Post-Elizabeth & Post-I. Duncan, too

I sent off Elizabeth this morning, sadly, but for both of us, I think, there was justifiable pride and real pleasure at the success of our Mother-Daughter Adventure. She is a hoot, with her vintage Cathay Pacific tennis bag (“I picked it up in HK awhile ago.”). She’ll sleep tonight in the (Kuala L.) airport, be with Roy tomorrow.

After she left, I set out to visit, i.e. go inside, my first Hindu temple. Purported to be the largest in India, Sri Ranganathaswamy is much more like a city, w. scores of shops outside and inside hawking bronzes, statues, as well as flowers and other offerings for the temple. I walked over the cool sand of the first couple courtyards towards a candlelit dark altar – Vishnu, I figured – where I watched a middle-aged Brahmin standing in nearby accepting pilgrim worshippers’ offerings. I had bought a “camera” ticket, and even though I didn’t see anybody else w. a camera, I needed to snap this one. And I did, and my flash went off.

Then it began.

The Brahmin started shouting ,“Get out! No! No! Get out of here!!” Another, gentler type in a khaki uniform came over and pointed directly above the altar, where I saw the English sign, enormous block letters: NO CAMERAS ALLOWED. I thanked khaki, stared back at all the worshippers who had turned around to stare at ME, and shook the dust of that altar of my feet…feet, not sandals, b/c of course my sandals had been left in a box near the temple entrance. I retained – along with my camera “ticket” – another handwritten one which said “box”. This notation was to distinguish my sandals from the 100 others that were stuffed,not into a nice box on the floor like mine, but into wooden squares nailed to the wall (think “preschool cubbies” or “faculty room mailboxes”).

I kept going, took some photos, really wanted to take some of people, but felt it seemed too intrusive. Eventually, I put away my camera and entered another altar space about 3 courtyards away from the Screaming Brahmin. I got in a long line, and was snaking my way towards the altar, when from behind, I heard, “Hindus only!” Then in front of me a guard yelled, “No non-Hindus!” How could they tell? But few minutes later, I found yet another altar in another inner courtyard, and saw a Western (German?) couple, so followed them at a distance (send out the cavalry first). Another guard said, “Non-Hindus not allowed,” and they, aggressive types, retorted, “Yes,thank you, we know, we know…” I’ll do that next time.

I went out the same way I came in, a miracle b/c there are 7 entrances and exits to the temple; I had told my driver one hour, but was only inside 50 minutes, so of course he wasn’t around when I needed him. I walked up and down the street, looking as purposeful as I could (i.e. stern), stepping over children and dogs, dodging a cow and other beings, and by the time I circumnavigated less than half the outer wall, my driver was there. I couldn’t remember all of his license number, and everybody drives a white car, so I knew I’d never recognize the actual vehicle, but I remembered the driver: beard, 2 horizontal white stripes on this forehead, pierced in the center by a red dot.

After the Hindu temple, I thought I’d try someplace where nobody would turn me away, so I asked Rajav to take me to Lourdes Church. He parked across from the church, 4 lanes of traffic away, but I’m beginning to understand that an old woman with a cane has power, except with a cow or goat (dogs, yes – I just poke a little, or threaten to, and they’re gone ). I got over to the other side of the street, went inside, where I saw no chairs, but found several Indians kneeling on the marble floor, so I did that. I took some photographs, so I could remember that Southern Italy has nothing on India: brilliantly colored statues, garlands of red and yellow arcing across the Gothic ceiling.

I went next door to St Joseph’s College, all pink and white, and peaceful, watched over by several guards and many shady coconut palms. The Jesuits know how to do things.

Then we went to the mall I’d read about. “Mall”, as in the south of India, is not “Mall” as in one of the Dales. ALL I wanted was a pair of black salwar (pants), but they only had sets, so I refused to buy anything. Yes! Still, it was a great going to the vendors and realizing I had my Rajav there, so when they said “10% Discount” I figured, if I had wanted to buy anything, it would have been a good price, even though, in retrospect, I know he would have been getting a slight commission. And good for him, too.

It was after our visit to the mall, when I was not concentrating on what I was doing, that I jumped across a small ditch (I do this easily now, remembering never ever to look into the ditch). Dropping down into my seat in the back of the car. I yanked the door closed, and as the driver was pulling away, I started tugging on my dupatta (a nice black scarf , v. jaunty, with its bead trim). . But I’d caught it in the door! And after looking around at the cows and people,the cars and auto rickshaws, the bicycles…you get my drift. There was NO WAY I wanted to open that door and pull my scarf back inside. Really, I thought, “I wonder what Isadora Duncan’s last words to herself were?” Then we almost immediately pulled up to a RR crossing, and I had 10 minutes to arrange myself, dupatta and I no worse for wear.

Sri Ranganathaswamy

One (of 7) gopuram...far too many entrances/exits (Story, ABOVE)

Warrior Pillars

Warrior Pillars, Sri Ranganathaswamy



There seem to be more of them here, or possibly I’ve just been closer to them.

My New Survival Strategy

I took this – admittedly, intrusive – photograph of neighborhood women who had just filled their bags with rice and were about to put them on their head and walk home. When they came over and asked me for money, I was nonplussed, but since then I have started to adopt Elizabeth’s strategy: keep track of how much I’d give, how many times I’d give it. Find a good local NGO (there are several in Pondy), and send the money there.

Surviving the Auroville Way

We spent one morning at the Auroville Paper Factory, where Elizabeth was in heaven,coming away with several possibilities for her work with ThingsAsian. She is nearly finished with a book on Asian hand papermaking, so to say she was impressed by what they do there and how beautifully they do it, says a lot about the place.
We saw the marbled paper in the photo below being made! I’ve made a fair amount of paper and have dreamt of being able to do this marbleing technique, so was hypnotized watching the men spill/drop oil paint into washtub-looking containers then fanning the vats until they were satisfied with their design. They lay the paper over the liquid, do some sort of incantation [I’m making this part up], then peel away the paper, revealing those gorgeous effects that bookbinders as well as stationers and letter-writers love.

As for Auroville itself, and The Mother, and the Matrimandir (a golden dome/ meditation hall) said to house the largest (70cm diameter) solid crystal in the world — I have a few reservations.

Images of The Mother are everywhere in Pondicherry: one was at our guest house, several were around the various buildings comprising the paper factory, and dozens more were in Pondy restaurants. To me, the ubiquity of her image suggests that this French woman/artist-turned-guru (d. 1970’s) founded a haven for New Age expats…2/3’s of the 1800 members of the ashram are Western. On the other hand, they do some good, “green” work, and at our guesthouse one of the ashram members gave incredible Ayurvedic massages – so, my reservations may partly be sour grapes: for 8 months I tried to get reservations at one of the guest houses out in Auroville and was turned down each time I wrote! We did learn this, from others staying at our guesthouse in Pondy: you have a better chance of getting in if you just appear at the Visitors’ Center in Auroville.

Next time!

Marbled Paper, Auroville Paper Factory: I rambled on about Auroville, above, but have no photos, either from there or from the paper factory: none from Auroville b/c it was just too, too odd an experience. Also, I was busy, ahem, shopping, or anyhow browsing, wasn't I? The boutiques in Auroville have beautiful silks ( salwar kameez, dupattas, saris, even silk picture frames and jewelry), magnificent incense, and great quality ceramics!
No photos from the paper factory simply because there are signs ALL OVER warning against it. We were touring/talking with the Asst Director, who was equally clear about the ban...

Survivors: Pondicherry

3 Neighborhood Survivors

At our front door

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