(c) Durba Gupta
The mornings in Pondicherry are amazing. The sun peeks through the clouds getting ready for the harsh noon, while the sea breeze, still lost in the nightly romance brushes the trees. The leaves scatter around in idle grace. Hundreds of cycles paddle towards the Ashram canteen for the morning breakfast. The cycles nod at each other, they stop by and exchange pleasantries – I believe that is the ritual, every morning. Ashram’s breakfast includes pieces of bread, milk, and one dalia sweet. They sit in lines, on the floor, young and old, Indian and foreigners, and eat their breakfasts like an ‘emperor’.
Sumitradi goes there too. Some days, she might miss, but most days she is there. She knows the menu by heart. It’s been five years.
I’ve always wanted to go to Pondicherry, may be to brush up my poor French, to capture the beautiful French quarters of the idyllic place, to have good food, to enjoy the sea, and all that jazz! So, last Christmas, I booked myself to a rather artistic hotel for a couple of nights, and took a night bus to Pondicherry. I also cajoled a colleague into joining me in the trip. The bus reached Pondicherry at 6, we took an auto to the hotel, and after few setbacks reached our destination. We explored Pondicherry the whole day and came back to a rather noisy hotel! An impromptu party was going on, loud music, and to top it all the furniture from our room was moved to accommodate the party. We were furious!
Sumitradi is a physiotherapist. She has been working all her life in a place called Burdwan in West Bengal. I imagine a small house, brothers and sisters, mother and father. Sumitradi comes across as a provider.
The next morning the hotel owner called. He empathized with our disappointment over last night’s fiasco. He offered us a free massage.
We met Sumitradi.
Sumitradi came to Pondicherry in the early nineties, for the first time. She had been coming to Pondicherry, since then. She decided that when she retires she will become an ashramite. So one fine day, in 2005, Sumitradi bade farewell to the place and the people she had lived her whole life, and took a train to Pondicherry.
However, the Ashram did not take her in. The retired lady rented a one BHK and stayed back. She became a masseuse. Everyday Sumitradi dons a saree, takes her jhola and paddles to the weary bodies. Every day she chooses to stay back and hopes for a place in the Ashram.
Sumitradi inspires me. Hailing from a humble background in a small town, her courage of conviction to live life the way she chooses to, inspires me. She chooses not to board a train back to the people and place she has lived her whole life. She chooses not to live off her pension. She instead chooses to dream, and to hope that someday she will be living in the Ashram. To Sumitradi, you inspire me…!
(C) Durba Gupta
*Name, place (not Pondicherry!) and timeline has been changed.