India Day 3 – Chennai (Madras)

Woke at 8:30am feeling incredibly groggy from the chemical-laced Indian beer.  Showered and changed, then went for breakfast, which was the same as yesterdays, but this time I was early enough to have an omelette.  Read the newspaper.  Met Karppasamy, and went in his autorickshaw to Spencer Plaza, where he dropped me off, as it was raining hard and temple-hopping would have to be put on hold.  Karppasamy then took off to the airport to meet the returning Maharaj, Harini’s uncle who organsied the whole thing for me.

I strolled around the almost deserted plaza, stopping at a coffee shop where I ordered a hazelnut latte and sat writing my diary.  After a butterscotch latte, Karppasamy called to say he had arrived.  I went outside to meet them.  Maharaj looked rather regal sitting in the back adorned with jewellery.  He still wasn’t wearing shoes though, just like in Singapore.  I doubted if he owned a pair.  I sat in the front, squeezing next to Karppasamy.  To some, it would’ve looked like I was driving the autorickshaw!

We went to Maharaj’s travel agents, where he offloaded some TVs bought from Singapore.  Then we went to Maharaj’s house.

The journey there was eventful.  It was still raining, and that made the jobs of the poorer people even harder.  Drenched, they still carried on, pulling their handcarts behind them.  We passed through a very poor area.  People living in tiny shacks lined the roads.  The traffic was horrendous, and through it all we passed a handcart adorned with white flowers.  In front of it villagers threw white and purple flower petals.  On the cart was a dead man dressed in white.  Traffic still managed to squeeze past, and the whole thing was incredibly hectic and surreal to me.

We passed over railway tracks, where, amazingly, people dwelled in tiny wooden shacks.  Rubbish was strewn everywhere.  Soon, we swung left away from the crush of humanity, and into a relatively quiter area with nice little concrete houses.  We were at Maheraj’s house now.  We climbed the narrow stairwell to the top floor, where 2 small houses stood around a patio with clothes hung out to get wetter in the rain.  I took off my shoes and stepped inside the hunble home of Maheraj.  His mother and wife were there, and greeted me with some awkardness, clearly worried of the impression they were giving to their first Western visitor who spoke no Hindi.  His daughter was sleeping on a mattress on the stone floor.  The place had 3 rooms, a bedroom, a living room with a TV and a corner dedicated to Shiva, and one tiny kitchen cluttered with pots and pans.  An outside bathroom was shared with the other house.  Nobody could speak English, but smiles and nods seemed to do the trick.  Maheraj’s wife started busying herself in the kitchen, and a delicious Thali was prepared.  Delicious.  Mine was served on a silver platter, clearly the ‘special’ plate for guests.  Maheraj ate from a plate, and the mother from a simple jug.  I devoured it with my right hand eagerly.  Karuppasamy went and returned with his smiling son.  I flicked through photographs of Maheraj’s family, and we watched Bollywood musicals on the TV.  I took some photos.  It was a truly memorable occasion, and I was deeply honoured to have been invited into the home of an Indian family.  In India.

All too soon, it was time to leave, but the experience wasn’t over yet.  Next, I went with Karuppasamy and his son to Karuppasamy’s house.  He lived in a 1 room house, no bigger than my bedroom in Singapore.  He lived there with his wife and 2 kids.  I met his young daughter, and an inquisitive neighbour.  Truly an honour.  I felt very lucky to have been taken into not just one, but two local homes.

After this, we went to meet his friend in another village.  Heads turned as I stepped out of the rickshaw.  His friend, a real estate agent, came with us back to my hotel, and he asked all the usual questions:  “What is your good name, Sir?”  “Where are you from?”  “Are you married?”  Everybody I meet here asks those questions.  We got some cheap brandy and 3 plastic cups, then went to my hotel room to drink.  Soon, Nazeem came, and the real estate agent’s friend, so there was a little party in room 212.  Me and 4 Indian blokes. Bollywood musicals were blaring on the TV, and everyone got quite merry. I packed and set off to the bus station for my 10pm bus to Bangalore.  It was still pissing rain.  The bus was delayed until 11pm, which was lucky, as we didn’t actually get to the station until 10:15pm!  I bid Karuppasamy farewell, he’d made my time in Chennai very memorable.  I gave him his requested 800 Rupees, then hopped on the bus.

The bus was a very comfortable sleeping bus, but had no toilet.  Luckily I wasn’t yet suffering from the shits, so I didn’t need to go to the toilet anyway!  On the way, in the driving rain, we passed a chaotic scene.  A bus had overturned not far in front, trapping people inside.   A man was trying to pry open the back panels of the bus, and others were hitting the bus with anything they could find.  The bus just rumbled slowly past as others sprinted towards the scene to help.  We arrived in Bangalore at 6am

Author: Neil

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