Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Eight Years In Chennai

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."


Anand S said...

After a long time I am seeing a man from north of the Vindhyas praising Chennai.

Hope the next 8 years exceed your 'meager' expectations.


Anu Russell said...

I agree with Anand above. Most people from North without even giving Chennai a chance hate it. Absolutely hate it. I wonder why? I was also an outsider to chennai, I moved in when I was 11 from Trichy, but I fell in love with the city instantly.

It was a big city with a small town attitude. It is laid back but active.

The only thing that bothered me was my nosy relatives, but helped keep my behavior and myself in check.

I am so glad Bishu that I found your blog, someone to tell me that my hometown is not a bad place like everyone around me keep telling me...everyone who lifts up their chin the minute they hear that I am from chennai...a place that has the most significance in my life...

Thank you for writing this.

Naveen Roy said...

Long time....

And I added your blog after I read..

Ragamalika said...

I left Bangalore when I was 13, and I hated, at that moment, to be leaving the only city where, I felt, I belonged.

6 and a half years as a 'chennai=ite', even if 2 and a half of those were as a 'chennai-ite in Manipal', there's no other city I would rather call home. I no longer recognise Bangalore, and I, definitely, take offense to 'Madrasi'.

Anonymous said...

interesting number!! number 8..
never been to chennai but will do so this year..

Anonymous said...

well...No wonder we have the question in English that goes "what are you ?" In Delhi one is a rat of a reporter scrounging for an original story, while in Chennai one can be a naturalist - observe, be happy and report on what you deem interesting. I was born in Chennai and after 20 years escaped to a foreign country. I am sad to use the word "escape", becasue in those socialistic times ( we were bhai-bhai with Cuba !) that is what people did to find a life where they could be rid of pesky irrants of life and have the freedom to be a naturalist. Chennai gave you a wife ?! I was under the impression that you were both emigres from Bengal. Many happy returns of the day in Chennai.

The Ugly One said...

lucky one. for 10 years, i have been doing what you were doing in delhi. tell chennai to give me your life ;-)

RS said...

I spent 5 years in Delhi and February will make it 4 years that I've been in Chennai.

I love and hate the both of them in equal measures.

Because this is your blog, I'd like to maybe personify the two cities as women.

Delhi would be the beautiful, harsh, and cunning courtesan - eager to please but commanding a high price. She would use you when the need be, but would throw you aside for a customer who was ready to pay her more.

Chennai is the warm and temperate Devdaasi, who is maybe a little shy and withdrawn because she is dark. She would make conversation with you and soothe your nerves, and caress you when you were hurt and tired.

Awesome post.

Anonymous said...

The city doesn't make a difference!

You do!

Crap post!

Gayathri Varma said...

I loved your post.
I have been in this city for 4 years and i can relate to almost everything you have written...what is most heartening about Chennai is that here a woman can stroll around alone even at midnight without the fear of prying lecherous eyes following her....this is one of those few cities in India where women are truly respected!
good luck.

Anubhuti said...

you have gathered enough votes in this one eh ?? Have you never been called a "northie" or ignored because you are a north indian, maybe cause yiur name's a bengali one. I love chennai too and was even in love with someone with his roots there, once. I am not sure if I want to stay there though. It's so terribly hot !!
Also, I dont think Delhi is that bad as people make it, really. It gave me everything I have. :) perspective may be.