The BF is Packed, Ready to Go.

The first portion of my stay in Chennai comes to an end tomorrow, I leave in the morning for Singapore.  During this stay, I spent quality time with my mother (which means that she cooked and I ate), and I took care of her taxes and other financial matters that needed taking care of.

Here is my Bike Friday, packed once again into the Samsonite:

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With luck, it will all arrive in Singapore with no parts damaged or missing, and I will be able to assemble it there again.  I am going to Singapore for a collaboration visit to Nanyang Technological University (NTU). After the collaboration I hope to do some riding there and nearby, if things work out.

Most of my Indian friends in the US who have lived there all their adult lives and have lost both parents tell me that after their parents pass away, they begin to feel an emotional disassociation from India.  They have lived in the US much longer than they have ever lived in India, and have raised children there who are now full-fledged Americans (actually, hyphenated Indian-Americans, but in the US, everybody is hyphenated anyway).  They discover that the primary glue that was still holding them to India was indeed their parents, but that otherwise, their heart is where their work is, and importantly, where their children are. And their children are in San Diego or Berkeley or Chicago or New York or whatever, and are themselves getting married and having children of their own, and so on.  So slowly, after these friends’ parents pass away, their once annual visits back to India become once-in-three-years visits, which soon peter out to perhaps once-a-decade visits, and eventually to non-visits.

This was my first trip back to India after my father died this March, and I noticed that already with one parent gone, I too am going through this emotional disassociation.  Things are not quite the same without my father, it feels like some critical glue has gone missing.  Earlier I would have a context through which I viewed things in India: there would be a home here with a mom and a dad, not fundamentally different from how it was fifty years ago when I was a child, and I would be part of that home, and when things happened in India (such as the news), they would happen to that home, and then through that home to me.  Thus, I would feel connected to things in India.  But that solidity,  and through it the connection to the rest of India, is starting to break down.  It doesn’t help that my mom is going to be living with her (98 year-old) mother and her (81 year-old) sister in her mother’s home, so the flat that my parents stayed in for over twenty-years will be vacant.  It is indeed the right thing for my mom to do, and I support her fully in her decision, she shouldn’t be alone. But it does make the glue dissolve faster.

Which is perhaps a good thing. It might make me much more clear-headed about things.  For, there is no doubt that I will be spending much more time in India from now on, looking in on my mother and making sure that things are OK with her.  Recognizing clearly that I don’t feel that earlier emotional connection, instead of continuing to stand, as I did for years, with one leg on longitude 118 degrees west and the other on longitude 80 degrees east, would perhaps lead to more rational decisions regarding my mother’s well-being.  At the very least, it would be easier on my hip joints.

But if there is one thing you learn as you march along that crazy thing called life, it is that you can never predict anything. Who knows, maybe a new and different emotional connection with this place might take root and grow.  Right now though, if I and my Bike Friday and my aunt (who is traveling with me) arrive in Singapore intact, I am prepared to call that a great first step.

I will leave you with a picture of (a picture of) my earliest ancestor with a surviving photograph: my great-great grandfather (that’s right, he was doubly great).  He was a school teacher in Town High School in Kumbakonam.

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And this is a picture of that great-great-grandfather’s great-great-grandson, on the 13th day of the said great-great-grandfather’s great-grandson’s passing away, taken by another great-great-grandson.

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 Four generations and a hundred years separate the two photographs.  But some things don’t change, clearly.

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The Marina Beach and my Grandfather

The Marina beach is the prime promenade of Chennai, and occupies a special place therefore in the hearts of Chennaians. I have pedaled there on several occasions. It is much more pleasant to ride there than in other parts of the town, at least away from peak traffic hours, since the Corporation tries quite hard to keep the promenade clean.  Plus, the ocean is, as always and as everywhere, a very soothing sight.

The beach itself runs for thirteen kilometers, and is mostly sand.  It has a reputation for the opposite, but the times I have ridden along the promenade, the beach has been very clean.

The beach has special significance for me because of its connection to my grandfather. He was a civil engineer, who retired as the head of the Public Works Department (PWD) of the state.  For most of his career, the British were in power, so his bosses were English, and possibly Scottish. His office was along Marina beach, in the PWD headquarters.  I remember an incident he would describe often: some big shot mucky muck English dude comes over all the way from England, and for five minutes after entering my grandfather’s office, he is unable to say anything at all, he is so impressed by the view of the beach and the ocean from my grandfather’s office. “I say Venkataraman, how can you get any work done at all in this office?” he asks in the end.  My grandfather would always grin when recounting the story.

Here is the entrance to the PWD.  It is one of the many beautiful buildings the British left behind that I mentioned in a previous post.  Image

I tried to imagine where my grandfather’s office could have been, and then figured it most likely was in the wing immediately to the right of the entrance way.  Here is that wing: Image

My grandfather was connected to one other building along the Marina, although indirectly.  For a brief period, he taught engineering at the University of Madras (as Chennai was then known as), except that he taught in the Guindy campus where the engineering college was located.  The headquarters of the University of Madras however is located along the Marina beach, pictured here:Image

My grandfather was possibly the most influential person in my life.  To him I owe my love of mathematics, and my love for language. During the summers that I would spend with him, he would give me mathematical puzzles to solve, and would read aloud English poetry to me.  He had a library full of English poetry, English novelists of the 19th and 19th century, and mathematics.

I also got my love of bicycling from him. He gave me my first bicycle, when I was I think eight years old. It was every boy’s nightmare.  It was to begin with a girl’s bicycle, made in England, which he then painted a bright shade of green. To make matters worse, it was small.  Now this was India in the mid to late sixties, where there was basically one kind of bicycle: large and black.  There were very few women’s bicycles around then, and if there were any, only women rode them. So, this bicycle that my grandfather gave me made me stand out, and I suffered endless teasing.  But thanks to that bicycle I learned to stick it out, to dare to be different, and to be comfortable being different.

My grandfather died nearly thirty years ago. But I still miss him. Here is he, with my grandmother:

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The Montessori Method in Chennai Corporation Schools

I ask for some leeway.  I didn’t actually go to the event I describe below on my bicycle, even though I did briefly flirt with the possibility of doing so.  I was instead taken there in a (gasp!) car. But the story needs to be told, all the same.

Amidst the seeming chaos, a lot of good things are happening in Chennai.  One such is an educational project that is happening in some schools run by the Chennai Municipal Corporation, these are of course schools whose students come from the poorest of the poor.  There are various people and organizations making this happen, chief among them being Sri Ramacharan Trust (SRCT: http://www.sriramacharan.org/).  But SRCT is not alone.  Key officers of the Chennai Corporation, dedicated headmistresses and teachers, and CMTC, an organization that trains Montessori teachers, are all behind the effort.

The project is to provide Montessori based education to kindergarten children in Corporation schools. It appears to be a fancy term, but the principles of this education are those that most readers of this blog would have practiced naturally with their own children.  The Montessori system is predicated on respect for the child’s innate abilities.  The belief is that the child comes automatically equipped with the ability to learn, to be focused, to be disciplined, and to make rational choices, and that education in the early years should consist of simply facilitating this intrinsic capacity for learning.  As such, preschool education in this system consists of giving the child guidance on certain enabling behaviors, and then teaching basic skills merely by example, letting the child emulate them of its own.  The child is given a wide range of activities that it can choose, and is allowed to spend large blocks of uninterrupted time doing these activities. The focus is on experiential and tactile learning using specially developed teaching materials. Later, the child is taught language and arithmetic, with an emphasis on phonetics and visual learning.  The child is allowed freedom of movement in the classroom, subject to its not encroaching on another child. (All this contrasts with the usual way even very young students are taught in many schools in Chennai: they are made to sit in rigid rows at desks and simply regurgitate lessons delivered by authoritarian teachers.)

SRCT perfected the art of delivering this sort of education in one specific Corporation school in Saidapet that it had adopted early on, thanks to the cooperation of an earlier commissioner of education who was a very dynamic individual. Working with children in the age group of two and a half to five, and with the help of teachers trained by a private organization called Center for Montessori Training Chennai (CMTC), they have produced a corpus of kindergarten students trained in this method, who have since gone on to first, second, third, and in a few cases, even higher grades.  For these grades, students only have traditional classrooms to go to.  However, there is enough anecdotal evidence that students trained in the Montessori method retain in traditional classrooms certain key behaviors that are predictors of success: discipline, attention span, sensitivity to others, orderliness, care for the environment, and so on. Many of these students become favorites of their teachers later on.

Thanks to a series of very friendly commissioners of education in the Chennai Corporation, including in particular the current Joint Commissioner, this sort of learning in the kindergarten stages has had backers in the higher echelons of city administration.  Impressed by the work of SRTC in their Saidapet school, the Chennai Corporation has recently agreed to implement the Montessori method in forty more schools!  It has sent kindergarten teachers in these schools to CMTC for specialized training.  In addition, in six other schools, in a tripartite agreement between the Corporation, Cognizant (a software company) and SRCT, SRCT is helping mentor Corporation teachers in the Montessori method, with Cognizant providing the materials, and the Corporation providing a beefed up physical environment.

I visited one such place where this sort of mentoring is going on, a Corporation school in KK Nagar. A very open and dynamic headmistress Sujatha makes this possible.  She is an advocate of the Montessori method, and talks it up in meetings with other headmasters and headmistresses whenever she can. Here she is: Image

and here is the playground of her school: Image

And here is one of the Montessori classrooms I visited:Image

The Montessori method had been adopted in this school just this academic year, which was only nineteen days old when I visited.  So, these kids pictured here were only nineteen days into the program, and for most of them, it was the first time they had left home.  (It took a couple of days to calm them down, Sujatha amusedly recounted: they would cry incessantly and insist that the teachers phone their parents and ask them to come and get them, and many would try to give phone numbers, sometimes getting it wrong–these were kids who were as little as two and a half years old!)

I was quite amazed to see the discipline and the quiet focus in these children, just nineteen days away from home.  One of the first exercises they learn is to roll and unroll their work mats: they go over to the storage area, pick up a mat, pick a spot on the floor where they would not intrude on anyone else, and lay their mats.  They also pick an activity.  In some places kids were working with paper and scissors, learning to wield scissors, lay the pieces in a holder, etc.  In other places, kids were playing with jigsaw puzzles. In yet others, with blocks.  In one case, a kid was slicing carrots. All by themselves, with minimal intrusion from the teacher. (Earlier, they had been given demonstrations of these activities, of course.  Also, they get gentle guidance from the teacher if they are stuck: the teacher is constantly wandering around the classroom.) Each of these activities has a series of corresponding behaviors that is built into it, for instance, after each carrot or paper cutting activity, the child knows to get a broom and dustpan, sweep up the work area, and drop the trash into the wastebasket.  (I was quite impressed: one kid, who could have been no more than three years old, had a really runny nose.  So he gets up, goes over to where his lunch basket is stored on a shelf, picks out a handkerchief from the basket, wipes his nose, and then returns to his play area, all entirely of his own without anyone telling him to do this!  Independence is a key trait of kids trained under this method.)

The activities are grouped into various levels: the lowest level consisting of activities which would be similar to what the child would have seen at home, and the highest ones developing and then building on sensory and motor skills.  Phonetics and number sense come with these highest sets of activities. Some kids had already progressed to this level in nineteen days.

Your correspondent has interacted for nearly a decade with the good people at SRCT.  He belongs to a small mom-and-pop US based charity that raises funds for such projects in India (he is the mom).  He is encouraging SRCT to expand their mentorship model to the remaining 40 Corporation schools that have adopted the Montessori method, so that this method gets effectively absorbed into the DNA of these schools rather than get lost without guidance. To expand to more schools, SRCT needs to raise sufficient funds, train enough additional teachers, and so forth.  There is thus some preparatory work involved.

I leave you with a video of one of these mat rollers.  Happily, he turned out to be a namesake!

Bicycling to IIT. But First, Some Honesty.

This chronicler has a professional duty to be honest.  While spinning breezy tales of bicycling bravura, he must also show what it really feels like to bicycle Chennai.

And the fact is that cycling in Chennai is downright unpleasant. That’s simply the truth.  Chennai, like any other city in India, is incredibly filthy, smelly, crowded, noisy, and chaotic, with crumbling to non-existing infrastructure and air pollution levels that leave one choking and gasping for breath.  Away from a few prime spots, Chennai resembles a war zone.  And on a bicycle, you see, hear, and smell (especially smell) all this very intimately, something you would not do if you drove by in a car or even whizzed by on a motorcycle.

There, I have said it.  That’s the honest truth.

The trick is to try to understand what would cause a population of such incredibly smart and talented people to allow their immediate environment to be so degraded.  But that is a serious question, and while casting about for necessarily serious answers, some other strategy is needed to cope with the immediate horror of the surroundings.  Perhaps diving deep into one’s spiritual self is the answer. (I certainly try to do just that, and it helps me immensely.)

Some random images of what you will see as you cycle:

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(The presence at the back of the trash bin is noteworthy.  When provided at all, facilities are just not enough for the population.)

DSC01834 (This was on a sidewalk; the amazing thing is that a sidewalk existed in the first place)

And a random movie of my Bike Friday and I in traffic, trying to keep at bay fumes of unburnt hydrocarbons from idling motorcycles and poorly tuned diesel engines (that black handlebar you see in the beginning belongs to my Bike Friday, I was steering with my left hand while taking this movie with my right, do not try at home).  Again, you will have to believe me when I say that traffic was actually light at this time:

It was with considerable relief therefore that I pedaled into my alma mater IIT Madras this morning, to visit my classmate and current IIT professor Devdas Menon and his wife Roshni.  IITM is an oasis: densely wooded, clean, with deer and monkeys and birds and butterfles floating around like the land belongs to them (which, if you think about it, it did at one time, and it should for eternity). I had breakfast with them: Roshni makes a mean dosai.

While having breakfast, I wondered what it was that I was feeling after a long time, and it suddenly struck me: normalcy. There was tranquility, and a sense of order.  Exactly like what I have gotten used to, lo these thirty two years in the west.  Clearly, life inside IITM is very different from life in the rest of India.

After breakfast, Devdas took me to his terrace, which lies in the shade of a huge banyan tree, pictured below. The tree is situated in the middle of a deer corridor, and at most times, deer can be found lying in its shade.  As I sat up there on the terrace, under the banyan tree, a mango tree off to the side, deer wandering in and out, monkeys by the fence, butterflies flitting about, a feeling of serenity enveloped me.  A feeling I was grateful for.

When I pedaled away from his home, my path was blocked by a gigantic deer that was crossing the road, and I had to wait for it politely to pass.  My camera battery had unfortunately died just a few moments ago, so I couldn’t take a picture of that particular deer, but here are a handful of other pictures from the campus.

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(The banyan tree outside Devdas’ house)

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I will end with a little plug for Devdas.  He’s a highly nontrivial dude, with a strong spiritual bent.  (Disclaimer: It was he who got me started on my own spiritual path.) He has his own website at http://www.devdasmenon.com/index.html

The Murukku and my Bike Friday

Any Chennai resident would know the murukku, pictured here a trois:

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Just as the dosai represents the pinnacle of tiffin, the murukku is the king of snacks.  It is made mostly of rice, with a little bit of urad dal thrown in.  My mother says she’d grind about seven parts of rice along with about one part of (roasted) urad dal to make the batter for the murukku, often using even a slightly higher proportion of rice to dal.  She’d throw in asafetida and cumin and salt. And then comes the hard part, the laying down of the murukku before frying.  As you can see, it has a pretty intricate shape.  There are two independent twists going on.  You take some batter in your hand, close your fingers around it, and then squeeze out the batter onto an oiled banana leaf, feeding out a small stream in between the thumb and forefinger. You twist your fingers as if you were screwing in the cap of your toothpaste tube, and simultaneously, you move your wrist in ever widening circles, so the batter is laid out as a spiraling spiral.  Then you lift the laid out batter carefully from the banana leaf and deep fry it till it is golden.

Laying the batter out is an art form, and not all are blessed with this skill.  My grandmother (who at 98 is mentally still sharp as a razor) used to be pretty good at it.  Not for aught is this known in full as the kai murukku (or “hand murukku”). There are other (lesser) murukkus, where the batter is shaped by a press, in other words by a mere gizmo, before it is fried.  Purists should scoff at these.

But as with all fine skills of life, this art form is being practiced less and less in people’s homes, as people’s lives get more and more busy.  Conservative maamis who would never allow food from outside into their homes now simply buy their murukkus from the market.

Grand Sweets and Snacks are reputed to have the best murukkus in Chennai.  Indeed, I used to make special trips to Adyar ten years ago, just before I’d head back to the US, buying a few kilos at a time. They add tons of butter to their batter (butter-to-their-batter, that should be in a song somewhere), which made their murukkus irresistible. But that was then, when there was only one Grand Sweets, and that was in Adyar.  Since then, they’ve adopted the franchise model, and can be found everywhere in Chennai.  Within a kilometer radius of my mother’s flat there are two, for instance.  As with Starbucks, there has been brand dilution, and quality dilution.  The old Adyar GSS proudly employed only women, but these new franchisees not only have men, but, in the case of the GSS closest to our house, Nepali men. Sacrilege! The holy murukku, emblem of Tamil culture, purveyed by Nepalese!

I prefer to get my murukkus from Suswaad instead.  A much smaller outfit, just down the street from my mother’s flat, with less commercial ambitions, and a friendly small store ambience.  Moreover, they don’t seem to add any butter to their batter, which is actually a good thing, and they make quite an effort to spin out the oil after frying. So, their murukkus are not greasy at all.  The thing that seals the deal for me though is their advertisement right outside their shop:

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That’s a cute and lovable Tamil Brahmin there, replete with kudumi and sacred thread! (Do they repaint the thread on this advertisement every avani avittam, the time of the year when Tamil Brahmins change theirs?) He’s kinda like the Pilsbury dough boy: who wouldn’t want to buy a murukku from this tubby TamBrahm?

But what’s all this got do with my bicycle you wonder?  Well actually, everything. You see, ever since I landed, I have been eating murukkus like they are going out of fashion.  I wake up and eat them first thing in the morning with my coffee.  A few hours later I wander into the kitchen and grab a few. I round out lunch with a couple, then have a few more for tiffin.  I don’t end the day with at least a couple more. And of course, when I go over to my grandmother’s home, she gives me a few murukkus with coffee.  I am concerned that with all this ingestion of murukku, I am going to put on weight not in itsy-bitsy ounces and pounds, but in kilos.  After much effort on my part (i.e., drinking lots of red wine), I just got my cholesterol down to 200, the first time ever that it has been down at this level since I started testing for it.  I am really concerned that my lipid count will be all shot to hell with this murukku intake.  So what is a guy to do?  Not eating murukkus is simply not possible.  There is only one other viable option—get on your bike and GO!  Exercise is the only weapon against hyperlipidemia.  And so:

Off I go everyday,

Pedaling my trusted Bike Friday,

Exploring these environs,

Chronicling these Chennaians,

And hoping these murukkus will simply go away.

The Cooum (or is it the Koovam? or Kuvam perhaps?).

If you ride in Chennai, it is kinda hard to miss it.  A ribbon of sewage that flows through much of the interesting parts of the city, emptying into the Bay of Bengal at Marina Beach. Egmore is where I encountered it up close and personal this visit. It is typical of India that you see modern gleaming structures cheek-by-jowl with the most depressed downtrodden dirty habitations possible.  Check this out:

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I was pedaling along Ethiraj Salai (“Salai” = Road in Tamil) when I came upon this scene. That is your modern gleaming structure looming tall in the back, probably home to some software company, and that’s the wall of sewage (aka the Cooum) in the middle, and that’s your debris laden patch in the foreground, probably already appropriated by some goon for some illegal construction. What is really really sad is something you can see in this semi-closeup:

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If you look closely, under the pink building, you will see a number of low lying structures of unfinished brick. Those are slums.  People live there, right along the Cooum.  They use the Cooum as a public bathroom, they cook along its side, their kids grow up playing on the banks, that is their home. It is easy to feel disgusted, but think about them, particularly those kids. What kind of environment is that to grow up in?  What lifelong diseases are these kids going to harbor?  How much child mortality would there be in such surroundings? Yet, these people have no choice.  They are at the bottom of the economic pile, with just enough resource to survive, and none whatsoever to move elsewhere.

Now giant slums around the world—Dharavi in Mumbai, the Favelas in Rio, Kibera in Nairobi—have been written about in plenty and their praises have been sung widely.  Those are buzzing hives of energy, with enough small-scale manufacturing and service activities to make them economic powerhouses.  But somehow, I don’t think these slums along the Cooum fall into the same category. I doubt that there is anything to celebrate or praise here.

The Cooum is actually a river, and at one time, it was apparently even clean.  That fount of knowledge, Wikipedia, has much to say about it. Apparently it figured in Roman trade with the port of Mylapore, and wine jars and Roman and Chinese coins have been found by archaeologists along its banks.  Anyway, check out Wikipedia for yourselves: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooum_River

Continuing with the theme of disparities living side-by-side, I swung around 180 degrees from where I took the picture above, and I shot this picture:

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Yup, the Radisson.  They charge $100 a night for that view of the Cooum from their bedrooms. The actual residents of the Cooum, those with the unfinished brick buildings as addresses, get by on $2 a day.

I’d chosen to ride on Ethiraj Salai because just the day before, my friend Raj’s daughter’s wedding had taken place at one of the marriage halls close by this road, and so, when riding along Mount Road, I had simply turned my wheels towards this hall.  To continue along Ethiraj Salai after passing by the hall was but natural.  Riding along, I discovered that there are two women’s colleges in the area (one of which lends its name to the road): Quaid-e-Millath college and Ethiraj College.  I have family members who went to Ethiraj college, so I certainly knew about it, but I believe this is the first time I’d even realized where it is located.  (And no, I hadn’t known before riding on it that day that there is a street called Ethiraj Salai, otherwise I would have realized where the college was, of course.)

It wasn’t all slums that day.  I hung a right after taking those photos above on to Pantheon Road, and on a short flyover, I discovered a stunningly beautiful building that I could see through the treetops.  It was the Government Museum.  The traffic was too heavy and there was no natural shoulder for me to stop the bicycle and take pictures, but I intend to come back. I was awarded a consolation prize just a few meters ahead however (I mostly think metric when in India, although not all the time): a charming colonial era building that turned out to be a hospital for women:

ImageChennai is full of interesting buildings like this.  But you gotta look beyond the surface clutter. They seem to all date back to British times though.  It is almost as if the natives (as the British called us) were a little too confused after centuries of colonization, and were thrust a little too suddenly into the modern era, that their creative energies all went underground.  Sadly, those creative energies do not seem to have resurfaced in the municipal arena (although they are certainly going gangbusters in many other fields: films and music immediately come to mind).

More such buildings, undoubtedly, in future posts.

America is officially NUTS! (You listening, NSA?)

That’s right, NUTS.

So, I’m riding peacefully along the Gemini flyover.  Those familiar with Chennai would know that the American consulate sits right under the flyover.  Now, the Chennai consulate is what launched my own immigration to America over thirty years ago by issuing me a student visa, and as such, it is of interest to me.  I look over the side of the flyover, and I see a long line of people winding its way by the wall, on the Mount Road side of the consulate. Clearly aspirants to visas to the US.  I identify with them: I stood in such a line thirty-two years ago myself (thirty-two is a power of 2, but I digress). So with a warm fellow feeling, I stop pedaling, and start to take some pictures of the line and the consulate behind.  Suddenly, a private security dude starts to wave me away excitedly.  Clearly, he doesn’t want me to take pictures of the situation. I am several feet over the line of aspirants, and several feet away, on the flyover.  Hardly in any position to harm anyone.  Besides, the flyover is a public place, chock-a-block with traffic.  I ignore the fellow, and continue with my camera.  I discover that I have accidentally put it into video mode, and therefore, I end up taking a video of the situation.  I decide to swing the camera around, and take a video of the traffic on the flyover.  But the security dude, excited kid, continues to wave at me and shoo me away.  I’m very far from him, up on the flyover, so I kinda ignore him, but he gets insistent.  Soon, he calls over some cops and they look up at the flyover and motion me to come down.  This is India—you don’t want to take cops too seriously, they will always try to pull their weight in that childish, decidedly unprofessional manner of all officials in India.  And besides, I was far from them on the flyover and they were on foot. So, I didn’t take the cops too seriously—I just waved at them and made some vague gestures that could have suggested that I’m moving forward.  But that said, I decided I would not ignore them either—who knows, perhaps they had a direct line to the consular officer inside, who perhaps had a direct line to Kerry, who might have sent a drone over to check me out, which perhaps would have shot a missile at me, which might have incinerated me but almost certainly would have incinerated those seventy-three people on the bus next to me, none of whom were armed with cameras and none of whom therefore were enemy combatants.  So I stopped my movie-making and pedaled away along the flyover.

How ridiculous can America get? At some small outpost consulate somewhere halfway around the world, a guy riding a bicycle on a flyover over which maybe a quarter-million people might pass on a given day stops to take some pictures, and security guards and police get all excited and try to shoo him away?  And what good will that do anyway? There must be a dozen satellites in the sky taking pictures of the consulate anyway, and most of those pictures will be in the public domain. One attack twelve years ago, and America has become a miserable frightened nation, descended mightily from its former glory. No beacon of freedom this, no shining city on the hill, just one giant whimpering wuss. What a shame.

(You listening, NSA?)

I share with you that video.  The joker in the hoodie at the right is the said security guard. At t=27, or thereabouts depending on youtube’s mood,  you may hear me try to brush him off, not that he could hear me of course.  Check out the traffic on the flyover—believe me, by Chennai standards it is light.