Hotels and Temples

Trichy hotel

[Part 2 of the Trichy diary that began here]

There is something about hotels that is both self-evident and not well understood. Hotels in cities are islands of comfort for the privileged. The city can be harsh, the hotel offers a refuge. Out there it may be hot and dusty and noisy, but inside it is cool and clean and quiet. Out there you are on your own, inside we are at your service. Out there you may be a foreigner, inside you are our guest. Once inside, you are under the illusion of comfort and control, little of which you possessed or expected outside. The traveller sets out into the city, exploring its innards and surveying its underbelly and exposing himself to the elements, but he always returns to the hotel at night. Outside he mixes with sweat-ridden passengers in a crowded bus, inside he expects a clean sheet on his bed and complains about a layer of dust. Outside he visits a slum and mingles with its residents and listens to them with empathy, inside he gets irritated when a hotel worker – who probably lives in that slum – is negligent.

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Trichy diary – part 1

Trichy 196

One of the things I noticed first on the autorickshaw ride from Trichy railway station to our hotel was the absence of tall apartment buildings. Another was the absence of real estate advertisements. The Trichy I knew in my college days in the late 1990s did not have either, but I had just arrived from Bangalore, home to a perpetual property exhibition, and the contrast I saw here led me to conclude that in some Indian cities fifteen years changes nothing. This is not entirely true. Autorickshaw fares have soared; in place of the lively Hot Chips fast-food stall next to the central bus stand there is now a dull office; and the sweet-corn soup at the Sangam hotel restaurant does not have the same tang anymore.

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The marble quarry worker


At the Trichy central bus stand we boarded No.128 towards Thuvakudi. Wife and I were on our way to the Regional Engineering College, where we had studied together in the 1990s. In a foolhardy attempt to revive the collegiate spirit and relive those days, we decided to do without the comforts of a rental car and chose to travel by public transport. The bus was already full when we boarded – all seats were taken – and soon we were rubbing shoulders (and not only shoulders) with fellow passengers, mostly working class men and women. I sensed some of them staring at me, standing incongruously amidst them in my jeans and kurta, a camera slung over my shoulder.

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