(Oops sorry about this, i just deleted it by accident so i’m reposting.)
Madurai 26th Jan
(Pictures at https://picasaweb.google.com/109837841352688899289)
I’d been for a long walk today again down by the River Vaigal I’ve always loved rivers. It’s always an excuse to gravitate to somewhere if you have nowhere in particular to gravitate too. And there will always be something happening along the banks or at least along the way. It was just after mid day when I actually got going as upploading photos on word press took an age.
I watched a Spanish girl trying to pay for the internet. I clearly heard the sweet Indian woman say 15 rupees, the Spanish girl looked confused and a little frightened. She gave the girl 50 and walked away in a sort of panic. Her boyfriend wasn’t sure but saw the woman counting notes out from the drawer and slowly walked around back over to the counter. The lady gave him the change ever so gently. When you are in an alien place and don’t understand what is being said to you it is easy to become frightened. I have been there in non English speaking countries, but it would take a hard face to take money like that and I suppose there are some hard faces out there but sometimes you just have to believe that people are ok, good even, just like yourself. It is remarkable to me that everybody speaks English or at least understands me, I feel lucky and it has certainly made it an easier landing.
I walked past the train station along the busy main road which threw up hot sand and grime. I squinted ducked and dodged across roads in between bikes motor bikes trucks and of course yellow tuk tuks motorized and peddle powered. I took to it easily after years running across London roads, I am quick my toes, down dry narrow streets that were blown with the dust of times gone by. The place is falling apart but just hangs in there. I wondered if it was the will of the people and if they all moved away it would only take a light breeze for it to fall. I came out by the river side and was delighted with the scene. It seems it was washing day. The women had rigged up washing lines on top of the banks it was such a colourful scene, I stood and watched for a while until some kids came up and said
“Hi” & “hello” mind you everybody had been doing it all day. I had started out a little grumpy. I was just so tired. But quickly caught myself and began just sprinkling myself liberally and open heartedly where ever I went. Young guys will hold your stare for a moment, like young guys where everywhere I suppose, but I just smiled at them and said
“Hey man” or to the ladies “Hey babe” smiled and waved. Within minutes I had forgotten all about fatigue and was lifted, such a simple thing. The kids wanted me to take there photograph women held up babies for me to see, a guy stopped on a bike and offered me a lift. I’m not naïve I have eyes and nostrils I was well aware of where I was. That was what made it all the more remarkable. I simply opened up to it and to them. Admittedly the kids got a little to excited when I sat for to long but I was used to my nephew and nieces and that’s what kids do when they get excited. At one point I looked back over my shoulder to the houses and the women were sat there laughing. It was fun. Set against some of the most gut wrenching poverty you could imagine, in fact can’t imagine. The kids would ask
“School pens ?”
but I had nothing to give except myself right then and I did. If I gave away 10 rupees to every sight that has broken my heart these first few days I doubt it would have made any difference at all. I will choose my moments. What seems important is to open yourself to it all and to the people. Every single foot step is an photographic opportunity but perhaps if you’re looking they are footsteps towards a new place within yourself. I’m not quite sure what or where that is just yet but I’m walking and I’m looking and I’m working at it.
I crossed the river which is now more of a wide stream with flat green planes either side. It has filled in over the years and grass covers great swathes of what once must have been a wide flowing river. The people were down there with their washing on lines with inflated vests shirts and underwear blowing like prayer flags in the strong cool breeze. I passed their tethered cows tied up under a grimy underpass I just I stopped and watched and I walked and walked.
A little later on I came upon a scene that looked honestly like hell on earth. A dead river. A little wider than a London canal. The banks piled and chocked with unimaginable garbage. It stank. But I didn’t turn away I decided that I would look at what ever I was shown so I walked along the high concrete banks. I stopped to take a few photos a little way along and instantly some kids on the other side began waving jumping up and down laughing and shouting
“Take a photo of me” and “where are you from” I took the photos and shouted
“From England, hello” it was stunning I’d had enough so I turned back
As I got back to the main road my eyes had begun to feel dry and irritated. I came upon a guy say crouched looking like he was not really there. Next to him on the pavement was a pile of dried human shit. He didn’t care. I looked and there were piles all the way along the pavement. I was really exhausted now and getting lightheadedI wanted to get away from that part of town. What on earth had they dumped in that river. I got my first tuk tuk to the Ghandi museum.
As an English man it was really thought provoking as the British are painted in a very bad light with a very rough brush. The east India Company were just appalling. I live in Limehouse just next to East India Dock road. Its where all the plunder that created the Empire came in. Oh the wrongs that were committed. But somebody must have helped them do it. The English just couldn’t have had the man power to do it all alone. Ghandi seems like a remarkable man. I have made a note to learn more about him.
A quote from of a the wall in there
Be a thinker but also be a doer. Be a soul be also a man
Be a servant of god. Be also a master of nature
When I got out of the tuk tuk and walking through back to the hotel over piles of sand bricks and rubble and general debris. I happened to look up and saw a large group of crows sat on the wires above the road. There was a stall opposite cooking foods the whole road stank of charred meat. Photo opportunity rang in my head. So I stopped and walked slowly towards them underneath. But no sooner had I got there than they all leapt up in the air and flew out of reach on a roof top across the road. They had actually seen me stop and watched me cross the road in all this chaos. It was remarkable. I thought I would wait them out and see if they would come back across. Wait I did but they wouldn’t come back. The people in the shops had got interested in it now and were all laughing and rolling their eyes with me in mock frustration at them. One by one the Crows flew away. They are so smart. I love them. I turned to go to the hotel and a guy stopped me
“You love the birds?”
Yeah I said I love the crows
Just the crows eh.
Well no but I just really love the crows in particular
He lit up and began telling me Indian crow stories. Apparently they don’t like black and so when the farmers have freshly planted the fields they lay out long pieces of black linen and they stay away. Also if you hear a crow calling in the morning somebody will be coming to visit you. He told me that they are messengers from deceased relatives. He always fed a particular crow as it he was sure it was his grandmother. He said it was a sign of respect he had for her and if there was a funeral, they would put down food for them and if they came down to take the food the person had been a good person and if they ignored it the person had been bad. I loved it.
And as I was leaving he said as I shook his hand I am a good driver if you need driver this is my vehicle.
Thank you very much I said. If I need one I’ll let you know.
On the way back to the temple later after a pit stop of coffee and soup. I caught sight of a big brown cow making its way through the teeming streets. Everybody is so close in these streets and so I only noticed it as a cop was sort of conducting chaos left right centre backwards and forwards at a cross roads with a huge rubbish bin plonked in the street for good measure. The cow appeared before him, he didn’t bat an eye, well he wouldn’t would he, and waved it through along with all the pilgrims. My mouth literally fell open, not that it was even strange here. I’d just not seen that before. So there I was walking behind the cow with big horns it ducked and dived just like everything else here until it came to a shop. It walked up to the front door put its feet on the top steps, its rear ones still in the street and just looked in shaking its head now but obviously staring down the guy who was at the counter. He waited and waited while people going in and out of the shop had to walk around him. Then after a few minutes a guy came out with some food on a plate, and not just slops, and placed it on the floor to the side it was gone in a second I kid you not. The cow shook his head like he wanted more but the guy clapped his and together indicating that was all. The cow looked on for anther second and then turned and was gone on his busy way. I was laughing and the guy next to me was too. If a cow turns up at your door looking hungry feed him it’s a blessing.
I’d wanted to go to the temple one last time to meditate there. I left my shoes at the museum shop and met the old lady who was now officially my sister. I promised that I would come back and buy something from her tonight. I’d skipped by last night and felt a little mean. It is remarkable how soon we slip into routine. There is safety in routine isn’t there. I was frisked by the guards no sharp objects knives etc allowed inside the temple and I was back inside its coloured perfumed walls. What a wonderful place I walked slowly around the court yards first inner wall. There are actually 4 major towers at the cardinal points then 4 more on the inner second wall. They are literally covered with carved stone images all painted in the brightest colors really stunning. Past the elephant blessing people. The guy was an ass hole. He looked sour and would last out at the beast. You could see its intelligence in its eyes. I saw him bring some sort of stick that had the end covered in paper to hid something sharp I suspected because the poor elephant got really excited and agitated as soon as he saw it. The guy just had to touch his nose with it and the elephant did what it was told and quickly. I stared at the guy till he noticed me. He indicated to me why I my face looked angry. I indicated to him that I had “seen” him I did a few times so he understood. And to my great surprise he looked shamed and went to sit down. It was only a brief moment no doubt he would go back to back to being a bully in half an hour or less.
I meditated in there which was wonderful amongst the scents and the wax stained air, the colour the hum, the trumpets and the drummers that would burst out from around a corner just going somewhere. The wax stained floors and candles in front of the ancient shrines ancient shrines. The hum of the crickets in the evening painted, shaved heads faces appearing and disappearing. Then just the ordinary people. On first nght here I was completely jaw dropped just looking on, my thoughts a little overwhelmed. But now on my second and now my third night I watched more closely what the people were actually doing. This was a real working live place, with genuine devotees here from all across India. I watched people praying to these strange gods goddesses and deities. These gods were an expression of the Indian mind, and expression of the people. They were real living and breathing gods, I thought of Mexico and I thought of Westminster abbey with all its alcoves and saints. I mean it with the deepest respect, but when I looked it all seemed familier behind the paint and flowers, the different rhythms and sounds the people moved too. The statues had eight arms or what ever and were naked ours were bearded men in long robes holding staffs the pure sad eyed Madonna’s.
There is only one god it seems but he she it has many ways of expressing to the many different cultures. Maybe god does reside within and so what comes out of each race it its own idea its rhythm and its own flavor and that is certainly alright with me. It was an honor to be allowed in there.