Last week was a turbulent week by my standards. I said goodbye to old friends, made new friends and discovered again why it is that I love this place.
“I am leaving for Mumbai tomorrow” Arne yells at me through the phone-I hear the rush of cars and cows and people in the background and imagine him, my 7 ft Norwegian friend, towering over people on his walk back from work. “This is our last night to go out, I know of this place….” Last time Arne said that I found myself in the middle of the jungle with little food and less water scrambling up the side of a cliff on an ‘easy’ hike to three waterfalls. The time before that he had dragged me to some dingy underground bar with a ridiculously loud band playing covers of Rage against the Machine and Korn and the police had come and kicked everybody out at 11pm.
Four hours later I am in one of the nicest nightclubs in Chennai, surrounded by posh furniture and glamorous Chennaites, sipping tequila and feeling horribly out of place in my long-sleeved Kameez and jeans. See Chennai is 99% of the time ultra-conservative. No bare legs, no bar shoulders and definitely no cleavage. So when I walk in the club and find myself surrounded by miles of naked legs, low-cut tops and meticulously done up girls I am momentarily speechless, feeling a bit like I am lost in a jungle again. It’s like walking into a club on Granville Street in Vancouver except much, much worse. Actually perhaps it is actually much, much better because unlike the judgmental pseudo-elitist group in Vancouver the Indians here are wonderfully accepting of me and my fashion blunders and pull me into the dance crowd. I struggle to follow the choreographed dance steps to some Hindi Pop song, my new friends laughing good-heartedly when I miss the right turn and crash into one of them, and I feel that Bollywood-esque cheesy glow that such moments impart on me.
I said goodbye to Anna on Thursday, looking down over the sprawling City of Chennai from the Hill on which St. Thomas (one of Jesus’s twelve disciples) was supposedly killed 2000 years ago. From the steps of the small church on top, watching the suns last rays catch on the skyline of Chennai and the great Bay of Bengal in the distance I feel deliciously far away, removed from myself and cradled by the bustle and hustle of the horrible, crowded, dirty city that I am coming to like. Perhaps it is not so much the city that I am coming to like but the subtle way in which India is changing me. While my friend complains about the constant haggling, power-cuts, break-downs and crowding I shudder to think of returning to my civilized home where everything always works all the time. What will I do without the power cuts that force me to relinquish reading, computer and television and let me just breathe and be? What will I look at on the streets? No cows or women in bright Sari’s, no waving children and coconut men, no coconuts….no coconuts!! I love the haggling, India’s unofficial sport. I love the sense of comradeship you get, the joy it brings people.
“How much to nungambakkam?” I ask my designated rickshaw driver.
“350 rupees” the rickshaw driver says waggling his head
“Uncle, not the price of your car I asked for” I say breaking into a grin as the other rickshaw drivers around us chuckle.
“Okay I will give you correct price, 230 rupees”
“Correct price?” I say arching my eyebrows “fine, we use meter” (all rickshaws have a fare-meter which surprisingly are always broken or in some form of disrepair. In Chennai especially they seem to be relicts of an ancient past and used more as decoration than anything else).
“No madam, meter is broken”
“All of them?” I inquire, pointing to the 15 rickshaws at the rickshaw stand
“mhmm” (actually he doesn’t really say anything, he gives me the “no obviously not- but you can’t do anything about it” head wobble)
I leave to walk away, the best antidote to overpricing.
“okay Madam local price, 150 rupees” he yells after me, clambering into the rickshaw and turning on the lawn-motor like engine “ Vaa Vaa!”
He seems happy-He has managed to overcharge me about the equivalent of 20 cents. I am happy having paid 2.50$ as opposed to 7$.
Finally I say goodbye to Lily over excellent sushi in some hidden Japanese restaurant filled with Japanese businessmen and Indian foodies. She has as usual a handful of interesting Indian couch surfers who she has been interviewing for her anthropology PhD. I convince my roommate to come along and we bare the rush hour trains and buses and traffic to get there. There is no official stop where we get off, we just wait for the bus to slow down a bit and leap into the slow-moving traffic, gracefully weaving our way around and through and over the sea of vehicles.
When the final time comes to say goodbye to my partner in crime for the last 2 months in Chennai ,I feel a wave of sadness; not only does it remind me of the many wonderful people I have had to say goodbye to, it also warns of my own upcoming departure from here. But if anything India teaches you that holding onto material things is pointless-things break or are lost, people change and leave and life still goes on. Indeed everything is temporary. So with a sigh and a slightly less heavy heart I wish my new old friend goodbye, grab my roommate by the hand and dash across the street too busy looking forward to glance back.