After four weeks in a fancy “foreigner friendly” service apartment, I moved to a more of an “Indian” apartment this weekend. The move was for various reasons but the distance to the mandiram played a big part in my decision to switch apartments. Walking home every evening through the Chennai rush hour traffic (there are no sidewalks here so you have to walk inches away from cars and rickshaws on the street) was getting to be a bit much. My commute is now less than 15 minutes and today I was able to come home for lunch and take a break in the middle of the day. This apartment building is on a rather large and traffic-heavy street, but my room is set towards the back so it’s actually quieter than the residential neighborhood where I used to live. There are some drawbacks to this apartment though, and the most problematic of them all so far has been the mosquitoes. We’ve had to buy boxes of mosquito repellent coils to burn (I’ve got two of them set up in my room), plug in mosquito repellent thing-ys, mosquito spray, mosquito repellent cream, turning on fans, not turning on any lights, etc to try to combat the problem. This is WITH all the windows guarded with mosquito nets. The mosquitoes here are very sneaky and resilient! I don’t know where they are coming from. And how they are able to survive the smoke filled room… Along with countless mosquitoes, I’ve found a few long legged spiders, one small black spider (in my room), and a gecko in the kitchen. The walls are dingy and cracked, only half the light switches and outlets work in my room, if I want to take a hot shower I need to ask my flat mate to turn on the hot water switch (the hot water tank in her bathroom provides for both hers and my shower), there is no wifi in my room (but it works in the living room), no TV, no phone, and the closets don’t close well or lock. But we have a functioning and clean fridge, a stovetop, a water filtration system, fans/AC, and various Hindu God and Goddess paraphernalia all around the apartment to protect us. For about $22 per day, I’m more or less happy to live here.
One of the things I didn’t like very much in the other apartment was the fact that the service staff kept coming in and out of our place at all hours of the day. We had a nice cleaning lady named Saraswathi but there were also young men working for my landlord who had keys to our apartment. Most of them didn’t speak any English at all so communicating with them was difficult. I never truly felt comfortable or at home at the other apartment. I think the word “privacy” has a very different meaning here in India. Perhaps when living quarters are tight and you are used to having extended family and friends around you all the time, there is no such thing as privacy. For goodness sakes, I see at least a dozen people use the street as their personal toilet everyday! Maybe it’s because I came from New York where for a decade I was so used to having my own space and for better or for worse, I never even knew my own neighbors. New York was the epitome of total anonymity and privacy. I had to speak to my landlord about not having those men come to our apartment at night but I still found them hanging around outside my bedroom a few times. My other friends at KYM had similar things happen to them as well. One day when I went to visit a friend for lunch, we arrived at her apartment to find the door to her bedroom wide open and her closet doors missing. Some workers had come to fix the doors (?) without her knowledge or consent. They marched right into her room to take the doors off the hinges and set up a make-shift workshop. The apartment was covered with dust and wood chips, and all the while the landlord was just sitting there wondering why we were upset or concerned at all. Today when I was sitting down for dinner my current landlord waltzed into the apartment without even a knock on the door and casually sat at the dining table. It didn’t matter to her that I was eating or that she came by unannounced. When she got up to leave about half an hour later she said “OK, see you tomorrow.” Right. Tomorrow.
I’m sharing this apartment with a friend from KYM and her husband. Maybe it’s because I’ve been traveling alone for a while but I am really enjoying their company. They are a kind and generous couple and since we have our separate spaces with separate bathrooms, we don’t get in each other’s way too much. There are other yoga students living in the same building with us as well. In fact, I can hear some of them chanting when I’m in the kitchen. I find it wonderfully calming and it gives me a general feeling of safety. My flat mates and I had planned on using a taxi to make our move here but all of our efforts to call to have someone pick us up turned into an hour long ordeal. After being re-routed and directed to call several numbers and various drivers, we gave up on the idea and took two auto-rickshaws. I accumulated a ton of ayurvedic medicine but my belongings still fit into my one backpack so it was relatively easy for me take a small rickshaw, but my friend and her husband’s move was a bit different. They had real luggage, and bags of ayurvedic medicine, groceries, yoga mats, new Indian purchases, etc. Their rickshaw driver ended up hugging a large piece of luggage next to him while he drove. Since the rickshaws don’t have any doors at all, watching this whole scene was quite comical. For the rickshaw driver I’m sure this wasn’t the oddest or the most he’s transported, but we all thought it was crazy. In the end, no one got hurt and our move was finished in less than half an hour (and my rickshaw ride was ~$0.70). Home sweet home, for two more weeks in Chennai.