Sunday, February 24, 2008

Distant Madras and Modern Chennai for a SAISA Tournament

in case you're interested in the saisa (south asia international school association) world of chennai/madras, here's a bit of a daily log from the last couple of days since we arrived down here after our well-managed train journey through two nights on the deccan plateau... (thanks, james, for all of your sage and useful advice before departing!!)

Friday Afternoon:

we've arrived in chennai all safe and sound. jet air flight from k'du to delhi was elegant, refined with a personal tv behind each seat to enjoy the latest mtv hits. local transport guided us to a healthy dinner en route to the train station for our 10:30 departure.

to say the least, it was a rolling, pre-colonial journey by train for 36 hours down along the length of mother india. although we had a moment of uncertainty in the delhi train station as we gathered around our bags to protect our belongs, not knowing how risky the travel would be, while an indian man covered in chains and locks on the rail queue sold us some to protect our bags along the way, once
aboard the travel was easy, albiet confined.

as it turned out, there wasn't much need for either the chains or locks, as most of us had our own train carriage where we gathered for the whole journey. a few others were a couple of carriages below, giving us the opportunity at the occasional station to pop off and stroll down to visit our friends. during the day, the boys
read, played cards, watched movies on the computer, ate and slept as rural india sailed by outside our windows...

i shared a compartment with a gentle indian government civil servant in our two bunk curtained alcove. he was a devout christian who spent much of the journey reading the bible (acts, mostly...) when he didn't want me to explain some aspects about robert oppenheimer, since i was reading kai bird's wondrous and historically insightful book, 'american prommetheus', he gave me for the long journey through the indian night.

right now, the boys have just had lunch and are relaxing in the pool. chris and i are going to our hotel to rest and then see what's up this evening. the first game is tomorrow at 11 am ag. islamabad, then karachi in the afternoon. delhi is the big game first thing on saturday morning! ez looks good, but we'll see how he feels tomorrow. i think it'll be hard to keep him off the pitch -- but it all depends on how the ankle feels tomorrow. let's see...

Saturday Morning Update:

three games down and lincoln is 2-1-0. they beat islamabad and karachi convincingly yesterday, but just tied delhi this morning. this afternoon they play mumbai.

given their record, they will most likely go to the semi-finals tomorrow. most likely it'll be they and delhi from their division and dhaka and lahore from the other division. if ls beats bombay then they'll probably play dhaka in the semi-final. if they beat them, it'll be either delhi (again) or lahore in sunday's final.

ezra, however, didn't even suit up this morning. he was on the sidelines yesterday, at times hoping to go in even for a brief period. but he's come to realize that he won't play in this saisa, regretfully. he doesn't feel his ankle is ready. this
morning he was in good spirits working w/ his replacement in the goal, chris boyer (who's played very well.

the coaches, luke and sam, are in a good state of mind. the lincoln team has played some of the best football of the tournement according to other coaches. they've kept the ball on the ground, controlled the game and attacked up the flanks. they lost some of the attention against delhi who put up serious pressure from the start of the game, but they held their own. there is much ahead, but they can be proud of what they've achieved.

last night, after the games, chris & i wandered along the long wind-swept beach at sunset with the families out on the beach, then wandered through some poorer beachfront homes to attend an outdoor tamil catholic mass with a sense of grace and sanctity in the full moon air. amazing how chistian tamil nadu seems to have become. we're told the state is 40% hindu, 30% muslim and 30% xian. quite a nice balance as things go. we walked amid some of the older parts of the city that are quite peaceful & lovely in that tranquil somewhat delapidated way of old india.

but the new development areas south of chennai, where the school is, looks more like menlo park, california or a european industrial park. big 10 story gleaming, new office buildings dominating the horizon right next to the school, overlooking the football pitch. this is the incredibly westernized, vibrant, untraditional india
that thomas friedman & others have been writing about. pizza huts, subway sandwiches, cell phones, call centers, hyundai factories and growth, growth, growth.

to say the least, a far cry from the reality of our petite and struggling, slip-sliding kathmandu, still twisting and turning in its own painful and uncertain metamorphosis from the 19th century.

of course, some of us still have a soft spot for that hand-drawn cup of south indian coffee and a masala dosa on a banana leaf plate while watching the dusky old women in saris slice their ivory coconuts on the side of the street while the dark tamil men with ponderous moustaches dressed in lungis drive their auto-rickshaws up the straw-laden lanes...

Saturday Late Afternoon:

ok, for those who may be interested: here is a live email broadcast from chennai/madras, where the lincoln boys football team has turned back a vigorous effort by bombay, 2-0, to end at the top of their division with a 3-1-0 record. undefeated in their group stage and now on to the semi-finals tomorrow morning.

we haven't heard the final results from the other group yet, but most likely it'll be lahore and dhaka in the semi-finals w/ lincoln and delhi. if lahore tops their group, then ls will play dhaka in the semi-final, while if dhaka tops, then they'll play lahore to get into the finals tomorrow afternoon.

reports have it that lahore may be the strongest team in the other group. they tied w/ dhaka 1-1 while coasting over the other opposition (basically chennai varisty and and chennai junior varsity). either way, lincoln will need to be up and ready for both games tomorrow.

unfortunately, there may have been a major injury this afternoon. dulak tenzing, the prime play-maker and the virtual winner of last year's final with his penalty in the last minutes of the game. he took a painful fall while piroutting to the goal late in the first half against bombay and fell to the ground with intense screaming. when he was carried off the pitch on a stretcher, it seemed like his
saisa season was already over, alas. he's gone to the hospital for x-rays, but it's seriouslly unlikely that he'll be on the pitch tomorrow for lincoln.

besides dulak, nick has a siatica, while drissa (our cameroonian defender) has a bad foot and ezra didn't even suit up for today's games. so, it'll be back to teh core of the team to carry them on in the semi-final against dhaka (the lahore goalie just informed me...), then, en challah, against either lahore or delhi in the final tomorrow afternoon!!

besides all of this excitement, chris and i snuck away to the madras museum at mid-day to see their incredble, world-class collection of 2 C BC to 2 C AD amaravati aniconic buddhist stone carvings and 14th-17th C hindu chola bronzes, with some exceptional, mind-boggling 4' nataraj statues that were nearly divine. truly one of the magnificent specialized south asia art collections in ze known world. beautiful!!

these are the sights and sounds of modern chennai and ancient madras. quite a world of contrasts here in tamil nadu! it's a few days off from my work at the human rights commission, but i think that it's more than a fair trade to spend time, instead, with my son, his friends, our kids, their lives, their dreams and, most especially, their joys...

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