E. M. Forster, who wrote A Passage to India, used that short phrase about the essence of connecting “the prose and the passion . . . the beast and the monk . . . ,” and while there is truth to that, it’s even more apt in a broader sense . . .
A couple weekends ago Sarah and I connected with several of the AISC faculty on our first road trip down the ECR for the Covelong Point Surf Music Yoga Festival where we watched real-live genuine-cool surfer dudes in a competition for the first time in our lives; where we sat in meditation at a thatched roof “quiet gardens” with chanting Buddhist monks at 7:30 in the morning; where Sarah undertook a strenuous outdoor yoga session with an international expert from Auroville; where I avoided being taken by a chess hustler (tip: don’t play him); and where we broiled in the sun just long enough to know it was time to cover up!
Then it was the beginning of Ganesha Chaturthi, the ten day festival celebrating the annual return of nearly everyone’s favorite god, the elephant-headed remover of obstacles, where we bought our very own clay Ganesha to be displayed with flowers and offerings, then to be immersed in the water along with thousands of others to dissolve. (We ended up missing the crowds and opting for the environmentally friendly approach and will pot our Ganesha and use the clay to help new plant growth.)
Then it was the conclusion of the Keralan festival of Onam, celebrating the summer harvest, where we were honored to take part in the Onam Sadhya, the traditional feast with a bewildering array of curries, chutneys, pickles, and different varieties of rice all served on a banana leaf. We were guests of expat Brit Peter Claridge (the Chennai Expat Guide) and his wife, Swapnil Midha, who just completed her latest project of voicing the new Audio Tours for Storytrails Chennai. She managed to get us a table at Ente Keralam for the popular event (it’s the best Keralan restaurant in the city and packed on that festival day), and who also taught me, at last, how to eat somewhat correctly with the fingers of my right hand. (If you want to know the secret, please come visit and I’ll show you!) I was proud to wear my new kurta in white and gold, the honored colors of Onam Sadhya, so I fit right in . . . other than dropping about 12% of my lunch on the floor.
Then, midweek, on another of my morning walks, I ventured over to the beach and past the Ashtalakshmi Temple just south of our house. Even though it was a work/school morning, the beach was filled with out of town visitors of all ages, in town for festival, who thrilled at the water’s refreshing chill, the warmth and cling of the sun and sand, and the sheer joy in their sparkling smiles and laughing eyes. Often, when I would ask to take a photo and the person grinned her okay, before I could even set up the shot, several friends would hustle over and snuggle their way in, connecting and hugging and teasing and expanding the frame. Performers all.
My sun and sweat tolerance is still not much over an hour–even as I knelt at the cooling surf’s edge to put the sun behind me and where I came way too close to drenching my camera when an unexpected breaker set its sights on me–but even though I may have felt drained in body, my store of human effervescence was, as always, fully recharged as I shared the smiles and nandris and unknown words of kindness in both directions, with all of these new stranger-friends.
E. M. Forster may not have visioned these spicy dishes and wise, easy manners and kindly gods and endless beaches and all this smiling delight, but his words are spot on: “Only connect . . . .”