Islamic Pondicherry #2: Empire of the Sign

I first encountered a town called Pondicherry while reading Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi ten or so years ago.  I still remember the description of a sort of paradisiacal religious melting pot—mosques, churches, temples.  The image, formed well before I experienced any of India first hand, became fixed in my mind as a reality of the place, of course that truth is nothing more than my own saṃskara.

Wandering around town the other day I took a few photos of street signs; I’m posting two— Moullah Street:

and Rue Cazy/Cazy Street (=Qazi):

I was struck by how the signs simultaneously frame, illuminate, and conceal the histories of the communities living there.  Arabic, Tamil, French, English, they show a complex web of relations between people, language, and place which somehow to me seems more telling than the mere coexistence of houses of worship.


The Rains: Three Pictures and Half a Verse

The street where I live after a day of rain

Courtyard of the EFEO, #16 Rue Dumas

All things shining


And half a verse from the Meghadūta:

meghāloke bhavati sukhino ‘py anyathāvṛtti cetaḥ

kaṇṭhāśleṣapraṇayini jane kiṃ punar dūrasaṃsthe

Tiny Frogs who give us cows in hundreds lengthen our lives in this most fertilizing season.

I woke up this morning to heavy rains.  I went outside and the ground was hopping with these little guys:

Given the rains and the frogs, I thought a nice Vedic hymn would be appropriate, RV 7.103 trans. by Griffith:

1. THEY who lay quiet for a year, the Brahmans who fulfil their vows,
The Frogs have lifted up their voice, the voice Parjanya hath inspired.
2 What time on these, as on a dry skin lying in the pool’s bed, the floods of heaven descended,
The music of the Frogs comes forth in concert like the cows lowing with their calves beside them.
3 When at the coming of the Rains the water has poured upon them as they yearned and thirsted,
One seeks another as he talks and greets him with cries of pleasure as a son his father.
4 Each of these twain receives the other kindly, while they are revelling in the flow of waters,
When the Frog moistened by the rain springs forward, and Green and Spotty both combine their voices.
5 When one of these repeats the other’s language, as he who learns the lesson of the teacher,
Your every limb seems to be growing larger as ye converse with eloquence on the waters.
6 Onc is Cow-bellow and Goat-bleat the other, one Frog is Green and one of them is Spotty.
They bear one common name, and yet they vary, and, talking, modulate the voice diversely.
7 As Brahmans, sitting round the brimful vessel, talk at the Soma-rite of Atiratra,
So, Frogs, ye gather round the pool to honour this day of all the year, the first of Rain-time.
8 These Brahmans with the Soma juice, performing their year-long rite, have lifted up their voices;
And these Adhvaryus, sweating with their kettles, come forth and show themselves, and none are hidden.
9 They keep the twelve month’s God-appointed order, and never do the men neglect the season.
Soon as the Rain-time in the year returneth, these who were heated kettles gain their freedom.
10 Cow-bellow and Goat-bleat have granted riches, and Green and Spotty have vouchsafed us treasure.
The Frogs who give us cows in hundreds lengthen our lives in this most fertilizing season.

These frogs are very small and very quiet, neither green nor spotty, just brownish, but still hopefully they have vouchsafed us treasure.