The Place Of The Gathering Of The Crows

My only company this early in the morning was the dog that kept barking at me when I stepped out on to the street. I promptly retreated back into the compound.The dog’s compadres on the nearby streets also joined in the noise making. They might have been passing messages to each other. The only other person who was up was the owner of the store across the road. She will soon start washing out her store front, a ritual that she has probably been doing for most of the years of her life. The Kolam will be the final step in the process that gets her store ready for the day’s business.

I never really overcame the jet lag of the trip completely. I am up very early in the morning with almost no exception. But it is OK. I try to make up for the early start with a nap during the day. The early start for the day gives me an opportunity to clean out the house before the rest of the neighborhood comes alive. Chennai dust is special. You just have to wait a couple of days for a layer of the dark stuff to collect on any untouched surface. The dust is relentless. It is fine enough to enter the house through the screens covering the doors and windows. You find yourself cleaning the place regularly. And then there are the fallen leaves that need to be swept up from the yard every other day.

Early mornings also give me the opportunity to go up to the terrace – before the sun is up.

The crows are the most common birds that you will see in these parts.Crows are said to be very social animals. I sometimes see them gathering in large numbers on the cellphone towers that are close by.I have noticed that some of these birds clean and preen themselves excessively in the mornings.

This is a White-throated Kingfisher that visited the yard,
and this is probably a Shikra.

There was surprise guest in this picture I took at the time of the sunset. I do not know what it is.

I was talking to a friend over the phone while in the house when the rain began. I heard the sound of a loud thunderclap. The power went out. I lost my phone connection. Pretty soon it was coming down in buckets. The rains did not last too long but it was enough to cause the street to flood. Here are a couple of shots taken from the front gate of the house after it stopped raining.

Today is another hot and sunny day. That is what you usually expect in Chennai!

A Sunrise In Chennai – The City Awakens

It is a strange thing that is happening to my body. Over a week has passed since my trip across the globe and I am still fighting the effects of jet lag. My avoidance of afternoon naps to enable nights of longer sleep duration have not panned out so far. I end up waking up a few hours before the sun is up, much before the sounds of the street begin to pick up, even earlier than the wake up calls of the birds. But this state of affairs did also offer an opportunity. I was awake early enough to be able to go up to the third floor terrace of the house to greet the sunrise and the dawning of the new day. Armed with information about the expected time of sunrise in Chennai, I ascended the stairs to the top of the house yesterday just before the dawn was due.

This first picture of the bright light in the skies turned out to be a show well before the actual sunrise. The colors in the sky disappeared very quickly.

Store fronts began to open and set up on the street. This is a little cafe.

This is a little store front right across the road.The banana leaves you see in the picture will probably be used for packing food that is sold. Later in the morning, the owner will wash the store front and complete the Kolam, the auspicious floor design on the ground in front of the home that is a tradition of South India.The milk packets for sale have already arrived are in the yellow crate.

Another false sunrise appeared in the sky shortly after the first one. It was brighter still than the first burst of light, and could be seen in a slightly different direction from that first light show. This time the light appeared over a building next to the terrace I was standing on.

This is the way the sky looked when you turned away from the sunrise phenomenon.

The color in the sky in the direction of the sunrise lost its intensity fairly quickly after the second burst of color.

The next distinct indication of the continuation of the sunrise was the light of the sun falling directly on a building that lay across from the rising sun.

It was a peaceful scene. Birds could be seen flying high across the sky in little groups. They seemed to have a sense of purpose. They flew in straight lines from one edge of the horizon to the other. From below me, on the street, arose the sounds of an awakening city.

But I still could not see the sun. It was hidden by the building in front of me. I could see the faint flare of light, somewhat like an aura, at the level of the building as the process continued.

The picture below shows the final phase of the whole transformation.

I departed the terrace at this point. My experience of the magic of this sunrise was now complete.

A Christmas Story

I had been ambivalent about the whole project. When she had first brought up the idea of delivering food to my parents in Chennai from a restaurant in town that her sister and her husband had ownership in (a first-class restaurant, may I add!), I had told her it probably was not a good idea. There were the logistical issues to consider. First of all, the restaurant was quite far from where my parents lived. Secondly, I had experienced issues when dealing with deliveries to the home while in Chennai. The problems started with something as basic as specifying the address for delivery. (The online maps that the vendors used with their GPS systems did not use the postal address as their basis for locating the house. We had to figure out an addressing scheme that worked with GPS. (My first attempt at placing an order in Chennai with an Amazon ended up with a cancellation – because the delivery person never arrived. That was when I recognized the issue with the “address”. All subsequent orders for delivery that I made involved my standing at the gate of the house and keeping my eyes peeled for the delivery person, sometimes keeping track of his progress on my smartphone.)) I should add that Dad and mom have no idea how to use any of the technology involved in managing a delivery to the home. There was nobody else in town to depend upon to help with this. Any delivery of the food had to be coordinated remotely.

Anyway, she was determined. She decided, on her own, to have a delivery of food made to our home for Christmas. It being a special occasion, I did not object completely in spite of my concerns, and I tried to help. She was going to rope in her sister to help make it happen. The process was going to be managed remotely from Bangalore. I noted my concerns, not the least of which was that I did not want to do anything that would stress out my parents in this whole process. I was told not to worry. I provided as much information as I could so that the house could be identified. I consulted with my brother who had faced similar issues during his own trips to Chennai. I even provided a link to a picture I had taken of the shops in front of our house to help with locating the home. I thought I had covered all the bases. The order was placed. Delivery was going to happen around noontime on Christmas day. I was not involved in any of the organization. I must have continued to express my reservations. I was told not to worry.

The next step was for me to inform my parents that the food was going to be delivered at a particular time, and for them to expect phone calls related to the delivery at around that time, the last phone call being made by the delivery person at the gate to the house. Alas, this is where the plan in its original form began to go awry. I attempted to make a phone call to Chennai the day before Christmas. The phone at home was not working.

My siblings and I were independently in touch with somebody who was planning to visit my parents for Christmas. When I asked, Venkat informed me that he was going to be at our home in Chennai about an hour or so before the food delivery. I asked him to please inform my parents about what was going to happen just in case I could not call home before that. The stage was set.

I continued to try to call Chennai but could not get through.

When we woke up on Christmas day, we retieved a message that had arrived overnight from Bangalore. It said that the person delivering the food in Chennai had not been able to get in touch with my parents after his arrival at the house. Of course, the phone was not working. Nobody was responding to him when he called out from the compound gate(s?). Strangely, he reported that one of the gates was locked from the outside. Suman was on the phone with the delivery person when all of this was happening. She gave him instructions to leave the food at the gate. That was the last thing we heard about the delivery. We had no idea what might have happened to the food. Nobody could get in touch with my parents. My worst fears had been confirmed. This had been Mission Impossible! Again, I was told not to worry. We had tried.

Christmas day went by. I could not get my mind completely off what I was now convinced was a complete disaster. I should have done more to prevent this kind of a situation from happening. So many people had put in so much effort to make this happen, and it had fallen apart. Food had also been wasted.

But, the good thing was that we also had the distractions of Christmas to keep us occupied. We were getting the treat of a dinner cooked by Angela. She had suggested the menu for Christmas dinner, and had offered to cook everything. It was going to be an Indian meal. She had no previous experience with the dishes she was planning to cook. She was going to make them for the first time using recipes from books. She was going to be adventurous. Others assisted in her efforts as needed, but she was in charge. She organized things very precisely leaving very little to chance. She even transcribed the detailed instructions from the recipe books to a notebook that she kept in front of her while cooking in order to make sure that things were done right. The result was amazing!

We also spoke to my siblings and their families in the afternoon on Christmas day. The topic of the attempted food delivery in Chennai came up. We were joking among ourselves that the food had probably ended up feeding some stray dogs, or the rats that hung around the place. I did not want to talk about it any more!

Teresa and I realized much later that evening that we had not passed along one critical piece of information about where the food was supposed to have been delivered in Chennai. There was a second house, newly built and unoccupied, next to the the house where the food was supposed to have been delivered, and we had not even thought about making a mention of this house when giving directions. Perhaps the person had attempted to deliver the food there. Anyway, it was too late to do anything about it. The dogs must have had a good time.

When I woke up the next day, I found a texted message awaiting me from my brother. He had finally gotten through to our parents on the phone. He mentioned that the food package had actually not been lost! The message I had passed on to Venkat had gotten through to my parents. Mom had gone over to the new house to see if there was anything that had been left there. She had done this in spite of the fact that they had not talked to anybody on the phone. The plan had actually worked out somehow!

It was already too late to call and wish my parents a Merry Christmas, but at least they received the Christmas gift on time. All’s well that ends well.

PS. FYI, from our personal experience, the food from Kappa Chakka Kandhari is exceptional and highly recommended!

As Seen From a Rooftop in Chennai

The new house in Madipakkam has two floors. Its elevation provides for a different view of the area around the house than I am used to.  Here are some observations from an evening on the terrace.

There are many cellphone towers built on top of buildings in the neighborhood around us.  You can see a worker coming down from the top of this particular tower across the street.  I actually saw him at the top, but was not quick enough with my camera to take his picture while he was there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe traffic on the main road in front of the house is a disorderly mess.  I am getting better and better at figuring out how to cross roads like this on foot. You will notice that there are two-wheelers on both sides of the white car in this picture.  One of them is parked.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn top of the building in front of the house you can see a few, small, one-room shacks that that have been added on, perhaps illegally.  I suspect that these are rented.  There must be at least four units in the picture below.  These are probably occupied by young people who have come to the city to work.  This is all they can afford under the circumstances, and it is in all likelihood better accommodation than some others on the street.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe little home captured in the picture below sits on top of another building next to the house. It is located next to, and just below, a couple of cellphone towers built on top of the same building.   The clothing hangs out to dry next to the structures.  I hate to think of the radiation that one is exposed to on a continuous basis under the towers.  People living there are probably unaware of this.  Even if they were, the decision to live here might be considered a difficult choice between two bad alternatives – affordable housing vs. long term health.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe occasional bird flew across the sky high above me as I stood on the terrace.  Sometimes it was a group of birds that I observed headed in what looked like a random direction, seemingly with a sense of purpose.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn egret settled down on a coconut tree close to the level of the terrace I was on. It observed the human being pacing back and forth on the terrace for a while and then moved on.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeanwhile, the the sun began its descent behind the buildings of Madipakkam at the end of yet another Chennai evening.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cycle will continue.

Chennai Morning

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am back home, visiting my parents once again.  I searched my blogs from the last few years, and realized that I have been making this trip more frequently in recent times.  And I have been posting pictures and writing my impressions about the experience over and over again.  It is a good thing.  The essential, core, feeling that comes with a trip home never seems to change regardless of the circumstances which bring me here, which tends to be different each time.  This time, I am here for my Dad’s 90th birthday celebration, a celebration of a life well lived, and still being lived.  I am happy to be home for the occasion.  Once again.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Vegetable Shop

This vegetable shop is also a new sight on the street in front of our house in Chennai.  They seem to be doing a tremendous amount of business.  I have noticed crowds at all times of the day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile their bright lighting serves them well when it comes to advertising their presence and their goods, it can be a nuisance just across the road  in the nighttime because they are open till somewhat late in the evening.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd the fact that some of their customers park their vehicles in front of the gate to our house is also a major annoyance.

All of that having been said, this storefront seems to be a step up from the kind of establishments that have tended to come up in front of our house in the past.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThings are constantly changing here in Madipakkam, a suburb on the outskirts of Chennai.

Crossing the Street

It depends on the time of day, but crossing the street in front of our house in Chennai can be an adventure in itself.  It goes without saying that traffic in these parts is completely disorganized. The flow is a random process, with vehicles of all shapes and sizes trying to find a way through the confusion. Four-wheelers in all sizes – buses, trucks, construction vehicles, smaller vans, cars, etc.., compete for space with three-wheelers and two wheelers, both motorized and foot powered.  (I am a little surprised I have not yet seen a bullock cart on this road.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The concept of staying on your side of the road will get you nowhere when you are trying to get someplace.   And if you are on a two-wheeler, you may even try to maneuver sideways between two vehicles if there is enough space to find your way around stopped traffic.

The pedestrian is a forgotten entity in the midst of  all of this, but, because of the nature of the place, people have to cross the road all the time to take care of daily business.  These folks are looking for the break in the traffic to start walking across the street, hoping that no other vehicle appears on the road while they are in the process.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf one such vehicle were to appear, it is more than likely not going to stop for you.  Rather, the driver, in all likelihood, is going to try to find a way around you, trying to avoid slowing down.  This will happen even while you keep moving.  It is not clear what one is supposed to do.  Do you keep walking, do you halt in your tracks, or do you make a dash for it, not knowing how the speeding vehicle will respond.  You take your life in your own hands.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I have seen people put out their hands while stepping in front of a slowly moving vehicle like a bus, instructing it to stop.  That seems to work.  After all, bus drivers probably do not wish to be lynched by an angry mob if something untoward happens.  I once had to wait about 15 minutes to try to cross a busy road. My friend, who was waiting patiently in a car on the other side, finally stepped out on to the road, put his hand out, and proceeded to cross over to my side.  It was the work of a master of the craft.

My initial experience with trying to cross the road in front of our house during this trip nearly led to disaster.  I had lost all the skills I thought I had acquired from previous visits.  I was probably fortunate to not get injured.  But I am getting better.  What is required is a ton of patience.  And sudden moves to make a dash for it across the road are ill-advised.   Also, never try your luck crossing the street when your vision is partially blocked, especially by a bus or some similar sized vehicle.

Folks who live in these parts have been crossing busy Chennai roads like this for years. They are taking a calculated risk when they do this, and probably feel that the chances of not being hit under the circumstances are somewhat reasonable from a statistical perspective. People have no other choice, and you have to have a certain sense of fatalism ingrained in you if you are to survive under these circumstances.

I could not resist posting the picture below. The family is on a two-wheeler, probably waiting for mom to reappear from her shopping at the local store.  She will get on the back of the motor-bike, behind dad, and off they will go!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meditations at Daybreak

It is a good time to find a quiet space for the mind before the hustle and bustle of the busy day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe morning call of the awakening birds greets me as I head for the terrace of the house.  Sunrises in Chennai are a different experience from those that I am used to in my part of the world.  The tones are different, and the colors are more muted. The explosion of light and color that I am used to experiencing as the sun clears the horizon seems to be missing.  But it is a remarkable experience nonetheless.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is too bad that most of us are indoors, either asleep, or preoccupied with getting ready for the hassles of the day, when this phenomenon takes place. I can see myself on a beach or on a mountaintop just soaking it all in. The glory of a sunrise provides a good moment for meditation and contemplation of bigger things, and this is true regardless of where you are in the world.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lines

I personalized this week’s challenge in its interpretation – to try to find pictures from various recent travels that derive a significant part of their character from the presence of lines in them.  I was moderately successful, I think!

This is a picture from the window of our hotel room in Reno, NV, during a trip early in 2017.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of a hotel in Mammoth Lakes, CA.  The lines on this hotel came to life in the early morning light.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lines on the sand dunes of Mesquite Flat in Death Valley, CA, are the only natural ones that I have in this collection of pictures.   You will notice that these lines are the only ones where there are curves that are obvious.  (There is probably a lesson somewhere in there!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA couple of months later we visited the New England area. This picture shows the lines on one of the trains on the Mt. Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire. The engine is at a different angle than the carriage because it is stopped at the edge of the slope.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALines and angles dominate the picture of this covered bridge over the Ammonoosuc river in Littleton, NH.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lines on the Icefields Parkway dominated my six day bike ride through the Canadian Rockies in the later half of 2017.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken in St. Louis, MO later in 2017. It should not be difficult to guess what the subject matter of this picture is.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken at Middle of the Earth, just outside of Quito, in Ecuador on the equatorial line in November 2017.DSC00743This picture is of a corridor in the Design Hotel in Chennai in India at the end of the year.  This is considered a “boutique hotel“.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love the lines on the Boeing 787-9 that we saw at Charles de Gaulle airport on our way back from India.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lines of the roof at this gas station in Effingham, IL, caught my eye during a road trip earlier this year.  Yes, we had some late-season snow in our part of the world, but it is all over now!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA