Autumn in Chennai Print E-mail
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Written by Shreya Ramachandran   

When we first moved to Chennai around ten years ago, or rather when we moved back after a brief hiatus at Delhi, we rented a large white bungalow in Kotturpuram. The rooms were spacious and there were two open verandahs and a large window on the landing of the first floor which overlooked the dining table on the ground floor. The watchman, Gunasekaran uncle,used to open his steel tiffin box at 2 pm every afternoon and eat rice with the most delicious, red sambar I had ever tasted. Cultured brahmins just don't make food as good as that. I would drool when my maid Vimala told me nostalgic tales of life in her village; of the fish kozhumbu and the raw sugarcane and the chicken fry. More than anything, I wished that I could eat all that. It made me feel terribly sad when she told me that her father was a commissioned labourer who used to carry sacks of cement on his back to and from the construction site for days on end until at the age of fifty two, his back gave way. Vimala's elder sister trained to be a nurse and moved to Chennai, where she stayed with her uncle who was a driver for a posh family that stayed on ABM Avenue.

Every day after eating at home, I'd walk out to the garage where Gunasekaran uncle would be happily opening his delicious food. I'd sit on the greasy stool and beg him to give me some. He would smile and a dimple would appear in his dark, heavy face. I'd eat and listen to stories about his wife and how she was an irrepressible traveller (currently in some random village near the coast, toting her son along, who didn't mind the vacations from school).

Vimala was a really good friend of mine. We'd sit in the palatial living room off the main drawing room, on the love seat that overlooked the road, and my sister and I would teach her English. We fiddled with the curtains and watched the leaves fall. To me, those leaves looked golden and red, and it was just like the descriptions of autumn I'd read about in stories based in foreign locales. To me, that quiet bungalow and its falling leaves could have been in any part of the world - New York, Toronto, Boston, you name it.

Vimala married a driver later; and though she pretended to be irritated with the whole forced procedure, I know that she secretly loved him. He was sweet and agreeable, and she was impossible and cranky and demanding. I loved her anyway. We had moved out of that beautiful Kotturpuram house and into a flat on Boat Club Road by the time she got married, and she stopped living with us and became just a day maid. Every evening at five pm she'd leave on her husband's bike along with him, to what I imagined was a cute little house near her uncle's, where she would have a chest of drawers like she'd always wanted, and two whole shelves for her makeup and beauty products.

She dragged me excitedly to meet her husband (or as excited as she could possibly look), who stood next to his rather studly bike with a helmet in one muscled arm and his eyebrows politely raised. 'Hi', he'd said awkwardly.
'Hi', I'd said, and then the next morning I'd squealed to Vimala, 'HE'S SO CUTE!'
It turns out that her life in her new house was not as perfect as I'd hoped. She'd complain about how she had to cook on a dirty stinky stove every day; there wasn't enough water for a proper shampoo bath; the lightbulbs never worked half the time.

It's sad how things you want to work out never properly do, isn't it? Life always hands you a half-baked version of your dream, and you have to find some way to deal with that and pretend to look content. There's nothing you can do to change it.....

Vimala got pregnant and she stopped working for us; later we moved out of Chennai. When I went to visit later, I asked everyone I could think of but no one knew where she was. I know she must have been disgruntled and unhappy with her half-baked dream, but these days I still think of her and I hope that she has become happier; that she can shampoo now; that her house is well lit and hygienic. I hope that she happily walks down lanes with a good job and a healthy kid and, most importantly, a satisfied expression on her face.

I hope that during autumn in Chennai, the red leaves fall down on her and she looks at them and laughs, happiness everywhere.

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0 #8 2010-02-27 10:35
It's beautiful. I don't know how you do it, but it's wonderful. :)
0 #7 2010-02-15 18:08
Aww thanks! Expect more soon
0 #6 nehmat 2010-02-15 16:48
write more!! i want to
0 #5 2010-02-15 11:54
'Budding writer', well I'm flattered! Thank you all so much
0 #4 Anando 2010-02-15 11:31
oh..thank you! this site is created for budding writers like you so keep the good stuff coming!
0 #3 Renu 2010-02-15 09:23
Well written article Shreya. Nice! Its nice to see people reaching out to their "not so privileged" helps in their lives. The sensitivity you have potrayed for ur maid fills me with a sense of calm. I empathise with these underprivileged people the reason undoubtedly being my mothers sensitivity for them and their needs that got ingrained in me too. Am sure ur parents must do the same. I too am looking for a maid of mine who worked with us for 3 years when we lived in C.R park ..her name is Amola. Havent been able to locate her despite all efforts.
0 #2 2010-02-15 09:08
Hi, sorry about that confusion but yes I'm Prathum's friend and was asked to contribute to this site :) It looks really cool!
0 #1 Anando 2010-02-15 01:13
Very well written, However i have no idea who you are or how you put up this article on my site lol but its well written. Good descriptions so it kept the article flowing.

Update: I just checked the logs and realised Prathum put this up so i am guessing you are his friend. Welcome to the site

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