Wednesday, February 24

Pondi trip - Day 6

(Check vacation snaps @ http://picasaweb.google.com/anuja.rathi/PondiTripFeb2010?feat=directlink. Do read the posts below this to get info prior to this day)

Friday.

Almost time to go back.

Time to return to the daily grind at work and home.

And I hadn’t entered the water yet? Shame on me! Time to head to Auro beach again.

I must have told you this before – I love the beach, I can sit and watch the waves for hours and think about everything and nothing at the same time. It calms me, makes me feel relaxed and spiritual. I think about people and places, things and activities with an objective tranquility that I get nowhere else.

On this occasion, however, I was gona do less of thinking and more of action!

I was eager to try out my swimming dexterity in a real live sea replete with salty water, tides and all. Guess what? I could barely move an inch against the water. The power of the waves is so absolute that it takes Herculean effort to even stand in one place, forget move according to your volition. The best way to enjoy oneself is to wear a lifejacket and lie down as the water does a foxtrot under you. The fluorescent jacket I rented for 50 bucks was so worth it!

The guy even took me into the middle of the sea and left me there to float. My heart skipped a beat when my legs couldn’t touch the ground, but the jacket kept me above the water and gave me security. I don’t know why I just couldn’t stop giggling once my initial hesitation gave way; it was as if the water was pumping nitrogen (or whatever that triggers uncontrolled laughing) around me. It was lovely, lying on my back, watching the blue sky and fluffy white clouds, moving in response to the command of the sea.

Not surprisingly, I was baked brown and tanned like an ancient potato thanks to this feat. Worth it, again.

The water’s always rougher at the beach-end than it is in the centre, did you know that? The tide washes you ashore and takes you back in again, and the sand stings. It’s like the sea cannot decide whether to keep you or chuck you out. I love it nevertheless. Have been kicked and stroked by people all my life, so what’s a lifeless water body?!

After 2 hours, I was as tired as tired could be. After a warm bath later, I was ravenous and wanted to feast on Punjabi food in general, and Palak Paneer and Roti in particular. I was ready to be disappointed, but I wouldn’t give up without trying. I asked an obliging auto-wallah where I could get some nice North Indian food. Without batting an eyelid, he said the magic word - “Surguru”.

Surguru is undeniably the MOST illustrious restaurant in Pondicherry. Its visitors include foreigners and localites desirous of eating hygienic vegetarian food, cooked in South as well as North Indian style. I watched enamored as Americans and Tamilians dug into their South Indian thali with bare hands and had their fill of rice and rasam, as sincerely and unperturbedly as if they came here and ate this way every single day of their lives. Sweet! The place looked cozy and clean, and the prices were decent. I ordered a Palak Paneer – Roti that cost 40 bucks and then another extra roti with some fried papad. Aah… Satisfied beyond description…

Once the hunger pangs were satiated, my eyes roamed around hungrily to absorb the different sights, behaviors and experiences. They settled on a typical South Indian pair, and I couldn’t look away for the next 15 minutes. I was conscious that I was staring, and I know it’s impolite to do that, but Anuja does not care when Anuja wants to learn and grasp.

The man was dedicatedly mixing his rice with everything that stood on the table – curd, salt, sambhar, vegetables… And with every single thing that was added to the concoction, he licked his palm, evaluated the taste, screwed his nose and continued adding more. As he acted out this ritual, he kept glancing up to his wife who was talking non-stop, and made a few mono-syllabic comments (just like all men do). His wife looked a little more scary than the demons they show in the Krishna and Ramayana serials, and when she grinned, I almost took to heels.

No sooner had the woman taken a sip of her buttermilk, than the man decided his food was muddled enough and started popping it into his mouth with astounding speed, grace and precision. I was trying to study his hand-mouth-eye coordination but need I say I found myself ridiculously incompetent. He did not even have to look down at his plate as he tossed a ball of rice into his overstuffed mouth. Now that was a WOW moment! Risking being criticized for disregarding privacy of other people, I took a video of the entire sequence. (Have not been able to upload it on Picasa, but would sure love to share it with you somehow.)

I got back to the hotel and curled up on my bed, watching TV and reading Memories of Midnight. This story was so much better than the previous one. Constantin Demeris, the wicked villain was a bloody criminal with no fear and no mercy. I hadn’t read the prequel – The Other Side of Midnight, but the plot was evident in the sequel. Shall elaborate on the story later. But this one’s a book you should surely grab if you love a good read.

Hey hey, almost 9 o clock! I’d spent a great deal of my evening glued to the beguiling paperback. Where was I heading for dinner? Ting tong… Hadn’t I said I’d visit Le Space sometime? Plan in place.

May I be allowed to say that one of the best nights I had in Pondi was at this snug little joint. And that means a lot, since every night of mine here was better than the previous one!

The Space restaurant is indeed little, I don’t think it would seat more than 30 people at a time. And the way it is decorated and presented is so simple, cheery and informal, you instantly feel like you belong! There are a few funny/scary portraits that adorn the brick walls, possibly put up for reasons more sentimental than aesthetic. I settled down in an armchair situated right on the balcony and waited to be handed the menu card. Card, did I say? Well, who could be bothered about all that fuss?! Within a moment, a sweet boy called Ranjit came up with a white-board that displayed their offerings for the day - some cocktails, 1 or 2 snacks and a couple of dishes that could not exactly be called main course but would be good enough for me nonetheless. Not much variety, but I didn’t care.

The atmosphere was so calming and the service so friendly, I bet I’d have visited this place every other night had I known of it earlier. Nee2 – the owner who made it a point to explain to all his guests that he was clad in a lungi-kurta for traditional reasons (it was Mahashivratri that day) – came up to me and was gracious enough to invite me to a party that same night at another hotel. I politely declined, but I asked him to make sure my time at Space was as delightful as possible. And he did ensure that. So, all the Sex on the Beach that came on my table was guaranteed to create a high and the Spaghetti was yummy. Of course, I blundered by ordering Honey Chicken that tasted as if the poultry was a Maal-pua dipped in honey. Yuck! Struck off my list for life. Don’t try this at home… or anywhere else, for that matter.

What was amazing was that the host, staff and guests knew each other so well! They were hugging and chatting merrily, and I found out that some of the people who were waiting on tables and serving the customers were not staff at all, but in reality, guests themselves! How sweet is that?!

I befriended a guy called Felix that way, courtesy a very cute conversation. I am obsessed with being pally with decent waiters and I asked him his name.

“Felix”

“What?”

“Felix, like the cat.”

“Oh, why don’t you smile then?”

“I do, but I am conscious now coz I have braces on my teeth.”

“But that’s awright! C’mon let me see you smile.”

Blinding brightness.

(He was dark as coal, so obviously his skin wasn’t the cause of the luminosity.)

“Cool!”

Later, when I had to use the washroom, Felix ran ahead of me and said “I’m in a rush, please!”

“Sure”

After 5 minutes that seemed like 5 hours to me…

“Hello? Are you sleeping?”

“Nooo, I take time.”

“Dude, get out!”

“Where are you from?”

“Mumbai… Will you come out today?”

“Yes. Do you want to party tomorrow?”

“No thanks. Nee2 asked me but I’m heading back tomorrow noon.”

“Let me know if there’s a change in your plan.”

“Felix, GET THE HELL OUTTA THERE!”

When I reached Ginger at midnight, I was pleased as punch. I was going back home tomorrow. But the sadness of that truth could not mar the elation I felt at having spent a marvelous vacation. A week had passed by like the breeze. I did not wana go back.

I wana live like this forever… Until the sky falls down on me…

The lyricist and singer of Savage Garden knew that life can’t be the same forever, and so did I. Well, things can wait. My departure’s still 12 hours away… Time for a midnight snack at CCD.

- Princess

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