Post Cyclone Pondicherry

Everyone is working so hard to deal with the destruction caused by the cyclone. the first task was to clear a strip down the middle of each street so that cars and people could move about. this took almost all the first day, although many of the streets were impossible for everyday people to deal with as the trees were so huge and un-movable. the already crowded roads (people, carts, bicycles, trucks, cars, cows, dogs, beggars etc) were all squeezed into these small passageways and we only went out as necessary. each day there are more and more passable streets, big trucks have now been brought in to be filled with tons of broken branches and trucks.

the wide walkway and road that runs along the sea was covered with 3-6 inches of beach sand and dirt and in the ensuing hot sunny days has become a very hard and packed surface. all day long groups of women are bending over and hammering at the packed dirt with rocks to break away little pieces and then haul them over to the beach and throw them back in. it is taking so long – the stretch is about 1.5 km long and each day about 30 feet more is cleared. meantime, cars are packing it down in the day and the hundreds of people that still come out in the evenings and stroll along the sea are packing it too.  it will be weeks before this stretch is cleared of its debris.

yesterday we walked our usual route to the internet cafe and noticed that the streets were being cleared – which is wonderful – and —- that the shade is gone. these treelined streets were so beautiful and cool as the green branches arched over us. now they are barren and hot and dry. everything and everyone has been affected by the damage. the birds are fighting for a place in the reduced availability, the plants that once grew protected from the sun are being burned and blackened, the people who usually bring food and services from the outlying villages are not coming in and I suspect it is because of their home situation.  we have been told that the tsunami ‘missed’ Pondicherry but this cyclone has caused damage and devastation that has never been seen and that will take years to recover from. we are so grateful that we did get 10 days here to enjoy the meditation hall, the peaceful atmosphere, the conversations we have had with people of all walks of life and the quiet time to study and relax.

David and Kelley, who were in Auroville when the cyclone hit still do not have power and it is expected that it will not return for weeks. Most of the roads are still blocked by trees and there is only one place where they can eat (they are running their own power and cook on propane). The places they were volunteering have no power and no work is bring done there. OVer 70% of the trees have been damaged or uprooted. the crops of cashews, coconuts and spices have been ruined. the buildings have sustained wind and water damage. 50 years ago when this village was born, this area was a barren wasteland. over time and with much effort from people from all over the world it was transformed into a lush, vibrant and productive community. over one million trees were planted and everything has been designed to preserve and protect the environment. to hear that so many of these trees and work has been damaged is very sad.

In light of the situation there they decided that they would move into Pondicherry and that we would all leave for Mysore a few days earlier as this situation is not likely to change for some time.

Cyclone Ushers in 2012

Last time we were in this part of India (2008) we experienced a cyclone. there were terrific winds and rain over about 3 days with no power. so when we heard that another cyclone was heading our way, we thought we knew what to expect and how to prepare for it, but the ferocity of this one caught everyone off guard. although it was shorter in duration it was significantly more destructive.

we had an early dinner on thursday eve (Dec 29) as the wind was starting to pick up and there was some rain. we read in our room for a couple of hours, listening to the increasing intensity of the wind and Joseph fell asleep around 9 pm. the noise of the wind kept me awake and it wasn’t hard to notice that it was getting stronger and stronger.

(( our room setup: our room is on the 3rd floor of the guest house with a balcony facing the sea. there is a meditation garden in front of  us – between the sea and our building. the garden is full of coconut trees, potted plants, statues of various Hindu gods and goddesses, benches and hundreds of different tropical trees and shrubs. it is very peaceful and well cared for. there is a door from the balcony into our room which consists of two single beds, a ‘coffee’ table, and chair. the door to the outdoor hallway is lined up with the door to the balcony. this door is on the back of the building and comes off a hallway that runs the length of the building. we have a bathroom inside our bedroom and it is quite large, no window and at the front door.))

I thought I had better close the windows which are always open and allow the warm air from the sea to circulate in our room. The whole view of the sea was white. Huge rolling waves, crashing into each other. just all white water. The wind was so strong that it lifted alot of water into the air and blew that around – so even the sky and air between our room and the sea (not very far) was white and wet. the wind starting to scream through the window openings. I closed the 3 sliding panes, although there is still space between them as they are each in their own track. the noise level continued to rise and at last Joseph woke up and we did an assessment as it was clear to us that the winds were much more intense than our previous experience. we knew the building itself was very strong and secure. the only weak point was the windows – if the wind blew them out we would be soaked and would basically be like being outside – no protection from the storm.

so we took the mattress from one of the beds and put it into the bathroom in case we needed to retreat to a safer place. we filled 2 buckets of water in case we lost water. we turned the empty bedframe (solid wood) and put it between our one remaining bed and the windows. we stuffed 2 towels under the balcony door to deter the rain (as there is no sill) and held them in place with the ‘coffee’ table and chair. then we climbed into our single bed and listened to the howling wind and screeching sounds from outside. we could tell that ‘stuff’ was falling off buildings, trees were coming down etc as we heard the sounds of metal and glass and tiles smashing around outside.

the hours went by very slowly as we intently listened to try to discern if there was any increasing danger. sometimes the wind was so loud we could not even hear each other speak even though we were lying side by side. it was like being right next to a train passing. we just prayed the windows would hold – which they did.

the power of course was out and we waited like this until dawn, cringing as the blasts of wind continued to hit our windows and doors. when there was some light in the room (dawn was about 6 am) we could see that our bed was a little island in the middle of a lake. the water was about 2 inches deep and filled the room. the water was coming in under the balcony door and through the small gap in the windows,  the rain was incredible and the powerful wind just kept pushing it in.

we could not venture outside so we laid in our little bed and waited. periodically we would get up to get a drink or check the other door and the thing that i thought was so wonderful and remarkable is that it was warm. the water we were walking through was warm, the wind coming through the windows was warm – we were warm! we were wet, just wearing tshirts and yet quite comfortable temperature wise. I was so grateful for this – I am used to our BC storms when the air and wind is cold and getting wet is not only uncomfortable but dangerous.

by noon it seemed the wind was subsiding slightly. we were wet the entire time as everything was coated in the moisture that was being blown through the air by the wind. our feet were wet for about 36 hours and we longed for a cup of hot tea. we had no food so around 3 pm Joseph put on his rain gear, shorts and good walking shoes and went out to find us some food. he came back 2 hours later with some small (and delicious) bananas, packages of cookies and some cashews, which was all he could find. obviously the shops were closed and he related the destruction all around us.

on the way into the guesthouse Joseph saw a woman we had been talking to as she was contemplating how to go out and get some food. Joseph gave her some cookies and bananas and told her to stay inside as it was still dangerous to go out. water tanks were blown off roof tops, numerous thatched roofs were hanging off buildings, power lines all over the place etc.

we ate our snacks  and climbed back into our wet bed. the next morning our guest house offered a breakfast of boiled eggs, bread and hot tea and we gratefully ate this.

our meditation garden was totally destroyed – trees uprooted, sculptures smashed, light fixtures snapped off, pots broken and plants strewn all over the grounds.

today is January 1st and we enjoyed lunch with David and Kelley. they had a whole different experience at Auroville with falling trees, flattened pistachio and cashew forests and destruction – but they are safe and well. we have clean dry sheets, our laundry is hanging out in the sun and everyone is busy dragging trees and branches off the streets so life can go on. the sea is placid – hardly a wave to be seen!

Here are some pictures of our devastated garden from our balcony.

BELOW this is the promenade which is a popular place to walk in the cool of the evening. all the red dirt you can see has been flushed onto the road and walkway from the ocean – to the right is the ocean.

the big black rocks have been tossed onto the walkway by the waves. today the plows have been working on the road to remove up to 6 inches of debris, rocks and dirt.

Ashram Life in Pondicherry

Here is the beautiful meditation garden that is between us and the sea. (pre-cyclone)

Just beyond the black rock is the Bengal Sea. this rock barrier was put in place after the tsunami of 2004. I was curious about the impact of the tsunami on Pondicherry but did not want to ask as it was a very traumatic time for all. however, yesterday our tuk-tuk driver told me (just out of the blue!) that no one had died and that he felt this area was protected by its founders.

We love this place. the presence of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother for over 50 years has created a setting of peace, tranquility, cleanliness and focus on spiritual development. the flavour is French, as this area was a former French colony – so we even can buy croissants and eat European cuisine. We have many impromptu conversations about consciousness, divine plan, evolution of spirit etc which we really enjoy. We have met people from all over the world who are here to study the work of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Friday evenings we go to the Ashram center and join others in OM chanting. we sit in candlelight and have short readings of the founders, a period of silence and then chant OM until it fades into a time of quiet again. We do this for an hour and it is peaceful and rejuvenating. On Tuesday evenings we take a bus from Pondicherry to Auroville to one of their beautifully constructed centers and we did the same chanting but with about 50 others from Auroville.

BELOW – this is a shot of the promenade (pre-cyclone) in the evening, taken from our balcony. the street is barricaded (no cars etc) at 6 pm so that everyone can walk on the road or the walkway. it is filled with families, children, couples (no touching!) and tourists – catching the cool evening breeze from the sea, enjoying an icecream cone, freshly roasted peanuts or fresh pineapple dishes.

the temperature is in the mid-80’s in the day and mid-70’s at night. the humidity is in the low 70’s instead of the 90’s we experienced in Kerala – so I LOVE that change!

The sea is a constant presence – the surf always heard in the background. sone days there are huger rollers coming in – loudly crashing, one after the other. other times the weather is brisk and the whole sea is choppy and white. Always the breeze/winds are quite strong and I appreciate their cooling a/effect on me.

Salt Water

He was working closely, hands following the outline of the edge he was cutting, hands well
practiced. This was only a recently begun part of the work and he approached it with optimism. He
recalled, as he worked, the hours spent on many of the other areas and the fondness he had attached
to each. The most recent he had named Faith and each attempt had been charged with energy. This
new place, though only poorly started, he had decided to name Hope, and worked his hands and the
tools rhythmically as he envisioned the break through. It had been a long time.

Of a sudden, a piece broke off and flew up into his face, hitting a muscle and the eye flew open!
What flash of light! What explosive move from darkeness to light! The second eye followed
sympathetically and the revelation was complete.

Before him was a vista of life and nature, rich with trees, flowers,winds,water, other living
creatures. Though he looked all around himself he could no longer find his tools nor the
workspace, Faith. The air was fresh and bright. A gold globe of  light and warmth reached into him charging up his spirit.
Swet scents and sounds flooded his senses. He folded his hands giving thanks.

To his left he was startled so see another person sitting beside him, quietly
looking out into the living world before him. And on the far side of the sitting man was another
person, huddled down and mumbling, not looking out into the world.

The quiet man spoke. “It is good to finally see you. I had suspected there was someone there all
along though I was not able to see you. I could follow the patterns in the view where the
clearness was disrupted, each holding place for many months before moving on to another spot and
beginning again. I decided you must have a capacity to hide yourself while you worked and that one
day while you rested I might more clearly see you.”

“It seems I have been with my eyes closed all this time and failed to see all the beauty before
while I worked to dig through from that dark cell to light. And who is that one beside you?”

“Ah, a tight and mumbling one, racked by fear and worry. He can look out at this great panorama
but is quick to panic and retreat. I keep him close to me. It comforts him and I can sense the
pain he endures. I can do nothing to change his life but I can acknowledge his plight with
compassion.”

“Have you always been here?” he asked the quiet one.”Always? I cannot say but I am here.”

The three sat quietly watching. He began to make out a vast sea of water spread across the entire
horizon, a backdrop to the natural wonders before them. The air was filled with animal songs and the
winds played the leaves in stocatto rythyms.

Elizabeth looked over her shoulder to check on her parents. They were sitting further up the beach
on blankets, enjoying glasses of wine and munching on sandwiches. She needed to make the best of
the time she had left. Using a small plastic shovel she dug in the sand shaping the Sand Palace
visioned in her mind. Moats, walls, towers, palace and viewing balgony looking out to sea. Not
far in front of her the great ocean lapped up the sand – moving to tickle at the tips of her feet.

The shovel hit something deep in the sand. Dropping the tool she sieved the sand with her fingers and raised up into her hands three small figurines – one quietly sitting, one crouched down and one who seem to be looking earnestly around. With delight, ELizabeth placed the figures on the balcony of the Sand Palace. The waves moved closer.

He could see the waves on the edge of the wide expanse of water. The waves pushed forward with powerful energy and then at the last moment like a leashed animal halted, turned on themselves and went back. The energy atracted him and began to summon his heart. He could smell the salt ands feel the warm spray. He longed to be washed over, the heat from the water invigorating the cold conrners of his body too long lost in darkness, the wave washed closer.

The waves washed up over his legs and body. Retreated. Returned.

Retreated. Returned. Swallowed him up in a warm salty extacy.

“Elizabeth! It’s time!”

Off to the the Bengal Sea

 

We reluctantly left Amma’s on Dec 20th and took an overnight train to Pondicherry on the southeast coast of India.

we were fortunate to have booked our room back in August at the same place we were before as it is not expensive, very clean and a part of another ashram – the one started by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother in the mid 1900s. We will be here for 3 weeks.

Our room faces the sea – the only thing between it and us is the meditation garden and a huge boulder wall/protection that was put in place after the tsunami in 2004. the crash of the waves is our constant companion – one which i like very much.

David and Kelley are living in a little bungalow in Auroville which is an international community started by the Mother in the 60’s in an effort to see what is needed to bring people of the world together to live in peace and harmony. it has flourished and has added many benefits to the area such as reforestation, schools, ecological projects, garbage and recycling initiatives, and preservation of the local arts, music and languages.

David and Kelley have found 2 places to volunteer. the one where they will spend most of their time is a Bamboo Research and Production Co-op. they make furniture, clothing, jewelery and more and need help in all areas. the funds raised from the sales go towards a local childrens’ camp in the summer and a weekly Childrens’ Day which gives about 50-60 kids the opportunity to learn their tribal and traditional arts, music language and just to play – which children often do not have the opportunity to do. we often see young children sitting on the ground with a stick or leaves, playing by themselves. David and Kelley are looking into importing some of these products to Canada and selling them at craft fairs – letting people know where the funds are going.

For Joseph and I – these 3 weeks are an opportunity to study. Joseph has done extensive research and reading on the writings and thoughts of Sri Aurobindo so is very happy to be at the source of all the writings.

today is Dec 24th so David and Kelley are coming into ‘town’ on their rented motorbike and we will spent the weekend together.

Peace

Amma’s Ashram

I’m a little behind here – a couple of weeks have gone by since we left Allepey….

After a wonderful time – spent mostly on the beach and enjoying the waves and sun – we are off to our next stop – Amma’s ashram. This is about 3 hours further south on the coast.

instead of driving to the ashram we opted for taking a leisurely ferry (5 hours) through the waterways, canals and lakes that are a part of the topography of this part of India. we were dropped at the bridge to Amma’s ashram.

BELOW – ferry ride pictures…

these men are ‘herding’ ducks on the water = probably to market.

Here is Kelley – the woman who can sleep anywhere – anytime……..

we ferried down the middle of this row of fishing nets

 

here people are unloading fish from their small fishing boats into the truck which will take them to the villages that are not on the water.

Amma’s ashram is built on her family home property and has expanded over the years to some acres with temples, open air ‘auditorium’, 3 apartment buildings (between 5-13 stories high), canteen (both Indian and western food), cottages, hospital, ayurvedic clinic. about a mile away are the university and medical training institute she built – where all education and treatment and training is free.

her humanitarian activities are far reaching and address the needs of the region – whether it is housing (after the tsunami), education, medical aid and also throughout the world. she sent $1 million to the Katrina Relief fund. there is a not so small booklet that describes what she has accomplished. But the amazing thing is she did not set out to ‘do’ any of these things. her intention is to be an expression of divine love and service. with her purpose in place at a very early age – all these other things have come forth.

the ashram has rules (quiet hours, no photography) which make this a very peaceful place. there are no vehicles, so the constant noise of traffic and beeping horns is absent – oh what relief that is!

thousands of people come every day – some stay for a day to receive darshan (darshan literally means – notice or attention) which in Amma’s case is a hug and a little message she whispers in your ear. it was so amazing to be in a place with thousands of people – quiet, slow walking, lots of opportunities for meditation, yoga, chanting and seva (selfless service) the ashram has only a few employees so all the work to maintain the activities is done by those staying there. David, Kelley and Joseph spent 3 hours a day preparing food for the meals that are served. (thousands a day eat at the ashram for free). they cut mountains of vegetables and fruit, along with about 30 other volunteers. I did housekeeping and so went every morning to get my room assignment and my bucket of cleaning supplies and cleaned rooms.

Similar to Unity Village – once I get there, I do not leave the grounds – i just enjoy the atmosphere. this also happened at the ashram – i had no desire to go to the beach or the villages – just slow down and enjoy the presence of the intention of this place.

Vicki and Moses

David’s photo and joseph’s caption…..

Alleppey

Last week we arrived at a small Indian town very near the southwest tip. we are staying at a beautiful homestay – in the typical construction of this area and with the amazing hospitality we find everywhere. the beach is at the end of our little road and we go every day for a swim. it is very hot with no shade, so we did scout down another beach about 15 km away that was supposed to have some shade.

joseph and david just came back from an exciting outing – gotta go for show and tell. will be back later with more …and pictures of these fabulous beaches!

BELOW

yep – the beach was everything that was promised. pristine, shady, great water and fresh coconuts available on the beach

BELOW

here is our homestay, typical Kerala style house with tile roof and large courtyards and balconies – gotta catch that breeze!

BELOW

temple near our home

Trees of Kochi

Kochi has many of these magnificent trees throughout town, bordering parks and along the shore. their canopies are unbelievably large and spread over the grass, creating shade and nesting places for the myriads of tropical birds.

i tried to get some shots  of the trees alongside things like rickshaws and people in it- to get some idea of how enormous they are.

Girls Day