Linn’s Year Ablog


Incredible !ndia
25 March 2009, 3:25 PM UTC+2
Filed under: Daily life

That’s the Ministry of Tourism’s most recent campaign, and I think it fits okay. “Incredible,” one says, stepping out of the airport. And then BAM!, mid-thought, an exclamation point. “I’m in !ndia.”

A man emerging from a watermelon. BAM! Bizarrely, this was the photo used to advertize an ice cream-juice drink in a restaurant I was in recently.

A man emerging from a watermelon. BAM! Bizarrely, this was the photo used to advertize an ice cream-juice drink in a restaurant I was in recently.

An auto-rickshaw. BAM! And is that a guy holding a twenty-foot PVC pipe out the side? BAM! A silk shop, and a burka shop. Restaurants in “veg” or “non-veg.” BAM BAM! A trapezoidal temple, and…a shrine to a plump Virgin Mary. Huh, BAM! People adjusting their saris and retucking their lungis, people pushing carts of split watermelons and spiky jackfruits, people fixing bicycles in the alley and splitting bamboo on the sidewalk, people pissing, people sleeping, people arguing, people, people, people. BAM bamity BAM!

I’ve been here nearly three weeks now, and the first exclamation points have worn off only a little. I keep thinking of Senegal, as that seems to be my basis for comparison for every foreign place, and much of the feeling here is the same. Right hand only for eating, taking off shoes at the door, political rallies with blasting music, little shops with a little of everything, religious icons on walls, dangling charms on back bumpers, disgusting bathrooms, friendly faces, spicy smells, packed buses in crazy traffic, mosquitoes that are problematic, constantly oppressive heat and just…the feeling of the street.

Chennai's best crumbling colonial hotel. According to unreliable sources, it was the private guesthouse of British governor (or Indian aristocrat?) for a hundred years, before it became a hotel in the '50s. In the '60s it was a hippie hang-out, reminisced one baby boomer guest I met, and a perpetual cloud of pot smoke hung above it.

Chennai's best crumbling colonial hotel, called Broadlands. According to unreliable sources, it was the private guesthouse of a British governor (or Indian aristocrat?) for a hundred years, before it became a hotel in the '50s. In the '60s it was a hippie hang-out, reminisced one baby boomer guest I met, and a perpetual cloud of pot smoke hung above this quiet courtyard.

Until yesterday, I was staying in the Triplicane neighborhood of Chennai, a densely populated mixed-income area near the city center.

For some reason I noticed dress right away. Few women in Western dress, but most men. Sandals for everyone. I’m happy to see that men almost uniformly sport cotton pants and button-up shirts, so I should fit right in. Some men prefer their hair parted severely and slicked, and mustaches are the hot thing. I dig that, too.

I feel like I’m sweating in the shower. My scalp is like a squeezed sponge, and the droplets become ants as they roll off.

So there’ the dress and the heat, but it was the feeling of safety that really hit me. I can walk around worrying about remembering a few Tamil words, worrying about not getting run over, feeling culture-shocked at all the people, senses, stores, sure. But to not worry about being mugged? After seven months in South Africa, thank goodness most of all for that. What a great relief.

As I finish old posts re: South Africa, they’ll appear below, so keep an eye peeked for those. New videos at the left, too.

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2 Comments so far
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Cool! Another Watson in Chennai. I was there last year, middle October to beginning of January. You’ll probably run into the expat crowd at some point– when you do, say hello to my Canadian roomie McKay and anyone else who remembers me. Also, have you determined whether Sanna (another Watson) is still there? She arrived right after I left.

Comment by Wren

Holy crap, Linn actually updated his blog!? That’s quite momentous.
So wait..you just randomly came to India just like that? Are you going back to Senegal? I’m confused!!
Anyway, it’s good to see that you’re having a good time there. I supposed after being in Africa for so long, I wouldn’t have to worry about you eating something bad in India. A lot of people I know seems to get sick when they go there, but if you survive Senegal, then I’m sure you’ll survive India just fine.

Comment by Nay Savin Wangtal




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