Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Little Less Merry Version Of Goa...

This title I have borrowed from my creative-minded friend Jhumur Ghosh, who exchanged some SMS messages, as I sat ogling at the blue ocean on the Pondichery esplanade very recently.

She's very right too, for the city of Pondy as it is called here, has the same laidback colonial ambience, the same profusion of bars and pubs, the same romantic names of streets... but the overwhelming Tamil influence acts as a moderating effect too. It is a less merry version of Goa, lets make no doubt about that.

On a sunday morning, with monday off too, I decided to take a bus from Koyembedu -which to my surprise turned out to be CMBT -central moffusil bus terminus, not far from Anna Nagar where I live. I leisurely walked around, wondering if my writer friend at Pondy may respond to my request to meet her or not. Soon I discovered there were at least six different buses going to Pondy.

One oft-repeated description was ECR -sounding rather like some electronic acronym but it exposed itself to a much less romantic East Coast Road, euphemistically called a beachway too. For most part, the beach remained invisible, except in some occasional saucy glimpse here and there when the road swerved and lurched, snaking its way past Mahabalipuram and Chingleput onwards to Pondy. Saucy glimpse, like a thundering thigh from a slit skirt that was more than ample to cover evey inch. In another post my past experiences at M and C above, for memories have got triggered inside me, would need airing. But for now lets focus on this less merry Goa visit.

The bus I chose was nearly full when I boarded, and a very gentle looking youngster, lanky and simply dressed without any filmy airs about him, turned sideways to let me sidle into the window seat, within whispering distance to the driver. The road all through is really excellent, and my companion hesitantly started helping me. I knew, dressed in fading jeans and a knitted T-shirt, he had taken me for a foreigner. Every second person here does that. I had nothing to carry, not even a book nor a plastic bag with eatables. Since the temperature had crossed 40 degrees C already, I had just a water bottle with me.

This solitary piece of luggage started coming to life, very soon. It would topple over, slip away, roll away and do other cartoonish mischief mongering acts, and our man would offer to hold it. Whenever an SMS message arrived and I had to retrieve my glasses, our man would offer to hold the bottle. How very sweet, I thought and smiled at him like an indulgent grandpa. For some inexplicable reason, he wouldn't look me in the eye nor smile directly and make small talk. He would just do sweet things like holding the bottlen or retrieving it when it slid down finally.

But after Mahabalipuram -nearly an hour's drive, he tentatively put out his fluffy tentacles and asked me where I was from. This simple question always rattles me, and I am always tempted to say " I don't know" -which is a fact, too bizarre for simpleminded man on the streets. So I said Gujarat, which is right too since I was born and lived for forty years there...and the language is like my mother tongue, almost. He looked very doubtful. I assured him I was not pulling his leg and said my ancestors came from Afghanistan, and that we had been intermarrying like the Parsis.

From the uncertain smile flickering on and off on his face I could easily make out he didn't digest this piece of trivia at all. Small talk followed, and before he got off some fifty KMs before Pondy, he finally said what was struggling inside him like a huge python without finding the right outlet. He said " Your face-cut and dress is like a foreigner." Now these are Indianisms, which imply that my jawline or the overall shape of the face was un-Indian, something I can't really come to grips with because half the time people are mistaking me for a Punjabi, a Sindhi, or even a Pathan -the last one is closest to the truth but I am not six feet tall and not built like King Kong either. With that filmy sounding parting shot he waved and ambled off into his village. Sweet boy, Sankar, something. Doing his Master's in linguistics.

The bus offloaded us all, at the Pondy bus station, and I found my knees had jammed. Sitting in a cramped position for four unending hours is not good for ageing joints, and for half a KM I had to hobble along like a man in his late nineties. After nearly half an hour, I found an internet cafe on Rue de Bussy, wow, what a name for a non-descript Tamil-like street rather startlingly similar to hundreds of them in Chennai. The name must have been changed to Lal Bahadur Shastri street, but it didn't stick.

The outside temperature seemed six to seven degrees lower than the boiling Chennai I had left far behind. Walking in the shade made sense, though in some places without tall trees, I had to hurry up. My writer friend had probably not accessed her email or didn't want to contact me, thus I decided to walk around, have a beer and lunch and spend some time at the Esplanade. I casually checked my emails, and after an hour, resumed my ramble. By then I was ravenously hungry.

The nearest bar was De Bussy, quite predictably so since half the street seemed to belong to M. de Bussy whoever he was. Or is. Rather disconcertingly, the bar had a huge sign outside announcing it was closed from 13th April to 12th May due to elections. This bad news seared through me like a gentle streak of lightening, and I walked out without opening its door. Within minutes of leaving the bar, I saw a gang of youngsters, six or more, seemingly rich men's sons with nothing better to do, pushing open the same door and trooping in. So I too returned and was startled to see forty or fifty males inside, cackling like mad hens and arguing over politics. I guess it was politics with the election fever in the air. It could have been anything.

To sip a beer for an hour is difficult, but I managed to do that since the waiters were either dumb or deaf or disorganized. Three of them took the same order and vanished into the air as if they were Harry Potter clones. The fourth one took pity on me thinking I was a French professor with my red beard, and got me the beer with some peanuts. To kill time, this combination is unbeatable. You can chew on one piece of nut and take a miniscule sip and let the whole world go to hell.

More in the next part... coming up soon.
Ciao !


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