Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chennai 101

There must be a god, after all. A god who grants wishes selectively, who programs this selection so meticulously that the timing of your wish being granted coincides rather perfectly with that of your nightmare coming to life. Every fumbling fresher to the Indian IT/equivalent industry dreads one thing: a posting email to Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Mine was a New Year 2012 gift.

Now, Chennai is a city that has acquired a questionable reputation in recent years, with the aforementioned question not restricted to its sultry climate alone. Techies and other mortals alike paint a picture of an uninhabitable sauna room of a city with apparently no food, water or miscellaneous essentials. There are also some survivors who paint a picture of a cultural haven which happens to be a foodie’s delight. Having spent a few months in the city, I choose to stand between the two pictures, noticeably leaning to the latter.

I stepped into the city in early February which is winter in most parts of the country. Chennai, however, has two seasons: summer and deadly summer. The days were hot and humid while nights were pleasantly humid, making air-conditioned accommodation about as necessary as You’d think such accommodation is easy to find in the heartland of Madras Presidency but wait..chances are your workplace will be on Old Mahabalipuram Road, the IT expressway on the outskirts of the city. Real estate brokers who operate here double as economics gurus, controlling the supply and price of furnished accommodation to bring it just within the reach of the average corporate slave. In short, I found a half-decent place to crash.

Even potential sociopaths require company. The fact that about twenty fraands lived within hopping distance of my residence reduced the agony of relocating to Madras. Observing cultural diversity, studying the thought process of people around and continuing my notes on group dynamics made the average day entertaining. There was little scope for silence as entertainment prevailed and bonding happened. But I tend to diverge. The food..yes. Chennai offers predominantly South Indian, particularly Chettinad food. Some restaurants in the city offer staple dishes that are simple yet extraordinarily delicious while others go out of their way to nurse one’s culinary curiosity. But the best food I had incidentally came from the kitchen of a Gurudwara.

Entertainment in Chennai is plentiful, with proximity to the coastline accounting for a greater part of it. Unlike Bangalore (where I have lived all my life and where entertainment these days seems to restrict itself to shopping, eating or drinking), Chennai tends to amuse one with its beaches, adventure sports destinations and several convenient weekend getaways. So Pondicherry happened and it was amazing. The IIT-campus is a world by itself, with more wildlife sighted on the campus than its junta. Another noteworthy mention is the cinema hall scene in Chennai: ticket prices in multiplexes can go as low as 10 INR and nay, this is no typo. Auto-rickshaws aside, living in this city is probably far less expensive than other metros.

The localites I met in Chennai (including strangers on the road) were largely helpful and genuinely nice, sometimes going out of their way to help. One particularly memorable incident was when an elderly couple escorted us to our destination when they could have merely gestured directions. “It will be difficult for you girls to search at night”, the gentleman said at 7 pm. Language was never a problem as most people seemed to speak fluent English and I managed to churn up broken Tamizh frequently. Yes, the surroundings were very different from what I was used to. Retail, food and hospitality sectors need to spread their wings (especially in the IT area!), water management must be made better and the city could definitely do with multiple commercial centres but the fact remains that it ticks better than most metros. Be it the ten-person-shared-autos, windowless buses, claustrophobia-inducing electric trains or the ‘Anna Cool Bar’s that outnumber Bangalore’s ‘Cake Paradise’s, Chennai has a heart and soul which deserve perpetual ovation.

Three months in Rajniland, if nothing else, will strengthen your endurance and build character like few other ways of living can. I wished to ‘have a blast’ living away from home, my New Year resolution was to make life more entertaining and both have been fulfilled in the most superlative of ways.

Also read:

Gurgaon 101