Thursday, April 24, 2014

Classic Moments in Chennai

Eight years ago, any mention of my imminent move to this city would bring out the similar reactions from people - they were mortified at my decision, dismissing the city as a land with the hot, humid climate, where Hindi is not widely spoken and appalled at the misery of the city whose residents pay money for drinking water. For better or worse, I decided to embrace the city and I have never been disappointed. I had arrived in this city with doubts and worries on my mind. I was enrolled in a city college for my graduate programme, and had left home for the first time. I was supposed by be suffering from homesickness, a condition brought in when one is separated from family and friends and all that they have been familiar. But on the contrary, except during the annual Durga Pujo celebrations, not many a time did I miss home. Chennai became my second home. And as this month is drawing close to its end, so is my period of stay in Chennai. Nostalgia hits me hard, as I walk back the memory lanes tracing the path to my early days in this city. I am already fighting a losing battle against the surging emotions - feeling a sense of loss –What made this stay so memorable, unforgettable? They would be my classic moments of the city as I remember it.

Hostel and fabulous roommates: My roomies hailed from the north eastern state of Manipur. From day 1, we hit it off. We discovered our common love for Shakespeare and Shah Rukh Khan (in my defence this was pre-Chennai Express times), dosa and dahi and of course Korean dramas. They introduced me to fermented fish, pickled mango and sweetened chickpeas, and I returned the favour by treating them to lip smacking treat of sattu ka paratha and chilli pickle which my mum packed when I got back from my bi-annual trip to home.

The 10 rupee movie ticket: What is the price of a movie ticket in Chennai? Take a guess. 250? Nope. 200? Wrong again. Rs.120. That is all a seat in any multiplex would cost in the city. Now, for the student bonanza: All front row seats are up for grabs for Rs. 10 only!! I understand it means spending a couple of hours craning your neck, but for a student torn between her love for cinema and books, it was a good bargain.

The beach: The beach clearly sets Chennai apart from other metro cities. Witness the glorious sunrise and sunset, with hot molgha bajjis with chutney, sundal (boiled and seasoned chickpeas), and of course sample a wide variety of sea food caught fresh by the local fishermen and cooked right at the spot for you. Visiting the beach for some it is a part of their daily routine, for others a weekend haunt, some come here to seek solitude; some come to celebrate with friends and families. And when it gets too crowded you can always walk along the sea shore, footwear in hand - feeling the wet sand scrunch under your feet as the waves come and kiss your feet once in a while.

Connemara Library: It boasts to be one of the oldest public libraries of the country. I first entered the gates of the library as a college student who needed the reference of a couple of books that were not housed by the college library. The red bricked building with green windows had a look of the old colonial times, people buzzing around in the campus with the tall trees casting tall shadows blocking out the sun offering some respite from the heat. On stepping in, I saw a long hall with  tables lined in the centre flanked on either side by tall wooden racks holding books from the different times, of all possible color, size and volume. It was clearly my Alice-in-Wonderland moment.

And then there are the small moments, the people, tiny details which define my life here. The prospect of  moving means not seeing the patti selling malligai flowers at the end of my street, waking up early and not hearing the suprabhatam, missing the usual greeting from the friendly conductor anna from the MTC bus, no more quick trips to Pondy Bazar, bidding adieu with a heavy heart to the city which introduced me to kotthu parotta and mini idliAs John Denver sings farewell to his sweetheart:

All my bags are packed I’m ready to go
I’m standing here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin’, it’ early morn
The taxi’s waiting, he’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome I could die

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Four months had gone by and they had never exchanged a word. They worked around each other – R filling the water bottle from the water-bubble at J’s side of the room, J leaning over R’s stuff to reach the switch board, R getting back from work to watch another Korean series and laugh out loud over the silly acts, J watching Bade Achhe Lagte Ho and sigh out loudly every single time Mr. Ram Kapoor says something endearing to say to his better half – both moving away, giving space when the other was in the vicinity; communication between them was non-existent. They shared the room, but did not share their words. Each seemed so absorbed, sunken in the silence – that they were wary, almost afraid to break it, afraid to disturb the sanctity of what silence usually meant.

The relationship had soured, and the situation had come to this. Few months ago they were congratulating each other to have found the perfect roommate in the other, and today their silence was only testimony to their acknowledgement for the other. Girls who would spend hours together discussing work, friends, family, shopping in Pondy Bazar and dancing together the crazy moves of meringue and calypso in the weekend held Zumba class – could now barely tolerate the sight of each other. ‘What happened between them’ - neither could figure. Both parties were aware of the relevance of the question, but neither wanted to be the one find the answer.

Yesterday I saw R speaking to the warden. She was paying up her monthly rent. Along with the rent money, there was a letter with the subject: Vacating Room in bold letters. Turns out she is leaving the city and J.