Another Sonia Gandhi post

My latest coven of photos can be viewed here. If you have any difficulties, try again while logged out of Facebook.

M’colleague Elisabeth said to me the other day, “What is it with you and Sonia Gandhi?” And it’s true: the woman is cropping up everywhere – rickshaw drivers babble about her, volunteers wearing headscarves look suspiciously like her…

One afternoon this week, I found myself writing a letter to Sonia Gandhi’s son, in which I applied to stand in the next parliamentary election as a Congress Party candidate. I was doing this not on my own behalf, you may be surprised to hear, but for the younger brother of one of the gap-year company staff, whose initial attempt was so abysmal that I felt it was best to start again from scratch (“I am helping join 500 youngsters onto Congress … I advertise compete on flexible printed boards,” were chief amongst his/my qualifications).

I look forward to seeing the effect which my forgery has upon Indian and world history in the coming decades.

Death on the roads

One morning, on the way to breakfast, there was a musical parade coming down the road, with drumming and dancing and flowers and fancy costumes. The group I was with all stopped to take photos. One of the men at the front of the festivities beckoned us over into the middle of the road, and jovially shook our hands, “Hello, how are you? What is your native place?”

It was at this point that we noticed the uncovered dead body which the funeral procession was carrying aloft. And narrowly avoided a similar fate, given the cars and rickshaws swarming all around us on the busy main road.

The Swansea of the East

I’m not quite sure how or why the British volunteers referring to the fishing village of Rameswaram as ‘Swansea’ but the name decidedly stuck. It’s a tiny place on a little peninsular sticking out towards Sri Lanka. Informed that we would be visiting a nearby island “in a van” we were all expecting some form of state-of-the-art amphibious transport.

On the discovery that “island” in fact meant “even more tiny narrow peninsulary thing” we were only slightly disappointed, because it was a truly incredible, bumpy bouncy bus-ride along an unbelievably narrow, sandy causeway; at the end of the road, the Bay of Bengal converged with the Indian Ocean, and there were some pretty incredible zig-zag waves. Meanwhile, a middle-aged Indian woman in an immaculate sari stood passively surveying the swimming volunteers, expressionlessly examining bikinis and generally being rather creepy.

That’s some cheek!

The weirdest thing I have ever seen was the festival going on in Rameswaram on Saturday. It started off with just a very noisy, crowded procession: nothing unusual there. Men were dancing in the street to the accompaniment of drum music; OK so far.

Some people (of both genders) were wandering around with 2m metal spears through their faces, pierced through both cheeks. They were also dancing, with some zeal. A few select men were suspended upside down from carnival floats by ropes attached to fishing hooks hooked through the skin of their backs, also with rods in their faces.

Some people just wandering the streets had gaping holes in each cheek, clear evidence of their activities earlier in the day. I don’t know how they drank without liquid running out the sides of their faces, but I guess it’s none of my business really.

Despite all this, us visitors were still the focus of attention, everybody preferring to take photographs of us than the ludicrous display going on in the streets! (In fact, later in the day, three little boys, perhaps 10 or 11, jumped onto our tour bus to take a picture of all the white visitors, and when we began to question what they were doing, one of them, with admirable presence of mind, called out, “I am Government of India!”)

Portrait photograph above by Carina Ringive

Nearly finished!

I’m now most of the way through my last week in Madurai, and will be leaving on Monday to swan about more of South India, pith helmet in hand (or ‘on head’ really…). First stop will be re-visiting Akshaya School from the very start of my trip, and I dare say there’ll be plenty of interest happening there. I’ve already received this email from the Principal, written in beautiful 18th-century language combined with txt abbrvtns.

Dear Gabriel,

I am indeed rejoiced to hear from u.We miss u very much.But I  am nevertheless glad that u r making your visit along with ur great parents. All r eagerly waiting to meet u all.Please remember me to dad &mum.Thank u for the condolences on  my bereavement. [Her uncle “expired” since I left two months ago.]

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