Monday, April 11, 2011

Salaam Salem

Super old station with old-fashioned cardboard
 tickets and train schedule painted on the wall.
Over the weekend, we travelled from Bangalore to Salem to visit some relatives and a temple inauguration function. Seriously, I don’t know how but every time we go there, it is this crazy super hot weather time. From Bangalore itself we started with a slight heat wave; once the train stepped out of the city it was beautiful view of mountains, farm lands and the huge rocky hills rather boulders.

Funny tongue twister names of stations
Vendors coming in every few minutes selling tea, coffee, sundal (yum), Churmuri (not so tasty dry bhel puri), other south Indian snacks like nippat, chakli.. you end up eating so  much of traditional junk food J. When we reached Salem it was 10.30pm; as we reach the place we already start feeling sticky & hot with the humid climate. It feels like it’s been an age since I had a shower and wait this is just the start.
When I step out, the city is soooo busy, loud and crowded. The city buses are up and running even at late hours. When I reached the bus stand, it’s even more bustling. All the shops are open and brightly lighted, there is crowd on the road like it is 5-6pm in the evening and traffic is just as busier as all. On the way to the bus stand I saw flower shops and the owner is nicely weaving garlands, the snacks shops are busy arranging things at the stall. At one point I just had to say, “What is wrong with this town? Don’t these people have homes to go to? Don’t they SLEEP at all?” It was 11pm at night and everyone is travelling to somewhere; I didn’t even bother to take a picture of the crowd. We learnt that the bus we needed to continue our journey was at 12.30am! So we visited one of the relatives place; had cool well-water shower J at midnight. It was so refreshing but mind you, by the time we reach back to the bus stand we were sweating all over again! The refreshing feeling was so short-lived L People there are just used to the heat. Like last year when I visited around the same time of the year, I was covering my head with a scarf and for onlookers I was uniquely different. One of our friends asked me too why you are wearing this cloth. I said in utter disgust, “THE SUN. It is so HOT here”, like it was not obvious enough. To that she took a moment to understand and then just giggled it off like Duh! How silly! A scarf!
“Tamilnadu buses”, I don’t know where to start from. First of all the boards on the buses are always in TAMIL ONLY. Any kind of text is nothing but tamil. I see two strong beliefs here; first they believe everyone can READ tamil and secondly no other people apart from tamilians travel there. There will be NO ENGLISH or HINDI board; anywhere! I was soooo glad to have family that could read and talk tamil. If I were left there alone I would pretty much feel “cast away”! Now once we enter the bus it is another whole new experience. The buses are highly lit even past midnight! The ticket conductor will start his work only after he puts on loud deafening music in the bus. Needless to say it is ONLY TAMIL music! For some reason they must believe that, 'we just started work and now everyone in the bus will also stay awake with us through the journey; so what if the bus is starting at 1am and normal people would want to sleep at this time!' We took chance to plead to the conductor about 4-5 times to reduce the volume, he would do it for a song and the moment another song starts his hand automatically goes back to the volume button. We had a word fight saying we were so disturbed by the loud music; to this he said “He can only function this way at that loud volume of music”. Our journey ended after two hours; I gave my dirty looks to the conductor through the remaining ‘loud awakened journey’! I believe that if I show my anger and disgust to such people they might change a bit; my husband every time just laughs at my stupidity saying “your looks don’t matter to them; they will stay just as they are”!
Beautiful Kolam outside each house
After sleeping for a few hours, we woke up at 6am. As we had already showered and come, we didn’t have to again! But the place was worth of a shower every hour. It was nice and cool in the morning. We saw beautiful kolams and rangoli’s outside each washed doorway of the houses. We had awesome authentic Tamilnadu breakfast – Parotta (also called as Burotta) with Coconut and tomato chutney and kurma. I wanted to take pictures of the man making them so swiftly and perfectly, but couldn’t. So I have a pretty famous video on the internet.
Once the temple rituals started we went to the location. It was a typical Indian ritualistic event, with the yagna, the flowers, the banana stem podium, the SMOKE…blah blah! They had a new kalash installation at the gopuram of the temple. At most of these events, there is some kind of a ritual where one or more devotees carry a copper pot full of water on their head and apparently, ‘the soul of god’ or GOD himself enters them and they wobble and look hypnotized. I don’t wish to hurt anybody’s feelings but to me it just so FAKE! I just think that it’s been a ritual since hundreds of years and anybody who carries the pot now has to demonstrate the look of the ‘GOD coming into the body’ or the whole show is incorrect, right? This I say even with an example that my bother in-law once picked up such a pot and nothing happened to him in the entire time he held it. When I heard this story from my husband, I was like See! I told you! It is all fake and it is a show that the people expect and enjoy and they just blindly follow it. 
Lunch preparation for all the devotees visiting the occasion
The only hard part is to see such a huge crowd of people believe such things even in today’s times! They all have the latest mobile sets with all kinds of technology and yet they believe these ideas.  When we look at them we feel the large distance between us and them, in “thinking and beliefs”.
Inauguration of the Kalash of the Gopuram
We finally retracted back our journey to banaglore. A peculiarity of the scenery I saw in Tamilnadu, is that it seems to be surrounded by mountains. But these mountains look all white and hazy even during the day time. I asked my husband why so! He says because tamil nadu is rich in iron, they have big steel industries, there is always digging and quarry work going on in these mountains and that is why they look so hazy because of the dust! May be! Next time I plan to go, it better be December!
Hazy moutains

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