Friday, 29 February 2008

MAD RA(ndom) (thought)S

In IIT, there are a lot more people from other parts of the country than there are from Madras. And, most of these people wouldn’t want to be here in Madras if it weren’t for the IIT.

For one, the weather is a big turn-off. Madras has three seasons – hot, hotter and hottest goes one popular comment. And, it’s quite true. Being in the rainshadow of the Ghats, Madras defies convention by being the only place in India not to benefit from the South-West monsoon. The North-East monsoon does oblige the city sometimes, only it’s too random. However, for the past couple of years, thanks to global warming which seems to be altering weather patterns around the world, Madras has been getting a fairly decent amount of rainfall. Thankfully, for now, the IIT M administration need not think of compressed semesters, at least in the near future. The North-East monsoon essentially operates on a trough of low pressure somewhere in the Bay of Bengal. Sometimes, if you are lucky, a depression develops there even in summer and the city gets some much-needed rain.

And of course, if we in the campus get only half as boiled as people outside, we must thank the forest, something which the profs teaching ID120 never forget to emphasize.

Another crib about Madras is about watering holes (or the lack of it). Well, it’s simple to understand. There is a water problem in the city. Water includes all types of it except saline water. But, for those in need, there’s dear old Pondy (no, not the one on DC) just as Goa would be to the guys in Bombay. (The reference to Goa is made only in passing and is in no way a statement on the character of the Goan.)

For the hip-hop kind, Madras lacks a newspaper with Page 3. There is one paper with Page 3, exported from the immediate northern neighbors to Madras. Well, sorry but even the newspaper supplier to the insti doesn’t think that to be worth of supplying. So, as of now, Madras is the bastion of a newspaper best enjoyed with morning filter kaapi. It may not have a Page 3 but the extent of its popularity can be gauged from the fact that even without a single hoarding, it is the media sponsor for every event worth talking about in town.

I said as of now because it has finally occurred to the largest English newspaper in the world that Chennai (Madras is the nick) has a huge unexploited market (they sat for two days in Gurunath and enticed people with bags, the less said about which the better) and they’ll set up shop in this place from the old Tamil New Year Day, which falls on April 14. Poor folks must have wanted it to be on the New Year Day as if it were a superstar release but got RGed because April 14 is now the old New Year Day, thanks to dear Karuna.

And, of course who can forget the mother of all clich├ęs – ‘Conservative Chennai’. Chennai’s passion for its culture is mistaken for conservatism. What is also overlooked is now the traditional co-exists with the modern. For tell me one other place in India where a shop would serve filter kaapi in a davara-tumbler (where you can cool by measuring by the yard) and just across the road would be a coffee-bar where you could get cold coffee and cappuccino in a mug of your choice. This is easily demonstrated within our campus if we talk of Tifanys (with a recent price hike) and CCD (with prices already hiked). If there is a kadai which would serve idli- vada – sambar on a plantain leaf, there would be a pizzeria or a KFC just opposite. Go to T Nagar, you’ll find it.

And in Madras, if we have Bharatanatyam and Carnatic, we also have Salsa and Rock. ( In fact, the paper without Page 3 routinely carries a section on learning Salsa in 8 steps in its city supplement.)

Even if one leaves room for misunderstanding, Madras seems to the victim of an image trap. Orkut profiles still say ‘City: Chennai (for studies)’. And, the portrait of the Madras auto kaaran is superimposed on the inhabitants of a beautiful city.