Today, I complete eight years of living in Chennai. Should I be glad at the milestone? Or sad that eight years have passed ever since I set foot on this city on Pongal day in 2001? There is no harm in being a bit of both.
I came here as a 'young man' who had just turned 30 and who, during his visits to online chatrooms in order to make girlfriends, would still cling to the 29-year-old tag, and today, I am preparing myself to cling on to the 39-year-old tag because 40 is approaching fast. Almost a decade has passed! That really makes me sad. But that also makes me glad, because I happened to spend the most decisive decade of my life in Chennai.
This city has given me almost everything that I had dreamt of in life. But then, my dreams were pretty simple: to have a home that is filled with books and music, and enough supply of booze so that I could savour the two. And also a woman who would pander to my ego and make me feel extremely proud of my collection of books and music apart from my virility. Chennai has given me all that and much more, and even though dreams have this nasty habit of expanding their boundaries from time to time, I am pretty much happy with what I have and what I have had.
Chennai also brought me closer to god. When I say god, I mean the conversation you have with yourself when you are sitting in front of the image of Shiva or Krishna. In my case Shiva works. No other city lets you have this conversation. Chennai gives you the time to ponder: maybe that is why they call it a "laid-back" city. It gives you ample time and scope to seek.
Chennai gave me yoga, it gave me Somerset Maugham as well as the Beat writers, it gave me R.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar, it gave me Illayaraja and Rahman (and also Harris Jayaraj), it gave me the art of travelling, it gave Kerala, it gave me ambition, it gave me a wife and, in short, a life. I gave me everything I loved but did not have the time to love.
And what did Delhi, where I also lived for eight years before I came here, give me? Zilch. My entire day would revolve around the happenings at 11, Ashoka Road, the headquarters of the BJP. It was my job to report on BJP for the paper I worked for. Afternoon after afternoon, I would be breaking my head to find an exclusive story. My boss, the hard-to-please M.J. Akbar, would not consider copies made out of press briefings or press notes as worthwhile contributions from a reporter. He was a terrorist-editor. I knew if I could survive his temper, I could survive anywhere.
Chennai was a cakewalk. I no longer had to chase politicians or sit through Parliament sessions to ensure my bread and butter. I gladly discarded the false sense of importance that a Delhi reporter tends to assume because of the so-called proximity to ministers and politicians and chose to be reborn as the 'new journalist' -- the one who wanted to be recognised by his wordsmithery and his ability to reach out to the readers. That reminds me: Chennai also gave me a blog. Had I remained in Delhi, I would have been one of the rats in the race, constantly needled by the prosperity of my colleague or neighbour. I would have been wrestling with my finances to pay EMI for a house and a car instead of wrestling with words to think of titles of unwritten books dancing inside my head.
Nothing wrong in being materialistic. But there is a special quality about Chennai: it's simplicity. This is the only city where a Rs-500 pair of Bata chappals finds as much respect as a pair of Bally shoes costing Rs 25,000. So every time you get worked up about not doing well enough in life, the city nudges you and tells you: "Relax, there is more to life than you think there is. Go, explore those things."