Over the weekend, M & I visited the the former French Colony* of Pondicherry, often nicknamed Pondy. (Recently, it has been proposed to change the name to Puducherry — although that doesn’t seem to have much momentum in causal speech.) Pondy is also the hometown of Pi, the character in the novel/movie Life of Pi.
Aside from the heritage buildings in the French Quarter (aka Ville Blanche and White Town), the Sri Aurobindo Ashram (reportedly one of the most famous & wealthiest ashrams in India) and the Auroville new-age-world-peace-commune outside of town, Pondy is know for its 1.5 km beach promenade. The length is almost always cited, as if it is part of the name!
In the morning the promenade is less crowded. There are old men strolling for exercise, couples sharing breakfast on the rocky shore, homeless slowly waking from their sleep under the giant, watchful statue of Gandhi…
But the promenade comes to life in the evenings. The fresh fruit, ice cream and cotton candy vendors dotting the path so that a new refreshments option is available ever 50 feet or so. Hawkers with toy drums, decorative metal garlands, postcards and other wares. TONS of families, young couples holding hands, and groups of teenage boys (in India, it appears that there are never corresponding groups of teenage girls) meandering down the path or seating on the rocks.
With the sea and the fishing boats as a backdrop, it’s quite picturesque from a distance.
However, in a shameful omission of urban planning, there are no trash cans to be found along the whole promenade. (This is no unique to Pondy, it’s a rather common state of affairs in India.) Years of plastic fruit cups, plastic ice cream spoons and other trash have been accumulating among the boulders that make up the rocky shoreline. It’s a real disappointment to see the most prominent feature of the town — something valued by locals and tourists alike! — treated so shabbily. I chose to focus on the big picture and tried not to allow myself to get too distracted by the trash. The big picture really was beautiful.
*Pondicherry was a Roman trading port dating back to the 1st century. It was under the rule of various Indian dynasties until it became part of “French India” — at one point a rather large % of present day India! Pondy was part of the French East India Company from the 1600’s until the 1950’s. In fact, it remained French well after the rest of India won Independence from the British. (That was news to me!). Many of the locals still speak French today. There seemed to be a presumption that Western looking people in this town are French: I was greeted often by local Indians in seemingly fluent French. (I use the qualifier “seemingly” only because my own French is pathetically limited.)