The last few days in Pondicherry have been magical. (Shades of the Celestine Prophesy in the way that we have been “running into” friends; shades of the Dark Arts in the way our cell phones have not been working.)
Late morning on the 15th of February, after having taken a nap following our sleepless overnight “sleeper” bus ride from Bangalore to Pondy, we rent a two-wheeler (what we would call a motorcycle; a “motorcycle” here refers to what we would call a scooter; an “auto” is not a car, but a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw…) and head towards an iWay Internet cafe, near the Ashram buildings at the corner of J. Nehru and Rue St. Louis in French (or White) Pondy. As Mark is locking the two-wheeler, I look up Nehru Street and see a tall, sari-clad woman with an open black umbrella round the corner and begin walking towards us. “Is that Pavi?” She is a block away, and my over-40 eyes are not so great, so I ask Mark to confirm. “Yes it is… No… ” At which point I have decided that it is, indeed, Pavi, and walk up to meet her, because she is, as usual, deep in thought. Well there we are. We’d planned on meeting somewhere in Pondy, but hadn’t specified a time or place. Our cell phones, for different reasons, can’t receive calls (hers because she’s somehow turned the phone off and can’t figure out how to turn it back on; and ours because our service provider is going belly-up and put itself up for sale and taken on subscribers but hasn’t invested in the infrastructure necessary to support them… don’t get me started…), so we’d just made our way into town believing that we would somehow be able to get in touch with each other.
On our way to find a place to eat lunch, we run into a smiling young man on a motorcycle (scooter), who turns out to be the guy whose bag Mark and I watched while he went to the restroom at Sharma Transport before getting on the bus in Bangalore. He is a teacher and administrator at the Ashram school, teaching 15-17 year olds, even though he doesn’t look much over 17 himself. Devdip gave us his phone number and asked us to call him anytime for a tour of the school, which we’d already heard a little bit about – an incredible learning environment with an integrated curriculum, no exams, and something like 31 subjects. A block later, we run into Mike Gilbert, who was getting a package stitched for mailing. He and his father Tim (who was at an Internet Cafe) had finished their bicycle trip throughout Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and were waiting for his mom, Suzanne, to join them for a few days in Pondy before she headed off to Madurai, New Delhi, Kathmandu, and a few other places I can’t remember.
Around 3pm the next day, we take our bag to the Park Guest House (we thought it would be easier for all of us to be more centrally located for Viral’s short visit), and once again, as Mark is parking the two-wheeler, I see Viral walking ahead of us accompanied by a Guest House staff person, heading to our room. Viral had not had a chance to check his email, didn’t have Smita’s number, didn’t know he was supposed to go to her house in Chennai and come to Pondy with her. Instead, he made his way from the airport to the bus station in Chennai and got on a bus to Pondy. Once he’d arrived here, he couldn’t get through to us, so he finally managed to get in touch with Pavi at the hospital, who told him to go to the Park Guest House.
These fortuitous, unplanned meetings continue to take place over the next day and a half. Pavi showing up at the Guest House after we’d gotten back from a meal. Smita turning up from Chennai at the Guest House as we were getting ready to leave for breakfast. Running into Mike (again) and Tim, who tell us that Rahul Brown just got into Pondy, and was also staying at the Guest House, in Room #8. Viral and I checking Rahul’s room later that evening, to find it dark, and walking back to the reception area to leave Rahul a message when Rahul comes walking towards his room. Viral, Smita, Mark and I coming across the store where Jayeshbhai and Anarben of Manav Sadhna, in Ahmedabad, had gotten Viral and Nipun khadi kurtas when they were here working on tsunami relief. All of us running into Puru, Maya and Bhupi, of the Golden Chain, who were about to shop for relief supplies and invited us to a distribution on Sunday at a village near Mahabalipurum…
Hanging out with Pavi, Viral, Smita, and Rahul; running errands; meeting interesting people, like Vijaybhai of the Sri Aurobindo Society, Terry and Teresa of IT Power India, Ajit of INTACH; attending a Western chamber music concert at the Hotel d’Orient… trying to squeeze as much into our days as we can before we leave for Chennai and then San Francisco.