• Pratik Patil

When Street Vendors Speak French

Unwinding down the hills of Kodaikanal, the bus is going dangerously fast; as if the driver’s just read some Sylvia Plath and doesn’t want to live anymore. I somehow survive and make it to Pondicherry.

After getting settled at the hostel, my lazy ass spends all day in bed. The host Senthil has a little daughter after whom the place is named – Valentine. I share the dorm with Sam (England). When I ask him about his place back home, he says, “This backpack is all I have in the world” How freeing it must be to have almost no material possessions! There's Dalia, the yoga instructor from Egypt, who could easily pass for an Indian. We talk about Mo Salah, Tahrir Square and of course, the pyramids. We’re joined by the French boy, Quentin, who’s still hung over from how underwhelming Auroville was.

We go around in the evening, exploring White Town. I’m dazzled by the magnificent imperial era architecture. The French influence is unmistakable. In one of the churches, I see a father asking his little son to pray - “Dear Lord, please help me with my studies”, and I think, “Yeah right! The God that didn’t stop the holocaust is gonna help you with studies!” On the beach, we watch the navy officers’ orchestra. They play really well. Pondicherry skies are beautiful in the evening. For the first time, I'm at a beach where there’s no sunset. On the way back, we get the gear – alcohol for everyone else and soft drinks for me.

After dinner, we chat and play cards on the rooftop, in the lovely ambience. The cool wind makes it even more relaxing. Sam is impressed by my knowledge of Britain and says, “A couple of pints and you’re a Brit!”

The next day I meet Shreya who’s just quit her corporate job in Bangalore to manage a vegan restaurant here. The clichéd vegan versus meat-eater debate follows before we agree to disagree and conclude with “Live and let live”. In the evening, I say goodbye to Quentin, Shreya, Dalia and Senthil. Sam and I part ways at the railway station. He’s headed to Madurai and me, home.

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