Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed in the post are based on my personal experiences and observations and need not be considered as facts. People who have stayed here may not agree with some things and not find Chennai as attractive as mentioned below.
I have been to a lot of places around India over the past few years: places as remote as chhatissgarh, orrisa, UP n Bengal and as happening as Bangalore, Mumbai, delhi and Calcutta. But of all the places, I find Chennai the most exciting. Each day I spend over here, I find out something that creates a mystery in my mind. Hence I call it ‘Chein Nahi’–there is no time for your mind to relax’. When you are here, you feel like you are on one of those adventurous trips when you don’t know whats gonna surprise you next, but are eagerly waiting for it to hit you. I’ll tell you why:
LANGUAGE: Its truly mystical. The way they speak it and the speed in which they speak it, its amazing. I think Tamil can enter into the book of world records for the fastest language in the world. Atleast it sounds like that. The intriguing thing about it is, one can never make out when one word ends and the other word starts. There is only a single pause after the completion of the entire sentence. Your mind then briefly wonders whether that thing you heard was a sentence or just a really long word.
Sometimes I can’t distinguish between the repetitive cracking sound made by the Mentos packing line, where dozens of pieces of candy fall from the conveyer belt on the steel below and the sound made by the two workers standing by the line. But if you listen very carefully to two people conversing in Tamil, you can find some words that are similar to your language. And you get so excited when such words come up, that you listen to the entire conversation intently, thinking that you can now decipher the entire speech. I can easily relate to many of their words to Marathi or Hindi. Words like “vaanga” or “teri ma”. But sadly I later find out that those words have totally different meanings. ‘Vaanga’ in Tamil means ‘come’, and in Marathi means ‘brinjal’. ‘teri ma’ in Tamil means ‘i don’t know’ (or probably ‘i know’ not sure), but in hindi it means ‘your mom’. .” ‘Rand’ stands for ‘two’ in Tamil. I don’t need to tell you guys what I initially thought it meant. I love these word so much, I frequently use them. Whenever a person speaks to me in Tamil I reply with a smile: “Tamil teri maa” and I push in a hushed “ki” at the end. Sometimes I order two samosas or two puffs or two soaps or anything, just for the fun of using that word.
One would also love the way Tamilians repeat a word a zillion times while talking. This phenomena is commonly observed when they use the word ‘sarry’ or ‘amma’.
When taking instructions from a boss, the sub-ordinate keeps furiously nodding his head and says: “sarry, sarry, sarry, sarry, sarry.” These people are very obedient and apologetic. Like all the other English words that they mispronounce, I presume its how they say sorry.
Everyone knows the meaning of the second word. It means ‘mother’. What surprises me is the number of times they remember their moms during the day. After every five minutes the guy to the left of me goes “ama ama ama ama amma.”
One can get confused in their words, but one can never stop appreciating the novel way in which they have managed to reduce unnecessarily long English questions by just adding the suffix ‘aa’. This is a common conversation I have with any colleague, when I leave for home from office:
Yes, I am going home.
I stay in T. Nagar.
Best place in Chennai to stay. Very happening.
Tell me about it.
Tell you about what?
Yes. I travel the first leg of my journey by the staff bus, and then I take a train from Perungallatur.
Yes Mambalam. That’s where I need to get down to go to T. Nagar.
Then I take a 15 minutes walk to my place.
Ayyo. 15 minutes aa ? Yokay. Go.
(for more on this, refer to the previous post BAC, 2nd last para, Theory of Mispronouncing Acceptances)
One other interesting thing I noticed is the way they spell, or rather misspell their names. It entertains you, in a way. The use of the letters H and G is not where it should be, but where it shouldn’t be. I think Tamilians have been fond of anagrams for a very long time, and hence like to carry it in their names. I’ll give you an example:
The HR in-charge of me here is Sakunthala. And she likes to be called Saku (thats the way she spells it). So I start calling her Saku, as in Saku Bai (what a funny name, right!!) After two days, she finally corrects me: “Actually Ojhas, its not Saku its Shaku, from Shakuntala.” I reply “ Oh yes, ofcouse. How stupid of me.”
Then she takes down my phone number on her diary and writes my name in big letters “OJHAS: 9500145404.” Its my turn now. I say:
O: Its actually Ojas, not Ojhas.
S: ya.. that’s what I have written, O J H A S.
O: Its Ojas, without the H.
S: Oh. Yokay. Sarry sarry sarry sarry. (she cancels the H) Its Ojhas aa?
O: (I give up) Yes. Its Ojas
Now, the G. Some Tamilians have a problem with pronouncing any word which has an H in the middle. Instead they pronounce it as G (which is very surprising, since they use H so extensively in any proper noun they have. “Thambaram, Ojhas, Sangeetha.” ) So a Rohit will be called Rogit and Rahul will be called Ragul. The first time I heard it, I started wondering whether they even laugh in that same manner “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.” But no, they manage to pull that off, pretty well. I still think they have to make a conscious effort to blurt out a socially acceptable laugh. Otherwise they would end up sounding like the not-so-white Zoozoos of Vodafone.
Another strange thing I observed here is that people call each other Tambi. We used that term in college to describe Tamilians but it was always viewed as a derogatory remark and Tamilians took it offensively. But here, they are pretty cool about it, if one of their own calls them that. It maybe something like the term Nigger – they can call themselves that, but you can’t. It becomes a racist remark. I wonder if there is a relation between African American and Tamilians.
The best part about all this language issue is that you can go on blabbering in your own language anywhere, be it in buses, trains, and feel secure that no one around you is going to understand a thing. It is a great feeling to openly curse some stranger when you are angry at him, without fearing the consequences. The only thing is that you need to keep a smile on your face while saying it.
2. WEATHER: As a kid I always wanted a swimming pool at my home in which I could lie in, all day long. But in Chennai, such a luxury is provided naturally. The moment you step out of your artificially cooled room/office, your body gets covered with a thick layer of perspiration. Its like you are always wet (not in that sense guys.. but literally, like in a pool) It helps keep your body cool and it gives you excuse to do two things you will love doing in this weather. One – get a cold shower 3-4 times a day. It’s one of the best feelings you can experience in your lifetime. Two – turn on the a/c anytime without having your roomies complaint about saving on the electricity bills.
FOOD: The variety in food here cannot be matched by any other place in India. For lunch we normally have sambar-rice. But hold on..If you are thinking thats monotonous, you must check out the varieties of sambar they create. One can find all shades or sambar, falling in the range of yellow to orange to red to brown colours. Thats not all. They use the most innovative techniques to add more variety. One day you’ll find Aalo in it, next day Muli, next day Brinjal, drum sticks and the list goes on. Never have I tasted the same sambar twice in a week. Isn’t that an achievement! But if you still think you’ll be bored with the sambar-rice everyday, no fear. You can have any of the following: rasam-rice, curd rice, tamarind rice, tomato rice, lemon rice, khaara bhaat(salty rice), kesari bhaat(saffron rice without saffron in it, but the colour is saffron or red or yellow or pretty much any colour you like).
That was for lunch. For breakfast and evening snacks, I don’t need to elaborate. You are already aware of the variety available. You have zillion types of Dosas, idlies, wada, appam, uttapam, appam etc. The best part about this is, that you will find a shop selling all these items in almost every road side corner, about 100 metres from each other. Getting a dosa in Chennai is easier than finding Bhel puri in Mumbai or beer in Goa. They will hold an extremely tiny Thela on which they manage to make all the above mentioned items. The best part is that you will find a large crowd gathered around each of those Thelas. There is some good quality Operations learning for me from those Thelas for sure.
In MBA, we are taught a lot about customising one’s products to suit the local needs. You might not find a better example of it than that seen in North Indian food in Chennai. In whichever dish you order, be it Chicken, Paneer, samosas or even Puffs; you will find one common ingredient which you will have to pull out from your mouth the moment it goes in – A long Daalchini or Kadipatta leaf. Talk about customisation. But, I wonder why our cook does it.
The discipline followed by shop-keepers here is also commendable. Come what may, all stores close by 10 PM. (Yeah. .even the liquor stores) Now, who doesn’t enjoy a long drive of about 10 kms to the other end of Chennai late at 11.00 PM for dinner. And when the car is not available, we enjoy the half hour walk too, cause it increases our appetite for the Kadipatta stuffed, sambar-like tasting, red-coloured delicious biryani that awaits us.
DAARU: You will not face any problem getting access to the most primary needs of man- Alcohol. Wine store owners save you the trouble of wasting time on deciding which brand to buy, by stocking only one or two brands of each type. They also make sure that they have the most value-for-money brand available with them – Old Secret (no.. not Old Monk dumbo. Thats the name.. Old Secret)is the highest selling dark rum, McDowell’s the highest selling whiskey. The only beers they keep in the refrigerator are Madras Pilsner and Kalyani (no.. thats not a dance bar or a dance bar girl). But for the affluent classes they also keep expensive brands like Haywards and Kingfisher in the warehouse. Served nice and hot, like soup. And if you still want something more royal then you can of course go for Romanov or Royal Challenge or Old monk.
You might think that the 10 PM closing time is a problem, but italso turns out to be an advantage in a way. Because if you ever wanna buy booze after 10 in Chennai, you get the once in a life-time opportunity of staying a long queue of losers, playing dumb charades with the shop owner through a small opening in the gate and paying 100 bucks for the weirdest tasting beer ever -Kalyani (which I get a feeling is what carbonated piss would taste like. That would explain their cheap rates. Cost saving manufacturing process)
Even though there is lot more to be discovered about this wonderful land, I would prefer to stay in a more “not- happening” location than Chennai as my mind cannot handle all the excitement that comes its way. It needs time to relax too. But I recommend each one of you to visit this majestic land or God’s neighbour’s (the Devil’s) own country for atleast two months in the peak holiday season from April to May when you can truly enjoy your stay thanks to the weather.