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India 2017

INDIA | Saturday, 16 December 2017 | Views [395]

Friday 8th December 2017, Melbourne

 

When our son Scot married Maya, we inherited an extended Indian family on Maya's father's side Gujji) and a rather smaller extended Ukranian family on her mother's side(Kate). At their wedding, we met both extended families, although the Ukranian side is really Australian, Maya's mother and siblings having lived in Australia practically since birth.

 

We got on well with both sides, however, the Indian side, mostly still resident in India, represented a culture with which we were not familiar, despite similar science backgrounds.

 

It was thus with considerable pleasure that we received an invitation to the wedding of Namrata, Gujji's niece, to be held mid December.

 

While we have travelled extensively in Europe in recent years, we have not visited any Asian countries since our honeymoon in Fiji back in the stone age. India will certainly be an experience.

 

As Ro is not enamoured of heat and humidity, we are fortunate that we are visiting in the dead of winter. Temperatures will drop as low as 26 degrees with 50 or 60 % humidity. Better pack the ski gear.

 

So Friday dawns at about 19 degrees in Melbourne at the start of summer. We are taking the Met bus to the city and the Sky bus from there, leaving at 12 noon for our Thai Airways flight at 3.30 pm bound for Chennai, formerly Madras, via Bangkok.

 

All goes according to plan, despite the fact that we could not print our boarding passes at home. One of the advantages with on line checkin is that the bag drop off for internet checked in passengers is far shorter than for chose checking in at the airport.

 

The flight to Bangkok is smooth and passes quite quickly. At Bangkok we have a one hour wait for our connecting flight to Chennai, a 3 ½ hour flight during which we manage some sleep before arriving at 12.30 am. or 6 am Melbourne time.

 

We have organised eVisas in Melbourne which are one quarter the cost visas obtained in Melbourne. We thought there may be a cost in time at the India end but instead the queue for e visas is a fraction that for Melbourne obtained visas. Nevertheless, it takes 45 minutes to reach the head of the queue.

 

The only other hold up is to have our bags x-rayed before we pick up our hold baggage. This is presumably in case we smuggle some weapon off the aircraft which was not detected by the multiple x rays we went through going on to the aircraft. We also walk through a personal metal detector which beeps due to metal in my shoes. However, as ther is no attendant, I pick up my scanned bag and continue. Beaurocracy in India takes many unusual forms.

 

The advantage of the wait is that at baggage pickup, our single bag is just passing as we arrive at the carrousel so we exit immediately.

 

Outside it is not unlike a sauna. We are not prepared for the hoards of people and crush of cars. Fortunately, within the ocean of faces are those of Gujji and Indu, also a niece of Gujji, who spot us and quickly join us.

 

Indu has prebooked a taxi and we are loaded into one and are shortly thereafter within the throng of vehicles leaving the airport.

 

We have been warned that traffic in India is chaotic, but we are not prepared for the reality. Gujji had invited me to sit in the front but I soon learn that this is as much a result of his discomfort with the chaotic traffic as it is hospitality for a guest.

 

In Paris we have observed that various road signs are “un petit suggestion” whereas here the only purpose road signs seem to fulfil is definition of where the road stops and the pavement starts. Mind you, this is a mute point as pavements are rarely used by pedestrians, even on the odd occasion when the footpaths are actually trafficable. Rather, the road is shared by cars, motor rickshaws, motorbikes, pedel powered vehicles, pedestrians, dogs and the odd cow. One would wonder how there is enough room for all and the answer is: there isn't. Instead, paths of vehicles resemble Brownian motion (the path of molecules in a gas) with a great amount of honking to avoid or at least minimize collisions.

 

Red lights seem to only vary from green lights in colour alone, not function. Zebra crossings are mere decorations on the road and lane markings are there presumably to support the road marking industry, not actually to define lanes.

 

After 30 minutes or so we reach our apartment which we can enter by squeezing past a water tanker.

 

Saturday 9th December 2017, Chennai

 

By 2am, we are ready for a proper sleep and very glad to participate in the activity.

 

After a good sleep we are downstairs by 8am ready for our included buffet breakfast. We have been warned that we must be very careful what we eat if we are to avoid Delhi Belly. Any water we ingest must we either well boiled or bottled. Even bottled water may or maynot have the pedigree we require. Even when showering, a full face showercap is almost mandatory.

 

There is a juice of some description. We have been told that fruits should only be consumed if they have outer skins. So does the juice come from fruits with outer skins? Let us guess 'yes'. Now for cerial. Confflakes. Should be OK. Milk? Doesn't matter as there is no cold milk available but whether the hot milk is sufficiently hot to be bug free is questionable. This is complicated. We are asked if we want omlets. They should be OK. All this brainwork is making us hungry, but what food is safe to eat to feed our brains? It seems with the large number of Indians, the food can't be too toxic. I think we will cast caution to the wind and use common semse. But we draw a line in the sand when it comes to water from a jug on the table.

 

Lakshmi is Gijji's sister and her house is 150 metres away. As we are not sure which direction, Gujji has offered to meet us at reception to lead the way. Lakshmi's house is within a compound which has one other house which is the original family home in which they lived when growing up. As we enter the compound, we are welcomed with a Hindu water ceremony which involves swilling coloured water in a wide, flat brass bowl. This, we understand, attracts and captures bad spirits. The water is then thrown over a chalk insignia drawn on the pavement. Removing our shoes, we enter the home where we meet again the sisters, and nieces we met in Australia two years ago. The bond formed then is still strong and we again enjoy their company.

 

The day is spent in diverse discussions with family members and friends as they come and go. Over the next few days we will learn a new lifestyle where the home is the central base from which people come and go through out the day. Whereas in Australia each family member retreats to his or her own space, here there is much more sense of community. Admittedly, Namrita's wedding may be influencing normal family behaviour, but the stronger sense of family is readily apparent.

 

In the afternoon Namrita needs to go to the fruit shop so I accompany her. I want to visit an ATM so we call into one. It is in a decripit room albeit air conditioned. The machine takes my card and goes through a long series of questions before finally declaring the card invalid. We go further to another equally decrepit room where the machine provides me with some cash. I must have chosen the good machine because another one there does not work and the customer has to wait for me to finish. Apart from the two machines, there are cabinets open to the world with cables, circuit boards and other electrical innards all exposed. One wonders how security is effected. But this is India. We return with fruit and a 5 litre bottle of trusted Bislari water.

 

Around 7pm, Gujji suggest we go for a walk to the main street. It is still oprerssively hot and humid so Ro opts for the air conditioned space while Gujji and I go walking.

 

The streets are crowded with people and traffic. There are food shops, shops full of utensils, souveneir shops, fruit shops and numerous others.

 

Along the way beggers and vendors follow us with remarkable tenacity. Gujji suggests his having a westerner in tow makes him a target. One vendor of books he finally dissuades from following us by giving 100 rupee without accepting the book she was selling.

 

Back at our apartment, I go inside while Gujji returns to Lakshmi's house. The apartment is comfortable and cool and we get a good nights sleep.

 

Sunday 10th December 2017, Chennai

 

After breakfast we return to Lakshmi's house. Ro wants to look at some material shops and Indu offers to accompany us, driving us there in her car.

 

As we approach, we need to find a parking place. Cars are angle parked and just as we pass a group of cars, one has its reverse lights on. We can reverse along the road before the car exits but this appears no mean feat. As we reverse, motorbikes go either side, cars squeeze past and pedestrians sidestep the vehicle.

 

The exiting vehicle is slightly protected by the upstream presence of our car but to exit the space he must reverse into the fast moving stream of traffic. A man appears and directs the traffic as best he can to a near stop which allows the vehicle to depart. We drive into the space and Indo gives the man 20 rupees, explaining to us that he will look after the car and help us exit the spot on our return. In this resourseful country, men like this man comandeer four or five parking places and help drivers gain access and exit for a small payment. It is entrapneurship on a micro scale.

 

The shop we enter to look at fabrics is small with shelves lining either wall about three or four meters apart. There are 7 or 8 attendants to serve the few customers . A lift or flight of stairs accesses four other similar floors each with a similar number of attendants. A rough count of bolts of fabric on each wall suggests that there are some hundreds of thousands of fabrics on offer!

 

Despite, or perhaps because of, the huge range, no decision is made on a fabric to buy so we exit the air conditioned shop back to the oppressive outside heat and head back to Laksmi's house where we sit and talk until lunch time when Scot and Maya arrive.

 

The rest of the day is spent in the company of various relations who come and go at regular intervals until evening when after dinner we return to our apartment.

 

Monday 11th December 2017, Chennai

 

Today we want to go, with Scot and Maya, to a beach near the town of Mahavlipuram where there are archiological carvings dating back 1500 years.

 

We can hire a car and driver for 2500 rupees (about 50 AUD) to take us there and back. He is due to pick us up about 9. It remains to be seen if it is 9 Indian time or Standard time. Indian time is not very precise. One way or another, we are on our way about 10.

 

Although it is not mandatory to wear seatbelts, we feel more comfortable with them. They are well buried in the seat, obviously not having had much use. The driver does not see the need for one for himself.

 

If the drive from the airport was an eye opener, this is more of an eye closer. The road is an open canvas on which driver ply their art form. This drivers art form is decidedly Pro Hart. He manipulates his SUV into spaces which are too small for the vehicle but which miraculously open up as he approaches at breakneck speed. Whereas we have found hazard lights are a “get out of gaol free” card in Europe, the horn is the equivalent here. What a toot means is unclear but the use of it seems to open wormholes. At one point an ambulance passes with siren and flashing lights but his rate of progress is only marginally faster than ours.

 

Along the way, the driver decides we need fuel. We stop for 12 litres of diesel then continue along the divided road. Most main roads here have heavy concrete barriers in an effort to keep the traffic sides isolated. They fail dismally. If there is less traffic in the oncoming lane, we use that, dodging and weaving between oncoming vehicles.

About half a kilometer after the fuel stop, the driver cannot see any increase in the fuel guage and smells a rat. How one could small a rat over all the other odours is beyond me, but he does.

 

The solution is to return to the station. However there are no breaks in the barrier so we just drive against the traffic at a speed not much slower than those approaching. But this is normal rather than deviant behaviour.

 

Back at the station, there is an aminated discussion in an Indian language which we don't understand. After telephone calls which the driver makes and the operator takes,which last about 10 minutes, we continue without resolution. The fact that we don't run out of fuel probably means we got the 12 litres, but we never find out exactly.

 

After two hours of Luna Parkesque excitement, we arrive at the town. What we have come to see is a group of archiological monuments carved out of solid rock. There are numerous temples and shrines and the odd boulder balancing seeming precariously on top of a rocky slope. Although it rests on a pad of perhaps less than one metre square, it has balanced there for centuries unmoved by tsunamis, hurricanes and unruly tourists, not necessarily in order of decreasing destructiveness.

 

It is very hot and humid but the odd breeze provides relief. After walking around the site for an hour, dodging the hawkers with decreasing success, we head toward the beach for lunch. Our driver takes us there, giving us some air conditioned luxury before depositing us near the sea.

 

No one swims here. There is a handful of fishing boats at sea and others beached on the sand along with mounds, the motionless ones of which we identify as fishing nets and the moving ones of which we identify as cows. A few people are wading in the water up to their calves but no one is swimming.

 

We have lunch up three storeys in an open rooftop restaurant. The roof is an early version of a space frame made of branches roped together with a cliplok type metal clading.

 

We think fried fish and chips may be the safest bet. We are shown a tray of fish each about 300 mm long and trays of prawns. But whereas the fish and chips on the menu are 350 rupees (7AUD) the fish on the tray are 1200 rupees (24AUD). Maya suggests we point to the menu item to minimize risk of plausible confusion, which is common and universally in favour of the vendor.

 

The fish and chips turn out to be not the fish fillet we had expected but a whole fried fish. The reason it is not filleted is that there seems almost no flesh to fillet. Furthermore, Ro did not think to ask for no spice, not thinking that putting spice in a fish fillet is possible. It is.

 

By 2 pm we are ready to return. The trip back encroaches on peak hour providing even more excitement. The only difference is that on this trip occasionally we come to a complete stop. This necessitates more frequent use of the horn, though the results with everything stationary are less miraculous.

 

Back at Lakshmi's home, we relax again then have dinner before giving in to the heat and retreating to our air conditioned apartment.

 

Tuesday 12th December 2017, Chennai

 

We have arranged to go for a walk with Gujji at 6.30am as it is a little cooler and less crowded then. I have set the alarm to sound at 6am and at the appointed time, it performs its duty. However it still looks dark and, after some confusion, we determine that I have used the wrong phone which is still on Melbourne time. It is really 12.30 am. Take two is with the correct alarm but we are awake before it sounds anyway.

 

We meet Gujji in the foyer and proceed in some direction. I still have not got my bearings here so what direction it was I don't know.

 

The roads are much quitere, both aurally in terms of horn tooting and numbers of vehicles. Since everyone walks on the road rather than the pavements, we are beginning to understand that here one keeps on the same straight path no matter what is approaching. Faster vehicles will steer around you, toot you or if there is nowhere to go, stop. The important thing is not to deviate. Movements are strictly rectilinear or , perhaps, a gradual deviation. The important thing is not to make sudden moves. We don't see anyone running and certainly pedestrians don't run and weave. That is left to motorbikes.

 

There is a remarkable impression of decay and incompleteness here. Even newly completed buildings don't look new due to the dishevelment around them.

 

There is a small park with walking tracks which at 6.45am are crowded with people. There are people exercising on equipment, people in yoga poses, others in laughter groups. It is lovely to see so many interested in exercising. However the vast population means the percentage may be the same as those walking in Melbourne on any given morning. It is interesting to note that everyone goes in the same clockwise direction, unlike the road traffic.

 

Despite it being cooler, Ro is getting very hot so after a big loop, we return to our apartment to cool off.

 

Lakshmi made it known last night that she would be decorating the pavement in front of the front house, as is their custom for festive celebrations. She was starting at 7.30 so we want to observe the porcess. As it happens, we are a bit late and must be content with observing the result rather than the process. The result is ornate and precise. I ask Lakshmi how it can be so precise, being 4 metres square and done by hand. She points to the concrete tiles which act as a reference.

 

The patterns used to be hand marked but now there are rotary stencils which repeat a pattern by rolling a cylinder filled with rice flower along the surface to be marked. Holes in the cylinder make a continuous uniform pattern as the white flour drops through the holes. We are invited to add to the pattern which we do, adding a boarder some metres outside their art work.

 

Throughout the morning and early afternoon we continue to observe the preparations, which include floral arrangements over gates and in porches. More relations arrive, coming and going on a regular basis.

 

Kate, Maya's mother arrives late morning and after lunch in the front house, we walk to a bazzar where we buy more floral arrangements and some additional clothing. Part of the wedding festivities are multiple clothing changes requiring 5 suitcases of saris etc to be transported to the wedding hall where the ceremonies will take place over the next two days. The saying “Bigger than Ben Hur” takes on a new meaning.

 

After lunch on the top of the front house, Rani's house, we walk to Pondi Bazzar again. Indu bought a sari top for Ro which is dark blue but Ro thinks a black one would be better. Scot and Maya had looked for one this morning without success but Indu thinks she knows where to find one.

 

It is only a short walk but it means crossing a major divided road. I am starting to get the hang of being a pedestrian on the roads, including the risky business of actually crossing one. Selecting an appropriate gap sometimes is a lengthy process and even when one presents itself, there is always the likelihood that a two wheeler (motorbike) will speed past an SUV on the inside. Indu believes that India's roads are proof positive that God exists. I am beginning to agree.

 

Scot and Maya are picking up some suit coats which Scot has had altered. The store where the alterations have been done is celebrating 50 years in business and has offered free alterations. He did not feel right about accepting the offer so bought a shirt from the usual 5 or 6 attendants hovering aroiund as the measurements were taken,

 

Indu and I continue up the street, dodging pot holes, beggars, street vendors and traffic. We enter the bazzar and walk along narrow rows overflowing with merchandise. Where one stall stops and another starts is not clear, but there is always an attendant within arm's reach to serve if interest is shown in any item.

 

We wind our way through the maze and are disgorged into the street behind where we want to buy some bamboo leaf ornaments. The vendor is sitting on the dirt pavement among the general rubble. The ornaments are made up according to order so we will return in 10 minutes after the sari top is bought.

 

Further up the street there is a fabric shop again overflowing with merchandise. Somehow within the thousands of items the attendant goes to a shelf where sari tops are stacked. The attendand removes a few and Indu chooses two which we purchase for 750 rupee (15AUD).

 

Back at the bamboo ornament vendor, our order is ready. We pay a few hundred rupee and continue on to the dry cleaner, another 3 metre by 2 metre shop, lined with hundreds of garments and with three attendants.

 

Back at Lakshmi's house we again talk as visitors come and go. Later there is dinner in the front house before we return to the cool of our apartment. It is fortunate this is mid winter.

 

Wednesday 13th December 2017, Chennai

 

Today we travel to the wedding hall, about 40 minutes away. We have a leisurely morning then lunch at Lakshmi's before packing in order to leave by 2pm.

 

Our driver is as relaxed as the last one was frenetic. Although traffic is far removed from road traffic in Melbourne, this driver behaves more like those we are used to. Less tooting, less rapid stopping and greater clearances to other vehicles and pedestrians. Despite this, he gets through the traffic with ease.

 

When we arrive at the location which the phone GPS has guided us to, we have some difficulty finding the wedding hall. A few directions from locals and we find a large compound with a high wall which has a sign welcoming us to Dwaraka Kalyana Mandapam (wedding place).

 

There is a large air conditioned hall with grounds in which is a block of hotel style rooms in which we are to be billetted. The first ceremony starts at 3.30 and it is now 3. However the rooms will be ready in 10 minutes. After 20, we have one room so we leave our bags there and walk to the hall.

 

Arriving about 3.30, the first of many ceremonies is underway. The couple are welcomed in a ceremony similar to that with which we were welcomed at Lahshmi's home. It is only a few minutes before the couple followed by perhaps 30 people enter the wedding hall.

 

There is an archway with LED strings of lights which are not yet lit with a red carpet leading to the hall entrance. There are flowers and ornaments hanging above our heads. Some of the bamboo leaf ornaments similar to those which we had made are hanging here but they are rather more ornate, including a bamboo leaf ring with a red eyed bamboo leaf bird sitting on it.

 

Inside there is a stage at one end with several hundred seats mostly plastic chairs covered with elegant fabric. There are two rows of arm chairs at the front. The stage has what appears to be a very solid ornately carved wooden lintle which we later discover by tapping, is fibreglass. Around the stage hangs gold fabric and there are garlands of flowers draped about.

 

There are more people in the hall and they either mill around the outer edges of the hall or are seaten on the chairs. We avoid the front two rows of armchairs but later come to understand these rows are not reserved for anyone in particular.

 

The couple makes their way to the stage for the engagement ceremony. Although they have been notionally engaged for some months, this is the official recognition of the betrothal.

 

What now begins sets the stage, so to speak, for what happens over the next two days.

The couple is involved continuously on the stage while guests may choose to join the ceremony on the stage (after removing shoes), observe from the body of the hall or chat to other guests. And guests there are plenty. They are expecting 500.

 

The ceremonies often involve fire which burns or smokes on the stage covering everyone with somewhat pungent smoke. There is a lot of chanting and numerous symbolic gestures which often involve walking either with the couple together or separately.

 

There is no effort on the part of the guests to keep quiet and life goes on around the ceremony. We even observe a cleaner sweeping the floor. There are camera people hovering about and some parts of the ceremony are telecast onto 8 video monitors around the hall. When the telecast is functioning seems to be totally random.

 

As guests converse, there are food snacks and drinks in the form of coffee always available. Then about 6pm we are offered dinner. This is another cultural shock. As there are so many people, eating is in shifts. Where the food is served, there are 6 long trestles about 600 mm wide each seating perhaps 20 people in a row. The plastic covered tables have a sheet of gray absorbent paper as a table cloth and in front of each place is a banana leaf around 400 x 300 mm. This is the plate we will use. As Indians use their right hand for eating, there is no cutlery. We few westerners can request a plastic spoon.

 

There are wait staff in abundance and 10 or 15 of them have stainless steel buckets and ladles from which each dispenses a tablespoon sized serve of whatever dish is in his bucket. Soon the green banana leaf is adorned with dollops of colourful food of various consistencies and the obligatory scoop of rice. Some of the food is quite hot with spice, some is sweet but to my western palate, there is an overall similarity. There is no meat at all, as there has not been any time since we flew in.

 

The waiters are very attentive and our leaves are replenished unless we firmly delcline. When a table is vacated, the paper cloth is rolled up with the bannana leaves and replaced for the next sitting. Over the two days, we experience this three times. We have noted on many occasions that Indians are nothing if not practical.

 

Back in the hall the ceremonies are still proceeding in preparation for the wedding ceremonies tomorrow.

 

Around 7.30 we return to our air conditioned rooms. Oddly enough there is a light doona on the bed so in order not to overheating, if we want a bed covering we must set the air conditioning to 19. Rather odd when it is perhaps 28 outside. Sometimes the Indian practicality fails.

 

Thursday 14h December 2017, The Wedding Venue

 

Today the wedding ceremonies take place. They start at 7.30 am but it will be some hours before they are symbolically tied as man and wife.

 

Today is more formal so the majority of women are dressed in colourful, beautifully adorned saris and the men in Indian clothes, including dhotis which are floor length wraps and loose long shirts. Both Ro and I enter into the spirit which apparently is successful as one guest who met us yesterday asks Scot, as we talk to him, where his parents are. As a sari must be draped correctly, the aqua coloured sari in which Ro has been dressed really suits her so the mistake is understandable. During the two daqys of ceremonies, the bride changes 8 or 10 times and each outfit is, unsurprisingly, spectacular, as is the whole scene in colour and movement.

 

Part of the ceremony involves the groom having second thoughts about the wedding and symbolically strolling off with a walking stick to contemplate a life as a monk. He wanders out to the entrance with many guests in tow where he is later joined by the father of th bride. In this case, Gujji performs that role as Namrata's father, Gijji's brother, unfortunately died many years ago. In that role, Gujji offers the groom two coconuts as dowry and a deal is struck. Namrata then joins them as guests watch and a process of swapping of garlands starts. The groom offers the bride a garland which she avoids then the bride offers the groom a garland which he avoids. This goes on back and forth for 5 or 6 times, with the guests noisily cheering as each garland finds its mark around the recipient's neck. Finally the bride and groom resolve to go through with the wedding.

 

All return to the hall where the ceremonies continue but now an extra layer of sound and movement is added as a loud drum and trumpet like musical instrument add to the frenetic pace. Chants and prayers are loudly layered by a powerful PA system. Naturally the guests converstaions must increase in volume to counter the added noise so the process is not recommended for those with delicate hearing.

 

Eventually a cushion is brought around the guests for us to touch and offer our blessings. It has a gold chain on it later to be placed over the bride's head and assorted other items. Not understanding the process, I think I am being offered something so ,to be on the safe side, I decline. My mistake is politely pointed out and I offer my touch to the cushion as blessing. Lucky I am not into gold chains. My mistakenly accepting that may have dismayed the groom considerably.

 

Some time later the groom places the well blessed chain over the brides head to the loud applause of the guests. Many of the garlands have been dissembled and the petals are given to the guests to throw over the bride and groom.

 

There is lunch available in the same manner as last night and breakfast this morning then the guests start to disburse. However, the ceremonies continue for some hours more for the bride and groom but under the gaze of many less people.

 

The wedding has been an event of a lifetime for us and we are so pleased to have been included. It is well removed from how weddings occur in the west but has some major advantages. It is a time for family to meet and the extended family to be introduced. I have a number of stimulating conversations with various people and all are without exception very friendly, which we find is generally the case in India. Politeness, occasionally to a fault, is uniquitous and Indian people are gentle and tolerant.

 

Now that the wedding is over, we are to get a taxi down the coast to a charity organisation with which Gijji has been involved for many years. It is called The East West Foundation of India. It was set up by and Indian doctor resident in Australia to provide education for children, initially female children but now for both sexes. Children of impoverished families are housed and educated from early childhood to college level without cost to the families. Gujji hopes that we might get involved after seeing what the foundation does.

 

We arrive around 5. The foundation was originally set up by selling blocks of land to Australian Indians some of whom have built comfortable homes on the land. A separate compound has a children's home and schooling facility together with some treatment plants, a biogas generator and some solar power.

 

The house we are staying in is very nice. Gujji said it was like a resort and that is a fair description. It is very open plan and doors open it to outside. Although there is no air conditioning, there are numerous ceiling fans which we find very effective. Our view out from the lounge area is toward the sea but what we actually see is a backwater where fishing boats pass frequently. Their engines are quite loud but don't run for long before they disappear from view. They are powered by propellers on long shafts which allow the boats to operate in shallow waters.

 

We have our own cook who is a tiny Indian lady with a broad smile. She makes dinner for us which we eat at 7.30 before sitting in the lounge enjoying the quiet....well mostly quiet as strains of eastern music waft over the land from some kilometers away.

 

The lounge. sleeping areas and kitchen surround a sunken courtyard and a fish pond. There is a narrow walkway across to a small island with a chair and view to the backwater. Excellent for a meditation session.

 

We turn in early as we are tired, perhaps because of the humidity. While I am showering, Scot brings Ro into the bathroom. Unfortunately she has lost her footing crossing the narrow bridge and fallen into the pond. In the process, she has bumped a small table on which is sitting a statue, perhaps the Godess of Longevity and Wellbeing, which has followed her into the pool abraiding her head in the process. As that part of the pool is only 900 mm square, together with the god's abraision, she has a few bumps and scratches but nothing serious. Just a bit sore. Of more concern is an injury to her achilles tendon which might make walking a bit difficult. Fortunately it does not greatly hamper her sleeping.

 

Friday 15h December 2017, East West Foundation of Indis

 

Our stay at this house had been open ended. Scot and Maya have to leave today as they have an early flight Saturday. Given Ro's sore foot, we think it better to return with them this afternoon.

 

After breakfast, there is time for Scot Maya and I to go for a walk. The only tourist attraction is a ruin of a Fort from the 14th or 15th century which is about 3 km away.

 

We walk to the local village which was relocated following the 2004 tsunami. East West was fortunately spared as the tsunami vented the wave up the backwater without any damage. The village was less fortunate.

 

We walk through the village which shows little signs of activity. Most activity is by the sea in the form of fishing boats coming and going. There are numerous goats and the odd cow. As always there is dishevelment all around, including a bonfire of two or three motorcycles which are now piles of rusted steel and melterd alloy.

 

All that remains of the fort is external walls. A sign informs us it was destroyed in the 17th century. The walls are of brick and mortar with sophistocated weapon holes for distant attack, close attack and mid range attack. It was quite a structure in its time until for what ever reason it was breached and destroyed.

 

Returning to East West, we look more closely at the water treatment plant. It looks like it needs some attention but that is the norm here.

 

By 3 we are ready to return to Chennai. The East West driver who is ferrying us drives competently but fast and with a lot of tooting. The tooting makes a lot of sense as it usually causes other drivers or pedestrians to look our way thus ensuring they have seen us. Most trucks have a sign “Sound Horn” on the back. If a horn toot does not attract a response, that is the sign for a longer toot or if necessary a continuous blast. If all else fails, it may be necessary to come to a complete stop; but not often.

 

Back at Chennai, the traffic is again chaotic but we make good progress and arrive at Lakshmi's house about 5.30. We will check in to Lotus apartments again soon for one night then another apartment for Saturday night as Lotus is full Saturday.

 

The plan is to rest Ro's foot in the hope it will not get worse so she is in the apartment by 6.30 where I join her later. It is a bit like going home as we have the same room as earlier this week.

 

Saturday 16h December 2017, Chennai

 

We are aware of not overstaying our welcome. Because our hosts are so hospitable, we need to be aware that they need time to relax after the busy time of the wedding which required a great deal of organisation. Obviously they are not going to tell us so we need to try to lay low. But that is not easy as they still insist on including us in their meal arrangements.

 

We spend this morning resting and catching up on some memoirs then go to Lakshmi's around 1 pm. Only Lakshmi, Indu and Lully are present as others are visiting relatives. Although they had their lunch around 10.30 as is their custom, there is some lunch for us after which we sit and chat for another hour or so. It is quite hot today but the ceiling fans keep it pleasant.

 

We can keep our room at Lotus until 6 pm as rooms are let on a 24 hour basis. Then we will make our way to another apartment block, Pebbles which is perhaps 500 metres away. If we check in there at 6 is we can occupy the room until 6 tomorrow night and they have agreed to us having 2 hours extra which brings us to 8pm when we leave for the airport. Kate is flying out 1 ½ hours before us so we will go to the airport together tomorrow.

 

 

The day is spent relaxing and catching up on reading, blogs and foot repair. We had rung Flight Centre in Australia to see whether we could get an earlier flight but were advised that an alteration would cost at least $700 per person. Not appealing when the return flight was $1100 per person. So we are largely marking time.

 

We visit Lakshmi's house where she, Lully and Indu are present, everyone else being out and about visiting some of the dozens of relations in the Chennai area.

 

As 5.30 approaches, we pack and make our way to Pebbles, Despite the dishevellment, the concrete roads are in good condition in the area so towing our wheelie bag is not difficult. As my phone is not loggod on to the wifi, we had missed a call from Indu offering to drive us to Pebbles so when we return to Lakshmi's, Gujji and Indu are wondering where we are,

 

We decide to go out for dinner to a hotel quite close by. After walking the familiar roads with their broken pavements and vehicles in various states of disrepair then out to the main road with its rubbish, dirt and mess, we walk into the hotel compound. The difference is as stark as could be imagined.

 

The grounds are well paved and tidy leading up a gentle slope to a grand entrance. The staff are immaculately dressed and as always in great abundance. As we walk into the foyer there is an x ray machine and a metal detector through which we walk. If there are people inspecting the output of the machine, we cannot see them. Maybe there are machine guns trained at us from hidden locations, or maybe, despite its appearances, the Indian method of doing things is just below the surface.

 

Wtether or not the Indian method is present, walking into the hotel is like a rapid exit from Chennai. The towering ceilings are held up by ornate columns and everywhere is dripping with opulence.

 

We take the lift to the 20th floor where a restaurant with seating for perhaps 100 people in a circular space is dwarfed by the towering ceiling and a wide walkway circumnavigating the eating area. More wait staff hover in their perfectly tailored white uniforms.

 

We want to eat on the roof area so continue around the walkway and out onto the roof. There is a strong wind which is a beautiful temperature and there is a lovely view across the city. There is even the odd firework.

 

We are shown to a table for 6 and menus brought to us. A slight problem is that there is insufficient light to read them. However we manage to order an Australian wine and meals. My first response is to order beef medallions however Gujji warns against red meat. He has pointed out meat shops a couple of times and says they should be avoided. The waiter says the beef is imported but Gujji says that may or may not be correct even in a swish place such as this. Instead I opt for chicken, the first meat I have eated in 10 days. Perhaps it is a pity to return to meat eating.

 

The meals are very nice and the waiting at a standard which one would expect of such an establishment. We return to our apartment and the others return to Lakshmi's

 

Sunday 17h December 2017, Chennai

 

The bathroom in our apartment does not have the best smell about it and the water seems to have an odour to it.Despite a good sleep, this morning I feel a little queezy and Ro has an upset alimentary canal, to put it politely. Maybe the bathroom is implicated. However, when we go to Lakshmi's it transpires that everyone except Rani has had some minir upset. It seems that the most expensive restaurant in Chennai may still suffer the same fate as lesser establishments which to date have not resulted in any stomach problems.

 

Lunch is a light affair after which we chat until 4 then return to Pebbles. We will vacate at 5 and take our bags back to Lakshmi's prior to our departure for the airport at 9.

 

The temperature outside is relatively cool so we take the opportunity to visit Ponny Bazzar to look at some more fabric shops. Sunday night is just as busy as earlier. Traffic is still chaotic; the sound of honking vehicles fills the air.

 

We visit numerous fabric shops, some air conditioned, some not. All have sales persons wall to wall with one or two only a pace behind. Ro is interested in cotton fabrics but most when asked show us the price. One guy must have got the message because whatever we look at is cotton. But nothing appeals.

 

Although it is cooler than before, it is still hot and soon Ro is wet from perspiration.

A shower before checkout is appealing so we return.

 

By 6.30 we are ready to checkout. We have already paid so it is just a matter of returning the keycard. We then walk to Lakshmi's with assorted bags in tow where we are offered dinner. We also learn that Kate has been to hospital as she had a fever and was feeling very off colour. The up side of the hospital visit was that she was very impressed with the efficiency and knowledge of the staff. The consultation plus some medicine cost around 15AUD!

 

As 5 of the 6 people who had dinner at the hotel last night have had some adverse reaction, we are fairly sure that the hotel was the source. Although she is much better, she is sleeping and by 9pm when we need to leave she is still asleep. We can leave by 10.30 as we have a 1.30am flight but Kate's is 12.15 so time is running short.

 

By 9.45, Kate has awoken and feels well enough to travel. An Uber taxi is ordered and we watch on Indu's phone as the car approaches us.

 

The drive to the airport is excitement free. Or maybe we are used to the driving. Our driver does not honk but does flash his lights a lot. The journey is about 35 minutes and the fare 353 rupee or 7AUD. I give him 400 and we exit with our bags from the boot.

 

The monitors tell us which counter to check in but it is still not clear where we need to go. As we work that out, Ro wonders with alarm where the brown bag with the passports is. We frantically check one another before realising it is still in the back of the taxi!! As it is on the floor, he is unlikely to see it.

 

What to do? I try to log on to some airport wifi to contact Indu who ordered the Uber taxi but to no avail. Ro suggests we ask for someone else,s phone to ring Lakshmi. There is a pharmacy opposite so we try there, explaining our predicament. The young guy is very helpful and rings. Via various calls back and forth, the Uber driver is contacted and asked to return to the airport. Fifteen minutes later we are relieved to have our bag back. We pay the driver 500 rupees which on top of the 400 is still only 18 AUD. India is an inexpensive place to make mistakes. I also offer the pharmacist 200 rupees but he will not accept. Instead he asks if there are many pharmacist jobs available in Australia. Unfortunately I cannot help on that score.

 

It is now 11pm so we still have plenty of lime to get to our 1.30am flight. Nevertheless, we stand in the longest customs queue we have experienced followed by the longest secirity scan queue.

 

Monday 18h December 2017, Chennai

 

But all goes well and we are in plenty of time to board our flight to Bangkok, which runs behind time minimizing our wait for the next leg to Melbourne.

 

Around 6pm Melbourne time we are over Australia and by 9.10 we land at Tullamarine. My sister, Judy, has insisted she pick us up which we greatly appreciate.

 

All we have to do now is teach her how to sound the horn Indian style.

 

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