In Karaikal, three hotels say they are full. The fourth (and last) offers us a room, but it’s not complete. Meaning it’s on the top floor they are adding to the building, a room filled right now with workmen putting in the electricals and so on. But it will be ready in an hour, and we are tired, so we agree.
When we return to the room after dinner, the airconditioner is on. It gets its power via a long wire that snakes from the balcony outside, through the bathroom window, through the bathroom door, across the room where the bare ends are stuck into a socket next to ... my bed. Just above the level of the mattress.
I spend an interesting night, trying not to toss and turn into bare live electrical wires.
The Karaikal hotel has a garden restaurant downstairs. Sounds good? Looking down at it from our top floor, we can see three rows of tables on a patchy lawn; just beyond the lawn are piles of trash. Not so good.
When we go down for dinner, we find two things to distract us from what’s over there where the lawn ends. One, there are no lights. We can’t see the trash, but we can’t see what we’re eating either. Two, there’s a huge screen where the lawn ends. We can’t see what we’re eating, but we can see, and hear (very well) endless inanity in Tamil from two very strange-looking music television hosts.
The waiter gives us appetizers – savouries in small plastic bags. (That kind of place). Can’t see those either, but we eat them. When he comes to take the rest of our order, I give him the plastic bags. He looks at them and flings them behind him on the lawn. (That kind of place).
Speaking of electrical wires. From my Nagapattinam hotel room window one morning, I see a crow leap onto a wire, then a spark, then a spiral of smoke. At the electrical pole opposite, dozens of wires hook on to steal electricity. When the crow settles on one, he somehow sets off a spark. In seconds, there’s a little blaze going there and the crow flies off.
Me, I’m petrified. For right below the flame is a long thatched roof, and I don’t want to think about a spark falling on it. What am I to do?
And while I try to answer that question, the flame burns itself out. The smoke dissipates. My beating heart slows down.
Speaking of crows. At the Nagapattinam hotel, I ask for an extra sheet, to cover myself. When I’m ready for bed late that night, exhausted from the day’s wandering, I shake the sheet open. Only to find, bulls-eye in its centre, a large lump of dried crow-shit. (That kind of place).
I’m at a nearby restaurant for dinner, at a table by myself. The waiter brings me a glass of water and lays out a large banana leaf. I order a rava-dosai. He nods and goes off to tell the kitchen. The man sitting at the next table gets up, comes over to my table, picks up my water and drinks it all. Sets the glass down and returns to his table, where he resumes drinking his coffee.