It wasn’t difficult to see the light when besieged by such resplendence. What hits you at first is the smell of the spray you can only feel but not skim yet; the gap seems tempting but distant enough to the touch. It was difficult to tell where Rock Beach ended and the city of Pondicherry began. It wasn’t difficult, however, to take a stroll on the Promenade under the moonlight slanting through the crevasses of the clouds overhead.
Life appeared ravishing, and it took me all my strength to not be lured into the enticement that the waves offered – it would have taken a man of stronger character to walk away from all of that without batting an eyelid.
The Adyar Bhavan on the road that connects the temple of Manikula Vinayagar raises its head in veneration, but it is not easy to give up on the prospect of a piping hot masala dosa served with a dollop of butter on top and the hint of unease at what it forbade — an uninterested appetite — washed down with the sweetest of coffees sourced from the Western Ghats in Karnataka. The Indian Coffee House, located a hundred metres down Jawaharlal Nehru Street, prefers to let this pass as an outswinger pitched on off-stump, but chooses not to curl its lips in derision.
One could not walk down these roads without passing a tinge of admiration for the exalted ashram that Sri Aurobindo set up in 1926; the last vestige of pride that overshadowed the sun setting in the west — diametrically opposite to where Rock Beach was — troubled you enough as you shook your head in vexation with what the town had presented to you so far.
It was not unpleasant to see clusters of castaways and tramps throng the sacred porticoes of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, knowing well that man was more considerate and charitable when in the presence of God. Life made no distinction between Hyderabad and Pondicherry — in both places, it is felt to be more desirable to live on the alms of others than work for a living — as the strong-bodied among the beggars attest.
It takes a lot of will to wake up early and see the sunrise at Serenity Beach a few kilometres down the East Coast Road after a big night in; the backpacker’s hostels catering to the horde of solo travellers make good business at this time of the year. The monsoon has just set in, and although the humidity appeals to one’s senses and asks to be set free, summer has departed. That is more than what one can ask for on the coastlines of India; of such small victories are one’s days here made.
Fellow travellers — those outlandish enough to wake up and chase the sunrise anyway — make good use of the waspish hues that the pre-dawn gifts to the fortunate at this beach. Seen in the dark, the sky changes from a fantastic deep shade of late purple to mauve within minutes; you blink and you miss it. Shifting from a papaya whip to a deep atomic tangerine, one could be forgiven for not knowing that the northern lights were a million miles away from where one stood.
The stars disappear one after the other, the Moon bids a hasty goodbye (but still lurks like a naughty schoolboy behind the curtains of the western caprices) and the star of the show – the fiery-red ball we call the provider of life on Earth – the Sun, makes a fashionably late appearance. It is not difficult to perceive that the world outside where men are cruel to each other has stopped existing; that this is all there is, and that this is the Truth one has spent all their life seeking. Nothing holds more significance than the moment when the sun rises from the horizon, bathed in celestial light. One feels lost in the vacuum created by time in space.
Staying true to its name, this beach ensures that contact from the world outside of its peripheries remains closed; the fishing hamlet that surrounds it and closes it in a vice-like grip deserves accord of the highest order. No middle-class tourist with disposable income freshly minted off the press can remain steadfast to what this beach signifies, and the idea of sanctity it represents.
No beach could match up to what one experienced at Serenity; certainly not the urban bazaar that is called Paradise (another reference to Hyderabad) and masquerades as a shoreline. The ferry ride taken across the gentle creek subterfuge as a backwater holds well until the pilot opens his mouth in stupefaction at the reality being pointed out; no wonder people feel betrayed when cruelly put face to face with the Truth. Living in delusions seems a much simpler, and often easier choice.
The visit to Auroville is timed with the bloom of frangipani; it is no coincidence that the jasmine that greets me on the many walks I am compelled to take in the inner confines of the commune smells of distaste yet a peculiar kind of freedom. The lassitude of the inmates mixed with the torpor that the afternoon invariably brings is overly seductive; it seems captivating yet far away from where I stand. It is that ‘inner centring’ that mystics all over the world speak of that distinguishes us, beings of the same creed though we are.
The giant Banyan’s branches have twisted in a death-like grimace beyond recognition. It does not bow as I pay my respects to it for simply showing up, merely for being there, yet I sense that it appreciates the advances made – appropriate or not. There is no place for dogma in Auroville, and it is not surprising to see that the ideas it preaches find little mention on the brochures supplied by travel agents in and around the hotels of Pondicherry.
It seems apt to end one’s sojourn here with a dish of well-made Ratatouille at Madame Shanthe’s sprinkled quite liberally with condiments found nowhere near the French Riviera. I spot a French family of five from Lyon sitting near the balustrade but lack the courage to inquire as to what they make of this. Memphis Depay, quite naturally, dominates our conversation. This pilgrimage of the heart would have been incomplete without a trip to Baker Street across from MG Road; it seems too tantalising a proposal to pass up the quiche and croissants calling out my name and asking for nothing in return save a few inches off the waistline.
All images provided by the author.