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Temple touring, March 2006

The smells, the bustle, the Anglican church and the little girl. Memories that come flooding back, frothing with nostalgia. I recall love in Goa, taxi rides in Bombay, Alphonso mangoes. It’s not the season now. March is no good for mangoes and the season of love is over. It’s best this way but being here unburies a mark on my heart. Nothing wrong with that and nothing too painful. Maybe just a little bit bitter, like the paan I was just chewing on and that made my tongue the same brick orange as my kurta. The one I bought at Fab India the last time around.

With today also comes the unveiling of new things. Much as I feared to find around every corner and in every white smile the humid scent of forgotten things, I am relieved to see that there is a new spring in my step. Steps through chaotic shopping streets, a tourist-ridden Hindu temple, a ‘Government’ museum full of statues of divinities that makes me want to read the Ramayana. Or one of those books that tell the stories of gods, their fights, their devotion and their passions. I bought a statuette of Lord Ganesha today and as I sit up straight in my bed I think of the Gheeta. The sacred text that I am supposed to bring back home – well, only if I am ‘meant to’ find it.

Today Paddy drives us to Kanchipuram. On our way there it is rush hour. Morning  rush hour. School kids in school busses crammed to the brink. The high trees and rising sun. The ongoing honking of rickshaws, motorbikes, cars, and trucks. Paddy says you will hear honking every five seconds here. That’s an understatement. I love the ever-dramatic, super colourful billboard ads. There are also those painted on walls, they seem a little older. The more modern stuff boasts sarees, shampoo, the latest Bollywood blockbuster, and the latest Motorola mobile: ‘Slim, sexy. No tantrums’. No comment. Women with jasmine in their braided hair and gold on the wings of their noses. An entire family on a motorbike; little hands clutch, little feet dangle.

We were blessed by an elephant today. Two in fact. They were so beautiful, with freckles and gold painting on their wide, loveable foreheads. They put their trunks on our heads, as if they were going to pump us up through them. They represent Ganesh and so bring us luck in business enterprises and all things money-related. Later on in the same temple a Brahmin blesses us and applies some red powder to our foreheads and hair parting. This time we are praying for a husband. If a husband we do find, we are required to come back to Kanchipuram to give thanks.

On the second and third day of our trip, we go shopping. Bought random yet very ‘necessary’ stuff like tchai powder, ayurvedic shampoo, ten thousand bindis and nearly a Kamasutra bible. More giggling like maniacs (is that still giggling?) in the car later, we end the day with an Indian classical music concert in a small temple in Chennai. The violin player sports a green kurta with gold collar and sleeve ends and could be my husband one day, who knows…that’s what Paddy says anyway. (What is it about husbands?! I guess at 29 one is considered an old maid here). My potential future spouse barely even glances at me but it doesn’t matter as I have by now prayed for a husband and children more times than is decent. More than would be decent at home in any case.

Today we set out to visit yet another temple, this time dedicated to Vishnu, the Protector God and husband to Laxmi. Our guide speaks a little French but the best thing about him is that he calls himself Bruce Lee, it’s tattooed on his forearm. That’s because he does karate. The temple is huge, very serene, a place of prayer from way back in the 13th century built around beliefs still so vibrant today. I am amazed at the number of worshippers, pilgrims from all over the country apparently. But there are just so many people everywhere here that I’m not sure this remark really counts. We walk around barefoot, treading on stone, sand, and soil that have already borne so many feet. Some areas are reserved only to Hindus. Vishnu is represented lying or sitting, protected by the umbrella-like shape of a cobra’s upper body. In the one statue that truly bewitches me he has some features of an eagle. He is so beautiful that I decide that he is from now on my favourite god.

After buying jasmine flowers on a string off a girl with mesmerising green eyes and having them attached to my ponytail by a shopkeeper who tells me it is ‘très joli’, we head for the river. The sun has started to set and the light melts into the landscape, blending perfectly with an improvised late afternoon tchai. Two self-important police officers read the newspapers, a few old sadhus chill by the tea shack. And then all of a sudden, or so it seems due to the cloud of dust that surrounds their arrival, eight or ten girls aged 12 to 18 are sitting in front of us. Their backs are to us but they keep turning round and fidgeting in an attempt to hide their desire to simply stare at us. Some are very dark skinned, some quite light. Some grin away and, as they slowly shift to face us completely, start asking questions. They also explain that those who are married wear a yellow necklace. After my clumbsy attempt to take a picture of them all, they let us know that they agree to have a group picture taken, all of us together, on the condition that a copy of the photograph be sent to them. A lengthy address is provided on the back of a business card; we promise to fulfil our part of the deal, shake hands and leave. I never did send that photograph. Mmh, bad karma.

A visit to the temple at the top of the hill – 20 steps away says Paddy – is decided upon. We weave our way through busy-as-always, kitsch, bursting-with-colour stalls, honking rickshaws and bemused – by us – people. The 200-step climb is well worth it. The Brahmin at the top blesses me and my country on behalf of the elephant god. Best of all here is the view, and the sweet, soft embrace of this hilltop nest for lovers, families, goats, and devotees. I am filled with my second inspirational moment of the day. I feel blessed.

I can’t quite make sense of it all. I don’t know if I ever will. Part of me wants to make it fit into my life. The spirituality, yoga practice, meditation (we are constantly reminded how good it is for the frequent user, how it casts away all things bad, improves one’s life), the mantras…vegetarianism. But reality kicks in again as I start craving for some mutton or chicken and my not-so-holy ego feels the urge to contact him and to know that he is thinking of me. People here are so sweet. I love their ability to laugh, be light and silly. I suppose I like that about him too.

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  1. Ken on Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 03:01

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