September 12, 2005

Aeroflot Miami

The day begins with a walk along Thopputhurai's main road. I start off aimlessly, but soon enough I hear MS Subbulakshmi softly and hurry to find where she floats from before the song ends. Rounding the curve to the level crossing, MS getting steadily louder, seven girls on cycles race past and nearly knock me over. Blue salwar and pink kameezes, students at the gurukulam down the road I visited two days ago. Nothing will come in the way of them getting to school, clearly not me in my grubby jeans.

MS's gorgeous voice fades as I zero in on the house from where she sings, across the tracks, and a godawful Tamil film song belts forth. Sadly, I turn around and cross the tracks again. Tea is at a shop on the corner, made in that uniquely Tamil tea-kada way: put a precise amount of sugar in a small steel glass, throw in a few more grains for good measure, dip it all in the cauldron of boiling milk, pour in some of the brewing concoction, do the famous stretch-pour into a bigger glass, back and forth at nearly arm's length. Could tea possibly taste better?

The morning traffic is light, dominated by cycles. A man goes past, wobbly on his machine because he carries a huge, and I mean huge, load of neem leaves. Another man has only one hand on the handlebar; the other is bent back to hold the basket that's on his carrier so that he seems nearly sideways as he rides. Why is the arm bent back? Because in the basket is a prim-looking goat, giving me the once-over as they pass. A third man comes towards me and he's talking. For a moment I think he's speaking to me and am about to ask what he's saying; then he passes and I see that he's talking to his son, a tiny fellow in a school uniform sitting right behind his dad and therefore invisible from the front.

A little later, I'm waiting for my bus opposite the gurukulam and a slender woman walks up to wait with me. She's silent for a while, then suddenly starts speaking, asking in Tamil: "Where are you going? Why are you waiting? Why don't you walk, it's so close! Have you seen Paramesh?" Yes, again I'm not the target, she's speaking to another small boy, sitting on the other side of the road and waiting for his schoolbus. But I enjoy listening to her delightfully singsong Tamil, almost as much of a pleasure as MS, and am slightly sorry when her bus arrives.

Two cows walk onto the road from the field behind me, cross and enter the gurukulam gate. Forgotten their pink and blue uniform, I see.

My bus to Nagapattinam arrives eventually. On the way, we pass a home with a wall on which there's a large sculpted tableau of storks, must be a dozen. Nearby is another home whose gate is made of multicoloured sculpted footballs. Soon afterwards, I nearly do the old Thompson/Thomson thing of stepping off my bus in the belief that it has stopped. This, because a pink bus overtakes us at a frightening pace. Painted in big letters on its rear is the intriguing legend "Aeroflot Miami."

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