Ramblings from Chennai trip

Our trip got off to a bad start.  Amidst the confusion on - to lock our shoe box (placed outside our door) or not to lock - we forgot to take our backpack, which housed the not-so-essential items for the trip.  This, we realised when we unloaded the luggage from Easycabs, which we had booked that morning.  (Meru declined our booking saying we are full, please try for some other time.  As if we could change our trip based on their cab availability!).

The cab meter showed Rs.245/- and the driver asked for Rs.330/-
"Why?" asked I
"The meter is faulty", says he.

Ha, so why doesn't he tell this when we started?  He wouldn't, would he?  We would have called up his office and checked.  He knew once we reached the Station, we would have no time for such frivolous things as fight over the rates.  That too - when we realized one of our luggage had not made it past the door. (Or was it placed outside the door and forgotten)?

Rs.330/- changed hands and I felt cheated.

The Airconditioned train coach helped ease things and we were ensconsed in our berths even before the train departed.  It was 10.45 PM. 

We were rudely awakened by the sound of the train attender. "Central central central!" It was barely 4 AM!  What is it about night trains that they run way too fast and rob us of sleep!  Who would object if it reached at 5 AM instead?  Take a day train.  When have we seen this reach on time, forget 15 minutes early?

Google maps had helped us locate our destination in the comfort of our living room - 450 metres from St.Thomas Mount Station.  We walked across to Park Station, where the local trains ran and found a long queue for the tickets.  5 rupees for a ticket!  Chennaites are spoilt when it comes to public transport!  And who is the victim? The hapless visitor who tries to take an auto.  More on this later.

The destination was indeed half a kilometre from the Station and we were in time for coffee.

The function which we had come to attend went off as planned and so did socializing and the food.  The irony of it was our meeting our Bangalore cousins.  We never got to meet them in Bangalore, but here we were, catching up in Chennai! 

Come evening, we needed to go to our next destination.  It was time to catch an auto.  Luckily, we had our local cousin helping out, negotiating a deal with an auto.  Rs.80/- took us to our destination - a Hotel Milan in Velachery.

Now, don't have any thoughts.  This hotel has no connection whatsoever with the Italian capital.  We met our frustrated relatives, who complained about the hygiene (or the lack of it) of the hotel - dirty bedsheets, dirty toilets, absent towels, absent mirrors.  The place seemed familiar - looks like we did stay at this place during an earlier marriage trip!

Did I not mention the heat yet?  After the cold and rains in Bangalore, the heat is zapping, exhausting, frustrating.  You sweat, you fret.  You try to make yourself comfortable under a fan, only for it to go off, as part of the routine power cut.   The seasoned Chennaite stays in air-conditioned apartment, drives air-conditioned cars and works in air-conditioned office.  If I did entertain thoughts of catching up with some friends, it evaporated in the heat.

We visited a relative's place.  Lovely apartment off the wide Main Road, close to the Elevated Rail Station.  What is the catch?  The smell.  The place is close to a gigantic dumping ground (anyone remembers Enthiran/Robot?).  You pray let there be no wind lest the odour permeate your compound.

The next day was a wedding engagement in Hotel Raj Park in TTK Salai, Alwarpet.  Nice Hotel, nice ambience.  More relatives from Bangalore meeting up in Chennai.

Back to Milan.  Squeezing the last bit of air-conditioned comfort before the trip to Railway Station.  We have been told it is Rs.200/- by prepaid auto.  We stopped an auto. He asked, "how much are you willing to pay?"  Now, this is a new one.  We said "Rs.200/-"  He looked unhappy.  I looked at the buses which were plying.  We had plenty of time as well.  The auto followed us.  Finally we boarded, assuming he was ok with our proposal.

He left us before the Station.  I gave him Rs.200/- and like our Oliver Twist, he "asked for more".  "You agreed for Rs.200/-", he said. I say "No".  A cop sauntered over.  The auto wallah said, "Don't worry, it is between us". 

Absolutely disgusting conversation. One one hand, no meter, no rates, no nothing.  On the other, the policeman is indifferent, detached.  To add to it, the heat. Ah, the heat!  Rs.220/- parted hands.  "I should have simply taken a bus", said I.

Why don't they run airconditioned buses in Chennai?  I could hardly see any, though I have been told there are.  Why run them in Bangalore, where you are freezing most of the time? 

We bought a couple of books from Higginbothoms, sweating as we selected them.  (We thought it was airconditioned, but actually the place was air-free).  We saw an Airconditioned waiting room - pay and use!  What a wonderful idea!  This is perhaps the most innovative thing that I came across in this trip.  Rs.30/- for the first hour and Rs.20/- thereafter per hour.  A fair deal I say, since we pay something similar to travel by Volvo in Bangalore.

We did not have time to kill though and moved towards the Shathabdi - our first trip in this train.  I must confess we were a tad disappointed with the interiors - it looked like any other train coach, except the seats had pushback.

But the food during the journey made up for it.  They came in plenty - in various forms and shapes at irregular intervals.  There was only one problem - you did not know when what was going to come - so that you could plan your meal.  Being seated at the last seat meant I had the chance to fill the feedback form for the caterer.  A menu was my primary suggestion - publish the dishes and the timings - for a planned consumption.

The roti which came with the dinner would have given the chewing gums a run for the money.  That went into the feedback.

Half an hour before the scheduled arrival, we saw movement towards the exit.  It started in ones and twos and before long, most of the passengers were standing close to both the exits - all this when the train was zipping along at 100 kmph. What is it about us that we do not wait till the train stops before we leave our seats?  I guess it has a lot to do with our culture - hurry or  you will get left out.  The train will leave before I disembark.  I need to be the first person to the prepaid auto stand.  Plenty are the reasons.

I got out of my seat after the train had stopped.  We made a beeline to the Prepaid auto stand.  I was in no mood to negotiate - it was 10.45 PM.  Rs.189/- to our destination (along with Rs.1/- service charge).  The auto wallah asked how he should go?  Why should it matter to me, since the charge is fixed?  "You can go however you want to"

The auto wallah was not happy.  Well before our destination, he started showing symptoms of his frustration - "This is Ramesh Nagar.", said he.
"No, this is not.  Ramesh Nagar comes after Basava Nagar", said we. 
We turned into the Road leading to our apartment.  The road is not in good shape.  "I cannot get into this Road. My reverse gear does not work." 
We got out about 50 metres before our destination.  I gave Rs.200/- expecting the driver to give me Rs.10 (if not Rs.11/-).  He fished in his pockets and said, "Do you have change?" 

Luckily I had Rs.40/- and he Rs.50/-  We exchanged this and we walked to our apartment negotiating the mud and puddle (thanks to some rains earlier probably).

Just two-three incidents with auto drivers have exasperated me. I now understand the frustrations of our fellow-brethren, who depend on them more regularly.  It also explains in the rise in the number of vehicles on the road.  People are not necessarily happy to drive nor are they rich enough to afford. It is the sheer frustration of dealing with their fellow-citizens, bent upon inflicing misery, that forces them to do this. 

I switch on the TV to check who won the British Grand Prix as well as what was happening to the 3rd India-West Indies test.  And I see the Flash News.  Several coaches of a train have derailed.  Several deaths. Yet another accident.  And our trains hardly cross 100kmph. 

We have miles to go before we can be proud - of ourselves, our people, our country. 

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