Thursday, December 04, 2008

Chennai Day Seventeen?

Some things that I have noticed about Chennai, with no suggestion that they are worse or better than the way things work at home. Mainly just different. And then, some things - exactly the same. In no particular order:
  • dogs sleep wherever they want to, generally on the side of the street just out of range of traffic. And I realized today what seems different: I have only seen one dog playing. That dog had a collar on, which is an unusual detail, and he was prancing through the deep water after the rain, reaching up to chew on the little boy who was walking along with him. Otherwise, the dogs seem very serious, are not famished but definitely look on the lean side, and are mostly lying down asleep. (I've seen only one dog who looked ill, and that was one of a litter of puppies on the walkway at the Shore Temple. He looked like the runt and my guess is that the mama had to prioritize who she could care for.)
  • Weather in the 70s and 80s is the equivalent of our 20s and teens. People talk about this being the time of year when many people become ill, because the temperature drops and it is windier. For some reason, this kills me every time Ihear it. I think that it's self-protection against the reality of how hot it will be if I manage to come back in August.
  • I was sad today because I think that the lady at the fruit stand inflated the price of the three tangerines that I bought. This is the first time that I've had her wait on me; usually, I go by in the mornings. I thought that she was saying that the price was 2 rupees - which made sense, because generally a bunch of fruit or vegetables are under 40 rupees. I handed her a 2 rupee coin and she made a gesture of polite refusal. There were several people shopping at once, many of them speaking to her in a strident tone, so maybe she is known to be a tough cookie. A man beside me translated that she was asking for 20, not 2 rupees. I paid and walked away, realizing only after I did so that it seemed super-expensive - in relative terms. And the man seemed perturbed. It was an uncomfortable moment.
  • I wish that I could go home to an established yoga therapy center, where we would see the number of interested students that come into this center in Chennai. I have been touched, amazed, impressed by all that they are doing with yoga. And it's not snake oil. Today I observed a man who is in his 70s, has had back pain for over 20 years, came last week for his first class, and is feeling better than he has in years. And a young woman, very thin, with lots of digestive problems, here for a few years while her husband works in Chennai, who was so eager and pleased to be learning yoga; for her, my teacher designed a practice to help strengthen her, improve liver functions, and help her gain some weight. And a teenager whose mother was glowing, and she was smiling shyly: they stopped in to the director's office to tell him how well things were going. In two weeks, she's lost 4 kgs. and as much as she must have felt like an insect under a microscope - she had her mom and four teachers looking at her at the same time - she had this beautiful smile, which seemed a little bit new. I'm not sure how the work will develop for me. Much of what they take for granted here is foreign to Americans: using sound to improve sinus conditions, very very gentle movements to improve flexibility, oil application for muscle spasms, different forms of breathing which can energize you or calm you or help burn weight off or aid an insomniac in falling asleep or help someone with chronic migraine go several years without a headache. But it is so effective in healing, and I hope that I can create the opportunity to apply all that I am learning. If you're interested in yoga therapy, please give me a call or email me when I get home!
  • Being the only Westerner feels very comfortable. I wasn't expecting it to be an issue, but am still surprised sometimes to realize that I am the only non-Indian person that I see every day when I walk to work. Unlike some places in Europe that I've visited, no one here hoots or whistles or even does much to notice me. I do feel a language barrier in some stores (there's a little grocery store, called a Departmental Store, where I can never seem to broach the barrier - today I put two cartons of juice on the counter but realized, when the young girl gave me the cost, that I only had enough money for one - and I could not seem to communicate that I was only purchasing the orange juice and not the apple juice too), but as a rule, people continue to be kind, welcoming, interested, receptive.
  • I did feel a bit out of place when I took out the garbage. Instead of the traditional salwar kameeze (a long tunic, loose pants - oh my gosh, drawstrings on all of them - so comfortable that I don't think I'll be able to go back to jeans, and the dupatta - the scarfy thing that drapes in front and trails down the back), I was wearing a sweater and a pair of capris. Not tight, but I realized that it was only the second time that I've been out of the apartment in non-Chennai clothes.
  • buying saris is like eating popcorn. It is very hard to stop, and no matter what you get, you (or at least I) want more. We went shopping the other evening for something for me to wear to a meeting that my husband will be speaking at. The best saleswoman - she reminded me of myself on a good retail day - eventually had me trying on saris. Even though I'd said, as we went in: "Do NOT let me look at a sari. Even if I want to. I do not need a sari." Thirty minutes later, I wanted to buy the everyday sari (tussar silk in a grey and pink pattern) and the dressier sari (amazing fabric, a silk, in a more modern pattern of grey and black stripes on a cream-colored background and silver thread along the edge). I bought only the everyday - and now need to connect with the recommended tailor to have an underskirt made (that's what you start the process of draping the fabric onto) and the little matching top. I am having buyer's remorse - I did not need this! - and a craving for a cotton or cotton-silk sari, which is truly the everyday sari that I should have purchased.
  • To a great extent, I am shielded from the more demanding qualities of being in Chennai. At the same time, India is so much more accessible and inviting and worth seeing than many people, even those who've been here, will tell you. With a nice driver, even for a few days, to help orient you to the city, Chennai is generally on the same continuum as being a tourist in New York City.
  • my husband is on a road trip. It is quiet around here; I am home this afternoon, taking it easy and trying to get over a gentle flu that is going around. I feel much better than I did this morning and expect to be back at work tomorrow. I'm up to about 55 observations and am looking to get in 25 more in the next 7 days.
  • Debbie: if you're reading this: this is the country for you. Ironing is very very big here; no one goes out in wrinkly clothes, and they even have people whose whole job is to iron.

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