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Ganesh, Cows and Pink Motorcycles
April 21, 2017
Day two in Madurai and I feel like I have been here at least a week! Where to begin. Well, after all my travel, by the end of which I was thoroughly wishing I had a hot bowl of pasta and some lemonade, I was too bewildered and overwhelmed to expect I would be awake, let alone optimistic, the next morning. But there’s just something about coming outside at 7am to the full-bellied greetings of wildlife in the trees to see a smiling woman in a green sari beckoning you onto the back of her pink motorcycle…it gets even lonely, jet-lagged, nervous blood flowing.
I was uncomfortable riding in the back of a taxi without a seatbelt last night, zigzagging through bikes, busses, and stray dogs, horns blaring, but hopping onto a motorcycle without a helmet to go who-knows-where is so much more personally life threatening. But it was surprisingly natural to balance, even as I envisioned myself flying off at one of her sharp turns into the “river” (a long dry stretch of trash and chickens beside the road). The air was delightfully cool, as we roared past colorful houses and women in bright scarves carrying boxes and buckets on their heads. Perhaps if I had known my driver’s name by this point I would have felt comfortable giving a barbaric yawp, I certainly was whooping on the inside.
I’ll have to speed up a bit, even though the day seemed to stretch on far longer than days can stretch on. You might think elongated hours are somehow thinner than normal hours but it’s quite the opposite, they are vibrant and deep like thick, tangy syrups, they taste like orangey red, cracking teal and sunflower yellow.
So here we go, Fourteen Things you Can Do Before 2:30 on a Wednesday in April:
1) Eat “cream of wheat” (rich porridge with onions, cashews, and coconut) with your fingers
2) Learn to say “Greetings” “Thank you” and “Lotus” in Tamil
3) Fail to operate a PC that is as old as you are (and feel stupid for insinuating you were “Tech Savvy”)
4) Run barefoot over hot tiles to reach the shade of a Temple
5) Memorize the names, colors, and family dynamics of the Gods Shiva, Vishnu, Meenakshi, and Ganesh
6) Take 200 photographs
7) Put sandal paste on statues (to cool them down, obviously)
8) Watch a man get a tattoo in the street, right by the woman who put flowers in your hair
9) See two dozen men in a hundred-year-old textile shop work on antique sewing machines
10) Buy proper Indian clothes (and learn that shopping here is very much a “team sport”)
11) Cry over a lentil soup because you thought you could take on spicy food
11) Record yourself reciting Shakespeare for an English Pronunciation class
12) Drink Chai
13) Realize you had no clue what Chai was before now
14) Have your name thoroughly analyzed by all the adults in the area and learn that, despite what you’ve been telling everyone for 18 years, Tamil translates “Nimaya” to “without illusion.”
By the evening you also know how to “shower” using a bucket, appreciate a good peanut M&M, and practice the head wobble you’ve been greeted with all day.