White Town

Pondicherry

Day One – 9/10/16

At the bus stand in Majestic last night, a boy stood with karpura, agarbatti and a coconut in front of a Greenline bus. The Phoren woman next to me panicked a bit and asked her friend what he was going to do with it. Before the friend could answer, the coconut had been smashed to pieces on the concrete, bits and pieces flying everywhere.  We all held our breaths for a while and watched as the Karpura burnt a brilliant orange first before dying out a nice, warm yellow. The man on my right said that he was relieved it was not his bus. The Phoren woman smiled but looked unconvinced. I think she wanted to go in that bus.

Sleeper buses can be fun. As long as there are no crying babies aboard. As it turns out, I did have a crying baby in the berth next to mine and an irritating girl in the berth above who listened to some asinine music on speakers –full volume that too. I did the only thing I saw fit. I fished out my phone and played some equally asinine music on loud. She persisted and I kept increasing the volume on my phone. I was a little disappointed though. Nobody complained. Eventually, her song got over and bitch went to sleep.  When I woke, Pondicherry was slowly coming to its morning outside my window. I saw the sun first and then the dry bits of land and then the sudden uprisings of sugarcane.

pondicherry

***

My room wasn’t ready yet. So I walked into Café Des Art.  I’d just had a remarkable morning. My body has timed itself to a 6:20 defecation mode.  So as soon as I got off the bus, I ran into JIPMER and hounded people to show me the way to the toilet.

At Café Des Art, I went to the toilet to cleanse off remnants of a bad stomach morning and walked in on a poor white man who raised himself off the commode when he saw me. I ran away quickly even as he chanted numerous apologies. I spent the remainder of my time at the café hiding from the man.

***

I read Kundera and drank chai. M once told me that he can never finish reading a Kundera because Kundera says things that require one to put the book down and think. And sometimes, there’s no end to this thinking.

This is true.

Nothing absorbs a human being more completely than jealousy. When Kamila lost her mother a year earlier, it was certainly an event more tragic than one of her husband’s escapades. And yet the death of her mother, whom she loved immensely, caused her less pain. The pain of her grief was benignly multicoloured- there was sadness in it, and longing, emotion, even a serene smile.  The pain was benignly dispersed in all directions. Kaila’s thoughts rebounded from her mother’s coffin and flew off toward memories, toward her own childhood, they flew off toward dozens of practical concerns, they flew off toward the future, which was wide open and where, as consolation, her husband’s figure stood outlined.

The pain of jealousy on the contrary, did not move about in space, it turned like a drill on a single point. There was no dispersal. If her mother’s death had opened the door to a future, the suffering caused by her husband’s infidelity opened no future at all. Everything was concentrated on a single image.

***

White Town is very quiet through the day. The houses are painted a polished, translucent white and the compounds are all yellow with patches of dirt. The doors are occasionally green but mostly they are white. Like from a Marquez novel, White Town and its people siesta in the noon.

The dogs hardly bark and just laze and nap on the steps. Most of the buildings have been pulled down and their ghosts collect themselves in heaps of powdery white cement. When I crashed and woke up well after noon, lunch was over in Pondicherry. Even my own guest house had closed their kitchen. Only one Madame Shanthe’s was open and let me in. I ordered fish but they gave me meat that tasted suspiciously like chicken. I ate anyway, paid and set off.

***

Travelling Solo was a lot more exciting when I did it that one time – the first time. Now that I know I can travel alone, it has become a lot less rebellious and more affected by dreary every day-ness.

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I came here for quiet, for time-off, for roaming empty streets in the middle of the night without having to worry about home or the next day. All of that remains. But there is a gnawing restlessness. While being by myself is always exciting, there’s just too much pressure to have an incredibly perfect trip. To wear the most comfortable clothes, to walk around aimlessly in shoes that don’t bite, to not have the hot weather bother you, to be lucky enough to eat only good food and to somehow manage to find time to do everything.

My room is matchbox sized with only the one window that opens to the backyard and to the direct view of everybody who is in the backyard. That’s why I keep the curtains drawn all the time, therefore endangering the only source of light. A dim yellow bulb hangs over the bed and this depresses me a lot. For the first time, I unpack haphazardly. I leave the bag on the floor, clothes strewn about. My tooth brush and paste are still in the bag and I am a little hurt by how unbothered I am by all of this.

If being unbothered by one’s capacity for alone-ness is growing up then I must say, I don’t like growing up so much.

***

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I walk for a while after lunch and start looking for a place to drink. I find Le Dupleix and occupy a corner table. I order beer because everything else is too bloody expensive. My beer comes with a bowl of crackers and I start writing. I am unfazed by tone, faithfulness to truth and other things that usually keep me away from writing. I stop at 5:30 and head towards the beach.

There is a crowd that is slowly gathering by the beach. People seat themselves in all kinds of positions atop the big black stones that line the beach. I choose a spot and around me are three families. In the farthest corner is a group of young people — the three boys are sitting on the topmost stones, and the girls are sitting in the gaps between the boys’ legs. One of the boys snatches away a sea shell that the girl was holding. He passes it to another boy and they watch as the girl screams and tells them to give it back. The boy swings the shell back and pretends to throw it into the ocean; the girl holds her breath and then breaks into a smile. She takes the shell back and resumes her position again.

On my left is a smaller group. A toddler who is balancing himself on one of the stones, his mother and aunt watching over him, a middle-aged man – his back to the ocean watching his son. In front of me, a small boy blows bubbles from one of those bottled liquid soap things. It has changed from the time I remember it. It doesn’t come with the tiny straw or the steel loop attached to it anymore. The cover of the bottle has a yellow plastic loop. The boy holds it high and waits for the wind coming from the ocean to blow bubbles. The wind must have been strong because the bubbles are big and are carried away to the other side. The toddler squeals with joy everytime the bubbles sit on his face and burst. His parents watch him longingly, pleased.

***

My restlessness seems to get worse when I am at dinner, which is Pina Colada and fish. The food is depressing but Kundera keeps my spirits up and running. I walk back to my room in a hurry. For some reason, I can never bring myself to stay out late in strange towns. When I am back, I tidy up, take a quick hot shower and lie awake for a long time.

At the beach, there was a woman who was taking pictures of her daughter and her toddler son. The daughter was sulking and the son was playing with the sand. After a while, the woman showed her daughter a picture she’d just taken and said, ‘You just want to spoil all the pictures no? You only pose when you want to pose. Just like your father’

***

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