Monday, 13 March 2017

Chennai Chronicles Part I

I was told that Tamil Nadu is the Bengal of the South. Of course, technically Bengal should be the Tamil Nadu of the East, but this was told to me by a Bengali and everyone knows we can't possibly accept that a culture may be older and richer than ours. But the reference wasn't to 'culture' as much as attitude. In that, Tamil Nadu adopts the kind of superior behaviour towards its neighbours as Bengal does towards Odisha, Bihar and Assam.

It is my theory that if you think of something as being the least likely scenario, the Universe will conspire to make that happen.

The most disorienting thing about Chennai is that you have to talk to cab-drivers and auto-wallahs in English. And that they don't respond to 'bhaiya'.

North-South, Us-them are all very fluid concepts. This Tamilian cab driver we drove with yesterday asked us where we were from. On hearing 'Delhi', he said he was from the North too, and intensely missing Hindi in Chennai (his home-town otherwise). To him, 'north' included the North-east - specifically Arunachal, where he worked till a week ago.

The auto wallahs in Chennai are as bad as the auto wallahs in Delhi. Maybe worse.

I went to Marina Beach at night and dipped my feet in the moonlit water.

I think any city is worth living in if it has a beach. And land breeze in the evenings as a consequence.

I found a Bengali restaurant in the city when my father wouldn't stop ranting about how bad the food is here.

The cook in my hostel put pieces of fried bread in pulao.

My father's rant wasn't completely unjustified.

The beach is connected by train.

I am all for local pride and everything. But Triplicane is easier to pronounce than Tiruvelikeni. And Mylapore easier to remember than Tirumailai.

If my father were left alone on the roads of Chennai, I am pretty sure he wouldn't make it back. As a result of never being able to recall/ pronounce the location of the guest-house.

My mother should have been a travel show host. She can fit in anywhere. Though she has a weekly hankering for fish.

They sell fried fish on the beach.

I haven't tried it myself but I have heard on good authority that they put rasam in gol-gappas here instead of imli ka paani. I am reasonably sure that trying this in Delhi could get you arrested.

After more than a week of taking an Ola everywhere, I finally rode to work and back by a bus. The buses are as crowded as in Delhi, and I was seated so I don't know whether men have the proclivity to grope women in this city too. They are extremely polite when you have to get down though. Everyone near the door gets down at each stop to let people de-board. You would know what a big deal that is if you have had the chance to ride the Delhi Metro in a compartment filled with aunties and college girls.

I had veg biriyani at someone's house and liked it.

Is it weird that I find the idea of a mustachioed man in a white lungi and aviators, riding a bike...appealing?

I am the only person in the city who seems to want to know where Rajnikant and Kamal Hassan live. The cab drivers here are far more interested in Jayalalitha's address.

Some traditions are worth preserving. Like the way they serve tea/ coffee here - in small steel tumblers (I almost spelled it as Tumblr) accompanied by a small steel bowl. You have to continuously transfer the drink from the tumbler to the bowl and vice versa to cool the drink down and also to dissolve the sugar. I know it's inconvenient, and that a large mug and a spoon make more sense, but I just like drinking it the traditional way.

What does it say about me as a person that the only place in Chennai that feels like home, is the neighbourhood mall?

Last week my mother and I were strolling down a deserted road in the middle of the afternoon. Anyone slightly familiar with Chennai's climate would tell you that it's inadvisable. Especially if the only retail establishments on the road sell hot tea and cigarettes.  As my mother tried to explain to the vendor that we needed Coke/Sprite, and the man mimed that he didn't stock them, a young man dressed in the generic blue uniform donned by private security guards offered to take his moped and get a couple of bottles for us, from a distance. (We understood him because he spoke in Hindi).  My mother gave him a 100 rupees hundred note which I was  convinced was the last we saw of it (and him). As the minutes ratcheted up, I became increasingly confident that my general lack of faith in humanity would be vindicated. Close to half an hour later, the man returned - with two bottles of Sprite, pushing his moped by hand. Turns out it had broken down, hence the delay. When my mother tried to tip and I (sheepishly) tried to give him one of the cold-drink bottles, he refused. He said this was the least an Odiya brother could do for his Bengali brethren.

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