Pondicherry is a small city colonized by the French on the Bay of Bengal about 100 kilometers south of Chennai. After traveling to The Ashram and Tiruvannamalai, I hopped on another bus and traveled 3 hrs east to the coast ,down from the mountains, arriving in a crazy city once again. I had expected to orient myself here in Pondicherry more easily because the map suggested organization and form, but as an ant deep in the tunnels of earth, I was lost in the tributaries of roads and had to ask a rickshaw driver to deliver me to the beach a kilometer north of the town where Rosa would be waiting for me. I hoped.
It cost me 150 rupees to travel 3 km in a rickshaw compared to 38 rupees in a bus for three hours. All in all, it had been a long day and the release of my full breath was evident when I arrived at Bodhi beach and Rosa was indeed sitting sipping fresh watermelon juice and smiling at the sight of me.
She had found a small hut stacked upon an equally small kitchen for the cafe that was run by ‘the Tibetan’. The cafe was a large wooden platform on stilts about ten feet in the air with a roof made of palm leaves. there were couches and low tables and fans hanging from the poles above. The Tibetan relaxed in a couch with a mouthful of chew and played rummy with his buddies. Folks came to sip tea, and smoke.
Rosa ordered me some juice and masala tea and I followed her up the ladder to my new home.
Rosa is a stoic fortress. She is the surrounding forest of thick trees. wild plants , herbs, and flowers that are everywhere, but well camouflaged, so you don’t see them at first. She offered her small space to me and once we began, it was similar to having one mind. I have no idea, truly, how she sees the world, and it would be presumptuous of me to assume she and I thought alike. We had a symbiotic way between us. I felt that we moved in the world in synchronicity, not the same at all, but…. in harmony. I felt no insecurity, no judgement from her and I thought she was magical and strong like Durga with a little Tara mixed in.
So feeling very lucky, I lived with her on this beach for a week.
3.25 million stories could be told about what occurred on that beach that week. from the perspective of the snake who hid in the fishing nets, to the frenchman who started a knife fight with the fishermen, to the grandma that held my hands in hers and cried when we left, to the Tibetan who lived there and liked reggae, to the dogs and the one I liked, to the baby that wore only a leather string around her bare belly like a necklace. From all those stories I’ll tell you the one from my perspective…..from my eyes:
It is morning now and the world has transformed. I dove in to the Bay of Bengal last evening at sunset, slept in a hut made of palm fronds overlooking a beach lined with fishing boats. There is the continual sound of the surf. It is dawn. Handfuls of men and boys climb into wooden boats that about 25 ft long shaped like canoes with proud bows. They are painted brightly. The boats have motors that push them through the surf and out into the vast ocean to find bounty.
Sleeping bodies on the beach wake and sit up. A handful of men casually form a circle. They squat and rock a bit with chin in hands or tucked in their armpits talking softly. A pair of boys rise off the beach. Wrapping a scarf around the shoulders and walking down the narrow road. Where are they going? Where did they come from? What will they do today?
Rosa still sleeps, so I quietly climb down the ladder and stroll north along the Coast. It is stunning with the sunrise, the powerful waves, the dark warm sand. I walk about a mile until I come to the next village and then turn back towards what I now call home. I watch men step out of the palm trees and bougainvillea and walk to the edge of the beach where the waves’ fingers barely touch and they lift their dhotis, squat, and take their morning shit. As I walk the mile back I see close to twenty men do this. I decide to swim in the ocean after the tide has taking their business out along with the plastic bottles, the strips of blue tarp, and the plastic bags.
And that evening, when I do swim in the waters, the wooden dories pour in from the wide deep blue. The dark silhouettes of the strong, lanky creatures carry the nets to the shelter of the bamboo lean-to’s. Two young men hang their free standing motor from a rope looped over a long piece of driftwood. Each end on their shoulders, distributing the weight of the engine, they walk struggling slightly until they unload it at the shelter. Calloused and cracked feet, wide and gripping through the sand. Motivation and ease color their expressions. The sun is setting. The waves whisper. They clap their hands across each other and sand flies off their skin as they are done with their day. They will return before dawn.
I am in love…..with nothing particular, with all of this.