‘Gimme a break!!’ I said to myself, two days after Diwali, my first Diwali away from home, as a matter of fact. I did not go home for Diwali holidays-cum-term break. As much as I sound homesick, I’m not so. After all, I’ve been an urban Gypsy for almost a decade now- two beautiful years in Kota, five adventurous ones in Bhopal, and a few trips elsewhere, and now three months in Bangalore. But it felt bad to see people around me, who stayed at hostel like me; cry for home, particularly girls (it’ll be too honest even as a writer to admit this, but I get scared to see women cry, I consider it a bad omen. Even police torture doesn’t sound as scary to me). I was not dying to go home, but I wanted a break from the monotony of life at the academy.
Inevitably, many plans were planned and cancelled till the six of us, six left out ones decided to move out to Hampi in Karnataka. For some reason, I was not willing spend my holiday seeing history. I come from the land locked state of Madhya Pradesh, and I never saw the beaches. And for some other reason, I wanted to go alone. I wanted to spend some time with myself- just me and my solitude. Just as the six of us reached Bangalore city junction, I pointed my finger in the opposite direction. I moved to Majestic and boarded a bus to Pondicherry. This act of mine broke five hearts, my apologies for that.
My parents told me well in advance not to go alone, but when did I say I listen to them? As Chetan Bhagat put it in The three mistakes; humanity would not have progressed so much if people listened to their parents all the time. If I listened to them, I would have been a Doctor not a Banker. Anyways, since I did not tell them about this trip, I made sure I inform some of my confidantes in different parts of the country, so that if something goes wrong, I’m not shot with a question like “what the hell are you doing in Pondicherry?”
The bus I boarded was rather empty, other than me there were a couple of Bangla speaking girls who thought I was staring at them till I fell asleep. There was also a group of hippies, about half a dozen of them, and a few other couples. I was alone, and willingly so. The bus stopped a couple of times during the eight-hour trip. Every time I picked a cup of tea as it is my poison. I did silly things like changing my caller tune, then putting my phone on silent, hiding it somewhere, then borrowing the conductor’s phone telling him my phone was missing when I wanted to check on my caller tune.
Despite two cups of strong tea. I fell asleep. Morning when I woke up, I was in the Union Territory. Auto drivers are always there to welcome me to every new city I go to, I picked one fellow, told him my budget for the hotel room and he drove me to the French colony. After a few disappointments, I got a good bargain. Before I checked in, the autowallah got greedier. He asked me, ‘Sir, do you want a girl?’
‘No thank you.’ I said to him and he left.
Chutiya sala. I said to myself after he left. I was in Pondicherry for beaches, and only beaches. If I want to meet a girl, I’ll do it myself.
I checked in, switched to MTV to check out new trailers and tracks. I seldom watch TV at the academy. Just as I finished with the three S (shit, shave and shampoo) and came out, it looked like Pondicherry also took a bath. It was raining torrentially. But little did I care, I went out to the Mission Street to rent a vehicle, as much as I wanted a Bajaj Avenger, I had to pick a Hero Honda Splendor for its mileage. I decided to skip my breakfast which I rarely do. I ran through the city many a times, finally parked nearby the Gandhi beach. It isn’t that it is one of a kind in the world, but sitting there on the rocks, waiting for every high tide to drench me in salty water top to bottom was unique. My phone almost died out, but like me, it woke up in some time, fought back and started working again. The beach was pleasantly silent in the morning; but it was full of cajoling in the afternoon when I returned for lunch.
I returned to my hotel room to change, as I was totally drenched in sea water. Lunch was at the famous Le Café. The food was OK; I don’t care much for meals while on a trip. The time and the memories are more nutritious than the meals. My memories of lunch in Pondicherry was sitting on the terrace, overseeing the Bay of Bengal. Pondicherry is also known for cheaper liquor. At one store, I asked for mineral water. The shopkeeper had to search for it through the beer bottles that populated his fridge.
I went back for a ride through the market and the French Colony. Then I rode to the outskirts of the city to Auroville, and on my way back I spent the late afternoon on Auro beach. That was my time of the day. This was the beach that I always wanted to see. Calm sand, tides approaching you, everyone busy with the sea. On a beach, you are never alone. The waves are always approaching you. They’re coming to play with you. I was not alone on Auro beach. The sea water welcomed me, hugged me, and played around with me.
I returned to the hotel room, drenched again. Stayed there for while, changed for dinner. My dinner was traditional Pondicherry fried rice with prawns and eggs- one of the best things I have ever eaten. That brought me to the end of my trip. For someone like me who has given up smoking and is very particular about his boozing company (drinking alone is a sin for me), Pondicherry might sound insipid. But that one day was actually what Pondicherry tourism claims it to be- give time a break. The place brought me out of the monotony of life. It let me forget everything I wanted to forget.
Louise from north England was the added attraction of my trip. I was lying bare-chested at the Auro beach; seawater ran through me till my waist. Just then, a shadow crossed me and I suddenly opened my eyes. It was a blonde hippie walking alone by the beach. Obviously, but slowly, I got up, put my tee on, and just checked if it was a dream or a reality. She turned back and we exchanged smiles.
‘Travelling alone?’ I asked.
‘Yes, I love to travel alone.’
‘Where are you from?’
‘I’m Louise from England.’ We shook hands as I introduced myself.
We talked about her job, my job, her passion (travelling) and my passion (writing). Upon learning that I have written a book, she complemented me by saying that in China they say there are two big achievements in a man’s life- one is to write a book and the other is to have a son.
‘I’m happy that I’ve already achieved half of my life. For the rest half, a lot of prior arrangements have to be made.’ I said. She laughed.
I drove her back to the city on the rented Splendor. The Gods were on my side as it started raining heavily and I stopped my back and we waited by the roadside for the rain to stop. Two perfect strangers under one umbrella.
Louise was dressed as a hippie should be; I prefer not to get into the details of it (for obvious reasons). She had long hair, which is always a turn-on for me, brown eyes; she was a tall British lady. I had good conversation with her. Good conversation turns me on more than anything else. We returned to the Gandhi Beach where we walked through the length of the beach, and talked a lot. As usual the girl was talking and the boy was supporting the communication with yeah and I see. I mean girls are all the same round the globe. John Gray was right- Men are from Mars, Women from Venus. She was travelling alone in India starting from Ladakh.
‘Do you find India safe for women?’ I asked I don’t know why.
‘Yeah, mostly. I had situations, but I knew avoided them.’ She acted as an ideal guest and did not say a word against the host country. But I read between the lines that she had troubles now and then.
‘Can I ask you for a cup of coffee?’
‘No’ she said, as I added one more to my counts of unsuccessful date proposals, ‘I prefer tea. I really like Indian street tea. You call it chai, right?’
‘Right’ I smiled ‘let’s go for a chai.’
We sipped two cups of tea back to back on a street-side tea stall. It was a perfect date between a desi boy and an English memsahib.
I dropped her at the Aurobindo Ashram. We shook hands and hugged. We did not exchange numbers or email-ids or even clicked a photo. This was because of two reasons. One, somewhere in some corner of my mind, she reminded me of the evil hippie in various travel stories (refer to Christine from Dil Chahta Hai). And two, the more important reason, we had good time that was more important than anything. We were good to each other till we were together. It was great till it lasted.