I saw the most beautiful bull a few days ago. Its hump was covered in a fabric of sea green sequins, its horns unpainted, and a dark, intense-eyed man held its tether. They were attempting to cross a curving one-way main road at the end of July, half a year away from the harvest festivals.
I see myself as a manqué, with my folders of unfinished endeavors, rare dehiscences of poems and stories that sometimes make solo forays into the world yet remain uncollated. Abandoned by the muse, I have been forced to abandon my manuscripts. But among the five (yes, five) of them, the only one I suspect I may yet realistically finish is the one full of poems about Chennai. This is the place where I can encounter a beautiful bull for a few seconds and never find an explanation for why it was there. This is also the place where I have seen bouquets of live chickens hanging upside down from the handles of a motorbike, kids in a slum swinging in their mothers’ sarees on the day before laundry day, Narikuravar children performing balancing acts on the pavement while their parents sold beads below them. The city where the perigee moon rose out of the sea with false auspiciousness en route to an assignation, where I once spontaneously poured palmfuls of roses the colour of live coals into the ocean because that was the kind of evening it was – a confluence of sea and flowers and my need for a ritual. Where, with uncanny correlation, fortune-tellers routinely tell me I am the kind of woman who should have been born a man. Where the rooftops are made for kissing and the roads for the psychopompic dappan koothu. Where disputed art deco houses still hold court as the streets around them change. Where I can take a walk before the rain and come back with my braid blessed by at least three types of blossom or leaf: and the miracle of being able to name some, and the miracle of being able to learn about the others.
Despite all else, these are moments of inexplicable wonder.
I recently read an interview with the author Tash Aw, in which he said that the city in which one struggles in their 20’s is the one that becomes important to them. Chennai is certainly mine. My struggle, I mean to say, but listen to how it comes out sounding anyway – it is mine.
This appeared in India Today’s Simply Chennai supplement for their 8th anniversary issue.