Puducherry: An oasis of peace amid the chaos called life

It’s an oasis of peace amidst the chaos called life. It may feel like a reverie one wouldn’t wish to be jolted out of. But that’s what this place offers to the world around, which troops in within its bounds to seek a blissful refuge from the daily grind. Ask a pack of weary travellers and wide-eyed phirang tourists, and you’ll now what we mean. Puducherry is more of a spiritual experience than just a beautiful haven to gaze at.
Girdled by a sea of tranquility that fairly forms a major part of the now-calm-and-then-rough Bay of Bengal, this Union Territory is also an erstwhile French Colony to make a mental note of. Ruled over by the European foreigners for three long centuries, the land now stands as a living testament to the rich French cultural heritage in India.
When the congesting traffic thins away at the twilighting dusk and is completely blocked as soon as the darkness settles in, the otherwise quiet 1.5 km long stretch of Goubert Avenue running parallel to the sea instantly comes alive with teeming crowds streaming in from all quarters of the city. “It’s a busy hub no doubt. We come here every year and pay a visit to the nearby Aurobindo Ashram without fail. I find a spiritual connect here,” shares septuagenarian Barun Dey, a retired senior officer from Kolkata. Thanks to the ashram and samadhi (tomb) of this saintly revolutionary figure and great philosopher Aurobindo Ghosh, aka Rishi Aurobindo, — who had waged a bitter fight against the Britishers for India’s freedom and then absconded to Puducherry (then under the French rule) to escape an arrest from the British regime — that Bengalis in large numbers pour in to this part of the map to soak in their fill of spiritual potion at their heart’s content.
Nevertheless, the recent reports of violent protesters ransacking the premises of the ashram and its property across political lines (read owing to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s decision to support the Central government’s policy on the Lanka issue) were unfortunately disturbing though. Absolutely nothing untoward must stoke the fire and provoke disruption of the social fabric of this pacific precinct.
With a considerable amount of French populace staying in this city for generations, it was just a matter of time for the expatriates to sink into its fathomless abyss. The community has gradually become a part and parcel of Puducherry’s canvas of life. Having mingled with the local ethnic flavours and its indigenous masses over the ages, the French lot has emerged and evolved as students, officers, teachers, plantation-workers, factory-workers, social activists, et al. This part of the Deccan plateau can hence be depicted as a motley clump of composite cultures.
The austere yet classic and sophisticated French villas, tenements and mansions painted in soft shades of grey, white and beige are so gratifying to the eyes. Far from the hustle-bustle of daily rush-hours on a normal business day, this surfaces like a slice of serenity, acquired by the grace of God.
Or better still, cross a mile to enter the environs of Auroville — the “City of Dawn”, which is an experimental domain founded by Mirra Richard aka the “Mother”, who was the chief disciple of the seer Rishi Aurobindo. Located barely eight km away from the Puducherry city, this spiritual ville is an avenue of divine service through the path of compassion and contribution to the upliftment of society as well as the mankind.
“This site lends us a perfect opportunity for our soul-searching. Following the principles of the ‘Mother’, I’ve been able to assess what I actually wanted from life. Having got the answer, now I feel quite relieved and satiated working at this restaurant,” confides Veronique Arquette, a French waitress at a cosy food-joint inside Auroville.
Coming back to the Goubert Avenue, its surrounding vibrant ambience reverberates the sauntering footsteps, sounds of soaring waves, sellers hawking aloud their wares, chirping of migratory birds, leisurely strolls of slow-but-steady senior citizens, casual chit-chats on the benches, playful kids prancing around in a pair of happy feet, prattling ladies, a bunch of click-happy buddies, coochie-cooing couples under the umbrella shades to brave a moody weather which may at any moment without notice start shedding some unexpected, untimely rain to wet the place and the people around.
A streak of beaming beacon from an old lighthouse nearby stands vigilant 24X7, while a staid statue of Mahatma Gandhi in his cult Dandi March posture mutely witnesses the unfolding of each day’s events with life continuously flowing by like the rippling sea behind. The long bridge on the extreme right of the seaside jutting out into the sea is a happening harbour indeed, with droves of curious spectators flocking to it. Fishermen in clusters unpack their fishnets to empty their day’s catch into huge containers and even take the travel-thirsty tourists sometimes for a ride in their catamarans when being coaxed for an exchange of few bucks. Other busybodies like the fruit-sellers, jewellery-sellers, tea-stall owners, candymen on tinkling cycles too keep the street occupied with their agile activities.
“I get customers throughout the day, especially on festive occasions and during the holiday season,” chips in Fatima Hussain, peddling junk jewellery in wicker-baskets on high pavements beside the sea-beach. From quaintly designed bangles, decorative clips to fashionable earrings, the ornaments come in at anything between `25 to `100.
Tea-seller Raju Rao has a unique way of soliciting his customers. Chances are slim of not catching a glimpse of him on the Goubert Avenue. A regular passerby on a speeding cycle, this devout South Indian with boldly etched out tilak (white mark) on his forehead always meets the commuters with a polite smile on his lips, urging them to taste his hot-cuppa priced at `7 each. Be it early-birds unwinding on the beach or health-conscious morning-walkers stretching out their limbs or the evening pedestrians looking for a plea to moisten their throats, Raju’s special chai is much in demand, it seems. And yeah, he is endowed with some uncanny powers to do a correct face-study.
“This man just casually walked by and asked me in chaste Bengali if I would like to consume his tea or not. I watched him offer the same to another bystander in Tamil and an elderly woman sitting by the seaside in distinct French. I asked him about his linguistic secret, but he just smiled and left off with a courteous ‘thank you’. May be, he didn’t want to divulge his trade secret,” shares 35-year-old Pratim Bose, a software-techie from Bengaluru with a chuckle on his trip to this spiritual town.
With an all-embracing feel tagged to its identity, Puducherry enables its temporary visitors to easily adapt to its ways over a short span of time. Well, to get a real hang of this place which boasts of a zest for life and a peaceful nip in its air, an annual tryst with it appears to be an essential poison. Just drink it to the dregs!

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