Chennai: Arrival

by sunil on September 4, 2008

I arrived in Chennai at six in the morning, half an hour before schedule, to the city waking up to the chirps of birds and  bawls of the morning vendors. The ochre glow of the dawn had started trickling through the sky. The new CMBT bus stand was a remarkable improvement than my memories of the old Madras Bus stand. It was more spacious and better organised; the sign-boards were all well marked both in Tamil and English. And far importantly, the area was lot cleaner. So Chennai was learning its ways.

The lack of civic sense in Chennai was an unfortunate, and perhaps unintended consequence of the Dravidian movement. The movement started after the Indian Independence and gained further momentum both socially as well as in political circles. But in essence, it was a class struggle – where in the oppressed lower classes as they called themselves revolted against the upper classes of the region. By the midsixties when the power equations changed, populations of lower classes had become averse to the idea of purity (dearer to the upper Brahminical class)  and had developed a sense of antagonism towards any social activity that imposed an idea of cleanliness. The upper classes on the other hand became increasingly alienated and withdrew into their own circle of cleanliness.

Between the classes and their struggles, sadly and for no one’s fault, the civic sense  of the people went down the famous open drain of Chennai. Naturally, Madras, and to an extent Tamil Nadu in general developed a notorious reputation of lacking in cleanliness, of even being dirty.

It was only in the capitalist nineties, with the power balance somewhat settled, people started making concerted efforts to bring in the awareness of cleanliness in the city. One such successful initiative was Exnora which, as I learnt had become widely popular and well established now.   

I could see the results of these innovative endeavours as I travelled  to Mylapore in an autorickshaw from the Bus station. The roads were cleaner, without the usual Madras stink, even the civic spaces appeared well maintained by Indian Standards.  Chennai was undoubtedly catching up.

I felt hungry and a friend suggested over the phone a particular eating-place suitable for that time of the morning.  The rickshaw driver dropped me off at a small hotel of the same name, after repeatedly assuring me that it was indeed the place I sought.  As I had suspected it wasn’t. 

I found myself in a sort of a junction where two big roads with their flowing traffic intersected. Signboards overhead announced the directions to various localities of the city. There was a small newspaper stall at the corner bustling with people.  And behind me was a signboard that announced a wedding- the names of bride and groom designed in jasmines and roses. I was appreciating the work that had gone into the placard when someone asked me if I belonged to the bride or the groom side? For a brief moment I considered crashing into the wedding but later decided against it. I explained to the gentleman that I was only a visitor in my first hour in the city , just checking the flower work. My Tamil , with years of disuse was rusty and sounded very different to what I had thought I wanted to say. But, I guess the man got what I said.

Now I wanted to find out where exactly I was. I noticed a middle-aged man who had gotten down from the car and was making his way to the newspaper stall. He wore a cream T shirt, a white shorts (presumably of early morning round of Badminton) and sported a full bristly Indian moustache which I hadn’t seen for a while. I asked him what place it was? I thought I heard him say Lust Corner which needless to add got me excited. But I had to confirm what I  thought I had heard:
Lust corner?
No, No, No, LUZ corner,
he replied frantically as he walked on nodding his head in a forceful disapproval as though it was no just against me but against an entire generation who had achieved puberty on MTV.

I thanked him.

So here I was, desperately looking for an auto, in a LUZ corner of the Brits , within a Chennai of Indians.

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