Monday, June 28, 2010

On the streets of Chennai

Apparently on the streets of Chennai, the cows are safer than us measly, little, unholy humans. During a grueling walk searching for a working ATM, where we got lost, walked in circles, and Lisa almost passed out from heat, we came across this family of holy cows. They sauntered down the center of the street criss-crossing from side to side with cars, bicyclists, and people moving out of their way as they stopped to drink from a puddle or explore the garbage bins. One would fall behind and the others would stop in the center of the street to calmly look back and wait for the other all while traffic snarled around them. To put this in context, when we step into the street to walk or cross, we look both right and left and behind and above, then right and left again, then when there is a tiny break, run halfway into the street, backwards, forwards, breath held until we reach the other side (imagine the old video game of Frogger!) The totem pole of seniority on the streets is: cows, buses, trucks, cars, auto rickshaws, bicycles, and finally people. I think even the dogs are above us because they have street smarts! :)


As we walked back to Footprint B&B, the sounds of a celebration filled the air--voices, instruments, and a heavy bass drum. We converged with the raucous procession of the Major International Band, horse-drawn gold and brocade carriages and a crowd of men. Children and women brought up the rear, while police loosely directed traffic. A man in a red turban and gold jacket sat in the center carriage, looking pale and, as Heidi observed, "terrified!" We deduced that it was a wedding, which was confirmed by a grinning, elfin man, flitting among the crowd gathered to watch the event. The procession stopped in front of a luxury hotel, where men commenced wild and noisy circle dancing. The women, all dressed in brilliant, embroidered saris, lined the entrance and stairway of the hotel. As the dancing and music ended, the man in the red turban, who could only be the groom, gingerly climbed down from the carriage and walked through the entrance toward the women. At that point, we were able to walk past the dispersing crowd and entourage, to continue on our way. As we passed the horses and the disbanding musicians we couldn't help but notice how skinny and sad the horses looked, in their tattered, worn and torn, though once splendid tapestries. The band members were thin, ancient-looking men, with tarnished instruments and bare feet. And the carriages, up close, were shadows of what they once were. But who cares? It's a wedding party that has only just begun.