Places in India, especially in the cities, tend to become very crowded during the daytime. We live in one such location in Chennai. You can see a few pictures illustrating the street scene in this older blog that I posted a while back. I used to go up to the terrace of our house and look down on the activity in the street. There were the pedestrians and the numerous two-wheelers – cycles, scooters and motorbikes, and then there were the heavier four-wheelers, be it the cars, the trucks, or the buses. It could be chaos as they all jockeyed to occupy the same space. I saw this person on a motorbike at one point at the corner of the street. There was something about his face that got my attention.Here is a second picture I am submitting for the weekly challenge. Because of the effort level involved, our group tended to get separated as we were climbing Vidhyagiri hill in Shravanabelagola in Karnataka. As illustrated in the picture below, we tended to get surrounded by other groups and sometimes become just another face in the crowd.
My parents’ home in Chennai is not a quiet place. In fact, the noise from the traffic and the people on the street, when combined with the dust raised by the vehicles passing by the front of the home, can make it a place that one may want to escape from under other circumstances.
But that is not necessarily the way I feel when I am here. When I sit down in the verandah beside the garden to read a book, or walk up to the terrace to putter around with my camera, when I hear the sounds of the street, be it the voices of the people speaking in a language that I can barely follow, or the familiar rumble of the engines of the city buses, when I watch the birds flying high overhead in the fading evening light, it is feeling of peace that one experiences. Even if this state of mind is occasionally shattered by the loud honking of an impatient bus or a truck passing by, or by something else, the disturbance quickly fades away as the other sounds of the street once again take over the senses to soothe the soul and bring back that comforting sense of familiarity.
I have arrived at a time of year when the weather is very pleasant. I am avoiding the heat and humidity of summer and the rains of the monsoon. The evening breeze cools the air as I relax in the open spaces of the verandah and the terrace.
I am back in a familiar place that I can call home.
Including the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras, where I grew up.
Random shots from the first few days.
I departed the Washington DC area late in the evening on an Air France flight to Paris.My seat was at the tail end of the plane. At least it was an aisle seat. Unfortunately, the guy from West Africa in the middle seat insisted on spreading himself out. His thick leather jacket did not help. I kept my cool for the whole flight. Was a little concerned about the time it would take to deplane and get to the terminal for the next flight, especially in light of the layout of Charles De Gaulle airport, but it turned out to be OK.
The only notable adventure in Paris was the insistence by the security folks that the cans of tuna I was carrying could not be taken through. My argument that the folks at my airport of origin in the US had let me keep the food, and the fact that it was mainly solid material, did not convince the lady.
It was late in the morning in Paris when I departed town on the second leg of the trip. I experienced the second sunset of the trip from the Jet Airways A330-300 aircraft from the window seat as we passed a mountain range and a couple of snow capped mountain peaks, most likely in Iran.Arrived in Chennai after a long flight at an ungodly hour of the morning, something that is typical for international flight flights from the west arriving at Chennai. Trip home from the airport through the then quiet roadways in a call taxi was uneventful. Got home and managed to get into bed without waking up the folks until a more reasonable hour of the morning.
Good to be home once again.The house looks more exposed to the elements since the cyclone last year took down a lot of the trees in the compound. It is a pity. But the birds still come around occasionally. This one might have been looking to build a nest somewhere close by.I have not gotten a picture of the night heron yet although I did see it on the first day I was here.
Been taking it easy with a couple of trips into town to meet with old friends from school and college days.Uber and Ola seem to be the new ways to get around in town, but I am still working on getting this new technology under control.
Chennai still seems to be a place in a perpetual state of chaos during the day and absolute quiet (except for the stray cats and dogs) during the night. Traffic is crazy over here. You are at risk of losing life and/or limb if you try to cross a street during the busier times of the day. There are very few crosswalks, if any. The place where we live also experiences a dangerous and somewhat puzzling breakdown in the public infrastructure at the street level. Sidewalks, where they exist, are quite often in shambles. There are also the open drains that should have been covered a long time ago. Animals wander around and defecate wherever they wish. Pedestrians are forced onto the street to compete with the chaotic traffic of both four-wheelers and two-wheelers. You play chicken with the buses and other vehicles that are careening through the chaos and around the blind corners of the road. But life for the locals goes on in spite of this and other challenges. This is their home, and nobody can take this away from them. It does feel good to be back.
The weather is good and the mosquitoes are mostly leaving me alone, which is good. Waiting for the rest of the family and for further adventures to continue.
I wrote this to my family on New Year’s Day 2006 after returning from a trip to India. I have added pictures to the narrative. I hope it was a useful endeavor.
I woke up at 38000 feet, high over the mountains of the Eastern Taurus range of eastern Turkey. This is the birthplace of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers that call to mind the beginnings of civilization. This is the land of Mt. Ararat and Noah’s ark. I am headed northwest towards the cities of Erzurum, Trabzon, and the Black Sea, skirting Iraq and the trouble spots of Mosul and Kirkuk. The brilliant white peaks stretch all the way to the horizon, seemingly covered with a fresh layer of snow. Below me is the town of Van, on the banks of the Van Golu, one of the big salt water lakes of Turkey. It is a bright and beautiful morning, with not a single cloud in the sky to spoil the wonderful landscape that unfolds before my eyes as I lift the shade that covers the window next to seat 46A. The sun reflects off the silver wing of the giant 747, the shining silver and bright blue on the engine cowling informing me that I am indeed on a British Airways jet. The white contrails from the port engine closer to the fuselage speed past my window. We are moving fast, and I am headed home.
This has been a quick and eventful trip to India. The smell of Chennai welcomed me as I deplaned after the long flight from London. Long unruly lines met me as I proceeded through Immigration. Chaos enveloped me as I attempted to locate my suitcase on the baggage carousel. Arriving at Madipakkam in the wee hours of the morning, sleep escaped me. Finding Mamma sitting on the floor of the kitchen later in the morning on the same day with a bloody gash on her head made it all seem so surreal. Did I need to wake up? Thank God the injury was not serious (although it did need stitches).
The rains of the unending monsoons of Chennai come poring down during the KV Alumni meeting day on the 17th of December. The cricket match with the school kids is rained out with the Alumni team losing more wickets than scoring runs. We are showing our age. It feels great to meet people like Josey George after 30 years! There are many other people to meet and stories to tell.
The roads into Madipakkam are a mess. I am bouncing around in a auto-rickshaw late in the evening in the pouring rain after the KV Alumni meeting, with the driver trying to avoid the potholes that make the road. This is indeed not a road but a collection of holes. An ordinary American vehicle would not last 100 yards without a broken axle! You need an SUV. We make it home safely. Am I still dreaming?
Daddy is admitted to St. Isabel’s Hospital in the middle of town for the hernia operation. I cannot sleep that night because of jet-lag. It is raining outside. The light goes on outside the window and I find Mamma headed for the gate in the middle of the night. This cannot be happening. It seems that the pump that has been turned on (to remove the water that is flooding our yard because of the rain) is not working. The blasted pump needs to be primed at 3:30 am in the morning! It takes me a while to figure out the science of this process and get things going. I must be awake – there is water spurting all over my hand from the pump as I stand in front of it holding a torchlight and spanner in the middle of the dark night.
Multiple trips are made to and from St. Isabel’s Hospital. The roller coaster that is the approach into Madipakkam from Velachery is navigated by taxi each and every time. The road sees its share of stranded trucks and other vehicles. Vehicles maneuver in all directions trying to find a safe path through the water-covered potholes of indeterminate depth.
I spend hours daydreaming in the taxis, stuck in the traffic jams and at the traffic lights of Chennai City itself. Perhaps it is the effect of the pollution on the brain. Maybe it is the mesmerizing effect of the chaos unfolding all around me. Two wheelers, both human and gasoline powered, squeeze into impossible spaces. Vehicles drive on all sides of the road. People risk life and limb in the middle of this mess of traffic. People go about their lives on the roadsides – I am sure there is a story to tell for each and every one of them. Somebody should take this opportunity to study the theories of chaos. Chaos actually works, though perhaps not in the most efficient manner.
Endless hours, most of it uneventful, are spent in the hospital environment, most of the time with a book in hand. I find time to practice my music in a secluded corner of the building. The lazy breeze plays with the curtains covering the window of the hospital room in which I spend many hours conversing with Daddy. I play the role of caretaker as Daddy comes out of surgery. Anxious moments are felt as the doctors deal with the problem of the blockage of urine flow, and when we go down to the ground floor to get the ultrasound tests done. What will the doctor say? I have just finished reading Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain”. Is this all part of the supernatural plan as Merton would lead me to believe? Is this one of things that I was destined to do? I also conclude that it is impossible to play the role of a patient in the hospital unless one is suitably humble. You are put into unusual situations that you would normally not dream of being in. Your real character shows. You will suffer more than you need to if you have too much pride. Between long periods of inactivity I am rushing around trying to get the medicines from the pharmacy, get the hospital bills paid, and get the discharge process completed. It is an environment that I am not familiar with. Nobody seems to care, nobody seems to be in a hurry. I have not woken up from my dream yet.
I get adjusted… The celebrations for our 30 years after graduation from high school takes place at the Gandhinagar Club next to the Adayar river and bridge.
The IIT Madras Silver Jubilee celebration also takes place after couple of days. I see many faces from the old days, several only recognized after some initial conversation. Thank God we are wearing badges with our names on them. What a feeling of nostalgia! A movie is seen at the Open Air Theatre (OAT) for old times sake – Where Eagles Dare. I take a long walk covering the IIT campus in the early morning. Health-conscious joggers do their daily exercises. The deer wander all over the road unafraid of the humans. The IIT Madras campus is still beautiful. We are lucky to have grown up there.
The postponed trip to Bangalore to meet Amma and Appacha takes place. It is good to see them and the rest of the gang. This trip barely lasts a day. It is now time to head home. I am really not that tired in spite of the fact that I am not sure if I am coming or going. When the doorbell rings I do not know what city or time-zone I am in. I am keeping up because I am getting a lot of rest between activities. I come to realize that the Madipakkam environment is really not too bad. The volume of the street music in the morning has gone down – no more speakers from the temple on the street corner. I love to walk on the terrace in the evenings, soaking in the street sounds including that of the buses bringing back the masses after their day at work, feeling the cool of the evening breeze coming in from the sea in the east, and listening to the planes heading to and from the airport. It is time to enjoy the good things in life as they are, and to not get worked up about things that one cannot control.
I am now back in Gaithersburg. I have survived the long flights and third-world toilets of Heathrow’s Terminal 4. It is readjustment time once again. It is cold and cloudy outside most of the time. I have no motivation to get out and do things. Just like me, my car also needs a lot of help to get started once again. It is then back to work on the 3rd. Give me a few days to get used to the changes. Pictures will eventually be posted.
Happy New Year!