I have been in Chennai for more than a week now. I have made this a two-week note since I managed to publish my last weeknote late.
Ever since I got back I have been overdoing the filter coffees and dosas or idlies my parents make for breakfast. This particular morning ritual has not changed since I was a child in the various rented houses we lived in. The morning light usually streams through like some Mani Ratnam film and both my parents are up. My father makes the coffee with the decoction that was brewed the night before and also makes the coconut chutney we will be consuming soon. My mother reads the newspaper at that time and as soon as my father is done in the kitchen my mother is in there getting the maavu ready to make the idlies or dosas to go with the chutney. My father now sits down with the newspaper and coffee. This scene is quite comforting to me.
This past week I have run on the beach most mornings. Running alongside all the aunties and uncles speed-walking, vendors selling kuzhi paniyaram, various health juices, coconut water, and chai. There are dogs and cars, that decide to come on to the pedestrian path, interspersed through this scene. This has also not changed much since my childhood, though the dogs wear collars now to indicate that they have been spayed and the coconut vendors use paper straws.
My note this week is about Chennai and its endearing qualities. If Chennai were a Dungeons and Dragons Character, its alignment would be Chaotic Good. I am constantly amazed at how much there is to do here — especially in the months of December and January. It is Kutcheri season and there is Carnatic music happening every night in every corner of the city. There was also the Hindu Lit for Life (literature festival) which went on for four days and a book fair that lasted for a large part of the month. There is also always a சந்தை (market) in Kalakshetra. So I have now armed myself with sarees from Kalakshetra and attempted to attend these events over the past week.
We went for the Hindu Literature Festival on two days and listened to a breadth of panels. There were talks about the structure of the ribosome and the scientific process by the Nobel Laureate Venki Ramakrishnan, panels about the art of writing and the theme of sexuality (and sexual identity) with Nandini Krishnan, Susan Hawthorne and Madhavi Menon, panels about about censorship and artistic responsibility with TM Krishna and Githa Hariharan, and my favorite panel: Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown casually chatting about their lives. Admission was free and the organizers tried to keep it Zero Waste. Sponsors gave away free filter coffee and medu vada. A week later, my tsundoku is piled higher than ever.
Chennai is a city that tries to be better than itself; be it coconut vendors using paper straws, doggies wearing collars instead of their ears getting clipped, road signs cheering on bicyclists, or TM Krishna getting angry with his own ilk. Chennai is a city that tries and in the few days I have been back I am reminded of just how hard it tries.
Films watched in the last week
Spider-Man : Into the spider-verse (Dir: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman)
Glass (Dir: M Night Shyamalan)
Books read in the last week
Siddhartha’s Brain: Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment — James Kingsland
Travels through south Indian kitchens — Nao Saito
Seasons of the palm — Perumal Murugan
The art of dying — Githa Hariharan
Fledgling — Octavia E Butler