This was our last Saturday in Chennai – well, not really, but next Saturday will be spent packing my suitcase and trying not to bounce with excitement. My stay here came to feel rather more like an endurance test than an exciting experience last week, as our findings at typesetter 2 were depressingly and awkwardly dismal, and my stomach became more and more dissatisfied. Now I know I only have a week left, however, I’ve relaxed a bit, stopped planning every detail of my returning airport scene, and started to look around me with interest again.
This morning we took an auto-rickshaw to the shopping centre. When I first saw these buzzing, three-wheeled yellow boxes the first night I arrived, I thought they were probably the most unsafe vehicle I could imagine on Indian roads, except perhaps a pair of stilts. Well, my assessment was correct, but as we hurtled round corners and jolted through potholes, dodged motorbikes and fended off the driver’s attempts to take us sightseeing, I found myself rather enjoying it. That’s the problem with driving in this country: you emerge unscathed through so many logically crashworthy situations that, given enough time, you start to feel you’re invincible. Force yourself into a tight space and everyone will make room for you. Pull straight into oncoming traffic and the flow will neatly divide into two until you catch up. If you feel the need to overtake a bus with a lorry coming in the opposite direction, well, that’s what the hard shoulder’s for. And if in doubt, press your horn. I’ve discovered that a horn beep is less an angry warning and more a friendly reminder along the lines of, hello, here I am on the road as well! Isn’t it great? By the way, I’m about to take up that narrow space next to you. Don’t let your four small children fall off that motorbike when I squeeze in. This is why every vehicle larger than a car has ‘Sound Horn!’ painted on the back: they’d rather hear you than squash you.
We ate lunch at the home of Suriya, the company manager. Their flat was cool and airy, and contained a surprising number of relatives who kept popping up out of corners unexpectedly, including his beautiful four-month-old son. Lunch was good, although my digestive system is staying huffily on the fence for now. After an hour spent looking through their wedding photos and learning about the fascinating customs that make up a Hindu marriage service, we called in at the beach on the way back. It’s not every day you can say that you paddled in the Bay of Bengal, let alone stood by the Bay of Bengal and got accosted by an Ancient Mariner with a monkey in a dress, so a good afternoon all round. Except for the monkey, who looked less than thrilled.