Pondy – Good Food, Great Cafes, Goofy Town

I’ve had the opportunity to work outside of Aurolab. I have been in contact with Aravind Pondicherry to help improve Aravind’s Eye Camps. Dr. Venkatesh, the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) at Aravind Pondy, is working on increasing the early diagnosis of permanent blindness at eye camps so preventative measures can be taken for patients diagnosed with one these diseases (such as glaucoma). We can do this by using something called a fundus camera, which is a portable & inexpensive camera operated by a technician to give physicians a nice view of the back of the eye/retina. We created a video below for the Glaucoma Conference, feel free to check it out to learn more:

The hope is to transform non-profit eye camps by first changing Aravind’s model, which has been the prominent model for most eye camps throughout the world. This work has put me in contact with some great doctors and given me an opportunity to learn more about the low cost non-profit model Aravind runs. I am having a little difficulty communicating with patients, but they still give me cheesy smiles as we take fundus camera photos. This project has major implications to a system that hasn’t drastically changed in 40 years. We probably caught 4 glaucoma patients at each camp out of 200 patients. These patients would most certainly have been missed without the fundus camera. Now they can be treated before it fully develops and retain their eye sight. I had an awesome time overall in Pondy. It is a very unique city in India with a unique culture. Colonized by the French before India’s Independence, Pondy has remnants of its past in every aspect of the town. Walking down the street you can see French tourists and locals all over the city. Even the street signs are in French as you approach the beach: IMG_0438 You can walk into any cafe and order in french, english, or tamil. The locals understand the common words and the children attending schools can speak french fluently. The food is more European in general. For example, you can order the Caprese Salad to the left or amazing local pasta. The food, overall, is the best I have had throughout India, the variety and quality is hard to match even in bigger cities like Mumbai or Chennai. As you make your way through the French Quarter, you near the beach. The beach has an amazing breeze with coffee shops plastered all along the beach. If your a coder or can work from a coffee shop- this is the place to be. After talking to the locals for a bit, it became clear that a major reason why people immigrate to Pondy is not so much because of its French History, per se, but because of Auroville. Auroville is what makes Pondy very interesting to a lot of visitors and locals, it began as an experiment a while back sponsored by the Indian Government and has strong ties to Aravind itself. What Auroville claims to be can be best expressed through the video I watched upon the entrance of the ashram:

“There should be somewhere on earth a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme Truth; a place of peace, concord and harmony where all the fighting instincts of man would be used exclusively to conquer the causes of his sufferings and miseries, to surmount his weaknesses and ignorance, to triumph over his limitations and incapacities; a place where the needs of the spirit and the concern for progress would take precedence over the satisfaction of desires and passions, the search for pleasure and material enjoyment.

In this place, children would be able to grow and develop integrally without losing contact with their souls; education would be given not for passing examinations or obtaining certificates and posts but to enrich existing faculties and bring forth new ones. In this place, titles and positions would be replaced by opportunities to serve and organise; the bodily needs of each one would be equally provided for, and intellectual, moral and spiritual superiority would be expressed in the general organisation not by an increase in the pleasures and powers of life but by increased duties and responsibilities. 

Beauty in all its artistic forms, painting, sculpture, music, literature, would be equally accessible to all; the ability to share in the joy it brings would be limited only by the capacities of each one and not by social or financial position.

For in this ideal place money would no longer be the sovereign lord; individual worth would have a far greater importance than that of material wealth and social standing. There, work would not be a way to earn one’s living but a way to express oneself and to develop one’s capacities and possibilities while being of service to the community as a whole, which, for its own part, would provide for each individual’s subsistence and sphere of action. 

In short, it would be a place where human relationships, which are normally based almost exclusively on competition and strife, would be replaced by relationships of emulation in doing well, of collaboration and real brotherhood.”

Really a vision created by both the Mother (Mirra Alfassa) and Sri Aurobindo.

I had an amazing time visiting Auroville. The scenery was a pleasant surprise – people living with the land, much of it untarnished by buildings or other man made items. My fascination of Auroville stems from its focus on mediation and creating your own path. It was much needed IMG_0448break from the busy streets of Pondy and Madurai.

If your ever in pondy you have to check out Auroville, Cafe de Artes, and Don Giovanni’s (amazing mozzarella cheese).

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About vigneshs4

Graduated from the University of Pennsylvania 2014 in Bioengineering. Undergraduate Researcher at Lazar Lab at Perelman School of Medicine. Sobti Fellow at Aravind Eye Hospital working on inexpensive cataract surgical equipment for rural hospitals in India and Africa with Aurolab.