July 12, 2012

Sipping Chai in Chennai: Blending Spirituality and High-Tech in India. ~ Elizabeth Huesing

What do you do when you are a divorced 49-year-old mother of two, whose empty nest has suddenly materialized?

Well, after visiting an ashram in South India in early 2011, I accepted a job in the city of Chennai (formerly Madras) as a software trainer. I packed my bags and moved to Southeast Asia to start my life anew. I was determined to strengthen my spiritual path but also needed to be employed to live in India full-time, and I did this by obtaining a hard-to-get Indian work visa.

Temple Gopuram from Skandashram.

I am a former suburban soccer mom and technical writer from Boulder, Colorado who has plunged headfirst into a dizzying new life and high-tech career in the chaotic city of Chennai, but I am managing to keep one foot in the ashram that brought me here in the first place. I have also met my soon-to-be husband who is British, writes books on Indian saints and has lived near the ashram I initially visited for the past 36 years.

It has been an interesting year—I moved here last July—full of challenges on many levels.

For instance, I am an American working for an American company based in India, but I was hired as an Indian resident so I work on outsourced documents from the USA. Go figure. I spend my weekends with my fiance in Tiruvannamalai, a temple town four hours south of Chennai and recharge my spirit at Ramanashram before heading back to my corporate job in Chennai on Monday mornings.

Working in India vs being a tourist in India takes some adjustment.

I have been coming to India over the past 20-odd years as both a tourist and the wife of an Indian spouse. Although my marriage ended nearly 16 years ago, I have always had a feeling that India was somehow part of my genetic make up.

Puja alter in the office with cash receipt books.

One of the things that I love about living and working in India is that the spiritual is woven into everyday life, even corporate India. Last month we had an office puja (prayer offering) to ensure that our company continues to prosper. One of the office cubicles was converted into an alter; the IT guy is also a Hindu priest so we had the puja during work hours. The smell of incense wafting through the office lingered long after the puja finished.

On my rickshaw ride to work each morning, I pass small, colorful, street-side Hindu temples adjacent to stalls selling fruits and veggies, medical supplies and umbrellas. Nearby, a stray dog or cow may be rifling though a pile of last night’s yet-to-be picked up garbage. A puja may be going on with the ringing of bells and the lighting of incense. It takes me out of my morning wind-up to a fast-paced day in corporate India for a few moments, and I do a mental reboot on my reasons for being here.

Getting to work each morning via auto rickshaw is my window into Chennai.

There is the morning walk to the auto rickshaw stand past women scrubbing their front sidewalks with water, sweeping away the dirt before drawing a kolam, a geometric design, with white rice flour onto the sidewalk. Hindus believe that kolams can bring prosperity and good fortune to the family and are drawn anew each morning on doorsteps to the house.

Then there’s the morning haggle with a rickshaw driver over ten rupees too much or too little in fare. I usually cave in and pay the extra fare as it’s not much for me but a few more rupees for the driver’s family.

I have learned that auto rickshaw horns vary in sound and intensity. My favorite driver is an older man with one of the fastest auto rickshaws I have been in. When he gets some open road (which is very seldom on the streets of Chennai) he goes careening through traffic at breakneck speeds reaching 25 mph. But, what I love most about him is the horn on his rickshaw.

It’s an old fashioned horn, like the ones kids have on their tricycles, with a large bulb that one squeezes to make the noise. The bulb on his horn is green and makes a honking sound that had me biting the sides of my cheeks one recent morning to keep from all out laughter. It seemed funny to me to be speeding through the city in a bright yellow three-wheeled vehicle honking a horn made for a tricycle. It was one of those moments in India where I found myself happy to be here having such rich experiences that would be difficult to duplicate anywhere else in the world.

Elizabeth Huesing. Currently working and living in Chennai, India as a technical writer, Elizabeth Huesing is a former science/math teacher from Boulder, CO. She is a graduate of Purdue University with a BA in education and has an MS in telecommunications from the University of Colorado, Boulder. From 1985-87, Elizabeth served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer teacher in Kenya. She has also been an exchange student in Japan, a singing telegram girl, a technical writer in Antarctica, a DJ in a small radio station in Iowa, a yoga instructor, a police dispatcher and a goat sitter for a cheese dairy. Elizabeth met her husband-to-be, a British writer based in India, in Tiruvannamalai, a temple town made famous by the Indian sage Ramana Maharishi. She has two daughters who attend college in California.


Editor: Ryan Pinkard

Read 9 Comments and Reply

Read 9 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant journal  |  Contribution: 1,375,490