6, Rue Bellecombe, Pondicherry

As our taxi raced south from Madras along the Airport Road, honking indignantly (and incessantly) at smoke-belching lorries and hapless motorcycles, Yoo-Mi and I were within a few hours of completing our 36 hour journey from San Francisco to Pondicherry. We had landed just in time to celebrate the 1 December birthdays of our friends Puru Kothari and Linda Joseph.

My phone rang; it was Puru. “Let’s meet for lunch at Solar Kitchen” in Auroville, he suggested. Aroville was on our way, sort of, so we advised the driver that we’d be making a detour before going home.

We reached Auroville an hour early, and decided to make a surprise visit to our friend Uma Prajapati at her design studio, Upasana. When we departed India this summer, Uma was abroad speaking about Upasana’s Tsunamika project, about which I am long overdue to write. So seeing her was a special treat – one made doubly special when her partner, our dear friend, Manoj Pavitran, showed up.

Many have marveled at Manoj’s perpetual serenity, lovely good humor, creative genius, and transcendent modesty. Rumor has it he was this way long before he met Uma; but I’m thinking that sharing his life with this effervescent, dazzlingly brilliant, vastly inspirational woman isn’t hurting matters.

Our visit with Uma was cut short by Puru’s anticipated arrival at Solar Kitchen – leaving aside that Puru was last on time for something in 1973, and then only by accident. We prevailed on Manoj to join us for lunch, though.

It may have been Puru and Linda’s birthday, but lunch at Solar Kitchen felt like a homecoming party thrown just for us.

Puru arrived with Maya, both of whom were in their trademark good cheer. They brought with them Linda, Mui Ho, and Bill Hocker, friends from Berkeley with whom we would be traveling to Orissa in a few days. Within minutes we were also exchanging giddy hugs with Hemant Lamba, Divya Kapoor, and toddling daughter Sanaa, who happened to be lunching there. So too were Lata and Prashant, two other friends who might just as easily be described as “from Berkeley” (their former abode) or “from Auroville” (their current home), as if the luncheon party was designed specifically to demonstrate the inevitability and interconnectedness of things.

In short, before we had even crossed the threshold of 6, Rue Bellecombe, much less unpacked our bags, we had reunited with most of our closest friends in Pondicherry. We would see more of the Shuddham crew, including Ajit Reddy and Probir Banerjee, as soon as our taxi finally deposited us at home.

It had been quite a welcoming committee. The only thing remaining to make our homecoming complete was the ritual two-hour sweeping and scrubbing of our rooms on the roof of 6, Rue Bellecombe. After all, the rats, spiders, termites, geckos, cockroaches, monsoon rains, rotting ceiling beams, decaying plaster, and blooms of mold had left their own welcome-home presents for us.


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