"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in."

-- Robert Frost

Monday, November 18, 2013

other sights of beauty in chennai

My apologies for so many pictures in one post. I'm desperately wanting to document all of our experiences for our family but so busy being the mom and wife. Time to do so is hard to come by and I'd like to finish all of this up before the memories dull.

Chennai, India was once a British colony and though India itself is amazing, the British influence was just as beautiful. 

We visited the state house museum which was filled with East India Company art and artifacts of rugs, porcelain and furnishings. No cameras were allowed, but the rooms of the state buildings felt as though they'd not changed since the time of Queen Elizabeth I. The masonry, the bars on the windows, the creaking wood floors and stuccoed walls covered floor to vaulted ceiling in thick framed monarchy portrait paintings, felt like I could hear the low conversations of statesmen from times gone by.

I'm a romantic.

We also visited their natural history museum. For such a simple society, it makes our own natural history museum look a bit laughably over digitized with it's diorama buttons to push for listening to animal sounds and scenarios.

Their museum was straight out of the Audubon Society. Original species in glass jars of formaldehyde lined up in cabinet-like cases. Displays, the workings of original hand drawn art from scientists sketching their observances from under microscopes. Cuttings of ancient plant and animal life. I just wish I could have captured the raw nature of exploratory science collected there. Again ... no camera's allowed. I felt I could hear the voices of scientific men bent over collected specimen making discoveries and taking notations.

Again ... romantic.

You can see the British everywhere in architecture. 

Such beautiful masonry, colonnades, archways, and detailed carving.

There are plenty of Christian churches. Some .. also no cameras. But this was St. Thomas church along with a shrine to the apostle known as doubting Thomas. Great stories there and the church itself, was beautiful inside.

More British influence on the buildings around town. The mossy coverings just made it more enchanting, I thought.

We also visited local architecture like this shrine built to honor one of India's great poets and as I understand it, the creator of their current alphabet ... which has some 270 characters.

We tried to get Boopa to sing us his alphabet song ... like our alphabet song, only much longer and way more confusing, and with a lot of laughter involved.

The detailing and color in Indian architecture is amazing.

I fell in love with the nature of brightly painted stucco buildings. We could use more color in our own country, I think ;)

And then we spotted a random parrot in a coconut tree and went a little nuts with excitement at seeing wild exotic birds. Boopa's turn to laugh at us ;)

We had a rainy monsoon day which was really something to behold. The streets flooded and consequently, so did the houses and schools and markets. Once the rain stopped, everyone began rebuilding and de-mudding. A harsh reality but a way of life. Kind of hard for me to grasp.

But ... Boopa said it made his kids really excited because it was a no school day. Kind of like the effects of a blizzard here. He said his children were dancing with joy not to go to school ... not so much when they were given the clean up chores.

Nearly everything was closed, including the roads, so we took a bit of the day to go and see a genuine "Bollywood" Tamil movie in the local movie theater which looked like an old opera house inside.

We didn't understand a word of the language but the romantic comedy was so clean and family friendly with an easily readable storyline. I was impressed by their media values.

We nearly stopped the show by our presence in the theater as well. I'm not sure how many were there to see the film,or just to attend one with the "Americans" :)

I had a great conversation back here, with Sandiya about all of the curious attention. She said that the upcoming generational push is becoming more westernized. All that can be learned about Americanization comes from the media, namely Hollywood. Fashion trends. Feminine behaviors.  Interactions with elders, parents, and teachers. All these traditions have been slowly changing to match Hollywood standards ... what is seen in sitcoms and the like ... because Hollywood represents a more abundant life. The desire for culture westernization means imitation of what is perceived as better.

It made me sad to see a culture rich in beautiful tradition giving way to the ideals of a very limited few, representing falsely a generalized standard.

But enough about that.

The movie was fun.

Now back to that color I mentioned before.

Newel was taken by the way all work trucks are painted so brightly.

Me too. And those random oxen carts with their horns all brightly painted, too.

And just one more of those people-watching cows on the highway median...

And those road-work-women-street-sweepers just out in the middle of it all, hoping that orange vest will keep them safe from the onslaught.

Sorry .. so randomly off topic.

Every neighborhood is centered around a temple for worship. Of all the beauty of India, I'd say the depth of religious conviction was one of the most touching.

And my favorite sight of all?

I'm a fabric gal through and through.

I love that somebody somewhere thought that the best way to adorn women fashionably was to wrap them in the most beautifully decorated fabrics in the world.

And I wish I had a picture of Newel, Christian and Boopa sitting in the chairs waiting patiently for Celia and I to fawn over every original pattern, color combination, feel, and trim.

No two alike.

And no picture can do justice. This is my heaven, I tell ya.

These men are the experts in the field of Sari, scarf, and fabric. They were so attentive .. and I'm sure having our American faces shopping in their store didn't hurt their business any ;) I could have spent all day right there.

They taught us the art of wrapping a Sari. I tell you ... THAT is an art.

We learned it. But we had to go back to the hotel and youtube it. Then we had to have our hotel staff friends, Leakshmi and Deepika, redo and reteach us. THEN we had to try it again a couple of times.

And now we are sort of kind of experts.

Later, Celia and I had Boopa take us to a fabric market where my heart nearly stopped with love.

And if we hadn't been instantly swamped by every marketeer wanting to sell us his wares and over eager to serve with overwhelming care causing Boopa to swoop in and be our body guard, we might not have gone home empty handed.

Still ...

There's so much beauty in every detail of India.


  1. Oooooohhhh...all that fabric. I think I might have set up camp and refused to leave. Gorgeous pictures.

  2. I felt the same, Erin. When we discovered it, Newel turned me right around and said "There's nothing to see here."

    But shopping an open air market was harder than hard. The fabric was so cheap ... a dollar or two a yard but once we started realizing the exchange rate of the dollars we as Americans didn't mind throwing around to the salary of an average man, the guilt reigned in our excesses. It's hard to know the fabric you are buying equals a months worth of salary for the man standing beside you. And it makes those selling get really up on you to make a sale. We fled. ***sigh***. Goodbye beautiful fabric market.

    We had better success at Nalli's .. the store you see there. They were literal connoisseurs of fabric.

  3. The colors are amazing. And the fabric!!!

  4. Truly beautiful pic you have shared and its nice to read about other sights of beauty in chennai ..
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