Aapko Hindi aati hai?

There is this group of scamsters in Chennai that try to trick North Indians and Central Indians. These conmen, conwomen and con-children roam the streets of Chennai looking for Hindi speaking people. If they spot you talking in hindi, they’ll stop you and tell you that they are a family from Maharashtra and were traveling to Tirupati when their luggage was stolen and now they don’t have any money to return to their hometown. These guys, they hunt in packs of three – Man, woman and child. They’ll then do some major emotional blackmail on how ‘ek hindi bolne wala hi hindi bolne wale ki madad kar sakta hai’. They’ll tell you how people here don’t understand hindi and are not helping.

I ran into this group on two occasions.

I was walking to work one afternoon when one such group caught me off-guard on the way to Tidel Park(their usual route I think).  I was talking to mom on the phone when this guy stopped me and narrated his story. Being #foreverpoor that I am, I didn’t have any cash with me. Not even a coin. All I had were some Sodexo coupons. I offered this guy the coupons and told him that I can take him to a police station if he wants. The family wanted money and I had neither money nor the time so I dismissed the negotiations and walked away. After barely two minutes, another such group stopped me. I asked them if they were related and as usual(since I had no money and another person started abusing them in tamil) I fled the scene.

All the way back to office, I kept thinking whether these guys were genuine and whether I should have gone the distance and helped them. Later that day I got to know that this group and this exercise is very common and thanks to my credit card bills, I didn’t lose any money to these scamsters(because I am busy losing money to this bloody bank and its evil credit card).

Today, as I was walking to work, a man from another such group stopped me. He asked me the same question, with the same tinge of desperation in his voice.

‘Bhaiya, aapko hindi aati hai?’


‘Nahi, bhaiya. Bilkul nahi aati’, I replied.

And I walked away.


First Anniversary

On 16 June, 2011 I completed a year. In Chennai.

A year.

365 days.

262 Working days.

A year ago, 14 of us landed in Chennai.

7 of us remain.

One of them is me.

I still remember the day when we gave our choices for a job location. Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore. I had chosen. I remember the moment when the allotments were announced. Chennai. God had chosen. 17 people were slated to leave for Chennai. Some were flustered. Some broke down(not kidding). I was unperturbed. Jaipur was getting on  my nerves with its heat and paying 3800 bucks for a shared room was getting on my wallet. I wanted a way out, even if it meant landing in Chennai. Mom was concerned though. When you have 1800 Kilometers separating you and  your son, you can’t help but worry a bit. But she had faith in my rice-eating skills. All she warned me against were shady cinema halls and b-grade movies. ‘Nongra picture dekho na jano’. Dad would break into the ‘There was a man from Madras, whose balls were made of brass..’ jingle every now and then. Relatives in Hyderabad were informed and asked to take care of me in emergencies. You know the procedure.

My first thought upon reaching Chennai was that it deserves a better airport. And saner taxi drivers. The very first taxi that we hired in Chennai did a Mylapore-drift on Chennai’s favorite flyover that knocked the air out of all of us. A semi-bengali-amit had arrived in Chennai.

In the last 12 months, I’ve hated Chennai at times and loved it on other occasions. But on most days, I’ve ignored it. I’ve slept through 43% of the 262 days. Another 35% I’ve spent in a cubicle, reducing my Google Reader count and replying to emails. I haven’t given Chennai much attention, to be honest. And Chennai isn’t exactly vying for attention. It is busy protecting itself. Protecting its kolams from being disfigured by the amits and the johns of the world. Protecting its posters and its rasam from external influence.

But it allows you to live. Like an overprotective landlady who’ll give you her house as long as you promise to behave yourself. When she is happy, she’ll serve you the best vadas she can conjure. When she is angry, she’ll microwave you till you pop. When she is busy with something else, you may crib about her. Scream ‘Chennai sucks man!’ after that second bottle of Kingfisher in an air-conditioned over-priced apartment. You may also compare her with Bangalore(that is to say her weather with Bangalore’s weather and her women with Bangalore’s(?) women). It will make a comeback with the ‘you-laugh-because-I-am-different-I-laugh-because-you-are-all-the-same’ logic.

If it doesn’t, some ardent Chennaite(not Chennaikar mind you) will.

Because they love their city. They do. There is this fierce affection for Chennai in its people. Like an Indian defending his country on Youtube. They love Chennai with all their heart. Irrespective of the ruling political party. Irrespective of the stint in the US. Irrespective of the mandatory posting in Delhi where a half-decent Idli costs 70 Rs and Rajma Chawal is all that keeps you alive. They always come back. Or never leave. They carry a bit of Chennai everywhere they go. Even to team meetings.

Not that they are bad. A north-Indian is as welcome in Chennai as a south-Indian in Delhi, a non-Mumbaikar in Mumbai or a non-Indian in India. And as safe. But they are far more pleasant in expressing their displeasure for someone who doesn’t understand their way of life and their weddings, than their cousins on the opposite side of the Narmada. Chennai needs conditioning. The weather takes getting used to. Believe me when I say this, it is as bad as Mumbai’s weather. But in Mumbai, who is looking at the weather?  But Chennai let’s you be. It doesn’t force you to appear cool like Delhi does. Or intelligent like Calcutta expects. or fashionable as Mumbai likes it. As long as you can tell your ‘Moon’ from your ‘Rende’ and ‘Parrota’ from ‘Paratha’, you are good. This sense of equality is also meted out by Chennai’s autowallahs who’ll trouble a north-Indian and south-Indian alike. Grammar and spellings is another thing that unites the North and the South, though very few people realize it. If you don’t too, allow me to forward a few emails. But comparing cities is like comparing ex-girlfriends. Pointless, that is. After all, a city is a city is a city.

I’ll be in Chennai for a few more months. Or years. And I intend to know more about Chennai. Maybe discover another continent like T-Nagar. Or assassinate the TASMACian who sold us fake Carlsbergs. Go on a trek and return alive. Find a Durga Pujo here. Maybe open a Calcutta Rolls shop. Buy an Autorickshaw and drive it around the city. Buy a lungi. Find the old-books bazaar. Have a Kosha-mangsho at Annapoorna. Watch a movie in Jayanti Theatre. Finish that bottle of Morpheus.

That is, in case I am not sleeping on weekends.

Or writing blog posts.

Because, on 16th June 2011, Tantanoo.com crossed 10000 hits.