Thursday, May 26, 2016

The guffaw that broke the Internet

candace payne chewbacca mask

When Candace Payne, a Texan mom of two, slipped on a Chewbacca mask to record her bemusement on Facebook, little did she know that she was on her way to Internet stardom. Candace Payne’s love for the infamous Star Wars Wookie is rivaled by millions, but what was it about her video that got her freebies from corporations and invitations from movie studios, talk shows, and even Mark Zuckerberg?

With so much negativity and fear mongering peddled around the Internet--from climate change and violence to racism and terror attacks--along comes a happy-go-lucky woman who makes a video with her laughing hysterically wearing a Chewbacca mask. While I didn’t find Payne’s video side-splittingly hilarious, her infectious smile and childlike love for the mask made me chuckle. I could see why she had gone viral; her goofy personality and joie de vivre was something that the Internet needed. Her video made us believe that “it’s the simple joys in life” that mattered.

Nothing could be a more effective advertisement for a brand than a bellyful of laughter. But Payne’s video wasn’t a sponsored video, nor did she pay lip service to Star Wars or Kohl’s (which she only mentioned in passing as the store from where she bought the mask) or even Facebook’s Live Video feature. Candace Payne used a Chewbacca mask to talk about how we need to find reasons to laugh in the littlest of things. It was a fortune-cookie lesson on life that Facebook turned into a subtle promotion for their video feature; while for Star Wars and Kohl’s it was a free advertisement for their brand.

Given the short shelf life of an Internet sensation, the three giant corporations cashed in on the video’s popularity. Candace Payne, the content creator, was regaled by celebrities and corporations alike. She went on a car ride with J.J Abrams; met Peter Mayhew, the original Chewbacca; hung out with Mark Zuckerberg; and was thanked for only mentioning Kohl’s with even more goodies and shopping coupons.

She now has a verified tick on Facebook and might become an influencer who will be wooed by several brands, or may be like many Internet trends she will be forgotten by the end of the month. Nevertheless, her sudden fame is proof that digital media helps a brand’s popularity best when it is used by a gleeful consumer. Digital marketing strategists may come up with contests, posters or hashtags to trend a brand, but a simple video or a tweet from a satisfied customer will improve your brand’s image more than a celebrity endorsement.

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Monday, February 2, 2015

That Old Feeling

I set my alarm for 5.30 a.m. on my phone because I like to believe that some day I will wake up, slip into my tracksuit, put my hoodie on, plug in my headphones and go for a jog on a crisp Toronto morning. It has been six months, and I am yet to wake up to the first sound of my alarm. I believe that snooze buttons are the best addition you could think of to add to an alarm clock, they give you the option of postponing the inevitability of going through the motions of a dull and dreary life.

My alarm promptly rang at 5.30 in the morning today, but it being so early in the morning--and a Monday nevertheless--I promptly hit the snooze button and slid back into my comforter, "Let me make full use of my final fifteen minutes of sleep," I mumbled. Fifteen minutes later, it went off again, I checked the time, "Huh? I can always walk in a half-an-hour late into class, nothing's going to change in fifteen minutes," or so I thought, because quite a bit changed by the time it was 6.30 a.m.

It was finally 6.30 a.m. when I finally woke up, and like any normal person the first thing I did was to log into social networking websites to see if anything big had happened while I was asleep. Something big did happen: Schools and colleges had cancelled classes because of a snowstorm. The said snowstorm only seems terrible when reading about it on the internet, because outside there is pretty good visibility. It reminded me of my student days in Chennai when schools and colleges were declared a holiday because the Indian Meteorological Department predicted a Category 5 cyclone, only for the sun next day to be shining bright and beaming. But ironically, all of the Met department's predictions would come true when I started my career, which meant I had to commute to work even if it were pouring buckets.

Waking up to see that classes were cancelled was a feeling I hadn't experience in a gazillion years. A perk of being a student is that the government doesn't want to risk your life in the face of inclement weather, because you are their future, that fresh blood they inject in their economy because you are young, smart and brimming with new ideas (and by "you" I am referring to myself because who's the student here?), it's a different story when you are in corporate because you are the hamster in a wheel. So you gotta go to work come rain or shine.

I felt euphoric initially as I imagined all the productive things that I could be doing, then it dawned on me that refreshing twitter feed, watching TV shows, and staring into an empty word document in the pretext of writing my "novel" was something that I had been doing over the weekend. That was the most "productive" I could get.

I had planned to finally get around doing my sales assignment, which was going door-to-door to stores and selling ad-space for my department magazine, it was something I had been postponing because it involved being confident and charming, and was looking to get it done with by Monday. Now, with even the Po-lice asking denizens to stay indoor and restrict inessential travel, I feel I am only rearing the lazy, procrastinating dirtbag inside of me who likes to stay indoors and watch TV shows.

Well, there are two sides to classes being cancelled on a Monday morning, I guess. But oh, look! The sun's out!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Nightcrawler - Creep Inc.

Lou Bloom: What if my problem wasn't that I don't understand people but that I don't like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you'd have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that's what I'm telling you, as clearly as I can. 

In every character-driven story there is a main character that we root for, we witness his star rising from being a nobody to a somebody. We root for him because he is the good guy; he is an honest man, a salt of the earth kind. He may be flawed but you are okay with it because he is human, after all. You want him to succeed because everybody likes to see an underdog win. Movies like Lord of War, Dallas Buyers Club , The Social Network have protagonists with a grey side, yet they win our empathy because there is something human about their imperfections, we feel for them because their intentions are good, we know that somewhere down the line they will realize their folly and try to turn over a new leaf.  But it is hard to empathize with Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) because there is nothing good about him. He is smart, ambitious and driven to an extent that is terrifying. He is twisted from the minute we see him first on screen, and yet we get attracted to him like a moth toward a flame.

Nightcrawler is an intense two-hour drama/thriller about Lou Bloom, a wayward young man who tries to get his foot in L.A’s local news agency KWLA-Channel 6, by working as a freelance video journalist. Men in this profession are called “nightcrawlers” because they roam the night in search of a good story, crawling into crime scenes armed with a video camera taping anything they could find that would sensationalize the crime. Immoral and sleazy, it is a profession where one man’s misery is another man’s fortune. This is a profession that Lou Bloom stumbles upon when he sees star nightcrawler, Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) in action. Loder refuses to take an earnest Bloom into his wings, who then decides to get into the business by buying a cheap camcorder and a police scanner.

Dan Gilroy’s story also works as a commentary on how news channels function, on how they package and manipulate crime stories to get more viewers and use fear as a tool to sell their product. Bloom in his quest to make it in the big leagues finds an admirer in Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the local TV news producer who schools him and grooms him into the job, not knowing that she’s raising a Gollum. As Bloom flowers in his newfound profession--much to the chagrin of Joe Loder--he begins to grow more ambitious, manipulating and orchestrating potential crime scenes so that he could get eyeball-grabbing footage.

Movies based on news channels often have a TRP obsessed head honcho who compromises with ethics of news broadcasting with sensationalism, Rene Russo as the news producer Nina Romina is the ringmaster who tells what to show to what to say. Cold and businesslike, Romina finds a perfect ally in Bloom, or so she thinks. Rene Russo plays the no-nonsense Romina to perfection; much like Bloom hers is a character that warrants no sympathy from us. Bill Paxton turns in a neat performance as Joe Leder, cocky and with a prima donna attitude his position as leading crime photographer is taken over by the relentless Lou Bloom.

Gilroy who has had a checkered career as a writer (The Bourne Legacy, Real Steel, The Fall) is the writer and director for Nightcrawler. Through Gilroy’s eyes, we see the darker side of L.A., a city riddled with crime. The screenplay is tight, focusing on Bloom’s ambition to rise up the ranks in L.A.’s news broadcasting industry. One of the best scenes in the movie happens inside a car when Bloom’s apprentice, Rick (Riz Ahmed), who starts out as gullible looking lad, wises up to his master’s antics and tries to extort money from him for keeping mum. Having been familiarized with the unpredictability of Bloom, you’ll be on the edge of your seat hoping Rick stops talking, because Bloom is capable of choking him to death in the blink of an eye. The way the conversation pans out is a testament to Gilroy’s skill. With majority of the scenes shot in the night, the tense scenes turn out to be more effective.

The most chilling parts of Nightcrawler involve no blood or violence, it involves Jake Gyllenhaal acting all earnest and personable—his pale face glows with colour, and his once sunken eyes start twinkling with excitement as he gets enamored with the world of late night news broadcasting. Gilroy has given Jake Gyllenhaal the role of a lifetime, and he crawls into your skin slowly and steadily.

Nightcrawler is an out-and-out Jake Gyllenhaal film, with sunken eyes that seldom blink, and an unpredictable persona about him, his portrayal of a sociopath will send shivers down your spine. Louis Bloom isn’t just a psycho who is in the business to earn a paycheck; he’s a psycho who feels is destined for greater things. He demands the best from his sole employee, having gotten a little taste of success, Lou Bloom is a deluded psycho with grand plans of starting his own company. With one of his finest roles till date, Gyllenhaal is a shoo-in for the Oscars’ contenders come the awards season. It is astounding to see the range of characters he’s portrayed over the years, from a gay cowboy (Brokeback Mountain) to an introverted cartoonist (Zodiac) to a tough-as-nails detective (Prisoners), and now all beefed up for his forthcoming project as a boxer in Southpaw, it is a shame that he is criminally underappreciated. Hopefully, a solo outing like Nightcrawler could make people sit up and take notice of his talent.

Nightcrawler is a story of flawed people who’ll do anything to get ahead in the world. There is no single character you’d feel sorry for or empathize with, yet, it is a riveting watch that keeps you hooked thanks to a splendid Jake Gyllenhaal.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Interstellar - Of Wormholes and Plotholes

Cooper: We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.

As the screen cut to black there was silence in the movie theater, a “What just happened?” expression was writ large on the faces of the audience, and as Christopher Nolan’s name appeared on the screen, there was a thunderous applause that went on for a couple of minutes. You see, it’s all in the name. Your name carries your brand, your achievements, your vision, your reputation, and if your name is Christopher Jonathan James Nolan, even more so. In the weeks that have led to the release of Interstellar, there have been more feature profiles on him than on any of the stars of the movie. All these articles celebrate his style of movie-making, of how he’s the blue-eyed wunderkind of Warner Brothers who churns out blockbusters with larger-than-life set pieces, with a story laced with philosophy and red herrings told in a tricky fashion, that in its final moments pulls the wool over the eyes of its viewers and leaves them in a frenzy, making them dissect and discuss the movie for days. Nolan’s movies could be frustrating, with a simple plot told in a complex manner, you’d want to that guy who understood the story better, the smartest guy in the audience.

We celebrate him like he were the greatest thing to have happened to motion pictures, which to an extent, is true. He is the best thing to have happened to commercial cinema in recent years, he's the reason we want to go to the movies. Not since Spielberg of the 90’s have we seen a director who is celebrated by the masses and critics alike, nor have we seen a director who enjoys carte blanche over his work. He is the most recognized movie director in the world, for someone who doesn’t own a cell phone or an email id, that’s saying a lot. His movies are flawed, and god forbid, if you mention that in your review, your comments section would be flooded with taunts that question your intelligence to death threats. We live in an era where our opinions are malleable by tweets and online articles, and if someone doesn’t conform to our opinion we strike down upon them with great vengeance and furious anger.

With Interstellar, Nolan makes a foray into the space opera genre. It is a story we have heard before, of a father who leaves his family behind to save the world with a promise that he will return. The premise may be similar to Armageddon, but they differ in the narrative and treatment. Within the first one hour, we’re shown that Earth is nearing extinction with corn being the only crop that could be grown, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a farmer and a has-been spaceship pilot who believes “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here”, he stumbles upon the defunct NASA that is working out of a secret base, and within the first hour of meeting them, agrees to fly the mission to search for a habitable planet for the human race. After bidding an emotional goodbye to his heartbroken daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), promising that he will return, Cooper and his team fly across space exploring signals from NASA’s previous attempts.

Nolan has previously made run-of-the-mill stories that have hinged on scientific themesmemory (Memento), dreams (Inception)—and had yet managed to entertain the audience with innovative storytelling (Memento) and jaw-dropping action set-pieces (Inception). Interstellar is where he explores the space-time continuum with the theory of wormholes and blackhole, but it is while using the theme that the plot seems convoluted. Nolan’s movies are known to befuddle the viewer with a complicated storyline, while you try to wrap your head around the story he cleverly inserts a jaw-dropping action scene, the visual aesthetics in the scene always compensate for the complexity of the plot. But in Interstellar, there are too many complicated scientific theories that he brings into play within short intervals, while the visuals of space and the traveling through the wormhole are an immersive experience, it somehow does not make up for the gaping plot holes and convenient resolutions that he comes up with.

Even with limited screenings before the movie officially releases, the internet is set ablaze with over-analysis and explanation of scientific theories ranging from gravity to relativity to astrophysics used in the movie. The average viewer would rather be entertained than to have to go home and do their research on space-time travel to understand the plot. Not everyone in the audience would be equipped to handle the scientific mumbo-jumbo that is thrown around in liberal doses, and in some scenes with the sound mixing not right, it could be a pain to figure out what is being said. While Interstellar may blow your mind away with the visuals and the technical aspects--of which Nolan is a master--it is found wanting in the screenplay--of which Nolan is not--where some plot points go way over your head. What also ails the story is the lack of well developed characters. There are some shoddily written scenes that try to come across as thought-provoking but only end up looking manipulative.

Fresh off his Academy Award success, McConaughey plays his role with aplomb, he speaks his lines with the same calm and raspy tone that he did for a season in True Detective making it sound like you were in a class of Philosophy 101. His character is also blessed with more detail, which makes us easy to connect with, however, we cannot say the same for other characters. Michael Caine as Dr. Brand is an extension of the Michael Caine in any of Nolan’s other movies -- the wise old man who gives a direction and a sense of purpose to the hero’s journey. Anne Hathaway’s Amelia Brand is a weakly developed character, for someone who shares more screen time with the hero, her character doesn’t add much to the story, there comes a moment in the movie where she talks about love and how powerful of an emotion it is, instead of sounding thought-provoking and rooting for her, it only sounds manipulative and out of place in a sci-fi flick. Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain as Murph is the emotional core to which Cooper wants to return to, angry at her father for having left her, but smarter beyond her age, she tries to put the pieces together. There are more lighter moments in Interstellar than in any of Nolan’s films, most of it coming from a robot named TARS. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack has always been an integral part of Nolan's movies, making the scenes more grand. In Interstellar it is minimal yet absorbing, a departure from his more pulse-pounding works in Inception and the Batman Trilogy.

While Interstellar features Nolan’s trademark jump cuts in the final scenes of the movie that keeps building the suspense, it would seem hard to keep up for the audience once the movie becomes more scientific and enters the perplexing territory of time and space and other dimensions. Interstellar requires a suspension of disbelief, while it may be frustrating to grasp what’s happening in the movie, you’d just have to let go and be taken in by the stunning visuals. If you thought the beauty of space was jaw dropping in Gravity, Interstellar would only take it to a whole new level.

Nolan’s movies have always created a divide in the audience where a certain section calls him out as a sham that makes blockbusters with all the razzmatazz and pop-philosophy but lacking in heart, whereas there is the other section of Nolan fanboys that reads between the lines of every Nolan flick and tries to equate it with a profound philosophy. I love the rush of watching a Nolan movie in a crowded cinema hall, it leaves me perplexed yet entertained, it gives me scenes that I could take home with me. Although, I wouldn’t go all out to madly defend him, I know his movies have flaws, but at the end of the day, he leaves me entertained, and that’s all that matters. 

However, while I walked out of the theater, there wasn’t much to hold on to, all my excitement that had reached fever pitch during pre-screening was fizzled out, giving way to a bewilderment in trying to figure out what was happening after the show ended. But as the hours passed, and I kept going over it again and again in my head, I realized I needed to give it a second try in the theater, and a third try when the DVDs released.

Interstellar could be a frustrating watch or an enthralling one; it depends on the expectations you walk in with. With the scientific concepts and some gaping plot holes, it is yet another Nolan flick that would require multiple viewings to understand. But then, you wouldn’t mind, it’s Christopher Nolan after all. It’s all in the name.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lessons from a Pickle Jar

It was a late Sunday afternoon when in the midst of sautéing my vegetables (I say “sauté” because it sounds and spells fanciful, although I was only chopping my potatoes) my Tambrahm cells kicked in and a vision of curd rice and pickle popped in my head, because any afternoon meal of a Tambrahm’s palate is incomplete if it didn’t end with curd rice and mango pickle. So, I plugged my earphones, put my clothes on, tied my shoes, and turned off the stove (yes, exactly in that order) and walked all the way to the nearest supermarket salivating at the prospect of tasting steaming rice lathered with curd bathed in a sprinkling of hot spices that envelope the mango pickle--a holy matrimony of curd rice and spicy mango pickle that only ones from Chennai could understand (I am not sure about you, but I am smacking my lips as I am typing this).

I entered the supermarket vowing not to listen to the calls of a plethora of food items that looked tempting and mouth-watering, but of which I had no idea how to use in my novice-level cooking. From Mexico to Italy to China, the shelves were filled with ingredients from all over the world, calling out to me, Use me! I taste delicious! You won’t regret it! They said. One day, when I have enough money to experiment with, I’ll buy some exotic sounding items and create a fusion of ingredients from different corners of the globe and make my own World Cuisine, but for now, I am going to buy that bottle of curd and that jar of pickle, I told myself.

I walked out of the supermarket with a bottle of curd, a jar of pickle (which was a vadu maanga at that) and a satisfaction of knowing I had not wasted money on any fancy-sounding food products.

I reached home and spent the next one hour cooking my lunch all the while dreaming about the curd rice and mango pickle that I will be devouring after my main course. Once the time came for me to open the bottle, imagine my surprise when the lid wouldn’t come off. The downside of living in a rented apartment is that you cannot let off steam by smashing a bottle against the floor or by punching a hole in the wall, which is how I used to approach any crisis when I was living in my own home.

However, I did fret and fume while trying to open the lid with my bare hands, I quit when I realized that I wasn’t covered with any health insurance just yet, and ran the risk of cutting my hands. The image of eating curd rice mixed with my blood wasn’t appealing. I heaved a sigh of despair and left the pickle jar hidden away from my sight so that it wouldn’t remind me of my shattered dreams, like how bumping into your ex would bring back all these memories of a blissful life that you had planned with her/him.

The next few days I’d walk to the kitchen every morning with a faint hope that maybe, just maybe, the lid would budge if I tried a little harder. I tried, I twisted, I contorted my face in several angles exerting energy that ran through my nerves to my face, reddening and molding my features, wishing the jar would open. But it would not move an inch. I gave up all hope and cursed the manufacturers for making such an impenetrable fortress of a pickle jar.

A few weeks passed and I went on pretending that I was better off eating plain curd rice. But who was I kidding? Curd rice without pickle is as incomplete as French fries minus ketchup, Fourth of July without any fireworks, a marriage sans intimacy. The more I was deprived of that elusive combination, the more I yearend for it. What made it worse was the pickle jar was lying in my shelf, and I, who used to unseal the hardest of jars for my mother with just a flick of my wrists and chided her thereafter, was unable to summon all my strength to open a jar when it mattered the most.

And one fine day, it opened, and I did not know how. I trundled into the kitchen like a boy who walks into the schoolyard knowing well he’s about to be beaten up by bullies. I opened the shelf and took out the jar of pickle; hope was replaced with a resignation to my fate. And then with a drawn-out sigh, I twisted the lid ever so slightly, like I were cracking a safe, and click! I could not believe my ears, it was the faintest of sounds and yet it got my heart racing as if I had heard Beethoven’s symphony. I imagined this was a dream, and I twisted the lid a little more, and it loosened a bit more. With every turn of the lid, the jar opened, and as I unscrewed and removed the top with disbelief, I looked in to see the contents of it. And there it was, resting there in all its glory. Red, slick, and so spicy that you could feel its taste on your tongue just by looking at it. Vadumaanga, my own elixir.

I had read about it in self-help books, and on the Internet, but it was then when I was staring into my pickle jar with a “did-I-really-open-it” look that I truly acknowledged it, that persistence is a virtue. It kicks down the hardest of doors when you least expect to, it moves mountain when it seems impossible, it wins you games when all seems lost. I realized the importance of trying everyday, to just show up and do your thing. Things may not go our way, results won’t be delivered the very next moment, but if you truly want something, you just got to push through, inch-by-inch. It would be a long and slow journey to your destination, it will be trying, you will sweat it out, you will question your judgment, but you will be there someday. 

And it will feel worth it.

Persistence, it helped me open my jar of pickle, it will help you open yours too.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Peter Quill and the Importance of Being Deluded

Peter Quill: I come from Earth, a planet of outlaws. My name is Peter Quill. There's one other name you may know me by. Star-Lord.

I am writing this post with Redbone's Come And Get Your Love playing in the background. It has been a month since I had watched GoTG, twice, and I haven't gotten over it yet, From the moment Peter Quill plugs the headset and tunes in to that groovy soundtrack, you feel that GoTG is going a direction where none of Marvel's other movies have tread before. By the time the end credits roll your feeling would have been validated.

Guardians is breezy, funny, and never takes itself seriously, it tells the story of a ragtag bunch who get together to find an orb, in their pursuit they end up being hunted by Ronan the Accuser who intends to use the orb for world-dominating purpose. While the trope of a bunch of misfits who get together to stop a powerful villain has been done to death in movies across all genres, where Guardians scores above the rest is in its treatment. Despite being lighthearted with many a comic moments, there is a sense of destiny instilled within its protagonist, Peter Quill, who calls himself Star-Lord--the cheesy monicker dismissed with chuckles by the characters on screen and the audience alike at first.

It is this sense of delusion within our hero, of him believing that he is destined to be a Lord of the Stars that's gotten me hooked on to GoTG from the time I first watched it. Delusions of grandeur is sometimes necessary, despite how often we’ve been told to snap out of it. It is the drug that we every once in a while inject ourselves with to escape the drudgery of the present to go on to a utopian future. We spend our lives being taught the cold, hard facts. That we might end up going through the same ol’ rigmarole, that our lives won’t be any different, that it is all a Big Nothing, that love, with all its promise and intensity, eventually fades away.

Maybe they’re right. But we ought to every once in a while build castles in the air, that we dance alone in our room with the lights off and the music on while believing that we are destined to do something with our lives. That we got a purpose—no matter how small—to fulfil it, that every roadblock is just a brick that builds us to be the person we dream to be one day.

There’s no harm to dream about things that we know would never happen, but heck, just dream, they could take away your hope and drill down the bitter truth inside your head that things will just stay the same, what they cannot take away from you is your dream. So, dream with your eyes wide open, hold on to that tiny fragment of delusion, and who knows, some day you might get to lord over your stars after all.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Chennai

I came across a link online, something that was about a 100 Things to Do in Chennai, of the hundred things one can do to stake their claim as a true Chennaivaasi I had only done a measly 15, half of which I would never had done had there not been the corporate culture of "Team Outing". I had never considered myself to be a part of this city, I had scoffed at those images that went online, something that went "Chennai is a city, Madras is an emotion". I found it to be a statement too shallow to my liking.

I was quite proud of my unfamiliarity with Chennai, as I felt it asserted my image of being a social outcast. When I told my friend that I had not even crossed twenty things one could do in Chennai, she chided me saying that I wasn't a true Son of the City, I rather found it to be a compliment.

While people who lived in Chennai or had migrated to from a different place, swear by the sights and sounds that she had to offer, I only cringed every time I had a reason to get out of my home. I would fret and fume whenever I boarded the buses and trains ranting to myself about the population and traffic, bemused at how people find the city to be liveable what with the extorting policemen and hassling autodrivers. Chennai is not a perfect city, why should it be?

Maybe I was irate because I lived two hours away from the city in a once quaint little town that now is slowly being inhabited owing to rising real estate value or maybe because the city is so overpopulated that the masses are looking for new places to occupy, and they've decided to occupy my once quaint little town. That's what they do, occupy, not live.

I had spent a good part of my two decades in this little town, I grew along with my friends in a neighborhood where everybody knew everybody, where I could get a store credit just because my grandmother used to share the town gossip with the local annachi.  Now, when I go for a walk in the evenings I feel like I have entered a different place. My neighborhood has changed, my little town is inhabited by strangers, those who had been here for decades have either been buried to the ground or have moved to a different place. It's hard to find a familiar face that I used to see as a child. My friends have gone away, my childhood crush lives here no more. The only place I could connect with, my little town, has transformed. From a ghost town it has now changed into a place that's bursting off the seams. Heck, even my playground now has apartments being built on it.

People associate their love for their city with the places nestled within it, I never could find any place in Chennai that I could connect with emotionally, not its beaches, not its joints, neither its temples nor its malls. I may not reminisce about Chennai thinking of the times I'd spent in the city, I have no emotional investment in any of the monoliths it houses. Even when Landmark in Nungambakkam was being closed down, I mumbled "Look at these people overreacting over a stupid bookstore closing down". 

For me, Chennai is beyond the places that define it,  for me Chennai is about the people it has gifted in my life. The few places that I would look back on fondly are so because of the people who had made it special for me. From the family I've grown up with to the casual acquaintances I have befriended, to the close friends who are dear to me, to the many loves I had fallen for, they are My Chennai, not the buildings or the beach or the bar. My people have been that piece of puzzle when put together completed my life, that have shaped my principles, that have made me the person, good or bad, that I am today. Chennai was just the large canvas where I was piecing it all together.

And as I spend my last week here, I've realised that my Chennai is about the strangers I have met with whom I have built a strong friendship, the first brick for which was laid with an awkward "hello". My Chennai has to be about the friends I once had who have now drifted away into being strangers, for no fault of theirs, of course. My Chennai has to be about the half-a-dozen times I had my heart broken, my Chennai has to be about those countless times I had fallen for someone on a first glance. My Chennai has to be about unrequited loves, the broken promises, the forgotten dreams, the false hopes. My Chennai has to be about the people who taught me and tormented me, who have forgiven me and who have forgotten me, who have accepted me and who have discarded me.

And if you're reading this and you know it's about you, then you my friend, are my Chennai.