Asia | India | Tamil Nadu | Chennai (Madras) – The one and the many
….in the midst of all the uncertainty about what am i doing here anyway, can i really even dance at all, what the hell is going on, did i waste all my money, etc. – in the midst of this i FORCE myself to NOT become dulled to the amazing surroundings – not to forget how amazing it is that i am here in the first place. everything here is such a phenomena! the traffic, the colors, the elegantly draped clothing, the jasmine flowers, relentlessly beautiful tropical weather, the jewelery and adornment, profusion of religious life everywhere, the food, the way people interact with a taste for formality, ritual and reverence – even the animals wandering absolutely everywhere (not only cows but dogs, cats, water buffalo, chicken, crows and the occasional burro or horse even) – the ongoing game of being cheated by the rickshaw drivers – i force my self to remember to LAUGH and smile at the whole nutty thing! it is a discipline to cultivate just like remembering to floss every night….to remember to LAUGH and lighten up.
And then there is the genuine (not always for money) curiosity about visitors – and genuine kindness. The girls who showed me around the Kali temple insisted that I come home to meet their parents (!) and have a photo taken with them – such photos usually end up being proudly displayed the rest of their lives. And these weren’t village girls but college graduates in the city.
There is a definite childlike quality to much Indian behavior and one of the trademarks of their culture and visuals is what i call an almost relentless whimsy. That is, irrepressible adornment, frippery, detail, embellishment – in the speech, dress, artwork, everything. The urge to complicate and embellish. OVERKILL is a definite trait.
for instance –Saturday we went to an ancient (at least 800 yrs old) Shiva temple and the majestic towers are all decked out with the Hindu equiv. of Xmas lights! Strings of colored lights all arranged in shpes of mandalas, swastikas, Sri Chakra, Om symbols etc., some blinking on and off….some strings outlining the rooflines….it’s like a bloody carnival! Esp. with all the flower/balloon/soft drink/fruit/lamp salesmen in the front courtyard. But that’s what it is, a carnival for God, really. Almost felt like I was on the Midway at the state fair. You have to buy ‘special darshan’ tokens in order to not wait for hours and while standing in the metal queue barricades you feel like you’re at bloody Six Flags buying tickets for the Log Flume! – But then the main Devi shine had so much shakti, it was really powerful and the lingam was a rare one made of earth that they claim to be 2000 yrs old – also very powerful. This particular temple had about 35 different lingams, for various things (there are no english signs to explain, and half the time your Indian host doesn’t know either. In our case there was a grandma along with us that knew more than the young folks, which helped some.) Even 27 nakshatra lingams, that is, one for each ‘birth star’ in Vedic astrology – you pray to the one designated for yr star.
How could anyone ever keep track of it all? That’s just it, no one can. or does.
Try shopping for a sari, just one sari, in T. Nagar, the main shopping district. There are at least 3 dept stores selling almost nothing but saris, each of them about 5 huge floors, each of them CRAMMED with shelves full in every fabric and weave and color and price. An ocean of people pushes past you constantly – and this is at 2pm on a WEEK day. After 30 min. in such a place I run out with my head spinning, ready for air conditioning and a shower. Or try shopping for pillow covers – you think you know what you want, then the man keeps pulling out yet another beautiful design – and another – and yet another – then more in other fabrics and price ranges – till you are positively DIZZY, reeling with pillowcase possibilities. You’d better be really focused to get even one thing done here.
There is a point to all this rambling – I think this is why the doctrine of detachment from the material developed here – because there is just so MUCH it is damned overwhelming – and reading accounts of Mark Twain to Marco Polo evidently it has always been this way!