Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mamalapurim and Speak Out, Chennai!

What a great day!

Mamalapurim or Mahabalipuram is a historic site on the Bay of Bengal about an hour outside of Chennai proper.  It's famous among the Thomas Merton-o-philes among us from his Asian Journals.  The five rathas (of the legendary 7) are like an outdoor sculpture gallery in stone.  When the tsunami hit here a few years ago, local people say that as they watched the water recede, before it came inland in 10 foot waves, they watched in awe as the two other rathas were revealed.  They had been hidden by the sea for centuries!

The sculpture is mellowed and damaged by exposure.  All of the buildings you see are carved from stone, not built.  There must have been enormous boulders in this place, you can still see some smaller ones, that were then just carved where they were.  There are no joints or stacked stone, except for the floor.   There was some debate amongst the guides as to whether they were built in the 6th or 7th century, also a long talk to make sure we all understood they meant A.D.

It's a beautifully sensual place.  

It rained while we were there, as it had for Merton.  We ducked into the small interiors at the Shore Temple and the rathas to stay a little dry during the worst of it.  Here's Elizabeth in one of our 5 minute homes.   

We had a very tourist day and the confirmation was the busloads of school kids in uniforms that seemed just ahead of us on every stop.  We missed the Crocodile Bank, it was raining, apparently it's about us investing in our Crocodile friends, not where the crocodiless stash their cash and definitely not a place to buy belts or shoes, CaminoPR!

After a drive through the flooded streets of Chennai, we joined some new friends for a filming of a news talk show called "Chennai Speak Out"  on NDTV Hindu.   We were told it's #2 in the ratings in the area.    They were tackling "Sexual Minorities" today.  That's LGBT or Queer, pronounced CU-EAR in South India. 

That's the panel, plus Gabriel with host Jennifer Arul on the far left.  She was fantastic.   They crafted a well informed, sensitive, honest conversation between the host, panel and audience asking audience members what they think of their LGBT neighbors in Chennai.  She is a brave journalist.  It's not the kind of thing I would normally do, but what a priviledge to be a part of the conversation here.  I learned that Chennai is a "live and let live" town with a reputation for being more conservative than it truly is.  I was impressed by the fierce support of well informed, passionate young and not so young women for their LGBT friends, and the willingness of the audience to speak honestly. 

The most ill informed person in the room, that spoke, was a pastor.  Oh well, and the least tolerant women who spoke were also clearly Christian.  I was wondering whether I looked like a moon rock, or an expat from a  neighboring state.   Riding home half the car was from Kerala, 2/3rds of the panel was Keralite as well.  We are NRK-s, Non Resident Keralites.  All the better for nostalgia and mental health.

Tomorrow, St. Thomas Mount and Gurukul Seminary.

Elizabeth is such a good sport.  She must be over the mad pace and crazy English.  I think she's starting to wag her head involuntarily for yes, no and not really.  We are in the Executive Lounge at the end of a long day, because they serve beer and have wireless, watching the lightning over the Bay of Bengal.  God is good.