Diaries Magazine

The Madurai Love Affair

Posted on the 14 July 2015 by Sreesha @petrichor_blore

I was born into a family of nomads.
No, that’s an exaggeration, because I only wish we were nomads. But my parents loved traveling back in the day (they still do, but their health doesn’t let them share selfies on instagram anymore) and as a result, I happened to visit quite a few touristy places in India when I was growing up. They traveled to a lot of places before I was born, and for that I will crib to them eternally, especially because my brother got the chances I didn't. But that’s not to say I haven’t had my share of travel. Let me narrate the story of one of those journeys.
In 1999, we covered a lot of places in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Since I am from Kerala, you could say I had seen a bit of it during summer vacations, but on this particular trip we visited the unspellable, unpronounceable capital. But it was Tamil Nadu we focused mainly on. Our first stop was, though unplanned, Madurai. We were actually on our way to Kanyakumari, when on an impulse, we decided to stop at Madurai and visit the Meenakshi temple. At least, that’s how I remember it, because why else would you be in a town at 3.30 in the morning with a few bags and no plan! (my parents, ladies and gentlemen!)
I was a kid back then, and as cowardly as I still am. Seeing a crowded, noisy railway station with people shouting scared the shit out of me. We stepped out onto the streets, at that hour – darkest before the dawn, if you will – and they weren’t exactly what you would call empty – they were bustling with more activity than you would expect at that hour. The road was dirty – squished vegetables, wet mud and things-you-don't-wanna-know everywhere. There were cycle rickshaws lined outside, and after a desperate attempt at conveying to the driver of one of them where we wanted to go, we got in. When you don’t understand what another person is saying, your voice suddenly goes several notches higher, as if volume could bring about translation. I don’t know the basis for this illogical conclusion, but everybody does it, and so did our rickshawwala. I was intimidated by it all – I spook easy! 
While we were in the auto, dogs chased after us. I remember, I nearly cried – the noise, the dirt, the lack of sleep, the dogs (I had only recently read The Hound of Baskervilles then), the angry rickshawwala – it was all too much for my twelve year old brain to handle. It was my brother’s birthday. I remember asking him, “Isn’t this your worst birthday ever?”
I swore to myself I would never return to Madurai as long as I lived.
Let's fast forward to ten years later. In the year 2009, I met this terribly shy boy. He was so shy that he refused to look me in the eye whenever I asked him a question. But for some reason, I continued my attempts at conversation. Eventually I succeeded in getting monosyllabic responses.
A year and a half later, we were married.
He still gives me monosyllabic responses. I still refer to him as the “boy” of the house, because the other little boy in the house acts like he’s our boss. But the whole irony exploding part of this story is – shy boy happens to be from Madurai!
The Madurai I visited after I got married was not the terrifying darkness I remembered from childhood. Maybe I was seriously sleep-deprived that night, who knows! But the roads were not just clean, they were paved! Did you know there’s an area in Madurai, where they have only paved roads? For a second, I thought I was in a music video (any happy situation, my brain puts me in a music video)
But what impressed me more was this – there are more women drivers on the roads than men. This was even before that recent survey that finally laid that age old argument to rest about who’s better on the roads. Why did this impress me? Because wherever else I have lived, anywhere you see a woman driving on the road or riding a two-wheeler, there are always three or more men pointing fingers and laughing about how she shouldn’t be there at all. Something like that simply does not happen in Madurai. Also, I’ve never witnessed any incidents of road rage, nor did I ever see a driver question another about knowing the first one's father.
Another thing is, the people. They are just so nice, it’s unbelievable. They respect you irrespective of who you are. Call it the curse of being socially awkward, but whichever town or state I go to, they pick me out as a misfit in less than 3 seconds – I “belong” to no place on the earth! But the people of Madurai don’t laugh at you for being an outsider – they sometimes go out of their way to help you, whether you speak the language or not. Speaking to the locals there humbles you, and teaches you gratitude like nothing else can. They’re polite, they’re well-mannered to a fault (what a phrase!), they are nice simply because they can be, simply because they are capable of it. That’s something I haven’t really seen in a lot of people. I am not stereotyping (even positive stereotyping is stereotyping) but this is what I’ve observed.
Somewhere in NCR, they recently launched “pink autos” exclusively for women, driven by women. Madurai had these autos even before, driven by women, but not exclusively “for women”. Because these women drive their autos even at 10 pm, and they are not afraid. They know the men respect them enough to not harm them, and they are not afraid to do their job at any hour of the day or night. Yes, it’s just another respectable job, and no one is telling them, they can’t do it because it’s unsafe, and that male passengers might harass them. Neither are the women saying, "I drive cos #mahchoice." They don't feel the need to enforce something like that - it's an accepted norm.
I am proud that I married a boy (still a boy :P) from a land that respects women so much, and a land that is so safe for women. It’s not a big city – it’s a really small town. The people are still loud, but they’re not impolite - their language is just a bit different from what some of us are probably used to. They have a strange sense of devotion towards Rajnikant that borders on madness. Their food could use a bit less cumin, and their restaurants could serve a little less mutton. But despite all these little things, the people of Madurai are one of the nicest I’ve met. I wish some of our metros could learn a thing or two from this town.
Gotta love irony sometimes, right?
Copyright Petrichor and Clouds 2015 at petrichorandclouds.blogspot.com Please do not reproduce the material published here.

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