Thursday, August 23, 2012
There should be a term for the feeling you get when the incoming train to Madras crosses Basin Bridge. The train momentarily pauses to get the signal that will allow you to see the 2 railway tracks fork into 3 and then 4 and then multiply into several tracks until you lose count and the train slowly trudges into central. There is a thrill that runs through your body. The vehicle could be Nellai Express heading towards Egmore after the pause called 'outer la pottan' (before Thambaram) or a bus crossing kanchipuram as speeds towards Porur. There is no single emotion to describe this. Its the homing beacon that you are zeroing towards. It is the feeling of safety and comfort you get when you re-enter your home. It is the warm feeling of seeing one's beloved grandparents after a long time. It is the feeling you get before meeting your lover.
I miss Madras so much that I deliberately desisted from writing posts such as this. I ended up thinking about Madras for a long time that it impacted the present. Madras is my home, my love, my life and my destination. I have grown up in so many different places that my time outside of Madras far exceeds time inside Madras. However, every single day I spent outside I wanted to get back in. There was particular phase of 2 years where I was working in Bangalore. I felt like sleeping on bunch thorny bushes every single day of those 2 years. I would visit Madras every weekend. Didn't miss a single weekend. For a 6 month period the girl I was engaged to thought I was traveling every weekend because I wanted to meet her. When I made her travel every weekend after our marriage, she understood the allure of Madras.
There are thousands of emotions this great city brings out. On a rainy night travelling in an auto, there is a moment when you actually feel cold. The auto isn't travelling fast at all. Its probably travelling at 30-40 KM/hr. But the wind makes you feel chilly and you move to the center of the seat. And you watch the ground as the rain hits those puddles. A few drops manage to sneak through the gunny-bag type piece of cloth that the Autokaran has tied to the sides. As you avoid the drizzle that slips through - you strangely feel cozy and warm. That emotion is indescribable. As indescribable as the coolness you find in a Pallavan bus conductor - who folds the Rs 1, Rs 5 and rs 10 along the length and tucks it between his fingers. The way he opens the conductor bag to arrange and re-arrange the tickets, while simultaneously whistling for stops - makes you think he is a billionaire doing this for a hobby. This city is about the small things. You have to toil for a while to really know what this city means to you. Some days you are just hanging out in the beach doing nothing. Some days you have to go Avadi, Chetpet, thiruvottiyur and Thambaram - all in one day - for no fault of yours. There are days when you are late for a movie inspite of booking 3 days in advance. Sometimes your friend calls you at 9;45 to discuss a wild idea of 10PM show and you get there on time. You meet people, places and events that shape the way you think.
The people here are one of a kind. Their arrogance is so awesome that they have to be humble about their awesomeness at it - just to ward of the evil eye. There is an emotion to every city. I'd say arrogance, indifference and sarcasm is the essence of Madras. You could say "I won 71 Nobel prizes, 4 Olympic Gold medals and a Pulitzer" and I am willing to bet you'd hear at least one reply that says "idhu enna saar, enakku oru aal theriyum. Avan.....". I haven't seen many cities where it has been impossible to satisfy people no matter what you do, it has been impossible to make them care about something no matter how awesome it is. People here have 'nakkal' running through their blood. No one or no thing is beyond 'kindal'. People often talk about Madras being the clash of culture and modernity. I used to as well but don't care much for that anymore. Madras is neither the filter coffee or temple hub that Kumbakonam is. Madras has a lot of forced narratives, such as filter coffee, and you'll find that most narratives aren't true if you miss a bus stop and start looking in a different place.
Which brings us to the book - Tamarind City. I came across a post by Chenthil that introduced me to this wonderful book by Biswanath Ghosh. I hadn't read Biswanath's blog in a while and so was unaware of the book. Biswanath has been blogging for probably as long as I have. He writes a quirky blog. I tracked it on and off. Initially, I was amused and surprised when he expressed love for Chennai. I wanted to ask him "why". I am usually suspicious of Amits expressing love for Chennai. You don't want to hear the ususal disappointing answer as to why (masala dosai, filter coffee, temples and Bharathnatyams have exhausted me ). Tamarind City answers the question. Do you want to know why Murugesan street is called so? What makes St. Gearge Fort's history so special? What are Thimappa's descendants doing now? (Chennai is named after Chennai Kesava Perumal temple - part of the piece of land sold by Thimappa to British settlers). Who runs Rathna cafe? What is the Prosititution scene in Madras? Who is the most famous sexologist in Chennai? Who is the cartoonist of Chandamama? Why is S. Muthiah so interested in Madras history?. I liked the book mainly because Biswanath tries to answer questions that we walked past everyday but never asked. I often joked that you could intravenously supply a Thamizhan Tamarind + rice and he'd survive. So the book is appropriately named.
I feel as wistful winding down this post as I feel leaving Madras. I don't know what the future will bring. But I wish Madras figures somewhere in it. Yes, there is the obligatory margazhi season, the Saravana bhavans, Raayars mess and Sathyam theater. But the best part about being there is you are one of the natives. You are yourself. You don't have to put on the make-up, the plastic cover wrapped around your personality in a feeble attempt to fit in. In a way I am glad I wrote this. It has been on my mind since my 2-day rant to Crazy Mohan on how much I have sinned to be away from Madras. He was visiting and one topic led to another and soon we found ourselves discussing Chokkalingam street, Raayars mess, Alwarpet Anjaneyar kovil and then the whole topic of living in Madras. He was taken aback at the force of my longing that he said "I am actually glad I didn't make the mistake you made". He was happy to exclaim "naan make-up pottalum podattiyum naan Madraskaaran. Nee make-up pottalum podattiyum oru madhiri madhil mel maadhu". And after a awkward pause he said "ivalavu yengara. thirumbi vandhudu ba, please. Indha career ella edathulaiyum irukkum". I am more than a 100% sure some miniscule part of this is a result of the conversation we had.
There should be a term for the feeling where you miss a place dearly but can't find a way back in, aren't sure what to do with that feeling, aren't sure if anything you want can/should be given to you and most importantly aren't sure what your priorities are in life.