Monday, July 23, 2007

Madras Musings

If they put you on a flight without telling you where it was headed for and you stepped out into the city, you could tell it was Chennai/ Madras simply because ...
  • Its the outdoor advertising capital of the country. It has the most number of hoardings I've seen in any city and its the first thing you would notice. These also could be further categorised basis their size and usage: 1. Mega hoardings, these are the size of 2-3 normal sized hoardings combined and are reserved for the movie posters. 2. The normal hoardings - primarily used by those wanting to advertise any kind of Sarees or Jewelry. 3. Mini-hoardings, these are exclusively used for political advertising, these mini ones are omnipresent, you can't sweep your eyes about and not spot them every single time.
  • There are no plain, unadorned walls in Chennai! Every single inch of every wall in every part of the city is covered with large, hand painted figures of their gods - the real gods and then ... Amma, Karunanidhi, other politicians and aah ... Rajni. What catches your eye is not just that these paintings are there everywhere and that they are HUGE but also, how well painted these are - each expression, muscvle and wrinkle in the face visible. Too much!
  • How can you talk about Chennai and not mention the auto rickshaw guys. After they have tried to fleece you and after much haggling have settled on a still unreasonably high fare, they will go all sweet on you (or may be its just me!) ... on reaching the city, in my ride from the airport to the hotel I knew all about the Chennai weather, the unexpected rains, bad influence of west on Chennai's youth, benefits of learning Tamil and even some Tam words! In exchange I had also given out a status on Mumbai rains, traffic, my marital status, duration of my stay and my familiarity with the city. All this happened with the help of a strange mix of Hindi, English, frantic gestures and a lil Tamil :)

I'm a lil bored of the theme so I will just go on to something else ... I love South Indian food and in my quest for nice Southy food I went to a local joint suggested by someone at office, called Sangeeta, which is near Landmark. I happily ordered my food, got it from the counter and even managed to find a place to sit! As I started eating I looked around and I suddenly realised that anyone could have said without an effort that I was not a local, and all because ...

  • I was the only girl/woman around not wearing a saree/salwar kameez AND/OR Bindi AND/OR flowers in my hair
  • I was the only one eating a dosa at lunch time, while everyone else seemed to be having some or the other kind of meal with rice
  • I was the only one drinking out of a bottled drink - and who could say that an Innocent Sprite could be incriminating evidence!
  • I was the only girl/woman sharing a table with 3 men I didn't know (there weren't any women sharing tables with men, unless of course they came in together)

BTW, these guys I shared the table with were really nice. As one of them sat down with his food, I shamelessly peeked into his plate and saw this really interesting looking dish, so I thought I can ask him what its called and order that for myself. The greedy me asked him what that yummy looking thing was and there ... he insisted and insisted and went on insisting (with some help from the other two) till I took the bowl of yummy tamarind-sambhar rice from him. He even gave me two of his tiny, white papads saying they go well with that rice!! :)

Its surprising, isn't it, how by just being who you are, you can end up sticking out like a sore thumb among people. And then, with only a steaming bowl of tamarind-sambhar-rice, you are a little more closer to them :)


Serendipity said...

LOL! Ive been south too.. and ooh boy! was it an experience - we drove down to Kochi, our car had broken down at some point, and people REFUSED to speak n anythign other than the local language. we also kept having to eat this real;ly fat Maida ki roti and fish curry etc, no dosa!

This is cute!

Jack Sparrow said...

Having been to Madras a few weeks ago I can completely identify with everything you've written about :) The idolization of politicians and film stars, the massive amounts of rice and sambhar, and the autorickshaw drivers !

Idlis and dosas are breakfast fare down south, and its always rice for lunch. I know this because I'm South Indian, and for a long time when I was growing up I didn't understand why my non-Southie friends ordered my breakfast for their lunch and dinner ! I later realized that its always the right time for a dosa :)

Word of advice - next time you're there, try the Chettinad Biriyani at Karaikudi. You won't regret it :)

The Nomad said...

Will surely do so!Better still will ask you before i go next :)

Anonymous said...

Well im not tamilian. But been in cheenai for a few years now. Agree on the auto drivers. Now who eats in Sangeetha? Chennai has been good to me. As i asy fuck hindi and everyone knows english here. Now where up north does the lay man even know "left and right" in english. Its safe and has a everything Bombay and Delhi has. If your some north indian snob like i was, but changed... All i have to say is FUCK YOU.

The Nomad said...

Dear Mr/Ms Anonymous,

1.You see, i'm not from Chennai so i won't know all the people eating in Sangeetha personally.But considering that there the place was packed and people were waiting - somebody does.
2.The place has a lot of nice things, even a few that a Delhi or Bombay or Kolkata may not have. But who's comparing? I'm sure each of the other three will have their unique stuff!
3.People knowing English may be a plus, however for me it can't be a reason to like or not like a place.
4. and dude ... (high chances this is a guy!) before you say FU to anyone atleast be sure ... 'if you are'. lolll.Seriously, I have lived in 8 cities and 5 states, i'm from so many places that I say I'm from nowhere and eveywhere ...

5. and the last - a lil tolerance for other people's views didn't hurt anyone. May the auto drivers treat you nicer :)