Everything’s Possible in Impossible India

I spent the majority of last week turning a weed-ridden plot of land into a small pineapple garden. Every morning I went out, armed with a crowbar, a grass cutter, some manky garden gloves, and my IPOD, tuned to the latest podcast of This American Life.

Listening to Ira Glass while pulling grass and loosening soil made early mornings a joy, and the steady swarm of mosquitoes somehow bearable. You can plant pineapples from seed, but we plant the tops. When you chop the green, spiky part off the pineapple – that’s what can go into the ground. You peal back several layers of the green leaves and stick it firmly in the ground, packing the soil around the little guy and whispering words like, “Hey little pineapple, I hope you love the sun and grow up big and strong to bear sweet fruit.”

Each pineapple plant bears only one fruit, which is impressive when you think about widespread pineapple consumption. Our resident handyman, Swami, told me that my pineapples would be small – that they grow bigger if you plant from seed. It’s okay. Small pineapples are better than no pineapples at all…not that it matters, since it takes a pineapple a year and a half to give fruit, and I will be long gone.


Friday morning during breakfast chaos ensues. There are maggots in one of the toilets, and maggots mean flies. If we have an outbreak of flies, likely we will have an outbreak of disease. The flies will spread, lay eggs in more toilets, and we will not be able to keep them off our food or out of our kitchen.

We are in a state of emergency. All hands are on the poop deck, literally. One team clears and digs a space where the toilet compost can be transported and buried. Others are hard at work shoveling, stirring, and moving the infected poop out of the tubs.

We have a smaller emergency. Five coconuts have been sitting, sprouting, and waiting to be planted. According to Swami, they need to be planted immediately if they are to survive.

Planting the coconuts Swami’s way requires us to dig square holes about 2 meters by 2 meters, and deep. We have to loosen the soil with a crowbar, shovel it out, add composted soil, add silt and sand, mix it all together, add some of the soil that was removed, and then – FINALLY – plant the coconut.

There are three of us available to do this work. Jeff, a tall strong hippie with dreadlocks, gets to work digging the holes. Franci, a 30-something German woman and I collect compost in a wheelbarrow and bring it to the hole. The only wheelbarrow that’s available is broken. The wheels are uneven and it lopes and bumps along. The tire on one wheel is split open and almost coming off the barring entirely.

We shovel the smelly compost soil into the wheelbarrow. Then Franci pushes and I pull a rope attached to the front of the wheelbarrow. We move slowly, jerkily, stopping to redirect and breathe. When we reach the coconut planting site, we dump the load and go down into this little streambed to shovel a sand/silt combination into the wheelbarrow.

We get three holes ready and wait to plant the coconuts together. When it’s finally time, we each help put the trees in the earth, moving and packing soil around the trunk with our hands. We each give the tree a little pat and a prayer. We all feel happy with our accomplishments – exhausted but satisfied.


Saskia and I decide to bike into Pondicherry for our weekend excursion. She in a week and wants to buy souvenirs and gifts. I am in need of a few staples, like toothpaste and aloe vera gel, and I have my eye on a pretty ring at a Tibetan jewelry shop.

We trudge uphill and over massive speed bumps just to reach the highway. I am breathing hard and thinking how nice it will be to go down this road toward Sadhana at the end of our journey.

We reach the highway, cross and ride the shoulder of the road into town. It’s all downhill, so we mostly coast. I feel a vague uneasiness at the thought of riding all uphill on the way back. We pedal into the city around noon, and people, cars, mopeds and buses are everywhere.

Saskia shouts, “Don’t turn around! If you hear a scooter honk, just move over when you can. I’m following you.”

We are dodging and weaving around pedestrians who don’t move out of the way, around scooters driving the wrong way on a one-way road, around people who pull out in front of you, or wait to pull out into traffic right in front of you.

I am on edge. Saskia and I trade and she leads for awhile. We go slow and scan for crazy Indians, but it’s impossible to predict what people will do. The hardest and most nerve-wracking parts are intersections. Everyone piles close together on a red light, revving their engines, chatting and pushing. It’s just one huge mass of people and vehicles. When the light changes you have to move fast.

People start to dodge and weave around us but we stay the course. By the time we reach out destination we are sweating and wobbly-legged and ready to sit and have a coffee. We find a little hole-in-the-wall joint and they serve us two steaming milk coffees. They are sweet and tasty and we savor every sip.

We run our errands without too much hassle and the find a little air-conditioned bakery where we sit and eat croissants with a cappuccino. We mentally prepare for the journey home.

“Maybe we can tie our bikes to the back of an auto-rickshaw,” Saskia says. “SERIOUSLY.”

There’s a lot less traffic on the way out around 4pm. We stayed straight, on the same road, all the way into town. So we need to stay straight, on the same road, all the way out of town. The problem is identifying what constitutes straight when the road forks and traffic shoves you over. On more than one occasion we stop, ask, and then maneuver our way back across an intersection. There are no lights or pedestrian crossing zones.

Saskia has a flat tire but she’s driven, like a machine, fueled by a coke that she stops and chugs a couple of times. Then, “Alright! Let’s do this!”

We are so proud of ourselves as we sail down the dirt road on the way home.

“Oh, that was nothing,” I say.

“Yeah, it was so easy. Took us only five minutes,” she says.

“I didn’t even break a sweat.”

We end our adventure with a swim in the mud pool. It’s perfectly cool and refreshing as the sun sets and we slather mud on our faces and hair.


One comment

  1. Nice work! I’ll have to eat a pineapple in your honor (sounds like a better option than the latrine work,. although the mud slathering does have possibilities)! Congratulations on your trip, and we’ll be watching for more episodes of fun and daring!

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