I’ve been in Chennai for the past few weeks as house-sitter for Darshini, entertaining electricians, carpenters, masons, phone people and the like while she went to work and her husband was off on a short term assignment abroad. Dealing with ‘service people’ was quite different from dealing with people who do the same jobs in our small town. For one, they don’t want to quite acknowledge you as a person; they are focused on their job and doing it as minimally as possible, before moving on to the next one. I managed to lose a number of things including my cellphone which taught me that one has to keep one’s wits steady while in the big city.
In spite of all that, and the terrific terrific heat, I enjoyed my stay there
immensely. After a week of arguing with auto drivers, I started using public transport, mostly the MRTS. I loved the romance of the old Tamil names on the stations, Tirumailai, Tiruvalikeni. Only thing I was sure that the plans for the MRTS stations must have been borrowed from the Russians..they were so cavernous, long, huge, full of skylights which were not needed in a hot city. And the several empty levels could easily house most of the homeless people of Chennai , or some of the govt offices at least. But travelling on these trains really beat anything else as a way to see the city. Places look very different from a higher viewpoint, whether you are travelling in a bus or trundling by on a train. . At night, even the lowliest tenements look full of life, lit up, colourful and attractive. I saw the nondescript new Legislative Assembly . The best thing that can be said about it is it is not ornate and can be transported to any other city in the world. It certainly wouldn’t be missed here.
Most evenings, I wandered around unfamiliar parts of the city, doing a little shopping, walking around looking at the houses and the big shops. And sometimes the beach . It took me sometime to adjust to the idea that one can stay out later than 7 p.m. in a city, something Darshini would try to din into my head.
Little human interactions lit up each day. A bus conductor who told me about his hard day and places I should visit. An auto driver who knew all about Kalakshetra….’ people who preserve our culture’. A girl who had come to study animation for a year in Chennai and guided me on the electric train. ‘Mambalam’ is T.Nagar? A shop where they still packed sugar in newspaper pottalams. A long discussion in a hardware shop of the height of a step ladder I should buy with a number of painters. Shorter pithy discussions laced liberally with local lingo held in buses on which route I should take since I was on the wrong bus.
I visit Chennai at least once every year. But its always been short trips for a day or two which get jam packed with scheduled activities. This time, without any agenda, it was really good to stay for so long and do different things .
Sometimes it is so good to get away and look at the world through a different window.