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Friday 17th December - Chennai
By Claire
Monday, 20th December 2004 23:20

After our traditional stop at the Konica shop and breakfast, we went to St Roques Church to see if we could find any Upshons. The auto-wallah asked for 300 rupees to take us out there (he said it was eighteen kilometres) and we agreed even though I think it was barely three miles. In an uncharacteristic show of navigational skill, the man found the church the first time and waited for us. Two women met us at the locked gates of the church and when we explained we'd come to find dead bodies one of them said that it was very kind of us to come all this way. I hadn't thought of it like that. She then said that the servant, the other woman with her, would take us to the priest. She led us through the churchyard, stepping on the gravestones and climbing over mounds of earth until we got to another office at the other side of the cemetery. She left us there and we went to see another lady who wandered off to get the burial records. She came back with two books from the 1930s, between four and 115 years too late for our needs. Then she said that we should have a look round the graveyard, work out the plot numbers we were looking for, then she could show us the records. But the graves probably wouldn't be there.

To be fair, Mikey and I had a very thorough search through the place. It looked like it hadn't been tended for about a century, the graves were actually overlapping at times and there was no space to walk between them. I don't really liike treading on them, but I suppose their owners aren't really going to complain too much. Half of the headstones were chunky blue wooden crosses in circles and inscribed with Tamil characters, and the rest were marble or granite slabs from the 1930s. There was no sign of any Upshons there, but we'd been warned that the ones we were looking for were probably no longer around. It was a shame, but at least we'd looked. On the way out, we saw a large white marble tomb with a very sorry-looking dog lying on it. I think that if I was going to have a grave stone (I'm not that keen on the idea, cos once you're dead you're not you any more and it all seems a bit pointless. The people who knew you are going to remember you without having to go out to a random plot of land and give you flowers) then I'd want one that hot, bored dogs would lounge on.

Our driver was waiting for us and our suspicions were well founded. We thought he'd been too helpful. Now he wanted to take us shopping for free T-shirts (by the sound of it) and when we said that we didn't want to go shopping, we just wanted to see what was on at the cinema, he got all upset. We didn't have to buy anything, madam, just look. We got stroppy, he demanded more money, we refused and then he wobbled his head, said he'd take us to the cinema for 30 rupees extra and set off in the traffic.

We were covered with dust, diesel fumes and grit by the time we got to the cinema. It was 3pm and the next showing of anything in English was at 7pm. We bought tickets to see The Incredibles then, and Ocean's Twelve tomorrow. We had four hours to kill. Our guidebook suggested that Chennai's only tourist attraction that didn't involve saints living in caves was Fort St George, but it wasn't as simple as that. Out of four auto-drivers, not one understood the words, the map or the miming. How hard could it be? It's the only thing a tourist would want to see. At the fifth auto the guy nodded, said Fort twice and wobbled his head. five minutes later, having pointed out the sea (which was upsettingly close to a massive open sewer that wasn't being muted by the blaxing sun) and some other things that might have been printing offices or sock factories, he dropped us off at Chennai Fort Station. We tried to explain, he tried to convince us he was right. It wasn't worth the effort, it was very hot, and the people on the pavement were selling woolly hats, toy cars and caulifowers from the same piece of tarpaulin. Two children were writhing on the pavement where someone had spilled a bucket of water from the pump. We followed the man's outstretched arm to the overpass and stole a quick glance at the map in the guidebook. The fort was about a quarter of an inch past the station. We decided to walk.

Shortly after passing the station we came upon a roadblock manned by two Indian soldiers. We told them we wanted to go to the fort and they waved us through. A little further down the road was another road block and the nice man with a gun told us that the fort wasn't this way at all, but could he shake our hands and what was our good country? I have to say that all the soldiers we've met have actually been very nice people, they've been polite and not hassled us at all, and they all call me Ma'am with a little more respect than most of the market stall holders. I like that. And while I'm on the subject, I've met lots of Indian men, actually from India, in other countries and almost without exception they have been lovely, lovely people. They've been funny, intelligent, charming, polite and quiet and generally quite reserved and I haven't seen a single one urinate in public. So what is it about India that turns people into the men here? No idea.

Anyway, to cut a long walk in the sun short, we didn't find Chennai's only tourist attraction. A man covered in sticky brown patches kept trying to stroke Mikey before we got much further and Mikey was getting crosser and crosser with everyone. I was actually in a good mood today and kept telling him it was OK, but the look on his face reminded me of how I felt when he said that last night, so we got into a rickshaw and went back to the hotel for a bit. We had a couple of hours to kill and they lasted forever. I'd finished my book, there was only BBC world on the telly, the room smelled of tinned peaches that had been in the sun too long and to top it all, the man I'd asked to irom my trousers (cos you can't borrow an iron in India, you have to pay a man to do it for you) had put needle-sharp creases all the way down the only clean pair I had left. Great.

We went out to the cinema and watched The Incredibles with a small pot of hot buttered sweetcorn and a tube of Pringles for supper. I'm not sure what I thought of the film, maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it, but a dysfuctional family who lie to one another and never talk about anything and have a baby who's actually the devil didn't seem to me to be the typical Pixar heroes I'd been hoping for. But I did appreciate the reactions of the audience who genuinely seemed to care what happened to the characters and applauded spontaneously at acts of daring. They seemed particularly impressed with the reactions of the characters and when they did something theyw ere proud of some of the children got up and cheered. It was a nice atmosphere. The rickshaw driver on the way home tried to overcharge us but we both laughed at his ludicrous suggestion and he backed down.

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