Wanderings led me to the Museum in Chennai. It is a place full of colonial glory – from the Royal Albert lookalike Museum theatre at the front to the buildings behind, full of the trappings of a long ago British Colonial rule.
I knew something of the history of India, but not of the early history of this civilisation. The statues, coins and weapons harking back to times over 2000 years ago, brought home to me what a proud and long history India has – and in contrast, how short the history of New Zealand is.
Statues of the Gods and Goddesses, many of whom are still revered in Hindu India – and often also by many Christian Indians – reclined and stood on many of the beautiful wooden cabinets, many of which were museum pieces in their own right. Some of the exhibits had been placed there more than a hundred years ago and while many of them were dusty,dirty or faded, their lustre was still there in the power that they held. Dancing on demons, playing flute-like instruments, or just in ordinary everyday situations, these statues proclaim an India of which I was not aware.
There are also a collection of animals, birds and fish from all over the world. Many of these had been on exhibit for almost as long as New Zealand’s more brief history. while not as inherently interesting, they were a display that entranced many children while I was there. In fact I was surprised to see how many people were at the Museum. The buses outside were testament to the drawing power of the Museum to many Indians and their families. I remember seeing one sulky adolescent, who had obviously had enough and was sitting impatiently waiting for family members to finish looking at a hall of antiquities.
I also met a couple who felt that they had to introduce me to every member of their family and give me their family history. Friendly people here 🙂
On Sunday I went out to St Thomas’ Basilica on Marina Beach. We hired a rickshaw. The driver started asking 300 rupees EACH, which was obvious nonsense, so I went to order a taxi….when we had finished, he was satisfied as were we for a fee of 200 rupees for all of us and he waited while we walked around and brought us back to the hotel. I could have walked it, but not the other two examiners.
The Church was packed full of people welcoming God for the day – some of whom will also return home to Hindu ceremonies – Conversion can be a strange thing…..
We found ourselves surrounded by many beggars – a good place for them to try it on. One little girl was very persistent, to the point where you almost felt you had to swish her away. we didn’t of course. I looked across the road to see her parents – patently proud of “their little girl” – interesting way to bring up a child…While I know it is very difficult to break out of the undercaste here, if they spent as much time on more normal activities as they do on being beggars, one wonders what these people might actually produce. You can see from my reaction that the beggars found little joy with me – or indeed with all of us, so they eventually left us alone as we walked up to the lighthouse on the edge of the beach. this is the working end of the beach – with many fishing boats drawn up out of the water. It is here that you would not walk on the beach in bare feet for fear of the amount of glass in the sand. Like a lot of things here, they are “works in progress” – left again no doubt at the behest of some politician who has some more worthy cause to look after.
After an hour in hot sun, I think we were all quite pleased to return to the hotel where we could escape the heat and smells of a fish-market and beach hovels. Enough weekend wandering……