Continuing our journey from Coimbatore and Mr M popularity over there, we travelled to Pondicherry / Puducherry (as it is called now). Puducherry was a former French region and you can see the remnants of those areas, streets, people living there. When we entered the city, Mr M commented that he was glad that he wasn’t the only foreigner around there and that he had spotted quite a few on the streets. We had a huge drama on the day we arrived in Pondicherry, thanks to the hotel we had booked and the driver we had hired for the trip. Let’s just say that we had to book a hotel then and there and also ensure we got a new driver travelling from Coimbatore overnight to ensure we still have a driver for the rest of our journey. I would have driven the car if it had come to that, but I really wanted to enjoy my vacation without the hassle of driving.
After sorting out all the problems thrown at us, we started the next day to book our Auroville Matri Mandir visit for the day after. We had no expectations of Auroville so it was quite surprising to see how huge it was. We didn’t stay there much longer as we had our visit planned to Chidambaram. We stopped by the beach for our lunch and there were two movie shootings going on. I was trying to get Mr M to appear in at least one of them, given his penchant for Indian dances and such 😉 But sadly it wasn’t his day. We were shooed away from the place because we were seen in the background somewhere in the dance scene. It wasn’t a popular movie anyway. 😛
Chidambaram is a very popular Hindu Temple. It has references to the Cosmic Science and you could see the idol of Nataraja in CERN too. My brother wasn’t quite sure if non-Indians were allowed or not (because some of the temples in South India, at least, have strict rules) so I had to check before we made the trip and it looked like we would be OK. As usual, Mr M was the only foreigner in that place and people seemed quite happy to ensure that he got a good darshan. We had a good darshan, went around the temple, took our time seeing the murti’s (idols) etc. When we were at the outer praharam (pathway) we came upon a few school kids (6th grade). So far, people went about their work, hardly bothered by a foreigner amidst them. But these kids were different. One of them (she was the gang leader) said hi to Mr M and he smiled and waved back. That was all the encouragement she needed. She called to her friends (total 6 of them, 4 girls and 2 boys) Seeing that I had a camera with me and was taking photographs of anything and everything, they gathered around us and demanded that I take their photographs too. I told them that I wouldn’t be able to send the photos back to them, but there weren’t bothered. They also wanted Mr M in the group photo and the girls wanted me in their group photos too (#GirlPower 😉 ) And then the volley of questions started. Where is he from? What does he do? Why is he here? Was I his wife? Do I have a baby? What language does he speak? etc etc etc. I was the official interpreter. It was quite funny to interact with them. Then Mr M offered to teach them some Gaelige (Irish). They were so excited. He taught them Good day (Dia Duit), Good bye (Slan) and another one which I have forgotten. Of those three things, they only remembered Slan. It was getting late for us and we had to get back to Pondy which is a 2-hour drive. We said our goodbyes and they responded with Slan until we turned around the corner. The whole temple heard their goodbyes in Gaelige. Mr M was very happy that he was able to bring Gaelige to Chidambaram even if it was just one word. We apparently made those kids day because they will have a story to tell their acquaintances about this Irish guy who taught them to say goodbye and we were glad that we met these lovely kids out there and share some good time with them and brought home memories (and photographs).
I told Mr M that any more interests in photographs/selfies with him will incur 20 Rs cost for the people. It would be a good business decision to do so 😉 In Auroville the next day after our trip to Matri Mandir and lunch etc, we decided to try cycling around the place. Auroville is home to lots of Europeans who moved there and are living there for years and years. It is a global city and has its own citizenship. He wasn’t an odd man out there. So I left him to find his way and I cycled a little ahead and waited for him. When he didn’t arrive I had to go back to check on him and found him being part of a selfie by another visitor 🙄 I knew I should have stuck to him and got my money.
The funny part is that when I try to take a selfie with him (and I suck at taking Selfies, so I have to try and take more to learn) he grumbles and mumbles. But throw in a stranger and he is alright with selfies. When asked, he said that if a photograph with him makes them happy, who is he to deny it. Grrrr!
Not just the places we visited, the restaurants we go to, there are two or three waiters are ready to serve him and then they stand close to him to attend to him. It is quite funny and freaky too. He was a little bit uncomfortable with that in a couple of places. But that goes with being a celebrity, doesn’t it? With popularity comes some awkward moments too.
Overall, he was glad to have those moments of popularity and that he could make someone’s day too. Travel is not just about visiting places, it is about these kinds of moments too and we had many such good moments during this trip.
During our recent visit to my hometown, we did a little bit of touring around. This is Mr M’s proper visit to Coimbatore, where we have stayed for a little longer than 2 days and have seen the essence of the city. He has seen enough of it now to know that he likes it much better than Bangalore. Coimbatore has its own share of foreign visitors but not in the league of Bangalore or Chennai. You don’t see them out and about even in the very posh area of Race Course or RS Puram. It is not every day you see a white man (aka Mr M) amidst them having a go at some of their food options (and rejecting most of them because they all have chillies in them) At least he is not stared at blatantly. You can see that the people are intrigued as to what the white man is doing there in a busy place like Town Hall wandering among the crowd in those narrow lanes which at best of times feels like a never-ending maze but they don’t stare at him and make him uncomfortable. He is definitely an odd man out but only for a few seconds and then everyone gets back to their own livelihood.
The only place he was asked for a Selfie in Coimbatore was at an obscure restaurant where there weren’t any other customers and we were quite early for lunch ourselves. The waiter was very shy to ask him and kept mumbling to him but finally, we figured out what he wanted when he showed us the phone and Mr M was only very happy to oblige. I wonder what was written about Mr M in that waiter’s Instagram photograph? At least Mr M made his day.
When we visited a remote rural school the two girls who took us on a tour of the school were only too happy to show their expertise in English and they were really very very good. I didn’t have to translate at all. (In most places I was the official interpreter for Mr M) During the tour, if I remember correctly it was the 3rd-grade student’s room we were being shown and how they are taught using wooden puzzles and such when the students started filing in after their break outside. The moment they saw Mr M they all got very excited and quite literally mobbed him and bombarded him with questions. I quietly let them enjoy their moment alone and went and stood outside laughing my heart out. He was trying to answer each and every kid’s question as to where he was from, what was his name, what was he doing there. You know how kids like to ask questions when they encounter someone very new to them. He was rescued after a few minutes by the teacher. You should have seen the look on his face when he stepped out. It was hilarious. The two girls apologized profusely to him as they couldn’t prevent that from happening and were equally flummoxed. This time though he asked those girls if he could have a selfie with them and they were only too glad to oblige.
At least those were the only times (as far as I remember) in Coimbatore he was treated like a celebrity. I told him that it would be the end of it as we were travelling to Pondicherry (Puducherry) next and since it is was former French region and with places like Auroville, he won’t be the only foreigner out there, so he can relax and enjoy the place. Well, I forgot that we were making a trip from Pondy, which turned out quite a different experience for him 😉
It has been a year since I was in India. In Bangalore, I have always had a two-wheeler (scooter) and a car. So I am used to driving everywhere. So when I came for the summer break to Bangalore, it was odd not to have the transport readily available (I sold one and left the other in my hometown). One thing that I have developed over the year of using public transport and walking as much as I can in London is that this time in Bangalore I have walked at least a km or two every day based on what work I have and where I have to be. For the past three days, I haven’t thought twice about walking around and I know that earlier I have had my reservations about it. It is still dusty, still very polluted, no proper footpath for pedestrians, still honking vehicles, but in spite of all that I am OK to walk around. It felt good. Since I had much work to do and it usually takes a whole day, I end up not relaxing or exercising. So I am using the walking as a form of exercise. It is not doing my sinus or allergies any good, but then my allergies have been there for a long time now and this isn’t causing any additional damage. If it is not the high pollen of London then it is the dusty roads of Bangalore. One way or the other it is going to affect me so I have decided to just take some precautions and leave the rest for my body to try and heal itself.
The one other main difference was the price of the autorickshaws. They have almost doubled over the year or so I thought. I nearly had a heart attack the first day when I hired one. I forgot how much internal damage these vehicles could do to your organs. I haven’t travelled in one for that long because of owning modes of transport. Thank God I had some light breakfast.
Hopefully after this week, after getting all the essential legal and financial work completed, I will relax and enjoy the vacation.
If I get good WiFi I will also try and post some photographs 🙂 Stay safe and Keep smiling.