India! This place is F***ing CRAZY. I don’t think there is anything that anyone can tell you, if you haven’t been to a major city in India, that can prepare you for what it’s like. There are people everywhere, and they are doing everything all at the same time. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that for me, it’s all happening in a big blur and also in crystal clear slow motion color at the same time. Everyone seems to be selling or doing something, always, everywhere, constantly.
I arrived this morning and even though it’s now just evening, it feels like I’ve been here for 3 days already, without sleep. So much happens and it all moves so fast…. and so slow.
Indian men asked me a few times today (Indian women aren’t seen as much and don’t seem to interact with westerners) “How you like it here?” My response the first time was, “It’s crazy here, I love it.” A few minutes ago, my answer was “I don’t like it, I love it.” It’s true. I absolutely love it here although I think I’m running a little on adrenaline so it may be an Ecstasy kind of love.
I’m in Chennai, which is the modern name for Madras. It’s the fourth largest city in India, only a mere 6 million people, although I swear there is no way on Shiva’s green earth that any bureaucracy could ever count these people. They are always on the move and many many of them are sleeping I fear on the beach, on the back of carts, on street steps and lord knows where else.
My camera died on my 2nd to last day in Thailand so I’m here hoping to get it fixed at the Canon service center. I found it (although I had to learn that 1st floor in India is what we in the west commonly know as the 2nd floor) and they were very friendly, but apparently they don’t have the equipment to service the 5D, which is my model. They suggest letting them send it to Dehli to be serviced where they have the correct calibration equipment. The service manager said he may be able to lend me another camera body which would be great or else I’ll be without a camera for 2 weeks or so, or else I’ll have to buy another lower end camera body which I really don’t want to do. I’ll find out in the morning if we can work that out. Fingers crossed. I had so many amazing photo opportunities today that I had to pass up. Stunning one’s really.
Today I tried to go to the Kapalishvara Temple and there was a small girl with vacant eyes begging at the entrance. She told me to take off my shoes and leave them there and as I did so she put flowers around my head. I told her “no” but she was persistent. Somehow my father had warned me that someone might want to take my nice running shoes when I leave them at the temple door and I got the vibe that it might be her so I just left. Kind of a bummer, but it felt right to trust my instincts. I ended up walking down the street and eating lunch for 70cents (30 rupees) in a restaurant while 4 waiters waited on me. I didn’t drink the water as they didn’t seem to understand my request for bottled water. Oh well.
After that I watched a crew of about 15 people work as a concrete road crew, carrying carrying sand on their heads, some rocks, some water, almost all barefoot, some running the mixer, some carting the wheelbarrow, some shoveling the concrete on the ground, some tamping it down, many of them women.
From there I went to St. Thomas Cathedral. It’s actually the place that Jesus’ Apostle Thomas is buried. Apparently he came to India to spread the word and ended up being martyred here. It’s one of only three temples where the tombs of Jesus’ apostles are apparently, the others being St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and a tomb for St. James in Spain. It was neat, you can get right to a fake St. Thomas lying in repose in a glass case and directly under that is supposed to be his tomb. They leave some dirt showing under glass on the floor so you get the sense of what’s under there. There is a relic to the right side of a piece of one of his bones in the center of a gold cross. Strange to see Indians coming in and praying, kissing the glass, etc., but it’s beautiful.
Walked the beach back (longest outside of Miami Beach) and had a love fest with a very poor Indian family along the way. There was a convoy of about 7 bicycles parked on the sidewalk along the beach, each pulling a colorful box. It looked like a mini circus so I went over to see what it was. They had blocked the sidewalk sitting together but I ventured forward anyway and within 30 seconds they had all gotten up and were asking for money, but they had love and life and sweetness in their eyes. They may have been Gypsies. None of them spoke English except one young man who, when I said “I love you all” to them, he said to me, “I love you.” It was all so wonderful, these most precious of moments in life when our hearts truly connect with one another. Hard to describe the beauty in their smiles (and unfortunately I can’t share a with you) and the joy. God the Joy was serenely beautiful. I gave them 100 rupees and the little girls kept yelling “Bye!” “Bye!” with such joy and sweetness in their eyes. What a treat to be alove (nice typo) alive!
Eventually gave in to a rickshaw driver who told me he was graduating school and that his father died in the Tsunami. All possible, but unfortunately for me (my heart prefers to not be a skeptic) doubt it. He tried to hustle me (“I take you to nice shopping store”) and I teased him and said I only let drivers in blue shirts take me shopping. He laughed. We drove back to my hotel and he blasted, and I do mean blasted music all the way back. It was great. At first I had him turn it down but then I asked him to turn it back up. It was surreal, like being in a movie really where the visuals are extraordinary and there is this driving soundtrack (dancehall Indian music including a sexy “Oh Baby” part). If you’ve never been in a motorized rickshaw in India, you can’t know the definition of “thrill ride.” It’s scarier than most roller coasters, because actual life and limb are in jeopardy every 10 seconds or so. It’s simply astounding. Add to that the soundtrack which drones out the incessant horns and, once again, it’s like consuming a tall drink of pure joy. I asked my driver (Kumar) if he had a cell phone because I’d like to call him again for another thrill ride, and he didn’t. Later this evening, he miraculously appeared on my street with a cell phone in hand, everyone always the entrepreneur in India.
Like I said earlier, I don’t really seem to like these people much, but today at least, I sure love them with all my heart.