Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Oh Chennai!

I tend to like lists. And I figured it's a great way to blog without having to put too much thought in to complete sentences.

So here's another one. The things I like and hate about Madras/Chennai:

The things I like about Chennai:
1. Pure unadulterated filter coffee. Although, you would be surprised at how often even this can go wrong.

2. Being by the sea. There's something refreshing about just staring out at the vast expanse of water. It also helps put things in perspective for me.

3. South Indian food. I can not get enough of upuma, pongal, masala dosai, naadan chicken curry and parotta, payasam and the works.

4. Being close to family. I've gotten to know my cousins better, and I get to spend a lot of time with my grandparents.

5. Being able to drive to pretty much anywhere in the city, in under 45 minutes. After Bombay, this is a HUGE deal.

Things I hate about Chennai.

1. The traffic you have to navigate to get anywhere in the city in under 45 minutes. Pure madness. The road rage has brought out the worst in me.

2. The auto drivers. They are vampires in disguise. They would sell their mothers to make an extra Rs.20.

3. The humidity. Oh the humidity. Sweat pours through every pore in your body, before you can say "idli."

4. TASMAC. Tamil Nadu Association of Something Something Alcohol Something. Sells the worst alcohol in the world. Is overpriced. Has the filthiest outlets. Makes you feel as if buying alcohol is a crime.

5. The wannabes. This city seems to have them in higher numbers than normal. Wannabe rockstars, wannabe movie stars, people with fake accents, wannabe radio stations, wannabe everything. Why can't people just be normal?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Which Church do you go to?

I get asked this question on average almost every 6 weeks. The gravity with which it is asked never ceases to amaze me. Usually, the question is asked almost as if one was interested in knowing which suburb you lived in. One of those questions meant for idle chit-chat, a mere formality. The inquirers are usually inquisitive grandmothers, aunts and an assortment of random old ladies that typically frequent a family get-together.

Usually, my answer is the name of the closest Anglican CSI church I can recall - St. Mark's, St. John's or something along those lines. Never mind that I don't actually know what the inside of the church looks like. You see, one has to be politically correct when talking about religion. As a person of rather convoluted religious making, I've learned that its not alright to ruffle feathers. Although I was baptized a Methodist, I was confirmed in the Church of South India, therefore requiring me forevermore to declare allegiance to the Anglican realm of Christianity.

When I choose to answer that question in the non-affirmative, the conversation usually takes on an interesting dimension. Recently, I started declaring that "I haven't found the right Church as yet." This answer is usually met with the questioner rattling off the names of churches in the vicinity. A sort of audio version of Google Local. I then appropriately "umm" and "aah" and ask polite questions about the service timings, and exact location, before declaring my intention to "try it out." This then results in great joy for the questioner. "I lead the lost sheep back into the fold," they secretly mumble. The conversation quickly dissolves into more pleasant chit-chat such as the wonderful Chennai weather, or the state of the Metro construction across 100 Feet Road.

Last weekend I was asked the exact same question twice in the same evening. Having grown tired of the constant prodding into my personal life, I decided to declare with as much nonchalance as I could muster, "I don't go to church right now" This of course was met with tiny gasps across the room. In other circumstances, this would have probably been met with several questions, a summary judgment on my moral character. Not to mention a quick damning report being swiftly forwarded to all who might be deemed concerned. But this, gladly, is not one of those circumstances. And here's why....

1. I'm 26
2. I live on my own, I earn my own money
3. I am unmarried (and therefore no young minds to influence)

Now although these conditions are by themselves not guaranteed to ward off similar situations in the future for myself or for anyone else, it does have a significant degree of influence over the situation. And so, on this occasion, barring the one aunt who not let things lie for the next ten minute, the situation passed with relative ease.

I find it hard to imagine why someone so distant from my everyday life would be so concerned about how I spent my Sunday mornings. Perhaps its the general inquisitiveness that is so genetic to our culture. Perhaps its just a familial concern to make sure every conceivable need is taken care of.

I'm the sort of person who has what I would call a pretty "live and let live" attitude, when it comes to religion. You do what you want, I do what I want, and all is peachy, unless you come cross over into my territory. I don't discuss my beliefs openly with people, but that is not to say I don't have any. That's not to say I'm opposed to going to Church. I wish though, that organized religion, would lend itself to the needs of a younger, vastly different generation.

My grandmother, who for her age is rather liberal, once said it was alright to "shop" for a Church. After all, she argues, you need to find a place you like going back to every week. Perhaps its time to go shopping. I wonder if there's a 7-11 close by? Now that would make things very easy.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Travel Journal 1 - Sri Lanka

I've been a geography buff ever since my mom first brought home the Reader's Digest World Atlas. I spent hours poring over the outline of continents, land borders, mountains, rivers and so on.

My love for travel perhaps comes from my love for geography and political science. Nations, flags, currencies, the history of the land, people and food, the list of "Competition Success" worthy factoids come easily to me.

Last weekend I flew across to Sri Lanka to spend the long Easter weekend with old friends. Something about Sri Lanka has always intrigued me, more so than any of our sub-continent neighbors. I think it mostly has to do with the people, and also the similarity between the cultures of South India and Sri Lanka.

My weekend there was too short for the must-do visits to Kandy and Galle, or a trek through Up-Country, or the East. But over my three days in Colombo, I came across several interesting observations.

1. Sri Lanka is clean. Whoever thought dirt, filth and trash were part of the landscape in any South Asian city needs to visit Colombo. Agreed, they have a smaller population. But they also have an organized system of collecting garbage from homes twice a week.

2. People are not crazy drivers. Again, granted that lower population and traffic volumes make for saner driving, but it still makes you marvel at not having anyone cut you off, or honk persistently behind you while the light is still red.

3. People are friendly, and know how to give you correct, useful information.

4. The food is so distinctive and tasty; I could easily be vegetarian in Sri Lanka.

5. There's certainly a bit of a colonial hangover. Mostly in a good way. Colonial-era buildings are well-preserved, colonial-era traditions, such as the High Tea!

6. For a country that is just recovering from 20 years of civil war, security is carried out in a smooth-efficient, non-intrusive way. The army men at checkpoints are polite to a fault. They say "Good afternoon" as soon as you roll down your window. When they learned I was a tourist from India, they made sure to be extra polite and wished me a good holiday. Can't imagine that happening anywhere in this country!

7. Almost everything is imported. Including butter from New Zealand which less than the Amul butter that comes across the Palk Strait from India. Also cars. A majority of the cars on Sri Lanka's roads come from second hand car markets in Japan. The roads are filled with Nissans, Toyotas and Hondas. You do find the stay Maruti Alto or the Tata Indica, but with costs comparative (and sometimes higher) to the Japanese imports, its not surprising that Indian automobiles haven't flooded the market.

8. Consequently life for the average local is not cheap. A trip to the supermarket even for the most basic of supplies can rack up a bill of over LKR 2000 (Approx. 800 Indian Rupees).

9. The shopping is excellent. Specially for cheap clothes.

10. As small as a country might seem, never underestimate its diversity. There are Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils, Burghers, Moors, Malaysians, Tamil Muslims... the list goes on.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wouldn't It Be Loverly?

All I want is a room somewhere,
Far away from the cold night air,
With one enormous chair,
Aww, wouldn't it be loverly?

Wouldn't happen to know anyone ready to rent a place out, would you guvnor?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Upset Basket

As I sit here in my new office, contemplating the changes I made in the last few months, my memory stretched back to this blog, a one-time solace from the bewitched life I lead. Of course, those of you who actually still visit back to the blog ever-so-often truly deserve an honor most meritorious.

I'm tired of making excuses for lack of posts, and so none shall follow this time. Instead let me proceed to quickly summarize what's been going on in my life, and the series of events that have lead to this unexpected post.

1. In May this year I had the good fortune of visiting that great country across the Atlantic - the United States of America. Walking down the streets of New York after my busy day attending a microfinance conference, I felt as if I had accomplished what any young professional seeks - a comfortable, well-paying job, the appreciation of colleagues, the ability to walk down Wall Street in a business suit and accompanying laptop. Yet, I was conscious that perhaps I hadn't in fact achieved anything terribly significant. More importantly I hadn't the faintest idea of what my next move in life was going to be.

2. After returning to India, I decided to quit my job in Mumbai. I figured I needed to do something else with my work-life. While I had achieved much in my two years at my previous organization, there was an element of lethargy setting in. The work was becoming more mundane, my "learning curve" had plateaued now for some time. On a personal level, I was growing tired of Mumbai - the crowd, the noise, the pollution, the expensive lifestyle. I needed something more meaningful.

3. So in August I took off on an indefinite sabbatical. I hoped the following few months would allow me to recharge, to look for the right job, and to re-connect to family and friends.

4. After wandering the globe through September and October, I started work at a social business incubator in Chennai three weeks ago. The new life promised to be exciting.

5. ....not so much, though. Its been difficult finding a place to stay (more on that later), I'm a little disoriented at work, and have much planning to do. I have a little too much traveling lined up for my first month here and that's making the "settling in" a little difficult. The rains are making things terrible, and I have the occasional Mumbai withdrawal pangs.

In short, I feel like I need a break....all over again :) Is it possible that I suffer from some sort of psychological problem that doesn't allow me to see things simply for what they are - merely a combination of events beyond my control, yet perfectly normal? Rather than Oh-my-gosh-what-the-#(%@ acts of connivance?

Not the "I feel so much at home in Chennai" experience I was hoping for. Hopefully these set of emotions are just part of settling in to a new place. Sigh.

Friday, March 20, 2009

New phone

I just bought myself a fairly expensive phone. The Nokia E71. I'm sending this post from my mobile. It's dangerous what plastic money makes you do. Ah well... We're all headed the American way anyway. I might as well be ahead of the technology curve for once.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Random Thoughts... at 630 AM

Just a few minutes ago I woke up to the sound of my bathroom tank overflowing. And not just by a trickle, but quite a flood. Normally by this stage of the overflow the pesky Goan landlady (and the building association's to-be former secretary), Mrs. Rodrigues from downstairs, will be banging at my door screaming her lungs out "What man? Can't you be careful? You youngsters are such specimens, I tell you. Drinking and sleeping with women before marriage. 1000 rupees fine only I'm charging you." But this morning was different. There was no apologetic, just-out-of-bed me standing at the door (in my boxers) trying to placate the woman. You see, Mrs. R has been summarily dismissed from her post as building secretary by an Association-wide revolt lead by another pesky Goan woman, Mrs. D'Souza (of the third floor). This seems to have brought much relief to most of the Usual Suspects - the single men on the 6th and 7th floor, the sole Muslim family in a building full of Macs, the chorus of guards, sweepers and whatnots we have to take care of the area. Let's see how long the peace lasts.

Anyway...much as I tried falling back to sleep, I couldn't. My thoughts lead back to the days when being up and about at 630 AM was normal. When I knew what the world outside looked like before the sun actually came out over the horizon. When I would head the chitter-chatter of birds, and not the cawing of a crow.

That was back in the 1990s. I wonder how on earth I ever managed to wake up so early all those years. I wonder how on earth my wiry frame allowed me to carry those frickin heavy bags. I wonder how on earth I traveled 12 kms each day on crowded, humid Tamil Nadu buses (with accompanying moustachioed men and oil-drenched, jasmine-haired women).

Today, I'm only up at 630 if Mrs. R is at the door. And the most I can put up with is a 10 minute bus ride. Oh woe is stuck-up, I-will-only-take-autos me.

School was such a different ball game altogether. I used to think that dealing with cranky teachers, and Hindi classes were a nightmare. Ha. Have you tried the annoying colleague, or Microsoft Excel? I used to think that my weekly allowance of Rs. 50 (to cover bus fare, emergencey stationary needs, and snacks) was difficult to manage. Have you tried a five-figure salary, with three bank accounts, and one credit card? Not to mention filing tax.

Yesterday evening a friend of mine shared photographs taken at the recent wedding of a classmate from school. This classmate dated for five years, had the traditional church wedding and the traditonal reception (with biryani of course!). In those photographs were people I hadn't seen in years -- the girl in class that every guy had a crush on, bubbly JenPen (who once sat on a freshly-painted see-saw and had her bum-length hair turn green); an assortment of the class nerds who will soon be neurosurgeons, cardiologists, and so on. And then there was my high-school sweetheart.....with her fiance.

Recently a lot of my friends, classmates, former colleagues have announced their nuptuals. All of it is beginning to make me wonder if this (seemingly) fast-paced, career-oriented life I lead is anti-thesis to human practice. I'm sure it isn't, but you can't help wonder, can you? Especially when somone you've shared a close relationship with is engaged. Words of cyber-wisdom anyone?

I guess this is what happens when you let your mind wander at 630 AM. Better make sure I secure the tank faucet tonight.