Seventeen days ago I departed Delhi for the South, eleven of which were spent in the Pondicherry/Auroville area. I stayed with my friend Carolyn, and met some new friends, her roommates and friends, Kim, Melanie, and Manasvini. The nature of these friends, and of the area’s climate (both physical and cultural) persuaded me to spend a lot of my time indoors. This isn’t to say that my friends are lazy, that the weather is too hot, or that the culture is sedentary – we were all productive during the hours of the day, whether painting, writing, shooting, polishing, or publishing creative projects. Of my creative endeavors, four paintings emerged, two poetry chapbooks were submitted to small presses, a few new poems were scribbled down, and a few good memories were etched into my mind.
I wasn’t entirely housebound during that week-and-a-half. A moped rental introduced me firsthand to Indian traffic, and I was rewarded by the green trees, red soil, and cobalt streets tucked into the Auroville backroads. After a day or two of exploring the spiritual exhibitions and residential clusters of the project city, I braved the Pondicherry streets themselves. A defunct distillery featuring a photography exhibit, a cobblestone French quarter stretching along the oceanside, a park filled with reclining men, women, children, and dogs during a sun-scorched sestina, and a rustic ashram library endowed with fitting collections of dusty tomes (among them a graying edition of the Upanishads, which I paged through during the cool coastal breeze of mid-afternoon) made for some great exploration.
It has been nearly a week since I said goodbye to my Pondicherry friends, and since I said hello to my Delhi friend Travis, who is accompanying me for the rest of “the deep South.” We have already ventured by bus and rail to the southernmost point of India, a town called Kanyakumari, and scooted, sailed, and walked through the various terrains of Kerala’s Cochin, Munnar, and Allepey. On the way to Kanyakumari we toured the Temple of 1000 Pillars in Madurai – a beautifully painted stone complex of towering, carved roofs. Truly a massive temple complex, we only saw a fraction of it’s interiors, as the inner chambers were closed to non-Hindus, not to mention our nagging appetites for the fresh juices available on the streetside around the corner.
Kanyakumari itself was what one would expect of the southern extreme of the subcontinent – easy and breezy. The heat was tempered by cape winds, and we passed a bright morning in the markets alongside shell merchants and sunglasses salesmen, followed by an afternoon on the poolside of a fancy hotel (our reward for the previous night spend in “the Raja Palace” – I won’t say more).
Our next stop was Kerala, although we hardly stopped at all our brief time there. Our experience really began with our introduction to Antony, our cab driver to the Munnar hills and tea/spice plantations. Many people speak of Indian hospitality, but Antony is a living example. He made us laugh through the sharp turns and brake pumps of our journey up the hillsides by explaining Kerala’s tourism economy, and then invited us to his home the following day after an afternoon boat ride on the backwaters of his hometown, Allepey. There, we met his charming wife and his two children Christie and Catherine, full of the zest of youths who love their father. Antony’s smile was dangerous, however, when it lingered behind two hands offering us full glasses of the local moonshine, a fermented coconut milk called toddy (or kallu, in the Malayalum tongue). Travis and I finished our first glasses, and were spared a second by the sudden onset of a rainstorm that nearly made us miss our evening train to Bangalore.
That was yesterday evening, and today – election day in Bangalore – has offered me some time to sort out some laundry, stretch out from the cramped quarters of the train car, and jot down some of the journey, since most of the city’s shops and restaurants are closed for the occasion. Since you’ve stayed with me this far, I’ll close with just one more piece of good news: this morning I received news that I will be able to attend an MA program in South Asian Religion at Columbia University.
I’ll keep you all posted on the next twists and turns of my journey – next stop, Mangalore!