As you walk into the building you're greeted by a beautiful mandala that is always decorated with a water jar full of flowers and the chalk patterns that are so common in entry ways here.
Each level, with the exception of the first, has two flats, each of which have two to three bedrooms. I'm staying on the 2nd level flat, which is on the 3rd story from the street level. I get quite a bit of light through the two windows in my room, if not an attractive view. One window looks out to an array of thin, tall windows in the next building. The most charming aspect of this view is that my window has a ledge frequented by pigeons that pace back and forth while staring into my room. They're curious and surprisingly tolerant of my erratic movements. Only now and again do I open my shade or move towards the window too quickly for their taste and then they're off my ledge and park themselves momentarily on the ledge of the next building. Within a minute they're back on my ledge again. The other window is larger and has a cute reading nook decorated with orange cushions and a mat, which almost makes up for the dilapidated house that serves as my view. Even by Chennai standards, this house looks particularly neglected, but I have noticed people walking across the yard.
The first level is a covered garage, which always seems to be full of more cars and motorcycles than seem reasonable for a building this size.
The last building was called Madras B&B, which was an obvious enough name. This one is called Footprint, which I can't quite figure out. They've gone out of their way to maintain the theme and the doors all have a framed drawing of what looks like a child's footprint, which is cute, but still doesn't explain why they went with this theme.
But then, this is the same city where I came across follow-the-law campaign ads with Mr. Potato Head with his policeman attachments as its spokesperson. Here, things don't always make sense and they don't really need to given how seamlessly India manages its paradoxes and quirks.
My flat is quite large, with two sitting areas that are kept tidy, boast colorful decor and have fresh flowers every day. There's air conditioning in each of the rooms and in the common area. But generally the common area A/C doesn't run since the windows are always open.
Every morning, breakfast is served in the larger 4th story flat between 7:30 and 10, giving residents ample time to get up and enjoy their fresh food and coffee leisurely.
It's a nice time to mingle with other people. So far I have met only the folks staying in my flat. the room next to me has either one or two girls who speak French and Hindi and who always act like I've interrupted a discussion on some illegal scheme. Whenever they see me, they stop all conversation and stand very still, staring at me with expressions that lie somewhere between guilty and startled. They only soften to smiles after I grin and say "Hello," to which they always respond with a collective "Hello" but nothing more.
The other folks are alot less odd. They're a couple from Portland who are here doing IT work, which I find ironic since in the U.S. the trend seems to be that we import Indian folks to work in IT. They've traveled here before so have already been through their culture shock. We enjoyed trading stories of odd encounters here from previous trips.
I typically don't see people, since the heat and humidity keep us in our air conditioned rooms most of the time and none of us seem to have coincident schedules, except for breakfast on weekends, and even then there's always a chance I will end up eating on my own. During the week, classes start at 7:30a.m. so I can't make breakfast and instead the folks in the kitchen gather some food for me and store it in the fridge in my flat's common area, allowing me to enjoy it for lunch or a very early breakfast the next day.
The food at breakfast is nothing short of stupendous. Just like in Madras B&B, whatever we are eating is always served with papaya with lim drizzle, something that I've developed a taste for. You have no control of what is served each day, but this being Southern India, you can bet it will be rice based. I haven't had a dish I didn't enjoy in any of my trips, though, so that should not be taken as a complaint. The real beauty of the food is that it is made fresh every day. There's something about home cooked meals that are eaten just after they're done being cooked. There's no leftovers or reheats. Each person who shows up at breakfast waits a few minutes as their meal is prepared. Even the coffee is made for each person.
This is a huge contrast to the way that we tend to eat in the U.S. and one of the things I enjoy the most about my trips to India. One of my fellow students was talking about this with me and mentioned that for a few years, South Indians were starting to move towards the more Western approach of pre-made foods and eating out but that recently the trend had been reversed and home cooked meals were more common. For people who do not have the time to cook, there's actually a number of services in town which will bring home cooked meals to your home or workplace at whatever time you stipulate so you can enjoy a home cooked meal even when you're too busy to make it. The cost is around 50 Rupees, which with today's exchange rate comes out to 75 cents. A few of us at school are planning on using one of these services so we can have breakfast delivered at 8:30a.m., during the 30 minute break we have between our asana class and the next session.
All in all, this is a pretty nice set up for the next three weeks and one that I'm feeling I might miss when I go back.