We had a nice relaxed start to our work at Mantra for the months of January,February and part of March 2016.

Mantra is located in a small fishing village 500metres from the sea to the north of “white town” or the French Heritage area of Pondicherry and belongs to the same owners of “Gratitude” guesthouse which we looked after last year and which is about half an hour’s walk away or ten minutes by bicycle. The piece de resistance is the 20metre covered pool which is most welcome on a hot and sticky day. Guests from both properties could use it at the cost of Rs200 for an hour or Rs3000 for the month. We could use it any time which was a bonus.

Maurice and I bought new bikes for $85 each rather than hire them as some looked very unreliable and old. The owners will give us half when we leave and then hire them out to guests.
The large house has two fully self contained units on the first floor with long stay guests who looked after themselves. The ground floor has two rooms with ensuites which share a common area with the two units in the basement where we were located.

The basement was a quarter of a metre under water after the heavy rains a couple of months before but had since been dried out and totally refurbished to a comforable living area with vibrant wall colours.

There are only four staff – a groundsman come watchman and three women who looked after the cleaning/washing and cooking. The ground floor guests could order breakfast for Rs200 but most just brought their own and had the use of the kitchen facilities and common area.
The house is surrounded on three sides by garden and the building of a two storey guesthouse on the block next door was started while we were there. The owners eventually want to establish a cafe on the site.

Being a fishing village there are only some basic shops nearby and local markets so the area is ready for a cafe on this side of town.

Our duties were to do inventories of everything in the house, sort out the storeroom and kitchen and make general recommendations for improvements to the house. It was not as much work as Gratitude which is run as a B and B and has a greater turnover of guests however we suffered from maintenance issues which are forever ongoing in India. We were always ringing for the electrician, plumber and handyman. The humid climate by the sea ensures that the building needs whitewashing on a continuous basis.

We were in Pondicherry again for their harvest festival “Pongal” which ran over three days in the middle of January and there were many colourful “kolams” on every street. There was a lot more noise generally in the village of Vaithikuppam where we stayed. When someone dies there is a lot of drumming and for various temple festivals much loud music from speakers in the main streets of Vaithikuppam. This was not heard in “White town”. The fishing village can be a loud place but it is interesting to see how differently the people live over this side! White town is a much more sanitized place.

We have however noticed a great improvement in rubbish collection although there is still much to be done. A young Frenchman we met has the task of spending 200million euros on the clean up of all the waterways in Pondicherry which would make a huge difference to the whole area if most of it isn’t whittled away to corrupt officials.

Medical and dental services here in Pondicherry are extremely good and the payment of $15 for an ultrasound and the same for teeth cleaning and polishing can’t be beaten.

We had our friend Tracey from Perth join us for a couple of weeks and it was lovely to have her with us and be able to show her the area. We did do rather a lot of shopping – mainly clothes and fabrics which are hard to resist and where the choice is unsurpassed – especially in a department store called Pothys.

Tracey and I got caught up in cutting and sewing fabric for decorating the Craft Bazaar for the Heritage Festival which took place over three days. Virginia an English woman did a lot of work getting the Tamil NGO’s involved and made sure things were printed in Tamil so that the local population got involved too. Large crowds of Tamil people visited the performances and the Craft Bazaar. It was wonderful and quite moving to watch the dancers especially the disabled children and to see their wonderful young teacher prompting them along the way. It was a lot of work all round but worth it in the end with the Japanese head of Unesco Asia opening the Festival.

We took Tracey to Auroville – the town twenty minutes from Pondicherry to see the Matrimandir. We also bought a few things from the pottery exhibition there where potters from Auroville and other parts of India plied their wares. We also visited the large expo opposite the Gandhi statue where stall holders came from all over India to promote and sell their goods.

One day while cycling along the Promenade (which has been cleaned up dramatically in one year) we saw a large group of children who were visiting the seaside for the first time. It was wonderful to watch. They were so excited and when they got to the Promendate they just stood there staring at the water in awe.

There seemed to have been a lot of white washing of heritage buildings in the French side of town and there was a lot of work being done at the Joan of Arc park apparently being paid for by the French.

There was something on every week – expos, free concerts, dance performances and films at the Alliance Francaise as well as the Heritage Festival and the Fair Trade and Water conservation festival.

India is definately the place to have anything fixed from shoes,bags,clothes and everything else. They are masters at fixing things – no such word as no and everything so cheap. I got an A3 photo picture print framed with glass for $7.

The majority of Tamils we have met have been very pleasant with a ready smile and some of the auto-rickshaw drivers get out of their vehicles and help the elderly (not Maurice except when he was not feeling well) across the road. I have made friends with some of the very helpful and cheerful salesgirls from the supermarkets and the boutiques with whom I can always share a chat and a laugh or with Rajesh a lovely barista at Cafe Ole who wanted me to write down my favourite ten Indian boys
and girls names for the baby his wife is expecting in a couple of months. Unfortunately our lovely friend Vijay from Gratitude left the company after six years and had us over for dinner with his family. We will keep in touch with him.

Towards the end of our stay we had Harsh Mander an author and civil rights activist come to Pondicherry. He has written a book called “Looking Away” describing the indifference of the rich and middle classes towards the downtrodden and minority peoples of India. He is very controversial and the landlords fearing retribution banned him from speaking at Sharana an NGO for underpriviledged children. Luckily “Gratitude came to the fore and he had his book reading and discussion there.

I did have the privilege of accompanying him and a couple of others to Baby Sarah’s Home for orphaned and disabled children from 3-18years of age. Steven the CEO is a wonderful caring person who feeds, houses and clothes 100 children with the help donations and overseas volunteers. He has great plans for the place but sensibly takes one project at a time. Over the years he has integrated some of his charges sucessfully into society and to jobs.

We had some interesting guests over our two months – Elisabeth who has become a friend – a former French film producer and writer who lives in Hydra. RJ a writer from Lincoln, UK, John a university professor and Alicia from Minesota, Martin a lovely English gentleman from Ipswich and Trishla a Marathon runner from
Bangalore who was running in the Auroville marathon which attracted over 3000 people. Aiyana an caligrapher and artist was staying for many months. The majority were long stay guests (two weeks to a month).

We did have a lucky escape while we were at Mantra. Maurice was in the basement and called for me to come and identify from where a burning smell was coming. As we entered our bedroom the EVS (Electronic Voltage Stabilizer) for our air conditioner had flames coming out of it’s side. Quick thinking Maurice pulled out the plug and used the thick floormat to extinguish the flame before it could take hold. If he hadn’t been in the basement it might have been a different story.
They came and replaced the faulty box so we hope that is the last of it.

It has also been my job to replace old items and buy new stock the house and I have bought a few nice plants for the house for a few dollars.

Our last ten days was spent sorting goods to send home and on to Germany and revisiting places or restaurants which were particularly good. We departed Pondicherry for the three hour trip to Chennai airport on the 11th March for an individual tour of Sri Lanka for a couple of weeks.

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