Friday, March 31, 2006

Randomly, in Chennai

Having spent several (ahem) years in Chennai, I have learnt:

4Never to speak on the mobile phone when I'm travelling in an auto in Chennai, because 1. It sounds as if I am riding a horse (ha-a-a-a-a-a-ai)/ speaking through an asthmatic wheeze (heeeeeyhn), 2. The person on the other side cannot hear me anyway and 3. Nine times out of ten, I leave the phone on the auto seat.

4That the best way to negotiate with driver of abovesaid vehicle is to quote a price ten-twenty rupees (Rs.100 from airport) lesser than his demand and then walk away (recommended nose in the air) as if you are used to walking from Triplicane to Velachery at noon.

4To ask for a fresh juice 'without' because these guys have a habit of dosing you with the entire country's sugar requirement in one glass of watermelon juice.

4That you no longer need small change on an MTC bus, because the fare, these days, is enough to clean your purse out.

4That it is futile to get an auto driver to say "Stella Maris" (Phonetically close to 'maa-riz') as opposed to "Stella Maris" (Phonetically 'maeris') .

4That how much ever I do not like the word 'Pombalai' and think it is demeaning for a woman to be nomenclatured so, it is constanly happening around me.

4That the best tea is almost always available at Iranis and is best drunk in a tall, dirty glass.

4That if the international arrival terminal corridor in Chennai airport smells of urine, it is just to make you feel at home, instantly.

4That a lane without a Vinayakar temple is an illusion.

4That the Nadaar shop at the corner is still your best bet for cheap, fresh groceries.

4The owner of the abovesaid shop seems to have been born with the once-white dhoti and once-white-half- sleeve vest he is wearing.

4That tar melts under intense heat. (Wrt: the road and the summer sun)

4That muttadosais should not be eaten anywhere but in roadside 'thallu vandis'.

4Learn politics and swearwords from drivers (preferably auto).

4That most of what Dinamalar's 'Tea kadai bench' says has, at most, half a grain of truth embedded deep inside.

4That the price of an item on Saravana Bhavan's menu is inversely proportional to the size of what is on the plate.

4NEVER ever to go for a first-day-first-show Superstar blockbuster, unless you want a fracture.

4That 'Thalaivaa' is not necessarily a leader and 'Captain' doesn't necessarily comandeer a ship.

4That great, albeit dead people, get buried on the beach.

4That there is no 'p' in Tamil, so you say replace all 'p's' nevermind where they occur to 'b's'. For instance, you must say 'busba' instead of the ordinary name 'Pushpa'.

4That people on the streets are really helpful because you just have to ask directions to get someplace and you will get four. This is really helpful, because after spending some time going in circles, you will eventually get there, while it is the moral support that ultimately counts and makes you feel loved.

4That Kodambakkam is not just a pincode, but a mini-city all by itself.

4That Josh Harnett sometimes looks like Brad Pitt in profile.

4That nearly a decade after we went Tamilised and became Chennai, the rest of the world still remembers and refers to the city as Madras. Yippeee.


If you can see an overemphasis on autos or food, it is not my obsessive compulsive disorder, just your imagination.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Please feel free to enrich it! :)


Sunday, March 26, 2006

The pestilential passenger and the Philippines

There is a category of airline passenger that would definitely fall into the category pestilential. Nay. PESTILENTIAL.
I was just about getting stretched out on my extendable business class seat when the scrawny person seated next to me folded up his newspaper, turned to me and said, "Going to Singapore?"
"No, further." I say, hoping he'd get the message.
"Ah, where?" He persists. I should have seen it coming.
"My parents have been there. They steal from you in the hotels and streets. But the Filipinos are nice."
No, this wasn't going to work out at all. To make things worse, they start serving food, when I want to switch off. For a change I actually like the food they're serving me.
And then from my left, "What caste are you?"
WHAT?! I splutter and then I choke!
And then, "You must be a brahmin. I have great respect for people of your caste... I had a teacher in school I really liked..."
"You don't eat non-veg, do you? It will be difficult for you to travel. Ah, I hope you don't mind - I'm taking non- veg."
"I don't really care what you eat." I stab the fork into the panneer on my plate with a force I'd have liked to use on his neck.

"These Indians, always running around for money. It is difficult to make a good life here. You get a pittance!" That small, brown man who had left India 31 years ago to make more money in the USA says. "Everywhere there is corruption. No value for you. What is your salary?"
I wonder why I choke again.
I stare resolutely at my lift-up entertainment screen. The critter won't take a hint.
"Are you married? For how long? How many children?"
Jeez! Will they turn off the lights please!

This, unfortunately, is an abridged version. I have to take many more flights before I come home. On subsequent flights, I refuse food, put on eye shades and pretend to go to sleep the moment the plane takes off.

* * *

The Filipinos are really lovely people. Not over ambitious, content with what little they have, loving the West, and its men. Filipino women are beautiful, slim and friendly.
My friend Dave gives me a run down on the history of the place, its revolution, its dictators, its economy and its malls. And boy! Are there malls or WHAT! Huge, sprawling hubs, bustling with people any time of the day, shops selling familiar brands, smells and looks, a culture homogenised by globalisation and free trade.
But outside the malls, just like India. Like Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi... urban slums co-exist with middle and upperclass Manila. Their below-poverty-line criteria is 18,000 pesos per month, we are told. That is about 17,000 INR. Wow! But there is inflation to account for.

The new Expressway to Angeles, a city North West of Metro Manila is like our Pune Expressway or East Coast Road. However, it seems to be the best the nation has and they are justifiably excited. The former US Air-Force Base in Angeles is like an American city after all. So different from the Philippines that exists outside, with its tricycles, crammed share- autos, buses...
Neuva Ecija is further east, leading off from towns into rice fields, mostly green with fresh crop or brown after a recent harvest. Again like rural South India or Kerala. Can the weather be any different then? Sweat! NAh!

* * *

Pics from Manila will be up in a day or two. I've spent too much time getting my links in alphabetical order! Tch, the mad things I do.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Thennavan tells us Sowmya is no more. I knew Sowmya as a blogger, in fact, she was among my first few blogger 'friends'. Despite this brief interlude, the characteristic bon hommie of the blog weighs down my heart with grief at the passing away of an old blogmate.
May the Force be with her family and husband. I know they were fortunate to know that brave woman better than I did.

* * *

I'm off to the Philippines for a week. Unlikely I am going to be able to update while I'm there, because there is going to be hectic work. So meet you all in a week.


Thursday, March 09, 2006


The BlankNoise Project

sitting on a yellow rickshaw seat
red-faced girl
clutches new pink frock
as a brown hand
lifts blue lungi
slowly, deliberately.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

An Ordinary Life 6 - Chellam

When she lifted the lid off the idly pot, Chellam's 75-year-old mother Savitri knew it was going to be a bad day. The rice-dal batter had formed itself into coagulated lumps, sour steam was chasing out of the risen lid.
Ever since she had entered the kitchen at the age of seven, Savitri had measured her superstition with what was on the stove. Non-circular chappatis, non-crisp dosas, saltless upmas, clotting kesaris were all indications of evil and unhappiness just as a fine payasam, tasty oothappams meant a good day ahead. In Savitri's bad omen listing, soggy idlies topped: the day would be calamitous. Almost always, for Chellam.
"Look here. Today is going to be a bad day for you," she told her daughter, who was just coming out of the bathroom, sari wrapped around her still wet body. "Amma, don't you start your nonsense again. I don't have time for your superstition today," she threw back.
That shut Savitri up, but she spent a few extra minutes in front of the gilt-framed deity on the kitchen wall. She stopped an exasperated Chellam and smeared a wee bit more kumkum and vibhuthi than usual on her forehead. Just in case.

* * *

Chellam ran a small sweet meat stall next to Aminjikarai bus-stand. State Government issue blue booth under the disabled quota. Not that Chellam was disabled. She paid a monthly rent of Rs.400 to the original alottee, a man with deteriorating vision in one eye.
Which actually was a big drain on her meagre income, but a booth was a booth. Better than Aachi's open idly and aapam shop to her right, no protection from the sun and rain, that. Chellam sold cough drops, mint drops, betel nut and leaf, murukkus, thattais, excessively sweet coconut burfi and the regular ground nut balls, the sweet meats she and her mother prepared assiduously at home.
And after repeated requests from regular customers, very reluctantly started stocking cigarettes and shiny sachets of pan parag. It was something her mother and she felt very uncomfortable about, but "business was business," she rationalised. Once every week, her mother distributed sundal at the Pillayar temple nearby, hoping to neutralise the sin of selling cigarrettes.

* * *

Chellam boarded the bus as usual and sat in the rear, in the woman's section right next to the exit. In the third stop, the bus braked hard suddenly to avoid a two wheeler and Chellam was thrown against the iron bar in front of her. It was a rude jolt and her lip began bleeding from the impact. In five minutes, it had swollen like a lemon and Conductor Mohan asked her with concern, "Maami, your time must be bad. "
"Tch! Superstition again," Chellam muttered under her breath, but smiled at him. And as he went on to deliver a mini lecture about how man's life is dictated by the writing on his forehead, Chellam smiled lamely, and dabbed at the blood on her lip with the end of her cotton saree, afraid to disagree with him.

* * *

Chellam was taken aback when she saw her blue-shack lying upturned on the road. Other small shops nearby were being run over by a yellow earth mover. Her regular customers, some policemen from the nearby police station hung around, providing "security" for the demolition machine. As they saw her run towards them, palpitating, sweating, her hand on her heart, distraught, they tried to play the whole thing down, " Ah! Maami! There you are! Regular road widening work, you see. " They took her aside and, in conspiratorial whispers, told her how it would be o.k. "Once they go away, you can set up shop again. Just be patient," they told her.

Her swollen lip throbbed painfully and she was ready to weep as she let her eyes roam the destruction and havoc the machine had caused. Aachi was sitting on the ground and wailing. Beside her, aluminum vessels lay upturned in the mud, their contents colouring the earth.
That was when Chellam saw them: white, puffy, idlies, some of them slighlty brown from the mud, cocking a snook at her.

* * *
The policemen on bandobust couldn't see why Chellam should be laughing at all.