Thursday, March 27, 2008

Madras... musings?

I wouldn't have posted this at all if I hadn't received the most beautiful e-mail a few evenings ago. A dear friend described, in aching and evocative simplicity, how she missed the dusk in Bombay. She spoke of the dusk in London where she has lived for about six years now. Describing the alienating and bleak twilight, she wrote that I would understand only once I'd experienced it.

But I did quite understand what she meant anyway.

I spent a month in Madras where the dusk was a blur outside an unfamiliar window, shaded in brown and grey, murmuring in a language that I did not understand... the streets were a darkness that seemed to roar and confuse me. The air was indifferent, the shadows hostile almost; the birds silent in their appraisal of me... the silence in the evenings an endless continuation of white mornings.

But I am digressing… I am disguising resentment in melancholy.

Madras was, by no stretch of the imagination, easy. If you asked me if I liked the city, I do not think I could give you an answer. Of course I met a few really nice people and had some good times with them. Yes, I went to a lot of concerts and drank with some very nice colleagues. I went shopping with some others, I ate out some, bought some great books, music, and clothes. I did a lot of these things on company money and time. I even went to Pondicherry for a few hours. But through it all, I do not think I ever felt at ease in Madras.

Forgive the cryptic abruptness but since I refrained from imposing on your kindness and posting a high-pitched, frenzied whine through all the days that I was in Madras, I'm just going to continue to refrain, yes?

I've been back ten days and every time I'm asked how Madras was, I smile and say "Good fun!" but I know inside that it wasn't all good fun. I wonder if it was simply me over-reacting as I am so wont to do especially since the elder sibling seemed to find my trials and tribulations vastly amusing. Perhaps, retrospect will show me the difference. Until then, I'm just going to get on with it and post about the sea and silence, about the music and photos, about the books and customers.


IdeaSmith said...

You just edited this post right now, didn't you? I was reading the earlier one on my feed-reader and suddenly it refreshed. C'mon now, 'fess up...what did you delete???

Extempore said...

@Ideasmith: Just the wee-est bit! *grins* Added something, not deleted it. Honest - cross my heart and all that!

HR said...

Don't get it. You didn't like Madras? Didn't like the people? What?

{illyria} said...

i love sea and silence. can't wait for that.

Extempore said...

@HR: Well, I really liked most of the people I met - some of them enough to think them brilliant and people I have learned a GREAT deal from. The rest? Well, that's anywhere you go, isn't it - you could cheerfully murder the rest! About the city - I'm not so sure - and am just going to leave it at that till I am!

@Illyria: :-) Soon, I promise!

Hyde said...

I don't come across a lot of people who refer to the city as Madras and not Chennai. It made me smile.

It took me 3 years to get used to Madras. The remaining 15 years were a breeze.

Madras grows on you, only if you are willing to let it. :-)

Extempore said...

@Hyde: Calling it Madras is perhaps a fall out of both my resistance to using "Mumbai" and that I think Madras is a much more likable name than Chennai. :-)

I'm curious, do you speak Tamil - or did you learn it? I suspect living in Madras would be much easier if I did. I'm never happy to simply close my relationship with any place. Time, and repeated trips to Madras, will finally reconcile the space for me.

Welcome to E Vestigio!

Parth said...

Tough luck about that experience. The common complaint I hear is the language barrier, when it comes to Chennai.

Extempore said...

@Parth: Where have you been?! I thought you abandoned me! I think this means I missed you. :-)

Language is a really large problem in Madras and it's a disorienting experience in an extreme to keep swinging in and out of conversations. But what irritates me the most is missing the jokes. I suppose you get used it or start speaking the language!

Anonymous said...

I learnt Tamil after I moved back to Madras; it is not my mother tongue.

I am not sure about repeated trips- they usually enhance previous experiences. That's been my experience with Bombay. I am not saying it was bad. :-)


Extempore said...

@Hyde: But you're not saying it was good either! :-) But the defence of my city apart, sometimes, the thing with repeated trips is this that you've grown and so has the place - shall we use changed instead of grown, more appropriate, I think - somehow the twain can end up meeting.

Also, sometimes, meeting someone passionate about their city goes a long way in helping you like a place. But in all honesty, I haven't written off Madras... yet. I'm here again after a 3 week break... back to trying again!

Nocturne said...

2 sentences into this post, and i was thinking, oui, oui, theez eez about ze infernal pollysyllaballic prognostications, vraiment?

i went to Madras with Star. got my wallet nicked - along with my life savings and my passport - as soon as we disembarked off the train. don't even ask WHY in the devil's fiery arse i was wont to carry my $%^&*#@! passport around in my idiotic jhola in those days.

when we reached there, i had the VERY unpleasant experience of being barred from my friend's Brahmin kitchen because her aged grandma "wouldn't like it".

it was a disaster. i don't even recall why we went.