A Lasting Impact
My plane was to be in Bangalore, but I was standing at the baggage carousel in the partially constructed airport in Chennai. Three days to go and an email had landed in my Inbox from Air India, notifying me that I would be flying from Bali to Chennai instead of my expected Bali-Bangalore (and yes, this was the time of the famous book, but no, I did not intend to be on the Eat, Pray, Love trail). And so, my send off from Bali was in a VW van, as I whispered prayers for my wellbeing through whatever lay ahead. Rod Stewart’s song, “Forever Young” was blasting from the tinny speakers of this old caravan, ”May good fortune be with you, may your guiding light be strong” became my Mantra.
Getting my bearings in Chennai’s airport, I walked over to the taxi stand and hired a taxi to Pondicherry. I decided this might be a nice place to relax for a few days before my train ride across continent to Goa. I came to the stand and a wordless portly man, Danny DeVito’s Indian twin from his days in “Taxi” (hairstyle and everything), used his pen to scratch down my information. Honestly, he couldn’t have looked more bored with me. My taxi driver appeared, a wiry old man, about my height, stood there in his bare feet, pant legs of his chocolate brown uniform rolled just above the ankles. We went outside and loaded myself and my luggage into the back seat of his wee taxi and spun through the parking lot. I was looking around at how beautifully this man had decorated the interior of his taxi, when, at the lot’s exit we were already making our first stop…his boss, that short portly man who had registered me with the taxi, opened one of the back doors and crammed a life sized, pink stuffed teddy bear in the back seat with me…then he, himself, hopped in the front to ride shotgun. You just never know if you’re going to get where you’re going in some places.
Anyway, a short ways away we did drop him off, along with the bear, and the driver and I faced the road ahead…multiple unexplained stops still within the city limits included. Once we reached the highway though, we began to travel at a good clip, the Indian rain started to come down thick and heavy, could barely see anything. At one point, a flatbed truck started backing onto the freeway from a side road which the rain made impossible to see. My driver was not slowing down and was showing no signs of doing so…his bare foot rested heavy on that gas peddle as he pressed forward through the driving rain. I truly thought I was about to die, I called out to him about the truck, he turned directly around to look at me with a toothless smile and that Indian head bobble, but with the language barrier he didn’t know what I was trying to tell him. My urgent cry grew louder, pointing, he looked forward, swerved the taxi, and we carried on down the freeway unphased…like all was just a part of a normal day.
Getting into Pondicherry required a permit, and so my driver did all the legwork, letting me sit in the taxi for the twenty minutes wait. Once inside city limits, we could NOT find the hotel I had looked up, but he persisted, stopping to ask so many pedestrians if they knew, but no one did. Then out of the mist (the rain was stopping by that time), like an angel, there was a man on a bicycle who happened to be scouting town for prospects to rent his boss’s suite…that was the ticket, I nabbed it. This sweet, gentle soul of a taxi driver took me to the door, carried my bags, and placed them on a chair in my room. He was aiming to leave without any expectation of a tip, but I crammed 1000Rp in his hand, because after all I had been through traveling from Bali to this room we were standing in, his kindness and his generous efforts meant so much to me.
Turns out, I loved Pondicherry…I recommend it to anyone, it is gorgeous. It draws the French traveller, as it was once in the hands of the French; gorgeous remnants of the French influence in the architecture draw you back into a different era (the Indians themselves will speak to you in French before they will attempt English here). I ended up staying about five days or so, which would have been longer if I hadn’t had a due date in Goa. I would walk to the seawall for my morning coffee on the beach, watching the sun climb its heights in the sky over the Bay of Bengal…being a westcoaster I’m used to watching the sun dip into the ocean, so this was new for me. Then I would make my way to the Sri Aurobindo ashram for a while, they allow the public to sit in silence in their stunning courtyard. Somewhere through the day I would end up having tea with my “landlady” who didn’t speak any English, so we relied on my polite French anecdotes (which don’t amount to much). She was born and raised in India, but of Vietnamese descent, she spoke French and wore a Sari…so I spent quite a bit of time looking at her (as she did me).
I left Pondicherry, too soon, but right on time. Took the train to Mysore which is where I had planned to be but cut it a few days short. I was due in Goa, and as it was December, there was zero possibility of hopping a train, so I bussed to Mangalore and taxied to Goa….that my friends, was an adventure in itself. And so, by plane, train and automobile I made it to Goa from Bali. And I honestly don’t know the point of sharing this story other than that man’s toothless smile from all those years ago, came to my heart the other day. Maybe that’s the point, that kindness lasts. May he be well.