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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

NOTES FROM ALL OVER-9

I had formed an opinion that Coimbatore ( the monicker Kovai had battled long and hard for suzerainty before bowing to the longer version ) was a sweltering furnace of a town, where the skin would crawl and sweat would pour. Happily, I think I mixed it up with Madurai. The city I visited was marvellous, wind-swept, leafy and clean. The weather did remind of my early schooling in Pune where I’d wait for the drizzles to get carried away by the wind, and then the wind to yield to the drizzle, and so on while I struggled to concentrate on Kutchu and his glasses/wife/pet…

The second largest city of Tamil Nadu has over fourteen lakh folks who amuse themselves in a variety of vocations—regular private and public sector jobs, running textile mills, a happy variety of businesses and labourers. I felt that the city has to come to grips with its ineluctable wealth—a high per capita income coupled with minimal distractions like malls, cineplexes ensures that moderation and abstinence rule. I found it unassuming and laidback and I’ve always found that attractive. I also divined a certain forbearance and rectitude in comportment and language, which I was, and am, not terribly familiar with.

I don’t ever remember speaking that much Tamil as I did in those three days. I could feel my linguistic skills improving as I conversed easily , but somewhere the lack of a formal education jarred. It was an elevating experience as I was forced to resort to Plain-Speak, my knowledge of idioms, proverbs, allegories and truisms is painfully constrained, and I was loath to ignobly trip over these in an attempt to be poetic. So, I did not have any trouble with the language, but I am sure the natives did.

Business took me to the principalities of Avinashi Road and Trichy Road. These run parallel and constitute the best commercial instincts of the city, abounding with shops and groceries that generate alarmingly high revenues. I also spent time in the R G Street wholesale market, which had huge stockpiles of banana peels, commodities and condiments. This was a distinct olfactory memory as once again traders all over India climb even higher in my esteem.

Some interesting experiences too—visited a Police Commissioner’s Office, two sprawling mills, a call center ( a first time ) , the colossal and grand PSG Hospital, the Stock Exchange ( another first I think ).
Two stops that stood out were the software firm owned by the now-famous Narain Karthikeyan ( given to understand that his father is a business tycoon, what with the millions needed in F-1) , and another to a Prep School, a Montessori. It always is a wondrous feeling to watch the tiny tots wrestle with the horrors of spelling, grammar, handwriting, the gimlet-eyed teacher and fight off the taunts of classmates—I guess an innocence long bartered into submission.
The mills had garments good enough even for the non-sartorial types to take notice—most of them are peddled under much bigger labels, and shockingly some of them have 40 $ signs of them. Grand designs, what a heist ! Between Tirupur ( a hop at 40 kms and a rip roaring clothes market) and Coimbatore, all of humanity can be clothed.

On the culinary side, I dined and dined well—places like Annapoorna, People’s Park and Narayan’s serve deliclous South Indian stuff—quick service and quality assure hungry hordes. For me , Geetha Café was an unforgettable occasion and I know exactly how the venerable Vajpayee would have felt in keeping a recalcitrant multitude in harness as I relived the agony of a meal served on plantain leaves. This peculiar dining arrangement had laid me low earlier and my best efforts at restoring normalcy failed as the sambhar, the rasam and the mor kozhambu headed purposefully in different directions. My colleague simpered, I writhed and Life wore on. I also found that the curd rice and the vivid red beetroot curry were literally unfathomable, beyond arm’s reach.
A sublime form of medieval torture, this !

Coimbatore’s future appears secure – fourteen thousand engineers hit the job market each year. Software biggies like Cognizant and Infosys have reportedly booked vast tracts of real estate and plan to get the show on the road as early as 2006. I’m sure that will engender the usual glazed cockiness and torpid arrogance soon—so too supermarkets, theatres and other avenues of spending money and time. That does seem to be the hallmark of a modern Indian city these days.
Still who’s explaining as long the weather’s heavenly.?

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