Saturday, April 15, 2006

My First Day

Anna Nagar in western parts of Chennai is probably the decent most colony beyond which depressingly endless areas begin. My hotel happens to be one of those low-brow establishment with pretensions, perhaps delusions of grandeur. It was designed and built to be a replica of a star hotel but something somewhere went terribly wrong. It’s like a failed Bollywood starlet who dreamt big but ended up as a discreet call girl –ageing, decrepit and silently desperate. A three level lift covers four floors, thus one has to either walk up or down half a set of stairs to reach a particular floor. The black and white uniformed room boys or bell-boys take you to the 3rd floor and then make you climb down half a floor to reach room number 204 on the 2nd floor. There’s a pub on the top floor, in the open terrace, which the room boys avoid as if they are mortally scared of fraternizing with the enemy. The same applies to the two restaurants on the ground floor –the ever-changing male receptionist flatly denies the existence of the restaurants. In spite of that you do see people sitting, eating, and drinking too. They perhaps call these ‘Permit Rooms’, a leftover from the semi-dry era when drinking needed a permit, a health permit as it was euphemistically called. One restaurant is in the permanent state of repairs and interior decor re-work. The only logical explanation may be, I wondered idly sipping coffee in my room, that the owner has hived off both the restaurants, and perhaps also the pub open to the sky. A sudden and catastrophic loss, as if lost in gambling overnight. Worse still, there may have been several brothers who cannibalized the father’s property as soon as he kicked the bucket. People turn to fantasy when mildly drunk, for me, good old coffee does the trick. So I couldn’t suppress a guffaw, when I remembered a famous Gujarati anecdote rather resembling these circumstances. It’s about a 90 year old bully, the unquestionable patriarch of a Marwari [Rajasthani traders] family who lay comatose on his death-bed, eyes fixedly staring at the courtyard. He’d shiver uncontrollably in a rage if someone blocked his view. ‘ Father has buried a treasure in the courtyard!’ Up went the cry, ‘ Or else why would he stare ouside like that?’ The eldest son philosophized. The younger ones equally greedy, agreed. None of them wanted hard work, just easy money. A doctor was summoned who finished all his testing meticulously and grimly proclaimed : ’ The old man’s vital organs are all very nearly gone. He’ll die any moment now.’ A chorus of wild protest went up. The sons said the old man can’t just up and leave then without telling them where the treasure was buried. ‘ I can revive him just for five seconds, with this hugely potent injection. But it will cost you Rs.35,000/-' said the wise doc. They all cried that it was daylight robbery, and tried haggling just as the old man would have. The doc got up, buttoning up his coat and zipping up his medico briefcase. ‘Okay, okay,’ said the sons, now that the meagre chance of unearthing the treasure was also melting away. The medicine man gave the injection to the old trader. Within seconds he opened his eyes, searched out a place in the courtyard, and yelled, half getting up : ‘Bakri jhadoo khay chhe!’ [The goat is chewing up our broom.] Then he collapsed and died. Well back on terra firma, I made the mistake of asking the boss if he would be sending me a car. I recall I was sitting on the throne, talking to him before pulling the flush –had just impulsively rung him up. He probably smelt the offensive odours and hissed, ‘ Max, you’d better get used to managing on your own. Take an auto or something.’ The Chennai heat had not begun, and it took me nearly half an hour to search out an honest looking auto-rickshaw driver who would take me to Ambattur. One fatigued looking fellow volunteered, and took me there.


At 8:14 AM, Blogger Batul said...

Enjoying this blog, Max. As usual, vivid desciptions on your part.

At 10:05 AM, Blogger LAK said...

I'm enjoying your Chennai sojourn!Have commented on an earlier post too.BTW,how did you come by my blog?

At 5:29 PM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

Superb Max --
wonderful to have you casting the narrative spell in a real-life serial unfolding day-wise (where in past, it's been fictions based on deacades-gone events sifted through memory). I feel I've lucked into tuning into the right station at the right time. Already we have mysteries of the lodging, vagaries of transportation . . . -- do you expect to be at this wannabe-star for some while? How did you land in the particular place, I wonder?

(awaiting possible answers in perhaps future installments)


ps: the business of the desk clerk denying the existence of obviously sensorially palpable restaurants, seems like something out of Kafka or Calvino . . . There must indeed be a story to it.

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Rahul Bhimjiani said...

God is great - he made me
You are greater - you remade me
Your blog is the greatest - it inspires me to remake others

At 5:15 AM, Blogger Miriam Thomas said...

Hiya Max..miss those nasty auto drivers they almost lost a limb here and there couple of times , sure do miss them though :)


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