Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Commuting in a Different Land

Autorickshaw driver waiting for a passenger
Now that I am working in the US again for a spell, I am back to a morning commute with all of the other 'lemmings packed into shiny metal boxes'. I don't really mind being a lemming right now as I'm happy to have found well paying work, but I often think back to my morning commute in Chennai.

Since I had no car in India and was too afraid to drive a moped in the nonsensical traffic, I opted to either take a public bus, an auto-rickshaw or a taxi to my office on RK Salai Street near Marina Beach. It all depended on how much time I felt like spending getting to my office and how much energy I had. The taxi was much faster but expensive. The bus was a steal at 6 rupees (about 10 cents) and the autorickshaw ride always involved much haggling with the driver. It takes a lot of energy to get a good fare with an autorickshaw driver as a Westerner. My Indian friends would tell me to take whatever fare they were offering and tell them I would pay half. Then the dance would begin. The driver would shake his head or laugh hysterically. I would begin walking away, pretending to look for another autorickshaw. The driver would usually call me back and agree to my price...plus an additional 20 rupees. I'm sure the price was still too much, but I could only bear haggling for about 5 minutes tops. I only took an autorickshaw if I had a lot of energy to expend.

The walk from my flat to the Besant Nagar bus stand took me past colorful shops selling medical supplies, fresh veggies, milk and bright Indian saris. Some mornings I would get up early and stop at Muragan's Idli Shop (http://www.muruganidlishop.com/) opposite Vilankanni Church to eat a plate of steaming idlis (steamed rice cakes) and relish the hot flavor of the accompanying sambar, a deliciously spicy South Indian soup. I would wash all this down with a cup of coffee South Indian style, lots of milk and sugar, but in a very small metallic cup that you pour from one cup to another to cool off.

South Indian coffee
Stopping at Starbuck's just doesn't compare with the delights of a South Indian coffee shop. The orderliness of the Colorado highway on my way to my job here is a bit dull in comparison to the mayhem on Chennai streets where one dodges pedestrians, cows and and freewheeling bus and autorikshaw drivers. Ah, India, you have spoiled me forever....

Monday, 19 August 2013

A Magical Pull

Mt. Arunachala, Tiruvannamalai, South India
There are many routes to get to Tiruvannamalai, South India depending on where you start and just as many reasons for making the winding journey there. You may travel there to ease the turmoil in your heart or head, 'pull a geographic’ or to simply bask in the spiritual glow that seems to permeate the temple town tucked under the watchful shadow of Mt Arunachala. Yes, the reasons for being there are many and the results of the time spent there will vary. Some Westerners arrive and never leave. Others make a return trip every year to winter at one of the many ashrams that circle the base of Mt. Arunachala. They come to avoid the dullness and bitter cold of their home countries and slough off the trappings and worries that seem to come along with a busy, sedated life in the West.

The pull of Mt. Arunachala can be mysterious and life events play out as they may or perhaps as they were already karmically (cosmically?) predetermined. One can never really be certain of such things. When you find one day that you are a ticketed passenger on bus number 122 bound for Tiruvannamalai from the Koyambedu bus stand in Chennai passing Tindivanam, Gingee Fort, and the sugar cane processing factory just outside of Tiru-town, it means that you are on a journey to a place that may change the course of your life forever. Lucky you.