Thursday, August 21, 2008

A professor's observations

We are back in Indiana now, but the vivid memories of India are fresh. During our adventure to Incredible India – the tourism bureau didn’t overstate things – it often was a time of sensory overload, much as a strongly spiced masala over chicken, lamb or paneer (a form of cottage cheese).

Over the last dozen dispatches, I’ve focused on themes and locations, but there was much more to comment about and in these next few articles, I’m going to empty the notebook and also share the insights of others on what may be mundane to some Indians but exotic to others elsewhere.

First up are these thoughts from Professor Jamie Prenkert about our first day in Chennai:

"’The story of Chennai is the story of British colonialism,’ our guide Ravati said as we set out on our tour of the city. The evidence of her statement included numerous buildings with architecture from the colonial era, as well as the story of the city's ‘new’ name, changed from Madras to Chennai in the mid-1990s.

“Chennai sits on the Bay of Bengal and boasts one of the world's largest and longest urban beaches. The city has begun what appears to be a huge project to beautify the waterfront, with what we in the U.S. might call a ‘greenway.’

“It looks like the end result will be impressive; however, public works projects in India have a way of lingering for years with little progress. Public services also lag with regard to sanitation and trash removal, which in turn leads to unsafe pollution levels in the city's two rivers and the bay.

“So, when we exited the bus to take a walk down the beach to look at the surf, looking was the limit of our experience (except a few quickly dipped toes and fingers). Not only is the water not particularly clean, but the riptides make swimming a dangerous proposition."

The photo posted with this dispatch, taken by Professor Vijay Khatri, shows what it looks like just off the Marina Beach.

“We also stopped at two significant religious sites," Prenkert continues. "First, St. Thomas's Cathedral was constructed to commemorate the death of Thomas, the apostle, who -- according to legend -- came to Chennai to spread Christianity, but angered the local Hindus and was ultimately killed here. The cathedral houses his remains and several relics, as well as an icon of Jesus on a lotus pedestal (a pose usually reserved for the Hindu gods) and a Virgin Mary in a sari.”

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