Travelogue: Madurai, a City Worth Falling in Love with!

Gandhi Museum, Madurai

“All of them man! All of them!” The lady was literally at the top of her voice. The topic was “mallus”, in a congregation of five in the food court of “the only mall” in Madurai. It was a confusing, confused bunch – Emma, Dinesh and me had come to meet Jo and a friend of hers who works in Chennai. Dinesh didn’t know Jo, and that friend of hers didn’t know anyone of us than Jo.

It’s just been three hours since I reached Madurai, and of course, even if we don’t move around much, the thing with Emma is that we can just sit at some place and talk or debate forever. But moving around added spices to it, making us non-Madurites (Dinesh, from Andra and me, a mallu) and Emma, the Madurite fall in love with the city for the first time!

Jo was also a Madurite, Emma’s mom’s colleague’s daughter. Talking about Madurai, almost every bit of my Madurai bond revolves around the Lady Doak College, and the staff there,  and their kids. All close to my heart, even if we haven’t talked for a very very long time. Jo’s friend was a Telugu, from Hyderabad, where I was supposed to be in instead of Madurai that day, but I decided to betray Christy for Nithya, whose marriage reception I had come to attend.

Back to the mall. The conversation started with the dear unknown friend of Jo’s asking “any religious religious guys here?” Jo knew where she’s getting to, turned and looked at me immediately. Emma followed her league. Dinesh was busy watching the film song in the big screen behind us. She got the hint, finished religious jokes off in a comment or two, not to invite a judgemental religious guy’s wrath. Well, I’m a Christian, one trying to be not of the kind she expected me to be.

I was about to thank God, and I even asked her if she’s just looking for a bakra (Hindi for scapegoat), obviously Emma, who acted well as an illiterate in Hindi asked for its meaning and made himself the bakra. The conversation evolved from Hindi to Hyderabad, Hyderabad to Chennai, Chennai to Tamil, Tamil to Pondicherry University (the factor connecting us all – we all studied there though in different years), PU to mallus. One who seemed to be an adherent evolutionist defied all laws of evolution at that point and forcibly denied every attempt of the conversation to evolve itself.

“Judgemental man! I do this, and this mallu girl comes and tells me that!”

“I can’t stand them – the other day, I won’t tell the name no, Jo, because he might know her! So the other day, I was …”

“They should just mind their own business OK!”

“The other day, after an interview, that mallu girl comes and tells me I might have got selected because I’m fairer! What rubbish!”

“Mallus and Bengalis have this thing between them no?”

And once in a while, I kept hearing, “All of them man, all of them!”

And it kept on coming. Most part of it, I was silent. I tried to imagine all the mallus she might have had the chance to meet till date. Oh, a horrible bunch it should have been. Well, I won’t blame her, if that’s the way mallus that caught her attention treated her in past. She’s got all right to generalise it.

Well, there was something else that bothered me. I’m a mallu. Do I fit in any of her description of mallus? I think I do to some extend, but I was too lazy to think deep into it – and I will leave that hardwork to you.

But my thoughts refused to stop evolving, unlike the conversation. I was tempted to ask myself, “What about the Telugus I know of?” The prominent names that came to my mind were Dinesh and Laxman, and they happened to be two of the nicest people I’ve ever seen.

I have been in middle of mallu jokes before, and why, even Emma sitting next to me is famous (and infamous among many) for his humanist jokes (he takes on the whole human race, part by part, disqualifying his jokes from being a racist) – and that’s a connecting factor between us, because I enjoy every bit of conversation with him. If Grace graces the occasion with her presence, it would create few sweet memories and laughs you would never want to forget. But why do I feel I’m getting a little defensive here? This sounded more like a mallu hatred than mallu joke, maybe. Emma was unusually silent. The songs on big screen kept entertaining Dinesh all through the conversation.

And I was distracted soon enough. The attempt to draw symmetric patterns on my mobile screen caught my attention soon – Emma, who noticed it, tried to attract everyone’s attention to it – but the conversation soon got back to mainline after a short detour.

“But one thing I can’t deny about mallus is their films – many of them are just brilliant!” That caught my attention. At last, the conversation’s attempt to evolve seems to have succeeded.

I should have drawn a lot of patterns, found three new designs I can draw on the screen, when Jo announced that we should go grab something to eat and leave soon.

During lunch, she dragged in Trump’s victory in US elections. “Americans have lost their mind”. Well, I should have controlled myself, but I couldn’t. I, who sounded a bit insecure till then, looked up at her. In few minutes, she realised it’s worthless to debate anymore on the issue, decided to just listen to me advocate against Hilary (and not advocate that Trump is a saint), and why Hilary played bad politics and which made her deserve the lose. There was a short silence, and we decided to get back home, freshen up, go meet Nithya once before the reception, while the girls went on their way.

I loved every second there in Madurai – the marriage reception that evening, the CSI Cathedral Church service the next day, the Meenakshiamman Koil and The Thousand Pillars, the Madurai Nayikkar Palace, and most of all, Emma’s parents!

It would be an injustice not to write more about them – such wonderful people! Though we had only a limited time with them both, I had two new role models to look up to. And the food they prepared for us, the time they laughed with us, amazing would be understating it.

As I recollect all of this which happened a week back, apart from Emma’s parents, I realised one another person had made a lasting impression on me – that’s that friend of Jo’s, whose name I don’t remember. A strong, opinionated, dominant, confident woman, one of the rare I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Had there been more women like her in this world more than the so-called self proclaimed feminists driven by their insecurities rather than their strengths, the world would have been a better place. But I do hope she realises one day that not all mallus are as horrible as she described, and that in our society, we too only have much morons as we have in any other society, in one form or another. And off late I’m learning to see the gem even in the morons, with no bar for religion, caste, creed, country, state, and that has helped me be more open minded, accepting, less judgemental and a better Christian.

To wrap it up – I saw three new people win my heart over there in Madurai – two with love, like Emma’s parents, and another with a bit harsh, but elegant offence. A precious new learning, I should treasure for all of my life.

Here are some pictures, as some wise men said, the best way to hide from a picture is to be the cameraman – and it was fun being a cameraman for these two crazy souls, made to be in the frame! And you guessed it right! I have this thing for ceilings! Also, I was researching on how to make the best of Panorama shots. By the way, I look somewhat like that third guy who appears in pictures less frequently.

Almost all photos were taken with Dinesh’s Moto Z Play (16MP back, most of the ceilings were taken with the 5MP front) and a handful of them with my Moto G3 (12MP).

*Hope to add more pictures of Madurai Meenakshiamma Koil soon as I get it from Dinesh.