The breeze by the bay caressed the pages of my book on the table of Le Cafe, a popular hang-out on Beach Road (easily a twin of Mumbai's Marine Drive); though I lost my bookmark, I rediscovered myself. Such is the charm of Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry), where Shri Aurobindo's vision brings together the sound of silence and the pulse of music.
The food at Le Cafe was not finger-licking good, but the cafe's mise en scene compensated for it. Its building reportedly belonged to the port authority during the European rule.And despite its lovely terrace, people prefer sitting on the stone benches to listen to the mellifluous fusion of the wind chimes and the gurgling waves. All eateries around have a French connotation to their names (Le)–like Le Vietnam, which offers the best chicken roast on earth or the nearby Le Space with its colourful-embroidered chandelier, abstract art and graffitied walls. Even here you can't miss the melody, they keep the house of Nat King Cole (renowned yesteryears' jazz musician) alive.
Not less than a poem in itself, this city down the southern corridor is a melting pot of cultures. Made of French enclaves, owing to the French rule, it's aptly called 'The French Riviera of the East'. The trippy lanes under the neon light leading to White Town on Rue de la Marine, take you to the Shri Aurobindo Ashram, where the maharishi and the Mother (Mirra Alfassa), his spiritual collaborator preached human progress through meditation and spiritual evolution. The street is so clean you can eat off it and although the decor is reminiscent of the French upper class, its inhabitants are far from snooty. The smell of divinity through joss sticks welcomes you to the ashram and once in, you leave behind your weariness and allow the ashram's calm to act as a balm to your wounds. Before I bid the day adieu, a little treat lay ahead on the road–an Indian teenager strumming his guitar with a British flautist trying to maintain the parity.
Next morning, the first murmurs that caught my ears in the hotel lobby were, "Paradise! Ingewa macha (come in dude). 'Paradise Beach' or Chunnambar island is India's own Bahamas; the island with deep blue waters is a 15-minute voyage from the main city. It is the point where the backwaters make love with the Bay of Bengal. Shacks here serve beer and the sun is ablaze, but thatch-roofed resting areas ensure you don't need sunscreen; some tourists carry their own tent. While the beach is a quiet relief from the maddening city crowd, out of the numerous activities you can indulge in, live music (bring your own instrument and play) seemed to be the favourite. I found more foreigners than Indians and also saw some foreigners play dumb charades with Hindi movies.
My trip ended the next day in Auroville, a city within a city envisioned by Shri Aurobindo and the Mother to unite human beings of all cast, creed, language and colour and make them self-sufficient. Its central kitchen runs on solar energy and inhabitants prepare their own spices and oil and grow their own crops. Painters roam around with a brush in the back pocket of their jeans and many engage in pottery. The golden globed matrimandir (temple of the Mother) holds together the universal township where artists, dancers and musicians abound.
Like all cities Pondi has the crowd, cars and cacophony of sounds, but the pitch is controlled to a pleasing-to-the-ears note and the overall experience is that of a unique music festival, you'll only find here.