Jyothy Sreedhar

The New Girl in the Old City

April 18, 2010- the day I placed my foot in the heart of Chennai for the first time. The very first visual that caught my attention was a whirl of dust in the central station that I was in. I shook my unlocked hairs to wave along with the air that passed through. But the atmosphere was dusty and dry. The heard words about Chennai got clear in my eyes as I drove forward through that desert city. Brown was the highlighted colour with rare shades of green, though not as pure as in my own Kerala. The travel from central to Chromepet- where a house waited for me- was an extent of travel from Kerala to Chennai- getting dark, getting dusty and getting little out of life. Was I losing my life to doom? I loved to believe otherwise and that belief took me ahead. Within a handful of days, I got used to the small darkness that was occupying us, to those oxygenless carbondioxides, the ever switched on tube light that I was never used to in my homeland, the long day hours without water, the one-person-spaced kitchen that imprisoned me, the noisy motors running from 5am to 11 pm continuously in the apartment behind ours, the gathering people just in front of our door and in front of our window in the kitchen speaking in high pitches competing with each other, the headache that I had with me as a trustable companion, the water coming rarely with a good sample of mud and a watery 'vibgyor'... I was losing all my hope of getting adjusted and I doubted often to have been a victim of some sort of depression and consequent drastic character change. I yelled in darkness, and protested against whatever that brought me to this place. I cursed destiny. And I never lighted the lamp or prayed to god sometime there... The practice of going out and going back to homeland became a part of my habit and that of course was a huge relaxation. Everytime I got into a train to chennai, I had dry tears with me and the visual of a dry land that hesitated to support me and rejected my tries of adjustment. Somehow I got so many holidays and 'paroles' from Chennai that refreshed me to a limit. Having no internet and only some 2-3 malayalam and one hindi channel, my days were mostly spent in sleep, some calls, a small time of my wait for my husband and occasional reading. While in sleep, we don't have to think about our past, present or future. Hence I thought that a sleep would be better. The kitchen, though it didn't support me much, became a platform of learning cooking for me. I was almost ignorant with preparing dishes or getting done with my husband's lunch in the morning itself, in a hurry and without water in the tap. I took my cookery books that were my most valued wedding gift, and tried different preparations once in a while. My husband used to cheer me up with good words about my cooking. Many sundays of chicken and fish filled up our food times with a variety of tastes. I tried to make a house a home even when it was way out from my mind. I was becoming a housewife there, which I used to hate once... Tamil was a big problem for me there. The people knew only their mother tongue and I didn't know a bit of it, except rare understanding of words that were similar to that in Malayalam. Some used to speak in 100kms/hr, I tried to get the central idea of what they were telling. When I requested them to repeat, they did that with a laugh, but in the same speed as though the speech had a lane traffic. Then I learned the art of acting, listening with a smile to the tamil utterances, satisfying them with an occasional head shake and some gesture as though I supported whatever they were telling, while in real I was not understanding even a word in it. They used to get satisfied with that. Within no time, it got into my daily practice. I was caught up always there in the upper terrace where I go and sit in the evening to have some fresh air and a peep to the world outside. Sometimes I got really distracted when they spoil the sweetness of an evening loneliness with their tamil that was stabbing my eardrums. I escape then with fake urgent calls and lock myself in the room. A little crazy, I know, but I was missing the world that I tried to imagine in the zenith of my longest view. I felt as if I am an alien, and as if nothing was mine in this land. I believe that I was not wrong. I confirmed it in the very reflection in the mirror making me wonder whether it is the old myself... Each reflection kept me writing on with the weird images and broken ideas. I was a writer to me then, atmost similarising me with the character of the protagonist in my ever-favourite novel, 'Wide Sargasso Sea'. The modern interpretations, the post-modern writings, the absurdest of literature and the wildest of core began to take me to another world. I enjoyed it to a large scale and took the most use of it. Reading and writing promoted the literature in me, the unfelt feelings, the unemoted emotions, the never-thought thoughts, the paradoxes, just as these terms, came in a beautiful flow and I was elevated in them. The one and a half years flew away like that, while in the latter half of that period I got an access to internet and thus reduced my boredom. While I said I hate Chennai, it was all Chromepet that I meant, while the rest of the real city stood with all glory. The Express Avenue mall got me every now and then becoming my ever-favourite destination in Chennai with good options for a fine hang-out and the Escape theatres amazed me with the finest architecture and interiors. The beach for me was that in Besant Nagar with a good crowd around. But wherever I go, my eyes search for a KL registration board, a malayalam utterance, a malayalam movie release, or a malayali restaurant on the way. In the mall I often got some malayalam-speaking people around and I loved that even though we neither get acquainted nor have a word exchange. Going for a malayalam movie was a bit more than just watching the movie; it meant to see a very small Kerala there and a lot of malayalam. A lady of nostalgia I may be...but I was a lady of tenses in a better sense, I believe- the future of anticipation, the past of relaxation and the present balancing in between. As I said, it is one and a half years by now. One month before, we shifted to Peringudi, a very fast developing section of Chennai with big IT sectors. Now I have found a place in Chennai to rest my heart on. This home makes me feel that it is all mine, familiarising me with each corner of comfort. I have always dreamt of a house that demands me to keep it clean and well-arranged, a house that I can properly convert into a home of family living. Facilities apart, I got promotion from a rat-keeper to a cat-keeper with all excitement of the same and my Goldie gives and takes care in par. I am also getting transformed to a light-hearted living. I love every part of this home and I dearly make it my own. Atlast, I got happy in Chennai. That speaks a lot. But if you think that I have totally forgotten the old Chromepet living, you will get wrong. Most of the happiness in the present home comes up when I tend to compare what I was in with what I am in. I love that comparison because it is something that boosts up my happiness here. When I am happy, a thought about Chromepet life will make me happier about the present. After some days of being at home 24/7, my husband got some free time yesterday and we planned a night out. When I asked him, "why can't we go to Chromepet?", he got surprised and told me dat he too thought of the same plan. Our journey began from the present to the past. The path from Peringudi to Chromepet excited me. We drove to that old street, where everything was just the same as before. We stepped up the stairs that we stepped down one month before. Our apartment was still not occupied and stood lonely and dark. Going to the neighbour's house behind our apartment gave us a view of that same old kitchen. Something like a black screen revealed itself from behind the bars of the window. We noted that in the two houses in which we spent some time yesterday, we were sweating. In the times of our stay there, we thought that the heat and the sweat was that of Chennai. But we now realised that it was all our mistake. The heat was that of the unventillated prison. Watching the house again and again gave me an extreme sadistic pleasure, in fact, along with a big relief. My cruel eyes brought to me a deep satisfaction. With all revenge, it stared and pierced in the prison. While getting out of the neighbour's home behind, I wrote with my eyes in the visible black screen across the window bars- "To the old house... I have come out of the darkness that you had created. I am, now, a new girl in this old city. And I do stay in a better place called a 'home' that I fully own with my heart and our love."