Thursday, October 29, 2009

India, Day 1, Chennai

Oct. 25, 2009

India - people, people, and more people! Packed into auto-rickshaws made for two, I've counted eight! Motorcycles much more common than personal cars, also carrying entire families, lots of bicycles, jam-packed buses, crowds walking, homeless randomly sleeping anywhere, in the middle of a sidewalk or tucked into a corner, so thin you don't notice them at first. Chennai (Madras) is such a hodge-podge, a true patchwork quilt of buildings. Tiny ramshackle shops are crammed right up against "real" buildings, entrances to buildings are swept and litter-free while the areas between are awash with litter; old carts, bicycles, etc. sit abandoned where they are, sometimes relaxing enough to appear almost intentional, like street-art.
On first venturing out from the ship, I was pleasantly surprised, having been so thoroughly prepared for the worst. No mobs of beggars greeted me or followed me down the street, only mild haggling was involved with our taxi driver (he did, however, ask for more than agreed on at the end of the trip - we just didn't pay it), and my feet and shoes looked none the worse for wear at the end of the day - the layer of grime was easily removed. Air pollution here is bad - anyone with even a slight tendency toward asthma is resorting to inhaler use. Even our sealed cabins on the ship are affected - I have had trouble sleeping with the strong smell of diesel and soot in my nostrils.

To live happily in this environment, it looks to me like Indian people operate on the philosophy that you put energy and care into creating your own personal environment of beauty and perfume that goes with you everywhere. So, every woman we see is carefully groomed, dressed in colorful saris or kurtas (tunic tops with loose-fitting pants), adorned with jewelry, and often wearing thick aromatic braids of jasmine in their hair. I never get tired of watching the women here, and feel a bit sad that we've become so careless when it comes to personal appearance (or, more accurately, I have!)

A word about the animals here, in particular the cows. Don't know if you can make it out, but the animals pictured below eating garbage are actually young calves. We've seen goats in a number of countries apparently acting as the first level of garbage disposal, but this is the first time I've seen cows in the same role. They're not getting much nutritional value, judging by the jutting ribs. My conclusion is that being deemed "holy" in India doesn't entitle you to much, certainly not extra food.

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