I try to imagine why I’ve connected so much with the local Indians in Auroville and the surrounding villages of Edyanchavedi (eddie-on-chavedee) and Kuillapalayam (kool-i-paly-um). I think it’s because of the transient nature of foreigners in Auroville in combination with my I-want-to-get-know-you personality. I’ve stuck around and I smile. I don’t have the fearful look of an unsure tourist. I don’t have the look of a foreigner who has stayed but not bothered to understand or appreciate the local culture. I speak Tamil as much as I can. I know about people’s families and ask: the ailing mother, the new babies, the new job. I also spend a lot of time alone in restaurants and cafes with my kindle, my sketchbook, and my MacBook Air. I am a recurring face. I am a fixture.
One rainy monsoon last October, a few months after moving to Auroville, I was on my way to acupuncture and got drenched. I stopped at The Banyan, a new restaurant in town, only a few months old. I stepped inside to find one of the owners, Jayavel, looking at me in horror and concern. I was like a wet dog. Jayavel quickly ran out of the restaurant and, minutes later, returned with soft, fluffy towels, a warm smile, and began wrapping me up as I shivered from the cold wetness. A few more minutes and I had a hot cup of coffee, steaming into my face, flowing through me, warming me from the inside out. Since that day I’ve frequented The Banyan and brought my friends too.
The owners, Auroshe and Jayavel, are from the nearby villages. They met at 12 and married for love. They grew up going to Auroville schools, got married, had three girls, their kids grew up, and they opened a restaurant at the only junction in town. Jayavel loved working in restaurants when in high school and now owned this empty property. He didn’t know what to do. Auroshe told him, “Do something! You know so many things!” They started a café with one fancy coffee machine, from Italy, that a friend gifted them. Auroshe, Jayavel’s wife, decided they could do more and began cooking up traditional south Indian meals and snacks. Very quickly they blossomed. They hired their nephew and now you can find any combination of their family at any given time.
They Banyan is the place to be. It has fans and ice cubes and wifi and soap in the bathroom. They make a delicious veg fried rice. They also, because of their new vegan clientele, hint hint, have begun making fresh coconut milk for a ‘vegan cold coffee’, which is the equivalent of a small Frappuccino but way better. It’s made with jaggery, an unrefined palm sugar that has a rich and nutty taste. Jayavel and Auroshe are smart and cater to their audience. Auroshe and Jayavel hug me upon arrival with their warm, glowing smiles, and ask how I am. They are my Indian family. And before they even knew me they kept me warm and dry.