We arrived in Chennai in the early morning, welcomed by the greatest flooding in this city since 1975. Laden with baggage full of chisels, gouges, glue pots, clamps and other unspeakably heavy tools of the trade, we made our way through small glades of potted plants which had been carefully placed to capture the bounty of the leaking roof in the airport hallways, casually strolling past bored customs officers to the outside, where a fearless driver was patiently awaiting our arrival. Braving the torrential rainfall brought on by the cyclonic storm pounding the coast, the sparse traffic of that early hour was more reminiscent of the gondolas and boat traffic of Venice than that of rush hour Chennai. Blinding waterfalls from the overpasses cascaded down on the car, making a joke of visibility out the front windshield. Trick rider motorcyclists plowed past us like speedboats, holding their feet up on the handlebars to avoid personal contact with the floodwaters. Welcome to India; it never comes up short on adventure!
We had planned four days to leisurely get over jet lag, looking forward to strolling the exotic boulevard of Pondi Bazaar, enjoying the fine cuisine and checking out the silk shops. Instead, we found ourselves stranded in the hotel. Nobody in Chennai goes anywhere during this type of flooding. Seems it is reasonably common, since Chennai is the only major city in India which is exactly at sea level and enjoys no drainage factor whatsoever. Today’s morning newspaper reported of vipers, cobras and leeches in abundance in the waters of the city, along with copious unpleasant water soluble particulate matter, the exact nature of which I will leave to the imagination. Suffice it to say that the locals strongly recommend thoroughly washing your feet after crossing the road. Another 3 days of this and the rain is supposed to subside, leaving us with 90 degree heat and suffocating humidity.
Day four and the workshop was scheduled to commence. By now only violin makers and anybody else who happened to be consumed by insanity were venturing out into the weather. Thus it came to pass that we actually found ourselves in the company of four (out of 10) very pleasant intrepid participants and a great deal was accomplished, interrupted only by the occasional power outage and the concussive explosion of a transformer on the power pole just outside the window, accompanied by sparks showering down into the tranquil waters of the street below. Happy Diwali!