- Greetings to all from Auroville, India -


As a trained theatrical stage manager, the worst thing to happen is to be late for an appointment or meeting. I was late meeting Lakshmi, the message therapist I was introduced to the day before by the brother of a friend of hers who has a business close to New Creation Recreation Center, where I am staying. In fact, I had just dropped off my magnet belt for repair with a leather worker, who I told I was coming back to be fitted for leather sandals later in the afternoon, when I met Abbas on the street and he said Lakshmi was indeed waiting for me. (I didn’t realize at the time he was telling me I was late.)

I continued walking up the road about a half mile to her place, (they call me The Walking Man in the area because everyone else is riding on bicycles and motor vehicles of some sort) and as soon as she saw me she got off her chair and prepared to close her shop as we were to go into Pondicherry (Pondicherí - the ex-French quarter). We were going into Pondy – as it’s called in these parts, to see a doctor for me to have a physical and have medicine prescribed for me to internally begin a process to help the external message. Hopefully all this, along with my morning stretches will do good things for my long suffering hamstring and thigh muscles.

Lakshmi, who is Tamil and native to this area, is dark-skinned Indian, she is – as she pointed out yesterday, when we met – as dark as me. As a matter of reference, except for hair texture she could be African American or even from the west coast of Africa: Senegal…the Gambia…Côte D’Ivoire… At one point she even said I was the first Black American visitor she had seen in a year. There is only one African American (retired State Department worker) living here. She has been here for 22 years. She explained we were going to see a doctor right down the road instead of in Pony.

We arrived at his place on the second floor where he was painting a sign printed with what he does. I commented to the fact that he had a great penmanship, and showed him a sample of my nearly indecipherable handwriting - I didn’t go to Catholic School as my younger sister did. He looked at the writing thoughtfully and said; “Prophets have handwriting like this.” That got a big laugh from me and, of course, made me instantly like him. We all went inside his small office. He asked what ailed me and I told him about the high blood pressure, allowing him to take a gander at the diuretic pills the VA (Veteran’s Administration) gave me.

Told him about the spinal cord injury and the tingling in my hands down through my feet – it always seems to be more pronounced when I am in a medical situation – told him about the, long-termed, extreme tightness from my calves to my buttocks (as Forrest Gump would say), as well as the tightness in the front of my thighs (do we call them quads?) and lower back and stomach region, and the constipation. As he finished taking my blood pressure – letting me know it was high – I remembered to mention the touch of arthritis…and since I had been through this before, told him I slept very well, had a good appetite, and yes, the sexual function was fine. He asked me if I was sure because he could give me something for sex (This was the same thing the VA was pushing…must be really important to us fellows). He asked me if I was sure because he could give me something for sex. I assured him I was alright and certainly did not want anything along those lines as I was a natural man and didn’t take to chemical quick fixes. The doctor, who also teaches natural medicine in Pondicherry, said; “Okay, but this is what Europeans come to me for.” I said no, I was fine. What I didn’t tell him was, strangely enough, the two areas of my body that were unaffected by my spinal cord injury I sustained in July of 2002 was my head and my sexual organ.

He did the stethoscope thing to my chest and back and did some squeezing of my fingers and bending back of my hands and took my pulse in several places. We left Lakshmi and went behind his office curtain where he had me lay down and felt my muscles and bent my legs, asking if I felt any pain. I didn’t, and he was finished with the exam. We went back to our original seats – me next to Lakshmi…him, behind his desk. He began writing, and he and Lakshmi talked back and forth in their native tongue of Tamil. They actually seemed to be in a debate. Since the only language I know is English (and a bit of Spanish), my head was swiveling in one direction, then the other. The Doctor finished writing, Lakshmi finished arguing and I asked how much the visit costing. He looked at me, as if to size me up, and said 200 rupees, adding that he charged Europeans 500 rupees. Since 200Rs is a little under 4 dollars US…I was happy to give it to him and added another 50Rs, saying it was for the paint for the sign he was so expertly working on. The good doctor was more than very pleased with that and gave me all sorts of blessings as he shook my hand vigorously.

We left on this very positive note, got back to Lakshmi’s shop, which is also a beauty parlor for hair and facials. At the shop, she told me what the arguing was about. The Doctor thought she was only going to treat me with a vibrating/heating devise with some ointment on it. She explained to me she wanted me healed and she was going to do just that, or at least put me far enough along – since I was only going to be there for a little less than 3 more weeks. She closed up shop for the day and we started walking toward the main road that leads to Pondicherry. On the way, a three wheeled motorized rickshaw-like looking vehicle pulled up along side us. (This type taxis is a cheap and quick way of getting around for short distances -under 5 miles I would think, they are called Tempo.) The driver began negotiations with Lakshmi, she however abruptly broke talks off and we continued walking on. The driver beckoned us back and she signaled for me to get in, I did, she did, and we were off to the busy city on a Saturday – midday to fill my prescription and do some shopping.

I had a list of things I needed:

    A bowl
    Cayenne pepper
    Laxative tea
    Disposable lighter
    Pocket knife
(I left my Swiss Army knife in Cape Town as I didn’t want to go through an airport hassle. The knife has been with me ever since I seriously started traveling in 1989. Of course the policy does not make much sense since many airlines still use silverware that includes a knife and fork.)

We got to town in fine fashion. Honking, and dodging animals, people, all sorts of transports – bicycle riders, mope-headers, motorcyclist, yak carts, automobiles, buses, trucks…and of course the pot-holed road itself. While Lakshmi was out of the Tempo, filling the medical order, the diver asked me was she my wife. I laughed and said no. Later when we had finished shopping and heading back to Auroville, the driver evidently asked Lakshmi the same question in their language. She translated to me his thoughts of us being a couple because of our same height and similar complexion. She also laughed at the thought, but I think her mind was occupied with another thought. I think she was not over the fact of my age. A fact she heard from one of the doctor’s questions to me. In her mind I was around 30 years old. At 53, I would be older than her parents, who she said were obese and suffered from a variety of ailments, not unknown in the Black American community, such as diabetes and heart disease. She is very concerned for them, in that, she is an only child and at the age of 27 (I guessed her to be 32), with 3 three children, was essentially the center of their family structure – she has no husband. At a later point, she explained to me the meaning of the red dot she wears between her eyebrows was a sign that her husband was not dead. Women in this culture who are widows neither wear the dot nor adornments on their feet such as ankle charms nor toe rings. Lakshmi can adorn herself for as long as she does not marry and her partner does not die. Lakshmi is physically very beautiful, highly intelligent, and incredibly perceptive (re: intuitive). I witnessed her turning a potential message customer away because, she told me after, he wanted more than the message he was inquiring about. She runs a small shop and does not overprice for her services, as some of the other business concerns in the area – especially now in high tourist season. I could not have been led to a better business to support. (In fact, I have been very lucky in this, as even my coming to Auroville was by the suggestion of a very helpful and honest young guide in Chenni/Medras.)

We learned later in the day that several tourists had been by, but because the shop was closed, she lost their business for the day. The next day was 15 February 2004; it was her 28th life-day on the planet. She says her name, Lakshmi, means MONEY in her language. If I could give Lakshmi a gift, it would be the gift of prosperity in her business. Later when I was walking back to the New Creation Recreation Center, I ran into Abbas again, and we sipped tea, and I told him that I felt bad to engage Lakshmi the entire day to the extent of her losing business. He said I should not feel bad in that she had given her word the day before to take this outing…and she does not regret fulfilling her promise. Such a principled person deserves international support. If anyone is in the town (rapidly becoming a city) of Auroville, you can visit Lakshmi’s shop. Her sign reads:

    Beauty Parlour
    Ayurvedic Message
    Ayurvedic – course center

It is on the main road to Auroville, off the big main road to Pondicherry, next door to the Sekthi Ganesh - Stone Cutters And across from the sewing shop/Taylor who doesn’t have a sign. (Well you know what they say: This is India!)