In my second stint in my “home town”, Chennai (I will soon be completing two years since I came here for the second time), I decided to do two things differently to be able to better adapt to the city. (After first 18 years and then five years of staying in my “heart town”, Bombay/Mumbai, Chennai, like any new city actually, can take quite some adjusting to.) One, I resolved not to view Chennai through Bombay’s eyes/lenses; no city in the world can be the same as any other city in the world. Two, I decided to buy an apartment for myself so that I could have my space when needed. (I have stayed by myself for over a decade and am staunchly independent-minded. However, I did move to Chennai to be with my parents, and presently stay with them, enjoying home-cooked food and motherly affection.) While the apartment obviously took some hunting and deciding and finalizing, and in fact is still under construction, the first was easy to initiate. Courtesy The Hindu.
Before Tenure 2, when I would visit Chennai during vacations, I would make it a point to read Hindu instead of Times of India, which is the paper du rigueur in Bombay. (We all prefer reading the leading local paper wherever we go, don’t we?) For, as I just mentioned, to get the local news and flavour, and okay, primarily the movie listings at SPI Cinemas (my favourite multiplex chain in Chennai, India, the world; okay, hyperbole: I haven’t gone abroad.) Especially after its revamp of the supplements (about three and a half years ago, I think), both the layout and the writing drew me in. So, when I decided to move back here, one way I felt I could come to understand the culture and mindset of the city was by devouring a city paper (again, only the supplements; have never been too hot about politics, business or current affairs).
Chillis hanging at a bajji (a popular snack item) stall on Elliot’s Beach, Chennai
Be it through MetroPlus (the weekday city supplement), Melange (MetroPlus’ chunky avatar on Saturdays), Friday Review (arts and culture), CinemaPlus (on Sundays) and Sunday Magazine (literature and opinion), I slowly started “getting” the culture here. (I haven’t “got into” the culture yet – and am not sure I ever will, having stayed elsewhere for so long and coming here later in life – but again, I do believe I get the culture here.) And myriad aspects of it. Chennaites’ love of music, dance, art, reading… Of kaapi and bajjis… Bessie Beach… The ECR lifestyle… The love, no, craze for movies… The Kamal-Rajini factions… Now, Vijay-Thala factions… So much so that when one of my best friends came down here from Bombay in November, I was able to give him a fairly involved experience of the city. We watched ‘Thoonga Vaanam’ the opening week in a mass-market theatre chain. We visited V House and even did some meditation in the room of silence. And we gorged at many of the ‘bhavans’.
But apart from a view of the city, MetroPlus also gave me a peek into many of the people who are from here, have moved here, or have lived here. And somewhere, some of these people stories provided answers to some questions in my mind. (City changes can make you philosophical. Also, I was on a sabbatical for the first part of last year, trying to figure out in which direction, career-wise, to head next. City changes can also do that to your work, I guess.) Here’s a snapshot of three stories that spoke to me, in chronological order of appearance. I don’t remember the names or the details, but I guess I remember what I needed to know.
A lady RJ had moved from here to China as her husband had got a transfer there. For obvious (linguistic) reasons, she couldn’t pursue a similar career in Mandarin Country. So, she decided to change careers. She fixed on fashion designing, took up a course, excelled in it, and eventually set up her own studio, which is doing just sweet. Well enough for her to be profiled in MetroPlus, you see.
A male theatre personality who had studied, taught and performed theatre in several cities in India, then moved back here some years ago, eventually found himself at a crossroad. The only way he could do what he wanted to do was by doing his own thing. So, he started his own theatre group, which too is quite successful. Else, why would MetroPlus…
The lady director of either a hospital group or a hospitality chain (I told you, I don’t remember the details) mused in the middle of her interview, while talking about the ups and downs in her life and how she was none the worse for it, “God always gives with one hand and takes away with the other. Such is life.”
Here’s where I fit in.
When I was moving here the second time and also wanting to get back to advertising (after being in content development for some years), several people both here and in Bombay tut-tutted the idea: “Bombay’s the place to be for advertising… Advertising in Chennai is very local… Go to Bangalore: it’s better for advertising…” Agreed, Chennai may not figure in the top three cities in India known for its advertising fraternity (those would be Bombay, Delhi and Bangalore, respectively), but the city has an Advertising Club chapter, so it can’t be that small either. Although a bit pensive due to these pronouncements, I was keen on making the reshift to advertising while sticking around in the city (why go to Bangalore when I had come here to be with my parents?). But something else was happening along the way…
As I got more and more into The Hindu supplements (reading most of them page to page), I started realizing I also wanted to get into writing. While writing has always been a part of what I’ve done, it started acquiring firmer proportions. Blame all that quality writing and all those fine writers (Baradwaj Rangan, Bishwanath Ghosh, Vaishna Roy, to name a few senior Hindu journalists).
Audience at a literary event in Chennai
Now, jog back to the first two stories earlier. I moved to a city that may not be known so much for its advertising but is quite the opposite for the writing profession. And I wanted to do two things, which I felt I wouldn’t find together in one job. Ergo, I decided to strike out on my own. My current profile reads: Self-employed, and ‘Writer and Ad Consultant’.
And now, the third story.
I’m not sure how many people may have their closest friends in one city and their parents (and relatives) exclusively in another, and have had to make that choice. I had to, a few years ago; and obviously, I did come here; and of course, my best friends are in a different city. We talk on the phone, yes; last year, I did go there (and do plan to, once a year); and one of them even came here last year (as I mentioned earlier). But sometimes, you would like that listening ear to have a face too. And then you assuage yourself with: ‘God takes away with one hand, but gives with another.’ Today, it’s time for my parents. Maybe, tomorrow, when they’d have moved to a higher place, it might be back to my friends, let’s see. I shall let God employ his hands again.
Oh, and how about making friends in a new place? As Big says in the ‘Sex and the City’, “Middle-aged men don’t make new friends.” (The path-breaking ‘Sex and the City’. The only place with more truisms than MetroPlus, I guess.)
So, thanks, The Hindu supplements, for helping this offsider get a bit more onside. And if the aspiring writer in me does manage to write for any of you, then I guess, I’ll also be on the inside.
All the glorious things I’ve said about The Hindu supplements come to the fore at The Hindu Lit for Life fest, a celebration of reading and writing, writers and readers, literature and the intellect. This year’s edition starts tomorrow and goes on until Sunday. Just where I’ll be, soaking up some more Hindu pleasantness. Check out the site here: Hindu Lit for Life