Yesterday was my first real day out and about here in Chennai. Mainly because I had my first meeting with George Cherian, CEO of Raj Impex, the company I will be researching at about the manufacturing side of the Indian hair trade. However, since this was my second day here in Chennai, I was still exhausted from my jet lag (12 1/2 hours time difference between California and here is a lot to handle), but I was on a mission to get the ball rolling for my project. I was only slightly more successful than my first day where I was only able to hunt down an internet cafe, and find a store to buy water at. Let me just say I will be very happy when my jet lag is finally over with! However, Jet lag aside, yesterday was great!
I had a meeting scheduled with Mr. George Cherian, CEO Raj Hair, at 10:30 am in his office downtown in T. Nagar. Since I am perpetually late, I kind of overestimated the time it would take me to find an autorickshaw (basically a hot wheels car big enough to fit people), haggle down a price, give him the address, and get there on time. I ended up arriving at 9:50… Even though early, the receptionist informed Mr. Cherian I was there and brought me black tea with milk and sugar (the first taste of sustenance since my meal on the plane 3 days ago) and leisure magazines to read. I had no complaints waiting the 40 for Mr. Cherian, especially because I was waiting in the air conditioning!
When 10:30 rolled around, the receptionist escorted me upstairs to the 3rd floor and had me wait (with more tea) until Mr. Cherian was ready to meet with me. A few minutes later, I met George Cherian face to face, was offered more tea, which I gladly accepted, and we sat down. I started the meeting with me explaining to him why I have traveled all the way to India to study hair. As I explained my project for him again, as well, as went over the personal profile he asked me to write about myself, he seemed very impressed that I wanted to learn about the Indian hair trade, but even more so about what I wanted to do with the information. As I explained that I wanted more stringent company product liability laws put in place for hair goods, and intended to write a book about this experience, and possibly produce a documentary on the hair trade, he was very excited to help. He was however very wary about me reflecting the negative side of the business, to which I stressed I wanted my research to be as transparent as possible, and swore that I take no sides on the business. After we came to an understanding on my role as researcher, we created a plan of action for my hair project. Starting Monday, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I will get a briefing on the company, each departments tasks, the companies product lines, and have time for questions and answers with him, and his father, the chairman of the company- the real Mr. Cherian. We have our factory tours set up, and he is giving me contacts at all of the temples here in the south that are large and small scale hair auctioneers. For one month straight I will be doing nothing but hair with him and the company, and then, for my remaining time here in India, I will have the opportunity to do “free study” of the hair industry.
Not only did we figure out my research schedule, he also is helping me find an apartment! He even called in his secretary (Vigi) and she wrote out a list of locations for women freindly banks with ATM’s, a good store to activate my mobile phone, places to eat, and things to do at night. By the time I left, I had drank at least 4 cups of tea, and had a list of places to go.
Feeling inspired by my time with Mr. Cherian, I waved down another autoricksaw, and went to the Pondy Bazar. Unfortunately I was missing a passport photo so I wasn’t able to purchase a SIM card for my phone or activate it, but I did manage to find a place to eat!
Honestly I was so hungry I could have eaten a horse! After giving into my foreigner status I asked around for a good place to eat and ended up at this great vegetarian restaurant. On the second floor I paid 52 rupees (roughly $1.25) and had an all you can eat buffet meal. Since I am new to southern Indian dining, I did what any normal person would do, I watched the locals. First the server brings you a banana leaf, aka your plate. then he gives you a cup of water, which I observed you wash your leaf with. Then another server comes and places dollops of different vegetarian sauces on your leaf, plus three bowls of plain yoghurt, and two other sauces I didn’t try. Then they bring out a plate of rice and a sweet coconut dink. Once all these fixings have come, you use your right hand to take some of the rice, place it on your leaf plate, take some of the vegetarian sauce and put that on top of the rice. Then you mix the two together with your hand, and then shovel small amounts into your mouth with your fingers. Whoever said you needed to use a fork and knife to eat, clearly has not been to Chennai, India.When you’re finished eating , you simply fold your leaf in half, dip your fingers into the same water you washed your leaf with, and walk out. Simple as can be!
The food yesterday was AMAZING! It could be that I was starving, but none the less, it was simply delicious! By the time I was finished with my meal, all I could do was wave down another autorickshaw to take me back to my hotel after we haggled over the price. When I got back, the jet lag I had been fighting finally won, and I passed out on my bed for a phenomenal nap. When I woke up later that evening, I could still smell the hints of my lunch time meal on my fingers! Yum!