27 November 2008

A Gloomy Day

I woke up at 5:30. It was pouring rain. I decided to skip kalari class and go back to bed.
The morning paper was soaked. I logged onto The Times of India. “It’s War on Mumbai” the headline screamed.
I turned on the BBC. It reported on nothing else all day.
I turned on the lights and put on socks, a sweater, a scarf.
The rain continued all day. Cyclone Nisha is hitting the Bay of Bengal.
I made a hot cup of tea and soup for lunch.
The cats slept all day.
A gloomy day.

(Above: A painting by Raja Ravi Varma)

06 November 2008

Ode to the elephant

The temple elephant at the Kamakshi temple in Kanchipuram.

On the bus back to Bangalore, there were no unscheduled flower stops (see previous post). But on the road that winds through rice fields we did come to a sudden halt to let an elephant pass! It was almost as high as the bus, with its mahout riding on its back. The elephant poked its trunk through the driver’s window. The driver stretched out a coin which the elephant quickly scooped up, handing it to its keeper before tapping the window with its trunk. We continued on our merry way, having receiving the elephant’s blessing for a safe journey!

The elephant is a revered animal in India because it’s considered to be a representation of the god Ganesh who has the head of an elephant. Elephants are often found at the main gates of temples, and are also often part of festival processions.

Here are some of the elephants I’ve come across in my travels:

The temple elephant at Meenakshi Temple, Madurai.

At the gateway of Tanjore temple.

Taking a dip at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka.

An elephant and mahout at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka.

During the Pongal festival in Tiruvannamalai.

Lakshmi the temple elephant in Pondicherry.

04 November 2008

Auroville daze

The smell of flowers everywhere.
Waking to the sound of birds.
The bliss of riding through the red dusty roads on a bicycle.
Organic food, baguettes and croissants.
Where the sign at the State Bank of India also says: Banque de l'Etat de l'Inde.
Being randomly addressed in Russian and Italian!?
Peacocks at the doorstep!

Where else but in Auroville? It’s nice to be back.

01 November 2008

Bus to Pondicherry

I couldn’t find platform 25 at Bangalore’s Kempe Gowda bus station (known simply as ‘Majestic’ by locals – I’m not sure why), so I asked a tea vendor. He asked me something in Kannada. I assumed he was asking my destination. So I replied 'Pondicherry'. "Straight and left," was his answer. I eventually found a platform '25C'. "Which bus?" asked another tea vendor. He directed me to the end of the platform, where the newspaper man asked me if it was the Volvo bus to Pondicherry I was looking for. He told me it arrives at 8am opposite the platform. I crossed over to where some people were sitting and waiting. A man with a pile of boxes confirmed that this was the place to wait for the Pondicherry bus. I watched as one bus after another went by with the conductors standing at the doorways calling out destinations.

At 8:30 the bus arrived. The luggage was loaded into the hold and the passengers got on. We finally drove off a half hour later with the radio blasting the latest Kannada film hits. As we winded through the morning traffic, we passed city buses stuffed full of people on their way to work which contrasted to our air-conditioned Volvo bus only half full of passengers.

At Hosur, the bus suddenly pulled over to the side of the road where 2 vans piled with boxes full of flowers were waiting. The bus driver and conductor got out and started emptying the hold of our luggage which was then carried into the bus, filling the aisle. Somehow I felt this flower break was not a 'scheduled' stop. This was confirmed when I saw the driver being handed a few bills. Bunches of flowers were also loaded inside the bus in the overhead compartment.

After this delay and with the smell of flowers filling the bus, we were back on the road. Ten minutes later, we stopped again - this time to pick up a consignment of fleece blankets! And then somewhere in Tamil Nadu, another halt – this time to load a huge sack of jasmine flowers. I was beginning to understand how lucrative it is to be an inter-state bus driver!

The interstate road was newly paved and work was in progress to widen it. Signs along the way warned drivers of the perils of reckless driving:

"Fast drive could be last drive"

"Don't learn safety by accident"

"Lane discipline gives you long life"

"Destination is reward for safe driving"

And the more ambiguous: "Death is nature, you don't cause it"

At some point, we turned off onto a narrower road which took us through rice paddy fields which were a brilliant post-monsoon green. We passed workers making bricks out of the red earth. In every rural market town there were statues of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Dr Ambedkar who was often conspicuously painted entirely in blue.

We arrived at the Pondicherry bus stand only half an hour late - not bad considering the two tea / bathroom breaks on the way and all the unscheduled stops!