Saturday, May 13, 2006

Return To Chennai -Getting Lost in Tambaram...

One gets used to any infernal situation, indeed.
I soon forgot how crowded the so-called luxury bus was, how smelly were my neighbours pressing on to me mercilessly, how slowly the time crept on...

The bus was going to Tambaram and not Koyambedu from where I had started. My new friend the village school-teacherish fellow, one with the mono-syllabic answers,
allowed a shade of deep doubt on his face whenever I asked him if Tambaram was very far from Anna Nagar. He's open his mouth, like a fish pulled out of water, make some piteous faces, mumble something and then clam shut. I gave up, and went on watching the perilous traffic on the road. Suicidal maniacs seemed to be aiming at our bus and miraculously missing us by a hair-breadth all the time.

After what seemed like a mini-eternity the bus offloaded us at Tambaram... aha, I said to myself, the place seems familiar. Only a few years back, wasn't it this place from where I had caught a bus to far-off Shollingnur? Yes, it was. The same huge bus-terminus, the same amoebic clusters of worried looking people forming, deforming, reforming their clusters and suddenly parting when a maniac on a two wheeler or inside a four wheeler came speeding onto them.

I religiously toed the line, for my silent companion was rambling around like a lost soul, very obviously searching for something. From a safe distance I could see he wanted a payphone. He found one, punched a number and after a while put the receiver down, shaking his head ruefully. As if his only son had turned out to be a really bad egg. He looked devastated. I thought of helping him, after all he had been my lifeline to sanity.

"Phoning up your family?" In this class of people, you don't say wife, you say family, I have learnt. They feel we are being obscene by mentioning the relationship. Sigh, classes ! Well, I punched the numbers he recited very patiently. I couldn't get through.
"Network congestion." I said dutifully and he smiled laconically, like he knew the connection would not come through.
" Bus number 18M will take you to somewhere near Anna Nagar," he spoke to no one in particular and I gathered he meant the missile to hit me. Wayward one, but it did hit me. I welcomed it, Anna Nagar, the name itself sounded like Chicken Biryani to someone who has been fasting for long.
We both loitered along, snaking our way through lost-looking outsiders and slimy looking local ones. He would very dedicatedly read the dim-lit signboards on the buses, always in Tamil, and tell me where the bus would be going.
" Somewhere near Anna Nagar?" I would anxiously look at my watch and ask like a moron. With the patience of a teacher who has been a guardian to a mentally retarded child he would cautiously explain it was some other route.
Up and down, up and down we walked. My low sugar symptoms reared their ugly head, my head was spinning, my vision had blurred, my legs started imitating those Paris supermodels who put right foot in front of left and vice versa, mimicking the poor cat. To someone else, I may have seemed drunk or on drugs. But I knew what it was. I would be passing out soon. That fear got me hurrying to nearest fruit stalls. Apples are the best remedy for low sugar, and depression. Both had been straddling my back like a pack of wolves, digging into my sparse flesh in an fiendish manner.
The fruit seller refused to sell me one apple, though he seemed to be lording over tonnes of apples. He wouldn't listen to me at all. I went to another -then, another and finally a Hindi-speaking fellow sold me one at an exorbitant price. I munched on it and my guide refused it when I showed it to him. As he looked much more worried, I retrieved my cell-phone and re-dialed his home number, this must have been the thirtieth time. Some lady spoke and I pushed the phone onto his left hear.
"Just talk.." I said, making him confused.
He did talk and a cloud lifted from his face. He seemed as if that brief case with a million rupees he had dropped somewhere had been returned by me. He had a very brief talk like much-married men will have with their wives and gratefully returned the phone to me. By now about a hundred buses had gone by, none of them 18M. About three fourths of them were M18, going to some weird sounding place.
Just when I stopped cursing no one in particular, for I was hopping mad at the whole world, not only my shirt but my jeans were completely soaked with sweat by now. What a muggy day...
" Do you speak Hindi?" A woebegone face materialized in front of me, carrying a suitcase on his head. I said yes, nodding my head.
" We are from Maharashtra," he began his much-practised tale, " we lost our suitcase with money..." I excused myself and he chased me, " we don't want money sir..."
But I lost myself in the maze of sweaty bodies so quick, because my head was splitting with worries, and I had just asked an auto-rickshaw driver how much it would cost to reach Anna Nagar.
"Three hundred rupees, saar." He said without batting an eyelid. I made an obscene face and asked him to go home and sleep.
Thus I joined my good friend Ramaswami, I like giving names to faces, and waited.
(c) Max Babi, 13th May 2006.


At 2:01 AM, Blogger Sucheta said...

Phir aage kya hua???
-sincerely reading,


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