In Pondicherry I got up around 5:30 am (India time) to perform Fajr (the first of 5 prayers Muslims perform throughout the day). It was an hour earlier to the time I would normally perform fajr in Malaysia, and at the same time it was 2.5 hours later! Kind of amusing when you think of the time difference.
As I completed my prayers, I could smell a light waft of fragrance in the hotel room. I wondered if the folks at Atithi (our hotel in Pondicherry) performed the same morning puja Hindus do at home, at the hotel - the smoke from the incense traveling through the building with positive energy.
I asked Vee that question. She said, "Yes, most likely."
After breakfast, Raj drove us to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Everyone there was barefooted (we need to take off our shoes once we enter the vicinity of the ashram) and most were dressed in either white or grey cotton.
Some there were curious tourists like Vee and I. Others came specifically to perform homage to the late Sri Aurobindo and Mother. The place was quiet except for low whispers and soft movements of cotton as folks move around the area.
The ashram has the same neat and structured quality characteristics of buildings in the French Quarters. The whole ashram is painted in light gray with thick white borders at the edge of the walls.
The grayness of the wall is contrasted by pots of colorful marigolds, dahlias, bougainvilleas and many more flowers unknown to me, which were lined neatly in rows against the wall. We were not allowed to take any photographs there.
After exploring the ashram, and still barefooted, Vee and I walked over to the Manakula Vinayagar Temple just about 10 seconds across the paved street.
Vee went in to pray. I lingered outside, admiring the prayer wares and flowers sold at the row of wooden stalls near the temple's entrance. There, you can get something from small figurines of Lord Ganesha to pestle and mortar of varying sizes.
Our next stop was the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (a church of more than 100 years old). I sat in the pew as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the air of reverence. On the walls were colorful stained glass panels, depicting the life of Jesus Christ.
Not long after we arrived, a bus filled with college students stopped in front of the Basilica. The teenagers entered the building in twos; first the male students, followed by the female students.
Outside, we saw Raj at the rosaries and crucifixes kiosk. He bought 2 rosaries, a long one with the color of jade and a short one, with red and black beads.
"Are you Christian?" Vee asked him.
"No, I'm Hindu. I bought these for my youngest son. He has a liking for crucifixes."
Raj hung the rosaries by the car's rear view mirror. The next day, the rear view mirror broke and fell. For the rest of our journey, the rosaries garlanded the statue of Lord Ganesha on the dashboard. What amazing companionship.
From the Basilica, he drove us to Auroville (the experimental township designed for the attainment of Divine Consciousness). It was about 30 minutes drive through the other end of the Tamil Quarters.
Every few minutes, in between the shops, nestled either a Hindu Temple, a Christian Church or a Muslim Mosque - some big, some small - mostly just a few hundred meters away from each other.
As we drove pass the Muslim area (here I could see more ladies dressed in hijab and long black robes), Raj told us that he too lives in a Muslim area in Chennai. During Ramadhan (the Muslim fasting month), his village's mosque would usually prepare sweet porridge for breaking of fast. Everyone could take the porridge.
"What is her name?" Raj asked Vee in Tamil while he looked at me through the mirror.
"Fiza..." She answered.
"Fiza? That is not a common Muslim name. Usually, Muslim ladies would have names like Fathimah, Zainab, or Khadija."
Vee translated what he said to me. I laughed.
India has had its share of religious conflicts and tensions - what with its many religions - Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc. But on that day in Pondicherry, I was humbled to see different faiths breathing, living and flourishing side-by-side.
O mankind, indeed We have created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female
and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other
(not that you may despise each other)
Al Hujrat 49:13
Safiza is a Travel Blogger, Common Reader, Book Hoarder, Art and Nescafe Tarik Lover.