The First of Many.. The Streets of Chennai
I think I have decided how I will go about some of my blog entries. I am reading the most exhilarating novel, “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts. This novel follows a fugitive felon who has escaped from an Australian prison and made his way to Bombay. Only to find himself pushed back into illegal activities, but not without also doing amazing good for the people of India by opening a free clinic in the slums. It is the transformation of his perception of India that is so enlightening. He starts out with the foreigner’s eyes of guilt and excitement, something I am experiencing now. Through the month then years he stays in India he comes to know the people of India and begins to understand who they live together with the traditions they share.
And so my thought is to start each blog entry with one of my favorite lines. While there are so many, I will choose the ones that I have underlined. I am only on page 300 of 1,000 so I think that I can go about this for a while. I do this so that I can not only remember of these lines for years to come, but also so that I can share them with you. This practice will also bring a theme to each blog entry, making for a better read. Knowing me I may add at the end some silly facts I have learned, we will see.
So to start the tradition I have chosen this line for the basis of the first entry:
” It smells of ten thousand restaurants, five thousand temples, shrines, churches, and 2 thousand mosque, and of hundred bazaars devoted exclusively to perfumes, spices, incense, and freshly cut flowers…each breath was an angry little victory.” pg. 4
Chennai is a city of many; many sites, many people, many cars, many two wheelers, and many smiles. This is what is amazing through all the chaos of smells and people and sounds; it is always possible to find a glimmer of life in the purest form. I find it in the face of the many children or the colors of the many saris that contrast the skins they are warn on like egg shells to oil. The smells change in an instant but this does not take away from their potency. As I walk across the bridge to go to the market my nose and mind are over taken by the rancid smell of sewage, but this passes and quickly changes to the air conditioned breeze flowing out a corner store. Then again instantly a change to the smell of curry being cooked under out of a mobile restaurant with a line of people waiting for their share. Another change, quickly to the smell of one of the many small temples, the size of my studio flat. I have self titled them “fast food temples.”
As the smells continue I am walking slower now for the heat as turned on me and humidity adds to the war I begin to fight. It has only been a few mins. out doors but I feel my Californian lungs beginning to close up. The heat creeps up on me for I am internally cooled from the lovely fanned room I resided in a few mins. before. As a tag team force the humidity and heat rain down on me and I begin to become conscientiously aware that I need a drink of water or just to slower. I remember this same war needed to be waged in South Africa. However in India you are surround by so many more people, smells, and exhaust, it take just that much more time to get used to it. If I am walking with a colleague I may mention the discomfort, the response I have continually gotten is “summer is coming to us, just you wait my dear, ja.” Then with strained eyes I see the smile of comfort and curiosity. Will she make it through? Followed by a laugh that India is so well known for.
The smells and the heat continue along with the sights to see. From the five star hotels and house next to the shake and the shrines. People are in gorgeous saris and starch pressed white lungis along side those who clothes seem to only hang on their body with the glue of sweet and filth. But the faces are the same and the smiles are just as gracious. As a rickshaw passes slowly I see the drive with one foot folded under the other and his bear feet with the 10 years of road on its bottom. He looks up to me in a questioning manner, as I shake my head saying “vena (I don’t want)” and I receive a grin. I interpret it as “Viacom Madame, enjoy your feet. Hope they take you far and I hope one day I will come to you again when you are in need of a ride.” I continue to stroll, an American crawl, to the local Nigri’s market. No need for an Ipod for there is music blasting out of cars passing by and thumping out of the local stands as I pass by. Finally my feet bring me to the entrance of the market. I enter with curiosity of what I will find today to fill my stomach. The disarray of people allows one to just blend into the rapids and browse for hours.