house and realized it wasn’t even 8 pm yet. Thankfully, we carried books with us!
(Part 1 of 2. To be continued.)