May 03, 2010

Why Am I Scared of Chennai?

If there is one city I am slightly scared of it is Chennai. First of all this is one city where I am completely dependent on others. I don’t get the language. People typically refuse to understand what I am saying and worse of all, there is no use of recording my researches as I will never be able to understand what they mean. That does make me sharper when I listen to the translators though.

The worse part of doing research in Chennai is perhaps sitting at a group with a translator where people talk for approximately 15 minutes and then my translator looks at me and says, “Oh they like soaps of SNDU.” (In case you have forgotten I work for SNDU, Sabun, Nakhun and Datun Unlimited). So why do they like it? 15 minutes more and a lot of “ amma” and “seri seri” later I am told again, “good product”. Well, I may be exaggerating a bit but frankly, when I am in Karnataka or in Andhra, the discussions and the translations take approximately the same times. But in Chennai? Never. In that way, the city is a lot like Calcutta. Like Bongs, Tam women talk a lot and I am kept gasping. Anyway Mrs. Sen and I speak the same language and though she keeps telling me to get married, I can understand what she is saying. Anyway, back to Chennai. After the first few months at my work, I understood the importance of verbal banters with translators. That’s the only way to understand what the Mylapore Mamee is talking about. “Amma.”

Oh, the Mylapore Mamees! If there is one group of Indian women I would love to know all about, it must be them. The more I get to know them, the more awed I get. Such precision in their cooking, such adherence to their traditional ways of living is slowly fading out from the rest of our metros. Mylapore is so much like my North Calcutta, the one I miss so much, the one that is all but dead.

I also feel proud to be an engineer, if not by profession, but by qualification here. South of India is anyway the last refuge of engineering; North wouldn’t mind their children to go into Reality shows and host of interesting professions. East talks about IT and not the engineering variety, rather animation, West is finding a new love for entrepreneurship but the South! The Southern mothers are the last in India to decide that if I have a child, I must have an engineer.

My first visit to Chennai was as a student, landing in the city in the dead of the night, negotiating with an auto driver with me saying “anna, what da!” and he saying, “Illa illa” Then every other auto driver coming and saying “seri seri” and “long go”, while the sleepy Rana thinking that they are saying Sorry for asking such an exorbitant fare from us.

By the time we reached the competition, where I kept asking if he knew where to go and he kept nodding, all I could think of “Seri Seri”. After all I would like to believe I am a very agreeable person by nature.

The other thing that always scared me in Chennai was this intense scrutiny by people at the airport. I have a ritual at every airport I frequent. In Chennai, it is sitting on the massage chair for 5 minutes without a care about the world around me. But when the chair stops and straightens up and I open my eyes I see the world staring at me. Maybe it’s not Chennai but India that loves to stare. But then that happens in Chennai. I will miss S laughing every time this happened in the Chennai airport. I will miss travelling with her to random airports in the country in our common quest for the Holy Grail. I will miss a friend L

This time I saw Chennai in a new light. As soon as I entered the car, I realized that this city still loves its flowers. The bikers of Bangalore have all but killed the natural fragrance of the city, Hyderabad was never a flower child, but Chennai, Oh Chennai. In the evenings, the entire city is thick with the smells of flowers, the temples have their bells ringing and in some distance, beyond the honking of traffic, you can still hear the sounds of Tyagaraja Aradhana.

Chennai likes me, not the auto drivers maybe, but the normal people. They understand I am a lost visitor, I do not know the importance of Nalli Silks, but they appreciate that if I am in Chennai I will go to Murugan Idli Shop and the Saravana Bhawan and I will know the subtle differences between the sambhars in both the places.

Bangalore loves that I love its meals; Hyderabad appreciates my taste for Dum Biryani from Paradise over the normal, but Chennai, it hovers over me like a fussy mother hen ensuring that I don’t miss my idlis. (Well, no. The mother hen must still be the Andhra meal place in Bangalore where Halo and I used to go and have full meals at 17 rupees.)

After numerous visits to the city, I am probably no longer scared of Chennai. In fact, maybe one day I will live in Chennai as well and when you arrive in my house late one afternoon, will ask you, “Sore tingriya?”


Kavity said...

Even am scared of the Chennai autos, despite knowing the language!

'Sore tingriya'? - Not bad at all, am impressed!

And you want to 'live' in Chennai some day? I hope it is just a hypothetical thing. Although I have known some Bongs who like and would want to live in Chennai. Wondering what the connect is..

Madhurjya (Banjo) said...

The connect my dear lady is the sea, the filter coffee, the Sri Krishna Sweets and so much more :)

Shreya said...

I like Chennai too. Altho I would not want to live there. I feel like an outsider in Mumbai also nowadays. And when people ask me where I am from, I have noticed a certain hesitation about saying that I am from Bihar. Sad.
But yeah, the filter coffee, brilliant.

Srihari said...

I didnt know you spent time in Chennai..but you seem to have described it awsomely.. am now missing Chennai a bit more than my daily average..:)
Come home sometime..meeting with mylapore maami guaranteed..a fairly liberalised version though:)

ramya kumar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ramya kumar said...

A delicious read. I'm visiting Calcutta soon. I hope to discover for myself whether North Calcutta lives up to its comprisons to Mylapore.

Tulika Verma said...

very interesting post!

Something most of us can easily identify with....the simile about the mother hen was hilarious and impressive... :)

Love your blog...

Madhurjya (Banjo) said...

@ Shreya - Muzaffarpur has the best litchis :)

@ Srihari - Very soon :)

@ Ramya - All the best :)

@ Tulika - bows