The Chennai Story

>> Tuesday, June 02, 2009

(Long Post)

Dearest A,

Despite my inherent quality of rambling ceaselessly, I have promised to limit myself to chronological sequences of events for this letter. I shall begin from the beginning and continue till I reach the end. However, if I do trespass the boundaries of sequential arrangements, do realize that my mind is still in a jumble of opinions and memories and I would like to jot them down before I lose them forever in the giant sink of my mind.

We did not start well. Though Shada and I had planned and planned till we had actually planned throughout all our examinations, we still could not manage tickets for an air conditioned compartment and ended up in sleepers. There were five of us- Deep, who would accompany us only till Chennai, Ari, whom I had never spoken to directly, Stinky, who did not even bother to get an excuse of giving an examination to go on this trip, Shada, my co-planner and I, still numb to the actual fact that I was going to Chennai.

You have known, more than anyone else, how much I have obsessed about Chennai, its people, its music, in short, anything which breathed Tamil was adopted as mine to love and cherish and adore. Yet, here was I, on my way to Chennai, worrying about accounts, people not reaching on time, the fact that I was not wearing my Presidency T-shirt, and that there was a young woman with a child on our seat who refused to speak or move. Chennai was yet to enter my conscious.

Travelling second class was a revelation, A. The compartment carried around twenty more people who travelled on the strength of the fact that they were numbered 348 on the waiting list. With the heat, the crowd and absence of my beloved laptop, I was predictably violently sick throughout the journey and lived on glucon-d for most of the second day.

However, it seems making friends with people is easier on trains than when you have been classmates for three years. Ari and I discovered a passion for musicals and spent most of the night entertaining Stinky with our rendition of 'I could have danced all night'.

(n.b. I know you think my taste in music is suspect, but I will have you know that Deep also has the song 'mera laung gawacha' on his ipod. Of course, I keep mine disguised under the name 'Deep, dark wailings of the soul'. Also, he is a boy. So, bleh. I shall revel in the song and if you complain about it once more, you are not invited to my Gothic themed wedding.)

Chennai is beautiful, A. I will admit now, I was afraid. I had been afraid all the while that everyone else would be right. The people would be hostile, the city would be ugly and it would not be the paradise I had always imagined it to be. But it was. It was. Every tiny bit of it. The buildings are beautiful, the roads are clean and wide, the names so fascinating.

But Chennai to me has always been Chennai of the people, Chennai of the music. I found it. It was there, waiting for me, exactly as I had wanted it to be. The warm, friendly, amused people, all around, smiling wryly at our antics, at our hopeless attempts to get a grasp on their language, despite the fact that absolutely no one spoke in Tamil to us. The only Tamil we took back from the city was the one we came with- 'illai' and 'kodumai kodumaiyo'.

You know, A, if you have a Chettinad meal at a restaurant, they give you complimentary bananas. It is a good thing. Chettinad meals turned out to be too spicy for even those of us who had been reared on Bangal food. (No, I am not one of them. I have been reared on paratha achar and I am proud of it). But the utthapams, oh, the utthapams, light and perforated and so pretty, it felt sinful to even touch them.

Presidency College is in ruins. The one in Chennai, I meant. Ours, apparently, is going to be painted a light purple. After I leave. Why do things turn purple after I leave, I will never understand. The sea, also, is very uninteresting. Then again, I am a creature of the mountains, and thus, perhaps, a little biased. They do not sell coconut water over there either, at least, not on the beach we visited. Beaches without coconut water is sinful, ruins the idea of a beach.

Anna University is very beautiful. Deep red brick complemented by marble floors, it is difficult to believe that is a university, at par with Calcutta University, a land where time stops and communism begins. The canteen sells "pockets of water" for a rupee and we are branded as aliens. By the end of Chennai, all of us had got used to the fact that people would stop, stare at us, and then move on. Yet, someone just writes on a gtalk window that "we have no time to stand and stare". I just saw an entire city do exactly that.

I remember, while buying Tamil DVDs at a mall, wondering if this is what the sole purpose of coming to Chennai had been, buying Kannathil Muthamittal with English subtitles. But I had Chennai for one whole day. I gave an exam in it, went to the sea, bought DVDs, had South Indian meals, went to a children's park at midnight and left footprints on the sand. Which is all Chennai will ever be to me. A delightful city of delightful people where I had a delightful time. I did not get to do anything I had planned (including stalking A.R. Rahman and asking a Tamilite to marry me). I will possibly never cherish a moment there either. But a chapter is at an end now. A story has been laid to rest and I can begin afresh now. There is a whole new world awaiting for me of new obsessions, interesting fascinations.

You see, A, I have been to Chennai and I have come back. This is the trip, this is the tale, this is all it will ever be. Yet, it was so much more. More than even I realize now.

I still have two more tales to tell you. Do not expect them any time soon. The vacation has turned me lazy.

S.W.

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