Sitting on the sea-facing Park Guest House balcony, one can get lost in a zillion thoughts. Thoughts about beauty, thoughts about love, thoughts about...about thoughts. The sheer resplendence of the sun setting into the Puducherry horizon is enough to make you want to live for another “thousand suns”. The glistening waters of the Bay of Bengal in the last rays of the sun rejuvenate your eyes unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. I have never in 27 years felt so refreshed by something so mundane (that is, in Delhi).
What stands out within the Park Guest House, which is run by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, is the absolute separation of the “religious” from the “spiritual”. While the “religious” has been strictly confined to the private sphere, avenues for spiritual exploration—such as discussion forums, yoga sessions and spaces for contemplation—have been accentuated. This is in sharp contrast to the aggressive, in-your-face display of religious sanctimony with tridents, idols and garlands that is characteristic of the religious hot spots that are literally littered along the course of many of our rivers.
In the twilight, I venture out on foot for my first real tete-a-tete with Puducherry. I don’t have to go far. I meet a couple from Austria within the precincts of the guest house—they are on a long honeymoon, and have been here since last week. “It’s the most spiritually enriching place I have ever seen,” blushes Catherine. “Join us for dinner man,” invites Polkov. I jump at the prospect of enjoying their charming company, and also for a furtive sip of red wine. I gather through a mouthful of steak that Catherine’s mother, too, had come to Puducherry 30 years ago for her honeymoon. Catherine and Polkov, on a rather unorthodox honeymoon, have been cycling through south India for the last two months. Both took up handsome voluntary redundancy packages from their respective investment banks in the run-up to the credit crunch, and have decided to spend time travelling and rediscovering their purpose in life. What they would definitely not go back to is the trading floor at some European investment bank.
In the middle of a meal of amazing sear steak accompanied by Bosca Cabernet Rouge on the verandah of Le Club, it suddenly dawns upon me that the credit crunch will actually present an enormous opportunity for people who were not really into their day jobs to refocus their energies on something that is truly their calling. Talking to Catherine and Polkov also provided me enormous perspective on the differences in the approach of Europeans and Indians in dealing with the credit crunch. I learn that scores of their friends who were similarly placed have spread their wings and headed to different places for prolonged periods of time for similar purposes. I would look forward to the day when such people find what they are looking for and return to their abodes to commence new projects with renewed gumption. Suddenly, the credit crunch doesn’t look all that bad to me.
Back from a most engaging conversation with my new-found Austrian friends, I sleep on a comfortable cot by the window, dreaming of a seaside place of my own. A Puducherry of my own. I wake up at 3am and plonk myself on a lounge chair on the balcony. I have my camera around my neck. Sleep is out of my eyes, and this is the first time I have ever gotten up at 3am. Well, I guess it has been a journey of many firsts.
Dawn breaks and darkness gradually recedes beyond the sea line. I have my eyes focused on the viewfinder, and my mind is rolling. The clouds on the blue horizon fly like doves all around. Far away, at the jetty, I see a fishing boat. Everything comes to a standstill—the sun breaks through. My mind captures it all but not my camera. But who’s complaining? I have lived through one of the most fascinating and fabulous moments of my life. I will come back to you, Puducherry. Sometime, when I have grown to savour and relive this again.
Saionton Basu is an advocate in the Supreme Court of India. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org