November 24, 2004

Chennai Kazhcha

I have read more than enough blogs on Chennai, those which explains things like how the city is, how you can survive here and who is good and who is bad and so on...but then, that is not a good enough reason for me for not writing my own version of the same. So here it comes.....a mallu Kazhcha of Chennai!

Chennai, Madras for the forgone generations, was a dream destination for the Keralites. And with the boom in software industry, it remains to be, though it may have lost the No.1 position to Bangalore. No survey is required to know the extent to which Malayalees have conquered Chennai, you just need to count the shops that are NOT owned/shared by a mallu here in chennai. You will find almost all chayakkadas and hotels run by Mallus, and the city has atleast two theaters dedicated for mallu movies!!

Before coming here, I had a briefing on Chennai from my relatives who had come here during late 70's. Madras, for them, was the central railway station, the high rise LIC building, the lively Moore market...I came to this place alone with nobody to accompany me, and was a little bit scared when I landed here at Central railway station. I found myself estranged in the local crowd who spoke "something" that I could not understand at all...Then, there was this hot climate and salty water that I found unbearable ...

But now, after more than one year of stay here in chennai, I am accustomed to chennai and very well know how to survive here. Here are some observations and tips on Chennai life, who knows may be in future school children in Kerala may have a chapter in there text book named "How to Survive in Chennai", so let me be optimistic and start with my Chennai Kazhchakal.

The road culture.
The very first drastic difference I felt between Kerala and Chennai is the attittude of people on road. When people are very much careful on road there in Kerala, I find that they are very much careless in here. The worst of them are autowallas and cyclers. And to summarise the mentality of these people on road, autowallahs think they are riding a two wheeler and cyclers think they are riding a racing bike!!
And it is true that I found later that Chennai is better when compared to cities like Bangalore!

The MTC : Running with Old Wor(l)d.
The road transport in Chennai city is managed by MTC, the Madras Transport Corporation. The old name "Madras" has been retained by the corporation and same is the case with the buses used. But still it is the most utilized public transport here. The traffic through the roads are better and the early efforts to this effect are visible by seeing the flyovers built in the city when Bangalore has accepted the idea of fly-overs only recently. The local trains have limited access and new rail paths are being established aggressively. The one from Beach to Tiruvanmiyur and which goes parallel to the road to "IT corridor" has become operational three months back. For those who are not familiar, IT Corridor is the "remote place near to chennai" where the software giants have set up there development centres(?). The farthest in the list is at Siruseri IT park, at a distance of 22 kms from Chennai City.

4 The People- The Chennai attittude
If you go to some unknown place in Kerala and ask for an address to a fellow Malayalee, he will give you a blank reply "Ariyilla" (Tamil equivalent "Theriyath") irrespective of him being a Thozhilalee or Muthalalee the majority in the state. But Chennai is not at all like this, in the sense you will not get a "Theriyath" from anybody. Instead if the fellow whom you asked do not know the place, he will ask 100 other and will find the place for you, especially if they understand that you are not a tamilian. Now think of the fellow mallus who have told wrong route to you and have found enjoyment in that. This is the bething that I respect about Chennaites, that you can trust a stranger more if he is a chennaite than what you do wiht a fellow Mallu.

Evolavu? - The Universal Communicator.
It is possible that you may find it difficult to learn Tamil and that you may find it difficult to handle situations when you need real help in Chennai!! I cannot teach you Tamil here, when I am not good at it. But I will tell you to learn one tamil word so that ou can handle all those aforesaid sitations "Evolavu?". For mallus, you can use your mother tongue except this special key-word equivalent to "How much" in English and "Ethra?" or "Enth?" in malayalam. Typical use of "Evolavu" comes in places like when you want to know the distance to a place in chennai-Evolavu Distance?, you want to knwo the time-Time evolavu?, you want to know the cost of some commodity at a local shop-Evolavu?, you want the rate from an autowallah BEFORE you enter the auto-Tell the place and then ask Evolavu? on and so forth.

Chennai Aatto- The worst you can get in the country
The last thing somebody would forget about Chennai is how to deal with Autowallahs here, and is the first thing you should learn if you want to survive. I have found blogs extending pages explaining how to deal with these fellows, let me summarise this with due inputs from my own experiences. As stated previously, to start with, tell the place and ask them "Evolavu?" BEFORE entering into the auto. Recent increase in the petrol charges have increased the minimum charges from Rs15/ to Rs.20/. So do not expect anything less than that even if you plan to just sit inside for one minute, that is the way it is. He would tell you a rate and USUALLY a good negotiation would be (Half the rate qouted by him + Rs.10/). This is an advice to a new comer to the city and your experience with these fellows would give you a better idea regarding the charges. Also the charges mentioned above are on normal day time and can vary depending on various factors like number of people, amount of luggage, the time of day/night, if it is raining....

I have heard this story about some mallu guys who came to Chennai from Kerala for the first time. They landed at Central station and took an auto to Triplicane. The autowallah understood that these people are new in Chennai and asked them Rs.500/ for the ride when the actual charge would be something around Rs.30/. They argued for half-an-hour and MADE the autowallah to agree on Rs.250/. They were quite happy on there negotiation capabilities but only till they met their Chennai friends who told them the REAL rate.
And one last Question: What if some auto guy "promises" to put meter ON? Answer is: never agree to that in Chennai, because Chennai autos has specially manufactured meters which would favour the driver than you when it displays the charges, in fact these are the most useless parts for autos in Chennai.

Kerala in Chennai: The Mallu Restaurants.
Kumarakom and Tharavadu, these are two eat outs dedicated for Kerala food which we used to go often. You have many of traditional Kerala delicacies available. The best thing I like about these places is that you will get bolied BIG Kerala rice for lunch. And then there are other dishes like Beef Fry, Meen Kari...Let me stop here, rest you go and find out!!

Triplicane: The Poor Man's Paradise.
The cheapest locality in Chennai city is undoubtedly Triplicane. Here you will find mansions and lodges which have rented rooms at affordable rates, and Hotels which offer good food at cheaper rates. Majority of the student community and people who come in search of jobs leave here. Infact there are mansions where mostly mallu( student)s are given rooms at rates as low as Rs.600/- per month. I was in Triplicane for the first few months of my stay in Chennai, in a lodge The City Guest House near Ice House Police Station. It was a good place and rented double rooms at the rate of Rs.2500/- per month. The best thing was you had no water problems and water was better when compared to other places.

Then there are many other things that I have not mentioned. The Spencer Plaza, chennai's biggest shopping mall, the Burma Bazar where ou get smuggled goods at cheap rates, the theme parks like MGM and Kishkinta, the shops at T. Nagar and Pody Baazar where you have cheapest rates in the country(that is the caption of Saravana Stores). But this essay has become so long that my Humanities teacher also will not read this completely. So, as of now ithrayumanu innathe Chennaikazhchakal, shesham bhagam screenil!!!