• Daniele Gennara

Chennai: first stop

We decided to land in Chennai and then continue by bus to Puducherry, because in addition to a cheaper ticket we could also see two places that caught our attention as we planned the trip:

  1. Marina Beach

  2. Koyambedu market

These two experiences translate into two nightmares and a pleasant surprise.

Marina Beach, with its 6 km of development, is the largest urban beach in all of India.

We booked a guest house in Triplicane, the neighbourhood close to the beach, with the idea of getting up in the morning, walking towards the sea, on the sand and, why not, maybe go to the water and refresh ourselves.

Unfortunately, the reality was very different: 

Triplicane is a neighbourhood that shows the protagonists of India in all their intensity: dirt, pollution (acoustic and environmental), sacred cows, human hyperdensity and anything else negative you can think of.

But the best thing was when we finally got to the beach: The Pongal festival was underway and a considerable number of people had the same idea as us. Also the beach is the dirtiest we have found in our lives and access to water is forbidden. Not because of our scruples (as in Sentosa) but literally forbidden by the authorities.

Everywhere they sell and offer all sorts of things: chilli-covered fish, toys, tattoos, an instant photo-shopped... if you can imagine it, it's on that beach.

 The smells that alternate are urine, decomposition, used oil, animals (in this case stray dogs and dirty horses) and the sun helps to increase the discomfort.

People are curious about us, greet us, smile at us. We do our best to respond nicely but it's hard to be a Hollywood star in these circumstances: From the Pazo dos Escudos (5-star hotel in Vigo) to the Pongal of Chennai it was too drastic the change in only 18 hours of flight.

It's true that the sacred cows (with the parsimony they dispense in the midst of all this chaos and which truly gives them a divine aura) are very well painted for the party, and the fights with water buckets make you smile; but these distractions are two little drops in an ocean of confusion.

The whole city of Chennai is very difficult to visit due to the continuous noise of the damned horn and the unhealthy air of the streets. No matter how hard we tried, it's harder walking the streets where everything looks like a big open-air landfill.

Passing through here has prompted us to continue reflecting among ourselves. Are we really the cancer of the Earth? Are we cockroaches? Do our concerns about recycling in our ecological micro-cities make sense when there are places like this in the world? How much a human being can adapt to a hostile environment, and get used to it until probably stop considering it hostile? Their life expectancy is 69 years and the Spanish and Italian 83 but is the Mediterranean diet as we are told or is it not "smoking" that gases every day?

Let's give some common examples in India:

Everybody (really everybody) cough (and spit on the ground); some go through the city barefoot among the rubbish and it's liquids; others don't mind eating rice in the street in the middle of stray dogs, flies and gases from the engines of a thousand scooters and tuktuks.

This whole thing seems like a borderline condition to us, but it really isn't. The facts speak for themselves (quick research on wikipedia) and it is only a matter of views: If there are 1.3 billion Indians against 740 million Europeans, it means that overall the conditions we have described are either majority (we are talking about 270 million Indians below the poverty line) or normal on our planet.

As we move away from the city centre, we continue to find waste on the ground ( although in smaller quantities) and it is easy to see how plastic (and any other non-biodegradable material) negatively affects the "cycle of life" of objects in India. The habit of throwing everything to the ground should not be condemned, it is the access in daily life to very cheap disposable objects, made of NON disposable materials that attacks our landscapes. 

Move forward to the positive surprise: The Koyambedu market. In the face of disorder and the presence of cattle and crows, what remains is a stroll through one of the largest markets in Asia (more than a square kilometre) where, among flowers, fruits and vegetables, for the first time we breathe smells instead of bad smells.

You can buy whole hulls of bananas, or a kilo of pomegranates for one euro. You can see how much food the fertile Indian countryside produces every day, or how it makes sense to allow animals to enter into a fruit and vegetable market with large amounts of waste.

After three days in Chennai, we took a bus to Puducherry, to really start our adventure.