Ah, a new day and a new guide. Since we were heading down to Kanchipuram, the Golden City of a Thousand Temples, A&K provided us with a very knowledgeable and patient guide, who would be able to tell us all of the Hindu stories hidden in the temple columns and courtyards. I know this should have been perfect, but Annie and I immediately understood that he would actually expect us to listen to these stories instead of wander off to take photos or buy trinkets. Our suspicions were substantiated on the bus ride when even Alf couldn't listen about one more incarnation of Shiva, and with a twirl and wink, he switched seats with me so fast that I practically got a nose bleed. Elisabeth quickly took Alf's lead and stuck on her earphones, while Annie pointed her camera out the window. With my pad in hand, I earnestly took detailed notes, while secretly hating my bus mates who were dreamily looking out the windows at India passing us by.
Even the best of tour guides get tired, though, so I did have hours to catch glimpses from the window of daily life near Chennai. It was if I was watching a movie, with so many spectacular scenes passing me by so quickly that my mind couldn't fully comprehend any one of them. Each single event witnessed, whether it was bricks being made from clay, clothes being washed in a stream, meals being prepared, or school lessons being taught, was a whole story in itself and not to be retained in the second that I had to register it in my brain. The images that most stand out were the brilliant colors of the women's saris. It didn't matter if the women were working in the fields, sleeping on the roads, or teaching school, most wore colors that stood out vividly against the backdrop of straw, dirt, and water.
When we arrived at the 9th century Ekambareshwar Temple, the temple of Shiva, we were told to take our shoes off on the bus and proceed inside. The 200 foot temple gopuram loomed overhead as we entered a bustling and very old temple. Gilly immediately shepherded us to a spot where he could explain as much Hindu history to us, in what had become plainly clear to him, was our very short, collective attention span. The most impressive part of the temple housed a mango tree believed to be over 3500 years old. Unfortunately, a monsoon recently broke the tree almost in half, and archeologists discovered that the tree was actually only 350 years old. This fact didn't seem to faze anyone however, because the point of the tree has been the story it has represented to Hindu people, and no scientist was going to ruin the good lessons learned in that story.
As we were rounding a corner to go into the main temple shrine, I looked behind me only to see Annie being dragged off by one of the fish food saleswomen towards the Temple tank. Annie was saying no, no, no, but she really had no chance but to go with the woman, who had the look of a wildlife specialist who just caught the rarest specimen in the area. Not sure if Annie was OK, I did what any good friend would do and walked in the other direction, figuring that she would get a good photo out of the event. Minutes later she came trotting into the shrine, with a young boy close on her heels, explaining that she might never be able to go back outside for fear that the fish food lady would do more than just bless her. It turns out that the woman had wanted to bless Annie and splashed the tank water all over her, while at the same time wanting Annie to feed the fish with the food she provided (for a fee, of course). Annie had had to get rough with her, dumping the food in tank, and bolting away before she was given a full fledged Baptism in the murky waters.
We climbed back into the bus and headed directly to the smaller of the two biggest temples in Kanchipuram, the Varadaraja Temple, or the Temple of Vishnu. Gilly was especially excited about showing this Temple to us, because of the remarkable stone pillars and carvings that had so beautifully survived for so many years. The 8th century gopuram was the entrance to another very old, smaller temple, which was quite quiet and hot. We went immediately into the 100 pillar temple, which contained several depictions of what Gilly described as "sex education". The graphics were indeed explicit, and Gilly knew he finally had our full attention, so he savored the few moments he had to explain the reason for these carvings. Long ago, children were married to one another at very young ages (3-4 years, according to Gilly), and they needed to learn certain things in order to fulfill their marital duties when the time came. By including the pictures in the temple carvings, everyone's needs were met. In a clear attempt to keep our attention now that we seemed semi-receptive, he moved us along to an altar and invited us to be blessed by one of the Brahmin priest. We were a little hesitant at first, because we weren't sure if we were supposed to actually go through with the blessing or just observe, but once one of us went through the rest of us were obliged. A little bowl on the head, a little prayer, and a little red dot on the forehead for each of us, and we were off to the gigue tourist hall of fame.
A little more of a ride, and we arrived at our lodging destination, the Fisherman's Cove Hotel. Situated right on the Bay of Bengal, we were immediately lured out to the Indian Ocean in hopes of a refreshing swim. But, between the red warning flags and the seashell hawkers, swimming was not to be. So, Annie, Elisabeth, and I meandered down the beach to suck in the air and feel the water. We looked behind us to see children running towards us, and Elisabeth and I continued to walk away from them. But, by now, you know that our Annie stopped to talk with them. At first, she seemed so content talking with the children, but in a matter of minutes, more people arrived and you could tell, even from a distance (Elisabeth and I had continued walking), that Annie was ready to bolt. With several hand gestures and some harsh body language that Jackie Chan would have been proud of, Annie lost most of her brood, except for that one last, hopeful straggler, who somehow thought his persistence would eventually win him favor. Not even Elisabeth and I could dissuade him, and only the prospect of a wealthier looking bather lured him away from us.
Some thoughts on the practice of walking barefoot in the temples:
Gilly picked us up from our hotel, and we were about to take off when one of the women from the front desk ran up to Alf to say that she needed to make just one more adjustment to the bill before we left. With our new understanding of the fluidity of sales transactions, the rest of us sat back down in the open air lobby and waited to see what might transpire.
Not much time went by before we took one last look at the Indian Ocean and drove to Mamallapuram, a small coastal town famous for its rock monuments and sculptures. Our enthusiasm for our travels was waning just a little bit, because we weren't exactly sure what we were going to see in this area, and because Annie had been nursing a horrible cough for days and was tired out from fighting it. As we pulled up to Mamallapuram, though, with our faces pressed to the windows, we knew that we wanted to be out of the bus and walking around. We just weren't sure how to talk Gilly into setting us free from the intinerary. Driving straight through the village bustle, we parked on the other side of town, next to a huge, almost round rock, perched delicately on a hillside. We were dutifully filing out of the bus towards the rock, when I caught Annie's eye, and we quickly turned back towards the town. Smart Annie didn't look back, but when I made the mistake of turning around, Gilly was hot on my heels. I explained that we would be a few minutes at most and skipped after Annie who was already lost in a small sea of village life.
We really meant to take only a few minutes, but there was so much to see and photograph. Every corner that we turned would present a new moment to be captured. The people were so friendly and open to our inquiries and meanderings. As we headed towards the post office, we hit a small stone carving business, and they invited us to come in and photograph. It takes a little while to converse about stone and carving and subject matter, not to mention to get the addresses of the carvers so we could send our photos to them. By the time we were heading back towards the bus, maybe a little more than a few minutes had passed, and we really meant to stay focused, but then we met a wonderful man ironing on the side of the road. His heavy iron was filled with coals and he made his living on his cart, ironing people's laundry. One photograph led to another and then the addresses needed to be traded yet again, when we saw Gilly driving up in his bus. Alf and Elisabeth seemed fine, almost happy for our escape into town, but Gilly was a different story. With such a pleasant manner, he informed us that we had, indeed, taken more than the few minutes promised, and now we needed to return to the monuments in order for the two of us to get the proper tour. Slightly panicked for Alf and Elisabeth's sake, about having to turn back, Annie and I insisted on forging ahead to the next site and promised to look closely at Elisabeth's photos.
Only slightly appeased, Gilly turned the bus towards The Five Rathas, small shrines carved out of huge, single pieces of granite, named after four Pandava Princes, and their common wife, Draupadi. As we were admiring the immensity and complexity of the monuments, a huge bus full of school children emptied onto the grounds. They immediately noticed our fair complexions and headed in our direction, shouting greetings of "hello" and "how are you" to us while hamming it up for our cameras. We were all having a grand time until the teachers decided that they had gotten out of hand and harshly told them to get back in line. Feeling a little bad for egging them on, we returned to Gilly who patiently explained the shrine carvings to each one of us as we filed through.
We drove next to the Shore Temple, which was a lovely, single monument facing the sea. Since there was little else to see at this site, Gilly felt secure in our collective mission that would lead us through the small temple to see a beautiful, reclining Vishnu deep inside. But, leave it to us to notice a construction project nearby, where men were digging a huge hole, while women carried the dirt to another site on the their heads. We moved straight in the wrong direction, but Gilly, savvy by now (or was he just tired?), continued on with Alf and Elisabeth towards the temple. He then waited patiently until I made my way to him, to tell me which way to go. He then made a point of taking us over to the building project so we could take wonderful photos and ask questions. Figuring we were happy, he moved us back to the bus which would take us back to Madras. One last little distraction, though, because those school children had followed our path and were asking Annie for American coins, when the guard at the front gate took note and gave a long, and very loud whistle. Everyone stopped and looked up at Annie. Poor Gilly just turned around and motioned for us to get on the bus.
Once he closed the door, he turned around and very sweetly told us we'd be taking a different route back to Madras, a faster route by the shore. We were excited about the chance to see new sites, and figuring that we would see similar landscapes, we inquired if we could stop by some of the rice fields for photos. You know that fleeting moment of panic that crossed someone's face when they realize they've just been asked to do something that would be absolutely horrible, and they need just a second to figure out why it just can't be done? That look flashed across Gilly's face, who quickly looked to the driver for help, said a few words we couldn't understand, and turned back to us and simply said, "no." So, with speed in Gilly's mind, we made sound progress towards Madras, when we looked up only to see "DIZZIE WORLD", an MGM Company project. Huge, plastic Dizzie ducks and other Dizzie World characters loomed over the road. Too tempting for Annie, she hopped out of the bus to photo. Just as she stepped out of the bus, several wild-haired children covered in monkeys ran towards her. She spent the next minutes clicking away and talking with them, while at the same time, making sure not to get bitten by the children's beloved pets. Her face was glowing when she returned to the bus, exclaiming that she had finally gotten some wonderful photos. A beaten man, Gilly slumped in his seat and turned towards Madras.
Once we had settled back into the Taj Coromandel, we decided that we needed to eat elsewhere. With Alf deciding to spend a quiet evening chez Hotel, Elisabeth, Annie, and I hired a cab and went in search of the highly recommended Dakshin restaurant in the Sheraton Hotel. When we walked into the packed room, without reservations I might add, the first thing we noticed was that we were the only non-Indians in the restaurant. Maybe due to this fact, the Host very kindly told us that, instead of turning us away, he would come and find us in 15 minutes. It took us a half an hour to realize that we had better remind him to find us, so we returned to the restaurant, only to find our friend looking very concerned that he still had no table for us. But, with true panache, he organized a small group to put together a small table right up front by the stage, to which he gallantly lead us, and we proceeded to have some of the best food we've ever had. Annie, with the help of some much needed Sudafed, amused the two of us immensely, and Elisabeth and I were almost successful in talking her into shuffling up to the stage to do a Bharata Natyam dance for the crowd. She opted, instead, to lead us back home to find Alf, who had elected to have a banana for dinner.
(Sound of: SPROCKETY SPROCK SPROCK SPROCK ... POP POP POP ... WWWWWHHHRRRRRRR)
(UNHAPPY MUTTERINGS FROM THE BEADY SIDE OF THE SCREEN)
Alf (taking the stage stairs two at a time): "Sorry! Sorry! I know that this is a terrible nuisance. But, please remember that we ARE in India; this is not Cannes where they have masses of security people and staff to mind the reels and look after all the bits and pieces. Here in Bangalore we are truly lucky if the power stays on at all. Please just bare with us while we sort out this part of our February journal. Thank you ever so much."
Tilman (offstage to Alf): "I've looked all over the friggin place, but I can't find any of last week's stuff; the 10th right through the 15th is missing."
Alf (to himself): "Good Lord ... what to do now? I suppose I could show them that nasty reel on amputations ... after all, it is Indian."
Alf (booming brightly to the audience): "Ah! Yes! Ladies and gentlemen. Fear not ... the missing reels are on their way. But, for your immediate interim pleasure our production team is now proud to offer you this deeply moving documentary from The Times of India:
NEW DELHI - Come the harvesting season in March-April and city hospitals get a large number of amputation cases. Most of them come either from the peripheral areas of Delhi or from the neighboring states.
But it is probable that half the cases do not reach the operating table. Either because the amputated part is not preserved well and it is already too late, or the cut is not clean enough for reimplantation.
Mostly, amputation cases that come to the five hospitals in Delhi - LNJP, Safdarjung, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Ganga Ram and Apollo - that offer reimplantation surgeries involve either industrial or agricultural workers, or accident victims.
Plastic surgeon V K Tiwari of Safdarjung hospital said, "We deal with two or three reimplantation cases every month. But we have to reject almost an equal number of cases, either because they have come too late or it is not a clean injury."
It is mainly in the case of road accident victims that the cut is not clean. The limb is pulled out and the damage is extensive. "Reimplantation in accident cases is rarely successful," said R B Ahuja, head of burns and plastic surgery, at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan hospital.
A severed part cannot be reimplanted after the "ischaemia time" has expired - it is the duration for which an amputated part can survive without blood supply. Ischaemia time differs from case to case.
Dr Ahuja said, "Amputations have primarily been the problem of the poor. So, nobody has given serious thought to providing reimplantation service in India."
A "reimplantation service" would mean having specialised teams posted round-the-clock in hospitals so that a patient does not lose time.
In the absence of such a service, a number of problems arise. Dr Ahuja explained, "Mostly, amputation cases come in the night. A surgeon will be called from home, basic investigations will be conducted, capable assistance will have to be arranged and instruments readied. Then, an operating theatre has to be available for seven to eight hours."
Plastic surgeon R K Khazanchi at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences said, "Because amputations happen mostly among the poor, government hospitals have to take the initiative."
But, he added, hospitals cannot often do justice to amputation cases because of lack of teams dedicated to it. "Life obviously gets preference over limbs. So, if an anesthetist is busy in an operation in which it is a question of the patient's life, he or she cannot be spared for a reimplantation case."
Sometimes even the lone microscope does not work, like in Safdarjung. "Our microscope has been out of order for the past two month," Dr Tiwari said.
But the amputated part cannot wait. Though ischaemia time at normal room temperature is six hours, it will be less in a warmer climate and more in a colder climate. "If an amputated part is kept in ice or ice cold water, it may stay alive for even 10 hours," Dr Ahuja said. It is also longer for a clean cut. Ischaemia time ends after blood supply is restored to the amputated part.
Dr Tiwari said awareness about preservation of amputated parts is growing among people. "Earlier, sometimes patients would preserve amputated parts in palmolein oil. It was then a lost case. Nowadays people are more aware," he added.
Mostly, he said, toka (fodder-cutting machine) used to be the reason behind injuries on the fields. But now the machine has been redesigned, thereby reducing the number of toka amputations. "In Delhi, paper-cutting machines lead to a lot of amputations," Dr Tiwari said.
There is yet another reason why reimplantation, as a service, has not developed in Delhi. Reimplanting limbs by joining minute blood vessels together, takes several hours. But that does not relieve a surgeon from the next day's schedule.
"Today, those doing reimplantations are doing so at their own initiative. After an operation lasting seven-eight hours in the night, one still has to operate on routine cases the next day," said Dr Ahuja. "For instance," Dr Khazanchi added, "Reimplanting a finger takes four hours. Imagine one doctor reimplanting all ten fingers? It is impossible. There have to be separate teams, doing it simultaneously."
TIPS TO PRESERVE AN AMPUTATED PART:
AN UNSETTLING QUIET FROM THE AUDIENCE AS THE CREDITS ROLL
Alf (sensing a festering mood in the audience): "I think I hear the clattering of reels right now. Yes, that must be Tilman with last week's footage."