Getting around in Chennai is anything but boring. I don’t mean driving around in a car or being driven around in one – both are fodders for a creative blog in themselves. I mean walking from Point A to Point B, when you have not been to Point B before. This can be a a spiritual journey itself.
One early morning last week, I visited an elderly gentleman in a hospital in West Mambalam in Chennai. During my conversations with him, he asked if I could get him an apple and an orange.
I stepped out of the hospital on this errand and asked the nurse at the entrance where I could get these fruits. “Hang a right. There’s a mini super market just a block away. They’ll be open by now”. I dutifully obeyed this instruction and walked about three blocks. I didn’t see any mini supermarket or fruit shop.
The city was just waking up. Traffic was light. People were moving about in an easy and languorous manner. A tea stall was doing brisk business. Outside the shop, a man with a prominent moustache was sitting on a bench, reading aloud a Tamil newspaper. Another man was standing next to him sipping a glass of piping hot tea, listening attentively. They appeared relaxed and on top of their worlds.
Things could be alright in their world, but not in mine. I had just started on a mission and was already dead-ended.
I approached them and asked. “ I was told there’s a mini super market here. Can you please tell me where it is?”
“There used to be one here. They closed shop a few months ago.”
“Where can I buy apple and oranges please?”
“There’s nothing around here, Sir. You have to go to the market.”
“ The market? How far is it? Within walking distance?”
“You’ve to walk a bit to get there. But you’ll get all types of fruits there.” Said the newspaper-reader. [What did “walk a bit” mean to him, I wondered]
The tea-sipper chimed in, “No, its not far at all. Only a few minutes walk, that’s all. Go to the signal light. Hang a left and go straight. You’ll see the market” He pointed in the direction I had just came from.
Both sounded eminently confident and totally sure of their opinions.
So, I retraced my steps dutifully, walked past the hospital in the other direction and spotted a signal light not too far away. Jet-lagged from international travel and unsure of how far I must walk to “walk a bit” or what a “few minutes walk” really is, I was open to exploring alternative means of achieving my goal early. I crossed the street to a kirana store selling sundry stuff and asked the lady managing it. A burly, no-nonsense lady exuding supreme confidence, she said, “Oh. You want orange and apples! Hang a right in this adjacent lane. You’ll see a fruit vendor near the temple at the end of the lane”
“How far is the temple?”
“Oh, not far at all. Its right there.”
I turned right on the adjacent lane and walked. The temple was there at the end of the lane. But there was no fruit vendor.
I went back to option A. I retraced my steps, went towards the signal light and turned left to go to “the market”. On the way, I asked one more person just to make sure I was on the right track to the market. Fifteen minutes of brisk walk, still there was no sign of the market! How far indeed was the market? How long it would take? I didn’t know. I didn’t like the uncertainty.
I wondered whether to continue till I reached the market regardless of how long it took or whether I should look for other places selling oranges and apples. I passed by a store selling provisions. This store was also being managed by a lady who exuded confidence and certainty. I asked her, “Is there a place nearby that sells oranges and apples?”
She said, “Sure. Take the road behind you, go right till the end and hang a right. There’s a convenience store there selling fruits and vegetables.”
“Is that store still open for business? Not closed, I hope?” I wanted to make sure this one was still in business.
“No. It is still very much in business”
“ Is the market nearby? May be I could go there instead”
“No, Sir. The market is still a distance away. You are better off going to the convenience store’
By now, I was beginning to enjoy my time with the direction-givers in Chennai.
Since the market was reportedly still far away, I didn’t want to go there anymore. I took the lady’s advice, went on the perpendicular road and reached the end. And hung a right. I looked and searched, but couldn’t find the convenience store she told me about.
The sun had risen fairly high by now. The city had started buzzing with activities. It was getting to be hot and sultry. My sense of humor and patience were teetering at their edges. I was beginning to get concerned if I would be able to lay my hands on an apple and an orange anytime soon.
I stopped a scooter that was approaching and asked its riders about the convenience store that was supposed to be there. They said the store had been closed for some time now due to lack business. They directed me to another shop at the end of that street and assured me that I would indeed get the fruits I wanted there.
This time, I did. The store was there where they said it would be. I bought the fruits and headed back to the hospital. It proved to be a short walk of only ten minutes. All along, a fruit shop was available actually not far away from the hospital! But people sent me to different places, in different directions. They didn’t know. Yet they wanted to help me out.
What could have been achieved in ten minutes actually cost me more than an hour!
What is this to do with the “call of the vedas” subject of this blog site, you might ask.
The beat of Chennai has a heart to it. People gave me wrong directions and wrong information. But I was not deliberately misled. Their readiness to help me was natural and sincere. I appreciated that. I sensed the “mutual care” gene in their attitude , the parasparam approach to life that the Bhagavad Gita teaches. I sensed the underlying togetherness of humanity and a sense of belonging in their interactions with me. I experienced, in their helpful gesture, the spark of love that we all have in each one of us for each other.
This is the spark of love that is supporting you, me and everything else. And it is sweet.
May we all live in togetherness. saha na vavatu