France in India

Blogging challenges, India

My last sortie to India for the present shows just a few souvenirs of Pondicherry as it looked when it was part of France’s colonial empire. Those days are long gone. Only the older inhabitants were taught in French-medium schools. These days, as throughout India, English is the first foreign language taught. But policeman still look reassuringly French in style, wearing a smart kepi: a military hat with horizontal peak.

Pondicherry Police

And while the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Jésus de Pondichéry), at the end of the street where my hotel was, might look European-inspired rather than specifically French, it was the then Archbishop, and two parish priests, all French, who were responsible for its inception in 1895.

Well, this is awkward. Just One Person from around the World is supposed to feature a single person in the main photo. But a second policeman got himself into the frame here Never mind. The school entrance features just one security guard, the Department of Public Works just one visitor. I may just get away with it.

A Window onto the Road Sweepers’ World

Blogging challenges, India

Those builders hard at work just beyond my hotel room in Pondicherry weren’t the only slice of life I saw through my window there. The featured photo shows the view I had just after midnight every night (I told you I didn’t sleep), My camera – or the way I handled it anyway – wasn’t good at night-time vision, but I like the dream-like quality of this scene.

Can you see a group of five women – four of them in blue, seated in the road? Until just before I took this shot, they’d been busily sweeping all the streets round and about, equipped only with short brooms of the kind that witches in western fairy tales normally use . They made cheerful conversation, calling to each other so they could hear and be heard. Now though, it was time for a break, and the women simply sat down and rested in the road, their voices falling to a rippling murmur of chatter and laughter.

This intimate moment, sharing something with these women who were certainly unaware they were being observed, remains one of my treasured memories of India. These women, I’m sure, had little enough, and yet their easy relaxed movements suggested contentment with what their lives gave them. And above them is a washing line. All that day’s washing was blue, apparently.

Here are the windows through which I observed the scene.

Monday Window

Monday Washing Line

Builders at work

Blogging challenges, India

In India, Pondicherry was one of my must-visit destinations. In was a French colonial settlement till 1954, and still has a well-preserved French quarter, with French-style colonial villas and characterful tree-lined streets. I stayed in one of these – a charming guest house called Le Rêve Bleu.

My room looked out over a building site. Was I dismayed? Not at all. Look at these scenes of builders – at least half of them women – at work from 6.30 every morning. I’d long been woken up by then, by the daily Muslim Call to Prayer, announced over a very loud tannoy system at about half past five,

Just one person from around the world.

The Elephants I met in India

Blogging challenges, India, Uncategorized

The first elephants I met in India were in Karnataka, at Dubare Elephant Camp. Nowadays it seems to be a holiday lodge destination with added elephants, but when we visited, it was still largely home to elephants who’d given years of service to the state’s Forestry Department as log-hauliers.

As we arrived, the elephants were being a good old scrub in the River Cauvery, It was clear they relished having their hard leathery hide scrubbed, their hard bristly hair scratched. And it was obvious their minders were enjoying it too. After that – breakfast. Here’s a picture of a cook in the cookhouse. He’s boiling up an appetisng concoction of jaggery (dense dark sugar), millet and vegetation before rolling it into giant balls which the men feed to the expectant animals.

And here’s feeding time. And that was it really. A short but memorable experience.

Feeding time

I had a very different time about ten days later, at Kumbakonam, where my new American friend had taken me to visit some of the eighteen – EIGHTEEN – temples in this small town. I’ll take you for a tour another time. This time I’ll introduce you to the elephant who, at one of the temples, was available to bless visitors in exchange for a few coins for the temple’s finances. Gwen took me to meet her. As I stood before her, she lifted her trunk and laid it gently in my shoulder. I did indeed feel blessed.

Temple elephants are a common sight – here’s one in Thanjavur.

Temple elephant, Thanjavur

But only once did I see one in the wild, a youngster crashing through the undergrowth and feeding at the edge of a forest.

Elephant feeding in the early morning

With thanks to That Travel Lady in her Shoes, whose challenge Just One Person from Around the World has had me rifling through my archive hunting for memories of long-gone adventures.

Auto-rickshaws I have known

Blogging challenges, India

I am giving you two different people for Just One Person Around the World this time: both of them are auto-rickshaw drivers in India. Here we are in Chennai. Just discharged from hospital, I’m on the first leg of my journey home to England. Look out of the front window of this auto-rickshaw and you’ll see the crowded streets that were more or less my last view of India.

My rickshaw driver in Chennai

This driver was an amiable enough companion, but on my very first day in India, jet-lagged and more than thirty hours without sleep it was a different rickshaw driver who offered me my first taste of Indian hospitality and friendship as I tried to come to terms with the impossibly busy streets of Bengaluru. You’ve seen this photo before, but my first friend deserves his fifteen minutes of fame.

My first friend in Bangalore: the rickshaw driver who took me on a tour of the city, standing in front of ‘his’ Parliament Building

Here’s what I wrote in my diary that day. ‘When I finally set off with the intention of exploring for the morning, I hadn’t gone too far when I was picked up by an auto-rickshaw driver. He could see ‘Arrived this morning’ tattooed across my forehead. He offered to show me round for Rs 10. Well, I wasn’t so green as to believe that’s all I’d spend, but I was exhausted and it wasn’t an unattractive proposition. It was such fun! He proved an amiable guide, whose English, while obviously hugely better than my Kannada often led to mutual incomprehension. He had an endearing habit of describing all the sites we passed as his; ‘This is my Parliament Building … This is my Royal Palace’. He hared me round a variety of sites, and waited while I ‘did’ Bengaluru Palace’ – slightly seedy and where I was personally shown round by an Aged Retainer, and where I noticed a herd of cows in the Royal Gardens.

You see the price? RS 200? Well, my driver in the end asked for Rs. 100, for showing me round for three hours. I gave him twice that and I still got a tremendous bargain.

It was that morning that I discovered that all auto-rickshaw drivers have entered into Arrangements With Shops. The kind of shops, selling textiles, carvings, carpets, jewellery that tourists are expected to make use of. It is their duty to take unwitting passengers there. Reader, I got off lightly (though I did buy something, and kept my friend happy), and learned an important lesson, that ‘No’ must be said with conviction, especially on Day One of a one month trip. What backpacker can lug bedspreads all over South India for four weeks? Later that day, a less accommodating rickshaw driver, on realising that it was fruitless to try to tempt me out shopping dumped me without warning in the middle of a poor part of town (Where? Where?) and left me to get on with it.

Nevertheless, I greatly enjoyed this somewhat basic mode of transport. My friend had had his for fifteen years, and I see no reason why it won’t still be going strong.

It was only a week later that I found myself sharing an auto- rickshaw, designed to take two passengers at most, with three other people. But really, we weren’t trying. Any morning that I was out and about as school started, I would see auto-rickshaws, in total denial of any kind of Health and Safety considerations, disgorging four, six, even ten children at the school gates. Look at the rickshaw here, behind those smartly turned out schoolgirls.

Schoolgirls

Later, when I visited Thanjavur, I found traditional rickshaws drawn usually by one very wiry, elderly man on a bicycle. While understanding their need to work, I couldn’t bring myself to have them haul me around, and in any case, the town was manageable enough on foot.

I look back on this mode of transport with great affection. Nippy, affordable, and with opportunities for cheery conversation, I can’t think of a better way of getting round the confusion which is an Indian city.

Monday Window

A Bad Day and a Good Day in the Market, Indian style

Blogging challenges, India

When abroad – or even somewhere fresh here in the UK – a big pleasure comes from visiting the local market.  People-watching ordinary folk going about their daily business: seeing what’s on offer at the run-of-the-mill fruit and veg stalls.  What are the local cheeses?  Is there any honey from round and about? What have they got on sale that‘s unexpected?  Perhaps a stall holder will invite me to try this kind of apricot – and then that one – before I buy.  Maybe a nun from the local convent will be selling home-pressed apple juice.

In India, it was spices I was particularly keen to see.  But in Mysore, which isn’t short of European visitors, I had such a bad time I almost didn’t venture into a market again.  I had Tourist emblazoned across my forehead for all to see.  And I was pestered, by one young man in particular, who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, whether I was nice, nasty or ignored him.. Whatever.  I left with no purchase, and in a very bad mood.  Though later I got a few photos – the ones you see below and as the featured photo.

Pondicherry was much better.  Here were men, women, seated on the floor and selling whatever they had – a few vegetables from their land, a few fish.  There were larger, more business-like stalls too.  I was doing my usual diffident-about-asking-to-take-photos there, so I only have one of a  woman selling fish, and one water buffalo, who made a good story for the day by peeing copiously all over my feet.

Best of all was Thanjavur.  Here, I stayed with a young American academic, who spoke fluent Tamil, and took me into the homes of her Indian friends, walked me round the back streets to admire the Diwali pavement decorations, and generally gave me a good time.

  One day, she wanted me to go to the market for her.  Just a few simple purchases.  Carrots, onions, that kind of thing. For the first time in India, I met people who spoke no English at all.  And my Tamil didn’t extend beyond ‘please’(தயவு செய்து Tayavu ceytu)  and ‘thank you’ (நன்றி Nanri).  But pointing’s fine.

I don’t think they’d ever had an English tourist wanting anything, let alone humble carrots at the vegetable stall, and soon I was the centre of an amiable group helping me make my purchases.  They tried to increase my vocabulary, and begged me to teach them the same words in English because it was the end of the day and they weren’t busy.  It was such fun.  And when it came to payment, I tried to press far too much money into their hands.  I thought they’d asked for 70 rupees (about 70 pence), and felt it cheap at the price.  How ridiculous!  They wanted seven.  Honestly, that English woman!  Is she made of money?  And my new friend, the one who actually served me with the vegetables I needed, begged for a photo.  Here it is.

My friend in the Market

So here we are: Two market traders for Just One Person from Around the World. There are a few more from where these came from. If we can’t go very far, we could at least do a Virtual Trip to India for a week or two.

Latex on a line: and brollies beyond the window

Blogging challenges, India

What’s this? Some dirty dusters? Or some rather dingy dishcloths? No. Despite appearances to the contrary, this isn’t washing hanging out to dry. It’s sheets of latex, recently tapped from nearby rubber trees and poured into moulds and yes, now hanging out to dry.

I was in in India, in Kerala, at Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary. Nearby was a village, where every household was growing some kind of cash crop: tea, coffee, bitter gourds, bananas … and maybe rubber trees. One household certainly was. They’d harvested the latex as shown in the second photos. They’d have collected about a cupful from each tree, every few days, before pouring it into trays in a thin layer to set, And now it was hanging out to dry properly before being sent away for further processing

In Kerala, while I as there, the monsoon had not long finished, and I rather like the evidence spotted through an open window back in Gurukula itself that had we been there then, it might have been just a little – wet.

Spotted through the window: umbrellas resting after the monsoon

Monday Washing Line

Monday Window

‘How wonderful yellow is. It stands for the sun’

Blogging challenges, England, India, Spain

At the moment, we all need the glow, the zing that a good splash of yellow can provide. Luckily, Jude has provided the perfect opportunity for us to hunt down all our yellow-rich images, in her challenge Life in Colour. Let’s have an injection of gutsy, vibrant lemon, amber and gold alongside our long awaited Covid vaccines.

I’d thought of showing those springtime flowers we all love – aconites, daffodils, primrose, tulips and kingcups. But maybe I’ll save those for another day. Here’s a complete hotch-potch of yellows to cheer up a day which, here at least is thoroughly and dismally grey.

To view any image full size. just click on it. The quotation of the post title is by Vincent Van Gogh. No wonder he liked sunflowers. And the header photo shows one word from another quotation. Wander round the St. Paul’s area of London and you’ll eventually uncover the whole sentence, from Virginia Woolf’s novel, Jacob’s Room: ‘What are you going to meet if you turn this corner?‘ What indeed? In this area of London, enough to fill an entire guide book.

Noticing the notices: a Saturday smile.

England, India, Scotland, Spain

Trawling through my photos looking for something I couldn’t find, I came across these.

The featured photo comes from RSPB Saltholme.

Cee’s Friday Funny Finds

Six Word Saturday

Sri Balaji Hospital, Chennai

India

Heavy rain in Mamallapuram. My last view of the town, and this calf trying to shelter, just before I caught the bus to Chennai.

I quite forgot that I had already written in July about how my journey from Mamallapuram, via Chennai, to the airport then home to England was severely curtailed by my Indian Adventure ending up in a hospital stay.

My rickshaw driver in Chennai: after that – a train ride … and an ambulance ride.

But you might like to hear a little about it.

What picture have you got of an Indian Hospital? I bet it’s wrong. My ward at Sri Balaji Hospital resembled pretty much any ward in an older-style British hospital that you may have come across – only cleaner. It sparkled with clean paint, fresh blue and white candy-striped sheets and general good order.

View from my bed in Sri Balaji Hospital, Chennai.

There were four beds in my  unit, and it really surprised me that there were both male and female patients.  This is a country where I had quickly learnt that it was not OK for me to sit next to a man on a bus, yet here I was in the much more intimate setting of a hospital ward, right next to one man and opposite another.  We were looked after by two nurses at night and two by day, all in smart white jacket-and-trousers uniform. The nurses, being Tamil, are of quite astonishing physical beauty: I really couldn’t take my eyes of ‘my’ night nurse, Jhoti, whose loveliness extended to her personality.

They appeared equally taken with me, and would pat and stroke me, or chuck me under the chin at the least provocation. As I started to get better, they amused themselves teaching me Tamil. With one exception, they didn’t speak much English, but what they did know, they’d learnt at Nursing School. Phrases like ‘Go to the toilet’/’Use the bathroom’ etc. were not understood, until light dawned. ‘Ah! You want pass urine?’

Besides nurses there were:
– Nice ladies in saris who appeared to fulfil some kind of auxiliary role.
– Doctors – lots.
– Men in blue jackets and trousers who seemed to be gophers, called Ward Boys.
– Men in brown, ditto – porters.

Dili and friends, the Ward Boys at Sri Balaji Hospital

The night nurses did twelve hour shifts, just like many of their counterparts in British hospitals. Before you feel too sorry for them, they told me that when doing night shift, they work just 10 nights a month.

Medication and tests of all kinds flowed freely – they make the pill-popping French look amateurs.

No TV, no radio, no nice ladies from the WRVS dispensing sweets, newspapers and library books. No getting up either. You lie in bed until you’re good and better, and meanwhile you do nothing. I was caught attempting to wash in the bathroom on my last day, and was chivvied back to bed and given a bed bath.

At visiting time, those of us without visitors did not go without attention. Dozens of noses were pressed against the glass wall of the ward as curious onlookers gave us all the once-over. I felt a bit like an inmate of Bedlam in the 18th century.

When I was discharged, I had a bill to pay of course: one which, together with my altered journey arrangements, would eventually be settled in full by my travel insurance (there’s a moral there.  Though they made a big fuss that I hadn’t got in touch with them from the hospital.  I told them that on a busy ward, I’d been able to make just one call – and that wasn’t even to my husband).  I was utterly terrified of what horrendous sum might be taken from our bank account for my three day stay.  I can’t remember exactly what it was.  But it was in the region of £30.

So that was it.  Feeling still pretty ropey, I had secured an internal flight back to Bangalore, and after an interminable wait through the middle of the night in a draughty luggage hall, an onward flight to London, and later, back home.  Where, apparently, I barely spoke for three days.  But I made up for it later.