As a week-end get away for the Chennai folks, Pondicherry had always been an ideal spot years before the East coast Road was even conceived . To some it was the lure of unlimited booze and for others the distinct French aura of this coastal town with its cobbled streets and outlandish street names. Almost synonymous with Pondicherry is the Aurobindo Ashram casting its benign shade over the town and surrounding precincts. A visit to the Ashram is never complete without a wholesome meal at the spartan dining room mainly to savour the freshly baked bread! We were informed that Mother had brought chefs from France to teach the cooks at the ashram to bake their aromatic bread and it is a fact that even today one can have all the three meals for a princely sum of 20 Rs!
The cyclists winding their way, in and out of the streets are tourist friendly and ready with helpful directions. The passage of time has not touched the soul of Pondicherry. The array of luxurious hotels and restaurants signifies an era of change . Antique shops , health food stores stand cheek by jowl with the Ashrams old world outlets, giving a fair idea of what life could have been in the fifties and sixties . The beach and the pier continue to exist despite the ravages of tsunami and times insidious progress. Billboards entice the blas visitor with attractions they normally seek when on vacation ayurvedic massage and spa, boutiques offering bountiful discounts and restaurants advertising home-cooked meals just the thing for tired palates. The avante-garde atmosphere of some of the villas at Auroville intensifies the sense of other worldliness . A guest house we visited had Dalai Lama once as a guest we were informed quite casually! The avocado orchards leading to matri mandir give an illusion of utopia of community life, as conceived by the ashram elders.
The quality of life here is different we are told , not just by the Ashramites but by people who have opted to make this city their home. Never mind the crowds, mosquitoes, open drains and lack of parking,they tell us , just look beyond and there is a source of energy which is peculiar to this place. You confront it at Aurobindos Samadhi, and it remains with you for along time afterwards.
An early inhabitant of the Ashram , spoke of the inner opening of self that was possible only at the Ashram . Id like to stretch the phrase a little more: it is possible that the inner self becomes rejuvenated by the sense of peace which pervades the air!