Day after tomorrow, I leave for Pondicherry. It’s my tryst with destiny. A few weeks before my twentieth birthday, the mother decided to take a family vacation to an ashram in Pondicherry. And stay at the ashram guest house.
Now, as any Gujarati would know, that’s suspect. I was too young to go to an ashram. Staying at a guest house brought out memories of the ones at Nathdwara with common loos and the overpowering smell of cow dung. Whatever was the mother thinking?!
While the mother pondered over the Internet for all ashram related activities, I decided to search for things to do for a twenty year old. From the markets to the restaurants to the touristy places to anything that wasn’t religion/ashram related.
Somehow under all the truckload full of scepticism and cynicism, there was excitement. Someone who might suffer from hypersomnia, spent a sleepless night. Tossed and turned and twisted with sheer eagerness to know what lies ahead.
What was this place all about? Going by the boring preconceived notion attached to the terms, why was I so excited? Time just seems to fly much slower when you are excited. It’s so true. I realised that that day.
Anyhow, finally it was the unearthly hour to get up to be able to catch the flight to Chennai. Pondicherry (officially, Puducherry) is about 170 kms from the southern city of Chennai. You need to drive down form there. It’s the fastest and most convenient way to do it.
With all the gusto that I landed at Chennai airport, I was sure of having a pre booked taxi waiting to drive us to Pondicherry. Meandering my way through the apparently scenic route. I wait ten minutes then thirty then forty five but there is NO sign of any taxi driver. The rush at the arrivals gate vanishes but still no one.
I should be angry. I should get upset. I should feel apprehensive. But, hey, I am not. It seemed like a smile was stitched on my face. And it wasn’t going to rip open any time soon. Anyhow, the family didn’t share my sentiments (for once, it didn’t bother me one little bit). With them being upset and angry and apprehensive, I call the taxi provider.
And then what followed left me red faced. It turned out that me being my absent minded self, I had mucked up the date of arrival. Then began the wrath of the family. Oh wait, the smile was stitched. In all my bliss, the family hailed a local cab driver. One who, I am quite sure, had not slept all night. For he kept dozing (NO exaggeration whatsoever) at the wheel.
I was too young to die. I wasn’t even a graduate at that point. I prayed and prayed and prayed and somewhere along the line I went off to sleep. Thank God for not giving me any sleep the previous night. And with all the sudden brakes, swerves and swings, I reached Pondi.
And boy, was I in a state of shock. The guest house was nothing like I had imagined. A far cry from the common loo and cow dung smelling saga. This was pristine white, right across the aquamarine Bay of Bengal. So clean, you needn’t even wear footwear. There was no speck of dirt or dust anywhere in this magnificent edifice.
Well begun is half donee do it indeed just got better. Up until this visit, I would consider myself as a non believer, definitely not religious. I never connected to the rituals and chants just to get closer to or appease God. I was not sure, God existed even. But this was different.
The Sri Aurobindo Ashram was nothing like the plebeian ashrams (human Gurus preaching about how to behave and other such socially appropriate teachings), there was no evident (?) teaching here. The ashram (main building) is built around the Samadhi of Sri Aurbindo and his spiritual equivalent The Mother.
Samadhi is a place where spiritual beings are laid to rest after having left their physical bodies. This Samadhi is sheltered from the monstrosities of weather by a huge tree. As you go in further, there is a meditation hall. Here, a chair or recliner that the Mother has used is usually placed. There are two bookshops and one little counter for photographs.
There is NO human teaching in the ashram. There are no rituals. There are no rites. There, obviously, are no wrongs. It’s all peace. It’s all subtle. It’s all Energy. It’s all Vibration. When I laid my head on the Samadhi, it buzzed. I hadn’t prayed or chanted or done anything to appease God but there was a Presence. It was so evident that even a non believer could not shrug it off.
Then came the point of exploring everything THIS ashram related. The shops seeking hand made incense sticks, perfumes, diyas (cup shaped clay pot for lighting a little flame), tie and dye, marbling, hand made paper and embroidery and art and music. It was so perfect that there had to be a string Higher Presence guiding each soul to this level of perfection.
This magical, mystical place resonated with my innate feeling that there is more to God than reading a holy book and behaving oh-so-apparently-propah!! In a matter of five days, my attitude changed. My outlook changed. My personality changed. From being an extremely nervous person, stammering during vivas, I sprouted confidence and stopped stammering. There was an inexplicable glow. Well, all I knew was life had changed for the better.
Is it any surprise then, that I am just as excited and just as insomniac about visiting this place even after eleven visits and ten long years?