Ruati Chhangte recounts her 12 years Madras journey, a city that enthralls and scares her in equal measure…
(Marina Beach – Entering, 2008)

Act 1 – Entering (2008)

So anyway, this is where I usually come down in the evenings. This right here is my vantage point from where I can watch people, or totally ignore their existence. I usually like watching people who sit together quietly in that ‘so comfortable in each other’s silence’ sort of way. Sometimes they make me feel really lonely in a really nice way (insert wistful smile)…and sometimes really lonely in a not so nice way. Sometimes I hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me but then I tell myself “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that.” (Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood)

The sunset is also a nice thing to watch sometimes and when I’m lucky, I get to see a rainbow too.

(Marina Beach – Entering, 2008)

And if you look really far out to the left, it’s impossible to tell the difference between the sea & the sky. You can never be too sure. And that makes me feel good.

I often dream about the small boats out there in the sea and worry about what will happen to them when they reach that blur. Sometimes in those dreams, I shout desperately and try to warn them that they are heading into a portal to nothingness, a blur. But the men, they never hear me, because they’re always looking ahead. And then one night, someone appeared in my dream and said, “There is no point worrying about people who are braver than you.” I never had those dreams again after that.

Act 2 – Departure (2010)

(Sunrise after a sleepless night – Departure, 2010)

At the Beach,my 2nd home for the past 100 days..

I used to worry about these fishermen a lot, worry that they’ll never find their way back once they reach that blur. As I witnessed this scene on my last morning at the beach,my emotions wavered between awe, jealousy and a strange feeling of pride…

(Three Lithe Cats – Departure, 2010)

Far away, I could hear them lapping up my brains. Like Macbeth’s witches, the three lithe cats surrounded my broken head, slurping up that thick soup inside. The tips of their rough tongues licked the soft folds of my mind. And with each lick my consciousness flickered like a flame and faded away..
Haruki Murakami (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman)

(Golden Waters (Hallucination) – Departure, 2010)

Stories from that time. The handwriting so slanted and pointy and rushed. The photographs were taken in mid 2010. At the time, I could hardly hold the pen steady anymore. A couple of weeks later, I lost my ability to read and write. For a while. And all that time, it was like my mind already knew what was coming. Maybe that is why it was in such a big hurry; flight of ideas, of thoughts, and of dreams, to compensate for all the time that I was destined to lose in the days that were to come.

The sea saved my life then. Only because I was so darn scared of it.

Sometimes, being frightened is the only thing that can remind you that there is still a quiet place inside the mind.

Act 3 – Re-Entering (2019)

(Elliot’s Beach – Re-Entering, 2019)
(Selfie – Re-Entering, 2019)

So this is catharsis. Returning to a place that was home a lifetime and a half ago…

Tamil Nadu was a place of many firsts for me – it was here that I lived on my own for the first time (in an old cottage in Mylapore). Surprised myself by falling headlong in love with South Indian food, was someone’s boss for the very first time, learnt what a 9-to-5 workday really meant in real life, saw the sea for the first time and promptly fell madly in love/terror with it. Also read Murakami obsessively, questioned my life choices constantly, learnt how to make a mean pitcher of sangria, got inked for the first time, fell in love with Henry Charles Bukowski’s poetry (this one is predictable and embarrassing), handed in a letter of resignation for the first time etc etc..You get the drift. I was adulting all over the place.

It was also here that I traveled on my own for the very first time. From Madras down the beautiful long and winding East Coast Road to Pondicherry and Auroville, onward to the Danish town of Tranquebar, to the lush and creepy Pichavaram mangrove forest, traversing many towns and hamlets in between. Madras and her kids (esp the languorous port towns) welcomed me hesitantly, and allowed me to step outside of myself. They tolerated my antics, validated my yearnings, gave me the freedom to arrive and explore, stay silent, drift along and make life altering decisions in peace. It was such a defining time in my tumultuous 20’s.

And now with Tahs’ visit to India, and her staying in Madras of all places, I can’t help but feel that all my stars aligned to bring me back here now, to return to my old beloved home. It wouldn’t have felt right at any other time…

Photos and Text by Ruati Chhangte. All Rights Reserved.

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