Shrieks of silence in Pondicherry’s treeless avenues

Statistically, 35 people perished in the carnage essayed by Cyclone Thane. Yet, the obituaries that will never be written are of Pondicherry’s beautiful avenue trees, many of which we have celebrated on The Green Ogre. In the funereal streets of this old French enclave, their limbs are being hacked and quartered and carted away. History as we loved it is trickling away before our very eyes. We cannot afford to blink.

Dec 30, 5:30 AM. Cyclone Thane at its peak with Mohawk-crested coconut trees
Since 10 PM on December 29, the wind made its presence felt. As we settled in for what would be a restless night it was already shrieking. After 3 AM there was no pretending sleep. Six of us (four of the family plus two neighbors whose apartment was flooded) sat in silence with a lone candle, listening to things crashing, splintering, breaking and being ripped apart — sounds we could do nothing about. At 5:30 AM, Cyclone Thane was whipping the town, rushing about the avenues in mad frenzy. I gingerly stepped on the balcony to take the picture (above) and Chetna, in a rare moment of candour, remarked, “Don’t the coconuts look like Red Indian faces?”
Broken and battered, all coconut trees of Pondicherry now carry the Red Indian look. At least the ones that survive.
I love this spot — the catamaram docking point.
It was my seascape shot with boats and the blue sea, a guilty pleasure.


Dec 30, 9 am. The same place — battered and bruised. The sea had a 4 feet swell


Dec 31. I go back again and find this fisherman in a pensive mood.
The sea is back to its usual photogenic state.
The city, unfortunately, will take more time.


The beautiful Millingtonia hortensis in the school campus, chopped and piled up by the road side
Fallen trees, some of which were scores of years old, cut and cleared with hacksaws


A street cart, the road is cleared


The Neem tree at the Ashram entrance is now a part of history.


The thatched roof rests on the Gulmohar which has made it through.


This isn’t exactly what the tourists expected to see, but see they must


Rue Francois Martin


Goubert Avenue. The trees on this road are exposed to the sea wind and take a long time to grow.
This one is gone but provides some shade to a lady having her lunch.


With its Cassias, Laburnums, Scarlet Cordia (Cordia sebestena) etc, Rue Francois Martin was one of the most beautiful streets in Pondicherry.


31 Dec – tourists, onlookers and a lone TV cameraman

Perhaps we have seen the last of the Sky Jasmine.

I was completely taken in with the second flush of the Akasha Mallige (Sky Jasmine).
We had run this photo essay earlier this month with this picture.


And this picture too
That Indian Cork Tree above has not survived (and has not yet been cleared)
Another Millingtonia hortensis along the wall of the French Institute…
…is no more. Thane has been especially severe on these trees; hardly any have survived


Goubert Avenue on Ganesha Chaturthi earlier this year


The same spot on the avanue, post Cyclone Thane


Villa Beyoud then…


And now


Zipping along the sea was fun especially during late mornings. This painting by Kirti Chandak has fascinated me for its sense of delight in a scooty ride. It was typical Pondicherry seascape.


Goubert Avenue on Dec 31.
If anyone was here on the morning of  Dec 30, the rocks hurled by the waves would have cracked their skulls open.
Red Cassia – the trees we celebrated are now maimed.

The lovely Cassia nodosa, Red Cassia
After the storm. Maybe these trees will make it.

The “beautified” Goubert Avenue. Work has been on for more than a year.


The wind was so strong that it lodged stones below the granite slabs…


….and deposited rocks on the shore.

The Copperpod Tree

The Copper Pods (Peltophorum pterocarpum) of Bharathi park — stripped, whipped and toppled


A wintry scape in the tropics – Bharathi Park as never seen before


Broken as hearts can be…


In better times, the park hosted many a rendezvous
The constant drip of Copper Pod flowers adorns the ground, nuage jaune sur la terre – the ‘yellow cloud on the earth’ – this is how I remember the park


The gnarled old trees caught their own flowers in their nooks and crannies.
Most of them Thane has claimed.


The yellow canopy will be sorely missed this summer
We are like this only — the “Red Indian” coconuts have grudgingly parted with their fruit. Homo sapiens are making the most of it.


The forest of music remains in memory


Dec 31 – 4 PM. The clouds will soon take a more photogenic orange hue. Goodbye Thane.


Dec  31 – 10 PM. Two long days come to an end and so does the year. Thane is on her mind…
…and in her dreams

Text and Photographs by Sahastrarashmi



  • SR

    Traveller, photographer, philosopher, art connoisseur, trekking guru, and master trip planner, Sahastrarashmi (SR or Sahastra to his friends) is on a relentless quest for the story of life. An engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, he works in Chennai, India and lives (on weekends) in the former French enclave of Pondicherry (Puducherry to the officious). He is on a mission to introduce the uninitiated to the glory of the Himalaya.

    View all posts
Newsletter signup

It's more fun when you subscribe.
Great content. Zero spam. And your data stays safe. Promise!

Newsletter signup

It's more fun when you subscribe.
Great content. Zero spam. And your data stays safe. Promise!

One thought on “Shrieks of silence in Pondicherry’s treeless avenues

  1. A touching post and your pain in the loss of the trees is palpable. We recently visited Pondicherry and I loved the beautiful diverse species growing there. Reading this post after our visit makes it more poignant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.