La Boheme a la Pondicherry

Mimi and Rudolfo never had it this good. Mark and I are ensconced in a rooftop “apartment” of a condemned building, above the temporary offices of Shuddham, the NGO run by some friends of ours in Pondicherry. The narrow building is owned by a friend of Puru Kothari’s, who is going to tear it down as soon as he is able to acquire a piece (“just 10 meters”) of the lot next door. In the meantime, in lieu of getting a watchman to guard the building against squatters, we are doing the squatting.

While we were in Ahmedabad, Pune, Goa, and Belgaum, Puru and the rest of the Shuddham gang emptied the “apartment”, which had been used for storage, and made it habitable. They installed a ceiling fan in the main room (around 8’X12′), and put faucets and shower facilities in the bathroom. There is another small room next to the bathroom that could serve as a kitchenette but is now our clothes closet.

We arrived from Bangalore yesterday morning, and spent the early part of the day cleaning up the place and later shopping for basics, such as an electric kettle, some mats and towels, steel cups and plates, and cleaning supplies. Shuddham got us made-to-measure grass mats to cover the main room and acquired a couple of mattresses for us to sleep on. Replace the burning of furniture and books against the cold for a number of buckets to catch the leaks and you have the ideal romantic garret.

It has been raining here – all evening and all day today. The monsoon this year in most of India has been heavier and lasted longer than any in the past 10 years. In Bangalore, Chennai, and Pondicherry, the rains continue. Friends have been flooded out of their apartment in Bangalore, the water thigh-high. The roads everywhere are in horrible shape. (Our overnight bus ride from Bangalore to Pondicherry was like riding a small boat in high seas.) Fortunately for us, there is no wide-spread flooding here as there is in some of the larger cities from even light sprinkles of rain. The drainage, at least where we are staying, is keeping up with the continuous rain.

Today, we went out in the rain to get some provisions so that we can at least have breakfast in the room. Thanks to Auroville, there are a number of natural, organic products available in the local supermarket, such as peanut butter and jam, and fruit syrups. Local bakeries make some pretty good bread and rusks (slightly sweet, toasted pieces of bread). We won’t outfit ourselves to start cooking until after we return from Sudan.

A carpenter is here now, fitting the three open windows (one in each room) with frames on which to hang removable (velcroed) mesh screens which will hopefully keep the mosquitoes out. He is working on a Sunday afternoon, an hour’s bicycle ride away from home (in the rain) in order to prevent what happened to me in Bangalore and on the bus ride from Bangalore – around 40 bites on each arm.


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