Art

Photo Essay: Home in South India

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I always look forward to any days I get to spend in India. Growing up I had the fortune of visiting nearly every summer with my family–as I’ve gotten older, the trips have been fewer and further apart, but I cherish them more now than I did when I was younger. I spend my time oscillating between helping my mother and grandmother cook and laying on the couch, my legs up, reading through a stack of books. Cousins and relatives entering and exiting at will. We’re all trying in vain to avoid the heat, sitting on the cool marble floor with a stainless steel tumbler of cold water and the fan spinning in circles above us.

When I find the courage to leave the house, I am instantly sticky–not considering deodorant, sunscreen, or sunglasses the way I would in the states. Wading through the humidity to go to the market, to visit a relative, or to get coconut water from a woman outside the building. She sits, sickle in hand, with a huge pile of green and yellow coconuts on a thatched tarp.

In Besant Nagar, near one of my favorite restaurants, there are women who sell beads on the road. I always make a point to stop by their stalls and pick up earrings, bracelets, necklaces for myself and for friends. They tell me the price in Tamil and I struggle with the transaction, fumbling with the rupee notes. They know I’m foreign, and if they’re ripping me off, I deserve it.

One of my favorite parts of visiting is watching animals pass me by on the street. A dog taking a nap mid-afternoon under the sun; a rooster strutting, showing off his colors (for whom?); cows ambling down the road, often parking themselves in inconvenient locations, like right in front of a car or the entrance to a home. But cows and their hind-sides are venerated anyhow, and that harmony is special to me.

I enjoy watching prayer as it happens in public, the shrines on every corner. There is woman who has her workplace under a tree right outside my grandparents’ home–she’s decorated the trunk with portraits of Lakshmi and Saraswati. She sits on a stool, shaded by the branches above her, weaving her jasmine flowers together. The men with their stalls near the temple have huge, ten foot long garlands hanging, heavy and bright. In the evenings there are parades in cities and villages, where deities come out on rathas and people gather with their hands pressed together. Eyes closed tight or peering over the crowd to get a better view.

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