I fell in love with you and I cried: Chennai
(draft book chapter, part one, with a few extra details added for the blog)
(Kochi) The ride in the rickshaw from the train station to the guesthouse had been unpleasant, so we got a taxi on the way back thinking, why suffer if we don’t have to? We drove past parked up intricately painted trucks which looked like vintage fair ground vehicles; past a scooter with a man and a woman, her holding a tiny baby in her arms.
At the train station, again feeling comfortable, walking the length of the platform. I bought sweets, I said they were for cold/cough, the man showed me some herbal sweets, ginger or mint. I asked for twenty, a mixture, and he counted them out and wrapped them up neatly in a little parcel of newspaper held together with an elastic band.
At the train station restaurant we had masala dosa and vegetable biryani, this was mostly rice, but was nonetheless plain and delicious. Then another dosa to share, actually two, one each, as they came in twos as they sometimes do at the train stations and two more lots of chai tea. The waiters laughed but we wanted to eat well before getting on the train; we also bought samosas, banana balls and water from the station forecourt.
The train began its journey at the same station as us which meant we had no anxieties about people being in our seats. The train was the best one we had been on, as good as the Delhi to Goa one but brand new; it looked like it had never been used before and the seats still had that new plastic smell.
We were in 2 Tier AC (this means that the bunks are two high, not three, so everything feels a bit more spacious and the carriages, in my thus far limited experience, are smarter, with curtains at the compartments), a step up from our previous, daytime journey from Varkala to Kochi. The train left Kochi at around 7pm for a fifteen hour journey to Chennai. It was a good job we had eaten and bought food to bring on the train as no one came round with food, no samosas, no water, even.
First to get on after us was a young guy who had the bunk above my husband, he got straight up onto his bunk but the three of us talked for a while. He was a final year engineering student, he said that Indian parents want their children only to be engineers or doctors. He said sometimes parents decide when a baby is four months old or even before they are born what they are going to study. His parents were from Kerala but work in the UAE and he was brought up there up. He told us UAE is nicknamed Little Kerala as there’s so many people from Kerala there. We asked him if he had any pressure to get married, ‘Not yet,’ he said but his cousin who is a girl does, ‘She’s same age, at university like me, and wants to be a doctor.’ He talked about corruption and about politics and about the garbage problem. ‘As soon as I can, I’m getting out of this country,’ he said.
Later a man who had the bunk above me got on. He sat down next to my husband and we chatted for a bit. He lived in Kerala but was going to Chennai for a one week training course. He said he preferred Kerala for its climate and the nature, and said that Chennai would be hot. I asked him if he minded going, he said, ‘No not at all, it’s only one week.’
Then my husband and I watched Netflix, Orange is the new black, now finished, I’d like to get the book to find out how much is real, with the tablet and headphones, us both sitting on my husband’s bed and the man sitting on mine/ours (the lower bunks are also the seats for the people in the upper bunks until it is time for everyone to go to sleep).
Everyone got ready for bed (for me, this just meant undoing my bra, I wore comfy clothes and slept in them) and the man went up.
We each had two white cotton sheets, a pillow and a heavy woollen blanket, the ac makes it chilly and I folded my blanket double. The bed was firm but not really uncomfortable.
Someone closed the curtain to our cubicle and the lights were dimmed. It felt cosy, safe and peaceful. I think staff came and shone torch to check on us in the night. There was a guard asleep out near the sinks outside the loos. I think it felt okay to be with strangers because we’d chatted. I lay awake for a while, just enjoying the feeling. It was exciting. When I went to the loo, I counted the curtained cubicles to find way my way back to the correct bunk.
Woke up. The houses looked like Kanyakumari, which is also in Tamil Nadu, even though the two places are far apart (Tamil Nadu is a large state).
The palm trees were different to the ones in Kerala, some had shorter, floppier leaves and spiky trunks where the stubs of old leaves remained. Others were tall with very thin trunks and spiky punk hair like Dr Zeus trees and there were also low, bushy trees almost like English trees, like little hawthorn trees or big overgrown gorse bushes.
The train arrived later than expected, the man doing the training course said he had just enough time to get to the course for the starting time. No shower, no breakfast and going straight to a work course after an overnight train journey. He didn’t seem to mind at all, I thought about people in the UK, myself included and how we’d all complain if work expected us to do that.
The train station was big and busy, we found out where the prepaid taxi stand was and got a taxi to the guesthouse. Our friend from Chennai told us that Chennai was hot and dry and that where we were staying was busy, ‘You are staying in the real India.’
Our guesthouse was down a narrow alleyway off a busy main street, hectic with rickshaws and people. The guesthouse was tiled throughout with pretty green glass at the landing windows. Our room was small with no window but it was clean. We dumped our bags and went for breakfast- masala dosas- at a restaurant nearby that the guesthouse staff told us about, and then went for a wander of the local area.
We had finished our water on the train and spent a while looking around before realising we were overheated and thirsty. We stopped at a juice place and had fresh juice, salted peanuts and cold water and sat down for a while. Even so it felt good to be back in a dry heat, hotter but less humid, more like Delhi.
I washed loads of clothes and hung them in the bathroom, even though we had no proper window, just vents, they dried within a few hours, and didn’t smell, I was amazed. In Varkala during the monsoon it had been so difficult to get clothes dry.
I struggled with annoying WiFi, trying to do all the reviews I’d promised. Like postcards, only do if you really want to and don’t say you’ll do unless you’re sure. Now I only do if they especially ask and/or I make a good connection. I gave up and had a nap, often the best solution.
We went out for dinner at a different place, another local non touristy restaurant. Staff stood all around staring at us while we ate. It was a real lesson in overcoming the effects of self consciousness; eating rice with my fingers, being in the flow and not getting put off by six people watching us! The food served on yellow plastic plates again, like it was in Kanyakumari (must be a Tamil Nadu thing?). I had onion oothapam for the first time.
The night was warm and felt exciting and I didn’t want to go in for the night yet so we went to a little shop and bought 7Up and biscuits and cigarettes. I wasn’t sure if it was okay to smoke there (UK conditioning!). The hotel forecourt faced the alley but there wasn’t anywhere to sit, so we perched awkwardly on a little concrete step. One of the hotel staff got us some chairs and we sat down at the edge of the forecourt where it met the alley, and gave him a couple of cigarettes.
Opposite was a row of parked scooters. Three street dogs were squaring up and barking at each other; they were thick set with faces like Ridgebacks, sturdy, their bodies muscular and well covered. People went past, some said hello, we didn’t see any other Westerners. A older Indian man wearing a lungi and an Indian shirt, short sleeved with front pocket, walked passed us, greeted us and said, ‘Welcome to India.’
The wall opposite us was faded paint-peeled orange, tinged with blue. An orange cat sat on the wall. The cats in Chennai all seemed to be orange, not bright ginger tom colour but a paler orange. The colour of tiger milk, a drink my grandmother used to make me as a child, milk mixed with orange juice. A few feet below the cat was a little overhang roof of old blue corrugated metal. Beyond the wall the blue sky was tinged with yellow. The colours were warm and dusty, as if they’d been made out of chalk pastels. I gazed at the scene, wanting to remember, trying to soak it in, absorbing the colours through my pores.
‘Look,’ I said to my husband, ‘Isn’t it amazing, how the colours all go together; blue metal roof, orange wall with blue tinge, orange cat, blue-with-yellow-tinge sky.’
‘That isn’t the sky, that’s another building,’ he said. I looked again and saw that what I thought was sky was actually the wall of a big building in the background. It didn’t matter though.
A man came out of a door near where the cat was; he spoke to the cat as if telling it to get down, and walked off. The cat looked at him when he was speaking, stayed still for a few moments, then jumped down onto the blue roof, onto a parked scooter below, then from seat to seat along the length of the row of scooters, and disappeared from view.
For nice pics see my husband’s Instagram travelswithanthony
We flew from Chennai to Bangkok on Sunday night, arriving early on Monday morning. We stayed two nights in Bangkok then got the over night train, then a ferry, then a taxi, to our place in Ko Phangan, where we are right now.
I realised that I can’t pack for Thailand, India and Japan and have a light backpack that will carry on (7kg) for Japan ( my ticket to Japan does not include checked in baggage unless I pay extra).
I admitted that many of my clothes had been bought while shopping as a recreational activity and when I felt fed up with my clothes and wanted to get something nice. I had such fun shopping in an Indian department store in Varkala; there were a lot more staff than in an equivalent UK shop, and I had three women helping me in the changing room. I so wanted to go shopping, get some new stuff, and buy something with the women, that I ended up getting things that weren’t quite right.
Also if I want a light backpack I can only carry what I need right now. I had some thick baggy trousers, they would have been good if we go up North when it’s chilly in the evenings in January or February but honestly, I can just buy again, they were cheap; it’s not worth straining myself carrying a heavy bag for that. It’s hard for me to waste stuff/money, having been brought up to be frugal. It helped to think of it in terms of that I paid for the experience…
So just pack bare essentials in terms of products/meds/miscellaneous, plus sarongs and vests for Thailand and a couple of nice dresses for Japan. The hotel cleaner in Chennai even asked if we had any stuff we were leaving that we could give him so that he can sell it for food, so that clinched it.
I am proud to report that my backpack weighed in at 6.1kg at Chennai airport. (Unfortunately my handbag might be weighed and added to that, if so I have a bit more work to do…) I can just pay extra for some check in luggage, but this kind of feels like a good task, and kinder on my body to travel light.
I didn’t do much writing in Pondicherry even though we didn’t do that much there and I had time; the room was hot and stuffy, I felt a bit out of sorts, slightly funny tummy, and somewhat spiritually overwhelmed/absorbing everything from Chennai (to be continued…).
So I read people’s blogs and relaxed and barely did any writing, apart from handwriting observations and thoughts while/about being there.
We got back to Chennai Wednesday evening, feeling funny having not eaten properly all day, bananas, nuts, biscuits and crisps (as all restaurants were closed, will get to that next week) and didn’t do anything that night. I worked hard on Thursday but I still had lots to do on Friday. I got anxious.
I had some thoughts, Well it doesn’t matter if you don’t do it, Nothing matters, vs It’s a commitment you made to yourself, You aren’t doing anything else. Thinking I’m writing to order, from the head, rather than free flowing from the heart (I kept thinking about the cat on the wall, and the raindrops on the shutters (to be continued); the spiritual moments of Chennai that I so wanted to capture and was interested in.)
But writing a book has to involve a mixture of head and pure creative flow or it won’t ever get finished or edited. There was no internet in the room, and nowhere to charge my tablet downstairs where the internet was, so that slowed me up a bit, alternating between using and charging my tablet.
But I accepted that, and when at around ten pm India time I got it (last week’s Kochi chapter and blog) done and posted, I felt very happy; like I was honouring a commitment I had made to myself.
It was the same when I did the draft chapter on Kanyakumari for the blog, I spent the whole Friday on it and got stressed. It’s actually much longer than a normal blog so although it seems an easy cop out to just do the chapter as the blog, it is actually is a lot of words to deal with. (And for you to read. Next time (this time, Chennai) I’ll let myself do it in parts, or extracts. And do more in advance. (But I have rambled on in the writing update so it still ended up being long, sorry!)
I’m typing this bit on Saturday; interestingly I didn’t start with the cat (I did that on Sunday, but it was nothing really, I mean it was in the notebook just fine, it would have kept); I just started at the top and worked my way down, warming up to it, setting the scene and the mood, even for myself. I started from the last bit of notebook that wasn’t crossed out (meaning it had been typed up). As I finished for the day (on Saturday) I looked at where I am up to in the notebook: I am at the cat bit! How many times do I have to say, Trust the process.
Sunday afternoon, before Thailand, equal parts not wanting to write as excited and anxious re packing and just wanting to be with the feelings and the experience, vs when I look at my notebook I realise how much I have to write about Chennai, and I want to get on with it! (Let alone completing the Kerala chapter, and doing the additions and corrections to the already done chapters…)
I carried on writing this Chennai chapter at the airport on Sunday, then late Wednesday night on the train, late Thursday night in Ko Phangan, and Friday (today) morning and teatime, so this week was better, just.
In the garden in Bangkok on Monday late afternoon I sat and made many notes in my notebook, ready for the Thailand section, so the future is taking care of itself.
Unhelpful thoughts: Maybe a book is too hard, maybe I just want to be a blogger; the 2014 ones that I’ve been re-reading and reposting as part of Throwback Thursday were luminous, proper blogs; I wasn’t writing anything else so everything went into the blog.
Helpful thoughts: If you want to carry on like this (globetrotting, focussing on self realisation, living outside the matrix) then you’d better finish the book, sell it and make some money!
Thank you very much for reading
See you next week