The early morning rays burst out of the eastern horizon as the bus driver kept breaking road speed records. His luck, my mom wasn’t sitting beside him; else he would have had a non-stop commentary about gear changes, on coming traffic and the hazards of one hand driving. Fortunately for him, most of us –passengers- were tired of our fluctuating sleep spells. Those awake, were just hoping he would drive faster and slide into a pit stop for some hot, home coffee.
The rave Goan reviews of the city-- - the monstrous weather, indigestible food, unreadable maps, hostile people speaking an alien language – had already stained my impression. The hot greasy air flushed across my dry and tired face, as I tried to overcome my metropolitan claustrophobia. My brother had travelled from another town to guide me through the hustle and bustle of Chennai. It is funny that, however hard you try to express your ignorance of the vernacular, the locals keep jibing at you. I couldn’t but watch in admiration, this socio-cultural exchange. The sales guys talked to us in fluent Tamil as my brother’s claims of “we are tourists” went in vain. The meaningless conversation went on till they finally realized, we were natives of “Go-vaa”.
An unbearable stench assailed my nostrils as I began to dodge garbage and human traffic. I sensed, cold stares from the streets --- ironically, wearing casual shorts seemed offensive in a region where a folded ‘lungi’ is trended sexy. Overlooking their ‘stubbornness’ to converse in Hindi and sense of hygiene, the people of Tamil Nadu are honest and available. They adorably find a way to make you feel at home and help you if you are lost. I enjoyed meals on banana leaves as much as I enjoyed travelling on the local train – fast and ticketless.
I entered a packed hall (for my entrance exam) ten minutes late, thanks to my brother’s hunger vibes and KFC’s shamefully slow service. A supervisor came up to me and fired me in front of the whole class and ‘yev-ri-von’ knew the ‘Go-vaan’ was here. Sometimes, not knowing a language could be both a good and a bad feeling. You don’t feel insulted when abused, but then, you have no idea how much you have been humiliated.
Desperate and homesick, I had to leave the same evening. A young gentleman helped us chase our bus, as our rickshaw flew over potholes and speed-breakers, dodged traffic lights and footpath vendors, skidded through alleys and sharp corners and hopped straight into the bus, amidst evil glares from annoyed passengers. Amidst strokes of lightning and flashes of thunder, I dreamt of pork and beef and my entrance exam that could be a blunder.