A 'warm' welcome

WITH THE sweltering heat draining the last drop of energy from my body, I landed in Chennai. Emerging from the comparatively cooler confines of the air bus (the ones that go on the road), the heat waves accorded me a very warm welcome. Quite literally. Like a million others, I was in Chennai seeking a greener pasture. Well, never mind the climate, I was here to take up a lucrative dotcom offer.

For a first timer, the experiences in Chennai can be pretty harrowing. Even a person of my stature, the physical one that is, (all of 6 feet and 85 kilograms) had to confront auto drivers who almost threatened that I get into their autos. "To R.A. Puram? Only Rs. 100"! "Thank you Annai, I will take the bus." Abracadabra. "Okay, Rs. 50". The fare is halved as if by magic.

The same day I set out to explore the wonders of the bustling metro with a borrowed bike and a long time friend. The teeming Marina beach was the first destination. There, I had my first encounter with some con artistes about whom I had only read. One guy was in a safari suit while the other was in casuals.

Both were 'checking' the papers of a motorist. Seemed like the person had all his papers intact as he was let off. The duo then turned their attention towards us.

"Papers," the one in safari suit ordered. Oblivious to his knowledge, he looked more like a CBI officer than a police constable - a clear cut case of an overdone costume drama. I said, "See, I am a journalist. I want to know whether you are a real policeman". After some emphasising on the "journalist" bit, I was finally able to get the message across.

Though he tried to act tough and flung a few words, which seemed like expletives at me, I was allowed to go. But luck was not to last long, for I was caught and fined Rs. 100 for making an illegal 'U' turn. Pointing out the lack of a 'No U-Turn' board didn't help.

Stopping by the roadside for some elaneer, I asked the vendor the price. "Rs. 7, Rs. 8, Rs 10". Peering real close at the tender coconuts, I couldn't figure out any difference in size. So I said, "Rs. 7".

The poor woman was in trouble. Even she could not classify her ware into the three 'price sizes'. Muttering something under her breath, safe in the knowledge that nothing would be comprehended, she went on with her show of selecting the seven-rupee tender coconut.

The Chennai women too, it seemed, were on a par with the men when it came to attempting to make a fast buck.

I was under the false impression that the whole of Chennai was seething men and muttering women. Bluffing our way into the Boat Club area, I was baffled by the sheer size of the houses in the area, more so by the variety of the cars in each porch.

Inside the Boat Club, I got to see a sample of the people who might be living there - quiet, dignified and impeccably dressed.

Back home, whenever you feel thirsty, all you had to do was open the refrigerator or draw water from the well and drink to your fill. Even on that front, things have changed drastically here.

From my friend, I gathered that drinking water was a scarce and hence, precious commodity in Chennai. Dropping him back (from where it was apparent that living space too was a expensive - the room rented out to him and another of his colleague cost his company Rs. 4,000 a month), he showed me a jerrycan of water which he bought for Rs. 20.

But one thing I love about Chennaiites is their helpfulness. Those same autowallahs who tried to fleece me, were the ones who gave me directions to find my way back home, in a friendly manner,

They didn't seem to lose their patience while explaining to me the way over the winding, never ending fly-overs and through the bylanes.