Dec 18, 2002

My visit to Madras was the more significant of my two visits: both in terms of time spent and in the mental department. And several items seemed to excite the now ever-sensitive blog-antennae.

M's the word
In the whole name-mangling that would've excited your avid C++ compiler that happened to some of our major cities in the late 90s, Madras became Chennai. I've never adjusted to the new names of Mumbai & Madras: that's the personal preference. But I'm not completely able to draw a parallel between these two of my foster-cities, for I find a great number of native Mumbaikars or Maharashtrians that did refer to Bombay by the un-Anglicised version even before the change. So in that respect, it was a more ambivalent change to make. Whereas, though Madras was always Chennai in the DD news bulletins when I was living there, to the common tongue, it remained Madras, the opening word in a childish joke that wedded Calcutta after it to produce 3 not-so-polite words. And the point is: it still is Madras for the folks there and can't claim to have been adopted by too many. And the lack of an Amman Sena organization to espouse this nomenclatural cause there means there is not much energy wasted on a non-issue. I have seen non-Madras people easily slipping the C-word into their tongues, but I haven't seen the Chennai-karan taking to be anything else than a Madrasi.

Triply-cane, anybody?
Triply, because three things seemed glaringly, and pleasantly, different on this trip: the water, the autos and the sweat. The first by its presence, the last by its absence and the middle by its willingness to adopt common sense.
Live in Madras for a while and you'll understand why 2 atoms of Hydrogen and 1 of Oxygen can provide a reason for strife, for fasting and can sustain governments. Madras must be the world's largest consumer of plastic buckets, all in iridiscent colours: all to provide the foulmouthed ladies with a colourful excuse to battle in the queue for the waterpump. The salt water may provide keen sociological insights into the bitterness of the local lingo. But this time around, a strange deluge of rain, as if all the water denied to the city in the last decade was let loose in one go, poured forth a new set of problems, much more pleasant in comparison. The sobering note in all this is that the mun. corp. don't think this is enough to keep the city from lapsing into dehydration once again, more needs to be done.

The autos in Madras are legendary for their curmudgeonity, you need to be a Rocky of the ghettoes to battle them. It all used to centre around the pottu kudunga (give more over) business model : they ask liberally after reaching a destination. Their meters probably only serve a lesson in geography: most of them are made in the peths of Pune. But the introduction of competitors in call-taxis that have meters that actually run (and in digital mode, which automatically makes them seem impressive) means that the auto-drivers are willing to meet you halfway. It would seem familiar to fellow-watchers of MTV's One Tight Slap promos: it is as if someone waved a giant paw across the collective windshields of the bristly auto-men.

The biggest surprise was the complete un-sweatiness of the weather. I've always thought it a cruel joke by Nature that people of the city produced such copious quantities of salt-water when surrounded by even more massive and unusable quantities in various degrees. I'm talking particularly about the sweat that used to pour off even in one's most inactive positions. Perhaps there is a well-to-do meteorological explanation for the current blissful state, but I was too scared to ask, lest I disturb some fragile balance in an act of Heisenbergian measurement. Everyone's probably wanting to enjoy it while it lasts. The only time I can remember that I sweated in the inert state was in the departing train stationed on the 3rd platform at Central. Just a warning to check the euphoria, probably.

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