A couple of days ago we visited The Park hotel, home of the most self-consciously modern decor in the city. I had recently written that the emblem of Chennai should be the plastic water pot: when we arrived at The Park, I saw that the window of its shop was filled with rows of water pots, glowing in the light like stained glass.
When I pointed them out to Ramesh, he said, "Chee!" disgustedly. Just the day before, we had been watching an Iranian film (Leila, in which the characters are wealthy urbanites), and he had remarked that the real definition of a Third World country is not just a country held back by poverty, but a country of extreme contrasts between wealth and poverty - a country that is two or three countries in one. The display seemed a representation of these extremes: the water pots, taken out of context, were presented as an amusing motif, and that was how I took it. But Ramesh saw them in context: poverty, struggle.