Pondicherry had been on my list of places to visit for a long time, and I was especially curious about Auroville. And, of course, the thought of running 5 km made me excited and apprehensive in equal measure. In sum, though, it was an enjoyable trip, and I might have come away with a new hobby.
To be brutally honest, Pondi can be slightly boring. Once you’ve seen the beach and played in the water, checked out the Auroville handicrafts, and yes, visited Auroville itself, there’s precious little to occupy oneself with. Or perhaps our city-bred souls rebelled at the thought of lounging by the sea aimlessly once the novelty of the place wore off!
They say that Auroville is quite amazing, and they are not wrong in many ways. It boasts of some intriguing architecture, and knowing that the area used to be nearly barren some forty years ago — according to a resident, the forest is about completely a human creation — is truly amazing.
The greenery, the almost complete (but not quite) lack of traffic, and the commune-type existence of Auroville residents has captured a lot of imaginations. The idea that you own nothing and yet everything belongs to everyone is quite fascinating if one is predisposed to thinking in a certain way. However, the exclusion of local villages interspersed within the land owned by Auroville is disturbing. One of the residents admitted that it causes an “us” and “them” type of divide, one that is giving rise to increasing security problems. One wonders why a community that professes to thrive on sharing does not do more to include the real locals. For while those who come from near and far to make Auroville their home have the option and usually the bank balance of leaving if they want (though they take nothing with them; not even the value of the houses they build), the villagers have little choice. Their obvious poverty next to Auroville’s equally obvious lack of it was quite jarring.
Also, a little observation about the visitors’ centre. Big fat lizards roaming around the food display cases at the café, insects hovering on the baked items, the decidedly grimy counters — acceptable in a roadside dhaba, but not in a tourist centre with delusions of grandeur. The rates charged are not of the roadside type either.
Of course, the marathon. This was the second edition of the Auroville Marathon, and there were 42 km, 21 km and 10.5 km run, apart from the joining run, which was essentially an unofficial event. Even as one huffed and puffed to the finish line with the stragglers, thankfully looking forward to a breakfast laid on by the organizers, one had to appreciate that it was well organized. There were frequent stalls providing water, lemon juice and biscuits for runners. The routes were clearly marked, and volunteers were to be found at intervals for assistance if required.
Running, one comes to realize, is a loner’s sport. A good pair of shoes, your iPod and a stretch of road — and you’re ready to go. Of course, us city types look despairingly at the traffic on the streets, but with a little bit of patience it is possible to find runners’ groups and places to run. Maybe next time one can be better prepared to run a longer distance?
If wishes were horses!
Now, because Picasa hates Macbeth, here’s a very limited selection of the photos just to prove to Niklas that I was there (click for larger size):