Thursday, November 23, 2006

Au revoir to Romi and Malin

We have just spent a fantastic but bittersweet weekend in Pondicherry, the "Riviera of the East", a small district which used to be French, and now, still, amongst the deafening smell of curry leaves, coconut oil and latrines, pervades a faint Gallic whiff. We stayed in an old colonial guest house which the owner, Patricia, had decorated stunningly with carved wooden furniture, colourful drapes, cushions and light fittings and brightly painted walls. I went with a slight variant on the original joke gang, this time it was a Norwegian pharmacist, 2 Swedish Nurses, an Australian Social Worker and an English Doctor. It was fun but sad because, by the end of the weekend, we would be saying goodbye to the Australian Social Worker (Romi) and Norwegian Pharmacist (Malin) who have been brilliant company and great friends over the last 3 months, such as is only possible when you are all miles from home and trying to cram in as much as possible in a period of time which you know must end.

Romi has been my closest companion in RUHSA, we have spent loads of time chatting on her balcony while she had a fag, moaning about her so-called supervisor who, as far as I can tell, needs some serious tuition in how to "supervise", and co-students a staggeringly dysfunctional group who were extremely unpleasant to her, potentially making her time at RUHSA disastrous. Luckily, she and I became friends so we used to go and play with the others in Vellore, so, actually, in the end, she got the most out of her time here and had by far the most fun. Especially as she discovered the joys of a Swedish Massage.

Malin, whom I met first at the tsunami camp all those weeks ago in August, has been a blast from then til now. She is a powerhouse of organisation, motivation and realisation. We have spent so much time together drinking, eating, laughing, shrieking, singing, enjoying, playing, living and her leaving will leave a quiet, cavernous chasm. The good news is that I now have someone to visit in Norway, where I have always wanted to go. It has moved right to the top of my "Next Place to Visit" list.

Pondicherry was fantastic. We knew we were going to have a good time when, going out to dinner on the evening of our arrival, we saw on the menu "Herb Chicken – chicken cooked in continental herbs, vegetables and French fries – Enjoy with French loaf". You can’t really appreciate how exciting a prospect that is unless you’ve been eating rice, sambar (a watery lentil water with leastly lentils and mostly water) and chapattis for 3 months. Ture ordered it and asked the waiter if he could "enjoy with French Loaf". "Very sorry, sir, we have no French loaf, only Naan bread". We laughed all the way through dinner and then, when walking home, just as our hilarity was beginning to recede, we saw this:

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The owner of the flat must wonder why gangs of tourists hover outside his door, clutching each other, incapacitated with laughter and taking photographs of his instructions for thoughtless car users in Pondicherry.

The next day the weather was a bit miserable, very overcast and unbelievably humid, but we wandered around the very pretty Mediterindian area, which has wide empty open streets, large looming broad leaved trees and a few Hindu temples. So just like Nice. We were even blessed by the resident elephant for a few rupees. We then went totally bonkers and bought huge amounts of "French" cheese (all made in the nearby commune of Auroville, started by Sri Aurobinda a Guru whose ashram is in Pondy), crackers (not the Diwali type) and expensive wine (not the Indian type).

Before we tucked into our cheese and wine party we went to a fabulous restaurant overlooking the sea. Scandinavians have to be the greediest people in the entire world and I am including the Onslows in this. They talk about nothing but food and drink between and during enormous meals and then, when reclining, bloated and belching from one gargantuan feast, they are planning and drooling over the next. I’m no stranger to gluttony, but I was totally outdone. Unfortunately, despite this, I still have the biggest arse. Their excuse is that, as eating out is so expensive in Sweden and Norway respectively, they can barely afford to do it, so they go completely bananas in India, where the most expensive meal still only comes to about 10 quid a head. Consequently, whenever I go away with any of the Scandinavian posse, I need to double up on the anorexic worms to keep things even. Saturday night in Pondicherry was no exception. The food was absolutely delicious. I started with Chandra bangra which was the most succulent and massive prawns cooked bengali style in mustard oil and masala. Bloody hell, they were good. Then I had some spicy tandoori lamb dish with grilled vegetables. It was all fab. The Scands must have taken a hundred pictures of the food in various combinations and degree of magnification (I must confess to taking a sneaky picture of the lettuce salad I forgot to mention I had) and Ture even filmed the arrival of Malin’s "Drunken Prawns". The waitress was most entertained.

We then had a short walk back and a brief pause before tucking into the cheese and wine. The Auroville brie taste just like the Auroville camembert, but it was at least free of curry leaves or black pepper which the Indians usually can't stop themselves putting into everything. As it was our last night together we sat up in our sitting area in our gorgeous room hooting with laughter about all the fun we'd had together.

It made it all the more sad to say goodbye to Romi the next day, whom we left in Pondi to get a bus to Bangalore. We just hugged. But we’ll meet again in Delhi.

Here are a few "Best of" pictures:

Me and Romi Sharing a Swiss chocolate

Outside "Patricia's"

Deep sea diving?

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Classic Pondy

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And finally, we get to enjoy french loaf......

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