Before there were blogs, I spent a quarter studying sustainable development in southern India. I maintained an email distribution list of friends who wanted updates on my travels. Many nights involved entertainments of the herbal or alcoholic kind; there were roof-top full-moon parties and midnight swims in the ocean (the floating garbage was harder to see in the moonlight); some evenings were spent on planting plans and composting toilet design. But occasionally, I sat down at a computer and wrote about my adventures. This is one of those stories.
On our first night in Auroville, we met a man I will call Madan. The only way I could think of to describe Madan is “hottie”. Tall and skinny with long, wavy Asian hair, he has dark, perfect skin, sculpted lips that almost look purple and almond shaped eyes that you only see in Indian paintings. Yeah, those Indian paintings.
Madan had just returned from several months bartending at a resort in the Andaman Islands, and was staying with my mentor in Aurodam, where we eat dinner every night. He hadn’t found any work yet, and had lots of free time on his hands. Last year he had made friends with many of the students from UW, so he was looking forward to getting to know us too. That’s how we came to learn about Palms Beach so early in our stay here.
Palms Beach is a bar that sells terrible rum and worse beer. Apparently it is easier to pay off the police than to obtain a liquor license, so the Palms is technically a speakeasy. The place is extremely popular because, halfway between Auroville and Pondicherry, it is the closest place to buy alcohol. Plus, it has a pool table.
That first night, Madan invited us all to join him at Palms Beach. Everyone else was jet lagged, but my roommate and I, having already been in Asia for a week, jumped at the chance to go out. The taxi dropped us all off in front of a blank white wall topped with broken glass. We went through the metal gate into what looked like a normal courtyard. There was a building on the right with an open window. That window was the bar.
Madan led us to the back of the courtyard. There were four open cabana type huts with concrete floors and plastic lawn furniture. Granite pillars held up the keet-thatch roofs. In the middle hut, some guys were playing pool on a 3/4 size table while others watched and waited their turns. A dog wandered between the tables, followed by her two puppies, all three of them trying to score some food.
We sat down and ordered the local beer, Kingfisher. The disgusting stuff was served in plastic mugs, so it wouldn’t look like we were drinking beer. Two giant speakers next to the pool table blasted the Pogues.
Madan introduced us to his friend, Satja, a native Aurovillian who looks a lot like the actor who played Imhotep in The Mummy. Except for Satja, my roommate, and I were the only white people in the bar. We were also the only women.
When our turn came, we moved to the center hut and took over the pool table. There were three cue balls. It was explained to us that one of them was bigger than the others, and that was the cue ball. The smaller white balls were stripes.
Later in the evening, more people from Auroville came, and we met them all. A guy from Boston commended us on finding Palms Beach so quickly. “Man, it took me three weeks to find alcohol around here.”
We watched a game of pool between Sam, a high school student from London whose entire family had picked up and moved to India the year before, and her friend, an emancipated minor who moved to Auroville when neither of her parents wanted to take custody of her in high school.
A drunk Austrian named Martin spoke to us in a robotic monotone worthy of Sprockets. “Will you sleep with me?”
My roommate asked him if that line worked in Austria. He changed tactics; he suggested that we start a conversation circle at the beach.
After an hour or so of the Pogues at deafening volume, Satja promised a reward to anyone who would do something about the music. Madan led me through the back door into the kitchen and showed me the source of the music. It was a tape deck a lot like the one I had in high school. On a nearby shelf was a cardboard box half full of tapes. Few of them had cases, and almost none had labels. After rejecting Lionel Ritchie and Cruisin With the Hits, I put in Bob Marley.
We played another round of pool, then my rommate went for more beers. A drunk old Aurovillian started to talk to me. He asked me how I liked Auroville. I said I liked it alot. He replied, “Of course, what’s not to like? Here you have everything.” He waved his arm to encompass the splendors of Palms Beach. “Pool, drinks, and there,” he pointed to Madan, “there you have, well, he’s not the real Latin Lover, but he’s the Indian Latin Lover anyway.”
Although Madan was offended, I was thrilled. I had not only found a better description than “hottie”, I had found my new favorite bar.