March 21, 2008
A week passes. Friday 21st March 2008. Previously I received permission to go to Chennai to say goodbye to Riskhan again, and then to Pondicherry where I planned to meet Kelsey. After plans solidified, Aman called me, relatively out of the blue. He is going to Pondicherry also. Friday after work is Easter. I got to church with Anitha and Uma. It’s amazing, I know little about Easter traditions, and understand nothing during the Tamil service. There are hundreds of people gathered outside the church to see the pastor. Inside the church, it’s a swirl of children running, people seated on the floor, people talking, the PA system projecting the Easter service throughout the echoing hall. Jesus is covered in white cloth, his feet covered too. People come and kiss his feet praying. Unlike typical Hindu ceremonies, this ceremony is relatively sublime, and it feels good to be present ~ again the only white guy ~ but even I forget that from time to time now.
At midnight I hopped the bus to Chennai. 3rd AC, so tired, I fell fast asleep and woke as the train was pulling into its last stop ~ Chennai. An easy bargain for a rickshaw �" only 3 potential drivers before finding the price I wanted. I met with Riskhan and the rickshaw guy told Riskhan that the locals pay Rs.70 and I, the white guy, won’t even pay that much. We laughed. He was a crazy old driver, missing teeth, with a case of Parkinson’s. I felt bad for him, so slipped a few extra rupees. Mostly I like how his Auto whipped into and out of traffic, horn blazing, cursing at everyone!
Kelsey arrived around 3:00. Once settled in, we went out to explore Chennai for the afternoon. I’ve heard mixed things about Chennai, and Lonely Planet is not that flattering… “Chennai has neither the cosmopolitan, prosperous air of Mumbai, the optimistic buzz of Bangalore or the historical drama of Delhi. It’s muggy, polluted, hot as hell and difficult to get around. Traditional tourist attractions are few. Even the movie stars are as one Chennaiker put it, are ‘not that hot.’” So, I was not so excited about venturing to Chennai. But I was excited about seeing Riskhan and saying goodbye.
Riskhan told me that the day was reserved for me and I could do whatever I wanted. This was great, but there didn’t seem that much to do. So, we flipped open the Bible (a.k.a. LP) and found a few things. The three of us first went to the Vivekananda Illum. This was a former ice house where Ice was stored and then sent to parts of India. Strangely, the ice was shipped from Boston, took 3 months to get to India, and then was stored there. One would think that there would be an easier way. Well, when Indians figured out how to make ice from steam, it kind of killed the ice-trade business. Guess no one saw that coming!
But in one of the strange India circular coincidences, Swami Vivekananda has been presenting himself to me in the south. First, in Kanyakumari there is a huge statue of him there where he meditated for a few days. In there I meditated and snatched a photo of the OM symbol while quietly listening to the waves wash along the rocks and the recorded OM sound mixed in. Then in Chennai, I find myself back in another Vivekananda meditation hall. And upon returning to Madurai, I learn there is a Vivekananda library and attached meditation hall ½ block from the guest house where I stay. Sometimes it takes me a while to see the signs… So after wandering around the ice house, looking at photos of Vivekananda and his contemporaries, including swami Sivananda ~ see ashram entry, we crossed the street to the beach. The sky was overcast, on the verge of rain, but only spitting a little drizzle. So Chennai was pleasantly warm. We ate fried Bhaji �"at least I ate some vegetables ~ its fried vegetables in a very unhealthy batter, and then headed for dinner. We talked our way into the Bike and Barrel because we were not wearing appropriate shoes. Kelsey and I shared a beer, then another, and Riskhan sipped his coke. I was very happy to see girls in jeans, people drinking and smoking, and hearing some hip hop music. I almost felt back in the “City.” I did not expect to miss the scene. We retired around 12:30 full, Chennai was not so bad after all. We had a very pleasant time.