Don’t Mess Around With Beez: The India Adventures Tour Diaryas- Chapter Four.

 

The Life of Pondicherry

 The last time we checked in with Beez and his wife CC they were attempting to arrange safe and economic passage to Pondicherry, their hopeful homebase for the next several months. Pondicherry is a seaside town located on the sunny southeast coast of India.

 When we arrived in Pondicherry, we were amazed. It is clean, the roads are paved, it is small enough to understand (a ride across town on a bike takes about 15 minutes), and the roads are built on a grid system for easy navigation. They have created a boardwalk along the Bay of Bengal which is used by everyone to stroll up and down in the evening. The auto-rickshaw drivers do not constantly harass us, and, shameful as it may sound, we can get some relief from Indian food. We love Indian food, but we would never eat any food from any country for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday!

 

Our first few days in Pondicherry:

 

 In the middle of the first night in Pondicherry, we were awoken by the sound of drums around 4am. It went on for about one hour, which was a real bummer, not to mention that our hotel bed came straight from Madame Tussaud’s Torture Chamber in Niagara Falls. Later that day, we learned that the much-loved governor of Pondicherry had died that day. Whew! Corrina concluded that the 4AM drums were in his honour … until 4am the next night, same drums!! There is a saying in India, that the best way to punish your enemies is to give each of their children a drum!

 

 

We crash a wedding

 We got the hell out of that hotel and moved into a fully furnished two bedroom apartment with our first kitchen. The apartment was out of the downtown area; basically it wasn’t even on our tourist map of Pondicherry. To celebrate our kitchen, we went out to load up on some kitchen supplies. As we were walking home, around 6:30pm, we noticed a wedding happening in a reception hall. As we are nosey looky-loos, we sauntered over to peak in the door. Auspiciously, the father of the groom was peaking out of the door as we were peaking in, and he insisted that we come in. As we entered into the hall of 200 Indian families, they insisted that we go upstairs to eat. We refused twice, but this was not accepted, so we took our grocery bags and sat down for a meal.

 The food was served on long tables (maybe 40 feet long), facing another equally long table. Chairs are only put on one side of the table, the direction alternating between tables, so that we were facing 20 Indians as we began to eat. We were served the traditional Indian Thali meal of rice and a collection of ide dishes. The meal was served on a banana leaf. We realized we were going to have to take our maiden voyage into eating with our hands with 20 Indian relatives staring at us. They were quite amused as we ungraciously gathered the rice in our hands and shoved it to our faces, rice spilling everywhere (quite a contrast from their elegant and efficient rolling of the rice into a ball and placing it gently in their mouths). We washed our hands and went back to the main action which featured a band consisting of keyboards, three tabla players, drum kit, synth, guitar and three rotating vocalists.

 We sat beside the groom’s nephews. One nephew looked like the artist formerly known as Prince. He was 15, had a small scraggly beard, a long flowing robe and white scarf. As the music was quite loud, we wrote messages back in forth. Here are some outtakes:

 Beez: “Is this music religious music or pop music?”

Prince: “Dirty songs without any meaning. They are simply singing”.

Beez: “Do you like rock and roll?

Prince: (no response, more of a puzzled look)

Prince:  “Do you like old Tamil songs, especially Shwaji?”

Beez: (no response, more of a puzzled look).

 Then he asked me to tell him a joke in English. I could not think of one single joke that did not require some understanding of western culture. Okay, to be honest the only joke I can ever remember has a punchline that says “April Fools”. (I thought your favourite punchline was “but you fuck one goat!!!”? –ed). If you have to explain the punchline, it isn’t funny. Period. He told me a joke in Tamil instead and he laughed.

 Finally, the ceremony over, we attempted to leave but they insisted that we must EAT AGAIN! It was time for ‘the heavy meal’. It was only three hours later, but it was impossible for us to refuse, so we trundled back up the stairs with our groceries and eat with our hands AGAIN. This time three of the catering women stood in front of us and just stared. They were particularly staring at Corrina. Someone later said they stared a CC because she is the whitest person they may have ever seen! Although Corrina was dressed in a tactful, Indian dress with a scarf covering her shoulders, they seemed to be indicating that she needs to get a sari. Basically to them, she arrived at a wedding wearing just her underwear.

 Finally as we leave around 10pm, they invited us to come to the actual wedding ceremony at 6:30am the next morning.

 Well, we decided to go with the flow, so the next morning we got up and went for our THIRD free meal. During the ceremony, they had set up TV cameras to show pictures of the visitors. When we arrived, they gave Corrina a flower for her hair, which she put under her ear. Apparently, she was supposed to put it in her long hair in the back (but she doesn’t have long hair). The video camera guys get a picture of Corrina and put it up on the TV screens. Then they start doing some digital manipulation with her face, adding more flowers to her hair, flashing them on and off and adding a “bindi” (the red dot on the forehead) to her face. I must note that in the five hours we attended this wedding, there was not one other person that received any digital manipulation! We were just stunned.

 

Our Pondicherry Apartment

 We are getting excited about finding our own apartment. The one we are currently in is rented on a daily basis and is kinda dumpy. It is more like a hotel room with a kitchen. It does have cable TV, so we have been enjoying watching Law and Order, Throw Mama From The Train, and various BBC documentaries. Hopefully, we can get a better place.

 Though we get into lots of mischief and adventure, we aren’t really good at being “tourists”. We get bored at just “looking” at the culture. We want to learn how to live in this culture. We have been trying to find a “furnished apartment” to rent for four months, something off the beaten path of the Lonely Planet, but our attempts -looking in the local paper, asking the tourist information centre- haven’t been successful. There aren’t many other tourists here to ask, as it is monsoon season and it appears that very few tourists come to Pondicherry for more than a few days. Corrina and I specifically wanted to avoid the monsoon season, but somehow we misread the climate charts. We were expecting days of torrential downpours and the occasional hurricane, but so far the monsoon season in Pondicherry has been mainly thunderstorms while we sleep and a few hours of rain each day. Hell, that’s a nice weekend in Vancouver!

Before leaving Vancouver, Corrina and I had lunch with my co-worker, Senthil. We described to him that we wanted to find an apartment within a few hours of Chennai so that we could work on writing and painting, did he know anyone who could help us? He didn’t indicate that this would be possible, in fact he seemed to think it was a crazy idea, but said he would put us in contact with his family who will help us. Well, it turned out that Senthil’s father had a friend named Dr. Nahrajan who is the father-in-law of the ex-president of the Rotary club’s son, Mr. Sankar, whose cousin’s cousin, Mr. Tielly, has a fully furnished apartment to rent right “on the beach”. Would we like to go to see it?

 We can’t believe our luck. There are only six degrees of separation from a co-worker in Vancouver and the owner of a furnished apartment in Pondicherry, half way around the world!

After we get off the phone, we start to think, what does “on the beach” mean anyway? Is it a half an hour out of town with no electricity? A mud hut with a thatched roof and an outhouse (positive spin: romantic). We decided to give up trying to figure out what he meant but made up a list of all the requirements that we definitely must have:

 -electricity

- two rooms (one for painting at least)

- kitchen, (meaning fridge, hot plate, sink)

- it must be clean and reasonably bug free

 We would like to also have a bed, bedding, cable TV, pots, pans and utensils, close access to the city, a kitchen table and two chairs and a couch. But hey, we figure if the price is right, we can always buy all of these things.

 When Mr. Sankar came to pick us up to show us the apartment we were excited and nervous. After driving for about twenty minutes, he started to slow down on Goubert Salai (Beach Avenue)!! On the right, shiny white Mediterranean looking buildings, on the left the Bay of Bengal! We can’t believe our luck; the apartment is right in the heart of downtown Pondicherry in the prime tourist area. When we arrived we had walked past a hotel run by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and we thought, wow, the Ashram has got the best piece of real estate in this whole town. Now we’re their neighbours! (Hopefully, our boozin’, smokin’, heathen ways won’t disturb their divine vibe).

 We got on our cell phone right away to thank our contacts, Kirthiga and Mr. And Mrs. Subbaiah. We really are amazed at the process, the kindness of each person to give along the way, and that you can find an apartment on the other side of the world by talking to “friends of a friends’ friend”. Now if only rock super stardom was so easy! (I was talking to my wife’s cousin whose sister-in law is married to the Stroke’s drummer, she is setting you up with a tour!) (Your wife’s cousin’s sister in law is DREW BARRYMORE?!? – ed).

 Our beachside apartment has two air-conditioned bedrooms, two bathrooms, an “office” with a large picture window facing the Bay of Bengal, a very large, completely white dining room with a ten foot dining room table, and a kitchen.

 When we moved into our apartment, the first thing we did is put up the mosquito net that has been taking up 1/3 of my luggage. We have decided not to take our malaria pills, after much discussion, but this means that mosquito control is more important than ever. Somehow, it seems that despite our precautions, we are covered in mosquito bites everyday. One morning while we were riding around on our bicycles, I just went totally mental. We were out shopping, looking for some more household items and I basically turned to Corrina, in a panic, and said I had to go back to the house immediately. The mosquito bites had gotten so bad, I had to retreat to our apartment, turn on the AC and hide under the mosquito net.

 Now, we are leading the pure lives: up at 5:45am, making tea, watching the sunrise, going for a ride on our bikes around the city for exercise, working on our art projects and all of this is completed before noon! But I must admit that entertainment in Pondicherry is SLIMMMMMMMM. No bars, no bands, no music, no GAMBLING, no sports, NOTHING.

 But, if we try hard enough, there is always some strange way people interact or some strange sign to keep us entertained. For instance, there are signs that say “Exhibition-cum-Furniture” or “Warehouse-cum-Bookstore.” Apparently, this means that the store has a double function, but we giggle every time we see the spelling of “cum” (and if you don’t know what I mean, well forget it).

 

Biking Beats Boredom

 Every time I start to get bored, I get on my bicycle. As I described earlier, the traffic rules are organic. This is amusing to watch when you are in an auto-rickshaw, knowing that your driver is fully experienced with the seemingly anarchic road rules. But getting on your bike and contributing to the madness is like the difference between watching women’s mud wrestling and getting up at the arena, stripping off your shirt, and jumping in the ring yelling “I’m gonna womp these mamas!”

 It still seems amazing to me, but the rules are as follows:

 Don’t worry about what is behind you; that is their problem.

 If you make a right hand turn (Indians drive on the other side of the road than North Americans), the correct manner is to drive straight into the oncoming traffic, turn, drive straight into the oncoming traffic on your new street, then merge. Everyone just rides around you. In fact, if you don’t ride straight into traffic, it causes real problems, because then you are stuck motionless in the middle of the intersection (as you can imagine I have experienced a number of times) and all of the Indians are cursing cause they can’t figure out which way you intend to drive.

 I’ve caused other problems with my bike. Corrina and I decided to visit the Indian coffee shop on Nehru Salai, because it is where the book “Life of Pi” begins. Grant and Nick gave this book to me in March and I just couldn’t get inspired to read it. Finally, when I cracked the cover, realized that it took place in Pondicherry (DUH!!! -ed), I was mesmerized. I finished the book in two days. Anyway, there were hundreds of bikes in front of the Indian Coffee House. Each bike was delicately balanced on its kickstand, jam-packed beside each other. As I swung my leg to get off of my bike, in a perfect Mr.Bean move, I knocked over one of the bicycles. Now I’m holding my bicycle in one hand and attempting to grab the other falling bicycle, unsuccessfully, which set off a chain of events that ended up with, oh, maybe 30 or 40 bicycles crashing to the ground. If you like those commercials where dominos fall over, then you would really like this move, but if you are new in town, let’s just say you aren’t making many friends.

 

My Internet Café Dungeon

 I have only found one internet place in Pondicherry that will allow me to download my diaries from my Dana Alphasmart to their computers. I have to go up these stairs to a very tiny room with eight computers in it. The computer that has the USB port for my hook up is at the very front of the room, has a little tiny bench, which forces me to sit less than twelve inches from the screen. It doesn’t have any air conditioning and it constantly smells of teenage boys sweating. Why, you may ask? Well, it seems that my internet place is also the championship headquarters for some loud military multi-person video game. So as I do the final editing of my tour diaries, I am constantly annoyed by the sounds of guns and bombs, but mostly by the screaming, in FRENCH between the boys about who is the champion, who has just killed who and other such taunts. This annoying feeling was not new to me. It was exactly the same as listening to an action movie on the VCR while driving the Smugglers van.

 

Yummy Snacks

 Every day, we break a few of the rules about eating according to the Lonely Planet, and, thankfully, we haven’t been sick yet. The Lonely Planet advises tourists to be cautious when eating food made at little carts on the street. But we can’t resist the great little fried snacks, made before our eyes in a wok of boiling oil. Potato chips are particularly well done so fresh. Our favourite snack is the hot salted peanuts sold right outside of our door in newspaper cones.

 

Week 2 in Pondicherry: Yoga Classes

 By our second week in Pondicherry, our healthy ritual of rising at 5:45 for the sunrise was starting to slip a bit. Although Pondicherry is perfect for our “mission” (as the Indians like to say) -writing, painting, learning to live in one spot in India- we don’t have anyone to talk to other than each other. All of our other conversations are extremely light and shallow due to our inability to speak Tamil and for some reason we just aren’t meeting any other travelers. We decided that if we joined a yoga class, it would bring a little more structure into our lives and we could meet other, hopefully English speaking people at the class.

 So we joined a yoga class, which started at 7:30am each morning. When we got to the school, it looked very official. The school teaches dance for little children, has music lessons and yoga. Our yoga teacher has his own Yoga school and is a judge for the 10th annual International Yoga Festival. Unfortunately, though, it is a private class just for Corrina and I so we won’t be meeting any new people.

 On the first day of our yoga classes, I have to go by myself because Corrina was feeling slightly under the weather and decided to stay in. I got there on time, and waited for the Master to arrive.

 I was confused, as always. He arrived late (maybe it’s my western hang up, but the space we have rented is in a school that teaches other courses, surely they don’t run the classes on a loose timetable?) (go with the flow for fuck’s sake! –ed)

 I was expecting an old man to enter the yoga room, maybe someone who looked like Gandhi, arrives with a Cane, but like Willy Wonka, throws his cane to the side, does a back flip and says “let’s begin, little worm”.

 Instead, our tardy, Yoga Master is young (27?), tall and slim with the compulsory Indian mustache, was wearing jeans and a button down western shirt and groovy sunglasses. After a quick introduction, he proceeded to the mirror to check his hair before we began. We spent at least 20 minutes talking about his travels to Europe, then talking briefly about me. His ability to speak English is very limited, but like most of our conversations with ESL (English as a second language) people, I can understand what he is talking about, but he can rarely understand what I have to say. We do a little yoga, but during the session, he takes two calls on his cell phone. He then decides to wrap up the session a little early. I can’t believe we have found a lazy and vain yoga teacher.

 Over the next 3 days, the yoga sessions become more instructional, but the western clothes, the preening in front of the mirror, the starting late/finishing early, and the cell phone calls have all become part of the daily ritual. Pondicherry is such a small town, we’ve even run into him having lunch with his girlfriend. We noticed that he rides a motorcycle, which I guess explains his need to comb his hair every single time we see him.

 He indicated to me that, in addition to yoga, it is helpful to have an Ayurvedic Massage to stimulate the body. He is also qualified to do this.

 Corrina had an Aruyvedic massage, (basically a relaxing, hot oil, full body massage) in Varinasi which she thoroughly enjoyed, though she was a little shocked with how close the woman came to her private parts. Not in a sexual way, more in a mechanical way. If you’re going to rub someone’s inner thigh, there is going to be some back of the hand contact, right?

 The Yoga Master-cum-masseuse and I agreed that he should come to our house at 4pm on Friday, basically 8 hours after our third yoga lesson. Corrina decided that we need to get some curtains for our house, so she will be out of the house during my massage. “Uh oh, I really shouldn’t be left by myself!!!” She also gleefully warned me that I will have to get COMPLETELY naked for this massage. She giggled and left.

The “Master” arrived, late and on his cell phone. I am concerned that a “hot oil” treatment will leave a horrible mess, but he assured me that a towel on our spare bed will be fine. He tells me to take off my clothes and so I removed everything but my underwear. When we received a massage in Vancouver before we left, I took the conservative approach of leaving my underwear on, which was perfectly acceptable (recommended even? –ed). Better to be a little conservative in these matters, this is India after all.

 He removed his three large, gaudy rings, I lay down on my stomach and he started the massage.  Half way through the back massage, he took his first cell phone call, in our dining room. He came back and informed me that I must remove my underwear for the next part of the massage. Cautiously, I removed my under wear, lay down on my stomach again, and he continued with a hot oil butt massage. Hmmm. Feels pretty good!

 He indicated to me in some kinda of “grunt-speak” that I should roll over. Now, I’m feeling a little awkward. I mean, I feel a little awkward in the men’s change room walking around naked to go to the shower (while audibly singing the Cardigans hit “love me love me, say that you love me, touch me touch me” TRUE STORY! –ed), but hey, that’s definitely, my hang-up. What is so wrong with nudity, if one is in an agreed upon social setting?  Right? The Smugglers have changed in so many public places (usually not by choice!), that I’m no stranger to uncomfortable situations. And, although I’m a novice in this “getting a massage” world, being naked in front of your masseuse is like being naked in front of your doctor. Awkward, but clinical. Right?

 I rolled over.

 He rubbed my chest and stomach. He then told me that it is important to rub my testicles. Not only am I surprised by his, all of sudden, perfectly clear English, I am trying to decide if I can deal with him massaging my balls. I finally told him, “I’m not comfortable with that” and then, and I’m not kidding, his cell phone rings. He went into the other room to take the call. He complained that the signal in our house isn’t very good as he returns!

 Meanwhile, I’m lying on the bed, completely naked and greased up. I closed my eyes and he started the massage again, and then quickly squirts some hot oil onto my “testicles”. I opened my eyes and looked at him and repeated, “uh, I’m not comfortable with that”. He looked at me confused. “It is important for me to rub your testicles” he says again. I then realized, to my horror, that I had been too fancy with my English, I need to be more direct. I say: “NO TESTICLES”.

He shrugged, continued, and of course, left early.

 First it was the hand-holding policeman, then it was the butt/wallet/money-belt-rubbing hairstylist, now it has escalated to some friendly friction on the family jewels, what’s next? “Yes sir, that bike purchase comes with a compulsory anal probe, free of charge for you, please proceed to the back counter”.

 When I saw Corrina that night, she was VERY curious to hear how it went. As we strolled home along the boardwalk, I shared all of all of the gory details. She found it very funny, I’m still not sure if I find it funny, but I did feel very relaxed from the massage!

 As we walked by the street vendors, Corrina looked at me and asked “do you want to get any snacks?” This was quickly followed by “oh wait - I guess you’ve already had your hot nuts today!”

 We continued to walk and noticed that there are a group of men playing an Indian variation of “bocce” ball. There are about 10 men playing the game, which consists of two (or maybe three teams) throwing five metal balls into the opposite end of the dirt field. The balls are shiny silver. Corrina says, “I’d like to touch those balls, oh…I guess that’s the theme of the weekend”.

                                       

Coming next in Chapter 5: Beez goes the utopian society of Auroville and suddenly has friends visiting EVERY night.

 

To revisit Chapter One, click here!, chapter two, here, chapter three, here, or go back to the Smugglers homepage.