There is heavy, there is lighthearted, there is hard, there is laughter, there is bright, there is dark, there is love, there is warmth, there is sorrow, there is faith, there is chaos, there is order, there is calm, there is noise, there is quiet, there is enticing aroma, there is not so much, there is fine art, there is incompletion, there is openness, there is claustrophobia, there is color, there is splendor.
There's no camera in the world that could do justice.
We learned right out of the starting gate that we were outsiders. Extremely welcome and even shockingly fascinating because this city doesn't see many western faces ... but inexcusably oblivious to deeper customs.
Our first morning, we made a stop at a popular temple in the middle of the most bustling market place. The hub and noise was mesmerizing. I moved to go through the temple gate and heard the noise level rise alarmingly behind me then go completely silent. Turning, I found the entire ... and when I say entire, I mean ENTIRE market of sellers, beggars, tourists, taxi drivers, buyers, and even a film crew shooting a Tamilian commercial over in a corner ... standing still, poised in silent horror.
An old man begging alms on the threshold pointed to my shoes. Some require removal. Some don't. I knew that, but to our embarrassment, blind overwhelm was no excuse.
Nor did we know if we were in safe areas.
And whereas English is a desired language indicating education and job opportunity, those who speak it are very few and far between.
That's were Boopathy came to our rescue.
Don't let that serious expression fool you. It's cultural not to smile in photos. Boopathy .. Boopa for short ... was quick witted, kind and fascinating.
The hotel allowed us to buy out his contract for the week and he went above and beyond becoming one of our dearest friends who we will hold close forever.
He spent every waking moment teaching us about his culture, religion, people, neighborhood, country, history, family, and took us beyond touristy India into his world and life.
And we got to take him places within his own city that he'd never had the privilege of seeing.
Playing tour guide, body guard, informant and friend .. getting to know him was a true highlight.
He was also worth his weight in gold for his adept driving skills.
And just a quick word about that:
There are no rules. No side of the road. No traffic signals or signs. No pedestrian crossings.
Once a couple of summers ago, my 88 year old grandmother insisted on taking Celia and I on a shopping excursion. Tired of waiting at an extremely busy intersection, she declared, "I'm just going to go." and gunned it into oncoming traffic. I still don't know how we were untouched.
Everyone just goes.
And there are rarely any accidents.
Even the livestock. Which I could not get over. Most especially in the heart of the city. "Who's are they?" I asked Boopa. "Everyone's" he says and apparently, they just find a home at night.
But watch out, because they are not at all rattled by traffic, even when it flies through at top speed.
I'm sorry. I just could not get over it.
They like to spend their days people watching .. and car watching.
Pedestrians aren't much different. They just go, too. You might think this fellow is herding that group along. No. He's just hoping they will slow traffic so he can jump right in.
No rhyme. No reason. Just close your eyes and let the art of driving happen around you. Everyone honks to indicate their locale. But there is no road rage and everyone is quite patient. Thank heavens for Boopa.
That's all there is to it and all for today. Welcome to Chennai.