Magline Rufina, a senior corporate communications professional writes about her visit to Chennai and how the city's landscape and people seem to have changed in a period of six years

I visited my hometown, Singaara Chennai, last month. The hometown that has played gracious host to me for the better part of my life.

Every trip to my parental town results in a feeling of “coming back home”. The days before and after the trip, are emotion-laden and special. Of course, the days at home are even happier. If this has been so over the past six years I have lived outside of Chennai, why should this trip be any different? Or so I thought…

I land at the domestic terminal late evening. The moment I get out of the airport, a sense of change strikes me. As I head from the airport to "my home", I ask, "Where am I?" Am I in the city I grew up? Is this “home”? All of a sudden, the city looks alien. Can six months — when I last visited here — make such a big difference to any place? Well, the authorities have made it happen. Yes, indeed they have. They have done so all in the name of development and the ubiquitous Metro Rail.

Known for its hospitality?

Who does not want a better-equipped city landscape? So like most other Chennaiites, I too decide to take this temporary mutilation of dear old Chennai as an indication of better and beautiful days to come. But, what happens when unsuspecting visitors like me who would still like to nurse the feeling of belonging here decide to venture out of home? Let me give you a first-hand account — you can be charged with over speeding and traffic rule violation. Not to mention harsh treatment from the so-called-hospitable citizens.

Accompanied by my father — who warned me of the traffic delays enroute — I set out well ahead of time in the morning for our day’s chores. Little did I know that the delay at every junction on Anna Salai would be beyond all calculated delays! What if I told you that it is worse than Mumbai’s infamous log-jams? So it was, and, thus, as with normal human tendency, I decide to close in on the delays on the Peter’s Road flyover, which I notice is devoid of traffic. At about 50 km per hour, my car is running behind another. I notice a contingent of traffic constables at the end of the flyover, who let go of the white car ahead of mine which is travelling approximately at the same speed as mine, but decide to stop mine. They appeared to take a liking for my tangerine box. Perhaps, they have discovered an alibi — that I have crossed the city’s speed limit of 40 km per hour.

So what if nowhere in the entire Peter’s Road stretch there’s a speed limit marking? So what if I am on a visit to the city after a long gap and do not know its ever-evolving traffic rules?

So much for the authorities. Let me get far away from them into the Chennai bylanes. A powerful-looking group of three bejeweled, bulky men decide to park their SUV on the wrong side of the 30-feet road, just as I get into my petite tangerine wonder to take it out of parallel parking on the other (correct side) of the road. I manage to wriggle it out of its parking space. But, how do I manoeuvre a U-turn with the not-so-friendly SUV lurking in the path? There’s a building looking vacant before the SUV, with its gates half open. After all, I am only going to utilise the space for a U-turn. Again, so I thought! My dear father opens the gate for me to make the turn, and all hell breaks loose. There’s a battery of five women who appear from nowhere and hurl abuses in a language I am not familiar with. I realise I am trained for management — preferably with people at the top — but not the common woman. I finally get my car turned in their (or is it?) space. That I finally mange to get the job done much to their angst is gratifying.

I may have been living away from the city for six years. However, I know that this is not the kind of people I had left behind. We have changed, no doubt. Is it for the better or worse, I wonder.

If we are a city that is as regulated and process-oriented as we believe it to be with no room for human considerations, why is it that its residents and visitors cannot expect such strict adherence to those benefits that ensure their quality of life? You make me leave home early for appointments and get home later than usual giving less family time; you make my fuel consumption hit an all-time high with your roads permitting less than five kms an hour and, to top it all, you have enforcement departments who cannot enforce discipline amidst drunken and rogue drivers, but insist on a speeding ticket from an unsuspecting visitor in the company of an elderly gentleman during business hours? What do you say of a community of people who does not deter hurling abuses at a gentleman and his daughter who are trying to work around a situation caused by some law-breakers on the street?

It is not out of vogue to follow some good old-fashioned manners and thinking. For a city that is celebrated for its heritage, this could be nothing but its people’s ode to its rich culture.

The author, currently based in Mumbai, is a senior corporate communications professional.

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Culture & HeritageMay 14, 2012