Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Experience and Experiments in Chennai

I always grew up considering people who live by the sea-shores lucky. I kind of could never digest that the waves I dream to visit in my vacations having to travel so far from my home and return with moist eyes with the pain of separation, there are people who actually live by those haunting sands. I envied them and it was a desire deep soaked in my heart to live by the sea at least once to grab a bit of that luck they all shared.

My four months project in Chennai fulfilled that grave craving in me or should I say my choice of project that led to Chennai could have been subconsciously tricked by the inner mermaid in me that drives me impatiently and illogically hydrophilic from time to time.

The very first day I landed in Chennai I visited the Marina beach just a little away from the place I lived. Women in gajras, men in munds sat here and there occupying the entire stretch of sand, it was active and chirpy. Colorful balloons, kites, and clothes added to the pallet of that brown sand that led to the water. The waves growled ferociously and would angrily hold your legs and pull once you step in. I dared not go deep.

As more days passed by I grew fascinated by the flowers that would be sold in every corner of the street. Every woman had her long hair decorated with flowers, the buses I traveled in would be scented by the jasmines that the women dangled from their hair. They are pious, courteous and peaceful.

The nose rings occupying the sides of both nostrils in many women disturbed me curiously. My not accustomed eyes again and again hovered around that nose that increased so much weight sideways to the face and my eyes would be oscillating there while I spoke. Well…not spoke made actions.

I enacted everything I uttered and the live mime show kept me amused in this new land. As a speaker I acted, as a listener I smiled. I smiled to hide my surprise that in an entire long sentence just spoken to me not even one word could I grab, picking the thread of which I could at least make a related intelligent response.

I feel at every interval in life one should definitely visit a place that is so different culturally and most importantly linguistically. It so much makes the mind alert and so much surprises with all that things we take for granted every day and move on. It refreshes with new outlook adding a new dimension to the acceptance of difference and admiring the varieties that developed.

And while I was completely depended on gestures, if the gestures too misled it was a disaster. The auto driver being mentioned a place would swing his head sideways and when you just crossed him by he would hail you back! That “No” perhaps meant a “Yes”.

However the language problem had one big advantage I figured. While you walk by the street and you are passed a comment by a passer by, it would leave you completely neutral. In fact that would make you think, “Huh, what a fool this guy was, said something in Tamil and probably wanted to tease but poor fellow, I didn’t even understand.”

In my personal quest about the language, I finally figured out the “extra-H mystery” to the names. Why a mysterious ‘h’ was always added in my name without fail making it Aparajitha, a Bindu-BindHu, Kavita-KavitHa, Gayatri-GayatHri and Pratima-PratHima. I still am curious to find out the mystery of double ‘P’s and double ‘K’s in the names of places that almost acted like a tongue twister and made your tongue trip inside the cavity of the mouth.

Another amusing discovery was a “Chumma-Party” that made me stretch my imagination far and then land with a painful thud knowing it is party just like that, without a definite cause. Chumma meaning “just like that” which surely is a misleading term.

Well, and I am now dying to play the role of a peace-maker to fulfill a communication gap that might have kept the people of North and South so far from each other for so long. Before I visited Chennai the feedback I got from every North-Indian was, “They generally hate us and would not even utter a word in Hindi even if they knew it all.” And the amusing part is that the same sentence was repeated by them there, “The North Indians hate us and would deliberately speak with us in Hindi even though they knew English and knew Hindi was not spoken here.” Wow, and taking the side of both parties I could clearly see where the problem exactly was. The yearlong hostility between this North-South was just a simple misunderstanding that needed a two minutes of open thought.

It so tempted me to play the role of the mistress of the play-group bringing the hands of both children together, compelling them to say sorry to each other and initiate the first game in between and leave them to patch there.

For the people in North, well, most of them do understand a bit of Hindi due to the TV channels and movies that are released there but they would not speak because they are not accustomed to it and never did try and moreover, did not need to try either. It is definitely not because they want to punish by speaking an alien language and torture the visitors.

And to the people of South, well, they don’t speak Hindi to torture you either. It is just that they find it so obvious that in entire India Hindi is a language that is common and would be surprised that it does not apply the same way for South.
So, hoping for the North-South alliance here. Jai Hind!

About the places around Chennai, I was deeply fascinated by Auroville and was thrilled to learn about the concept of a place that holds no nationality and belongs to anyone whose inner built is for good deeds and service. As I strolled in those muddy lanes that slithered between the woods I filled my lungs with air so fresh... and by night I lay for hours looking upwards admiring the vast sky that did not slightly get hindered by a sky-touching pile of bricks that threatened the stars so high.

And how could I not mention my visit to matri-mandir there. As I approached that golden dome, the free moving air and the fresh green vast space did seep into my soul smoothening every ripple of thought preparing me for a silent journey inward. As I sat by the rippling pool that ran in concentric circles towards a clear crystal, I was overtaken, overwhelmed and absorbed. The definition of calm and serenity seemed to have revealed itself in its maximum depth there. Every second there was a step ahead to purification.

Air passed through the dome freely making a sweeping sound that almost would wipe your soul, the ripples replicated the disturbance of thoughts and it gurgled so smoothly as it traveled down to the centre. The concentric circles that held the ripples represented the zones of consciousness that so clearly are touched in meditations. And then as you cross every zone and leave past your ripples far, there you reach the pure crystal so untouched, so aloof and so deep from the upheavals around and everywhere…

The entire journey of meditation was so thoughtfully replicated and imitated there and those moments I spent that evening were as golden as that dome that shone with the last rays of the setting sun.

Well, and all I knew was I have discovered a spot in this world that will keep haunting me again and again to get back there and would beckon me often when life in its brisk ripples and waves captures my mind and engulfs.

Three and half hours to Auroville and matri-mandir, three and half days to Andaman in ship from Chennai…I would be tempted again and again to near you throughout my life. To ride across these three and halves, I will again visit thee. The biryani houses that occupied every nook and corner and relieved me of tamarind in every dish, the cake cutting ceremony in Brahmin marriages that almost made me sing happy birthday unconsciously, even a grown up bearded man being referred to as “Maa” that made me check him well up and down slyly, the paratha in a traditional Tamil restaurant that was served in crumbles in a bowl to my deadly shock, the dumb-sharad I mastered every day and sometimes left helplessly to the Universal language of God. The 'ai-aiyoo's and 'aa-cho-cho's being tossed in the air, and of course the maddening fragrance of jasmine in a woman’s hair, With and over every difference and similarity O Chennai, I will miss thee.


Ravikiran said...

Hi Aparajita,

This is a very well-written article. It reminded me of my days in Chennai and in a piece of fiction that I am writing, even I have mentioned about the language problem and the smell of jasmine flowers wafting throughout the city.
The mention of auto-drivers shaking their head to say yes or no has always been a mystery, you can also mention your haggling experience with the auto- karas. I like the picture of the beach where the lady is standing and you have to shoot the small baloons.
This humourous article also made me nostalgic about the place where I lived for three years and it was only after those three years I was able to like the city.
I hope to go back to the city soon.

Meenakshi said...

I now add Chennai to my Travel wish list! Very nice read!Appa.

MinD IT said...

Who is that experiencer, experienced all HIS experiments!! Have u ever thought of THAT!

krunal varshikar said...

Idli's , dosas, chicken chettinad, chutneys, rassams n appams can really straiten things up! every land has a million of things to share, but when we talk about chennai, the tangy tamrind n flamboyant spices cant be left ignored!
I liked the way you put your emotions associated with a particular place and take the script to its paragon. yes , language barriers will be thr but with the right attitude and good friends all barriers seem disolved!
keep writting !!! hail idli's n dosas!


Very nice, and smooth narration, keep some patience with you and may be this story can be a Travelogue of 100 pages.Publisher these days offer 7 figure advance to first time authors.You do have a making of a great author.

jith said...

Its well written !! Nice work nooo doubt.

So you visited Aurovilli.,its my dream Destiny...I enquires abt them..they replied that the centtre will be open once in a week or so..,also I'd to take a prior appointment.

So you are a lucky being.

And one thing for ur kind attention madam ...
Dont Measure the whole South India in the scale of Tamilnadu & Chennai...
Their's is a different one educationaly,Culturally and Socialy

and sadly you didnt Visit the Western part of South India(MY KERALA)
and soory that I dint invites you.

Once you stayed here your concept of Entire India will going to change !!
I'm Sure!!

girish said...

nice..bt tell u one thing any culture have its own values, beliefs, thoughts, and lifestyles which ever got changing nature too..and for a centuries of human being there exist poverty and luxury...some people lived in luxury and some in poverty..some people got some talent of art like dance, painting, writing,drama...etc...bt one thing is conman..there is some good people in every corner of earth and there is some circumstances which makes some people bad in nature in every corner of earth..
girish dave
visit: and thers one onother topic validity of social groups..

kym said...

could you please tell me what are the colourful objects on the board in the picture with the woman. Are they balloons?