I fell in love with you and I cried: Chennai, part two
(Draft chapter cont’d, with extra bits for the blog)
When we arrived in Chennai, I said out loud to my husband, ‘I’ll finish ‘Kochi,’ then I’ll just do a bit for Chennai; there probably won’t be much to write about, it’s a city and I’ve probably used up all my noticing everything energy on Kochi.’ ‘Ha ha ha,’ said the forces of the universe.
We stayed one night in the first guesthouse then moved to Broadlands which had been recommended by Y who lives in Chennai (who we met at Osho’s guesthouse when we first arrived in Varkala). The guesthouse, set on a dusty side street off the main Triplicane High Road, didn’t look like much from the outside except for its quirky welcome sign (see Instagram travelswithanthony for Broadlands pics).
Stepping inside though, was like stepping inside an old French chateau; the guesthouse has around thirty to forty rooms, built around a central courtyard with a square balcony, with stone floors and dusty hallways, and winding stone staircases leading to tucked away rooms and a roof terrace. The rough- surfaced old walls were painted faded old white, the paintwork of the banisters of the balcony and the many doors leading off it old baby blue gloss, (the same colour as my Goa birthday ring).
In the courtyard below there were plants in big old white painted stone plant pots and a big green tree, full of crows, its branches growing up above the banisters. On the dusty stone walkway of the balcony there was an orange cat; one of the guests was taking care of her. ‘She’s sick, and pregnant, she needs to drink, she’s dehydrated,’ the guest said.
Our room was big and spacious with white washed walls, blue doors and concrete floor. The high ceiling had wood beams painted baby pink, and lots of cobwebs. There were three big windows in the room and one in the bathroom, all fitted with mosquito mesh and blue shutters.
From the windows in the room we could see the big white mosque next door, the flock of pigeons on the waste ground between us and the mosque, the neat paved grounds and car park of the mosque, houses and flats in blue, green and peach, and a red flowered green tree.
From the window in the bathroom, white buildings with a glimpse of bright yellow house in-between. The balconies at the corner of one of the white buildings made gaps like two windows; through the top one I could see the yellow building, through the bottom a green one. I looked again another day, the green had changed colour. I was momentarily confused, that scene had been so strong, had I misremembered? No, there was a sheet or a towel on the balcony!
I saw Indian squirrels for the first time since Panaji, before that I’d only seen them in Hampi, running about on the abandoned sheds of the waste ground outside our window.
At night with the light off, when we opened the double blue doors to the bathroom and put the bathroom light on, the bathroom glowed blue like a portal.
In the morning we were woken at 04:45 by the call to prayer. We were so close to the mosque that it felt almost painful on my ears. I went back to sleep, and despite the early morning wake up we have both loved it each time we’ve stayed near a mosque; there’s something timeless and quite magical about hearing the call to prayer.
The next day I sat on the blue painted wooden threshold between the space outside our room and the balcony walkway. I was writing or should have been writing and having a few moments to myself. Instead of writing I was trying to find a title for my book, the kind of thing writers can waste hours on. Going over and over, searching, trying to come up with something, even though I knew that wasn’t how it was going to happen, that a title needs to just come.
At least I’ve set my intention, put it out there that I want to find one, I thought. I wondered if there was an Indian word, like Namaste (‘Namaste India’), but something less well known, that I could use… I could ask Y, I thought. (Y was coming round in the evening to take us to a temple.)
In the courtyard below were three women, part of the house keeping staff of the hotel, standing together in a group. They were wearing everyday cotton sarees; everyday for them but beautiful to me, like so many things in India. One red with purple swirls of colour; one an orangey pink with black print; one pale blue almost matching the gloss work with a printed pattern of creamy yellow buttermilk and orange pink leggings which matched the orange-pink saree of the other woman.
The woman with the red-purple saree was wearing a big gold nose stud which flashed like a light. She was standing with the sun on it in just the right place. I was sitting in just the right place to see it, and looking at just the right moment.
The three women standing in a circle, or a triangle, in the courtyard and the nose stud shining in the sun was like a scene from a film; easily as beautiful as if they had been dressed in Indian wedding finery and as special to me as the orange cat from the night before.
I forgot to ask Y, but he gave me a title anyway.
I got ready for going to the temple and had a little time to spare, (interstitial time*). My husband was downstairs using the WiFi and talking to C from Detroit who was staying across the walkway from us. Y was on his way.
It was raining, we had been surprised by the rain in Chennai, apparently it doesn’t always rain at this time. The mosque and its lights were white in the dark and the mosque’s pool of water glittered. I moved the cane chairs with their cushions and our clothes hanging on them back from the windows with their open shutters and sat down, my feet propped up on the other chair. I had only the low light on so as not to attract mosquitos.
In front of me was a little red table. Spread out to cover the bed were my lungis, purple and gold and green and gold. The light from the mosque shone on the rainwater on the blue painted shutters, they looked as if they had been sprinkled in blue glitter. A fork of lightning flashed in the sky in the gap in between the shutters, one open, one closed. As the wind blew the shutters the light danced over the raindrops and they glittered even more.
Is it okay to just to be happy? And what do you have to do to get there? A lot, because of how things are set up in life. I thought of the John Lennon quote: His teacher asked him, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ‘Happy.’ he said. ‘She told me that I didn’t understand the question. I told her she didn’t understand life.’
(Here, I got a notification that I had to resign into the WiFi. I went on WordPress for a break and saw, ‘For my life to have any meaning, I have to live it for myself.’ That’s the meaning of life, to live it. To live it for yourself, via escaping conditioning, family, everything that gets in the (your) way)
Y arrived and the three of us got a rickshaw to a completely different part of town. The area around the temple was busy and colourful with stalls selling, ‘Everything to do with visiting the temple,’ Y explained. God clothes, which I had previously thought were children’s clothes, fresh flower garlands; the smell of the blossom sweet and strong, the same as the blossom I had put in my hair at the temple in Kanyakumari), ‘And of course food,’ for afterwards.
We walked (clockwise) around the outside areas (non-Hindus are not allowed inside). The rain had pooled in puddles on the stone floor under our bare feet. The outside of the temple was decorated with beautiful coloured mouldings. Coloured electric lights, like fairy lights, were placed around, decorating a statue of Ganesha, a juxtaposition of old and new.
There was a stable full of well fed, happy looking cows, some milk white, the others different shades of browns. Keeping cows at the temple was a mixture of cow rescue and to use the milk.
Y told us Hindu stories (I couldn’t find the one he told us, but here’s another) and pointed out religious devotional writing on the stone walls. ‘It’s all like love poetry,’ Y said, ‘Like, ‘‘I fell in love with you and I cried.’’
I felt myself well up. Even though Y is one of us, we’ve said anything to each other (I’m beginning to believe you find your people via travel, or on the internet?), and the other person there with us was my husband, I choked back the emotion and changed the subject back to the cows. But when Y said I could go see them, that made me all the more emotional, thinking of how gentle they are, of the street cows left to eat out of garbage, the horrors of the dairy industry.
At the temple there are poojas six times a day; we saw the last one of the day, which is longer and bigger as it is the closing ceremony of the day. Everyone stood outside the main temple and looked in. The crowd began to chant, a low, repetitive singing that wrapped itself around us. Clouds of incense filled the temple and the courtyard where we stood. The main statue of the God was being bathed in milk. Lots and lots of milk, poured over like a fountain or a waterfall. Y told us it’s not just milk that is used, it’s fruit salad, all kinds of offerings… I was bordering on being overwhelmed. Nothing can beat this, experiencing a Hindu temple with a Hindu and a good friend.
In another temple room, the God’s wife was dressed up in a gold and green silk dress. The dresses are changed during every pooja; people bring the dresses, hence the stalls outside. At the end the God’s feet were carried on a small chariot from his temple to hers, where they spend the night, symbolising the God spending the night with his wife. ‘Even the gods need sex,’ Y said.
I had wondered what happens to all the milk. Afterwards, walking away I saw cats. ‘There’s lots of cats,’ I said. ‘There’s a lot of milk!’ Y said. People take some of it, some of it runs off, the cats drink it. Rivers of milk, for cats. There were cats on a wall just outside the temple, just beyond the wall was a little house. I could see into their downstairs room, there were lots of orange and orange and white cats inside, like a cat cafe.
Later I admitted to having a moment. I told Y about the poetry, about the title for my book, that ‘I fell in love with you and I cried,’ could be my title, although I forgot to tell him the bit about asking him for it.
I told Y about the women in the courtyard, the beautiful scene, the nose stud. He told me that in Kanyakumari (my favourite place in India, so far) there is a statue of the Goddess Kanyakumari, apparently the nose stud of the statue shone so bright sailors thought it was a lighthouse and ended up getting caught on the rocks.
(I’d always thought a lighthouse was to warn sailors of rocks, to tell them where not to go, rather than somewhere for them to head to. Discombobulated that I could have totally misunderstood something so everyday I looked it up on Wikipedia. Yes lighthouses were originally built to guide ships in to a safe harbour. Later in more modern times they became warnings re where not to go. Here is a link to the page and another to a surprising interesting biography about a famous lighthouse designer and builder, a great story about getting gifted opportunities and making the most of them.)
Back at the guesthouse the three of us chatted, swapping ‘spiritual’ experiences we’d had since the last time we’d last seen each other. Y told us about returning to Chennai the day after we’d met and spent our evening together, he’d had to get a fifteen hour bus ride back to Chennai then go into work to prepare for teaching.
At work he had loads to do- photocopying and getting ready- and only half an hour in which to do it. He felt spaced out, paranoid, thinking he looked stoned; but everyone was smiling at him and offering to help. Y realised he hadn’t eaten for fifteen hours. He asked for some water, one of his students poured some Red Bull into a glass; it looked like a potion.
He thought of what R (who we met at Osho’s guesthouse at the same time) had said about drinking the potion when you are born, the potion that causes us to forget who we are. ‘Don’t drink all of it, then you’ll remember,’ R had told us. Y remembered this, and only drank some of it.
Y felt a force of energy crackle all the way up one side and pass all the way though his head and body. Time altered. He felt full of energy. He did all the work, that he had so much of and so little time to do, the work that he’d had only half an hour for but that should have taken even more. He looked at clock, only ten minutes had passed.
Chennai… Pondicherry… Chennai… Thailand… to be continued…
For pics see my husband’s Instagram travelswithanthony
We are in Thailand, Koh Phangan, same place as last week; my stepdaughter came out to Thailand for a holiday with us. Thailand is clean, orderly, great food, beach, sea… Did I mention the food? Noodles, tofu, fresh vegetables! Heaven. But I am still looking forward to getting back to India.
My husband left on Wednesday with my stepdaughter to get the ferry to the mainland, stay the night in the town there before getting the all day train to Bangkok on Thursday. They will spend one night in Bangkok, then on Friday my step daughter flies home, and at around same time our friend arrives from the UK. My husband and our friend will stay the night and the next day in Bangkok before getting night train here on Saturday. They will arrive here around lunchtime on Sunday. So I have four nights on my own.
First night, couldn’t sleep, and stricken with anxiety especially after we had a spider a couple of days ago. (My brain fuzzed this out so it looked like fluff, and my husband dealt with it while I cowered crouched on top of the toilet in case it ran into the bathroom). (My strategy while he is away is to stay outside the room as long as possible then keep the lights off in evening and at night so if there is anything I won’t see it. I trust that we will keep out of each other’s way.)
The next morning, I pulled myself together, tidied up and put all our stuff away, and arranged for the room to be cleaned, especially dusted. I went for a swim, a walk on the beach, and wrote. Kind of like a retreat, in the midst of an idyllic holiday resort that’s gearing up for the Full Moon Party… Be flexible Rachel, it’s all experience…
WordPress, as well as daily life, and discussions with my husband, has been inspirational recently and I hope to get onto that over the next few weeks. Thank you to Des and Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha for almost giving me more than I can process.
I’m seeing patterns in my writing, which I’m seeing as helpful re writing and as validation re being on the right path.
Sat- day off, (over did it Fri, lack of sleep, travel, etc). Sun- typed over breakfast and after lunch while the others were doing other stuff, just typing from notebook, organising, moving bits, reading notebook. Mon- no, busy/out. Tue- some typing up from notebook. Wed, Thu, working on this. I got it done on Thursday evening, so proud of myself!
*Whit by Iain Banks Talks about interstitial time, religion, cults, and (healing hands) healing. I recommend it!
Thank you very much for reading
See you next week