Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Cleansing in Gandhi’s land, the Helicopter Harry way

He claims to be an FBI agent entrusted by the “state department” with important information stored in his oversized notebook computer. Of course! he is lying and got us off-guard again!

This Jon, he is one big yankee with a hearty laughter, talks loudly with his nasal roll of a’s, r’s and pets a white cat while we quietly pick the buffet plates at dinner. He is using crutches and we sit at the same table; he is alone. He has been to Chennai to get a hip replacement surgery and he is beaming with admiration for one Dr. Boss! It is been three weeks and he is already able to walk around with the help of crutches. He had been to Matri Mandir yesterday, he tells us.

We are at this resort called Quiet Healing Centre, right at the edge of India in Auroville, near Pondicherry facing the Bay of Bengal. Auroville is a an experimental open world community where one can start a life as a commune member provide one adheres to certain basic simple principles of living as espoused by Aurovillians. The rules are actually very simple: forsaking organized religion, property and living a life in sync with nature and being “spiritual”.

So, we are here, after driving more than seven hours driving on the arterial National Highway -7 from Bangalore to this place near Pondicherry. A set of friends have strongly recommended Quiet as the preferred place to stay, while in Auroville. This place has its own private beach where the fishermen do their morning ablution without any shame as tourists admire the rising sun in the ocean. At other hours, the beach has very few visitors, except evening when other set of fishermen have to do their evening ablutions right at the private beach of Quiet. So fishermen are neatly categorized into owls or larks of ablutionary world! On the other hand it is a thought that some of them do it twice a day!

The hip replacement or the crutches haven’t slowed down Jon, he explains his exploits of the day to us in great detail and is quite elated with his kilometer long walk to see the main temple at Auroville. This is a pumpkin shaped temple at the centre of the Auroville town, which is coated with gold leaves sandwiched in glass. The temple has a single 400 Kg crystal at the sanctum sanctorium which captures a single beam of natural light that enters the structure right at the top. At times when it is cloudy or at night time, an artifical light is pointed at the crystal ball. The Matri Mandir is named after Mirra Alfass, the spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, who is reverentially called “The Mother” by all Aurovillians. Well! Jon had walked to the temple, but was denied entry as he hadn’t watched the mandatory video about the Auroville Commune. He is bit resentful about that, but quite keen to give it a try the next day. So, we set up a rendezvous for the next morning.

Next morning, we drove to the Visitor’s centre and watched the mandatory video on Auroville principles. Namely: Evolution hasn’t stopped, you need to refine continuously and there is no point in self serving consumerism without being in sync with nature. All quite agreeable to a charitable soul, I’d say. We were asked to set up an appointment with the Visitor centre at the Matri Mandir to visit the temple on phone which is forever busy. We got through after a few tries and asked for an appointment to visit the temple in the evening, but were told that they were all “booked out”. Jon was leaving for the U.S the next morning from Chennai. The kind lady on the phone suggested we may try our luck in evening as there may be few cancellations. We were disappointed, but Jon was still quite optimistic. We decided to head back to the Quiet for lunch and an afternoon siesta.

Jon woke us up, knocking at the door with his crutches and we hurried to get ready in no time. We were supposed to try our luck at the Matri Mandir at 3:30 and it was already 3:00 p.m. Jon remembered a short cut through the jungle and he and my wife edged me on to drive through the offroad track. A few kilometers later, we found ourselves middle of a jungle facing a hopeless ditch of a road section. Jon cheerfully got down and asked me to rush through it all, which I did as he clicked pictures and I broke some serious sweat. Loud whoopies and congratulations everywhere edged me on to reach Matri Mandir gate just about 10 minutes later. Jon said: “Watch this”, stepped out of the car on his crutches and had an epileptic attack! The guards rushed to the rescue, all panic while me and my wife tried hard not to laugh. We were escorted to the waiting room by very nervous guards and Auroville volunteers. Five minutes later, we rushed to join a group of visitors under the huge Neem Tree. An elderly volunteer was explaining the concept of “Brahman” to a restless bunch of Indians and a sporadic foreign listener. He explained how the Mandir signifies the sun surrounded by meditation rooms spread out as the petals of a lotus. The work on water bodies around these meditation rooms is still going on. He also showed the gold leaf glass tiles which are used to cover the oblong pumpkin shape, which looks like a oblong golden golf ball. We were to be very quiet while visiting the inner chamber of the temple. We were not to touch anything, we were not to ask anything, we were not to cough if we could help it and so on. Photography wasn’t allowed.

We moved to the inner chamber and Jon fished out his camera! The inner chamber has a psychedelic look of a 70s disco. An orange look with a huge walkway leading to the sanctum sanctorum. The sanctum sanctorum is a huge chamber with gigantic pillars that support nothing and a massive crystal ball on a golden stand which captures light from a opening at the top of the ball. One needs to wear socks provided by very helpful volunteers and one is required to sit on virgin white towels and meditate on the beauty, peace and whatever one fancies immersed in remarkably quiet air conditioning. Jon coughs repeatedly and drops his crutches. I am afraid, it might not be intentional.

Ten minutes later, which seems like forever, we are hushed to leave.

Jon fishes out the camera and clicks! There is a scramble among the volunteers and we pretend not to know Jon. He is already talking.

We head out of the inner chamber relieved at not having been hauled on coals for Jon’s clicking, coughing, talking and the falling crutches. He asks the elderly volunteer is there is a barbecue down there near the meditation room! The volunteer shakes his head to knock out whatever he has heard out of his auditory chambers.

We head down to an exquisite fountain shaped in the form of a lotus, what else! It has a small crystal ball at the centre and the water flows on top of extremely white marble petals. It reminds me of some roman excess. Again, you cannot talk, cough, sniff, click pictures here! By now Jon was decidedly anarchist, he fished out the camera and started clicking with relish! The volunteers do not do anything, because they cannot talk and Jon pretends not to understand their gestures. It is a funny scene and everyone is heartily amused. There is starved looking foreigner with a big beard and long hair. Deepa, my wife addressed him: “Excuse me,….”. He practically runs to her with finger on his lips and shaking all over. “First, First, learn to speak very quietly here….”. He paused for effect and breath, then continues…”yes, tell me…”. Deepa asks him if he knows of a place in Auroville where they make the water listen to Bach and this treated water is actually sold as some sort of “dynamic” water. The guys was out of his depth on this one! He remarked that he was somewhat new to the commune and doesn’t know all the interesting experiments that happen around the 4000 acres of space that a community of 1700 people occupy. I kept staring at his bobbing adam’s apple, pitying him.

Meditation rooms require prior notification, so we head to the huge lawns of the temple. There is a amphiteatre which has a Obelisk shaped lotus bud in the centre which symbolizes the rise of new consciousness. They used to let people watch the sunset from the steps of the amphiteatre a few years back, but all is quiet now. Nearly antiseptic.

The bon fire at the centre is restricted to two days now. It is somewhat strange that such a featureless place with artificial lawns and roman excess could actually quieten thirsty souls.

We rushed out of Matri Mandir, giggling, clicking photographs of lawns, Banyan tree, kids with flowers in their hair. We were practically chased out.

We were tired and the Matri Mandir experience made us crave for some air. The organization at the Mandir left us with a strong longing for the chaos that we are used to. Jon’s hard nosed pragmatic self was completely overwhelmed with the organized spirituality and he was craving to sin!

We head to Pondicherry where Jon knew a place named “Agatha’s palace”. He said he had been a regular patron there and it has an awesome view of the sea. It is at the promenade and remains open way past midnight. So, to the promenade, we headed.

After forty minutes of looking around and asking for Agatha’s place, we finally found the place. It was “Ajanta Palace”! and was closed on account of Gandhi Jayanti! Our plans for a sinful cleansing drink seemed to dash against the firm gestures of the waiters. Jon barged into narrow staircase leading to the terrace, crutches making a racket. No body in India would stop a huge white bald man on crutches intent on barging into a place! Moments later we were seated comfortably facing the ocean as Jon started negotiating with the bar manager. Manager was quite firm: no whiskey can be served on 2nd Oct. Jon said, “Bring me anything else!”. Manager, “Only cocktails!”. Well! We guzzled a dubious couple and were on our way to the sea front. It looked tempting, the waves were crashing on the rocks, a nice breeze, we were alive!

We headed to the Neemrana Property Hotel De Le’ Orient at the Rue Romain Rolland. It was a well set property and since we have stayed at many Neemrana hotels, I took the lead and asked for a table for four (for the three of us). We were warmly welcomed and we knew that Neemrana serves excellent food, particularly the French cuisine at the Le’ Orient. I asked the waiter if they served alcohol, he said, “no, we only serve beer in ceramic mugs!” We asked for the largest ceramic mugs and left the Le’ Orient satiated in body and spirit!

Time for us to face the music of the sea. We walked down to the promenade and sat down facing the waves crashing at the shore. Deepa, me and Jon, we felt a strong connection with each other. A stranger whom we had met a day before, we shared the joy of liberation, of being able to experience boundless nature in contrast with the narrow artificial bounds of organized religion. Jon and we experienced the contrast in a single day. I was overcome with the feeling of this liberation and rushed down on the slippery boulders to face the waves. Wave after wave crashed on my face, my body, drenching me to the bone, as I shouted, daring mother nature to “bring it on”!! I kept on shouting: “is this the best you got!!”, as wave after wave splashed on me from head to toe. I could eye the start of the wave on the far side and crouch in anticipation of the wave hitting me as Deepa and Jon egged me on…Then the blinding splash of wave over me. I was cleansed to bone, the Helicopter Harry way.

We walked to the car on the deserted promenade as wave after wave crashed against the shore.

Happy Birthday Bapu!

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