KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
India achieved independence from Britain on August 15, 1947. Anil is often referred to as an "independence baby" as he was born just three weeks later. However, it took almost two and a half years for the new constitution to be hammered out and it was finally adopted in January 1950. Republic Day is a national holiday set aside to celebrate the new constitution. There is a major parade in Delhi that is broadcast all over the country. This year Russia's President Putin was the honoured guest.
Most major cities in India hold their own parades and Pondicherry is no exception. However, it is not as big a production here as in Chennai and this is probably due to the fact that Pondicherry (recently renamed PUDUCHERRY, yuck!) is a Union Territory.
On the morning of Republic Day, we were up for an early morning walk along the promenade and noticed that the traffic was halted along Beach Avenue. We asked if this was the parade route and were told that it wasn't - that the parade was taking place at the edge of town. However, as we walked through the French Quarter we came upon groups of police and students practicing their marching skills and preparing for their role in the festivities. We returned to watch the Delhi parade on television but I left for the internet cafe when they started parading their "weapons of mass destruction". It was too bad, I learned later from Anil, because after the armaments were displayed, they had regiments from all over India in their amazing local uniforms. I was sorry that I had rushed off so quickly.
In the afternoon we took an autorickshaw to the Botanical Garden at the opposite end of the city. We were delighted to find a canopy of trees awaiting us - the shade was a welcome relief during the hottest part of the day. The garden is not particularly well-tended, but the huge trees are all labelled with their familiar and Latin names. There is a toy train (they call it the joy train) that runs through the garden, but though we saw scores of small children, we never actually saw the train.
We came upon a signpost (I took a photo of it) that told us that that every tree in the garden was planted by the French - there are no natural forests in the entire Pondicherry territory. In fact, it states that the stretch along the coast from Orissa to the bottom of Tamil Nadu, has no forests. We thought about our drive along the highway from Chennai south and realized that we had failed to notice this. We were too busy enjoying the views of the sea and the surrounding rice paddies.
The long walk back from the botanical garden took us past the Sacred Heart Church. We stopped in for a look - I was surprised to see that all the statues in the church were decorated with garlands like those we see in the Hindu temples. Further along, we came to the Pondicherry train station. It’s an attractive colonial building, relatively bright and clean for an Indian station. On the opposite side of the road I spotted a Royal Enfield motorcycle. I took a couple of pictures for all the guys I know who are crazy about bikes. The most difficult part of the walk home was the smell of urine emanating from the boundary wall on our right. There are few public toilets and the men use the walls whenever they feel the need. The pungent smell is particularly bad on a hot sunny day. The rainy season lasts almost five months here, thank goodness because the rain cleans the walls and streets.
We had a rest in the afternoon at our hotel. It's strange how the room feels like a cabin on a ship if you stand back near the door to the bathroom. At that point, you cannot see the promenade or the small strip of beach, only the waves. Several times I found myself rocking as if the "ship" was moving and I swear I felt a twinge of sea sickness!
In the evening we looked out to find the Beach Avenue full of people and a blaze of coloured lights off in the distance. We quickly joined the crowds and strolled along towards the action. All the government buildings along the sea were decorated with lights and the park was finally opened to the public. We had wondered why such a beautiful park, situated along the sea, was always locked tight. We learned later that it was just recently renovated and Republic Day was the official opening. There were fountains everywhere and the bandstand held a group of classical musicians performing beautiful music. Everyone seemed in good spirits and very relaxed. This may be due to the fact that there appears to be little drinking amongst the local population; there was no rowdyism that we could see.
We went to our favourite South Indian restaurant, but there were so many people inside that we were forced to eat standing up at one of the high outside tables designed for just this purpose. We didn't mind because there were so many people walking by dressed in their best clothes, that people-watching was a delight. On the way back to our hotel, we joined the lineup to walk through the gardens at the Governor's Residence. This is normally closed to the public, but was open for Republic Day. The garden was full of potted plants, coloured lights and even a fountain spraying bubbles. Anil suddenly declared that he was heading to bed "no matter what", I think our long day finally caught up with him!