14 Days and Counting

“I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known…As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.”

                                                                                            -“The Third and Final Continent” by Jhumpa Lahiri

In other exciting news: Sri Aurobindo’s biographer and author of the Many Lives of Sri Aurobindo Peter Heehs lives in Pondicherry. He works at the Aurobindo AshramArchives on Nehru Street.

Anyone who works in one of the ashram’s departments in exchange for room and board is called an ashramite. Having lived this year at the Campbell Club, a student cooperative house, has made me very interested in how the Sri Aurobindo society organizes a commune with 2,000 people.

In fact, I am busy enjoying my last few days of summer in Eugene with the Campbell Club crew:

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Chill, brah

I just stumbled upon a wonderful 2005 Travel and Leisure article about Pondicherry.  Author Nell Fruedenberger describes the botanial gardens, where “the Joy Train, snakes passengers through intermittently labeled native and foreign species.”

“Pondy… is one of the region’s most pleasant and easygoing cities… Local families sit on the rocks at the seawall, watching the waves; Indian and foreign tourists stroll down the elegant seaside promenade, eating Italian gelato in exotic flavors… navigating a pathamong the bicycles, autorickshaws, mopeds, and careening compact cars.”

It will be interesting to see how the peaceful, beach town culture of Pondicherry will differ from other areas on Southeast India. 

(ISOE 2006)

I was also interested to hear about the political posters that were posted everywhere.

My trip coincided with the national elections, and Tamil Nadu’s chief minister, the former starlet J. Jayalalitha, had just been voted the least popular politician in the country, according to a poll in the weekly India Today. Nevertheless, she appeared on poster after poster, smiling jovially underneath her party’s double-leaf symbol.”

Policemen pass by Jayalalitha’s 2011 Election Poster

Needless to say I am very excited to learn about the political landscape on the local and national level. Check out this article about free giveaways for participating voters in Tamil Nadu. Sound familiar? 

Not a state, not a county: it’s a subnational administrative division!

As it was a French Protectorate until 1963, Pondicherry is a union territory, not a state. Union territories are directly overseen by the federal government. There are only seven union territories in India, one of which is New Delhi. Both Pondicherry and Delhi are unique as union territories in that they were both granted power to have an elected legislative assembly, in addition to the federally-appointed Administrator or Lieutenant-Governor. With only partial autonomy, some legislation is allowable to be passed at the local level and some still need ratification from the federal government or the President of India.

Pondicherry Legislative Assembly Building

In 2006, Pondicherry changed its name to Puducherry, although I have it on good authority that everyone still calls Pondy Pondy. Puducherry means “New Village” in Tamil, one of the official native languages.

Just for FUN:*

On April 16, 2007, The Government of Puducherry announced that the following to be state symbols:

State Bird Koel
State Animal Indian Palm Squirrel
State Flower Cannonball Tree‘s flower
State Tree Bael or “Stone Apple” Fruit Tree


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*From trusty Wiki

Eugene City Club Lecture

Today I gave a lecture at the Eugene City Club on three current University of Oregon policy issues: the New Partnership, UO’s expansion to turn the public safety department into a police force, and the controversial Riverfront Research Park development. The City Club’s mission is to build “Community Vision Through Open Inquiry” through monthly lunch programs with a guest speaker followed by a Q & A.

City Club Members wait in line for their turn to ask questions. 

I had a very rewarding experience, as members were engaged throughout. I talked for 20 minutes, there was a quick break, and then members fired off questions for the remaining time. The best part was when a mention of state tax reform received applause. They asked a myriad of questions on the three issues, but I also got thoughtful questions about grade inflation and neighborhood livability. We need a broader range of committed Eugenians to get involved in the City Club’s work. Hopefully the ASUO will be more involved in years to come.

Thanks to Mary Leighton and Zach Vishanoff for the opportunity. The RG coverage of it here and on KLCC 89.7, Monday July 1st at 6:30 pm.

Books, books, and more books

Since I just graduated from the UO last month, I now have a lot of time to read up on India. I was an English major, so I love classical and modern literature but that hasn’t stopped me from delving into the socio-political history of India as well. Some of my recent favorites have been:

  • The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, by Peter Heehs: A very thorough biography of the founder of the Sri Aurobindo Society and his exciting life as a political independence leader, teacher, and yogi.
  • The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga. Winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize, this is a hilarious tale of an Indian villager who through cunning and survival skills becomes a successful entrepreneur set in the rush of modern day Delhi.
  • The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, translated by Sir Richard Burton: surviving over a thousand years, this text describes the proper societal practices of love and marriage in India. A fascinating and insightful read.
  • Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese: set in Addis Ababa, twin brothers are as entwined in love as they are in their passion for practicing medicine. Vivid characters against the backdrop of Indian and American hospital life and practices.


  • A Passage to India, by E. M. Forster: a 1928 satirical novel about the societal relationship between Indians and Britishers. An entertaining read that holds deeper societal critiques.
  • Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri: the author of The Namesake presents a compelling collection of short stories set in both India and the United States. If you like short stories, read these.
  • India’s Freedom, published by Urwin Books: a collection of speeches and letters of Prime Minister Jawharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister after India became a free nation in 1947. Nehru suffered through periods of imprisonment for his vision of a socialist, anti-imperialist government that would serve the people first and foremost.
A bespectacled Mohandas Gandhi, with Jawaharlal Nehru, at the All-India Congress committee meeting in Bombay, India, on July 6, 1946. Nehru took office as president of the Congress during the session. (AP Photo/Max Desfor)
First Lady Jackie Kennedy with an older Nehru, now as Prime Minister. Delhi, 1962. (Photo by Kulwant Roy) 
Next on my list is A Fine Balance, as well as Wanderlust and Lipstick: a Woman’s Guide to Traveling in India. Anyone have other good book recommendations?

Hello world!

This is awesome. If you are prepared to come on this adventure to Southeast India with me, I shall ardently try to capture every sight, smell, taste and new idea that I encounter. For the next 6 months I will be staying at an ashram in Pondicherri, India called the Sri Aurobindo Society. I will be co-coordinating a service learning trip for 15 University of Oregon students in December.  I can’t wait to see what joys and challenges lie ahead.

I received my Indian visa in the mail the day of my graduation, a sunny June afternoon.  My grandma said she thought I was happier to see the visa than my diploma, and I think she was right.

I was still pretty glad to graduate though.