Oh Chennai, my Chennai!

rain pic


Last night, or must I say this morning, my husband decided to apply for a record of sorts. Guinness, Limca, anything really. He felt, fairly, that if there was a record going for the longest time taken to reach from a reasonable point A to point B, roughly 10 km, then he had a good chance. Given that he had unusually, therefore cheerily, set forth from his office at about 5-45 pm but stayed on the roads till about 12-45 am, a solid seven hours, he though he was justifiably calling dibs.

Last night is also when I well and truly lost it. As a life long Chennaite, I have never been so angry before, and God knows this city tests us all sorely from time to time. Yesterday, for the first time ever, I wondered what this city had come to. As a city, Chennai had failed us all miserably last night. As a friend said, pardon his French, bloody suburb!

rain pic 1

I’m usually the first to rush to the defense of the city, sometimes my task is to defend the indefensible, and it hasn’t fazed me yet, until yesterday.

With a few hours of very heavy rainfall on Monday, this city of mine careened to a grinding, screeching halt. Roads were inundated immediately, the only scorching that was happening was of our hopes that the flood waters would * somehow* drain out. But in a sense, the worst was yet to be, as we stepped out to make the brave journey home.

Public transport, in the best of times, indifferent in this city, was no bet. Buses were leaking initially as it rained, friends reported, and anyway were stuck in the great big traffic mess that the roads had become. MRTS was a life saver, if you lived along its snaking route, but you’d have to step off the train, into the icy, black waters of Chennai roads. If you were lucky to put to use the Metro Rail that basically, at this stage, connects nowhere with nowhere, there was still the small matter of getting home from the station.

If you were in a car, then woe be to you. You could go as fast as you could to the nearest traffic jam and then wait there, moving forward in interstitial progression between the car in front of you, and the truck behind, both of which were crawling, when they moved. In most places, the water beneath, if you were lucky. The water in your auto, if you were not.
Which made that guy who slept in his car in Saidapet a smart cookie, actually, but only if he woke up before the flood waters came in. Or he and his precious car might be bobbing along the Adyar in spate, under the Maraimalai Adigal bridge. We hope he hasn’t.



SuperSucker machines, rescuing Chennai from the flood waters.Pic. Ramya Kannan

Because the roads, frankly they were best negotiated on boats. Several roads of Chennai that had just emerged after the showers of last week had gone right back to bring invisible again. Water was everywhere, like an albatross, reminding us of past trespasses.
For certainly, we have failed to do things right. We have been anal in the way we planned the city’s burgeoning growth, we’ve allowed housing schemes on lakes, squatters on the banks of rivers, allowed waterways to be built on and covered up, left storm water drains clogged, always planned for a deficit monsoon, whilst praying for bountiful rains. And the fault, my friends, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.
That we allowed our great acquisitive greed to subsume this city. That in the floodwaters of our callousness, this city of mine is submerged. It’s a fait accompli, and this season it rides on El Nino, discomfiting our daily lives, making diehard fans of the city like me wonder. What’s a city, after all. It’s you and me, and the people who govern it. It’s the people who fail a city, it’s us that have failed Chennai. I’ve no business being angry, I’m guilty.

As you are.

Pics: Ramya Kannan

முதல் முறையாக “வேண்டாம்” என்றாள். 
அவன் அதிர்ச்சியில் மட்டும் உறைந்தான்; நிசப்தம். 
கும்மிருட்டில் அந்த ஒற்றை அறையின் சாளரங்கள் 
மட்டும் ‘டம’ ‘டம’ என்று காற்றில் 
அடித்துக் கொண்டிருந்தன…
அவள் காதுகளுக்கு அது 
முரசு கொட்டும் சத்தம்.


Image: This totally cool image comes via Twitter, credit to Vikatan Publications.

I met Balu Mahendra once. Long ago, at a far off place. And spent two long hours with him. He spoke cinema, I listened, and then we discussed cinema, particularly whether it was possible to be sensitive and realistic while making films. I had heard tales, like the rest of us, on his infamous temper, his strong points of view and his ability to be dismissive, not to mention the rumours of his relationship with actor Shoba, and naturally,  I was a little wary. But Balu Mahendra was nothing of the sort with me. He seemed as eager to speak to me, as I was with him; you could say the circumstances had thrown us together in an age when smart phones did not provide company, but beyond that, he was eager. He did not treat me like the kid I was then, certainly green behind the ears. He seemed older then, older than his screen presence, and his trademark cap seemed squashed on his head, his face gaunt, his beard fuller.

But none of that mattered when he spoke, and when I disagreed with what he said, he was amused at my youthful anger, saying he was pleased by it. “This is how the young should be,” he said, pleased as punch, “or what’s youth for.” He did not ask the usual questions people used to ask those days of young women journalists: what does your dad do, don’t your folks mind you going home late, isn’t this job risky for a woman? He din’t care, and he had accepted that if I wanted to be a journalist, then that was what I had to be. He was concerned that I thought Rettai Vaal Kuruvi was not his style; he chuckled when I said Chockalinga Bhagavathar was cute; but not when I, in my pubescent naivete, said I hated him for the way Veedu ended; and he was surprised at me for thinking Azhiyatha Kolangal was a bold story. I even asked cheekily if he went for the dusky, sultry women, he just winked.

That was the only time I met him. I love some of his films, but I think I will remember him more for those couple of hours, when we sat in a bright, airy room, sipping on endless cups of sweetened tea, discussing stuff like we were old pals, equals. As if nothing else mattered.

Rest in peace, sir.



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Oh, vile, vile curiosity

What do we make a trend of?
After she is dead and cremated, we host online images of a young girl raped and damaged so badly, that even her doctors secretly hoped she would be relieved of her suffering.
After outraging her assault, holding candle light vigils and writing reams on Blogger and WordPress, what do we do today, after the Delhi girl has been interred. We put up pictures, allegedly, of her so that the 1000 friends on our list can see her too? Beneath our anger is there only voyeurism?
People, hark! The name of a victim of “alleged” or “real sexual abuse”, whether the victim is alive or deceased is concealed, not only because we need to protect her from stigma, but also because it is plain illegal.
Arnob Goswami tried to make a virtue of not revealing the name of the girl after she died in Singapore, but hey, guess what, that is illegal too. Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code makes the publication of the name of a victim illegal, even after death. UNLESS, there is written consent from the next of kin of the victim to allow publication of details. Violations can be punished with a two-year imprisonment term, plus fine.
No. You don’t have to believe me. Read for yourselves :http:// http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1696350/
Nothing of the sort exists in the Delhi case. As far as we know, the family is saying “leave us alone.” And yet we, in our infinite sympathy and outrage and basest curiosity, will not.
Kill it, folks. Stab it in its heart and throw it away. Your curiosity is vile, insensitive and illegal.
Or get ready to cool your heels on the cold concrete floor of a prison cell. Friend RK, has promised to help you with that:


Do what you think is best. I mean, for you.

in a breath…

The master speaks
through a distant thunderclap;
In the middle of an inhalation,
a half-yogi finds revelation.

In Sorority


The sight of an engorged male organ can be traumatic for a little school girl. It’s also a sight she can never forget. On a public bus, squished in the last two rows, on my way back from school, that is where I first encountered the perverted male. In living memory.

His dhoti parted and that monstrosity sticking out. I first thought he was ill. So I looked up with concern at his face, and then understood that the ecstacy on it was perversion. I dont think any one else on the bus saw him. His show was for one girl in pigtails, a school uniform; for the fear in her eyes; and as it dawned on her, the disgust. But, the fear mostly; and the thrill of doing it in public.

Most children of my generation and socio economic standing went to school by bus, until they were old enough to cycle to and from home. Buses crowded, spilling over with people, just making that it much more easier for the grope, the breast-grab, ass-fondle, and dhoti-part. Or if we walked to school, young turks on bicycles would speed by and as they swung past, make that desperate lunge for your pubescent breasts. Even if your dad was walking with you. Both you and your dad are angry. You are so angry, there are tears in your eyes. It also hurts where he grabbed you visciously, and yet, quite casually.  You assuage yourself by dreaming of a nasty accident for the boy on his cycle.

You say fight for yourself. How do little girls do that? Little girls of my generation were happy to carry heavy backpacks with books. It was heavy, but it was a shield of sorts. And then a lunch bag, held strategically, was further protection. We grew nails too, for more than cosmetic reasons, but I have never used them once on a bus. All this was before we picked up the courage to shout at or even injure a molester on a bus. Before we realised that courage built up in you, from education, or from realising you don’t have to put up with it. Not that it ever stops. At any age. Not on the bus, not anywhere else. 

At home, post cards with crude pornography come from anonymous strangers. Curiosity and puzzlement before your mother angrily tears up that yellow card. Then you realise it is embarrassing. It messes with your mind.

Later, in adult situations, several surreptitious glances at your chest, a wink, the suggestive gesture passing off as a joke. In the subway, a flasher. Men on bikes who screech close to you as you wait at the signal. In the auto, a perverted driver. Or a taxi driver – one who looks too often at you in the rear view mirror; the man on the flight who edges close to your thighs pretending to sleep and snore. 

Little crimes you can hardly complain about. It’s tiring to fight, again and again.

And yet, now, you must. So that when your little girl grows up, the men and woman who are today outraging the Delhi rape will have raised sons who will be free to love a woman, or hate her, without feeling her up on the bus.

Also so that an anonymous 23-year old aspiring physiotherapist would not have died in vain.