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From to Chennai to Auroville/Pondicherry and now Madurai

A peacock, the state bird of India, perched on a house in Auroville

My Uncle Warren, a sage of sorts, told me to write down my first impressions of India, and then to revisit what I had written a few weeks later to see how my impressions had changed. Unfortunately, I was too over-whelmed in my first few hours of India to jot down anything. A better way to say it is maybe that I so over-whelmed myself in the first few hours in India to do anything but swat at mosquitoes and fear bottled water. I can, however, imagine some once else writing down his or her first impression of India:

“It was such a treat to step off an eight hour plane ride, onto the tarmac and into the warm air of India. The palm trees here have the ability to transform even the cold modernity of the New Delhi airport into a place of wonder. If it weren’t for that chubby white guy who keeps running and ducking every few steps while frantically swatting and muttering about mosquitoes, I would say this, my first impression, exceeds even my wildest imagination.”

I hadn’t yet bought my bug-repellent and I needed one more day of taking my malaria pills to be in compliance with the recommendation on the bottle, and thus, in my mind, malaria-proof. So the next twelve hours were spent looking for mosquito-free areas of the New Delhi airport. Just to be clear, I am sure that JFK has about as many mosquitoes in rooms with sliding doors to the outside, but I was too worried about malaria.

“New Delhi airport is a treat. There are at least four restaurants and coffee shops to service the wearied traveler. I just had a delightful cup of coffee with the perfect amount of milk and sugar. The sweets look amazing, and I can’t wait to try them. The chubby white guy seems to be in need of some refreshing after all his swatting and high-step-mosquito-evading, but he is examining the top and bottom of all the bottles of water. I wonder if he is some sort of water bottle researcher come all the way to India?”

After throwing away a bottle of water, I learned that the date printed on most products refer to when they were made and not when they expire.

I am happy to report that my time here has changed considerably since those first hours. Chennai was a blur. The New Woodlands Hotel in Chennai was a very nice place with a great restaurant attached. Traffic in Chennai is madness, but I understand not nearly as bad as the traffic in Delhi or Kolkata. My ex-coworker Melinda commented that crossing the street in Cairo was like playing Frogger, a statement that could also be said about Chennai (instead of getting points you get blacklung). My time in Chennai was a waste for the most part because methinks my will to get over the jetlag was week, so many of my waking hours were spent from 1am-7am watching TV.

On June 15, I took a four-hour bus ride from Chennai to Pondicherry, a unique city in India in that it was under French and not British rule. The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is located in Pondicherry, and Auroville (the universal city named after him) is located 15km away. During my three-week stay in Auroville, I made many visits to Pondicherry for food and to charge my Indian cell (+919952940683). I even made one visit to get food poisoning from some bad tiger prawns. My trip to the Auroville Health Center cost me 4 dollars to see the doctor and another 25 cents for the antibiotic. I felt 100% better a day later.

After a night in Pondi, I traveled to Auroville, where I stayed for three weeks at the Earth Institute ( The first two weeks were spent in a class called AVD or Arches, Vaults and Domes (do a Google search “Gaudi and Catenary” and you will be fascinated), and the third week, which I finished yesterday was spent in a course called CSEB or Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks. Overall, the AVD course was a better course, but I did get to make a rammed earth foundation and wall in the CSEB course, which made it more than worthwhile. Here are some pictures of the work.

Auroville itself is an interesting, peaceful place that feels like summer camp. You rent a bicycle (bike in India means motorcycle) for about 50 cents a day to take you around the town, which has a diameter of about 5 miles at the most. The roads are all made of red dirt, and the land was actually barren forty years ago when it was founded. It is now full of trees and supports quite a lot of plant and animal life. Cows, peacocks and lizards are everywhere. There are only about five places to eat, but the food is very good. Many of the Aurovillians actually leave Auroville from March-August, to escape the oppressive heat that oppressed me. I was drinking upwards of 1.5 gallons of water a day, especially during the practical session of AVD and on days when we played volleyball.

The best part of both of these courses, however, was meeting people from around the world who are also interested in earth construction. Most of the attendees are architects or are working to become architects, and most are from India. I am currently visiting one of the people from the workshop, Prasad, in Madurai, a town known for its 120’ temples that were completed in the 16th Century. Prasad lives at a school that was designed by the amazing and compassionate man and architect Laurie Baker ( While visiting the Meenakshi Temple this evening, I gave an elephant 5 rupees and he or she blessed me with his or her trunk.

Back Left to Right: Sourav, Prasad, Me
Front Left to Right: Pushkar, Lakshmi, Pooja, Ankur

Susan on the right was my dome partner and has a beautiful singing voice.

Tomorrow I plan to visit the Gandhi Museum (it was in Madurai that Gandhi decided to wear only homespun clothing), which documents the independence struggle. On Wednesday, I travel to Pune to visit 6 of the workshop attendees (Ankur, Lakshmi, Pooja, Pushkar, Sourav and Suchi). Some of them have been working on an activity room for an elementary school where Sourav teaches. The activity room is made using a modified version of the earth bag technique that was started by Nader Khalili. They also just received a retired city bus, which they are turning into a science/ecology center for the children, so I hope to help with this project while there.

Being scared of the mosquitoes in the New Delhi seems a long was away now...I'm now somewhat scared of the mosquitoes in Madurai.

Reader Comments (11)

hauser, Pune is the city where i lived for 3 years! I did my bachelors there. nice update btw, try and post them more frequently. have you tried much south indian food in pondi and chennai? i found a 'kerala' restaurant here in london that i frequent quite regularly now :)

July 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSahal

Idid not see the chubby white guy.
The chubby white guy is now living in Bellville where the village sprays and kills the pesky mosquito.
Keep drinking the water - enjoy your study and work. Does nobody cook?
Your sage uncle gave you good words.
I will visit this blog again.

July 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbob

All your posts should really be in iambic pentameter (for extra flavor), but even though this one wasn't it remained thoroughly entertaining!

July 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSean O

Hi Arun,
Nice to hear from you!
I guess it is difficult to imagine where you are, sitting here with air conditioning in your old office!
Enjoy and keep us posted.

July 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMike Hill Sierra

Hello, It sounds like things are wonderful. I'm impressed that you are heading to Pune with all you mosquito fears. I think they should be in full on monsoon by now, and man can an old tire in India breed mosquitoes in monsoon. Old tire's are to mosquitoes what assembly lines are to cars. Any plans to give up on the anti-malarials any time soon?

I'm so glad that you're there, and that you seem to like it so much. We went to Madurai on the India trip and it was lovely, and there is some pretty cool stuff to check out around Pune. I look forward to the next post.


July 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterArturi

Lil Brother, You look so happy!! And I got to say me's a wee bit jealous of your elephant blessing! It is amazing how quickly a person acculamates. Glad you are conquering your mosquito and water fears. Love ya, Lolily

July 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterleahhauser

hi arun

I came across your blog. You look a lot like my friend aaron hauser... in fact the resemblence is uncanny. anyway I am going to be in Delhi from July 8 - 10 and Mumbai form July 10 - 12 so if you are in either locale, lets meet up


July 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteranirudh

Hi, Buddy. I remember naming you Aaron, who is this Arun guy. I agree with Leah, you look so happy following your bliss.
Miss you-Love you- Be well.

July 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermom

Arun! you're such a good writer! very happy to see you happy. i need to look at the map of india to figure out where you are.
i'm now in hokkaido in northern japan, cool and nice here, where i just finished covering the G8 summit. i'm flying back today to tokyo, where it'll be muggy and hot and i'll be sweating from the moment i wake up until i go to bed for the next 2 months. like india!
it's been a year since i came back here :o time flies. it's been good so far.
keep us posted. pasta pasta,

July 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermokoloco

arun bhau! hello! Just read your blog, the earlier ones that always..had a good laugh!Have a good trip to Ellora! and btw, you tagore book still lies with me..shall retun it when u cm back to pune again.

July 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterpooja

Sorry, cannot read this one. Love you.

September 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermom

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