Mylapore Moments: Outside the Temple

We are standing not too far from the Kapaleeshwara Temple, looking at the vast tank, the original reservoir for the temple. It used to be open and available for the devout to go and bathe and for all to sit and enjoy the moment. Now it is gated and fenced and only open for particular religious occasions. A young woman comes and stands nearby and takes out her mobile phone. She is too far away to hear what she says, even if it were in English, though there is something furtive about her manner. She is dressed in full burka, all-over black, trimmed exquisitely with black sequins that glisten in the sun. She looks about and then moves off. I remark on her demeanour and Lakshmi suggests that she is not a Muslim but a Hindu girl arranging an assignation perhaps with a young man, a meeting that has not been sanctioned by her parents and one which would definitely not take place without a chaperone. The power of young love.

We have been invited to visit the home of one of the priests from the temple so that we may see a ‘typical’ house and gain some insight into domestic arrangements. On the way we pass a beautiful woman selling flowers. I ask if I may take her picture and she is very happy for this to happen. She smiles gently, holding a pose that is simple and unaffected. I move back a bit to take a longer shot and get the table in. She now breaks the pose, looks down at her work and the smile breaks out, her sun risen fully. After thanking her and moving on, I ask about her very short hair. We are told that it was probably given at the temple as an offering in the hope that someone close to her, perhaps a child, may recover from an illness or some other major calamity.

The priest’s house is built around a small quadrant, the central area open to the sky. On entering the house there is a hallway with a bench and a shrine. The living rooms are off the central open area and there is a passage way opposite that leads to the bedrooms. An elderly lady is squatting by a low sink and is washing some clothes by hand. Under the canopy in the opposing corner, an automatic washing machine stands erect and silent, protected in its plastic cover.

As we wander around the streets we come across a low building with a tiled roof. On the roof are hundreds and hundreds of black rubber rings and lengths of orange rubber tubing. The rings are gaskets from that most important of all Indian cooking utensils, the pressure cooker; the tubes are pipes that connects gas bottles to the hob. As I take a picture of this, a young man appears and stands in centre screen, one hand on a timber frame and the other nonchalantly on his hip. He apparently works in the shop opposite. The shop takes in old cooking appliances and refits them or breaks them for spares - something that the West appears to only just have (re)discovered. The roof is the store for their pipes and gaskets. Nothing gets thrown away in India.