It is 6 AM on Saturday morning in sleepy Seattle. Despite having brushed my teeth and washed my face, sleep refuses to let go. I rub my eyes and make some coffee. I take a sip and my eyes open up as though there was an awakening or a realization. The beverage got me thinking about Chennai – the city of coffee. I could visualise the vattai tumbler and the froth that rises from it. I smiled to myself and started writing this blog.
Coffee is any Chennaiite’s starter. When others curse the sun for its intensity, a Chennaiite will relish it and as though to support it, ask for a hot steaming cup of coffee. Thats Chennai for you. A friend of mine from Singapore was startled at this and demanded for the logic behind drinking hot coffee in such weather. I could only laugh out loud. Pity you need logic even for drinking coffee, we don’t! Talking about coffee, there are so many kinds – filter coffee, degree coffee, instant coffee. Just half a cup of this steaming combination of milk, half dissolved sugar and decoction gives out an aroma and freshness that cannot be matched by anything else in the world. Drinking coffee in vattai and tumbler is far more satisfying than sipping something else out of a straw. In my office here in Seattle, the stirrer was missing one day. So, I took two cups and "aathindrundhen". My manager came in and asked me if I was doing a chemistry experiment. For crying out loud, kaapi dhaane daa aathindrukken. I started saying "I am, I am…." I fumbled for a word to mean "aathardhu" and all I could manage was "The stirrer is missing, so I am just …. you know…." and showed him the action. What was I supposed to say – dissolving the sugar? Mixing? Mixing is not the same as "aathardhu" is it? He understood but when we got back to the team room he told everyone that I was chemistry experimenting my coffee. Great, take a walk in Chennai early morning or anywhere in Tamilnadu and you will find on people roadsides doing it!
After coffee comes Carnatic Music. Chennai City – the place where the world lives in the month of Margazhi
. Dance and drama flourish but it is music that takes the centre stage. According to this article http://www.hindu.com/2005/02/03/stories/2005020301281000.htm
in The Hindu, "The Chennai festival is the world’s largest cultural event, larger than the Woodstock festival in Edinburgh." If you haven’t attended one till now, it is high time you did. Maamas
and boys in veshtis, maamis
in their kancheepurams
and girls in paavadais
each lend their own flavour to the already beautiful music season. The artists are introduced, the singing gels with the mridangam, ghatam, morsingh
, violin and other instruments and transports the listener outside this world of activity into a state of bliss and unexplainable happiness. "Ahas
" and "Sabashs
" fill the air, the artists compete with each other and fire lights up in the eyes of the audience. Chennai Music Festival is an experience in itself. For the days when there is no kutcheri, just go to the sea shore – the waves will provide you the music! Believe me it soothes the mind and is suitable to any mood.
Art has been given a place of immense importance in Hinduism. Saraswati holds the Veena, Krishna holds the flute and Shiva and Shakthi are symbolized in their dancing poses. The tamizh people went that cliched step ahead that they designed their language musically. Tamizh is the only language in the world that has given a place for theatre and music in it. There exists separate branches of tamizh called Isai Tamizh and Nataka Tamizh (for music and drama). There is no other language in the world that does it. Perhaps this is why the capital city of Tamilnadu lives its music season like no other!
I dont know music but I love it and enjoy it. That is its beauty isn’t it – you need not know it to appreciate it. ARR won the Oscars and Ilayaraja performed a symphony at the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. Then, people started talking about Indian music and cinema going global. Little do they realize that Indian music went global much longer ago. Attending one kutcheri at the Music Academy will tell you how many foreingers come here during December just to listen to and catch a glimpse our vidwans. One walk inside Kalakshetra or a sneak peek into MS’s life will prove this fact. Golden Globes and Oscars are recognitions long due to us. There was a time when it had to come and it has done so now.
Another characteristic of a Chennaiite is his knowledge of cricket. Indians in general and Tamizhs in particular do not have an amazing sporting history. Sports is not our forte, intelligence and art are. If there is a sport for showcasing intelligence and strategy, we would be first. Look at Viswanathan Anand! We do not beat others by racing with them, we just win over them with our smartness. Many people do not know that there exists a very popular league scale match tradition in Chennai/ TN. The Tamilnadu Cricket Association has 132 leagues and play for 11 shields. Matches go on throughout the year. There are a number of famous personalities and teams. Almost every nationalised bank and the truly Chennai companies have a cricket team – Mambalam Mosquitoes, AGS XI, SBI XI, IAF Tambaram XI, Chennai Corporation Club XI and many many more. It is bigger than the ICC and the IPL put together in all aspects other than finance and controversy. See http://www.tnca.in/LiveSite/allteams.aspx
for more information. The main thing about these leagues is the fact that they still continue to play CRICKET, not IPL.
When we are free, a cricket match is something that we long for. "Iniki oru match irundha nannaa irundhurukkum". Cricket gels in very easily into our livelihood because it doesn’t require much athleticism. The right game for a coffee loving, 3 square meal eating south Indian with a slight paunch. Porumaya, ninnu nidhaanamaa velayaadalaam. It starts at a convenient time – 9 or 10 in the morning and with breaks for lunch and tea goes on like life. One can watch it amidst other tasks and still not miss anything. At 5, it finishes and gives you the time to analyze it. While maamaas discuss its technicality, maamis go for the flamboyance "ennamaa adichaan paathiyo". The Chennai crowd is a cricket knowledgable crowd unlike other crowds. Lack of this crucial knowledge makes a guy a less eligible bachelor. However, the real differentiator of the Chennai crowd is the fact that we applaud/ criticize the cricket and not the player. Everyone knows how we applauded Pakistan in 1998. While some may take this action as an anti national sentiment, it is a true cricket sentiment. We stood to reflect the values of India. By playing good cricket, a cricketer easily gains acceptance into hearts and becomes a household name. What gets more scrutiny than the match itself is the sports review that comes in The Hindu the day after the match. One bad review and the writer will mostly not get to write anything else in his life. Pat will come the comment, "Theriyala na chumma irukka vendiayadhu dhaane".
Bharathiyar once said "Kaalai ezhundha udan padippu, pinbu kanivu kodukkum nalla paatu, maalai muzhudhum vilayaattu". With due respects to him, I will change the padippu to kaapi. Oru tumbler coffee in the morning, a dose of carnatic music at The Music Academy and lunch at its canteen and an evening of watching cricket on the beach with my friends – just one day of this and I will trade it even for a seat next to Indra in heaven.