The Wonderful Weirdness of Trichy | Milaap

The Wonderful Weirdness of Trichy

Tiruchirapalli- this quaint and wonderfully weird city is my home for the next 6 months. My tenure with Milaap as a fellow brought me to this city to work with two of its field-partners- GUARDIANS (Gramalaya Urban and Rural Development Initiatives and Network for Sanitation) and GMF (Gramalaya Microfin Foundation). Trichinopoly of the British, one of the most fortified cities of the Madras Presidency and birthplace of Tritchies (Trichinopoly cigars) that Winston Churchill took a liking to. The city did not fail to intrigue me the moment I stepped off the bus.

At 5 in the morning, the city was buzzing with activity. The temple sounds and azan from mosque blended beautifully to create surreal harmonies. Mornings that begins with music augments the soul in indescribable ways. I reached my accommodation unaware of the present, lulled by the soothing sounds, almost in a daze. My first dose of amusement came from the temporary accommodation arranged for me. It was a ladies hostel facility in Thillai Nagar, the poshest area in Trichy. Thillai Nagar is to Trichy what Koramangala is to Bangalore and Connaught Place is to Delhi. The hilarity came from the fact that the building was named Trichy Specialty Hospital. Well, apparently, the hospital building is owned by a family of doctors who has rented it out to run a hostel and decided not to change the name. The new Trichy Specialty Hospital is a few feet away from the building. One of the brothers has a consultation room in the hostel and uses a room for their sick, bed-ridden mother. I also saw the cruel irony of life. In a family of doctors, there was none who could help their bedridden octogenarian mother.
Trichy Speciality Hospital Hostel Doctor's information

There is no worse or ruder awakening from the morning trance like the jolt from the bus-driver’s sudden brake during midday traffic congestion. Sometimes, traffic signals are more of a suggestion and buses, rickshaws, cars, bikes, and humans compete to get ahead of one another, especially in the junctions and bus stands. Yet, even with the cacophony, the city has its appeal.
Morning Traffic
What allured me to a particular street was its name- Reynolds Street. Trichy and its roads- the odd ones are streets named Mc Donald’s Street and Reynolds Street with a temple in its vicinity. I found this very English, very western nomenclature of streets housing very traditional South-Indian temples quirky.
Road Signs     
Trichy is a place of temples. You can invariably find one temple in each street or locality. What is peculiar is, just like temples, you can find a hospital, that too, a specialty hospital in every street or locality. Marriage halls too are just as common, but that’s acceptable considering the number of temples. Kaveri flows through Trichy, creating the island of Srirangam. Even with the gushing river in close proximity, people buy bottled water or cans. ‘Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink’.  
Drinking Water
This clean city values cleanliness so much that it has trash-cans smack-dab in the middle of the unofficial footpath.
Waste Bin

The city accommodates all; with a significant floating population, there are ‘mamas’ (typical Brahmin uncles addressed affectionately) and ‘mamis’ (typical Brahmin aunties addressed affectionately) dressed in traditional garbs, sandalwood paste adorning their foreheads, young conservative girls dressed in churidars with plated hair festooned with jasmine flowers and chic women wearing trendy western clothes. The city has Pantaloons and other stores for clothes shopping, Café Coffee Day, Barbeque Nation, Dominos and other fast-food outlets for the bourgeoisie, interlaced with street-vendors and other small eateries. Where there is a Pantaloons, there is a Pothys and a Chennai Silks. Everyone can find a place in this city that welcomes all with open arms.
Dominos in Thillai Nagar    CCD in Thillai Nagar

What left me speechless and shocked at the roadside was the most ludicrous scene that requires a comprehensive descriptive narrative. It was a sight I saw on my third day in this temple town. It was a fairly normal day; the morning was cloudy and the mellow winds brought a slight drizzle to Trichy. My day began the same way it did the day before. I woke up in the tiny room of my temporary lodging and got ready to have yet another day of accommodation hunting. The city was bustling, preparing for Pongal, the harvest festival; and I sat on my hands waiting. With deadlines looming over my head and frustration of not finding a comfortable accommodation brimming, I was in no mood to enjoy lunch. I decided to venture out late afternoon when my hunger became unbearable. Even the scrumptious Paneer Fried Rice I ate couldn’t cheer me up from the pangs of worry I felt, the thought of settling down still at the back of my head. That’s when I saw this absurd sight for the first time- a vehicle encased with flowers, with a corpse covered in white, somber men and loud Kollywood (Tamil film industry) ‘dappan koothu’ (a music genre) songs blaring from speakers went whizzing past me.
Undecorated Vehicle

For a moment, I questioned my sanity. I wondered whether I was hallucinating. No. I went back to my office, casting the image away. The next day, I witnessed the same sight. A vehicle encased with garlands of chrysanthemum and marigold flowers carrying a white-clad body, accompanied by loud happy music and anguished faces. The juxtaposition of sensory inputs was overwhelming. It raced past me in a blink of an eye. I caught myself wishing I could see it once more to click a picture of this bizarre scene. The sudden realization stunned me; this fascination for the morbidly amusing scenario had made me wish to see another cadaver. I put an end to the dark turn my train of thoughts were taking and decided not to click a picture. Unexpectedly, I saw an empty, undecorated vehicle on the road. I took it as a cue to document this weirdness without being disrespectful and got my picture. On further inquiry, I came to know that certain communities in Tamil Nadu ‘celebrate’ demise of dear ones. One person, I asked nonchalantly told me, “He has escaped this world. So his family is celebrating his new escapade”. Another told me that the departed needs to feel that his family is happy for him to attain peace. Hence, he is taken around to see sights. With nothing to quip or comment, I nodded and left.
Sights at Chatram Bus Stand, Trichy
In a span of 5 days, Trichy has offered me so many sights and weirdness. I feel as a part of its culture. I move with its crowd as the city embraces me with its eccentricity. As I walk through the boulevards, the faces start to become familiar. I meet the same trans-woman at the signal to who gives me her blessings for a smile and donations. I am eager to see everything Tiruchirapally offers and explore more of its uniqueness. India astounds you with her diversity when you travel, even just a few kilometers across a state border. We remain unified, a unity in diversity. Mark Twain said, “In religion, India is the only millionaire… The one land that all men desire to see and having seen once, even by a glimpse, would not give that glimpse of all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.” I concur.