Thursday, May 1, 2008
Photos of 3rd week (2 of 4)
After our Crocodile Bank venture, we were so, so hot. V.J. took us to a marina where we took a speedboat ride. The girls just LOVED this. On our way away from the marina into the river (that leads into the Bay of Bengal), there was no breeze blowing on us and I thought, "How can this be? No breeze, and we are moving rather rapidly." I guess we were moving at just the same direction and speed that the wind was blowing, because on the way back, we definitely got a BREEZE. Ahhh--what a nice way to cool off. Here are some fellow-boaters going the other way.
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Remember that we were going to our housekeeper's (Mahalak-shmi's) house for dinner on Sunday? What an experience! At precisely 5:00 p.m., our asst. cook, Chandra-shake-uh, rung the doorbell and explained he was going to escort us to Mahalak-shmi's house. He arrived shortly after Byron and the girls had gone out to purchase jasmine flowers for their hair, as we wanted to be all fancy for our special dinner. The jasmine-flower seller put the flowers in the girls' hair, just using their own hair to fasten the flowers to their heads.
We walked about 15 minutes with Chandra shake-uh to arrive at a row of apartment buildings. Turns out Chandra Shake-uh, Mahalak-shmi, and Odyssey ALL live in these apartment buildings. Chandra dropped us of off at Odyssey's house, and I remembered that Odyssey had told me she was going to "serve us juice." Now I understood that meant she was going to serve us the appetizers.
This is Odyssey, her college-age daughter and high-school age son. (Odyssey is holding Heidi.) The difference between our apartment and theirs is striking. Upon entering Odyssey’s apartment, we found ourselves in this room where the photograph was taken. It seemed to be the living room/dining room/bedroom. A bed took up most of the room, and served as a couch while we were there. Mounted above it on the wall is a TV that was blaring the whole time. A couple of plastic chairs were in the room also. There wasn’t room for much else.
It’s interesting to note that we have NEVER seen any of our cooks nor housekeepers either sit down nor eat. Not even when we were invited over to their houses for dinner!
Odyssey would disappear down the hall, and then re-appear with drinks and food. She brought us each a large cup of mango juice. After that, she presented each of us a small dish containing two syrupy soggy donut holes (that’s what they appear to be. I think this is a delicacy—but we find it rather soggy). She was so gracious. It was awkward not having her sit with us, and not being able to communicate with her much at all when she was in the room, but she couldn’t have been more gracious and pleased to have us there.
Odyssey showed us around her apartment. We had been sitting in the largest room during our appetizers. A narrow hallway led to a tiny kitchen (about 3-4 feet long), then behind the kitchen a tiny worship room. It held a picture of a Hindu god, decorated with flowers, some flower pots around it, and some incense. It looked like great care had been taken to make the worship room as pretty as possible. Beyond that was a small door that seemed to hold dishes and/or clothes. Probably a small bathroom was there, but Odyssey didn’t show that to us. Very small, very cramped apartment. We were all amazed at how tiny it was. Odyssey’s whole apartment would easily fit inside our living room here in India. (We do have a roomy living room, but still!) I still can’t figure out where everyone sleeps in her apartment—that bed was not long enough for a person over 5’ 5”, and it was only wide enough for two fairly slender people. She raised four children, and where does everyone sleep?
After appetizers, Chandra Shake-uh appeared again to escort us to Mahalak-shmi’s apartment, which was over one building and up on 4th floor.
There we met Mahalak-shmi, her two young daughters again (Somiya is Erin’s age, Gowri is Lily’s age), and Mahalkak-shmi’s mother, who seemed like a strong, determined woman who felt as if she must speak to us in Tamil, and surely we would eventually understand. Neighbor(s) kept popping in and out to have a look at us, but we were never sure if it was the same neighbor or different neighbors, as we weren’t introduced to them and they didn’t stay for long.
Mahalak-shmi’s house seemed a bit larger than Odyssey’s, but not much. We again were shown to the bedroom/living room/dining room, where Byron and I sat on metal folding chairs, and the girls sat on the bed. Again, a TV mounted above the bed was blaring the whole time. This TV featured some strange American movie which wasn’t exactly geared for children.
Here, there was a bit more room in the bedroom/living room/dining room for a small folding table to be set up. A bookcase was used as a place to store clothes, papers, photos and tennis trophies. (Mahalak-shmi’s husband is a tennis player.) The bed seemed slightly larger in this house.
Again, none of the adults came into the room nor sat with us during the meal, but the children would come and sit with us periodically, then dash off to the kitchen to be with their mom and grandma. We were presented with a carrot pudding sort of dish (I was already completely full from the mango juice, and all the soggy donut holes I’d eaten at Odyssey’s to make it look like our kids had eaten some!) Taking a deep breath, we dug in. After the carrot pudding came the main dish of a sort of pancake-like salty bread, with a delightful potato-filled sauce accompanying it. (Sahjee and Chandra-shake-uh have served us this at home before).
The girls weren’t enjoying the food at all, but did their best to take a bite or two. Personally, I was ready to burst from being way too full, but felt it would be terribly impolite not to eat. (A situation that occurs far too often here in India!)
Our girls’ main entertainment was looking out the windows in this room—noticing a chipmunk, and watching the sunset. We looked at a few photo albums that Somiya and Gowri brought to us. When the dinner was nearing its end, Somyia and Gowri gestured that we needed to go upstairs. We followed them up to the fifth floor, where a neighbor had two 2-week old puppies for us to hold and pet. They appeared to be yellow labs, but since every dog we’ve seen here is a mutt, I’m not sure what breed these were.
Tearing the girls away from the dogs, we prepared to excuse ourselves and go home. But wait, said Mahalak-shmi, my husband just phoned and is on his way home! In order to kill time and keep us entertained, we were served tea (all of us just adore Indian tea), and began watching Nadiya’s wedding reception video (which actually was much more interesting to watch than TV!) (Nadiya is Mahalak-shmi’s sister in law).
Suddenly, a nice man appeared in the room, and it was Mahalakshmi’s husband. He was very kind, and apologized that he had to go to the tennis court right when we were coming to his house. He thanked us for coming, and everyone seemed so thrilled that we were there, but it is baffling as to why it seems so enjoyable to them to merely have us sit in their living room and eat!
We made our way out the door (we’d been visiting this apartment complex for 3 hours!) and down the stairs, which were in disrepair and reminded us of a tenement. Neighbors started pouring out of doors, and we were causing quite a stir just by walking outside. Everyone we knew was accompanying us as we walked out of the apartment complex, including Chandra Shake-uh, (who kept appearing now and again), Odyssey, and Mahalak-shmi and her family. Mahalak-shmi bought a long string of jasmine flowers as a seeing-off gift, and then we were off headed towards home.
On the bed/couch at Mahalak-shmi’s house: Our girls with Somiya and Gowri.
At Mahalak-shmi’s house: All of Mahalak-shmi’s family, including her tennis player husband and her mother.
It was as if the 15-minute walk spanned the separation between working class and elite class living. Now I wonder what the housekeepers and cooks think when they see our apartment! I had no idea that we lived so differently than they do! I still wonder where the family of four at Mahalak-shmi’s house sleeps. Surely they don’t all four pile on that bed? There is absolutely no room in those apartments for children to run and play, nor room to even change your mind.
Monday we went to Dakshinachitra (Erin, Lily and I are all so impressed with ourselves that we can easily rattle that word off!), which is a 40-minute drive away from Chennai. This place is a re-creation of old Indian houses. A woman with a vision decided she wanted to preserve the various regions of South India by finding houses that represented different regions and occupations, taking the houses apart, and putting them back together, piece-by-piece on some land she purchased.
At this recreated old-fashioned village place, which seems to be focused on educating children, kids can see what old houses in India were like, and walk in them, and also see and do old handicrafts there, such as pottery, henna hand-painting, basket-weaving, block-printing, pounding and grinding rice (and this is all right up the Burke girls’ alley!). Interesting to note that Erin was as tall as the doorways to these old houses, and Dawn definitely had to duck to get through them. Were the Indians long ago short, or did they not mind ducking?
One activity at Dakshinachitra was being able to get your hand decorated with henna. It looked like mud being squeezed out of a tube. The lady worked quite quickly, and seemed to enjoy doing up the girls’ hands so much that she went all the way up their arms almost to the elbow!
The girls had to keep their hand untouched for an hour, waiting for the henna to dry. After an hour, they washed off in some water, and there was a beautiful design on their skin—kind of an orange colored, lacey look.