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.

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