Krish Ashok talks about his Chennai, and in doing so, brings to life its myriad inconsistencies and shortcomings. The clincher? They are all as funny as they are memorable, as heart-warming as they are laughably commonplace. Read on.
I am someone who says “Chennai traffic” and “Madras filter coffee”. Even alliteratively, “Madras memories” and “Chennai catastrophes” seem to make sense. But I never ever felt that we as a city particularly cared about this whole name thing. As a city, we have our priorities right. Is there an Aadi sale at Pothys? And if yes, where can one park in T-Nagar? Chennai is not the sort of city that seems to inspire that annoyingly fierce sense of loyalty that we see in many other cities. Bombay vs Delhi. Calcutta vs the rest of the world, and so on. I, for one, like my city because I have roots here (with xylem and phloem extending to other parts of India). The city per se doesn’t do much to inspire the “All you north Indians get out of here” kind of patriotism. Yes, the Hindi is quite dodgy here but it’s never unwelcome.
For starters, Chennai weather is as bad as Bangalore’s pompous attitude about its weather. We also don’t have flyovers as long as the ones in other cities. That’s the new Freudian thing about Indian cities – “My flyover is wider and longer than yours”. The tallest building in town (is it, still?) resembles something that could house the Ministry of Truth from '1984' and our auto drivers have middle class aspirations and a Machiavellian strategy to get there. The city still doesn’t trust its citizens to drink responsibly so it adds a thick layer of government corruption to the problem and one can’t steal a kiss on Marina beach without a marriage certificate in triplicate.
But I like the city, as much as one can like a state of being instead of getting into comparisons and data points. As global cities go, Chennai is a terrible city. Our public transport is still the equivalent of a single share auto handling the population of Bangladesh. But we know it and we laugh about it and occasionally, middle-aged concerned citizens write “Apropos of” letters to the editor about it.
So more than anything else, I like the city for the ability to laugh at itself. A lot of Chennai humour is not targeted at outside individuals or stereotypes. It’s quite abstract in nature and it’s this truly wonderful realisation of the inherent funniness in day to day things and that, in my opinion, is quite precious. I wouldn’t care much about politics, auto drivers and flyovers that could star in adult movies. Humour, I think, is what Chennai’s about and interestingly enough, it pervades every class of society, not just the leisurely upper middle class watching Crazy Mohan plays. It’s not even a USP because we are not selling it to anyone.
So you can come to Chennai and whine about its lousy weather, but you will go back having laughed a bit more than then you normally do. You can laugh at Chennai and if you are slightly more mature, you can laugh with Chennai. There are no late night rave parties and Metallica concerts, or for that matter, too much standup comedy, because most of us are busy sitting down and laughing at ourselves and we should be proud of that.
Krish Ashok is slightly techie, moderately musical, severely blogging and timepassly tweeting