Like I've said before in many posts, and in many different ways, there are moments when I realise that the Universe has conspired to give me a lovely gift, with its trademark subtlety, probably rejoicing in the waves of thanks that I keep giving once I'm fully aware of the gift and it's meaning. The last Saturday was one of those gifts - a period of almost uninterrupted and very meaningful experiences, mostly because of my friend "R", who is a big part of that gift (if you've read more of my posts, I'll understand if you feel irritated at my preference for referring to people by the first letter of their first names - but just bear with me please... it's a quirk I'm fond of keeping).
I met R two weeks ago, in Pondicherry, where we both attended a training programme. In sharp contrast to everyone else, I found him to be intensity personified. Whether he's working, chatting, joking, cooking or even shopping for something - R has a quality that immediately sets him apart from everyone else. I suspect that it is sheer confidence in his voice and the disarming openness (sometimes even challenge) in his eyes that distinguishes him, as he strides through situations with a great sense of control, which coexists somehow, with a childlike curiosity and fondness for learning new things. Actually, come to think of it, that's not very surprising, is it? Oh well... that's a whole new post, all together!
While our other classmates left the previous night, R and I had to extend our stays in Pondicherry for some work. Being a complete stranger to this place, I wasn't really certain about what I'd be doing over the weekend. R, on the other hand, knew Pondicherry pretty well, from several trips in the past, and had a very clear idea of where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do. I was already very comfortable in R's company, having found in him a shared fondness for cooking and an unusually engaging conservationist. What felt particularly nice to me, however, was his spontaneous suggestion that I accompany him on one of his jaunts... I accepted and so began the most fun day I have had in Pondicherry.
I've you've read "Vroom!", one of my earlier posts, you'll understand the thrill I felt while sitting in the pillion seat of the "Activa" scooter that R rented for the weekend, with the world streaming away behind me as the little vehicle bore us towards Auroville, R's chosen destination for the day. R told me much later that he was squinting furiously the entire time he was driving, because he had to sunglasses... a good thing too, because I might have been considerably less thrilled, had I known of this earlier! :)
I had no idea what the day ahead and Auroville would hold for us - I had decided to let serendipity take charge of the day... That, and R's plan! I'm SO glad that I had no agenda, because he took me to some of the most interesting places I have visited in any town. Being a designer and artist by instinct, qualification and experience, R gravitates towards the best local craftsmen, wherever he goes. He finds out where they are through goodness knows what means and tracks them down to spend time with them, watching what they do and placing orders with them, for his home and loved ones. So over the course of the day, we had made stops at a bronze statue maker who used the ancient "lost wax method", a couple of cobblers that make footwear to order, a stone carving shop, a factory for handmade paper products, a potter, the famous Kalki boutique at the Visitors Center of Auroville's Ashram, a shop selling exquisite cane products from the Northeast and a charming little coffee shop that sold lovely ceramic cups in addition to great organic coffee and tea. Fortunately for us both, I'd carried my trusty knapsack which was soon filled to the brim with our shopping at these spots.
The highlight of all the shopping was the time spent picking out leather slippers that we had made at by a cobbler that R had discovered on an earlier trip. Utterly fascinated, I watched as the cobbler and his assistant engaged with R in an elaborate ritual of selecting leather of various shades and textures for the designs that R had in mind. The blueprints of some truly stunning designs emerged as I looked on; R chose rich browns, tempered with accents of dull gold, bright green and red laced with a hint of white - colors that I had never associated with footwear now came together in an impressive display of his elegant design sense. Far more arresting, however, was the sheer love with which he watched over the creation of the red and green slippers for his wife, supervising the measurements himself, making timely corrections whenever the cobblers seemed to be off track, and occasionally pausing to give me some tidbit about the process, but clearly focused the entire time, on what it would be like to go back home and give the gifts he'd made with such care . By the time we left, I too had also bought myself some slippers; great designs at a fantastic price thanks to R's bargaining (another surprise from his "bag of tricks"). Of course, he did lament a couple of times that my appearance was far too touristy (i.e. shades, cap and backpack) and prevented him from bargaining as much as he could otherwise. My response was only to remove my shades a little before we visited a vendor... I mean there is a limit to which a chap will go, right? :)
When we finally reached our guesthouse, I felt the way a little boy feels when he gets back from a day at the amusement park or zoo - tired and exhilarated all at once. I'd been given a guided tour of some of the most interesting art-forms I've seen in some time, by a most excellent guide, who was clearly in the flow of things. So what if I was so absorbed with the musical instruments at the Kalki boutique that we didn't make it in time for lunch at any other place than a wayside shack, which served the most peculiar veg chowmein at around 4 pm? Not even the love of food could come in my way that Saturday! And through it all, R never tired of cracking his trademark jokes, many of them at my expense, as he observed my child-in-a-candy-shop approach to the day! In an odd way, those jokes reminded me of a very valuable lesson - never to take myself too seriously because there's almost always a lighter side to things, often as valuable as the not-so-light.
And so, quite by chance and pretty much unasked for, I was treated to a day of endless discovery and amazement that I will remember for many years to come. It was one of those days that makes you feel happy to be alive and drawing breath in this world, because you share it with some wonderful people. There's so much to learn and so many to learn from... and truth be told, all you have to do is ask....