We are just back from India and are still a bit jet-lagged, sleeping through the day and up all night. Although we are trying to get back to our normal London rhythm the impressions of Pondicherry are still very fresh in our minds, because the Pondicherry which we visited this time is nothing like the Pondicherry we had lived in only a couple of years ago. The pace of change is clearly visible and for once there are so many positive changes that we are still talking about them.
For a start, the beach road is unrecognisable. There is now a parallel road built over the rocks and there are more people walking on it than on the road itself. New Hotels, restaurants and cafes have come up at the far end, near the Park Guest House and there is even a stretch where palm trees have been planted on either side of the pavement. There are toilets at various places and garbage bins where people are likely to buy street food. “Le Cafe” near the Gandhi statue is all spruced up, attracting the wealthier tourists who can sip a coffee or a masala tea on the extended sit-out as they watch the locals strolling around with their families. Gone are the crumbling walls and moss-covered rocks on which the waves broke, sending up the salt spray as you had your tasteless coffee in a chipped cup.
Passing by the park at night we had to stop, so much we were struck by its beauty. The French-styled grilles now make it possible to lock up the gates at night. No, this was not that dark and shabby park which we used to see on our way back from our evening walk by the beach. This was a clean, neat, green cluster of gardens, lit up by a row of elegant lamps and an island of silence in the night.
The next remarkable feature of Pondy is the transformed Nehru Street. The pavements, at last, have been levelled up very neat paving tiles. The metal barriers have been taken out and there are far fewer hawkers sitting outside the shops, clogging up the pedestrian’s space. The new air-conditioned supermarkets are a pleasure to be in. On several occasions when we went to stock up on fruits and vegetables, as I went to the exit with my basket of melons and pomegranates I thought it was no different from shopping at Kingsbury in London.
And the railway station, that stinking platform and that dust-covered hall where you stood for hours to book a ticket? Well, all that’s gone. Now you have a shiny new structure with a cash machine outside, a clean and wide platform with electronic display boards showing you exactly where the coaches will be placed when you catch your direct superfast express to Bhubaneshwar.
Back in London, as we try to keep our eyes open after five pm, we hope that one day our we will be able to see our ultimate dream fulfilled when we will be able to walk on wide and even pavements in Pondicherry. Surely one day even that will happen when we will able to leave the scooter at home and walk down to the beach road, unhampered and unafraid of the traffic. This entry was posted on Thursday, February 7th, 2008 at 8:36 am and is filed under India.