Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Illicit Happiness of Other People

I have been harboring a half-suspicion about this for close to a decade - the ‘Chennai peoples’' inexplicable desire, pursuit and impetuous display of academic excellence. Now that Manu Joseph, who is ‘one of them’ has spewed it, I feel validated and relieved of my burden of impression.

The newspaper version of his Hindu interview, last week, has been purged of the ‘beeped’ words so one kind of loses the tone and emotion of the speaker. 

Strip away everything and it’s just boredom. And especially when you’re young and growing up in Madras: you can’t touch girls, you can’t go out with girls, it’s a s**t city; all the f****rs are doing entrance exams… Still, I did briefly lose my nerve when I was 20; I wrote some of those MBA entrance exams, went for the XLRI interview. I remember they asked me: what is the difference between “basilica” and “cathedral”? But fortunately, circumstances ensured I would come back to journalism.
Hahaha! Good sense prevailed.

My first neighbors in Bangalore were very nice, temple-going Chennai peoples. Two things wafted out of their home at all times. One, the delicious smell of sambar, and two, …I’ll come to that. 

Now, husband, mine, was at once baptised by the ‘Tamil’ sambar. He of few words but never short of praise for food had himself eating out of Mrs V’s hands - the end of her ladle that had become the extension of her hand. I was suitable ignored for confessing some knowledge of their cuisine, and was rude enough to learn to cook some too, while he at every meeting expressed spanking-new astonishment that ‘Pongal is a dish?’

Many mornings, Mrs V came with a dosa balanced on her dosa flipper and totally dismissing me as a claimant, asked smiling if ‘he’ was there. Now my ‘he’ was hers along with her own. He-Man was made to eat with both of us watching like his eating was our collectively responsibility and source of joy. Her face shone with sweat and excitement when He-Man extolled the finer points of her cooking, while I prayed that he would hurry, lest her face explode.

The second thing her home emanated was her talk with her 5-year old son. Not Tamil, not English, they spoke in numbers. Always. This was what we heard day and night, ‘Putta, 22 plus 31?’ The kid had to respond before the mother’s question mark was intoned. I have a suspicion they left their doors and windows open to let out their glee. 

Another young mother, Ms K, nose-in-the-air was telling us how no classical dance school in Bangalore was good enough for her two-year old. I stood hearing her lament till she left because ‘he’ will be home, na. Immediately, my Bangalore born and raised neighbor, stung and stung, remarked, ‘These Chennai people!’

More recently, on the train back from Chennai to Bangalore, I spotted a little girl, 3ish, with thick silver anklets looking about eagerly to make new friends. After a prolonged peek-a-boo with an older girl, she went up to her seat, her tongue hanging out with ‘shy’. 

The moment she ‘told’ her name, the mother’s ears perked up long distance and out came a sweet-sounding, cajoling but firm instruction, ‘Devika, tell the spalling of your name!’ !!

How early can one start! Non-Chennai peoples need reservation!


  1. Veena Prasad1:40 PM

    I made the mistake of asking "who?" when my chennai neighbour said "he"...