Chennai – Perfect amalgamation of the past and present

I found this on Google reader shared by my friend and I must admit, it is one of the BEST chennai articles so far and it mirrors my sentiments so aptly!

What can I tell you about my beloved Chennai? People from other metros will argue that Chennai has little to recommend it. They complain about the heat and the orthodoxy. They complain about the nightlife or lack thereof. They complain about wily, rude autorickshaw drivers who fleece unsuspecting tourists. Yes, I know.

Generation Y: Chennai’s women no longer wear Tamil culture on their sleeves. Laxman / Mint
But what can I tell you in defence? Abnormal as it seems, I am happiest in Chennai. This irrational love that most of us have for one place has mostly to do with childhood. I know several people—my husband included—who have no ties to any one city, having grown up in several. My friend, Arun, for instance, who now lives in Berlin, can objectively take Indian cities apart, sifting them into pros and cons that say everything but mean nothing. Mumbai for enterprise, Delhi for power, Kolkata for Bongs who aspire only to get to Kolkata, Bangalore for the weather and entrepreneurship and Chennai for its culture. All true, but it does little to capture the essence of this coastal city that welcomed St Thomas and does the jalsa (illicit gratification, for example, liquor) and jilpa (gratuitous holding forth on topics that one knows nothing about), as blogger Krish Ashok says.

Chennai is waking up at 4am to have lunch at 7. It is going to tiny Murphy Electronics in Adyar and having the proprietor dig out from the dark recesses every gadget and gizmo that you never thought to have. It is drinking “Kumbakonam degree coffee” at, well, Kumbakonam Degree Coffee in Anna Nagar. It is eating chop suey and hakka noodles at Waldorf with the IIT guy you have a crush on. It is watching grizzled old men cover themselves in monkey caps when the temperature drops from unbelievable to bearable. It is watching pretty maidens with turmeric yellow faces and dripping wet hair walk to the temples in the month that is called Margazhi in Tamil. It is describing yourself as a “thayir saadam” (curd rice) or a “Mylapore girl” and knowing instantly what it means; about every nuance of that person. It is knowing that music connoisseurs go to Mylapore Fine Arts or the Triplicane Academy during the December season, while the people who want to see and be seen go to the Music Academy.

Also Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns

Chennai is Grand Sweets, Ambika Appalam and Saravana Bhavan. It is the pleasure of speaking in Tamil using a shorthand that only other Chennai-ites will understand and relish: swear words such as savu cracki, or the disdainful “veetila sollittu vandirukaya?”, which is what an auto driver will yell when you cut him off, causing him to nearly bang into you. Your fault, lady. Have you told people at home (that you are going to die)? That’s what it means but like most translations, this does little to capture the pithy essence of that insult.

Change comes slowly to Chennai. Go there today, and you will still see the vendors on the beach selling “thenga, manga, pattani, sundal” or coconut, mango, and a variety of fried lentils. Couples still sit in the moonlight at Elliot’s Beach, looking around furtively for known faces. Mamis (matrons) still duck into Nalli’s or G.R. Thanga Maligai (GRT) for silk saris and gold, respectively, and haggle hard for the “compliment” or a Rs5 purse that is given free after they spend a few lakhs. The free purse seems to give them more pleasure than their purchases. Chennai is going to Pondy Bazaar and finding everything except your mother and father. It is parties where people still quote the “Manjal Araithayaa” speech from the Tamil movie Veera Pandiya Katta Bhomman after sufficient quantities of liquor have been quaffed. It is eating spongy idlis at Murugan Idli Shop and wondering if ordering every type of dosa on the menu is gluttony or good taste. It is the scent of jasmine at sunset.

Chennai is steeped in Tamil culture. “No ifs, ands and buts about it”, as a Madrasi would say, and no, please don’t use that word to describe anyone south of the Vindhyas. M.S. Subbulakshmi epitomized what, for many women, is Tamil culture. She was deferential to her husband who managed all her affairs; almost childlike in her simplicity; had regular oil baths and then scented her hair with sambrani (a type of incense for sweet-smelling hair); circled the tulsi plant for the well-being of her family; and inspired thoughts of the divine.

Today’s Chennai is edgier, sexier, grittier. Radio announcers (many of them female) regale listeners with a snappy Tamil that is equal parts slang and slander. Girls in Chennai no longer wear salwar kameez like I used to. They ride motorbikes in tight jeans and halter tops. Few oil their hair but many still wear the bindi. They prefer lattes to filter coffee and pizzas to pongal. And you know what? That’s fine. Because Chennai hasn’t lost its essence. The same babe who speaks in Tanglish (Tamil-English) will go home and address her grandmother as “Paati”. The same boy who sports spiky hair and sunglasses will submit to a Ganga Snanam with loads of hot sesame oil come Deepavali day.

Chennai—my Chennai, the city that I love—still exists. You just need to know where to find it. Come with me. I’ll show you.

When in Chennai, Shoba Narayan dines at Karpagambal Mess in Mylapore and Beyond Indus at the Taj Mount Road. Write to her at

Girl Talk: The Indian male stare

Introduce this topic among a group of twenteen girls lying joblessly in a hostel room at midnight and the bonding is similar to what porn does to boys in college. Experiences pour out and so does the frustration. Everywhere a girl goes, she is followed by hundreds of eyes of the common Indian man. The autowallahs, rickshaw pullers, the security guard, the valet parking guy, just about everyone as though you are an alien specimen supposed to be sitting in a zoo who has just escaped. I simply hate those leching gazes that check out your length and breadth and zero down on certain parts of your body.

At first, the girl becomes conscious (when you are 13 or 14 and just about changing all over) and then slowly with maturity comes the sad acceptance of the truth. You will be leached at from all sides, the taxi driver will try and adjust his rear-view mirror, people will deliberately fall against you in buses or trains, jerks on bikes will howl and whistle as you stand in bus-stops and the unstoppable, extremely irritating stare will follow you everywhere outside the comforts of your home.

What happened in Patna is sad, just like the tragedy that occurs regularly at Gateway of India every new year. Deep down inside every girl knows that any of this can happen to her at anytime, anyplace. Just the really unfortunate ones are victimized. I wonder what it is with this stare and gaze that occurs at all times and all places. The latest issue of Femina deals with this issue in great detail showcasing the exemplary braveness of certain women who hammered the man in question till he begged for apology. Not many among us are so brave.

I know this is the second feminist-like post in recent times, but the Patna episode and my own experiences and those of friends at the shopping expeditions (which leave me irritated most of the times) inspired me to put this down in words.

I know what I am going to do next time some such shit happens (and I encourage everyone else also) just stare back. Lets see how men behave when they come under the focus of the Indian female stare.

My Aunti Emma and Boo Boo Bama

My latest addictions of this season are – Whisky (the 4-legged one),reader and you tube. I know, I am faaaaaaar behind the seasoned users of the latter two and many people reading this blog, but its the first time I have the most amazing internet connection plus unlimited free time on my hands. Add to the fact, I am alone so no distractions or social commitments either. Music plays continuously (much to the chagrin of Whisky) , torrents run unhindered and my web surfing is on an all time high. Now thats what you call a perfect cyber holiday!

If you are wondering what the title is all about then it is the slang for Opium and Marijuana which I found rather funny.

Symptoms of Graduation

You know you have graduated from BPGC when:

– 10:30 pm is just another passing hour.
– You have smelt fresh outside air beyond 11:30 pm.
– You manage to speak complete sentences without using even one swear word.
– Monginis and Nescafe do not form a part of your daily diet.
– Maggi or paneer puffs are not the only other dinner alternatives.
– Choices go beyond old monk and IB.
– You actually contemplate going to bed by 11:00pm.
– Group discussions are more than CS Strategies.
– You have stopped having dreams about snipers, guns, maps, clans and tourneys.
– You own more footwear than that rugged floater and the all-purpose bathroom slippers.
– You finally have clean and ironed trousers and shirts in your wardrobe.
– Good internet speeds have finally become normal and not a cause for celebration.
– You logged into your orkut account after 2 years.
– You have begun responding to your real name again.
– You don’t complain of lack of ‘birds’ to ‘watch’.
– (For girls only) You finally meet guys who have real conversations with you.
– (For both girls and boys) Your prospective of getting a ‘real’ date has improved.
– You bathe regularly.
– You dont need to eat Chole Bhature every sunday morning.
– You actually find cheaper modes of transport and dont have to shell out 600 bucks for a single outing.
– Good food is no longer a rarity.
– You actually use your cell phone economically and have balance in it most of the time.
– You can finally search for ‘ANALog devices’, get songs of the band called ‘ORGY’ and even see pictures of ‘MiddleSEX county’ on google.
– Every website can be opened.
– AVK and notices are not a reality, only a faint hilarious memory.

Welcome to life beyond BPGC.

Ignorance Exposed

Note: No exaggeration here.

With graduation comes the inevitable question, “What next?”. What I have experienced is that, unless your answer is “A job” or “Job then MBA” or just “MBA”, those eyebrows do narrow into a frown, or vanish into the hair often accompanied by widened eyes and the mouth blurts out various hilarious things which I have tried to put together here. Many of those things are just blaring examples of ignorance or as I like to see it; a success story in the continuous attempt by the media to brainwash the people. Oh Boy! They have done a splendid job.

The sadder or funnier part is these very people are the educated class, the newspaper-reading, tech-savy individuals or so I thought. So without any further ado, let me get started with whatever I have been told so far.

Aunty1: (On hearing I’m going to USA, she didnt wait to hear what for) Arre ! How are your parents sending a jawan ladki all by herself to the USA ? Wahan jaake pata nahi kya karogi ( WHAT THE…! )

Aunty2 : (On hearing its for higher studies) You can give CAT again you know, ek baar mein haar nahi maan-te. Dont run away to USA just because you didnt crack CAT the first time. ( Eh? When did CAT come into my scheme of things..people just assume CAT is just another exam as compulsory as the XII boards I guess).

Uncle1 to my dad: Why are you spending so much money on sending her to USA?If you want her to go to the states get her married to a US-settled boy, yahin kaam karne do.

Aunty3: Why didnt you join your job in Wipro? Its so much better than what you are opting for! (Hahahaa…I’ll tell that to the PSD, they’ll be thrilled)

Aunty4: Bina interview ya exam ke selection kaise hua? (Without interview or exam how did u get through) Management seats or what ? ( LOL)

Aunty5: (Now she was a sweetheart till I told her I’m going for an MS-PhD): OMG! PhD! Doctor?! Arey if you study so much which boy will marry you? ( There goes all the sweetness)

Uncle2: I never expected this from you, why are you wanting to be a professor ? ( I clarified that I never uttered the word professor) he continues ” A PhD means a professor only na? What other jobs do these people get?” ( Umm…)

Uncle3 to my dad : Now she will wear soda-glasses and be like those irritating scientists,hahahaha… (Hahah, very nice imagination)

Relative1: You didnt get any job ? Dont worry I have contacts and will help you out, just sit and prepare for ur CAT this year till then. (:X)

Relative2: Why do you want to study so much? You are a girl man, enjoy your life.

There were so many more but these responses stayed in my head. CAT forms the other other respectable career-choice followed by working. None of this is exaggerated and it is in fact downplayed since I didn’t convey the gasps or the mortified facial expressions. Of course there are those few people who are in fact happy with my decision and accept it wholeheartedly and genuinely ask me to enjoy or even help me by telling the hot research fields, but this is a snapshot of the general perception of the people.The word “marriage” is a hell lot prominent now and the USA factor giving it a special boost. Ignorance raises its ugly head in the most flummoxing manner.

Many a time, the way your IQ-estimate in their head plummets, leading them to hastily change topics to bollywood or weather is funny. Sad, but true.

Sexist nation

“Its a baby boy”
“Whew! Very Good. Thank God it wasnt a girl”.
These words left me stunned. Twenty first century. An India we proudly show off to the rest of the world and I am standing here in my kitchen listening to this awful gender discrimination. Worst thing to hit home, my cook happily said that to me, a girl.

After two more huge gasps of relief from other people whom I was told to inform, and one blessing I got (already) that I would have a baby boy too, I was feeling a little hurt. To hell with all the gender equality. Even today, majority of this country treats women as second-grade, a burden and a second-choice when it comes to children. Sad, very sad.

You might argue that education is the key but I am amazed at how gender discrimination exists in the most subtle forms even in the most forward societies. The most hi profile families focus on how to make the boy achieve the highest qualifications and leave the girl on the pretext that in any case we’ll get her married by 25. End of college for a girl in many cases moves on to the next stage of life i.e marriage and hardly are parents concerned about careers of their girl-child. Then comes the whole social factor of marrying her off in grandeur, saving money, minting jewelery and all that hogwash.

I wanted to turn back and ask those people in what way are girls inferior to boys. They help at home, are more responsible and match up to a boy in every sense of the word. In any other forward society, never is there a discrimination of the sexes. Nowhere else in the world will you hear gasps of relief when a boy is born or even dream about female infanticide. It all happens only in this country.

This suddenly makes me feel we haven’t moved an inch from the olden days of sati and dowry.Just now that the situations are rather different. Indian women are beaten when they go to pubs. Jeans are regularly banned from colleges everyday.A bold statement by a woman is instantly called lewd and the character of the girl comes under the scanner. A girl is ruthlessly ogled at by every cheapskate, sex-deprived Indian male everywhere she goes. Women who work late hours are chased behind by drunk youths and shot in the head when they try to evade them. Groping, rape, eve-teasing, I can go on and on and on. Its sad to be born in a country where people are disappointed by your very existence.

I know this post is all feminist and all, but happy as I maybe on the arrival of my nephew, I wasn’t actually thanking anyone that he is not a girl. It just pricks when someone throws such an offhand comment on you making you feel second-grade. India needs to sensitize itself to the female gender. Only then will we really surge ahead.

Till then, I’m celebrating my new Aunt-hood. 😀

Girl Talk: Packing and moving

This one actually doesn’t have a disclaimer. 😀

Okay, so the big day looms large. Gosh! I’m almost saying it as though I’m getting married or something. Well if life’s biggest change is associated with marriage, then this doesnt fall too short. I’m leaving the country to pursue my American dream. The dream that has had me in its grasp for the last decade or so and continued to enthrall me during my trips there. I have dreamt about this day and age for years now and now that its really here, its a heady concoction of confusion, nervousness, a lot of running around and multiple injections as well (the health forms).

Packing is the biggest task set out in front of me. I’m no newcomer to it at all. But the single thing that amazes me is how I never learn from my mistakes. Mistake being- shopping. I enjoy shopping. Yes, now the girl-part kicks in. I love exploring shops, the road-side stalls, checking out latest trends in mags or screening the reel-stuff which can be implemented into real life. I end up having loads of clothes and accessories and shoes and bags (not to mention books) and I just cant stop myself when I am on one of my shopping sprees. Maybe there should be a mechanism to remind me about my heavy baggage and all the trouble I have with it when I’m out there in the trial rooms deciding to buy something. I wish.

This time packing has to be elaborate at the same time not too heavy since the baggage rules are very strict.My family has given up on packing or helping me with my enormous and confusing stuff long ago. They give me the boxes, the space and the time-frame.So ruefully, I sat one morning trying to sort out the clothes I should be taking and the ones I should leave behind only to dismally find that my leave-behind pile did not cross 4 or 5 outfits after all the sorting. I have major issues deciding what to take and what not to especially when some hardly used clothes come out of the cupboard and I’m like “Oh yeah! That top is soo cute,why didnt I wear it before?”, only to get added to my heap of to-take clothes which unquestionably becomes too huge for comfort. The same goes with shoes and accessories. Its tough to segregate!

People might say packing is an easy job. Its definitely not for me. Not for all those girls with a lot of stuff and total confusion as to what to wear and take. Surprisingly, these decisions are tougher to make for me than the big ones in life. I have been out of my house since 11th standard. Six long years of all this and I haven’t mastered this art. Now that is what you call being pathetic!