Saturday, February 18, 2006

Mr Robert's Neighborhood

More updates on the world famous Street Kids of Madras
Triplicane, Madras, Tamil Nadu

Dear Robert:
Poor Ramu. He keeps trying to get my attention. I feel pulled, each time I step out onto the broken pavement of Triplicane, as though I am in a three ring circus, and Ramu - a fairly quiet, older rickshaw driver with a chipped front tooth - nearly always loses out as the beggars and baby dramas compete for Madam's attention. He asked if he could have your email, the magic link to prosperity (so it seems) . He says he has an incorrect addressl for you.

Mari seems to be in Triplicane all the time, showing off her latest baby (one of 2) and looking quite happy, proud, and well dressed (by the standards of her socioeconomic strata) in her "big Lady" sari (albeit a polyester one - very popular). (Explanation for foreigners: Indian women do not wear sari, generally, till they are married. Particularly in the lower castes, they wear sari exclusively after marriage. Dress codes of all types are more liberal among the affluent.)

Same for Mumtaz. I see both of them making the rounds, baby in tow, nearly every day. I think they enjoy their Lady status now. Whatever they tell you otherwise, they are not desperate for anything.

I asked everyone I interviewed whether they had a message for Mr Robert. Mumtaz wants money so they can purchase the "house" they now live in (two tiny rooms of brick and plaster, with a corrugated tin roof and ceilings so low only a Tamil could stand erect without hitting the ceiling fan. No running water. Toilet around the corner shared with hundreds of others). Mari owns the house, but wants money for repairs - just paint and plaster, cosmetic stuff, nothing crucial. Someone should tell her that exposed brick is very chic now among the rich Americans. Vela and Nagamma want money for new dresses, undoubtedly so they can sell them immediately for drug money.

Prabhu was the only one that thought for just a split second, then silently shook his head No. As though, no, why would I need anything from Mr Robert?

I printed some of the best of the photos to give one each to Mumtaz, Mari, Prabhu, Jennifer and some to VP and family. VP's grandmother in law is my favourite, though I can't speak a word to her except "Vannakam." She is more than 85 years old, only 23 kgs and still working in a garment factory. She married at age 12 to a 25 year old man she had never even seen a photo of. Muniamman -a very old fashioned Tamil name, no one gives that anymore) is originally from Kancheepuram (an historic temple town, steeped in tradition, just south of Madras) and says she had three children.

I questioned VP more closely - in her day, it was common to have far more children, and also common for them to not all live. In fact, it turned out she had given birth to six children and only 3 survived. Muniamman is tiny, with giant round glasses that overwhelm her face and one jagged tooth that sticks out from her otherwise empty mouth. Her skin is nearly the exact colour of her dark brown nylon sari. She wears one enormous gold nosering. In her day it would have been common to wear 2, and I ask about it. Muniamman reports that she sadly had to sell one of the matching pair for money. She had been wearing the pair most of her life. They were probably part of her marriage dowry.

Muniamman, Jennifer, and VP are my favourite people in Triplicane. They are a nice reminder that once you get off the main drag with all the beggars and rickshaw bandits, there are normal families just making ends meet in their modest fashion.

I have a lot of work to do before leaving Triplicane area - I want to spend a day with Jennifer, investigate the child Zardozi labourers in the sweatshops next door, and interview and photograph the many Muslims in the neighborhood. Many Indian Muslim neighborhoods are far off the foreigners' beaten path but this one is smack in the middle. That means they are accustomed to seeing us and speaking with us, so it may be easier to get to know them than usual. And of course, I have to check out the drug rehab program for Nagamma.

More later,


Amod said...

FYI they are also advertising industrial glue. I guess that's what it takes to bring these stories to people. Hopefully if anyone clicks on those banners and buys the glue they'll use it for sticking and not sniffing.

- Amod

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

I have to get into Google Adsense somehow to specifically block these ads and just have not had the hour or so it takes yet to do it. Sorry.

Shinu Mathew said...

Why bother? NEway who's gonna read all those filthy ads at top? I never looked at them nor clicked.
What happened to that Financial times article? done with?

King Amdo said...

re: beggers.

When I was in India I remember experiencing states of consciousness that the dieties/Brahman showed me. One recurrent one was the reality (that was also temporarily transmitted to the peeps around me also) of the reality of collective consciousness that existed in pre colonial times...then what always happened was that the modern reality switched in, and then the thing (transmitted to the people around me as we were one at this time) was not to get overwelmed with anger at what these scum have done to India. But not to forget and sell out....perhaps take appropriate direct action. This magic type stuff was validated for me only very recently on usenet...someone posted up by the very first viceroy of India...something along these lines..."In order for us (to make money) from India, we will have to break Indian society...there are no beggers here..."

Sounds unbelievable when you experience modern India yes?

..and the solution? Inida ideally this would be a foculisation of society in a more auspicious way...primarily the starting point being consciousness...a change of mass consciousness towards post apocalyspe...freely sharing and is this consciousness change enacted...thats the crazy thing...saints do it! (scitzaphrenics in the west)

Om Shiva!

(note this is me thinking not verbilising)

King Amdo said... in other words taking cannabis and meditation will change the reality around you (if your karma is such) much more thasn working like a christian :~

(but don't forget to allow the reality change to exist when you go outside and see the results and join in also!)

India is so cosmic...yes yes I know, all a hippy head trip, my (borderline pyscriatric disease)illusion in the west.


King Amdo said...

There are no beggers in Kumoan that I can remember Coroline....its also nice and cool, and the place that Indians go for spiritual realisation. (cannabis or no).

Amod said...

Suddenly King Amdo is all over! He's killing me. I'm falling off my chair laughing...

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

For KingAmdo: In fact, I`m pretty sure begging has always been a part of traditional Indian society (way before it was called ``India`). Like everything, it assumed different proportions after interaction with foreigners.

It was certainly not invented by foreigners, though they have unwittingly exacerbated it. Ancient travelers to the region describe beggars outside the city gates, and so forth.

The ``Everything Western is evil, everything Eastern is good, pure and spiritual`` cliche is a fallacy created by western neo-Orientalists.

byronic501 said...

I went to the "street kids" link you posted...
Three weeks ago, I was in Triplicane staying at the Himalaya Hotel for a couple days while waiting for my flight to Mumbai. (I was there the night of some crazy Muslim festival that overtook the streets Feb 8th or was it the 9th?) One night I was eating idly at Saravana Bahavan across from the movie theater, anyway. This very tall (6'4") very white gentleman (in a euro mullet) who spoke Tamil and sounded like french or german came in with about 6 or 8 Tamil kids in tow. They all sat at a table and ate. The kids (looked to be 12 to 18 yrs old or so) all ate and the guy was treating. One of the woman had an infant. The kids looked like street kids, but well dressed for the Saravana occassion. I wish I had talked to them and found out what the guys trip was? He seemed possibly a missionary or socal worker? Then again he seemed possibly romantically involved with the lady with the baby, as she was feeding the mullet man from her soup with her spoon? Well that's India...
On getting back to the states (California) I read your journal about the street kids and was intrigued and looked at the photos. I don't think it was the same kids. And second look, no it was not.
YOur posts are great, thanks. And me and my friend are involved with a drug treatment facility in bangalore (I'm byronic on IM and my friend is bijapuri) its called the "freedom foundation" you can look it up on the web. This month they are planning the opening of an all woman's drug treatment facility. I think though that these girls may need a longer term treatment with intensive aftercare?
I wish I had known we were in madras at the same time. I would have tried to call or meet up for a dosa!

go get em!!!
I just got a blogger but my main journal is lj
my journal is at:

King Amdo said...

Whatever, that was the comment from the blightyworld big wig U live in hell and don't know it :~

...and whos to blame?



Ranjani said...

Came across your blog through a friend.I study in ACJ on Ellis road in Triplicane.

Very fascinating posts.Might I be able to contact you?