Saturday, 31 March 2012

Milking It

In the United States, one is so far removed from the natural food chain that it's rare to see the real source of our sustenance. India is the opposite, where a supermarket seems like a movie set.

Here's an ad at a bus stop for milk. Instead of super-charged graphics or a wholesome family climbing a mountain, the dairy simply wants to make sure you know it is indeed selling healthy milk. In bags, no less.

We love the Ag school worthy photos of well cared for cows. Up with 4H! The little seal of trust in the upper left is also great, because, in a country of 1.2 billion, millions of people could be the surrounding neighborhood.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Convenient Cobbler

Back home they seem to have perfected the 24/7, anything-you-want lifestyle. Drive-through banking, Amazon, Big Box stores. You can get more than you know you even need. Something breaks, well, that's a different story.

Here in India, the opposite is often the case. No Home Depot, no endless Internet shopping. Not even a supermarket. But if you're in need of a tailor, painter, driver, any sort of tradesmen, choices abound.

Sarah and James were out on a typical Saturday, walking the busy streets of Chennai when one of Sarah's flip flops gave way. The center fastener came loose and suddenly she was left limping along. What to do? Back home, we'd get ourselves home, drive to the shoe repair place, drop them off, get a ticket, come back a few days later, maybe a week and pick up the repaired flip flop. Maybe pay $5-$10. Or just figure the repair wasn't worth it, toss the flip flops, head to Target and get a new pair.

Not so in India, and not because there aren't any Targets (hey, we do have something called Big Bazaar, sometimes better named Bit Bazaar). About 30 seconds after Sarah's flip flop fiasco, a nice man starts pointing down the street. "What?"we think, looking at him, baffled.

And then it registers. Of course! He's pointing to the shoe repair guy we just passed on the sidewalk.

Our hero cobbler, a typical sidewalk example found all over Chennai.

Busy working, taking about three minutes to fix the flip flop. Done, beautiful, good as new! Cost? About 10¢

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Sad Eyed Lady Of The Popcorn Machine

With great apology to Bob Dylan for pilfering his song title, re-purposed for our blog headline.  This lonely popcorn lady made too big an impression to walk by and not notice her.

The desolate operation.

The tool of her trade.

The stoic Popcorn Lady

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Teeming With Textiles

You could easily spend all your time in India shopping for textiles and never have it seem monotonous. OK, the activity might start to get repetitive, but what you look at will not. Whether it's saris, tablecloths,  salwar kameez sets, blankets, you'd be hard pressed to see the same pattern twice. There's no such thing as a blue suit or black dress in India. They're definitely onto something.

While men stay plain, the women get to jazz it up. How obvious does it show? And how about those braids!

A couple of vendors, patiently waiting for customers, one surrounded by his wares, as if he created a kid's fort out of his inventory.

The main tool of the trade. A typical selection of fabric, a kaleidoscope of cotton.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Rolling Stones

There's a great monument in Chennai called Valluvar Kottam. It's a giant stone chariot, dedicated to the revered Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar. While it looks ancient, it's brand new by Indian monument/temple/fort standards: 1976. Why the chariot design? It's modeled after an ancient original in the town of Tiruvavur. Got it?

The impressive structure. Where the crowds drift to for a photo-op, next to the incredibly small, but strong elephants that hang out, pulling the chariot.

The stones that gather no moss. The regal elephants.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Magnificent Mural

Most public wall art around India is of the paper political kind -- temporary messages plastered up and then stripped away. Like this example for the opposition party:

Once in a while, you find something more permanent and definitely more beautiful. Here's a mural that rises way above the humble task of advertising for a hair salon. It's actually an homage to a long passed chief minister for the state we're in, Tamil Nadu. MGR, who died in 1987, was much beloved, a movie star-turned politician. Evidently his good looks did not go unnoticed and his hair style makes a great selling point.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Iron Man Redux

We showed you a typical sidewalk Ironing Man. Here's another: too hard to resist for the fabulous, hand-painted cart. A classic, old-fashioned look (but still room for a cell phone number on the sign).

Crisp laundry ready for pick up.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Fragile Traffic

Everybody knows the traffic in India is insane, but unless you get to experience it first hand, you'll never know the full extent of the madness. Universal Studios could probably base a thrill ride on Indian traffic.

That doesn't mean you have to fear entering the melee. On the contrary, the traffic makes India exciting and you never know what you might see.

Like this dichotomy: the reverse of a bull in a china shop:

Friday, 23 March 2012

I Stick, Therefore I Am

Your tuk tuk isn't yours until you've plastered a few stickers on the windshield. You stand for something and you want the world to know it. A couple of examples of stickers and their proud owners.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

High Tea In India

No time for fine china, scones and clotted cream. The workers of India need a quick, fresh cup of tea on their break and then, it's back to work. Many of you are familiar with the catchy title of "Tea Wallah" or "Chai Wallah." Those terms are used mostly in northern India. Down south, they're simply "tea men."

The tea men are India's equivalent to those roaming breakfast trucks back in the US. Of course here, the fanciest it gets is a bicycle with a thermos strapped to the back. The kickstand goes up and he's open for business.

Getting ready to dispense a shot. One of the happy(?) customers. At least it's the same feeling as a much-deserved coffee break would be back home.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Playing By The Bay (Of Bengal)

Chennai, similar to the previous place we lived, Miami, is a coastal city with a huge beach (yes, we are well aware that Miami Beach is a separate city and it's that city on the beach. So sue us). Here it's called Marina Beach and it stretches a good length of the city.

It's also wide, affording plenty of space for various vendors. You can get food, ride horses, buy gifts, throw the kid on an amusement, even blow some balloons away.

There's a concentration of vendors headed toward the shore, a sort of beach main street. Waiting for the dinner crowd.

Who wants to shoot some balloons? We do! Who knew it's a dressed up, family affair?

Mumbai Chaat seems to have the Poori choices down. And a hungry herd of stools. The merry-go-round man.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

All About The Gift Shop

We recently had a friend in town and we took him to the lovely Basilica San Thomas. It's definitely on the short list of things to see in Chennai and, if you clicked the link, you know we've already written a post about it.

If you go around the back, there's a little museum with a great diorama and a chance to see the crypt.

Of course, there's always a chance to pass the little gift shop/area on your way out. Don't miss snagging a fake credit card looking thing that's really a handy way to walk around with some St Thomas holy sand in your wallet/purse. A little credit from God?

Monday, 19 March 2012

Cow Town

Even though we've settled in and know our way around town, seeing cows meandering the metropolis never gets old. How could it -- seeing all those beasts in the streets? You have to be one brave bovine to survive on the busy roads of Chennai. But there doesn't seem to be any shortage of herds, despite a rumored ban on runaway livestock.

Claiming some "turf," -- a nice variety of street, sidewalk and trash heap. Typical.

Besides, they're so clearly photogenic and no one's going to run them out of town. Grabbing some asphalt and looking relaxingly regal. Holy cow, indeed.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Auto Art

Dippy decals? Cars have it rough in India and a dent-less auto is a rare sight. Too often, the stop and go traffic is more no-stop and dent.

Maybe to make light of the traffic plight, several cars owners actually add silly decals that make it look like their machine has been hit or dented or peeled by something. The decals seem a little ironic in a place that's one huge bumper car arena.

How much is that doggie in the auto?

You definitely won't find this decal stateside: a cricket ball (probably good for six runs).

Somebody is trying to get out.

Saturday, 17 March 2012


In India, it's hard to take a solo portrait. There are people everywhere, at all times, hanging out, and if you want to take a picture of someone, his friends also want in on the action. No matter, the more the merrier, as in these examples:

Great hair on the guy on the right!