Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Boys playing with fire in French colonies

October 27th was one of the biggest holidays of the year in India – Diwali, the festival of lights. The nation celebrates this by making it temporarily legal to purchase just about any and all kind of fireworks, and set them off unregulated. Pretty great.

A few friends and I decided to celebrate this three day weekend by driving down to Pondicherry, a semi-autonomous former French colony about 3 hours south of Chennai. We packed five people plus a dog into a Hyundai hatchback and took off down the coast.

We ended up staying at a great half-hostel half-campsite elevated bungalow thing right on the coast in Auroville, the hippie colony neighboring Pondicherry town. This was particularly convenient because a) it cost about $15 for 5 people, and b) not only did the caretaker not mind my dog being there, but he liked her so much that he offered to trade the dog for the room fee. Unfortunately he was unaware of the effort that has been put into this dog.

After settling in our bungalow we headed into town. Our first stop was the reason most Chennaiites make the journey down to Pondicherry: because of its semi-autonomous status, the colony is not subject to the same alcohol laws as the rest of the state. We were able to stock up on coveted imported liquor, including French and Australian wine (sure to make our upcoming Thanksgiving feast far more pleasant).

Errands finished, we spent the rest of the weekend gluttonously stuffing our faces full of crepes, pasta and pizzas. To celebrate Diwali properly, we bought a 60-shot firework that looked like a huge car battery, dug a hole for it in the sand on the beach and set it off. (This was the brainchild of my crazy friends Mike and Raghu, who are exceedingly lucky that they didn’t lose any limbs.) My dog was not as amused as the rest of us.

We finished off the Festival of Lights by returning to Chennai in time to watch the celebrations in the city from a rooftop restaurant. It’s really an incredible sight, seeing fireworks erupting all over the city at random intervals, hearing sparklers and crackers on every block. You could never get an experience like this in the states. And admittedly, it is a very dangerous tradition – walking to the restaurant I almost walked into at least three crackers about to go off. But it was also a pretty amazing celebration.

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