Day 3 D: We stayed in Afsanah Guest House. Urdu name but Japanese architecture. It’s one of the several guest houses in Auroville. We had been there before in 2010 for our anniversary holiday. There is a guest book with a doodle I made to commemorate our landmark. I do that kind of stuff sometimes. But never on the walls of heritage monuments or on the barks of trees or on park benches.
NERD ALERT: I have never studied design or architecture formally. But over the past ten years both fields of endeavor have had a profound impact on my thinking and living. At the guest house, particularly inside the cottage where we stayed, I got deeply immersed in the way each container was designed. I had read Lao Tzu’s often quoted saying on Emptiness, where he calls out that usefulness is derived from nothingness. The modern world may have discovered and started to practice minimalism in the early 20th century, but the Japanese knew the distinction between the container and the content centuries back. Their containers screamed nothingness so that the content stood out and found usefulness amongst users.
S: D does tend to get very nerdy, not just about architecture, but other stuff too regardless of whether people around him are interested or not. So we have this code between us where I call out “Nerd alert” each time he breaks into one of these seemingly unending spells. On Sunday afternoon, we went to another place called Farm Fresh to buy jams and other stuff. The place had jams and a whole lot of organic stuff. From Spirulina Chikkis to pasta to coffee to rows of home-made jams and cheeses. After shopping, heavy bags in tow, we went looking for a proper lunch place, but couldn’t find it so walked back and ordered Dosas at Farm Fresh. I asked for a cheese one and D for a Masala one. There was one woman running the place and cooking in the small kitchen and another waiting on tables. Between themselves they ran a restaurant with a limited menu and a store. Pondicherry has this entrepreneurial spirit about it. Almost everybody you meet seemed to be one. Around the place you will find, dogs, cats who’d like share your food and crows. I noticed a pattern, all non-humans who frequented Farm Fresh were black. The Dosa was delicious.
Opposite Farm Fresh is this place called Boulangeri or what used to be called The Bakery earlier. It’s probably been renovated because I saw that there was a Hindi translation of the name there, guess what it was called? Rotishala. And why not? If a bar is called Madhushaala, a bakery should be called that. Some more shopping nearby later, we went to Kofi Bar. D always wanted to go to there, from the last time we visited Pondicherry. We would always pass it by. It’s very close to the Farm Fresh, so we walked it there. Paid for a little bit for wifi access, I ordered a cold coffee to cool myself and then browsed the Internet, sent an email to my friend to book tickets for us for this movie called Lunchbox on the evening of our arrival back in Hyderabad, while D took pictures of the place.
D: That evening, I was determined to meet a local artist called Pichaya Manet at his rootop bar Le Space. So I urged Suneeta to go ahead with her dinner plans with Pallavi and I would join them a bit later. They were going to be in Umami, a new Italian restaurant that was a couple of minutes away from Le Space. Le Space, according to me (I must call this out), is a wonder in asymmetry. No two tables or chairs are the same. Everything is mismatched. And yet, it all works together. They have music playing out of a laptop, connected to a speaker that is hidden in a huge pot. Drinks menu on a portable whiteboard. Food menu on another. I missed Pichaya Manet again. He was going to come on Wednesday. We were on Sunday. I took some pictures of the place, while sipping some really cheap Mohito, although I don’t think I did justice to the environment.
On my way to Umami, I spotted a shop selling old furniture, large bronze vats, magnificent teak pillars. It was the same shop I photographed years back, with two of its salesmen playing chess amid all that history. I could not resist taking another shot.
D: At Umami (it refers to the sixth or seventh sense, in Japanese food? I learned), the food was not so great. But the conversation was good. So it made up for the sweet chicken I ate. During our dinner, Pallavi pointed us to the the green-eyed French girl (who was missing at Café des Art / Artika) enter the restaurant with her boyfriend. Pallavi said she had started a restaurant. “Not as great looking as Café des Art, but serving up some really good food.” A little later, when Pallavi took our couple picture, I thought I would be in bed in 30 mins max. It had been a tiring day. I was wrong.
We walked Pallavi toward her house and she asked if we wanted to come up and see it. It was a heritage French construction. I didn’t care if she was just being polite; I HAD TO see the architecture up close. Earlier this year I missed the Kala Ghoda Festival, I missed the Kyoorios Design Yatra, and just by being on this holiday, I also missed Comic Con. But if I get to observe, from real close, Japanese and French architecture, in the same day, it would be worth missing everything. Even my sleep. I am not going to launch into a comparative study between the two great cultures. I am saving that up for another opportunity. For now, I will say this much: It was like walking into a grand past. I did not take any pictures. I did not even try asking. It would be too intrusive. This was not how I always was. Thanks to Suneeta, I have a culture now. I respect boundaries. I like my boundaries too. Amen.
S: Since I was meeting up Pallavi and we were neck deep in conversation, we didn’t mind the food too much. But it needs serious improvement. The Sage butter ravioli, I had was kind of dry, the Brushcetta not so great and the chocolate mousse a tad too sweet. We chatted for hours and it was a lot of fun. She also brought me some sinful Nutella-filled salted chocolate cookies (which I savored for an entire week). So yeah we did the food-blogger thing of swapping cookies without actually planning for it. Later when we walked Pallavi to her house and were about to take an auto, she asked us if we wanted to come over. It was close to 11 pm and despite that, I just couldn’t let go of a chance to see a local Pondicherry house. So we went and enjoyed all the woodwork and the architecture in her house. We spoke about cook books (actually she did because I haven’t read any), our favorite food writers, food movies and blogging. We called it a night at 11.30 timing it to ensure we reached Afsanah at 12 am to crash. That wasn’t to be!
D: Our last night in Auroville was tough. While returning to our guest house, our auto got lost in the labyrinthine roads of the great village. There was some lack of correlation between a map I was carrying and the signboards on the roads. There were very few people out there, as it was way past 11 pm. The few young people who we did call out to for directions seemed to avoid us. Strange. Maybe they were drunk. Maybe they were doped. Can’t say. Finally, after going round and round for about an hour and half, and admiring the patience of the auto guy, we came across some friendly folks, locals, who even drew up a direction map on the road for us. Their barking dog was called Tony. I was too focused on finding our way back to be afraid. They smelled of booze, but they behaved well and helped us. Bless them.
S: …and the auto guy who decided to crash in Auroville, instead of going back to Pondicherry.
D: I love packing. But Suneeta is the better packer. The next morning needed both of us to team up and finish our packing on time. We were supposed to leave at 10 am. And we were determined to have our last organic breakfast at Afsanah. And I wanted to write something in the guest book. Right next to what I had written in 2010. And I wanted to take Suneeta’s full-length picture. They don’t take them anymore. Out of fashion, maybe. When I was a kid, it used to be a default pose for all ladies. The classy way in which they stand, leaning against a wall or pillar, sometimes with their handbag dangling. Anyway, Suneeta’s a natural in natural surroundings. I did not fuss it out. We were ready to head back to lighter air and mundane lives.
S: It was a short trip, but we packed in a lot or I guess it’s just how small how small Pondicherry is. I am sure there are many places, we still haven’t been to, we’ll save those for our next trip there! I was hell-bent on packing more into our last day, so had requested my dear friend to book us tickets to the movie Lunchbox, which I thought was the first ever food movie in Hindi. Not only did she do that, but she also arranged dinner, dropped us to the theatre and later picked us up and dropped us home. Lunchbox wasn’t so much about food, as it was about human emotions, was lovely, with brilliant performances. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end our holiday. On the way home, we even stopped at our favorite haunt for a quick Breezer. Was the most relaxing I have felt in ages. Holidays are meant to this way, just not this short!