Suburbs / Thiruvanmiyur

Ecotone: Writing About Place decided to blog collectively today about Suburbs. You can see what others have written here. (People tend to trickle in over a day or two -- if you don't see any other entries, come back later!) I'm modifying this topic a little, to write about Thiruvanmiyur. When I first saw it, Thiruvanmiyur was a village on the southern edge of Chennai. Now it has been swallowed up as the city expands to the south. Here are some impressions of Thiruvanmiyur as I first knew it:

Chickens roll in small piles of ashes and fluff their feathers. Goats stand on their hind legs to tear at the lower branches of trees. Dogs dig holes in the dust to lie in, for coolness' sake. The street is always full of children, crying out to me over and over -- "Hello, hello, hello..." "Good morning, good morning..." If I respond they greet me more urgently, trying for one more response. Animal shit stinks, and human shit too, in the sun. Ten women stand in line at the communal pump, but dozens of brass pots are piled one on top of the other, waiting their turn.

I am sitting on the 23A bus, listening to the slap of clothes being washed on the steps of the temple tank. The water level is low, and red lotuses float on its surface. Men bathe, boys stand in water up to their chests.

Men call out their trades as they walk down the street:

DIT-ti-le, dit-ti-LE, da da da, da da da, da da da, da da da, da Dit-ti-LE!
Va-LAI-ya! Va-LAI-ya pa-LAM!
uppaway! uppaway!
Paper! Paper!

A day for men in costumes. In the afternoon two men collected money for Mahashivaratri. One was beating the drum, and the other wore a rearing gold-foil cobra on his head, from which hung many garlands made of bits of cloth, gathered to look like flowers. They fell to the ground, and more hung from his waist. He wore a brilliant yellow veshti. From across the street he looked like a bride.

Later I went to the beach where a crew was shooting a mythological film. They must have just finished for the day -- a group of fairly ordinary looking people gathered around big pots of food. Then the star appeared from behind a sand dune, in a gauzy veshti covered with gold, his chest and large belly adorned with fake gold ornaments. He wore a wig of long curls and carried a gold helmet. He was twice the size of everyone else.

The next day a whole monkey army was on the beach -- men in knee-length skirts with long tails coming out behind, blue plastic helmets and big, false-looking blue plastic maces. There must have been at least a hundred of them.

How brightly the stars shine now that there is no moon. You can see the Milky Way. It is so quiet that the only sounds are the fan, crickets, and occasional drumbeats from the Mahalakshmi temple. In the field cows stand still as statues. If you turn off the fan you can hear the ocean.

When you go out at 6:00 p.m., the sun is still burning hot, but it's focussed, so you feel that the heat is coming directly from the sun, and not from air, from dust, from every side and all around. The loose dust of the road to the village is marked with the tracks of bicycles, cars, hoofprints of buffaloes and goats, footprints of dogs and bare human feet -- but it is almost always empty. An old woman might stand by the roadside and stare, or an Ayyar from the kitchen might ride by on his bicycle. That's all.

I just saw my first lunar eclipse. Somehow I thought the moon would disappear in blackness, but it's a dull, orange brown, burnt out and dead. No wonder it arouses fear. Tonight is the wedding of Shiva and Parvati in the village temple, but they'll wait until the eclipse is over. Black, cloudless sky, the sound of the ocean, and subdued film music from the festive village.

Tamil New Year's Day -- the village is full of kolam.

kolam, made from rice flour#

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