The devil, they say, is in the details. Meaning I guess, that, while something might seem straightforward or simple at first, there is more beneath the surface, or, maybe that the real essence isn’t in the grand design but in the finer points, the nuggets that blend and knit together somehow to create the fabric of the whole. Mies van der Rohe, the famous architect, supposedly coined the phrase originally as “God is in the details,” with the emphasis on details–and getting them right–paying enormous dividends in the overall stature and success of his building designs. Over time, though, the usage has shifted to blame old Nick for the truism that when things go wrong, it’s usually because someone didn’t pay attention to a crucial detail and an entire project–or relationship–went awry. Curious shift in point of view . . .
I tend to prefer the version with the connotation of a gathering, an assemblage, where all the minutia we usually don’t notice somehow add up to create an atmosphere we can feel, subtly beneath our consciousness, yet always there, providing, in our case with India and Chennai and Besant Nagar, an energy and vibrancy that are palpable, that tingle beneath the skin. By the way, these photos were all found within a ten to fifteen minute walk from our house.
They also say that, in writing fiction, well rendered details can evoke the reader’s senses and bring the writing to life as we not only see, but hear and smell and touch and taste the world of the story. My brief words and photos here can’t begin to truly share the constantly shifting aromas as we walk the streets, the beach, the cafes . . . the delicate sweet of jasmine and the tang of so many unknown spices and the green rawness of the ocean and the strangling cloy of the garbage bins . . . the crows debating like politicians and the chance music of mysterious and hidden birds, the lilt of Tamil spoken at a million kilometers an hour, and the silver rustle of the leaves of the tamarind trees and the neem trees and yes, even the cannonball trees. . . the startling burn of the heat and the twist of the astounding sweet of so many new and unexpected tastes from veg kadai to gulab jamun to fresh-from-the-coconut water and daily sambar and idli and avial and drumstick and who knows what might be next. (Okay, the Hyatt Regency is doing Oktoberfest now so maybe a couple steins of pilsner and a bratwurst with a load of kraut.)
My walkabouts usually tend to focus on greeting and chatting and photographing those who are up and at it far earlier than the average–coffee shops don’t open til 11 or maybe a few at 10–but I’ve also collected all these details and more . . . And I’ll soon share new series of the ubiquitous signs, of the daily kolams, of the trees who refuse to give up their preferred resting place in the street, of all my chums the street dogs and, yes, the beach horses, plus all the energy and industry of the foot-treadle sewing machine man, the ironing man as he fills his heavy ironbox with glowing coals, the coconut man as he scoops the meat and pours the water for 20 rupees each, and the scissors and knife sharpener and the paper collector as they croon their way walking or pedaling their carts along the streets . . .
And of course there are those other details, the ones I don’t photograph and rarely share: the open wound of beggars nearly everywhere, generally mild in manner and mostly appreciative–an older woman bowed her head into my chest briefly in quiet thanks the other day; the sweepers who diligently shove the dirt across the roads, bent at the waist to work their short-handled brooms while neglecting the trash and litter, leaving it as treasure for the rag-pickers and fodder for the crows and the dogs and the cows; and those who have no access to restrooms, private or public, who simply take their nature breaks (yes, all of them) wherever it suits, including the open sand at the beach; and, yes, we are embarrassed to admit it, but the smooth-talking fellow claiming to be our new neighbor who scammed us (and two other new teachers) into donating a good bit of money (by local standards) so that his temple could feed the poor children . . . but that is truly another story.
So, yes, the details are where the story comes to life, the context and weave of all the senses, but it is still those wonderful faces and smiles that step out and connect against that backdrop . . . like the proud scissors man who stopped his chanting call to chat with me and show me his wheel on a bright sunny morning.
And, with the surf running lightly in the background, another new face, tethered at the beach near the Arupadai Murugan Temple a few blocks away, waiting for his breakfast. (A friend who lives right there gives his owner oats from time to time)
There is such a treasure of tiny marvels to see and hear and smell and touch and taste every day, so let’s just say that life is in details . . .