I always wonder what is there in a city? I still cannot figure out how people thrive in virtually inhospitable conditions and yet have a smile on their faces at the end of the day. But is it not true that people hate these cities as much as they love it? If life is a journey, some city seems to be ultimate our ultimate destination.(most of us having covered almost half of it…some crossing a quarter of it and some are striding the last mile).
And we all have, at some point in time, wondered what is there in a city? Why I’m trapped in this big, huge metropolis…with buzzing traffic, pollution and perpetual drought. Delhi. Mumbai. Chennai. Bangalore. Kochi. Kolkata.. the list goes on.
I find people from Mid-East, who constantly upload the pictures of black pines, mountains, rivers, farmers, cattle and infinitely green paddy fields everyday in their FB account. They do not shy away from explicitly conveying that their love affair with their native land still burns in their hearts. Like the first love… Lost in time but a wound that still hurts .
Are they happy?
Maybe yes…maybe no. Whatever, the wheel of destiny puts us in a city…somehow somewhere.
Having said all this, one question that still beats many is that -why the bloody hell can’t I be in my own home town?
Why can’t I breathe fresh oxygen of my own village and let my children grow up exactly the way I did…listening to the stories told and retold by grandparents over generations?
Why can’t I be happy doing what I love and be where I really belong?
Why is it that I need to board a train or flight the moment I come out of college? What is the problem with Kerala (or whichever place you belong)?
Like a million questions that go unanswered in a billion heads…I too had my set of questions. Why we are not able to flourish where we really belong? I searched for an answer during my numerous journey’s and was unable to come up with an instance or a story that can substantiate my own theories about life, job, love and existence. Fundamentally our place of existence in the larger picture called life….
But time made me connect the dots.
It all happened a few days back.
It was a hot, humid, cruel sunny day when I reached Aluva railway station from Kothamangalam. My intended destination- Chennai. Now I hate going to Chennai since it’s super hot (no..not like Sunny Leone).I hate the noise and dust. This is the case with every other city in almost every other part of the world. I hate the crowd and pollution. (Even though I managed to hang on for three long years working in these Metros). Walking over to the platform I saw some other passengers as well who were waiting for the train to Chennai. I always wondered why people in thousands move into a city like Chennai that has huge scarcity of drinking water…is grilled by scorching sun and has nothing but noise and dust. I just had a day’s business in Chennai…and I kept thanking god that I would be back next day.
So as always, I walked towards the Mathrubhumi Book Store, which stood welcoming nuts like me in platform No:1. There was hardly anyone in front of the store. An old man with a permanent frown and a lady who was counting cash sat inside the store.
With the curiosity of a four-year old kid, I started gazing at the books and reading the blurbs one after the other. I usually buy a book when I travel long distance. So I took a book written by Ayn Rand and read the title:
“Atlas Shrugged…” and then put it back in shelf. I was planning to buy a book anyway. So I took another. This time a Ken Follett…
“Oops this one I have read…” I understood and I put it back where it belonged. Likewise I continued my little rampage till I stumbled across MT Vasudevan Nair’s Bheema.
“Well…this one I need to read….hmmmm” but before I came to a decision, I heard a cruel voice:
“Edukan udhesham undo…? (Are you really planning to buy?)”
I looked up and saw the face of the angry old man standing inside the store. He looked at me from under his spectacles as if I was a beggar who came to him for alms. I did not like the look in those eyes and retorted:
“Why? Can’t I just go through the books kept here?”
To which the old man said:
“Edukundengil eduk…illengil…. (If you wanna buy just buy…else…)”
“…Else I need to get the shit out of his box-of-a-book-store….” I completed his sentence in my mind. I wanted to buy the book… but now my self-respect forbid me from doing so. The lady who was sitting inside the store seemed to be indifferent to what was happening between me and the owner of that Mathrubhumi book store.
My blood did boil… but I did not say a single word and walked on without looking at that old man. He was so arrogant maybe because they were doing great business. I planned to call Mathrubhumi office and drop an official complaint against their book store in Aluva Railway Station.
“How dare they kept staff who are arrogant and has no respect for customers…?” I fumed as I thought.
But again, I left it at that and wondered how lucky I’m to be born in God’s Own Country. We have surplus of everything. The only things lacking were proper job opportunities, business and industries. Due to some strange reason, these do not seem to flourish beyond limits.
Time ticked on and my thoughts kept wandering.
Well, thanks to Indian Railways, the train was gun on time. I boarded the train and well, I was on my way to Chennai.
I reached Chennai the next day. From Chennai Central, I crossed the road to catch a bus to R.K Nagar. The first thing that I saw was a man running behind a moving bus and in an attempt to get into the bus, he jumped over to the foot board. He slipped the next instance and fell right on the dust smitten road. I thought it was over. But he got up and again ran behind the same bus. Owing to the panic-stricken shrieks from the pedestrians and passengers, the bus by now had abruptly stopped. This time he was successful in his venture of risking his life for a bus ticket. The conductor simply smacked on the man’s head and shouted:
“Thevidiya mavane…ariv irrukada unnak… (son of a bitch…do you have a brain?)” to which the reply from the man was a ridiculously embarrassing smile.
Again I wondered with a burning heart:
“This city has no water. There is dust and crowd everywhere. There are heart wrecking slums and people who risk their lives everyday for a few hundred rupees. Still people come seeking for Chennai…even people from God’s Own Country (Kerala) come here seeking a heaven. I mean…what the heck? What is it they seek? Why can’t people stay in their homes…back in Kerala.” I felt for people who strived to survive in Chennai and secretly was overjoyed since I was away from this messy hell.
And by then my bus; 175 B had come and I was on my way to my friend Jayaram’s flat. He was working in RBS ( Royal Bank of Scotland) and had taken a day off to accompany me to meet publishers in 4th Arlington Street, Chetpet.
I freshened up quickly. Myself and Jayaram gobbled our breakfasts. And we jumped into a OLA Cab. Thanks to the Android App and the jovial driver, the 45 minutes journey through the harsh Chennai traffic went of well like a short walk.
Time ticked off really fast and lo…by the time my meeting was over, it was almost 1:00PM. The meeting was fruitful and bore results. But our stomachs were growling by that time and we dashed out of the building in search of food.
The locality looked more residential than industrial. As a result we found it really hard to find a good restaurant. I was dying to have some good non-vegetarian stuff…but there seemed to be only one hotel in the vicinity and it was pure vegetarian.
We settled down in the far corner, under a brown ceiling fan that was rotating incredibly fast. And then we ordered two meals.
While we waited, I complained endlessly at the plight of the city and the hollow, objective nature of city life.
“What is there in a city Jayu? Look at this hotel…what kind of hygiene is this? You see, it is best to live in Kerala…why people live here man?I have no clue…” a kind of irrational arrogance exulted in my voice. It was as if my home town was the greatest and rest of the humanity that dwells in cities just deserved pity and nothing more.
The lunch came wobbling in the waiter’s palms. Halfway through the meal Jayaram asked a very genuine question:
“Man…what kind of opportunities do we have in Kerala? …moreover attitude of people matters a lot Sri…”
I did not reply since I felt that was absolutely bull shit.
“Opportunities are what we make… Life is what we make it…damn…” I thought but still I did not have a clue as to why cities in my state were not as industrious as their counterparts in Tamilnadu.
Why business do not flourish the same way as in Chennai? There is no water and except for few key areas, there was no proper electricity and people still lived here for generations.
‘What the fuck…” I kept thinking through the meal of white rice and an average onion sambar.
Once done with the meal, we proceeded to the counter to pay the bill. I had a 1000 rupee note and the gentleman (a middle-aged guy, in formal wear) sitting in the counter had no change. So in a humble tone he requested us:
“Please be seated here sir…will get the change…” he smiled at us and instructed a service boy to get the change. We waited there in the lobby chatting and watching other people come and leave. It took almost 15 minutes for the boy to get the change and by the time we were loosing our patience.
Only after we paid the bill did we realize that we had a whole afternoon and an evening in front of us. So standing by the bill counter of that hotel, we started planning:
“Let’s go to some multiplex Jayu… I have still not seen Bahubali…”
“I don’t know which is the nearest one…lemme check…” And Jayaram started checking for nearest multiplexes in his smartphone.
“damn.. Internet is not working…” He complained
That’s when the man sitting in the bill counter intervened.
“Sir…if you wanna know which is the nearest multiplex, I will check out with my pasanga (boys) and tell you…” and he rose from his seat, put another guy in his place and went to the kitchen.
In less than a minute, the man came out of the hotel kitchen and told us there were two options:
” One is Padmas Theatre and another is in Abhirami Mall… first one being 4Km and the other being 6Km from here….” he settled down back in the bill counter as he spoke with us and mechanically started collecting bills from waiting customers.
“Ohhh Thank you!!!” we wished him good-bye.
“Will catch an auto Jayu…”
“Ya..that will be better…” we spoke as we got out of the hotel.
We waved our hands in an attempt to catch the attention of passing auto rickshaws. One did stop and the auto driver charged a ridiculously large amount for a ride to Abhirami Mall.
“Sir 120 Rupees sir…” he kept saying… and that’s when the gentleman from the Hotel’s billing counter came to our rescue once again:
“Anne… Padmas theatre vandh 40 rupees… Abhirami vand 70… avalav tha (only 40 rupees to Padma Theatre and 70 for Abhirami. That’s all..)” he ferociously bargained with the auto driver and finally the driver gave in. He turned on the meter.
As I got into the auto rickshaw, I turned around and asked his name:
We shook hands… and as the auto rickshaw started moving towards the Chethak Bridge towards Egmore, I shouted at him:
“Is the hotel yours Sir…”
“No it’s not mine…” and he waved me goodbye.
Sitting in that auto I glanced one last time at the hotel and its name:
“MSE Hotel. High Class Pure Veg.”
A smile ran across my lips. As I watched the city underneath me, I wondered if I would ever meet Selva Raghavan or have lunch from this hotel in Chetpet again in my life.
But I was sure of one thing… I had answer to a very important question:
“What is there in a city?”
Other than buildings, dust and traffic jams…
“What is there in a city?”
And the answer is:
The incidence was an eye opener for me. It is the people who matter and not the place. With grit, determination and sincerity human beings have built heaven like cities in desert parch lands.
How and why…? Finally I got an answer to that question.
Why some people even with humble beginnings reach great heights? Why places having every favourable resource to its credit crumble and still remain under-developed? It is the people and their attitude that matters and not the place per se.
People succeed in spite of all odds. Why?
Because they touch hearts. I compared the arrogant man sitting in the book store back in Aluva Railway Station and the gentlemen who helped us a few minutes back. Maybe that made the difference. For instance it may seem small…but an extrapolation would reveal that the contrast is in fact staggering.
And as the auto rickshaw driver started chit chatting with us as if we were friends for years, I gazed at the buzzing city that carried a million dreams… But this time around I was very much conscious about why the saying goes :
“Chennai is a city…Madras is an emotion…”.
The Author of this blog is Srinath Krishnamoorthy who like millions out there is trying to figure out what needs to be done with life. After bidding goodbye to an eventful software career that spanned just 3 small years, he right now breaking his head working on his MTech thesis. It also comes as a surprise that in his lunatic quest for “figuring out life” he ended up writing a novel “Hope We Never Meet Again” which will be coming out soon…how soon only god knows!!!