Chennai (formerly Madras) has not changed. Simple inhabitants who stun you with kindness and warmth, beautiful Marina beach, packed buses, stinking Cooum riverpath, people who piss anywhere even when surrounded by hundred others, politics and movie-addicted populace, slow and steady progress in terms of infrastructure.
Development here is snail-paced. Most places look and smell the same as I had witnessed three decades ago. The IT boom had given a wrong impression that the city had turned rich. The real estate prices shot up beyond imagination. Now that the bubble has burst, prices are sliding.
If you want to give credit to the Chennaiites, it should be for their sense of humour. As I mentioned bus fares were slashed to woo electorate. A bus conductor kept the entire fleet of passengers in splits. “Enjoy, just pay half the price,” he kept commenting. “My mom is stingy. She took an ordinary bus thinking they charge the old fare in luxury buses,” she said. “Go and fetch her,” commented ththe conductor. The crowd was heavy and one guy stamped on the toe of the conductor. “Is this a punishment for offering you lower fares?” joked the conductor.
I hardly traveled by buses during my earlier visits. This time I decided to relish the original charm of city life. But the true reason is also that the auto rickshaws (three-wheel vehicles), which are an alternative to local buses, charge absurd fares. If you pay Rs10 for a bus trip, the rickshaw guys demand as much as Rs350, which is daylight robbery. The fact remains that several rickshaws are owned or patronized by policemen and politicians and hence for decades no ruling party ever dared to rectify this looting pattern.
(PS: Wrote this post last week but could post only today...sorry)