A Day in the Life: Chennai


A Day in the Life
in Chennai (feb 28, 2011) I feel like I just visited 15 thousand
different universes. We dug around this gritty lil city of chennai
and found soooo much. From multi-colored and lively shanty towns,
to old time city lost in the 20s, to the elaborate labrynth style
staircased, mosque-topped high court we ran around collecting
treasure and finding adventure every step of the way. We even found
a chai shop that served grilled cheese sandwiches. SCORE!! How we
got to these places was even better. In the true sense of adventure
we were aimlessly wandering chai shop to chai shop. First,
understand this, chai shops in India are the tiniest nooks in the
wall with enough room for a propane burner, the person making the
chai, and maybe a table and two chairs. Sometimes there is a jar of
cashew cookies. The chai is served one ounce at a time for 5-7
rupees (10 cents) sometimes it’s just a dude carrying a canister
and selling it where ever he is, sometimes it’s a bigger shop with
3 tables. They vary but this is the baseline- they usually have
some type of pretty tile and a crew of regulars hanging around out
front. So, where was I? Oh yes, we were aimlessly wandering chai
shop to chai shop when we crossed under some railroad tracks and
saw a sign for the station. Chennai is actually working on creating
a subway but does currently have some above line tracks. We had not
yet taken the train and decided to check it out. Chennai does not
have the best infrastructure- there are open sewer pits in parts of
the city, there are buildings with no bathrooms, there are many
many people that just go on the street- sometimes you are walking
and there are foul foul smells and flies- so you start walking
faster only to realize you are barreling head-on into a worsening
situation – you have walked into a neighbothoods chosen toilet. So-
it’s important to watch where you step for sure- anywho- there is
this train track and we start to follow the way to the entrance
which unfortunately began at a sewer pit but luckily the wind was
in our favor. We approach the station and it’s this old bombed out
station. There is no attendant, there are no turnstiles, gates, or
ticket collectors- we walk up the stairs and the walls are coated
in beetlenut (a red nut people chew like chewing tobacco and spit
out as they please). Then we enter the station. It was open and
airy with a huge rounded top like the stations in Europe. It was
actually really nice and a good break from the afternoon sun. The
train came and the doors are nailed open and the windows have no
glass. Many metal straps hung from the ceiling like stirrups
hanging off the side of a horse. There is even a special car for
ladies in the event they are traveling by themselves (women in
India traditionally travel with a male escort or with groups of
other ladies). We hung out the side of the train car taking in the
city at full speed with an aerial view soaking up the breeze being
granted to us by modern day mechanics. It was glorious. We took the
train to the end of the line and then began to walk. I could see
the mosque topped spires poking out over the skyline and as we got
closer I saw many people of all religious attire freely walking in
and out of the grounds. I encouraged Justin that we should go check
it out. Cops swarmed the place and I have a knack for acting like I
belong and making my way into situations like this- but Justin and
I really stand out in India lolol. We are typically the only white
people around and despite taking on Indian style dress- we can’t be
missed. Justin is twice the height of most Indian men (and often is
at risk of hitting his head on everything). So, sneaking into this
heavily guarded building is totally not happening- however after
visiting a few entrances we learn that we can get a pass. It’s a
high court and it is in session. That’s why there is so much
enforcement. Soo we go through the means necessary to get a pass
and then whimsically made our way along the most beautiful, clean
and treelined campus in all of chennai. It seemed like a fairytale
land compared to the rest of the city. Spiral staircases, huge
arched balconeys, we turned the corner and the hallway was full of
twenty desks each with a typewriter going full speed as people
translated court documents and assigned fees. Judges trompsed
around in gusty black court robes and crows came to visit us from
the treetops we were neighboring. I really wanted to climb up to
the top of the mosque-like domes. I don’t know what it is in me-
but I really enjoy heights. My internal instinct is always to climb
to the highest point, to get to the roof, to the tallest branch
that will support my weight etc. we already had been told upon
gaining access to the building that we were not to enter the
buildings or take photos (all though I did sneak a few and as you
can infer-we were already inside the buildings) so Justin convinced
me when I reached the partially locked door in the stair case
leading higher in the building that we should probably NOT keep
trying to go farther. I was reminded to years back when we were in
Berlin at this grand cathedral and I somehow snuck into a back
staircase and dragged Justin up the scaffolding and we literally
ended up on the outside rim of the largest basilica of all of
Germany lolol. There was only plywood balanced between bricks and
3o ft angels and us overlooking the carnival of winter and St nick
that was Berlin. It was epic and I love scenes like this- however I
was grateful for the scenery we had been granted and didn’t push it
(any further than I already had lolol). Once we retired from the
high court we accidentally made our way to George town. Many Indian
cities are organized by districts- so a district of optical stores,
a district of light fixtures, a district of vegetables and so on.
Justin was looking for some copper goods so we wandered through
these epic and full-on market places at sunset through the streets
weaving in and out of bull drawn wagons loaded to the sky with
goods, rickshaws, motorbikes, bike rickshaws, and dudes pulling
platforms on wagonwheels with their supply. It’s bonkers and
beautiful to watch and be part of the chaotic flow that is the
market place. We made our way to the copper district and ended up
in the middle of Moorga Puja- the celebration of Moorga at this
huge temple in the center of the city. We were digging through
copper when we heard a marching band and drums in the street, as we
came outside to scope the scene twenty people were heaving this
huge float for the god Moorga down the street -it was laden in
flowers and carved horses and- dragging a generator. We followed it
out into the street and watched in awe as the traffic just made
it’s way around the huge commotion- no big deal- fireworks started
erupting in the sky and glittering down onto the street, the crowd
cheered and danced and played. The ceremonial leader blessed the
onlookers after performing the puja and everyone ran to the flame
to be blessed and get some vihbouty for their foreheads. We
followed the scene back to the actual temple and checked our shoes
with the chappas gate, purchased ghee lamps and flowers for
offerings, and joined the huge pilgrimage line to pay our respects
to the many gods housed within the Moorga temple. Hindu temples are
such wonderful places. I feel welcome and people are kind and
thankful you are there. I enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to
give thanks and praise to the many aspects that each god and
goddess represent. I love the ritual. The cracking of coconuts, the
lighting of campfur and incense, the ringing of the bells. The
symbolism and the spirit. I truly enjoy the temple experience. Once
we completed the temple circuit we made our way to a rickshaw- I
got a kick out of watching this gypsy family watch their widescreen
flatscreen tv which they hid under a tarp. The evening markets had
all closed for the night and all the families that lived on the
street were cooking on an open flame right on the sidewalk. The day
had led them to a good bounty and the gypsy kids, always naked but
happy with a lil string around their waist, offered me up a handful
of food with big smile as I walked by. Sharing is definitely
paramount in the Indian life and I love that too.