Thursday, July 21, 2005

Animal Stories

I was aimlessly surfing channels last night, when i stopped at a channel. A lady was screaming at the top of her lungs. The man was trying desparately to open the padlock, and free her from the transparent coffin like box. Then I saw the green lumps under her. All wet, energetic, green frogs. A glance at the corner of the screen proved my doubt right. It had to be AXN. And this was definitely Fear Factor.

The lady was now wriggling out of the green mess, and they both waded across a dimly lit pond. Don't even ask; the lake was full of jumping frogs much to their delightful scorn. Barely had the couple made it to safe ground, and the 'host' of the show ushered them to the table with 2 jars full of a gooey paste much like peanut butter...I would have let you hazard what that could have been.., but the host clearly was in no mood to hide the details..

"Contestants, what you have in front of you is freshly blended toad!!".

How yummy could that get. The contestants didnt even have time to wince. They had an ordeal to get through first. So they gulped down the seemingly unthorough blend of toads; evident from the blobs here and there, and an occasional webbed foot slipping out of the lady's mouth.

All this had taken just about 20 seconds, and I was more than glad to skip oh wow Animal Planet. Atleast somebody respects animals. Here the frogs would still remain the focus, but under a powerful nocturnal videocamera. Friendlier than a blender.

Animal planet's naturalist mercenaries were touring the mystic Land of India, where snake charmers were the 'regular scenery', and people still got around on elephants. The adventurer had chosen to highlight cruel practices in India, where some gypsies were using a defanged cobra to entertain passers-by. The guileless spectators would stare at the show with open mouths, finally toss a coin and move on. Business by the tune. Yet another creative gypsy had snatched a monkey's baby away from her, and promised to give it back only in return for a trick. The monkey promptly performed a full somersault. All this had apparently grieved the adventurer

"Such inhuman acts of cruelty just for a few cheap pennies! This is really really shameful." he averred.

Almost as if warning us, he said "If you see something like this happening in your town, dont stop and watch the cruelty, dont give money. Either walk away, or save the monkey by buying it for a huge sum, like I just did."

What's the point, you ask? Animal Planet has clearly no idea about AXN. Hope they see Fear Factor. They might just end up saving a few hundred toads from the blender.

Monday, July 11, 2005

An evening in Chennai

It was an overcast and breezy noon. I was in Chennai. Rain droplets smattered my face even as I tried to reassure myself that this was indeed reality. The Chennai Sun had decided to take a break, and I was there to reap the fruits of the newfound clemency.

Walking along MGR Salai, I noticed nothing much had been disturbed since the time I had been here last- two years ago. Hotel Palm Grove stood staidly against the azure sky. The rickshaw queue at the corner seemed to have been transfixed since then.

The American Embassy hid behind the Mount Road flyovers apparently enjoying its well-deserved weekend break after the grind of meeting a thousand visa-seekers.

"How do I get to Marina Beach?" I asked the young man walking just ahead.

He mumbled some directions so inaudibly; I almost thought he was miming. Then he must have decided it was better to lead me since he was heading that way anyway. We took the subway crossing.

"What do you do?” I offered.
"I study BCA", came the measured reply.
"I work at Bangalore."

He was very silent. Maybe Bangalore didn’t interest him. Chennai was feeling so fine anyway. He led me to the bus stop and walked away.

The Chennai bus is a phenomenon. Midsize, oddly coloured (and some uncoloured) 6 wheelers hurtling down narrow by lanes with unimaginable agility. A slight shade apart from the usually soporific rides in Bangalore buses. Jumping into the front door I asked the man on the foot board in my best Tamil.

"Conductor enge?"

He gave me a perplexed look. I was in a fix. Had I said something wrong? Maybe it was my peculiar accent? Something told me I had just made a consummate fool of myself. I squeezed my way to the rear end of the bus to find the conductor comfortable in his pre-assigned chair next to the rear door. Deja vu all over again. I had known this from the last visit to Chennai.

"Marina Beach?" I cautiously asked.
He nodded. Thrilled, I continued.

I was pleased. All those elementary Tamil lessons had paid off. I sat down with a smug look wondering how far 3 rupees could take me.

Contrary to what most people had warned me, Chennai was maintaining a cool composure today. Despite this, I seemed to stick out sorely as the only perspiring face around. I took a secret glance in all directions. Not a single one of those blissful faces had even a trickle of perspiration. Even the lady returning home - apparently from a shopping spree; evident from a handful of coloured plastic bags - seemed as fresh as I was earlier that day when had I walked out of the air conditioned Chennai airport.
About half an hour and many colourful market streets later, the bus stalled. I had arrived at Marina.

Marina always evoked a sense of awe in me. All the 3 times I had been there before, it had always known how to silence me with its gentle gurgle, much like a gurgling baby would magically silence its spectators.

The beach portrayed a gamut of creatures in different stages of life. Toddlers were clutching wet sand and smacking it on each other. Some older kids were chasing each other on the hillock. A pre-teen trying to fly a kite without a tail, a few silent couples here and there trying to steal a private moment amidst the sunbathing crowd, a nomad eking out a living by entertaining people with her painted monkey.

The crows were aplenty, all contending to snap up even the smallest bits of roasted corn-on-the-cob. The sea gushed onto the waiting sands, as though trying to cleanse the beach from the fallout of a burgeoning human civilisation. An hour later, contented from this experience, I decided to return.

I stopped the hefty policeman on Beach Road, and asked him the way to Nungambukam. He pointed to the bus stop at the far end of the road, and nudged me toward the subway entrance at this end.

I observed that this was the fourth subway I had seen since morning. Every big roundabout seemed to have one. Surprisingly, no hawkers, no beggars inside. They were built to be subways, and that's just what they were.

In keeping with the trend of the day, the journey back to Mount Road was also eventful. The journey cost only 2 rupees. And I had thought 3 rupees were fantastic. All the buses seemed to be consistently quaint, multicoloured, agile and pocket friendly.

I was so lost in the thoughts of myriad flyovers, subways and buses that I had forgotten to ask the conductor about my stop. Suddenly the conductor walked up to me.

"You should have gotten off 3 stops ago. Why are you still here? Get down here."

Great. Now I was lost in the great city of sand and silicon. A passerby made a long face when I said Nungambukam. He told me to retrace my path for at least 3 kilometers.
I decided it was time to hitch a hike at last. I didn’t have a towel on my shoulder, but that didn’t worry me much. I flagged down a passing biker. When he said he knew the place, I hopped on. I learnt that he was a corporate working in Chennai, and that he had visited Bangalore a few times. The recent drizzles in Chennai it seems were feeling lovely.

Getting off near the Embassy, I trudged back to my hotel room, mulling over all that had happened in less than 3 hours. Chennai had taken me out for a lovely evening, and the pleasure was all mine.