Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu:

Here I am, back in the ashram. Once again getting used to the brainsmashingly slow dial up after a month of broadband bliss while traveling (it will probably take at least an hour to post this blog, this shows not only the reason why I haven't been in contact lately and also my dedication against all adversity to blog).

So recap of remainder of my brush with the south. After Kerala, Rose, Christoph, and I headed for Pondicherry, a charming colonial town that was occupied by the French until the 1950's I believe. It was a strange place. The beachfront part of town was on a grid system, there was no traffic, the streets were clean, virtually no poverty, all of the signs were in French. The town was a tempting stop for a young man who has been living a semi ascetic life for the last five months: the french residue made for fairly cheap wine, good baguettes, espresso and cigarettes, all too widely available. We rented a beautiful room with a balcony looking over the Bay of Bengal and lived like we thought a French would (with very limited knowledge of French culture albeit), by indulging in the above four vices while listening to Serge Gainsbourg on my Ipod speakers and reading Michel Foucalt. It was splendid.

We rented some scooters to cruise around the mild streets, see some beaches, and maybe to go check out Auroville, the local wierd French/Indian Hippie fusion Ashram hotspot. We soon found out that the streets weren't so mild when you got out of the grid: we were battling huge cargo trucks, aggressive motorers, dodged cows and water buffalo, the standard Indian road fare. But we did manage to find the Auroville beach which was kind of a trip. First of all the beach was by invite only, which was kind of suspicious seeing that the white foreigners including ourselves could just simply scoot on in, while the upper middle class Indian family in a jeep behind us were shooed away. The beach also seemed to be a small cluster of homes for the aurovillians and a cafe, which was amazing. I picked up a delicious humus sandwich on organic wheat bread and drank drip o-sweet-mother-of-god coffee and watched the too cool for school Indian/French Aurovillians milling about. And what is a hippie ashram without your standard naked children running around causing trouble, products of a hands off parenting style? No ashram in my book. That is why is was validating seeing these two naked, golden locked children running around the cafe knocking down sandcastles, splashing water on everyone, and causing general mayhem. With bellies filled with good food and coffee, we strolled to the beach which was quite fantastic. I decided roast my skin a bit, seeing that basically no part of my body has seen the light of day since the cold hit the mountains three months ago. I don't think the south korean tourist to the left off us could handle the paleish glow emanating from my exposed chest, and moved onwards. This may surprise you, but I am usually not the bod flashing beachbro, but a mixture of seeing exposed skin in the form of board shot bros and girls in bikinis (which I had totally forgotten that women wear anything but salwaar kaameez and saris while living in the mountains) and that before I left, every morning I woke up with headaches from the cold and that it had only gotten colder since I left, I decided to go for it.

After a mild freakout of not hearing from friend Ben Sellon, who was suppose to be in mid flight to India after spending an unintended and presumably desparately lonely christmas and New Years by himself in Turkey, He had forgotten to get a tourist visa for India while traveling, and they Turkish authorities definitely reminded him, while punishing him pretty severely. The next two weeks were spent badgering officials, pleading, etc. until he finally got his visa after the holidays had passed as well as the fun had in Bombay and Kerala. Poor chap. But he met up with us in Pondy, which excited me greatly, although celebrations were short lived. Rose and I soonafter, probably in a matter of hours actuallyafter Ben arrived, fell ill with a bubonic respiratory infections, slapping a heavy 103 ish tempature on our poor systems for a couple of days. Soon Ben was fetching our meds and banana porridge and joining us in our day long National Geography dubbed in Hindi sick binges. It was great though, Christoph had left us to resume his Hindi program in Jaipur, and seeing that it felt like scaling a mountain to get up to go to the bathroom, Ben's help was greatly appreciated.

While still sick, I had to make a break for Chennai to see a friend from my Hindi program at UW, Rowan and some of the AIF fellows placed there for an exposure visit. The first night I was feeling a little better (my hypothesis is that after we experienced some rain in Pondy our room was converted into a cesspool of mold, reinforced by the neon space mold that we found in our bathroom, which filled our lungs accordingly) and stayed with Rowan who is doing her dissertation research currently and living in a pretty posh area of southern Chennai, right on the beach. It was very interesting catching up with Rowan hearing about her research (although my semi delirious state prevented me from comprehending anything too complex). I also got to play with her daughter, Avery, who she brought along for the year. This kid is amazing, she has fully embraced living in India and is enrolled in a English medium school where she is the only foreigner and is learning Hindi. Aahh, now that is a childhood to be jealous of! It was pretty apparent to me that Rowan is a terrific mother and that Avery is going to grow up to be an amazing person.

After my too brief of stay with Rowan I made my way in town a little further to stay with Krishna, Ja, and Gia, three AIF fellows. I came to do an exposure visit with Krishna who is also working with education. Although still feeling like a dumpster, I enjoyed talking about his curriculum projects and listening to him play music. He is a terrific Carnatic violinist and vocalist. Their neighborhood was great too. They lived in a Muslim gali, where most people speak Urdu, which is almost identical to Hindi, with persian script and a more Persian/Arabic influence on vocabulary. I was able to brush off my Hindi and chat with Krishna's shopkeeper and chai wala. After a couple days, Ben and Rose met us in Chennai and we made the couple day voyage back up to my Himalayan abode. Even at the onset of my trip and although I enjoyed traveling in the south immensely, the whole time my heart was left in the ashram, and I was ready to get back to the community and children.

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