Chennai Entry 3: The Skirt Soaking Incident


A terrible, horrible, no good thing happened to me today. Sat at a typesetter’s desk, watching him add author corrections from over his shoulder, I became aware that the seat I was sitting on was not only warm, but wet. You know how it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish the two? The more time went on, the more convinced I became that something was wetting my skirt through. I’d received the seat from the previous typesetting lady we’d visted – she’d passed me her own. So there I was, listening to the curly-haired Victor in front of me explain how this acronym becomes this abbreviation, and inside I’m thinking “Sweat or worse? Sweat or worse?! SWEAT OR WORSE?!” I have no idea whether the poor lady just had a chronic rear perspiration problem or a ruptured bladder, but not incidentally as we left the aisle, a man with a mop walked past us. And I spent the rest of the afternoon avoiding the gentle wafts of indeterminate smell emanating from my beautiful tulip skirt. Rotten.

Otherwise, an excellent first working day. Typesetter1 is either staffed by naturally lovely people, or people really keen to impress us. We were collected from our hotel lobby by Nisha and Chitra. Nisha is the operations manager, and impressed me mightily – she’s obviously an intelligent, capable woman to have risen to manager of a large typesetting business. She has the kind of wide mouth that allows her to smile constantly while she talks, and occasionally she widens her eyes and lifts her eyebrows too, which in combination with the perma-smile makes her look like she’s tremendously excited about whatever she’s discussing. It’s cheering just to be in the same room with her. Chitra is a smaller, slightly tubby lady in charge of the copyediting team, also very cheerful. They both greeted us with bunches of flowers and bottles of Pepsi as we walked in.

We have our own small office and a computer each, so I’m not doing too badly so far at keeping up with my real work. We had a general presentation on the company this morning, then walked round shaking everyone’s hand. I remember thinking that there were a LOT of tiny women in India (perhaps just a lot of tiny copyediting women in India?) and also recoiling from the damp, limp handshake of one of the input team, but the overall impression was definitely positive. They’re very friendly and very eager to please. In the afternoon we did a live demo of running an article through their computer system in the different stages – during which the Seat Substance Catastrophe occurred – after which we finished up with a short review meeting back in the manager’s office and a spell on the internet. We toddled off at 5pm, when our UK counterparts were coming back from lunch, and I thought it wasn’t a bad deal overall.

Before dinner we went to explore the large shopping mall next door to the hotel. I’m still getting used to the general griminess of everything, but the shops themselves were clean and full of bright colours. They’re also full of proprietors who stand outside the shop and beg you to have a look inside as you walk past. We must stick out a MILE as tourists. It might’ve been the camera and wallet round my wrist. Or, you know, being white. Once you’re inside, the trick is not to let them get on a roll. The minute you hesitate before refusing a scarf colour, they assume you like it and whip it out of the plastic to show you, let you touch it, and – unless you’re firm – actually wrap it round your neck in various guises. Once one scarf is out, they all have to come out. The scent of sales success is in the air, and before long you’re stood helpless and vacillating before a life size mountain of scarfery. Now I am a big fan of scarves, so ordinarily this would’ve been heaven, but the pleading in their eyes and the guilt about how long it would take them to put every single one back in its plastic case made it a rather uncomfortable experience. I’m fairly sure one of the vendors was hitting on me – he definitely asked whether I had a mobile phone in Chennai, and expressed surprise that I was married so young – but then again he might’ve just been keen to sell me those tasselled bed sheets.

Two more excellent curries this evening, and Margaret and I are getting on very well. Just got some things to look over before I return to Bill Bryson, and anticipate the opening of my second going-away card tomorrow…


2 thoughts on “Chennai Entry 3: The Skirt Soaking Incident

  1. I am worried about all these curries…
    I went to school in Cyprus and we had bright orange bucket seats, designed it would seem expressly to gather all the sweat off your back and possibly to generate more what with all the plastic and pool it by your bottom. I am not sure air conditioning had been invented back then(!) we certainly didn’t have it and it was hot.
    Many times in my teens I sat in horror thinking sweat or worse.. you know the sort of worse that might stand out a mile if I stood up and yet I couldn’t stay sat.. oh the stress those chairs caused.


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