Posts Tagged 'Madras'

Securing Air Passengers against the Threat of Menstruation

Airport Security

Indian airport security is usually pretty lax. Not that they don’t use uniformed military police to check your reservation to allow you admission into the terminal; but generally speaking, entry and egress can be managed easily with a smile and a flimsy excuse. Not that liquids and gels aren’t banned on flights, as elsewhere in the world; but I routinely travel with a liter water bottle, and sometimes my full dop-kit, without being stopped. And one more thing: Sikhs are permitted to travel with swords, which are religious symbols (apparently too valuable to be entrusted to the vagaries of airline baggage handling) as well as unnerving carry-on items.

But as Independence Day approached, and with al Qaeda terror threats on the front page of every newspaper, things got tougher.

Continue reading ‘Securing Air Passengers against the Threat of Menstruation’

Malgudi Days

Malgudi Days

More than one friend has complained that I have neglected to report on Tenzing’s visit to South India at the end of March. I have been a bit busy. But better late than never.

Continue reading ‘Malgudi Days’

Doing Their Level-Best

Swiss Army Knife

If air travel in India sucks, it is generally because India has learned too much from the US and Europe, rather than too little. Sure, there are some distinctively Indian annoyances. Passengers deplane in a mad scrum for the aisle-way, as if they were disembarking a Mumbai commuter train and had someplace to be other than killing time in front of the baggage claim carrousel. And once at baggage claim, travelers press forward with their luggage carts in complete disregard for the inconvenience they cause each other. But generally, the whole process looks all-to-familiar to anyone accustomed to post-9/11 air travel in the US.

And yet, today we found two aspects of Indian air travel that American carriers and the dreadful Transportation Safety Administration would do well to emulate.
Continue reading ‘Doing Their Level-Best’

A Gift of Cloth

South Indian Veshti

We arrive at Chennai Central Station early; our train does not depart for another 45 minutes. I take the opportunity to find a tailor to perform a simple repair for me.

Across the lane from the side of the station stands a several-storied, style-bereft concrete building, typical of those which proliferated in Indian cities before the recent wave of urban affluence. The building is covered in scores-and-scores of small peeling signs — most painted directly onto the façade, announcing the presence of the merchants within. Inside is a warren of tiny shops – perhaps several hundred of them — some no bigger than the width of their doorway.

“Is this building having one tailor?” I inquire at the bookstall situated near the entrance, and find the place straightaway. The shop is scarcely big enough to accommodate the three skinny men within, two at sewing machines, the proprietor busy cutting cloth from handwritten measurements. At the mouth of the shop, on the concrete corridor, sits an ancient man who is obviously associated with the tailors, though he seems to be well past his working years and is idle. There is one other irony to the scene: the old man clearly has no use for tailoring. He wears only a veshti — the white, sarong-like dhoti of South India – a garment that contains only weaving, no stitching.

The old man’s veshti looks to be nearly as old as he is, and equally stained and battered. And yet, this supremely simple costume has an invariable elegance, which gives his bent, seated frame an air of dignity and stature. I am also wearing a veshti on the day – happy not having to chose between comfort and style for my upcoming 22 hour train journey – although I wear mine with a faded blue denim shirt, rolled up at the sleeves. The old man appraises my attire and gives me an approving bobble of the head. He turns to the head tailor and, in the lush, popcorn staccato of Tamil, says, “Take good care of this guy. He’s alright.” Perhaps this is the old man’s role at the shop: taking the non-linear measure of the customers.

My veshti is beginning to unravel at one corner, and I ask the tailors to turn the edge in a hem. It is simple work, which takes one of the men at the machines only a few minutes to perform, most of that consumed by pre-stitching meticulousness which I deeply appreciate, but which, in all honesty, the task probably does not merit.

When I have retied my veshti, I pull my wallet from my pack. I estimate that the repair will cost me five rupees; but perhaps they will ask ten. As I pull out a ten rupee note, the proprietor smiles and says to me, “No money. We will not take money for this thing. It is one small thing only.” “I insist on paying,” I reply. “This is how you earn your living, and you have already shown me great kindness by making my repair quickly.” His grin grows broader and his position more resolved. After a little more back-and-forth, I see that he will not be moved; and I understand the joy it gives this man – indeed, all four men – for them to make me this gift of service.

“Very well,” I say, “but you must take something as my gift.” I reach into my pack and pull out a small box of fresh kaju-pista sweets I had purchased for my journey. The proprietor takes the box and raises it to his forehead as if in prayer, and the men thank me as I take my leave.

There are two very traditional types of gifts in India: gifts of cloth and gifts of sweets. The former signifies the interweaving of our lives, the latter represents a wish for prosperity and happiness. Our exchange, miraculously, incorporated both elements.

It was just another beautiful transaction in the gift economy, with both sides profiting in the giving as well as the receiving. I have purchased many excellent sweets in my time in India; but I think those kaju-pista rolls were the best ever.

Dawn and Dusk on the ECR

We met friends today in Mahabalipuram, a two hour ride north toward Chennai up the East Coast Road. We left home before sunrise and returned after dark. Here are two small glimpses of the journey, from just after sunrise and just before sunset.

dawn
Checking the nets at dawn

dusk
Planting rice at dusk


Blasts from the Past

Man Up!
Man up you pussy!

... because the Miami Dolphins NFL bullying episode brings the evergreen topic of the idiocy of manliness back into focus.

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Talking Turkey
how to cook a perfect turkey in half the time

... because Canada and the US will celebrate their Thanksgiving holidays and, regrettably and preventably, not 1-cook-in-10 will serve a decent turkey.

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Filial Piety Awareness Day
Kaki Tusler, Mother's Day Celebrant

... because everyday is Mother's Day.

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America Dreaming Small
American Dream

... because the re-election of President Barak Obama has done nothing to turn America away from its recent ethos of small-mindedness.

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Serenity and Gratitude to Bring in the New Year
New Year's Eve at Tibetan Pavillion

... to remind us that not every mix of Tibetans and Western spiritual seekers has to be nauseating.

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Incredible Vision
Infinite Vision

... to celebrate the new edition of Infinite Vision published in India.

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Expelliarmus! Harry Potter and the Path to Gandhian Nonviolence
Expelliarmus, Potter, Gandhi, Nonviolence

... reprinted in frustration that a dumbass nonevent brought down David Petraeus, the most brilliant, influential, deeply flawed military strategist since Harry Potter.

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India Going Nowhere Fast
Nano in Flames

... because cars are ruining Pondicherry, where I live. How badly are they fucking up your Indian town?

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Understanding the Gift Economy
Gift Economy Explained

... reprinted because more-and-more people seem want to understand the gift economy. (Yeah!)

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