Tuesday, May 16, 2006
This entry's a little different. We've spent the past couple of days in Chaavadipudur, just outside of Coimbatore, and I'm a little self conscious about pulling out the laptop because I don't really want to call attention or waste our host family's electricity (and money). Of course, I had no problem pulling out the video camera yesterday to work on color settings since I messed them up in California (see the photo below), so maybe I'll just forget it and do the regular laptop thing again. For now, you'll have to live with my recollections of a couple of memories that I didn't type down the day they happened. Bear with me.
We've been sleeping at the branch president's house, though he's been away at work practically the whole time. He rides his motorcycle to his workplace on Monday mornings and back on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings - my dad did the same thing for a few months during my senior year of high school, so I know how hard that can be on a family. But it ended up being a big blessing to us as well, as he had the chance to think a lot during those long trips across Indiana, and one weekend he came home and announced he was going to take the discussions Saturday and be baptized Sunday.
So it's nice to live with a family. The mother, Jiva, is quite the matriarch (we refer to her on any domestic question), and she has just taken her young daughter Priya to pick up her son (whose name escapes me) from boarding school. I think they took a train, and they stayed overnight, having left yesterday and planned to return today.
There was a blessing and naming of a baby Sunday - I think they had spent what normally would have been Fast Sunday watching DVDs of General Conference. This is one of the oldest LDS Church buildings - maybe the first? - in India, just a modest, pleasant hall with a nice garden outside, all surrounded by a shortish painted cinder block wall. The whole place was filled just yesterday (Monday) with members of the family's baby who, though not LDS, were holding a lunch celebration and family reunion at the chapel, where the baby's mother is a member. We ate with them, sitting cross-legged on folded-up sleeping mats eating from banana leaves on the floor. The food was excellent and far more than anyone could have finished off. Afterwards the family members gathered around the neighboring house (all three structures - our house, the other house, and the church - are next to each other), and we kids from BYU went home and read or napped. Over the din from the festivities next door I read Karen Armstrong's Buddha.
I've actually spent probably 90% of my time in Chaavadipudur there at Matthew and Jiva's house. It's a much quieter lifestyle than here in the city, and I'm content just sitting on the veranda - the shallow, wide, covered front porch - and reading or watching the family's chickens or trying to sound out the names of Tamil-speaking kids who walk by and introduce themselves in broken English. I've been piecing together some Tamil these past couple days too, and I've actually had successful communication once or twice using words beyond the "Onga peeru" and "En peeru" (Your name/My name, respectively). One time was yesterday, when I was attracting a bunch of little kids on the road just outside of the church building. The next structure is a thatched-palm open-front house, and there was a woman sleeping inside. She looked like she really wanted to be sleeping, too. I couldn't keep the kids quiet to save my life, but on the way back the words for 'she' and 'sleep' came to me - 'ava' and 'takkum' - and they all said that yes, she was sleeping. So I put my finger to my closed lips, and they all did whatever was appropriate to mean the same thing here in their culture (I think the syllable they kept using was 'bosh!'), and they actually hushed up as we passed her! Of course, once we'd gone only a foot or two past the hut they were all excitedly shouting again anyway, so I don't know if my efforts did any good in the end, but it was nice to know I'd gotten through.
Before we ever came to Coimbatore and Chavadi (Chaavadi?), you know from my last entry that I spent some time talking with a man we've called Ali. The day before we left Madurai I sat with Ali again, and we talked about Islam for upwards of an hour. I had discovered that the backstreets were much more palatable (spelling?) than those in-your-face, touristy main roads, so I took these narrow alleys to his downtown shop by the temple. Ali was a very energetic, charismatic thirty- or forty-something young man who was very excited about his religion, and we sat on two cushioned stools and had an intimate discussion about his beliefs. The stories were endless, it seemed, and it took great effort to write them down as he dictated, being careful to take verbatim the phrases I found interesting or important. (Incidentally, he refused to be photographed due to religion.) His English was very expressive, and from time to time he would get so into a story that he would grab my knee to really make a point. Don't worry - it's completely appropriate given the cultural context. This was easily the dearest experience I've had yet in India.
Afterwards, as we BYU kids were going out from the hotel to have dinner a motorcycle came close and started honking. Nothing new - the vehicles warn you when they're approaching all the time. I kind of like that about traffic here. But this time the rider was waving enthusiastically. In the dark I could just barely make out that it was Ali! What in the world?
He stopped and said, "My friend, I have come here twice looking for you." (I think my group, which had given him a lot of business in the days before, had told him which hotel was ours.) "Here is this," he continued, and he reached out his right hand. In it he was holding a black journal - the one I had taken to his shop for our interview before. I couldn't believe it. If I had had any doubts - any doubts at all - about whether this man had been sincere in his willingness to sit down and do an interview, or whether he was just interested in keeping our business (and in a tourist town like Madurai, you never know), this seemed like proof that I could let them all go. This guy was for real, and I felt a real human bond then. He took off before I hardly had time to thank him for his thoughtfulness.
But now I'm staying in Chaavadi, and that's how life's been the past couple days - slow, personable, and pleasant, if a bit hot. Things are good, and Saturday we board a train for Delhi. From Delhi we head for Dharamsala.
The first two photos were taken in Chennai, the last one in Chaavadipudur last night.