Monday, 4 August 2014

Getting into the rhythm

I'm just back from a swift dip in the pool - it was dusk and bats zigzagged in the air above us, their flight erratic, diving between my son and my heads, so close that a collision seemed inevitable, much like the local rickshaw drivers on the roads. A mongoose strutted down the path beside the pool, darting round the table and chairs, unperturbed by our proximity, its striped flanks blending with the shadows - hard not to think of Rikki-tikki-tavi, the story by Rudyard Kipling about an Indian mongoose, which my father read to me as a child. I am definitely in India.

We have had a busy 24 hours. Last night we feasted on Southern Indian food - delicious coconut scented vegetable curry with white, dome-shaped pancakes; prawn smeared in spices and baked in an oven; lamb curry with tomato and a rich gravy; sauces tingling with tamarind, ginger and garlic; dosa the fermented paper-thin crepes made of rice batter and black lentils; and milk puddings dripping with syrup and sprinkled with nuts. We listened to some local musicians as we ate - two drummers and a man playing a flute. It was a wonderful evening. I was woken by drumming in the early hours - first the drumming of heavy rain and later what sounded like a protest march thrummed its way along the street outside our hotel. The streets are constantly active - people and animals always on the move. Yesterday I had watched five rats creep out of their hole beneath the raised pavement by a tree to eat the remains of a discarded coconut, while they themselves were observed by a keen eyed crow. Today I saw two crows eating the carcass of a rat. The circle of life is more obvious here than it is in London.

Animals featured again today, when we went first to see the Hindu temples at Mahabalipuram (also called Mamallapuram) and Kanchipuram. The Pallava kings built some astounding temples without using mortar - however, rulers are similar across the globe, they like to leave their mark on the buildings they create, to remind people of their power and influence. The Pallavas had a lion as their symbol and there were some wonderful carved lions standing proud around the outside of temples and appearing to hold up pillars. 

I will write more about the temples that we saw at Mamallapuram in my next post, as they were extraordinary - certainly deserving of their status as world heritage sites. 

But I shall leave you with some more rats - carved on the 25 meter long 12 meter high open air bas-relief known as Arjuna's Penance. It depicts people and creatures and, amongst other things, demonstrates all of our need for water. There are some extraordinary carvings of animals, including elephants at a waterhole, but a scene that has stuck with me is a cat seen in a pose mimicking Arjuna's penance pose, whilst rats scamper around it. To me it looks as though the cat is dancing. There is a pattern and rhythm to life and I am beginning to retune and dance to a different melody than that I follow at work in London.

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