Travels in India - First Impressions

In a few months time a group of us from St Andrew's Bo'ness will be heading out on a fact finding trip to India. It is all part of or World without Walls project. It is our aim to strengthen the ties between our community here in Bo'ness and the work that is being carried out with our partners in India. Have a look at the WwW web page under partnerships and you'll get a hint of the kind of things we're looking to support. i hope to post two or three pieces about my last visit to India. i hope these will be of interest, to those who will be making the trip in July and also to others who are interested in building friendships around the world. On Monday 25 July 2005 Martha and i arrived in Chennai after a long tiring flight from Frankfurt. I always find it interesting when I travel around the world. I am amazed at the number of vibrant and colourful people that you can't help noticing as you move around an airport. I often wonder what they are all doing. Each one has his or her own personal life story touching the other in passing. If we wanted we could connect these stories by becoming part of each other's experience. Each one with its dramas of sorrow and pain anxiety and hope all colliding, silently together, no one speaking aloud the things that are holding them all in a common humanity â€" their need to be loved and to love. London had just been bombed a few weeks before and an additional bombing had just taken place again that weekend. Everyone seemed to be in a state of vigilance. Policemen with machine guns certainly make a statement at the airport At Chennai airport we found ourselves in a line for the foreigners to pass through immigration. I quite liked the idea that I was a foreigner and I chuckled within myself thinking that at least the authorities in Chennai were not prisoners to the politically correct brigade. I can imagine the furory that would be kicked up if Edinburgh Airport was to erect such signs. Like everyone in the line we expect to get through but we all watch our ps and qs, so easy to make a joke that might backfire. These days everyone approaches the official at the immigration desk with the greatest of respect. The passports are duly stamped and Martha and myself head towards the baggage reclaim. The airport is tired looking and the toilets have that well used look about them. Not the best of places to go to freshen up before meeting our Indian hosts. Later on I discover that the airport like so many has outgrown its facilities and a multimillion pound refit has started. We were both a bit apprehensive about going to stay with complete strangers for a few days before going on our five days vocation at the Kumarakom Lake Resort. kamarakoom.jpg Our fears were soon put to rest when we were met by a delegation of four very excited and helpful Indian faces welcoming us to Madras. We were taken aback to receive garlands from our host to be Captain Alfred Thacker. Alfred was to prove quite an amazing 72 year old retired sea captain. His organisational ability and willingness to make this mission as he calls it work was quite exceptional. alfred-and-sulu.jpg Chennai is a city of some 8 million people. It is a busy buzzing mass of humanity. The first thing that any traveller to India will notice is the amount of bicycles and motor cycles and buses on the road and of course the legendary white Morris Cowley the enduring symbol of a Britain that once was the workshop of the world. Today even the great Rover car that once was a symbol of British reliability and value is now being touted around the Industrialts of the world to see if one will take pity on the car workers of Longbridge . Its ironic that it now looks as though China will end up coming to the rescue of the workers of Birmingham. Talking about cars and cities, it seems as though every driver in the Medras is anxious to peep his horn. How they know whose who I will never know. For the next week however we will have no need to drive we will hand our lives and decision making powers over to Alfred who has already put together our every move for the next week. We arrived at the Thacker's flat a spacious apartment in one of the better districts of the city. Sulu Alfred's wife welcomed us and had a light supper she had prepared. We were glad that our hostess could see we were tired and didn't insist that we stay up to get further acquainted, by this time it was into the small hours of the morning we more than happy to go to sleep in an air-conditioned room. Next morning Alfred explained to me that his neighbours across the street were rich gold dealers from Arabia. Outside their house on the pavement I could see a man at a table ironing clothes. Further down the same street you can come across a tailor crossed legged working his sewing machine. India has an economy built on small time services. You can even get your washing picked up from the door by the dobbie women, however if you have any delicate clothing it might be best not to pass it on. It will come back clean but perhaps a bit more thread bare. The women wash the clothes the traditional way beating them against the huge flat stones at the side of the river that have been used for centuries to clean clothes.
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