My Guinea Pig is continuing his travels around the world. How he found himself riding an elephant past the Taj Mahal at dawn I will never know. I guess he'll tell me all about it when he gets back!
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I went on a fabulous trip to Madras in 2008 and here is a diary I kept while I was there:
We went over for our friend Sanjay's wedding (who's from Madras but now lives in the US), but because he is quite private I promised not to post pictures of the couple getting married, even though they are pretty spectacular.
Still, it was all so amazing I am posting some pictures. And here is my diary....
Ever wondered what happened to Noddy? He eloped with Big Ears and now lives in Madras.
Shop like J Lo
Now, I am not a power shopper. I like a leisurely stroll through a couple of department stores, then a coffee, then lunch, then maybe I buy a pair of shoes. So on Day 1 in Madras I felt a bit like a movie star when I embarked on my shopping spree, because I was surrounded by an entourage - Sanjay's aunt, his fiance Abhilasha, plus the driver, plus John, my husband. We were to buy all the outfits I needed for the wedding. I didn't insist on dressing in Indian outfits, but they decreed that three outfits was the only way to go, one for each day of their Hindu wedding. No arguments, they were paying. And since there are few department stores, you drive from tiny store to tiny store. At a jewelry store where I bought some anklets, the shopkeeper was tearing up saris and removing the silver threads from them. He was going to melt down the silver threads to make silver jewelry. That was the first thing that struck me - the total recourcefulness, out of necessity, to reuse every single object. There is very little waste, and even rich people don't throw away food.
The first day was hair raising because no one follows any traffic rules or stops for traffic lights. The pollution burns your lungs and you watch in awe as the driver negotiates the traffic, often passing a hair's width past a motorbike, and narrowly avoiding cars that are casually cruising the wrong way up the street. Against a deafening cacophany of horns, babies and kids sit on the front of motorbikes without helmets. Madras is a lawless city and yet has an easy vibe. People are not stressed. There is no road rage or screaming in the street, people just drive in a very leisurely fashion. Sometimes you see a pile up, but it always ends well, with the motorbike drivers getting up, brushing themselves down and going on their merry way.
We went from shop to shop until I had a sari, one long skirt and a top embroidered with sequins (sharara) and one casual outfit, a long dress over baggy trousers (churider), plus jewelry. Plus they bought John two outfits. Everyone in the shops looked at me like I was part creature from outer space, part Amazonian. I am probably twice as heavy as most of the women there, with their narrow wrists and tiny bodies.
It is nine pm and we are still shopping and I can't believe the sheer amount of clothing that is being bought. The bride has eight different saris for the occasion. It seems that here weddings are quite a big deal!
So amazing to see the hotel guests smoking cigarettes at breakfast. Whenever I see smokers in non-regulated environments I get a bit of a kick out of it because smoking anywhere these days is almost akin to shooting up heroin in public.
Took a trip to a gruesome crocodile zoo
and then, after a visit to a Hindu temple
I wondered lonely as a cloud...
pondering what fake ice cream might be...
until I was accosted by a bunch of Indian boys
Not sure what they were after but I think it may have been my cash.
Attempts to go native collapsed today. Indian food for breakfast, lunch and dinner takes its toll on a person whose palate craves bland greasy carbohydrates. After a nervous breakdown of sorts I found myself in an eatery called Little Italy, its walls decorated in lotus leaf designs, the wait staff Japanese and Vietnamese, shoveling down mozzarella and avocado salad as if my life depended on it. I told my husband I want to live in India but he pointed out that I don’t like the food that much. I said, “What about Delhi? I hear they have a Marks and Spencers up there?” He said, “What about the heat?” While we were in Madras it was their winter and the heat was bearable but I’m not sure I could cope with their summer. So maybe living in India isn’t going to work out. Although I hear its cooler in Bangalore.
Later I went to a beauty salon and had to sit still for three hours while my hands and feet were painted with henna. While my hands were drying a girl actually lifted my coffee cup to my lips so I could take a sip. All this attention was going to my head. Sanjay’s family had this philosophy that if you traveled for a long distance to come to the wedding it brought particular luck onto the married couple. And while I appreciated how much they were doing for me, it was still strange. It seems to me that here the individual does not really exist, it is all about the collective. Family is more important than a person, consequently, at the wedding, the two families will marry each other.
Sanjay’s aunts draw chalk pictures daily outside their house for the Gods. At the end of the day the pictures are rubbed out, to show that you should not hold onto anything material. The spiritual life here is stitched through everything and I cannot help feel jealous, if only because everything is so ritualized that there is meaning in everything. On the other hand, no Westerner could live like this – sacrificicing personal desires for the good of the collective – even if it is beautiful to observe.
Day 4 – Wedding Day One
We take a walk on the Madras beach which was hit on Boxing Day 2005 by the Tsunami. It must have been a leisurely weekend scene much as we witnessed. Men playing cricket. Fishermen pulling their boats out of the water. Children playing. And suddenly a wave hit the beach and sucked the life out of it. And then, silence ….
We found a dead dog and a dead sea turtle on the beach that day, which was gruesome.
Today was the pre-wedding party. It takes place in a hall where tonight, bride and groom will sleep in separate rooms in the hall.
Later I found a cute baby at the hotel and, since I couldn’t see its mom, decided to do an Angelina Jolie and adopt the little angel but John said I had to give it back to the mom, who had now appeared.
Day 5 – Wedding Day Two
I got to the wedding hall at 6.45 to have my sari put on. The hall was pretty hot and stuffy and there were men drumming and playing instruments whose wail was quite piercing. There were many rituals between bride and groom, many exchanges of garlands of flowers. It was beautiful, only by four o’clock I had something of a headache and decided to go back to the hotel where I fell into a deep sleep.
Refreshed, we got up later and went to the hotel nightclub, where I ordered a frozen strawberry daiquiri (which was listed on the menu). The daiquiri took a long time to arrive. I could see the two barmen mixing something in a shaker, then they poured it out. One guy shook his head and poured it away. Eventually they had another go and brought me the drink, proudly. Well, I guzzled it down and really felt sick. Firstly it had lumps of ice floating in it instead of being crushed ice. Not a crime, okay. But the yuck factor came about because they had put salt around the edge of the glass. Really quite bizarre.
Day 6 – Wedding Day Three
In the morning we went to the Hindu temple with Sanjay where we were blessed by the Gods via the Swamis. Then the couple went on to the reception. They couldn’t even relax and had to stand on a stage in front of a throne for two hours and have a photo taken with each family group.
Finally they were done, we had a big feast and they drove off. They would spend the night at Sanjay’s family home, while all his relatives who live there stay in the marriage hall.
Unlike the tradition of Western weddings where we say ‘Honk Just Married’ in Madras the cars beep incessantly so you have to instruct the reverse.
I met a hilarious Indian writer called Bagchi who said, “No wonder the rate of Indian divorces is so low. After going through all this for three days, people think, oh God, I’m not going through that again!”
Day 7 – A Strange Workout
Went to work out at the hotel gym. The Indian trainer there made me do sit ups and then kept grabbing the flab on my stomach and saying, “You are fat! This is no good! Thirty more sit ups!”
Honestly, and I know this will sound odd, but I think he was trying to cop a feel, and was getting some kind of kick out of this. I thought I’d ignore him and he’d leave me alone but he got more and more worked up. “More! You do more!”
Finally I said, “What about you?” and poked him in his pot belly. He just laughed and kept grabbing my stomach.
I said, “Look, I am actually thin for an American.”
He still wouldn’t leave me alone, so I got out of there.
It’s funny to think that in the US that would be considered sexual harassment. Even though his methods were somewhat unorthodox, it nevertheless has become abundantly clear to me that I need to lose some of the fat on my stomach.
We took a four am flight back to the USA on Qatar Airways. God bless that airline! Unlimited free wine and spirits. They also have a touch screen video monitor with two hundred different movies on it. Also, the plane was half full so we actually got some sleep.
The trip to India was too short and I really want to go back soon.
I also recently did a colorful portrait of an Instagram sensation called Ponyo - she was wearing a flower crown.
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