Thursday, September 14, 2006

Two cities

One more visit to Bangalore, one more trip to a watering hole after a day's work, one more inevitable turn of conversation comparing Bangalore (where I spent 6 years as a student) with Chennai (where I live now).

The plus points of Bangalore are obvious: the weather, and the watering holes (the sort you can sit around in having a good time). The former Chennai can't compete with. As for the latter, Chennai has its share but they tend to be either expensive or illegal, and that's thanks to the politicians. It's not a prohibitionist city -- far from it -- but the trade is government controlled, and only the larger hotels can get alcohol licences. And the government-run shops only sell the cheapest and ghastliest junk.

(For those who haven't heard of Chennai, it used to be called Madras until the politicians got at that.)

In addition, Bangalore has a greater concentration of high-quality academic institutions than any other Indian city. This was its claim to fame long before it became an international synonym for outsourcing.

So what, I was asked, are the plus points of Chennai? Off-hand, I could come up with two -- the beaches, and the relatively disciplined traffic. (I couldn't have imagined saying this two years ago when I moved there. Chennai's traffic is horrendous. It's a mess, it's maddening, it's chaos. But it is far better than Bangalore and Delhi, the two Indian cities I visit most often.)

But it goes beyond. Chennai, I think, is a nice mix of relaxed-ness (like Bangalore 10 years ago) and happening-ness. You get good films, good theatre, good music, good food. Infrastructure is stressed, like in all Indian cities, but not at breaking point like in Bangalore. Roads are good, electricity is fairly reliable. And perhaps for all those reasons, there's a bunch of very interesting people living in the city, that I'm just beginning to get familiar with.

And the weather hasn't turned out so ghastly after all. It's pretty bad for about 3 months in the summer, but I work in an air-conditioned office and my home gets a good sea breeze in the late afternoons and evenings. And as for the monsoon rains, Chennai handled them much better than Bangalore or Mumbai last year.

Come to think of it, I'm happy about Chennai's weather: if it had been like Bangalore's, the city would have been choked worse than Bangalore years ago.

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