Wednesday, August 11, 2010

MADrasi Lite

Necessity might be the mother of all invention, but right now, I am being forced to innovate out of desperation. As I await another flight to take me back to Dubai, let me share a quick tip to anyone who is traveling via Anna international airport to any destination outside. Don't bother reaching the airport 4 hours in advance. It's a precaution which is not appreciated and hence not rewarded either.

A bonus tip, when trying to make yourself comfortable on the luggage trolley due to the lack of seating, make sure you sit across the luggage rack and not parallel to the hard, cold metal rails.

Ranting aside, the main purpose of my entry is to highlight something which struck me as I traveled to the airport late at night.

Chennai has changed of course. Something that is always expected and is natural. We change as people and when we return, we yearn to return to the old and the familiar even though we know that the world as we remember it no longer exists and that the passage of time bestows rose filtered glasses on our eyes. The same thing happened to me.

But the changes are not readily apparent to anyone, during the daytime. But when you travel the road at night, the city undergoes a transformation. Gone is the gaudy heavy artifice that dots our city in the name of modernization. Look closely enough during the night and you will catch a glimpse of the timeless beauty who lurks inside the modern, swinging city trying to make its presence felt on the national stage.

The lovely tree dotted roads that twist and turn and writhe through the various hidden pockets. Roads which have been tread upon by millions during the day, sun beaten and dust worn. But at night time, she runs free, inviting you to travel along with her, thrills and bumps on the house. Gone are the playgrounds where I continuously embarrassed myself till I could take no more. A decision that I’ve had ample opportunity to regret ever since. All I see in their stead are apartments. Concrete blocks that hurt the eye with their uniformity.

The haunting beauty of the flickering neon lights as they fade away, their purpose served and no eyes to catch. They hang from every billboard, every market, every eating joint, shopping malls. White, yellow, red, green, blue. A reflection of different sensibilities, moods and tastes. A city synonymous with giant cutouts of its idols, who nowadays adorn not the posters of their upcoming “Mass Movies”, but instead appeal to their fans to try products which, to paraphrase “ even their dogs will not use”.

The huge sprawling malls that seem to have sprung up all over the city. Paradise where the young throng, budding passions engaged, ambitions birthed, wants and needs, disappointments and resolve created. Hey, chennai is growing. Spencer's isn't the only hangout anymore. They jostle for space with the small shops, the ubiquitous Potti Kadais, sacks of grains locked up safely, where things are still sold while being weighed in cups. The lifeline of those who have been left out of urban india's progress.

The wooden stools and benches that shake in the wind as water trucks thunder by, spilling water in thick splashes on the road. Trucks that were eagerly awaited during the thirsty summers when pots of water divided united families. Now, the only ones chasing after them are the loyal dogs, who never forget who they are supposed to bark and chase, no matter how flat the world becomes. How the mighty have fallen.

Walled off compounds that lay a curtain on the lives of the well to do, their gardens still moist and filled with the echoes of birds. Benchmarks by which ambitions are judged and plans hatched as dreams take flight. Places where the capital L has long lost relevance, replaced instead with the capital C. In the land of Ambassadors and Marutis, I was glad to lay my eyes on a Porsche and a VW sedan. Heck there's a huge BMW showroom en-route to the airport. Progress it certainly is.

Chennai. Dependable like piping filter coffee. Fiery like the molagga podi in Murugan idli kadai. Swaying and nodding to rhythm like the madisar gang at music academy.

Then you hit the airport and the illusion is shattered. Sigh. When, oh when, did the airport become Howrah station, I say?

Homes have become buildings, friends have become strangers, haunts are now haunted, tastes have become old fashioned. I have become old in a city where I was once treated like a child. Each time I visit the city, the whispers from past grow fainter and fainter. All that remain are dying echoes calling out, ebbing away. They don't even sound familiar anymore. And yet, like a rubber band, I keep coming back. With a yearning that dies when I step on its soil and which grows stronger when I’m away.

What is the source of this longing? That the city reminds me of a time when I never pondered over my frailties? A sweet time unencumbered by expectations of self and life? A period where I lived life one day at a time, carefree? A place where I was myself before I learned how to wear different masks to adapt to this world? Or the promise of the unattainable, that which we've lost and know we'll never regain?

Until next time Chennai. Until next time.