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.
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.