As Swami Vivekananda reminded me (on a poster I found on a wall in Pondicherry), “Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached!”
My goals for any trip are to always discover new ideas, new places, colors and textures, and upon these to meditate and ruminate until my consciousness is recharged and I feel as though I might levitate a few inches off the ground. Such was my state of mind in Pondicherry, a lovely French colonial town in the South of India. Its ashrams are framed by coconut trees, the 18th-century French quarter remains mostly intact, and its buildings are painted in dazzling yellows and pinks. The city’s mixed population includes Dravidians, Tamils, Telugu, Malayam, French Christians, Hindus and Muslims.
Their cultures overlap and crowd each other, and give rise to a stew of ideas. As I reminisce about other French colonial towns I’ve seen in this hemisphere of the world, such as Phnom Penh and Vientiane, I marvel how they all manage to keep their charms amidst the madcap explosion of mixed cultures in Asia and India. In Pondicherry, I was invited into a hushed colonial library where birds flew in and out of stacks like busy librarians.
I discovered a local handmade paper workshop run by fellows smiling like Bollywood stars and whose paper floated in intense, swirling baths of colors. And I stopped by local temples to make offerings to Ganesh to help me get my collection done—and it worked! My new prints are jaunty, like the Indian families I saw taking the air along the Pondicherry boardwalk—ladies with their healthy long oiled hair, dabbled with flowers, and children ricocheting about.
An inspiration for metallic came to me in the form of the sparkling sun as I walked through the jungle to see the gold dome of Auroville. Varying shades of blue, a color I cannot stay away from for long, showed themselves in the deep blue Bay of Bengal, and in the nets the local fishermen drew in and out of the surf. And it was the complicated plaid lungis (men’s sarongs) so many smiling fellows were selling in the local market that gave rise to my charcoals and yellows. I am happy that each season I have a chance to seek the divine, and to somehow transform ideas and colors into prints that vibrate—and at the same time find the perfect croissant…