May 28, 2007

In the eyes of a Stranger....

Came across this article while browsing through Wikitravel. Written in 2005 by a foreigner touring Chennai and India, on his first impressions.

Felt nice reading it.

Some excerpts:

"Chennai has a population of over six million, although when out and about and caught in the crowds I often feel that the total population of India just happens to be on the street I am on. No matter how many times I walk through the city, I am still fascinated by what I see. I recently took a walk through the crowded Triplicane area of the city at dusk and became part of the neon-hazed vibrancy. A cacophony of vehicles horns mingled with voices, overrun by the haunting call to prayers from the city’s largest mosque."

I have my own memories of evening walks in Triplicane, where I spent a significant portion of my summer vacations (My granny's place). Despite the summer heat, evenings in this sea-side locality were of intense activity. Home to a majority of the city's muslims, it also houses an ancient Vaishnavaite temple. My relatives still live on a street which has a temple at one end and a mosque at the other. The temple end has a Hindu name, and the Mosque end a Muslim one. Even during the Ganesh Chathurthi riots in the '90s this street was by and large peaceful, the residents living in blissful harmony for generations.


"I watched boys play cricket in the back streets and children flying kites from rooftops. I looked at the intricately drawn kolams on the floor, drawn by women at the entrances to homes, and watched both young and old stop to offer a prayer at a streetside shrine. Someone asked “Which country?” as he passed by. In response to my answer, he smiled, gave a head wobble and continued on his way, content in the knowledge he had “met” a foreign visitor. "

The Kite flying was something the little kids in the house used to look forward every evening. Trying to cut the thread (termed "deal") of the other kites, deftly manouevering your own for a narrow escape from a sly neighbor; it was a colorful fete, that made me a sky-watcher for life. (Being the youngest cousin, I was usually left to watch the skies, holding the "maanja" thread reel).

Praying at a street side shrine is a very frequent practice amongst chennai-ites. People walking on a crowded street, suddenly stop in front of a Ganesh enshrined on a building wall, stalling the human traffic behind them, jerk their slippers free, and start veneratively slapping their cheeks. Though not a stranger to the scene, I have always found this practice rib-tickling much to the chagrin of the elders in the family.

"I ate like a king in an up-market restaurant and minutes later passed a street dweller eating rice and sambar (spicy gravy) from a banana leaf while squatting on the pavement."

The innumerable "Kai-yenthi" (literally translated means 'hand-held') bhavans, the mobile street side shops that feed the millions under and slightly over the poverty line, (sometimes, others too) are fascinating to watch. The brisk business they do in the limited space and infrastructure that the push-cart shall permit leaves one amused. Though they do mess up the environment around them, they have been a boon for many a famished stomach.

I liked the article not only because, it brought back some memories of my hometown. It gave a valuble insight into something that I have been feeling towards my adopted city as well. (as a quote from Pico Iyer)

"we start out by laughing at what we regard as the follies of another culture. Then we move towards bewilderment as we begin to leave parts of our own culture behind. Eventually, we end up somewhere completely different from where we set out. Hopefully, that new state of mind is better than the place we left behind and is much closer to the culture we find ourselves in. "

When I first came to Bangalore, I was so overwraught with home-sickness and was frequently prone to comparing it with my home-town. Though any outsider would prefer Bangalore's climate to Chennai's, I was busy convincing myself that I would never like this place.
But, when found myself telling people 'how this is like- in- bangalore', and 'how this is not like- in -bangalore', every single day of my recent three week stay in Chennai, I realised how much I had grown to relate myself with my surrogate city, and how much I missed it. Its was not just the roads, the climate and the culture. I had even started to cherish the general hospitality with which Bangaloreans had treated me , a stranger. Although, I have had my share of mishaps, they evened out in the end.

Maybe, as the author of the article says "Incongruity is the essence of modern India....You can’t change India, India changes you.” Perhaps, this is the case with anyone trying to blend in an new society.

10 comments:

Hari said...

Nice post! Initially I thought the entire post was a reproduction of the article by the foreigner. Only later did I realize that you have written passages in between!! That should speak volumes of your style of writing...
Super.

Citric Acid said...

I had even started to cherish the general hospitality with which Bangaloreans had treated me , a stranger. - That's what it is. Good post. :)

aravindh KRISHNAMOORTHY said...
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aravindh KRISHNAMOORTHY said...

Dear Such - It takes an open mind to appreciate a stranger. So, it's not just the place, it's the subject, his predilections and his experiences that play a role in the judgement. Art students are especially good at this judgement, for they come with the desire to learn and with no prejudice. - Aravindh

rsubras said...

hey intha post ah nan padikkave ilale.......... just came to tell my blog updated...and no it is not a vaazhga valamudan post :D

~SuCh~ said...

@hari
Thanks :)
@citric acid
Welcome:) and Thanks :)
@Arvind,
Agreer. But not getting the part about art students..
@rsubras:
how rude ! you couldve read it atleast for courtesy's sake.

EnGeetham aka "My Song!" said...
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EnGeetham aka "My Song!" said...

So sol, the hospitality of this city is not exactly the great Indian apathy ? (I need to post that). In any case, thats what powerful about the writing medium (than the visual). It invokes images the way you want to remember them, rather than what is presented !

aravindh KRISHNAMOORTHY said...

> @Arvind,
> Agreer.

Nice.

> But not getting the part about art students..

Okay.

- Aravindh

~SuCh~ said...

@ G :

:). but the great indian apathy is still the great indian apathy, lets hope it doesnt get any greater.