Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Memoirs of Chennai

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness. It was the epic of belief; it was the epic of incredulity. It was the season of light; it was the season of darkness. It was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair.
Charles Dickens

These opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities nicely summarize my life in Chennai.

Life in Chennai! That phrase sounds so big, doesn’t it? It should seem odd too, considering that I lived in Chennai for only two months. But then probably I had some of the most memorable experiences of my life in those two months. Experiences that made me both love and hate Chennai at the same time. Some of my greatest joys and deepest sorrows have become synonymous with Chennai. A small but immensely important portion of my life is contained in those two months. The funny part is that I ended up there by accident. It sometimes feels really odd to think that some people don’t believe in destiny!

I went to Chennai because some careless fool in my company had mixed up my data with somebody else’s while feeding it into the database. I was allotted a training location which must have been the choice of the other person. Anyway, I was made to understand by the politicians in the HR Department of our Kolkata office that once the training was over, changing my posting location to Kolkata is going to be a piece of cake. And I did badly want to come back to Kolkata, as the sudden death of my grandma a few weeks earlier had rendered our house in Hooghly vacant. Someone had to stay there and take care of that house.

So I boarded the train for Chennai from Howrah on the 13th of July, 2005 with the air of a tourist visiting a new place for a short period of time and reached there the next evening. Chennai as a city I’ll probably describe in another post. That Sunday, the 17th of July, I had an experience which I’ll never be able to describe. I saw the sea for the first time in my life. I am neither a poet, nor an author. So I cannot describe what I felt, and I won’t even try. What’s more, it was the Bay of Bengal, which is known for its rough waves. I called home from the beach and had an excited conversation with my parents. We (I and my friend and roommate Amit) stayed at the beach long after dark, looking at the lights of distant ships. As I walked in the sand and let the waves play at my feet, I couldn’t help thinking about the tsunami that had devastated those very beaches a few months ago, taking thousands of lives. I felt we were at some zoo, looking at some giant sleeping in a cage. Normally he is playful, harmless, and unable to reach out much beyond his cage. But he has the capacity to break away every constraint, and more power than man’s wildest imaginations, a little of which he showed on 26th December 2004.

Our training started the next day. If the two months that followed seem like a dream to me now, they certainly looked like a nightmare then. Daily my cell phone alarm rang at 5:30 am. Amit and I were ready and out on the street by 7:15 where we were joined by Shreevallabh and Naveen. Then we went to Sangeetha Restaurant and ordered rend idlis, thenga chutney mottum for each of us, and tanya tanya bills (two idlis with coconut chutney only, and separate bills). Our bus arrived at 7:45. Once inside the bus, I would go to sleep, waking up when we arrived at the office at 8:20. Then we would have classes till 8:00 in the evening, with a one-hour lunch and two small coffe breaks in between. We would have dinner again at Sangeeta, or maybe in the office itself, and then come back home exhausted at 10:00. But then I had to wash clothes, study a little and solve the daily SU-DO-KU, so… miles to go before I sleep!

In between this hectic schedule I had so many enjoyable moments: Mahabalipuram with friends, bathing in the sea there, the Pondicherry trip with Shreevallabh, climbing the hillock at Pallavaram alone, visits to the temples and sweet shops and the Snake Park, lunch with Swati and Zeb, playing knee deep in the sea whole evening with Swati and Akash and then having dinner together, window shopping at Odyssey’s bookstore, chatting on free SMS whole day and night, and above all, the long walks along the Marina Beach on the weekends, collecting seashells (keeping the dead ones and throwing the live ones back into the water)… they were too good to describe. We had lighter moments in the office too… fire fighting lessons in ERT class, sleeping in all classes, mini project under Dinesh Bhatt, and everything in Prashanthi’s soft skills class.

This was also the time when I learnt that I was a ‘resource’ whose posting in Hyderabad was due to the ‘business requirement’ there and not due to anybody’s mistake. So I would have to go there after all. We experienced the joy of getting a salary for the first time, yet were in shortage of money as we couldn’t withdraw that salary due to bank problems. And then, my uncle died on 1st September. It was a shock which again, I can’t describe and I won’t even try. But one thing I’m sure of. I can never think of Chennai without also remembering this painful incident. This, coupled with the feeling of helplessness on being so far away from home in a strange land with people speaking a strange language and eating strange food, made me go through the gloomiest period of my life. And by then our assessment was near, and I had to really concentrate on my studies. Thankfully I passed the assessment on 6th September.

I had fallen in love with Chennai on my first visit to Elliot Beach, but that love had suffered a setback during the subsequent months. I rediscovered that love in the ten days that followed our assessment. Every morning, I would wake up before dawn and walk down to the beach with Shreevallabh and my camera (the sky remained cloudy without exception, and my wish of photographing the sun rise from the sea was never fulfilled). We returned early in the evenings. This was also the time when my friends were buying gifts (mostly Saris) for their family members with their first salary before leaving Chennai. I didn’t buy anything, as I had certain restrictions on buying new clothes due to the death of my grandma, but that did not prevent me from going shopping with them. But my favourite shop was Odyssey, the huge bookstore beside Sangeetha Restaurant. I suppressed my urge to buy a few books as I already had enough luggage to carry to Hyderabad and there was no point in increasing it unnecessarily.

I left Chennai for Hyderabad on 14th September with Shreevallabh, Kohinoor and Spandana. I left Chennai with two suitcases, one kitbag and a lifetime’s worth of memories. Some of them good, some bad. But to myself, I only repeated the SMS message that I had sent to all my friends on the last day of training… “Do not cry because it is over. Smile because it happened.

And to Chennai, I said, “Poitwaren” (Tamil phrase for Goodbye, which literally means “I’ll be back”).


  1. Good post yaar.
    But was the training schedule really that hectic?? 12 hours!!Donno what it is like in TCS but I am scared.

  2. good desciption ...sotti bhalo bhabhey likecho...r next ki hobey sayee jana o jooney aami opekha korchi

  3. I cannot forget the friday on 12th august'o5. The final test of first batch were announced and 11 ot 75 people were cleared. We all were serious about what next if we fail? But we came out of exam hall happily.

    At chennai, becoz of Free SMS offers we use to fill our day with almost more than 100 SMSs. We kept sending thought of the day early morning in bus.

    Our mahabalipuram trip was a memorable one. Lamphouse was remarkable. Standing tall showing the way.

    Finally we are together here again at city of Nizam.

  4. @aurindam:Yes, it really went on for 12 hours. One day we were caught going home 'early' at 7:30 and were reprimanded for that. Once we even had to come on a Saturday... I can fill pages about this post. Sometimes I felt that I wasn't getting enough sleep although we were sleeping all day in class. ;-)

    @tultuli: Er pore aro nischoi likhbo Chennai niye, tumi apekkha korte thako.

    @abhijit: Oh I and Shree had planned our Pondicherry trip beforehand, and Naveen and Amit were other probables... were you too? I remember I had a sort of fight with Shree on 12th August night. He was nervous and didn't want to go, I said I'd go alone. He ultimately didn't leave me alone, though, and still thanks me for being persistent.

    Chennai SMS and Mahabalipuram trip will have posts of their own... they are too memorable to leave out. Keep watching this space! :-)

  5. finally..the neuron insists that i comment on this very descriptive post.u seem to have felt so much of the city in hardly 2 months of stay!and lemme tell u,u are amazin when it comes to narrating your life in a place..and this being chennai,iam able to relate to ur post very well.
    way to

  6. i think i forgot to mention that u've picked up quite a few words in such short span...
    nd ofcourse i felt i was at the beach..the sea..the soft sand beneath the feet..sea shells..distant ships..oh i miss them all so much!!
    nd u paint??

  7. that's a big post !! will be back to read it all up ........cya

  8. @why was i born: Thanks! I'll write more about Chennai... nice to know that my post made you feel homesick. In Chennai we had to pick up those words, because hardly anyone understood Hindi like they do here in Hyderabad.

    And yes, I do paint... but I think you must be a legilimens to have guessed that!

    @ash: Thanks for visiting... do come again! :-)

  9. Hey, man,

    A good description....of vibrant chennai....It is always a very bubly place...if you cast away the language differences...that you would have found very conspicous....I have also had the life@chennai part, before moving to bangalore....I still would run away to madras without a second thought, given an oppurtunity inspite of its oppressive heat, not because I am Tamilian, but because I love that city more than my home town Coimbatore....

    Glad to know that you like Madras....:-)

  10. I really like Chennai, and I'd run away there too if I get a chance one of these weekends...