I didn’t know yesterday that I was running final errands during the Panguni Festival – a huge event that attracts thousands to the nearby neighborhood surrounding the huge Kapaleeswarar Temple. The ancient, 7 day Panguni Festival falls on a full moon and celebrates divine marriage and human marriage. My taxi driver and I ended up on foot as streets were closed, hauling a suitcase of items I wanted to ship to the US plus various letters and packages to send to Indian addresses.
Crowds of people in multi-clothing, pop up shops, people serving free food, cars and scooters careening through, flower sellers, kids munching on watermelon, growing piles of plastic plates on the ground, the smell of roasted cumin and cardamom, music blaring, all flowing like streams running into rivers and rivers running into the ocean, in the midst the almost 100 degree, 95% humidity of Chennai air in late March. In spite of an upset stomach from something I ate the previous day, I was able to just relax and hum with the energy of the beauty, the chaos, the wonder of urban, religious India.
I’ve struggled with the dark side of India- the corruption, the oppression of women, the caste system, the unrestrained building by developers and the resulting environmental damage. Yet every country has a dark side- some just more obvious than others! America’s ugliness is a little more hidden, but a good look reveals so much darkness- the gun culture, the racism, the increasing poverty, the corruption, the tints of fascism, the ignoring of climate change and global inequality.
Every country has astounding goodness and beauty and positive qualities. I felt that yesterday as I watched women hand out free food on the street, children laughing and playing, the sweet smell of jasmine, the patience of people squeezing by each other on the crowded street, the communal energy of a shared, ancient culture. Even the heat, the humidity, was part of the sweet and crazy ambience of the day.
In the tiny, crowded shop where I went to ship items, I chatted in Tamil with women sending pickles to loved ones in the West and in India. What do mothers in the US send loved ones- chocolate chip cookies? In India, mothers send sour, hot, spicy pickles specially made at this time of year when mangos start emerging- they marinate tiny, sour mangos in salt, chili, spices and oil. Here the shop workers place the pickles in sealed plastic bags for shipping.