India: 2

In India on September 16, 2009 at 4:25 pm

India 4

To complement my play, Chai, performing this week at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, here is an essay I wrote about India for InPittsburgh in 2000. These photographs were taken during my five-day sojourn in Chennai and Mamalapuram. Chai is produced by the Theatre Factory and is directed by my esteemed colleague Christine Pini. See for details.

 As we pull into the village – now called Mamallapuram – Raj drives past tourist shops, Kodak film stalls, and skinny men sitting on the roadside. Raj lets us out and talks quickly in Tamil with a gray-bearded man holding a staff. Raj gives me a thumbs-up, and drives off.

“I will be your guide for Mamallapuram, sir,” says the man. “My name is Naresh.”

“Actually,” I say, “I’d just like to walk on my own, if that’s okay.”

“Please, sir. I am an honest man. I speak slowly in English for you…”

Here we go again: I will help. I give you good service, very cheap. You can’t walk half a block in Chennai without offers from 15 people – rickshaw drivers, self-proclaimed guides, carpet salesmen. Walk to museum? No, no, I drive you.

But if Raj called Naresh over, he’s probably legitimate – although it’s impossible, with so many language and cultural barriers – to distinguish between the helpful tour guides and the con-men. As an American, I’m not used to managing private servants everywhere I go. In Pittsburgh, I have to pound the cash register just to get noticed by the cashier. Here, I’m not allowed to cut my own pineapple at the hotel buffet table.


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