Crossing Thirty Five ......
I had decided that Pondicherry would be a good place to getaway over the weekend to celebrate my birthday as it is barely two hours from Chennai. The drive is so beautiful, as the road that is the East Coast Road, winds along the sea side all the way to Pondicherry. There is another reason I chose Pondicherry and that is my sister and my-self had gone to boarding school in Chandannagar, another French colony equi-distant from Kolkata as Pondicherry is to Chennai, on the banks of the river Hoogly. The river strand and the strand road which our dormitories overlooked is much like the beach side in Pondicherry. The two towns are quite similar with their French style buildings and beautiful river/sea side views. In fact both have a Duplei house which are now museums and the arrangement of the buildings are identical.
Mom and Dad came every birthday to meet us and bring us our birthday cake and goodies which we shared with our friends over tea time and distributed the sweets and chocolates to everyone in the refectory at breakfast time. Birthdays in those days were happy events which we spent with our friends but some how I would want to go home at the end of the day to spend the evening with my parents so the fact that I could not and in fact not even go out of the school premises also made me sad and feel jailed in. I never liked, well that I should say is very mildly put and an understatement as I actually detested boarding school and was a very sad child throughout. I was quiet , reserved and very shy. I still remember Sister Angelina once having a chat with my mother in the school field just beside the high/broad jump pit asking her to take me home and make me study as a day scholar as she felt that I was too timid and staying with family would draw me out of my shell. Ma was not convinced or she might have had her reasons, as I remained in the boarding all of my school life.
I am not sure till now who was more right Ma or Sister Angelina as it was only after school and college when I started living at home and working, that I actually came out of my shell and underwent a drastic change in my personality. Now I am better known as extroverted, friendly and the like but till I was out of my teens I used to be painfully shy and withdrawn. Honestly I had hated school and everything about it while I was there but as I passed out and moved on in life I started to think back fondly about life then, as I could now watch my life from the freedom of being out of what at that time I thought was prison. I hated being told when to wake up ,when to bathe, eat or sleep as in spite of being shy I was very independent since I was a kid and did not take well to being told to do anything. That is the case even now but conditioning from those days has lasted with me and I am an organized and disciplined person by and large.
Life in boarding school made me strong, stronger than I could ever have been had I lived at home in addition to the discipline that is an inherent part now of who I am and able to handle so much capably. It is what I learnt in those days in the so called "prison" that has made me what I am today so after all I have to admit now more that 20 years after I left school that Ma was right to keep us there after all and not that I had not realized it earlier. I realized quite early, just about when I started working that what I had learnt there was much more than academics. There were so many skills I had acquired in my days there that has helped me both personally and professionally. However Sister Angelina was not wrong either as till date I am a person who can sometimes feel lonely even in a crowd and still take time to open up to people or be demonstrative about my feelings or have a great dependence or closeness to family. Perhaps if my mother in law understood this about me she would know that my not so great affinity to her is nothing personal about her but just the way I am and would perhaps accept that she was not blessed with a daughter-in-law who could be a daughter after all .
Talking about school could fill pages but the choice of Pondicherry as a place to spend my birthday with my Ma and Sister had a totally nostalgic reason and I could actually picture my -self in the blue pleated skirts, white shirts and ribboned plaits on the banks of the Hoogly when we were taken on walks in straight files of two or three. Pondichery seemed like such a perfect place in addition to it being so close to Chennai to go with Ma as she has so many good memories of the time she spent on her visits to Chandannagar over the 10 years that we studied there. In fact our school, with its French roots also has a branch in Pondicherry.
My husband was somehow very opposed to the idea of going to Pondicherry then for some reason but I was adamant and had even decided that we were going with or without him.
We that is Ma, Sister, hubby and my-self planned to leave at 8 am but finally made it by 9am .My brother-in-law was also supposed to come but could not make it due to an urgent meeting which had come up. On the way we also stopped at a nice resort MGM on the east coast road by the sea side for a buffet breakfast and spent some time there. On the entire drive my sister was adamant on having the AC on, while my husband would have preferred the sea breeze. While she listened to his CD’s of old Hindi film songs on the car music system seated in front to ensure she had total monopoly to the choice in songs. My husband sat behind with the ear phone of his ipod place, listening to his "own" music. Ma and me however looked out at the view and chatted. I could not help wondering at my effort to have my closest family close to me for my Birthday.
We reached Pondicherry by mid after noon and checked into this really nice heritage villa called Hotel-du-parc which is located right infront of the Auro ville gift shop close to the beach, the Aurobindo ashram as well as the Ganapati temple. We had two adjacent and connecting rooms which was convenient as we left it opened and that made the whole room nice and big. Some time after reaching we decided to go on a drive around the city as Ma was not up to walking and moreover it was a Saturday and she fasts on Saturdays since even before I was born so there was little energy that she had, trying to keep at her fasts at the age of 67.
I was caught in between trying to do what my sister wanted to do, how my mother wanted to rest and my husband wanting to explore the town. In the evening we all went for a stroll and though I was really tired, freshened up and went out to the hotel restaurant with my husband while my Sister called room service. Anyways I remember going to sleep thankful that the day ended peacefully and I was able not to displease either of them. The next day we had breakfast in the open rooftop restaurant which was very pretty and then went out to the Aurobindo Ashram and then later checked out and drove down to Auroville. My sister wanted to go as she thought she may never get the opportunity again and my husband did not want to go as he knew there could be other trips when he would visit Auroville. So again there I was in the middle of conflicting choices but I decided that we should go as it was my idea to bring Ma and Sis here so I would ensure that they did not miss anything as there is little chance of Ma coming back here again.
Auroville was a beautiful place and I just loved the quaintness of the village which is home to over 1600 people of numerous nationalities who were well occupied in various charitable jobs there and seemed so peaceful. I could not help thinking that some day I would love to live there too where the sole purpose of your living is to be of use to others instead of living life running after what you can get for your-self and never being satisfied with what you have. I wondered if that is what I wanted out of life having crossed over to the wrong side of 35, but wasn't it a little early in life to feel the desire to denounce life and live in an Ashram after all. Somehow whenever we go on a holiday I dont want to return home but we returned to Chennai by evening and my sister took the last flight back to Bangalore that night while Ma stayed on till after my birthday and I went back to work the next day to continue living a life I feel has not much meaning other than just a sheer existence.