First Besant Nagar Walkabouts

After all the unpacking (of cords and plugs and adapters whose functions I can’t quite remember) and setting up and moving furniture and endless shopping trips (for paper towels and smart TVs and teak desks and aluminum foil and newfound snacks that open worlds of unknown spices, as well as the city’s complete stock of power strips) getting to know how to work with our housekeeper, Shanthi, (it turns out that cilantro, which Sarah can’t stomach, is known as coriander leaf here, so it showed up in our first chicken biryani and raita since we had mistakenly specified “no cilantro, please,” and of course Shanthi had nodded agreeably–I loved both dishes, sorry Sarah), I finally had a chance to get reacquainted with my camera and take a couple of walks with our temporary driver, Gopi, around our new Besant Nagar neighborhood and the adjacent fishing village just south of Elliot’s Beach. Everyone we met seemed happy to let me capture their smiles–some even asked me to take their picture and bring them a print–but my heat/humidity/sweat tolerance still needs development, so I’ve limited my forays to about an hour each so far. (For my Facebook friends, you will have seen some of these images but not all.)

Outside one of the temples around the corner

I hope to become a regular and recognized stroller around Besant Nagar and to meet some of the same folks frequently. This young woman was sitting in front of the temple on Mahatma Gandhi Road, one of the main thoroughfares leading to Elliot’s beach. By the way, the header photo is of a bicycle cart hauler who helped guide us as we had to stop traffic to back into the narrow lane at Mani’s & Co up in Royapettah where I bought my British teak desk that dates from before Independence.

I’ll let the photos tell their stories.

A municipal worker at the street side water pump.
A shoemaker and his family.
Walking along our street balancing a magnificent load of plants! He gave me a huge smile when he noticed me but those exposures were worse than this one. Sorry!
A hip fisherman mending his nets
Washing the clothes at the fishing village
She wanted to go inside!
More laundry at the fishing village
The beach dogs know how to make the best use of the boats
Cleaning the night’s catch
Really? Some looks are universal and timeless . . . I remember getting this one a lot back in high school . . .
Street dogs take napping seriously
Thank YOU!

We passed this gentleman once and he seemed deep in thought so I didn’t want to bother him. When we passed him a second time he made eye contact so I asked and he posed for a few exposures. Once finished, I said “nandri,” which is Tamil for thanks, and he responded “Thank YOU!” I learned later that Gopi was telling folks that nandri was the only word I knew. He also said I was writing a book, so that increased most folks’ interest but left me unaware until a guy tending nets down on the beach asked me what the book was about, what other books I had written, who my publisher was, and if I had visited the Theosophical Society bookshop yet! At least I had good answers for all but the last question.

So many new faces and new places, not to mention tai chi and/or yoga most evenings this week, and meeting a handsome and gracious young man at the relaxing Yin Yoga session with Nora Lim of “Think off the Mat,” at her flat overlooking the Bay in Thiruvanmiyur with a background mantra of the gently booming surf–be sure to check out the video of us at the link. He was the only person I didn’t recognize among the handful gathered there, and as we chatted after the practice, he mentioned he was starting a new project in Kerala . . . a film . . . and that he was an actor. It turns out he is a well-known south Indian movie star and singer, Dulquer Salmaan, known as DQ, and who has a business degree from . . . Purdue!

The world keeps getting smaller yet broader as we find ourselves becoming more familiar and comfortable with our surroundings, the incessant crowds and endless honking traffic, the beautiful smiles, the call to prayer throughout the day, the litter everywhere, the striking temples on nearly every block, the cows blithely stepping in front of madly painted lorries and creaking buses as if they owned the road (which they rather do), the brotherhood of street dogs (don’t make eye contact or speak to one or he’ll follow you for blocks, nosing your leg from time to time) the energy and enterprise constantly in motion at foot-treadle sewing machines, at net-mending and fish-gutting in the fishermen’s village, at jasmine stringing and uttapam frying everywhere, even as we continue to stumble while discovering more of the true ways of this world . . .




Author: David Hassler

David M. Hassler was fortunate enough to have become a relatively rare male Trailing Spouse when his talented wife Sarah accepted a job teaching music in the elementary division of the American International School in Chennai, India. His role includes, first of all, serving as her everything wallah, but also allows him time for exploring, discovering, and sharing new places, new faces, and new tastes around Chennai, throughout south India, and beyond. David M. Hassler is a long-time member of the Indiana Writers Center Faculty and holds an MFA from Spalding University. His work has been published in Maize and the Santa Fe Writers' Project. He served as a Student Editor for The Louisville Review and as Technical Editor for Writing Fiction for Dummies. He is currently Managing Editor for Flying Island, an online literary journal. He is co-author of Muse: An Ekphrastic Trio, and Warp, a Speculative Trio, and future projects include A Distant Polyphony, a collection of linked stories about music and love, memories and loss; And on the Eighth Day, A Tale of the Last Time Traveler, a riff on classic Sci Fi; and To Strike a Single Hour, a Civil War novel that seeks the truth in one of P T Barnum's creations. He is a founding partner in Boulevard Press.

10 thoughts on “First Besant Nagar Walkabouts

  1. How interesting, I am totally enjoying the reading and pictures. Please tell Sarah hello from her classmate Susan. Looking for the next post already.

  2. The photos are as lovely as your thoughts about this new and varied culture for you two . I am really enjoying reading your chapters. It will indeed make a marvelous book!

    1. Thanks Gail! We are truly loving it here . . . Even the crazy traffic jam coming home about 6pm from shopping after school when a heavy rain coupled with a four-day holiday weekend (Independence Day is Tuesday) created a frenzied gridlock throughout the city . . .

  3. I’m enjoying this so much! More, write more! 😉
    Please say hi to Sarah, and tell her she better get used to cilantro, cause I’ll have cilandtro om everything when I come to visit! Hehe

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