Thursday, November 8, 2007

How The Hindu makes my skin fairer

I have always wondered what people meant when they would say, I need to go and pick up XYZ from the station, where XYZ referred to an adult person.

I thought this business of picking up people was some kind of an elitist sport. Only the rich people went to pick up visiting friends and family. Of course, people have their reasons:
1. I am so excited about this person coming, so I go pick them up
2. What if they can’t find the house?
3. They have too much of luggage and will need help
4. How will they negotiate with the Madras Autokkarans?
5. Because guests are the avatarams of god

In my family, we don’t go and pick up people. If you come from Trichy and Nellai (where bulk of our visitors come from), you speak the language of the city. Therefore, you find your way. Our guests don’t carry too much of luggage. Also everyone finds their way around T Nagar anyway. And there are way too many gods that are jostling for our attention.

Exceptions are made only for our Delhi Atthai. Amma is a little hyper when it comes to her youngest sister-in-law. She is partly in awe of her, but mostly she dislikes her. Yet, appa feels strong kinship with his little sister and insists on picking her up each time she comes.

D Atthai came to town a few days back, when Madras was in the middle of a cloud-burst. As always, appa wanted to go and pick her up. But something came up, and I had to go instead.

We don’t own a car. In fact, we have never owned one. Some of it was to do with thatha’s conditioning us into believing that anything beyond two wheels was against everything that he stood for. Of course, it was largely to do with the fact that we could not afford one. So, when most of the families had a Fiat in the 80s and a Maruti 800 in the 90s, we were car-less. We usually walked, traveled by buses and occasionally took the trains. We avoided autos, unless it was to take T Anna to the hospital when he had an asthma attack.

That was when we met – Chettiar. Chettiar used to take me, Poongothai and half a dozen Srirams and Karthiks from Bazlullah Road to our school each day. His vehicle was a largeish auto (similar to the shared autos that we see in the city), that we used to call – Van. While we were sitting through Vijaylakshmi Mam's class, Chettiar would go and pick up flowers from the wholesale market to transport it to some store in T Nagar. When we would return home, the van would still have remnants of the smell of malli and samanthi. The heady sweetness would inevitably cause one of the Karthiks to faint. His name was obviously not Chettiar, but we began calling him so because of the enormous tummy that he had (unimaginative) and the name stuck.

Chettiar’s livelihood coincidentally evolved with my life-stage. There came a time when I became too old to travel in the van. I needed two things:
1. A more sophisticated method of transportation
2. Lesser boys

That was the time when Chettiar acquired a modern day auto. I, Poongothai, one Karthik and his sister began to travel in the same. The flower business then stopped and he needed an alternative source of income. After a conversation with amma, he developed a revenue model of chauffeuring the maamis of Bazlullah Road, TP Road and Habibullah Road. His affable nature won him many fans and his large stomach reassured everyone that he was safe and trustworthy. He knew where in T Nagar all our relatives lived and could go and deliver or pick up stuff from people. He would take Madras Thatha for his bi-monthly blood tests, he would drop amma at Egmore Station so that she could catch the Rock Fort express. He would book tickets for us, buy flowers; find us plumbers and electricians, the works.

One cannot imagine our life without Chettiar. When T Anna plays his NRI-Santa person, he gets Chettiar T-Shirts and some chocolates. When I got my first salary, Chettiar wanted me to buy him a T-Shirt. I bought him one, and while thanking me for it he told me that I should also become an NRI so that I can get him nicer T-Shirts.

While we were on the way to the station, I tried to impress Chettiar by telling him that I was a journalist. And therefore, I was an important person. He seemed less than convinced. He wanted to know why I didn’t become a TV journalist. He also told me that nobody reads the newspapers anyway.

I was considerably upset and distracted by this entire thing and I managed to find the platform and be there before D Atthai’s train whirred in. D Atthai had come with several bags; she announced that many of them were empty (so that she can pack all of T Nagar and Mylapore in those bags when she does go back to Delhi). I made polite elder sister type talk with my cousin (D Atthai’s daughter) and tried not to yelp with pain as I balanced two allegedly empty bags on my shoulders. That was when a lady stopped me – Platform ticket Ma, she said.


I realized then that I had done something that nobody in my family had ever done since the inception of Indian Railways – break a law. I tried to crack a lame joke. Did not work. Apologize. Did not work. Beg and plead. Did not work. Be mildly confrontational. Certainly did not work. By now the cousin was getting anxious, given that she has gone through a long, arduous journey to a place that perhaps alienates her at many levels, I figured a quick solution was needed. I also didn’t want her or the atthai to get on some kind of high ground by saying things like – how it is easier to bribe people in Delhi than Madras. Madras must not lose. Ever.

So, I agree to pay the fine of rupees three hundred. As I walked towards the counter meant for defaulters, law breakers and assorted criminals Chettiar also came in. Given that he knew D Atthai well enough, he was sure that she would have half a dozen bags at least. As always, he was there to rescue me. I explained to him what had happened and he seemed as horrified. He also felt repentant that, in some ways, he was responsible for distracting me with all his chatter. While we waited for the previous defaulters to pay up, I reassured Chettiar that he was not to blame. In front of us were two young girls – fair and petite. One of them had not bought a platform ticket and she and friend made bambi eyes and widely gesticulated trying to get their point across. Eventually they let the girls go. No fine imposed on them. Possibly because:
1. Guests are the avatrams of god, so it was time to show the goodness of our Tamizh heart
2. Because there is nothing like: fair and lovely. There is only: fair = lovely

My brown skin and ability to speak the same language meant that there was no escaping the fine. My Tamizh heart broke. While I was rummaging for the money through my wallet, Chettiar announced to no one in particular that he hoped I would be covering this in my news report. He suggested that I write down the details of all the officers and so on. If I was not feeling like a fool, I would have been amused. The people at the counter now looked a little unsure.

Who are you, they asked?

Very important journalist, Chettiar offered.

With The Hindu, Atthai suggested helpfully.

The man thought for a bit and then asked me to go. He said, today is Sunday, so I am letting you go.

Chettiar was thrilled. I am not sure, what worked – his contribution, it being Sunday, general niceness or the fact that the main boss at the counter was called – Parthasarathy.

Whatever it was, I felt fair and lovely.

When we came home, appa had his hand plastered. Apparently while wading through water and avoiding one of those monster vehicles on the road, he fell and broke a few things.

Amma was upset, I bet that secretly she must have blamed the atthai.

T Anna called up and was upset too. I will buy appa a car, he volunteered - as always, large hearted and impractical. S the clever child said that, even rich people need to go on a walk with their legs and not a car. Instead an expensive shoe from Nike was bought.

I have a humble request to all you people who drive big (and not so big cars in T Nagar).

At seven in the morning, if you see an elderly and somewhat frail man, wearing a navy blue - I Love New York T-Shirt (lovingly gifted by his son), a very expensive pink coloured (I know) Nike shoes (equal in value of the sum total of all the shoes owned by the same man over the last 57 years), carrying a blue coloured Sundaram Mutual Funds bag, walking along Usman Road – that is appa. Be considerate. We cannot afford a car. When it rains, there is too much water. You are in a hurry obviously. But please go a little slowly, just for a bit. If we get a car, Chettiar will lose his job. That would be sad. If you hit appa, you will need to deal with a very important journalist.

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Very nice. I can relate.

Kadambari said...

It also makes some people taller! :) Welcome back. Let me read the post now! :D

Anonymous said...

that was a good one.journalists are known for showing their importance in every affair and it is surprising even at the prospect of getting fined Rs 300 tamil Penn chose to face the ordeal--may be because she is a tamil Penn first and last.keep writing please

Anonymous said...

I am miffed that avataram is not a label for this wonderful post.

வழிப்போக்கன் said...

Chettiar is a lovely character - fair skin or not. Sujatha will spin a story with a character like Chettiar.
A nice and warm write-up.
S. Krishnamoorthy

Hyde said...

Nice, nice.

If hitting Appa means meeting an important journalist from the The Hindu... I'll be gentle, is that fine?

Anonymous said...

I just love reading your posts. Been an avid visitor of your blog for the last 3 weeks :)

If you ever come to Bay area give me a shout. I would want to meet you over a cup of coffee..maybe in Saravana Bhavan or Woodlands? :)

frissko said...

if i were a reporter for 'The Indian express', i would've turned in a righteous-sounding story entitled 'Are reporters above the law?' citing this incident...

nicely written...but i wish the officer had gone ahead and fined u...

Anonymous said...

ur blog reminds me of farah khan movies...b grade stuff

Unknown said...

Hee, very nice.

I needed two things:
1. A more sophisticated method of transportation
2. Lesser boys

Your problems remain the same even today! ;)

Welcome back and get rid of annoying mouses too.

Kadambari said...

On the contrary, it is the mouses that sustain this Blog! :)

Anonymous said...

Whee! She is back!! :)
I loved the way you linked up so many things. And this was the best bit:
His affable nature won him many fans and his large stomach reassured everyone that he was safe and trustworthy.

Much tee hee ATP.

Anonymous said...

Lovely! It was worth waiting almost a month for. You make me homesick!

R.Subramanian@R.S.Mani said...

Your writings remembered me the writings of GANGATHAR; It may not be your way of writings ; but my loave for hiswritings;suppamani

Anonymous said...

You my dear are honest to a fault. Of course, that is your only fault! ;)
Welcome back. I missed you.

Anonymous said...

And I was missing the Commie Comrade.

Bikerdude said...

I think this is your best writing yet! Completely worth the wait ATP :)

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this post! We want more, ATP!

Anonymous said...

your blogs are wonderful, fair & lovely too !!

Anonymous said...

dear ATP,

ur posts remind me of my professor's famous quote
'are u laughing at yourself?',on seeing the class laughing loudly,afterwhich,the class fell silent not knowing how to respond.

very very enjoyable and heartwarming...need more about ur day to day observations ..may be more about others like us...less on ur clan(alread avanga ellorum nondu noolagittango)

first on my bloglist..

Laksh said...

Lovely! Love your posts.

Anonymous said...

Heh. Say hello to Chettiar.

Anonymous said...

The blog is more like reading a poem....a moving short story; especially these lines - "If we get a car, Chettiar will lose his job. That would be sad.".

Short, simple sentences with more than superficial meanings....Nice job!

Anonymous said...

" van would still have remnants of the smell of malli and samanthi."

What yan yevocative worrd picture I say.

Reminds me non-sequitur like, of a favourite line from 'Neethaane enthan pon vasantham' from 'Ninaivellaam Nitya'

'Nee aadai aNihalam
soodum araihaLil

Roja Mallihai vaasam

Muha vaervai thuLi adhu
pohum varaiyilum thenral
kavurihaL veesum1'

Anonymous said...

Good readable blog, ATP.
But bereft of your usual satire :)

Raghu said...

A nice read. had got the link frmo a friend. I had a small doubt! After reading the account I felt that the title should have been something like "How The Hindu helped me with my fine". Because I find that Madrasis or rather Chennaiites cannot relate to fair skin nor the language people use outside Tamil Nadu!!!

Anonymous said...

Am not surprised you are a journalist. You paint such a picture with words. I could see T Nagar, the smelly station, even Chettiar. I miss the Madras of my childhood when I roamed T Nagar, Central Station, travelled second class, took the PTC bus, walked the Marina beach, ate sundal and molagai bajji.....

thank you!

Anonymous said...

great blog.
we belong to kaushika gothram.
ATP, i would love for you to meet my son. anyone with such great style, sense of humour, and such a diligent defender of all things tamizh, HAS to make a great addition to our clan!


Aswinkumar said...

hey tamizh penn....i recently started reading ur blogs based on a friends suggestion...for once he did a gud job....the whole gap from oct12-nov8 i literally visited ur blogs for some posts.....truely amazing...the best part of ur blog was that appa in early morning walk with PINK shoes and SUNDARAM MUTUAL FUND bag....
and off course the ticket counter Parthasarathy and Hindu....

Anonymous said... are funny!! classic sense of humour...keep it up

Anonymous said...

wow!! how ur blog makes my day at work so much easier to get through! this in my opinion was the best of all your writeups upto now! looks like ur blog is getting really popular...keeping it going girl...

Anonymous said...

Really fun post. I am a Karthick myself. I used to be on an auto driven by Mari, once upon a time. He gave me a lot of sweets. Funny I remembered now!

Do you really write for the Hindu?

angelspinenvy said...

The description of your appa at the end nearly made me misty-eyed. Beautiful!

CPhaniS said...

Subtle subramanium brought me here... Envy you for what you are and what you hold on to..

Gopalan Ramasubbu said...

Eloquently Written!

Aarti said...

Cool post.. came over from ladybird's blog... :)

I can so relate to all you've said...:) and wow, u live in Tnagar.. that area is such a mess, these days we think not twice but 100times before stepping foot there.. :)

Unknown said...

compliments!!! bein a tirunelveli iyer myeself, i cud relate to a lotta things..favs were grand sweets,gothrams, senai(though my family has nothin against it, but my family sure havent heard abt karna kizhangu), sis in law gossips and last but not least, brahmins procedures of marriage!!!