In a country like India, most towns become melting pots of history and modernity. Every temple will have a legend, every mountain a myth, BUT very rarely does one come across an entire city that still tells a tale of a past so vastly different to the mainland.
Pondicherry, now called Puducherry, a union territory located in Tamil Nadu, is one such place. It is a former enclave of French India. You might think, ‘French India?’ Yes! Whilst the British ruled (exploited?) India, the French decided they too wanted a piece of the action (money and riches). So, they landed on the coastal town and refused to leave. Bloody wars ensued between the British and the French over control over the port but the French prevailed. Thanks to this long-standing influence - they left only in August 1962 - the city is a mix of all things French and Tamil. Perpendicular streets, French-style villas and their language being few examples of the same.
In fact, even the culture of this town is a medley of different influences. The spirit of this town lies in its south Indian habit to welcome people with warm embraces and to treat them like their own. Other little quirks of this colonial town lie in the widely spoken Tamil-accented French, South India filter coffee with croissants, foreigners driving a hard bargain in the local tongue and the bright-red kepis worn by the police.
Unlike Goa, Pondicherry has no elaborate set up for tourists. So shake free of preconceived notions, approach this city with fresh eyes and it will surprise you in ways you never even imagined.
Pondicherry did that for me. As I was wandering around the quieter roads of Auroville, I spotted the Red Earth Riding School. As I peered through the big wooden gate, I heard a horse neigh and then a couple of others joined it. My eyes lit up, and I quietly opened the doors saying, ‘Helloo… is anyone there?’ No reply. I quietly walked in the direction of the sound of the horses and soon reached a set of stables that had four horses. I quickly pulled some grass from the ground, and the horse immediately came up to me to eat it.
This was my first time face to face with a horse. It is a huge majestic animal with muscles so defined, it could make any actor or model jealous. As I stood there feeding and petting the horse, a young man came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I smiled and said I just came to pet the horses.
He smiled and told me that Red Earth took in all the abandoned racing horses and took care of them. He also said they offer riding classes and if I was interested, I could join him for one. I agreed in an instant. He gave me some riding shoes, a hat and quickly put me on a horse – Ebony.
Ebony was a wild one. She had a mind of her own and at first, I felt scared. No matter what I tried she would do just the opposite. A gallop meant run, left meant right, inside meant outside – it was a struggle. But soon I realised, she and I are no different. I was a wild one, too – with a fierce mind of my own. So I treated her the way I wanted to be treated. I gave her the freedom to do what she wanted without trying to pull the reins too much. The less I resisted, the more she began to listen to me. Soon we found a beautiful understanding.
That one hour of horse riding taught me more about relationships than my entire lifetime did.The next time you are in Pondicherry, go meet Ebony and let her teach you too.
Tail Piece – ‘Nature breeds curiosity; it helps to grow explorers rather than robots. It reminds us that we are part of something bigger’.