Madras 375 – Not out!!!

HappyBD MAdras

I’m not a Madras boy. Not born there.  Didn’t quite spend my formative childhood years there.  Have not worked for long in that city as well. But have been frequenting Madras as a visitor since the late 80’s enough to suffer from “Madrasitis” 🙂  Ergo, as Madras, the oldest city the British built in India celebrated its 375th birthday last week I couldn’t help recount the different vignettes imprinted in me around Madras. I am aware that at best that can only be an inside view of an outsider, nonetheless an honest one I promise.

I have very foggy memories of the first 4-5 years I spent as a child in the 70’s.  So, nothing much really to recall except that we were staying few minutes away from Luz corner at Mylapore which is today stereotyped as the cultural nerve centre of Chennai.  So my account is all from the 2 years I spent in Madras when I worked in the 90’s and the few days I spend on and off every year mostly on business and at times otherwise.

Conservatism was at the heart of Madras. Keeping a low profile, being simple, not showing off and to some extent being subservient were drilled into as essential behavioural requirements for children. This drill over a period of time got into the genes and brought up Madras as a quintessential traditional society. A talented A.R.Rahman or a Superstar Rajinikant or a brilliant Maniratnam all products of this Madras would always be grounded even while flying high in their respective careers.  This conservatism had its share of problems as well.  Bachelors would find it difficult to get accommodation. Survival in Madras for outsiders if you didn’t know the language was a nightmare.  The opening up of the stock market in the 90’s and later the IT boom slowly brought what is today a cosmopolitan cut to the once traditional Madras. But there were other good things which didn’t have to wait for long. The beaches for one.

The Edward Elliot’s beach in Madras just few kilometres away from the more famed Marina beach was not as popular but had a quaint appeal to it.  With not many shops or eateries as it is today, the beach was clean and was a jogger’s delight. The sea with its characteristic rough and not so rough demeanour was inviting to even a diehard hydrophobic. As a child, standing in the water and getting lashed by the waves was an exciting pastime. Little one realized then that it would be the same even when you grew up. The mobile Aavin Van booth at the beach served the best fresh flavoured milk in town then.  The Marina beach ahead had a different flavor. More crowded, more eateries, more noise and more love birds hiding behind boats and under fishing nets only to be discovered by young boys selling ‘Manga Thenga Pattani Sundal’ a unique recipe of Sundal (Peas) generally sold only in the beach. As the evening fades and the dark sets in, the rotating light from the lighthouse gives you the signal to start packing off – and you do so reluctantly only to come again another day.

Moving away from beaches, the next thing which rings in your ear when you think of Madras is its moorings with classical music. Come December and the “Season” arrives with its characteristic charm. For the uninitiated the “Season” here alludes to the ‘Carnatic Music’ season. By the way Madras or today’s Chennai has 3 seasons. – Summer, Hot Summer and Music Season 🙂 🙂  So during this music season Carnatic musicians of all hue descend into the city and spread across 3 weeks play/sing “notes” of their lives in an attempt to get noticed. So much so even if you are a top notch Carnatic musician with acclaim elsewhere, you are a nobody until you have performed in this capital during the “Season” that too in the evening slots. Aspiring musicians pay money to sabhas to earn a slot in the mornings/afternoons just to be a part of the “Season”, I am told. Apart from performances, old mamas mostly and sometimes accompanied by mamis saunter across in the early mornings with mufflers and shawls (the only time in the year when you have to take these wear out in Madras 🙂 ) to different sabhas to understand the nuances of Kalyani Ragam and its variant Yaman Kalyani or other such purists’ lookouts in “lecture and demonstration” sessions.  For lesser mortals there is always the difference between Sada bajji and Mulaga bajji to worry about 🙂 🙂  During the “Season” for many, the filter Kapi (coffee) at the canteen outside is as important as the ‘Kaapi’ raga rendition inside the auditorium. Just cannot afford to miss both.

The filter Kapi brings us to the next attraction of Madras which is the food.  The city is a vegetarian’s paradise. For all those who get carried away by the Idli/Dosa/Vada/ Sambhar dished out at the various so called south Indian joints all over the country, you haven’t tasted the real thing yet if you haven’t tried all these in Ratna Café or Saravana Bhavan or Sangeetha or that Murugan Idli Kadai in Madras. Today joints like Saravana Bhavan are in the forefront of transporting the “Madras culture” to various cities across the globe where our bright IT Engineers are writing codes to glory.

Any talk of “Madras culture” is incomplete without reference to Mylapore located at the heart of the city.  Time permitting, I don’t miss a visit to Mylapore when in Chennai even today.  The long walks to Kapaleeswarar temple via Luz from my house, the compulsory visit to Giri Traders to catch up with latest on classical music, the mandatory check at the Ambika Appalam store for any new item ( 🙂 ), Coffee at Saravana Bhavan and the walk along Nageswara Rao Park smelling the Amrutanjan in the air and shopping at Rex Fashions are things which are etched well in my memory.

As I jog my memory further the other thing I enjoyed in the 2 years I stayed in Madras was catching up with Tamil plays in the weekends. The Mylapore Fine Arts was at walking distance and was popular with all the leading troupes of the day like Crazy Mohan, S.V.Shekhar, Y.G. Mahendran, Poornam Viswanathan,…  I am talking of a time when there were still takers for Drama.

Essay on Madras and no reference to the notorious autowallas??? I am told that “Amma” has been successful in implementing electronic meters in auto rickshaws this year and I hope the system is working. For years, one had to put up with the tyranny of autowallas in Madras. Those days when the train reached Basin Bridge, I used to brace myself for the fight with the autowalla at Madras Central Station. The autowallas knew to outsmart the passengers every time and ask for more. “Konjam Meterukku mela pottu kudunga, Sir” (Sir please pay more than the meter) used to be one jarring line one hated to hear. And the reasons for asking more than the meter were ingenious.  “Sir the destination is very far, Sir the distance is too short, Sir I will have to return empty, Sir you have 3 luggage pieces, Sir there the road is not good, Sir it is raining, Sir there is no light in that area and too dark, Sir the meter is not working, Sir prices have gone up, Sir Naan Pulla Kutti Kaaran (I have children),….!!!”  🙂 🙂 Invariably we were asked to fork out for the ills of everybody else!!! The advent of Call taxis and now the E-meters hopefully have put an end to this Autowalla tyranny.

I can keep writing on many other aspects of “Madrasitis” like the annual test match at Chepauk during Pongal, the influence of Kodambakkam aka films on people, the day long shopping by women for Silk Sarees at Mambalam, Woodlands Drive-in – the Salespeople’s’ adda, the poster culture eulogizing film stars then and politicians now (Witness “Amma” being elevated to a Durga one day Ganga/ Parvathi/Queen Mary/Radha/Kaali/Mother Teresa/,.. some other day in posters and cut-outs plastered all over the city) and so on.

This post has gone too long. But then 375th Birthday for a city doesn’t come every other day. Wishing our very own Madras (I’m not a fan of this changing names of cities when a party comes to power) while being 375 Not out many more runs and a long,…. innings!!!

Postscript:  People in Madras are known for their tongue ’n cheek wit and humour. This is one sample:

James Bond comes out of British Airways at Chennai, goes to his waiting driver and says “I’m Bond, James Bond. James to you”.

For which the driver replies “I’m Subramaniam, Bala Subramaniam. Balls to you…”

🙂 🙂 🙂

Wen tym & Tech t’frmd E’lish 😊

All languages undergo transformation over time. But it must be only the Queen’s language which has gone through such a huge upheaval of sorts. Makeover of languages happens with changes in grammatical usage, sometimes spellings, addition of new words,.. (Like we keep hearing of new words which enter the lexicon every year – “Selfie” being one such overused word these days!!!) However it must be only English which apart from going through all this also has been metamorphosed due to technology!

Technology can be disruptive. At times the disruptions are by default but most of the times they are by design. I can’t fathom if the disruptions in English language due to technology have been deliberate or they just happened. And I don’t think any other language has been so vulnerable to technology as English. With the advent of computer first and then mobile devices, the face and shape of English have gone through a transformation. Today when you receive a communication either through e mail or through short text, it is possible to guess the age group or the generation to which the sender belongs!!! It can be as polarizing!

The initial days of the mobile phone were quite normal. Then debuted the new tool of communication called SMS (Short messaging service) after which English language has never been the same again. What initially started as a means of super-fast communication using abbreviations and acronyms soon became the norm of the language. And it became so uncool if you are part of the old school typing full words and sentences and doing the mandatory spell check before hitting the “Send” button. I remember pieces appearing in newspapers/magazines,.. that time explaining to the uninitiated the so called “SMS lingo”. In Mid-Day newspaper there was a daily box called “SMS lingo for the day”!!!sms

I mentioned in my opening remarks that English as a language is so vulnerable to technology that the contrived form which came popular while sending the so called short messages soon started pervading into the normal communication as well. So today you will find the acronyms, short forms and abbreviated type of communication being used in normal long e mails, notes, wherever. Even business communication has not been left behind. Is there a day where you spend at work without using “ASAP”, “FYI”, “NBD”,.. ??? One disclaimer like this “Sent from my mobile; please excuse the brevity, spelling and punctuation” is enough to sort of take care of any problems the other side might have! I now wonder what would have happened to the now almost extinct stenography if SMS lingo had made an advent much earlier!!! I also wonder if the “Spell check” tool will soon become superfluous. Because the “Spell Checker” will ink the whole page red. Even now as I write this its almost getting there.

While one has been reconciling to this new reality and had almost concluded that things can’t get worse than this, came the next attack – “The Advent of smileys” 🙂 🙂 🙂 Again what started as a harmless way of expressing joy using 🙂 or sorrow 😦 soon developed into a full language of “Emoticons”. So much so today it is difficult to find any reasonable length of communication without an emoticon. Here again the rupture of the language come through technology. With people spending more time with their smart phones than anything else these days, it has become easier to just input a suitable emoticon from a whole bunch of smileys available today than typing even few abbreviated words.

Ergo I was not surprised when I read this article (read here) some time back which said SMS lingo has now begun creeping into the answer sheets, assignments and even record books! And that, teachers were alarmed to see this. It may be a good idea for the teachers today to keep themselves abreast with the new Lingua Franca! And internet does help. Like Google Translate which helps to translate languages, there is this http://transl8it.com/ . Just type in SMS, text message, emoticon, smiley, slang, chat room/net lingo or abbreviations and “transL8it” will convert it to plain English to understand!!!

With the assault of SMS lingo and smileys on the English language, I can imagine what the future holds for the Queen’s English. The day is not far off when my whole blog post will be with SMS lingo and smileys galore. Nd dis xchnge ment 2 b a jok may jus bcom real’ty!!!

 Boyfriend & Girlfriend on Whatsapp:

Boy:kesi ho…??

Girl: 😊

Boy: missing me..?

Girl: 😜

Boy: yar meri tabiyat khrab hai

Girl: 😱

Boy: aaj kaisa din guzra…??

Girl: 😉

Boy: busy ho…??

Girl: umhm ..

Boy: Koi paas hai…??

Girl: na 😍

Boy: To kuch likh bhi, apne Baap ki shaklein kyu send kar rahi hai….

Girl: 😢😡

Boy: I heard u failed in English?

Girl: Who TELLED you? It is unpossible.. I sawed d result ystrdy… I Passed away 😂

Boy:😁🔫 meri maa tu smiley hi use kar..