Dogs aren’t very fond of baths. They have to be marched to the bathroom and held down by force so that they don’t end up stinking up the whole house. And the moment they finish, they shake themselves up so vigorously, it’s as if they can’t wait to be dry again.
That’s exactly how Chennai labours through its monsoon. It desperately needs the water but it hates the process. It behaves much like a grounded and petulant teenager. Long forgotten umbrellas and raincoats get pulled out from deep within drawers. All it requires is a passing shower for holidays to be declared even as the sky darkens and threatens to pour. Mumbai needs suburban train lines to be clogged before people call it a day and stay away. But here, the roads get submerged within minutes. Water flows into everything except the storm water drains! Roads develop into craters overnight as the thin topping peels like blisters under the persistent assault of rain and traffic.
Then manholes are opened so that the rainwater flows into the sewers. And just so that no unsuspecting vehicle will follow, small bushes are uprooted and ‘planted’ right in the middle of the road. So, don’t be surprised to see a ‘green line’ of bushes sprouting overnight right along busy avenues. Miraculously, it works. Another example of how jugaad or the ability to adjust and find a short term, cheap solution trumps the long term approach every time.
This short phase is also the only time when the fans and air-conditioners are switched off in homes. The time to eat those ‘molaga’ bajjis, fiery chillies dipped in gram batter and deep fried. Accompanied by steaming coffee and the pitter patter of the raindrops bouncing off the roof and the floors. People start wearing sweaters, with the temperature still in the low 20s. A new kind of ear muff made its appearance in Chennai last year. They look a lot like headphones, except that they are meant to keep the cold out, rather than let the sound in. Given the way the city swelters right through the year, it has made regular Chennai residents a lot less tolerant of the cold than their North Indian counterparts.They cough, sneeze and catch a cold when the temperature drops to anything below the normal frying temperature for the out of towners. Come back in March and see them shine while the North Indians cower in fear at the prospect of facing another blazing Chennai summer
Which makes a lot of the susceptible Chennaites the butt of jokes for being such softies when it comes to cold weather. Give them heat and they flourish. But lower the gauge even a little bit and they react as if the weather gods just put some ice under their ‘veshtis’. This column describes the perfect hilarity that ensues when you deposit a true blue Chennaiite into the icy embrace of Canada
Reminds me of the time a friend got off the bus in Bangalore and stuttered so badly because of the cold, the auto driver took pity on him and took him straight to a tea stall to unlock his tongue