When I say I’m growing familiar with India, I really mean it.
That’s what I was thinking today as I was riding on the back of a motorcycle with no helmet through the streets and markets of Chennai on the hunt for a duffel-bag to carry stuff home.
It isn’t that I’ve bought a duffel back worth of stuff. Maybe a half a duffel. But I do plan on doing some duty-free shopping on the way home, and my suitcase was rather over-stuffed to begin with.
Chennai from behind the window glass of a taxi is different than Chennai on the back of a motorcycle. You feel much more a part of what you see. You smell much, much more, from the whiffs of rank standing water, to the spicy rich food smells, to the sweet aromas of the sugar cane drink carts, to the cows and bulls roaming the streets.
How’d I get on the back of a motorcycle?
I told my HP host, Navaneeth, that I needed a bag. He explained the types of bags available, and I said nothing fancy, just a duffel bag to carry extra clothes. He said no problem, lunchtime we’ll go get one.
Lunch-time came quickly today. We’re running pretty free-form in the training class right now letting the students get a lot of hands-on work with the software and I answer beckons to walk over and explain something. In the meantime I’m working doing some validation reports on their production servers.
You have to schedule taxis in advance. From an hour to two hours, preferably, especially during high demand hours. Our options were an auto-rickshaw (they’re motorized now, but I don’t know why it wouldn’t be a moto-rickshaw since it’s half motorcycle, half rickshaw, but I didn’t ask), waiting for a taxi, or riding Navaneeth’s motorcycle.
Like I said… I’m feeling much more familiar with Chennai, so I chose the motorcycle.
“Have you ever ridden on the back of a motorcycle before?” “High school,” I said remembering the days of riding on the back of Mike Insua’s motorcycle through Babe Zahara’s Golf Course, shooting cap-guns whenever a golfer was on his back stroke. “Very long time ago,” I continued.
You have to lean forward a little, otherwise when the driver changes gears you might fall off the back. I didn’t fall off… even once, but it felt like I almost did a couple times.
I saw more of the side roads of Chennai than the main roads that I had been on. Not the behind-the-hotel kind of side roads, but real side roads, that the residents use to travel between work and home.
Even the leather goods store we stopped at to purchase the bag was really an open air stall on the first floor, and the only windows that served as a store front were on the second floor, where the bags and more shoes were.
On display were many bags, mostly luggage and some purses. I saw one duffel and said I wanted one like that. The salesman went in the back and brought out several, different sizes and styles. I picked the one I liked best, and he took the rest back.
Navaneeth bought three pairs of shoes.
We stopped for lunch at a Domino’s. Stopped for coffee at a restaurant (restaurants are called Hotel’s here). We stopped at Navaneeth’s house where I met his wife and his beautiful baby daughter, and dropped off the shoes.
We then returned back to the office through the Chennai markets, where stalls seem very specialized. I saw one stall that sold the hardware for hanging shelves, and another that had many curved PVC elbows hanging on chains in the front. I didn’t see any straight PVC, but it might have been in the back. These markets covered blocks and blocks. Right next to a store selling items would be a stall where motorcycles were being serviced.
But at the risk of repeating myself too many times, it all seemed familiar even while I was trying to see it all at once. It just .. was.
There are quite a few Westerners here, in the hotel. I see many in the office building as well, mostly in the food court at lunch. On the streets, and certainly in the markets I saw none. On the way out from the restaurant where we had coffee was a brown man wearing only a sheet around his waist. He had been drinking his coffee while standing on one leg. The other leg tucked and resting on his knee like a flamingo, or like the stereotypic ‘yogi’ position. This amidst men in suits, women in traditional sarees, women wearing jeans and a shirt… so many different cultures and traditions. He stared at me as we left. Not really stared… just watched. I guess I was something unusual to him.