We are off to a good start in India. Yesterday, we arrived at 7:00am and the ship was cleared by 9:30am or so. We had to meet the immigration officials face to face, so that took a little more time than usual.
We met up with some pretty thick bureaucracy upon leaving the port: each person had so show their actual passport (not a copy like we are used to) and their customs forms which listed all electronics that we had with us on the ship. When we went through the gate, each person had to show all the electronics on their customs forms. So imagine hundreds of people standing in line in the miserable heat of India while everyone in front of them pulls out their phones, ipods, ipads, cameras, camcorders... it was not pleasant. But, after 45 minutes in the sun, we finally got to our bus to head to Theru Koothu Theatre.
We drove about 1 ½ hours outside of Chennai to a craft village called Dakshina Chitra. This reconstructed village is a non-profit community service project of the Madras Craft Foundation and is working to conserve the cultures of the diverse people of India. Inside the village we watched the actors apply their make-up for the performance. The make-up is very intricate and colorful (check out the pictures in the Chennai, India album that we posted). Theru Koothu means "street theatre," but it is actually a ritualistic drama that is performed by the farmers in each village. The performance that we saw was a condensed version of a story from the Mahabarata. The Mahabarata is an Indian epic poem; it is very long and is usually performed over 18 days. We saw a portion of a story that was condensed into 20 minutes.
We had a wonderful host that told us all about the actors and the portion of the Mahabarata that we would be seeing. She was a native woman but had been traveling all over the United States giving lectures on Indian theatre. After the performance, the actors took a few of our questions. They did not speak English, but our host translated our questions for us. We found out that most of the actors come from a long line of performers; they live very humble lifestyles, but continue to perform because it is there passion. It was really fascinating to actually see the theatre that we had just taught our students about back on the ship.
When we returned back to the ship that evening we met a group of 16 faculty and staff friends for dinner. We split into groups of 3 and hopped into rickshaws. A rickshaw is a very small 3 wheeled motor vehicle with a top, but no sides. It is barely big enough for 3 people to sit in the back. On our way to dinner, the ride was truly frightening as well as thrilling. These little rickshaws weave in and out of other huge vehicles like little cockroaches. At any point, if you stuck your arm out of the vehicle, it would be taken off by a car or bus. Several times, we rode so close to other vehicles that they truly could have been pick-pocketing us and we would have never known it. WOW! The name of the restaurant was Sigree and it was some of the most wonderful food we have ever had. We all ordered and everyone shared bite of what they were having. This wonderful meal in this beautiful restaurant cost us $14 a person (1500 rupees)... appetizers, meals, drinks and desserts. Our rickshaw driver waited on us during dinner and took us safely back to the port. He of course tried to charge us more for the ride than we had negotiated, but we just gave him what we had agreed on and walked away (they have no meters, you just bargain for a ride). Today, we leave for New Dehli on a 4 day trip to Taj Mahal. Can't wait!
-All female roles in the Theru Koothu performance are performed by male actors
-The pollution is so bad here that when Geno cleaned his face last night with a cotton pad after the rickshaw ride to the restaurant, the pad was BLACK!!!
-We saw a rat the size of a cat when we were walking home to the ship. Yummy!