‘I am going to Chennai.’
I had no idea my harmless statement on Facebook could provoke such strong reactions among friends, relatives and colleagues. Everybody seemed to have an opinion. While immediate family was more concerned about bland idli-dosa, friends thought it was blasphemy to leave the Capital and slightly suspicious relatives attributed it to ‘something else’.
By the time I was in Chennai, I realised quite a few things --- house rents were certainly not cheaper, but public transport was great. Not everybody was necessarily decent, but most of them were. Knowing Tamil was not imperative, but definitely mattered when you had to fight with the internet guy, book a local cab or patiently tell the auto driver that he had no moral authority to demand night charges at 7.30pm!
Like every other city, Chennai too had its share of pros and cons. Like every other migrant professional, I too was getting impatient and restless within the first two weeks.
Why was it taking so long? Why couldn’t I just get a house at once? Which side of the city would be the best? Why can’t OMR be an option, if the house rents are pocket-friendly?
Every day, before office, I met brokers. They would all, with the quiet confidence of Aamir Khan, assure me what I was about to see would be the best deal that anyone could have got. Made for me, just right for me, exclusively for me. The rent could be discussed later, of course.
I liked none.
One fine day, after a weekend break, I went house-hunting with a broker. After rejecting three houses at one go, I was exasperated. The heat was unbearable and I lost it: Who says Chennai is cheaper?
‘No one,’ the poor man said innocently.
I restrained myself and decided to be civil. I liked this particular neighbourhood, south of the city, and was hoping that something could be worked out in the near future. Maybe this guy could help me.
Finally, when I clearly stated my very basic, but fundamental requisites, his eyes sparkled and he had half-a-smile lingering on his lips.
‘Come,’ he said as he started walking ahead of me.
I wasn’t too hopeful. We reached a gated apartment and kept walking till we took the lift and at some point reached the scheduled floor of the apartment building. By then, my tenant-antenna was scanning everything around me.
The lift stopped and the guy stepped out of the lift, turning right to the door of the apartment. I stood behind, looking around, till I gasped. I still cannot remember whether it was shock, joy or surprise.
I stood there, rooted to the spot, my eyes stopping at an endless deep blue expanse of ripples kissing the horizon like a subtle Monet painting.
The guy was already inside the house, stating the USPs --- gadgets, furniture, TV, etc, etc, till he noticed I was not around. He came out, a little apprehensive, thinking I did not like the place.
…The Sea! I said, having difficulty controlling my excitement.
‘Oh yes, the Sea,’ he said with an incomprehensible regularity.
The Sea! The Sea! I was in a tizzy, deep inside.
That very evening, despite the house being far beyond my budget, I figured out a way to seal the deal.
Seven days later, after the contract was formally signed, I decided to announce the good news in office. Everybody was happy for me.
There were lots of questions:
How big is it?
How many rooms?
All my answers were met with enthusiasm. Two ACs, decent furniture, Nice drawing room, microwave, washing machine, refrigerator, TV, gas connection…
And? And what?
Since this is where I expected the squeal, I paused enough to build the climax, to create the drama, before finally spelling it out:
… the Sea!
There was no squeal. The response was well-intended and regular.
‘Good to have the Sea.’
Good? Come on, isn’t it just GREAT? I stopped myself.
I soon realized that most of my colleagues were Chennai-based and at several points of their lives, have grown up with the Sea. But, for me, it was a totally new thing. For me, Sea meant fun, memories of childhood vacations, letting yourself go, inspiration, dabbling with your thoughts and endless cuppas to keep you company.
For me, it was indeed very special to have the Sea suddenly splash into your sight while on my way to office. Or, for instance, to have the quiet Sea humming a lullaby at the end of the day, as you wrap up work and leave for the day.
It was a learning curve for me. Long ago, I remember, one of my friends from Singapore had come over to spend some time with me. By the end of his trip, he was fascinated by the spirit of the city and how he could strike a political conversation with anyone sitting next to him in a bus, metro, roadside tea stall or a theatre.
When he was leaving Kolkata, his eyes were moist. He told me, the political consciousness of the city made his heart and head throb, make him feel in-sync as a socio-political being in this largest democracy of the world.
In response to his overwhelming excitement, I had said dismissively, well good to know that, all the while feeling it was a bit over the top.
Chennai or Kolkata, me or others, interestingly, whenever we live with miracles, we start overlooking them. As if, we are supposed to be the most natural recipients of something very special.
Now, as I wake up to the sound of waves and soak in the myriad shades of an everflowing waterbody, I thank Chennai for a little bit of Sea in my life every day.