March 31, 2008

Pondy thro foreign eyes

On the southeastern coast, about 150 miles south of Chennai, Pondicherry is, for an Indian city, tiny. Just about a million people live there, mostly in the types of charmless, three- and four-story concrete buildings erected all over the poorer parts of Asia. But near the Bay of Bengal, the cityscape changes drastically. Soon you see tile roofs and wooden shutters, balconies and colonnades, wide brick streets and pastel Catholic churches — the neighborhood once known as the Ville Blanche, or White Town, where the colonists lived.
The air-conditioning was blasting, and when I turned it off, I heard something I’d never heard before in India: nothing. No traffic or honking horns, no vendors’ cries, no heavy machinery whirring from within a neighbor’s home.

Peace pervaded the neighborhood. In a neatly subdivided park, office workers on lunch break napped in the shade, and along the waterfront boulevard, couples and families — mostly Indians, the women in stunning yellow, orange and teal saris, along with a smattering of French tourists — ambled past the too-rocky-to-swim beach, the stately Hôtel de Ville and a statue of Gandhi.

More interesting observations in NYTimes

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