Monday, 2 April 2007

First morning in Madras: The Beach and Around

After a few weeks back home in Delhi it was time for another trip to a completely different part of India: The southern metropol of Madras, or Chennai as it is formally known these days (to my dismay). I went to meet up with a group of people from Denmark, but more about that later. First morning I went out on my own to get a feel for the city.

I started by going to the area around South Beach Road. There is a lot of different things going on here so I wasn't let down. Here is a political parade marking some cause or another. Red and black are the colours of fiercely nationalistic Tamil Nadu and all of the major parties use these colours, so it is hard to tell them apart.

In general politics in Tamil Nadu are colourful and exceptional even by Indian standards. Tamils are known to establish personal cults of their favourite (Tamil) actors, sometime worshipping them as semi-Gods. Thus it is little surprise that every single Chief Minister since India's independence - except one - has had ties to the film industry. Also it is little surprise that many of these have used their easy cinema-based popularity as a cover for being corrupt and oppressive. What you see above is the memorial celebrated perhaps the most popular and most corrupt of these actors-turned-politicians: A man simply known by his initials: MGR. Liberals consider his rule a dark age in Tamil Nadu's history, but MGR is still revered by many people, including many of the rural poor, who were hurt the most by MGR's policies.

Across the street from MGR's memorial is this impressive building, which as far as I understand is part of the University of Madras. It is also a testament to Madras' colonial history. For a while this was centre of British power in India. Administrative power was quickly moved further north (First to Calcutta, later to Delhi) but Madras remained an important port and commercial hub, and is today India's 4th largest city. But in fact there was very little here when the British first arrived, which makes the renaming efforts all the more silly.

From the University I walked a bit down South Beach Road. Once again I met quite a few people, who let me take (demanded) portraits. These three ladies were the first I got in touch with. I have no idea what the lady to the right is doing with her face.

Then I was approached by this man, who is an archetypal Tamil male. Very dark skin, a thick head of very dark hair and of course the mandatory moustache, virtually every man down here carries around proudly. His facial features are very typically Tamil also.

Next up was a couple of ladies in green, who - for reasons unknown to me - were holding green flags.

By now I was starting to attract large crowds with everyone fighting to get into view of the lens. Quite a few interesting characters on this picture.

After taking 50 pictures or so of random strangers I headed down to the beach. Marina Beach in Madras is one of the broadest city beaches in the world - but unfortunately not one of the cleanest as you might be able to tell from the picture.

It is not surprising that the beach of Madras is not very clean as well as quite polluted. As you can see in the picture above it is very close to Madras' industrial harbour and that is not all. All sorts of sewage water and industrial waste is led into the sea around this area. Needless to say bathing is NOT advised here...

...and equally needless to say, the locals bathe in it anyway. They do seem to enjoy themselves.

However, the main attraction of Marina Beach is not the bathing anyway. It is quite simply the life and activity you find here - especially at night, but even in the hot midday sun when I got here. Here a Tamil family is enjoying having a parakeet tell them their fortunes, by picking tarot cards.

But even better you can meet all your favourite Indian stars right here at Marina Beach! Here is a good selection of Tamil and Bollywood (Hindi speaking) actors and actresses. Number two from your left is the former Chief Minister, MGR, whose memorial I visited 300 metres down the road.

But the best is yet to come. Not only can you meet your stars here. You can have your picture taken with them, as if they were standing right there with you in your living room. Fantastic isn't it? Those stars are a little bit two-dimensional though.

A young boy at a beach stall has clearly been learning a few moves from his neighbours, the movie stars. Perhaps an aspiring actor himself.

This guy, sitting in a small park next to the beach, was less full of himself. But he had a very colourful selection of little toy windmills. I liked those.

And finally a little bonus picture. No, this is not taken in the water at Marina Beach. I do not have any underwater gear and I seriously doubt anything this beautiful could live there anyway. This is a picture taken in the airport on my way to Madras. I liked the picture and although not taken in Madras, I thought it fit in well with the beach theme. So here it is.


oreneta said...

One of the things I love about traveling is the sort of childlike confusion about what is goingon around you. I so often find myself in the middle of some event, and I relly only have the thinnest understanding of what the heck is going on...

Esben said...

Yeah very true. And I think nowhere in the world does that happen more often than in India. You constantly run into parades and other gatherings that could be anything from a Guru's birthday, to a wedding to a political demonstration. You just never know.