Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Vanakkam To Chennai

It's been eight months since we moved base from Bangalore to Chennai. Think Chennai and what comes to mind is heat, humidity, tradition, orthodoxy, culture et cetera. I am still new here and do not know this city well enough to judge it but while first impressions do confirm all the characteristics I just mentioned, one can see a newer, more open, more tolerant face of the metropolis trying to appear from behind its old,rigid countenance. Of course, Chennai has a long way to go before it can be truly called a cosmopolitan city, but maybe the winds of change have started blowing, albeit gently.

It is still not easy to get what you want to say across to a Tamilian who doesn't know any English. But it's not as if you are starved of hearing any language other than Tamil. Go to a public place and you are likely to overhear some delightful Bangla here or chaste Hindi there. So, Chennai is opening its doors to people from other states and letting them be their own selves too.

Take our neighbourhood. At least a couple of houses have boards outside them that announce Hindi tuitions on offer, a Bikaneri Bhojanalaya has just opened that is attracting big crowds comprising of locals as well, cars sporting registration plates from different states are parked outside buildings all over the area and packets of fresh (not frozen) chapatis are always available at the nearby grocery store.

These little things are surely a big help. They are useful to an outsider like me who is trying to find ways to make this unfamiliar city a bit more likable. But one thing is for can never integrate with the locals unless and until you speak their language. I feel like an illiterate when boards written in Tamil stare at me from everywhere. And I feel helpless when I have to play dumb charades everyday with the domestic help, the watchman and the driver. Then why don't I learn Tamil? Well, it's still early days in Chennai. Maybe it'll happen. They say you need to be in the right place at the right time. I need to wait only for the right time. Right place? I'm already in it!

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