miercuri, 9 martie 2011

Several Small Things

I have so little to tell these days, it has taken me a week to find a few paragraphs.

The days are still balmy, the evenings breezy, but veyil kalam, the hot season, is sending out warnings: the sharp beam of light that gets between the curtains somehow just after sunrise in the hot season has found the bottom of the bed, and is creeping up toward my eyes. Long twigs have begun to fall on the badminton court: the crows are getting ready to nest again. It’s all so inexorable.

My gardener, who lived in a slum called Thideer Nagar ('thideer' means sudden, or instant, so the name means something like Sudden Town. I assume that it refers to the way slums can come up overnight on empty ground, like a crop of mushrooms) near the Lighthouse, has been shifted along with thousands of his neighbours to a new, government-built slum clearance project in Thoraipakkam, south of the city. He hasn’t turned up for work for two days. Mary, whose son was also shifted, says that the housing is better there. Instead of palm-leaf huts, there are four-story buildings of one-room flats, with electricity and toilets attached (but no water connections indoors). But residents must pay Rs. 250 a month rent, and must take long bus rides to get to work.

An English couple visits Chennai every year at this time. I love them. They’re old enough to be my parents, and I think of them in a confused way as a family/friend combination – an uncle and aunt, perhaps. Coming from a nuclear family of four, I have to guess what extended families are like.

They have just returned from a side-trip to Kuala Lumpur, where they were guests of ‘minor royalty’. They rang up yesterday morning and asked me to drop by their room in one of the clubs here. The club was very pleasant in the morning, full of trees and old, white-painted buildings. Silent, no one around. They gave me a bag containing packets of yeast, rice crackers, several cheeses (dry, sharp cheddar best of all – and Brie and Camembert). We sat and chatted for an hour about their trip, and what the world is coming to, and so on.

In KL they had been guests at a dinner party, where the guests were seated strictly according to social hierarchy. At the head of the table was a Tengku (I don’t know Malaysian nobility, but never mind). Another Malaysian guest, further down the table, had been a senior diplomat, and had lived all over the world. After the dinner was over, someone from higher up the table said of the ex-diplomat, "I don't suppose he ever sat down with Tengkus before."