11 January 2015

December in Chennai

I arrived in Chennai during a cold spell. When we landed at 3am, the pilot announced it was ‘a very warm 25 degrees’ but this was contradicted a short while later by the taxi driver who complained to me that it was ‘very, very cold!’ Though my idea of ‘cold’ falls much further down the thermometer, Chennai was indeed almost ‘coolish’ and definitely not ‘hot’ during the last weeks of December when the skies were generally overcast and a few days of rain brought temperatures down further by a few degrees.

December is a special time in Chennai, not only because of the cooler weather but also because this is when the city’s festival of classical music and dance begins. I’ve been attending this festival almost annually since 2002, and I’m only one of many ‘Season’ regulars who come every year. I’m always happy to meet the dear friends I have made over the years… some live here full-time and others come every year to get their dance and music ‘fix’. Some are long-time students of dance or music, or simply passionate aficionados. My friend A drives up from Pondicherry while S travels all the way from Sydney, Australia. C comes every year from France to continue her study and documentation of kolams, while V and S, also from France, work on a documentary film on a different topic each year. And I always run into F who I know from yoga class in Brussels and is a great lover of Indian music. These last heady weeks of December are full of concerts, dance performances, and long discussions over tiffin and filter coffee.

This December 26th marked the 10th anniversary of the tsunami, a natural disaster which is etched in everyone’s memory.  On that morning, I walked to Marina Beach to commemorate this in a quiet and personal way. From Mylapore, it was a short walk to the sea. My walk along the beach started just behind Santhome Cathedral. It was around 7:30am, almost exactly the time the tsunami had struck this beach and where 131 persons perished (a total of 18,000 had lost their lives in coastal India). The scenes of everyday life I was seeing were probably the same 10 years ago. As I headed north, I saw a group of fishermen untangling their nets, while women sold fish from makeshift stalls, their heads covered to protect from the ‘cold’. There were rows of concrete structures in a bad state. Where they destroyed during the tsunami? I saw that people were still living in them. A little further away were newer buildings which may have been built to re-house those who had lost their homes in the waves. Further ahead, near the Gandhi statue, the beach was busy with morning walkers and joggers and people meditating or just enjoying the first hours of this December morning. It was a grey, overcast day. I didn’t see any type of commemoration happening but later I read in the paper that this was planned for later in the day.

December has now come and gone, and it is now a new month, and a New Year. The rains have stopped, temperatures have climbed back up to the 30s, and the music and dance season has come to an end.

A very Happy New Year to you, dear readers!


Lillian said...

Dear Isabel,
You are so lucky to be in beautiful Chennai at this time of year. If you don't know them already, be sure to try the Sri Krishna cashew bites they are so delicious. I'll think of you having tea and sweets on Pondy Bazaar my son in law's parents took us there often. I'm looking forward to reading about all your travels.
Happy New Year,

Isabel said...

Thanks Lillian! I'm glad you have already experienced Chennai. I've been spending most of my time watching dance performances and getting my fix of South Indian food! Happy New Year to you too!