16 March 2009

Oh yeah, the elephant...

I started my journey in India in Trivandrum, Kerala. From there i went to Kovalam, then Amritapuri, then Ooty, then Mysore, then Tiruvannamalai (via Bangalore. I just like to say Bangalore), and now i'm in Auroville, just north of Pondicherry.

I went to Tiruvannamalai on kind of a whim - okay, i went almost everywhere on kind of a whim, i only planned to do Kerala and Auroville. I'd heard of it, it's supposed to be a very sacred city, and one of the major Shiva temples is there. The city lies in the shadow of Mt. Arunchula, where Shiva purportedly appeared in a column of fire, and the mountain is revered as a manifestation of the god.

The temple, Annamalaiyar Temple, at the foot of the mountain is amazing. It's centuries older than the gothic cathedrals of Western Europe and rivals them in both size and beauty. Leaving my shoes somewhat nervously at the entrance, i was greeted by beggars and monkeys as i walked into the first part of the temple complex. I was wandering through, slack-jawed, watching devotees do puja, drawing mandalas in colored wax on the temple floor, and prostrating themselves on the ground in front of Nataraj, Ganesh, Parvati... I was given permission to go even into the inner sanctum, which non-Hindus typically aren't allowed to do. It was incredible, but my most wonderful experience came as i was passing through one of the minor sanctuaries. I looked to my left and there stood....

An elephant. Her face was marked with both the bindu and the three white horizontal stripes of the Shaivites. As i stood gawking, someone approached her, held out a coin, which she reached out and took with her trunk! She swung her long nose around, gave the coin to her handler, then swung back to the person in front, and gently bonked him on the head.

Of COURSE i was next in line. I got a little elephant snot on me, but it was totally worth it. I got blessed by an elephant!

14 March 2009

Mangoes, and the Tamil Word for Honky*

I don't know what it is, but i believe it's being directed at me a lot. Today i was handwashing my laundry, and i think i brought much amusement to the Indian women walking around the place where i'm staying. One of them brought me a bucket, said some things in Tamil (one of the oldest languages in the world), pointed at some things, and then walked away.

*clueless white person

Mangoes have JUST come into season, and i'm extremely grateful. yesterday at the fruit stand, the young mother running the place said to me conspiratorally, "They just arrived today. Very fresh, very sweet." I bought 4. I didn't know i'd never really eaten a mango before. This morning i had for breakfast a little green and pink one, small enough to fit neatly in the palm of my hand. Tree-ripe, not cargo-ripe, it was the most divine thing i'd ever eaten. The yellow-orange flesh was like silk dissolving into sweetness in my mouth. I paid 34 rupees per kilo - less than a dollar. Slightly more expensive are the big ones that are yellow when they're ripe. They're even sweeter. 4 mangoes lasted me less than 24 hours; luckily the fruit stand is just down the road.

11 March 2009


She was walking down the street with her mother, who was carrying her baby sister. She stared and grinned at me, like most of the children do. I grinned back. As i passed, she let go of her mother's hand and turned to walk with me.

"Hello!" she said brightly in almost unaccented English.
"Hello!" i replied, charmed immediately.
"How are you?" she asked.
"I'm good! How are you?"
"I'm fine! What's your name?"
"Caroline, what's your name?"
"Sasika! Ten rupees please!"

She was probably 7 or 8; i only give money to the children.

04 March 2009

Seen in India

An elephant, a saint, lots of stray cows, lots of colorful silk, a festival, a white-bellied sea-eagle, a pale white crab scuttling towards the sea under cover of 5 AM darkness, many many kind smiles, even more wide-eyed children.