Wednesday, July 21, 2010


"The City of Dawn," Northwest of Pondicherry, was designed by French architect Roger Anger in 1968. Conceived as a utopian paradise by The Mother, Mirra Alfassa, it was devised as a international city where people would live together in peace. 2,100 people live there, including a friend of mine. As she cheerfully gave Janna and me a tour on her motorbike (yes, we were three on the bike and it was fun!) and by foot, I was amazed by its serene nature, as well as its avant-garde architecture, merging together modernity and a multicultural flair. I was surrounded by reminders of different cultures, from Japanese gardens, to tropical fruit trees, to peacocks roaming the grounds, to Ukranian and Brazilian Aurovillians at the delicious European/Indian cafe where we ate. I left feeling tranquil and content to have visited my dear college friend in her fascinating environment.
The first image above includes the Matri Mandir, a meditation center. This spherical marble chamber has a crystal placed inside it, reflecting the sun's rays. The concentrated light acts as a focal point to aid meditation. The second image is of the garden where my friend grew up, one of the many houses built by her father.


I don't know if there is such thing as "quintessential" India; ask anyone and each person will have their own idea about it. The India of today is not the same as it was yesterday, and it will be different tomorrow. It is ever changing, rapidly, and hopefully with forethought. Ashish said today that South India is too focused on its traditions and religious values to change too radically. But to me, after only one year, the changes seemed remarkable. It is possible, I suppose, that I was able to see more, and see more clearly this year. Tonight half of us said good-bye to India and to half of the group. The other half is travelling on to northern areas, on to another, very different adventure. It would be almost impossible to come to India and not have an adventure; perhaps that is the quintessential India--adventure: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually...


In Pondicherry we heard of an elusive elephant that blesses it's visitors outside of a temple. Of course our curiosity was piqued by this, so many of us made sure to visit this temple to be blessed by Lakshmi the elephant. What we found was both beautiful and heartwrenching, much like many things on this trip. Lakshmi is a beautiful elephant, adorned with chalk designs on her ears and silver ankle bracelets on her front legs. Give her a few rupees change in her trunk or food, and she'll bop you on the head in blessing. What a beautiful elephant and so seemingly tame! Look a little closer and you'll see her trainer by her side yelling commands. I found myself wondering where the money in her trunk went, it didn't seem like it would go to her care, she had skin discoloration on her back and marks on her back legs where a rope may have tied her. I question whether the money continues poor treatment of this animal, or whether it fuels this community ritual where people from all over come to celebrate and be blessed by this elephant.