Culture Vulturing In Chennai

One of my friends here in Chennai is a classical Tamil singer. The guy is as American as a Ford pickup truck, but he’s discovered a talent for the ancient and somewhat obscure art of warbling (which I’m reliably informed is actually singing). If you want to hear what it sounds like point your cursor over this link and press the left mouse button.

We are always being invited to hear him sing, and despite having not a single clue on what he’s singing about, people often go along to support him and attempt understand what’s going on. I’ve only been to see him sing once and I was completely confused, however when he invited us to listen to him sing on Saturday evening I decided, since I had bugger all else to do, to go along.

Now, this being India when you get given an address you should always head over to Google maps and try and ascertain exactly where the place is because in Chennai they have the most archaic address system known to man. Take my address for example. I live on 3rd Cross Street and the house number is 20. Except it’s also on 2nd Main Road and the house number is 26. To further complicate matters there are no less than four 3rd Cross Streets in my local area and this causes no end of fun when trying to get a home delivery or explain to a taxi driver where you live so he can pick you up. The zip/postal code system still eludes India. Oh. Wait. Not fun. Trauma.

In this instance we were told that the concert was being performed at a place called Spaces, #1 Elliots Beach Road. A quick lookup on Google Maps identifies the location and we were good to go.

When we arrived we looked up and down the road. There was no place called “Spaces”. We asked in a few shops. There was still no place called “Spaces”. We found a building that claimed to be #4 Elliots Beach Road, but unless our friend was performing in one of the houses next door we decided to discount it as pure conjecture. That coupled with the fact that the building was on a different road to what Google claimed to be Elliots Beach Road.

So after a bit of wandering we ended up walking down a little side street that we would never have gone down. It was packed with tiny little one room houses which doubled up as a shop front, the merchandise spilling out in to the street and selling everything from sea shells to mobile phones.

As we continued down this street we heard the sound of drums being played and suddenly the cramped lane opened out in to a big square overlooked by one of the biggest temples I’ve seen in Chennai.

Up on stage were a group of dancers playing the drums and putting on a bit of a performance. We stayed and watched by the sidelines, not meaning to stay very long when the friend I was with suddenly became mobbed by a load of Indians – she’s well over 6ft tall, female and white and hence is a giant magnet for young inquisitive Indian males 😀

Before we knew it we were chatting away to these university students from Pune (pronounced “pooh-nay” for the ignorant westerners reading my blog). It’s all the usual questions that I’ve mentioned in a previous and somewhat controversial blog post.

The thing that strikes me is just how friendly, inquisitive and innocent people are here. If this had been England, or most other western countries for that matter, and a couple of tourists rocked up to watch a cultural performance they wouldn’t get a second glance, but in India you get mobbed by people asking a million questions and wanting to know all about you, all about England, what you think of India – everything.

So we weren’t planning on sticking around but before we knew it they were making space for us, finding and offering us chairs to sit down, explaining what was going on, explaining about the dancers and singers, telling us about themselves and generally being extremely friendly.

My mum asked if we felt a little bit overwhelmed or out of our depth or concerned out our safety because you can literally be surrounded by dozens of people asking questions, wanting photos, trying to get you to go somewhere, but in Chennai I’ve never considered personal safety to be an issue, even late at night walking down deserted roads I’ve never felt unsafe, so speaking, interacting and joining with a big group of locals is perfectly ok. Even walking down the little sidestreet is fine because people will treat you with curiosity rather than any malice. It might be different in other parts of India, but definitely not in Chennai.

Back to the show…just like in Ooty, we quickly became a bigger attraction than the show itself as more people gathered round.

What was happening was that this show was a kind of internal, inter-state cultural exchange, designed to get people to understand more about other states’ cultures…err, through the medium of dance. They were all young people showcasing singing and dancing from the state they were from.

It actually turned out to be a really good show, and it just typifies India in that we were made to feel very welcome and everyone is so interested in you and were all so keen to tell us what’s going on. It’s just not something you’d ever find in the west.

It also sums up a lot about India that’s very hard to put your finger on, but it’s something along the lines of “things always tend to work out in the end”. We had originalyl gone to see our friend sing, we got stumped by TII (this is India) but ended up landing on our feet by having a great evening and chatting to loads of people. It’s difficult to put in to words just how differently guests are treated

Once the show finished, they even took my friend in to the massive temple that was next door to show her around. They even wanted us to join them for dinner but we were being picked up by another friend so had to say our goodbyes, however, not before all the photos were taken and they even asked us to give them our signature and write a little bit about India! No idea where they got the pen and paper from but once we had finished it was passed around so everyone could read it.

This is what I wrote…

India has a wonderfully diverse culture with some of the most friendly, welcoming and accommodating people in the world. It’s well known for the incredible food and the passion that people have for it. India is like no where else on Earth which is why so many tourists come to experience it. Jai Ho!

Haha, they loved the “Jai Ho” bit!

And now for some photos…


The sun sets over my apartment on 13th February

The sun sets over my apartment on 13th February

These guys were from Uttar Pradesh (I think)

These guys were from Uttar Pradesh (I think)

They were pretty energetic dancing around the stage

They were pretty energetic dancing around the stage

Wonder what the Health & Safety Executive would have to say about this!

Wonder what the Health & Safety Executive would have to say about this!

Massive temple right on the beach

Massive temple right on the beach

My friend was mobbed by people from Pune

My friend was mobbed by people from Pune

Soon more people came over and took photos

Soon more people came over and took photos

Even I couldn't escape as they lined up to have their photo taken with me

Even I couldn't escape as they lined up to have their photo taken with me

These people were from Kerala and the girl had an incredible voice!

These people were from Kerala and the girl had an incredible voice!

...She was also quite pretty :)

...She was also quite pretty 🙂

These guys were from...India. It was basically like Morris dancing with bells and sticks

These guys were from...India. It was basically like Morris dancing with bells and sticks

This girl from Pune did a very sensual dance - lots of wiggling!

This girl from Pune did a very sensual dance - lots of wiggling!

Another guy asks my friend for her "good name"
We were quite the tourist attraction!

We were quite the tourist attraction!

These guys...not too sure what they were doing!

These guys...not too sure what they were doing!

Huge crowds of people were there

Huge crowds of people were there

My new friend from North East India working in a shop here in Chennai

My new friend from North East India working in a shop here in Chennai


5 Comments Culture Vulturing In Chennai

  1. admin

    I should probably point out that the reason I’m wearing beads (they are actually very small shells) around my neck is that they were given to me as a gift by one of they guys from Pune. They also wanted to give me their red scarves and the little white hats they were wearing. Interestingly I drew the line at the shell necklace.

    Reply
  2. Rajesh

    Hi Petre,

    In the first para you have mentioned “this link” but there is no link there.

    But anyways your blog was simple and filled with humor, it reminded me of R K Naryan who could write simple short stories. Hmm probably one day we can see being a great writer, apart from being good SEO/Marketing/Army… guy.

    Rajesh

    Reply
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