I knew it was raining in Pondy. I was forewarned. So I took my raincoat and my most beat-up pair of sandals.
It didn’t rain. It poured. It was like someone suddenly turned on the power shower full blast.
I got stuck in the rain many times. The first time I was climbing the old Auroville Road on a rickety bicycle. A few large drops announced what was coming. Three guys in lungis riding ‘triple’ on a motorcycle quickly parked by the side of the road and ran for shelter under the parapet of a building in construction. I abandoned the bicycle and followed them. They stepped aside giving me some space under the parapet. The four of us watched the rain in an awed silence. Then one of them lit a cigarette and they had a discussion in Tamil. I understood ‘taani’ and ‘maale’. They were talking about the rain. Quickly, small red streams of water tainted by the dark red earth formed and ran down the slope. The man with the cigarette threw the butt into one of these mini-rivers and I watched it being swept away. After ten minutes the rain stopped almost as suddenly as it had began. I waded through the red mud back to the bicycle. The air was warm and pleasant.
The second time I was in Pondicherry at the INTACH office on Sri Aurobindo Street. The sound of the rain beating against the roof and the window was very loud. But I was comfortable and dry inside and was enjoying reading up on the city’s heritage conservation project and browsing through before and after pictures of the many heritage properties which have been lovingly restored. It was still raining when I had finished my research. I spent some time looking out the window. The rain was pouring in streams off the roofs. Once in a while a motorcycle or bicycle whizzed by. I observed how people protected themselves from the rain: raincoat and umbrellas of course, but also plastic bags rolled into improvised hats. On motorcycles the passenger seated behind the driver would hold up an umbrella, protecting both passengers. But it was raining too hard to not get wet. Quickly the street became a small river. A rubber flip-flop floated downstream. A woman in a soaked sari waded through the water, carrying her footwear in her hands. A motorcycle sped by and she cursed loudly as water sprayed out in all directions, soaking her further. It was showing no sign of letting up so I decided I had to brave the rain. I rolled up my pants up to my knees and was grateful I had decided against wearing a churidar that morning. I zipped up my raincoat and put on the hood. I took my sandals in my hand and stepped into the calf-deep water. It was warm.
The third time I got stuck was at the Subramania Bharathi museum. It is closed. Indefinitely. Reason unknown. This is the information I gleaned from three men taking shelter with their bicycles on the veranda. While sitting out the rain, I took a few pictures:
Pondicherry had a sweet smell. It was because of all the Canaga trees which were in bloom. Their Ylang Ylang flowers lay in wet, scented carpets.
So I admit it: yes, the rains are romantic! In Pondicherry anyway.