Pondicherry, or Puthucherry , as it is known today is very different from what it was some fifty years ago. I last went to Pondicherry with Gowri, Mohan and Raja in 2002.
Gowri was keen to see the place of her birth. She was born there and we left Pondicherry when she was not even six months old.
Babuji was on deputation there from June 1957 to November 1963. We were there during the de facto, or de jure, period, and when the French influence was very strong still.
At the time, the town was divided into two parts by a canal that ran across it from about a kilometre west of the sea. The east side was known as the white town where the Head of the State - the Chief Commissioner, and other top officials lived and worked. The Cercle de Pondicherry, St. Joseph de Cluny High School and the Medical College were also housed there.
A major part was occupied by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and its inmates, its shops and its school.
The west side of the canal was called the Black Town where the local people lived, and where the markets and shops were situated. Most of the local people were Creoles who worked for the French Government, and they spoke French as well as any Frenchman. The French influence was very much in evidence.
This was how we saw the place when we went there. The sea and the beach, though it was an apology of a beach, captivated me, particularly the sea. From our terrace the sea, with the ships moving far away on the horizon and the deep blue green waters, looked like a huge picture post card.
We were given a bungalow in Rue de Rangapillai, which housed the Development office, of which Babuji was posted as Secretary. Our living quarters were on the first floor. It was a really big house built by the French in real colonial style. The dining-cum-living room was so big it could have housed a large flat of today.
The day we moved in, one of the officials working in the department advised us to keep one of the north side doors on this big room closed, and never to open it at any time. The reason given was that previous occupants had felt that this doorway was haunted, and many apparitions had been seen there by many.
Babuji’s immediate reaction to that was to ask me to have my ‘pooja’ set up by that doorway and to never ever keep that door closed, not even at night. We were in that house for more than six years and we never saw any ghosts or apparitions. Rather, we had a happy and busy life there.
More to follow. . .