05 June 2011

India experience - Week 2 - Settling down in Chennai

In which I arrive in the biggest village of all times, meet cool people, get treated like shit by a guy who was making money out of me and then manage to pay him back in the same coin.

I liked the airport in Chennai. The bag belts were huge and there was no need to fight my way to get my bags. Hassle free, I left the airport and immediately spotted Assel, a Kazakh working in TCS, waiting for me. She had a cab and she was with Damola, a Nigerian that coordinates the Chennai part of program I am part of in TCS. When I left the airport though, something hit me hard: the heat was stronger than in Mumbai. So the Lonely Planet's prophecy about Chennai materialized: "it is a hot hell-hole". We entered the air-conditioned cab and move to my new TQ.

I will be really sincere, I didn't want to move to a new TQ. At that time I was feeling homeless, living out of my suitcase, and I needed to plant my roots to feel good. I already had my apartment ready, because Eric from Ghana was leaving in 2 days and I would take his place. But I didn't insist in taking my stuff there, since I didn't want to bother the people currently living in the flat.

The landscape from the airport to my TQ was the usual post-apocalyptic highway/dumpster with the eventual oasis of a lonely roadside restaurant with more than dubious hygienic  standards. It was like driving in the world of Fallout. Anyone unsure about happenings, would guess that Pakistan or China had already nuked Chennai. The exception being exactly the small "road" that lead to my TQ. "Road" is with quotation marks because it resembled a lot the small ways in favelas (slums in Portuguese):  very narrow, decrepit "houses" on both sides, with the eventual lazy dog lying around, while some small children ran (most of then topless and some totally naked). My TQ was at the end of this street. There were so many holes on the road that someone could play the biggest mini-golf game ever. The car slowly advanced and dodged the holes when possible for about 5 minutes and I saw, at the very dead end of the street, some nice collection of 2 stories houses guarded by a security officer at the gate. I arrived at my TQ.

The houses were pretty nice, like small villas, and we were shown one of then that would be mine. It was a 3 stories house, which was completely empty. I was allocated in a room in the 2nd floor with 2 single beds, bathroom and air-conditioning, which I immediately turn on. There was internet, but I had to figure out the password on my own, since this time there was no Mr. Pruna to serve me and I had no clue where to find the people responsible, since I was left alone there to wait for the evening, when I would go to a small gathering in someone's house.

While I tried to fight the router to get some internet, someone rings the bell. I went down, open the door and this middle aged Indian man is there. The conversation goes like this:

- What is your name?
- I am Sergio.
- Where is Damola?
- Who?
- Damola! - with an annoyed tone of voice.

I shruged. At that time I didn't remember that one of the guys that brought me was named Damola. I am terrible with names, give me a break.

He gets pissed off: - How did you come here? Who brought you?
- It was Assel.
- Who? Where is Damola?
- Assel, she is one of TCS people. And another guy, which I don't remember the name.
- Aaaah, black? Damola, Damola! - He says Damola in this condescending way, like this people that like to say "I told you so".
- Ok, yes.
- Ok, follow me.

I started reaching for the keys that were in the doors so I could close the house. And he shouted: "Noooo!" so I started leaving the keys in the door and closing it. He shouted again: "Noooo! Get the keys, get the keys, get the keys!" so I got the keys and when I am closing the door he started shouting again "Lock the door! Lock it!", I got pissed off and make a movement with my hands for him to calm down while my face is clearly saying something  "Oh my god, is TCS paying this shit, I am the client, or am I wrong?"

I closed the door and started following him. I asked:

- Do you know the internet password?
- Of course I know. I am the - and this he said with the arrogance of a kid that has more toys than the ones in his slum - MANAGING PARTNER of ALL THIS. - he moved his hand around.

I thought "Congratulations, you are the managing prick of a bunch of houses in the middle of nowhere by a road made of dust and surrounded by slums" - Oh, interesting, very pretty place. - I said.

- Where are you from?
- Brazil.
- Ah, Ronaldo.
I smiled the best I can, controlling my homicidal instincts.

- Are you eating dinner? - he was not being nice, we pay for the dinner there.
- Only if it is ready before 8h, because I need to go to a party at 8h.
He says it in an impossibly rude tone: - No, dinner is at 9h.
- So I will not eat. - I answer, decided to not fight the Managing Prick. Anyway, the heat was so strong that I was not hungry at all.

He took out his sandals and enters one of the houses. I did the same with my flip-flops. We sat and he called Damola. The conversation doesn't go very far and the Managing Prick says to Damola "Send me the TCS e-mail NOW". He says this several times. I think "Now, here is a dishonest man that believes everyone is a prick like himself". I smile when he gets off the phone.

- How long are you planning to stay here?
- I don't know. It depends how long I take to find a place - I lie, since I already had a place.
He changes his tone and body language to a suave one: - You know, you should enjoy here. TCS gives you 15 days. Relax here and enjoy your 15 days. It is better, no?

I smile back in a non-committal way and think "Do you think I am an idiot, you clown? You just treated me like shit and now because you want to get money out of TCS you want me to stay here?". At that moment I decided I would leave very soon.

- What time are you coming back today?
- At what time can I come back? - I must say that I needed to get the keys with him to re-enter my room. So his thought was that I should not arrive late, because he wanted to get his Managing Prick sleep.
- At 11am.
- So maybe I will sleep out.

After some time, the rickshaw came and I went to the gathering with Assel and Damola ("aaah, you are Damola!"). It was the house of Juan, Fabian and Vlad (which was nicknamed "Russian Chicken" and insisted in calling me "Giuseppe" for some reason). All of them worked at TCS, but Juan and Fabian (both of them software guys from Colombia) were working in the same project as I would be.  We drank a few beers and chatted in the terrace. At night, it was warm, but bearable. The people were very nice and they told me of their wonderful and crazy stories about India. I understood that living here was very crazy and hard at times, but very enjoyable. All of them seemed satisfied, besides the hardship and frustrations, and a lot of the happiness came from the tight international community created by them. We need the support of each other to survive and this bonds create a very nice friendship and community feeling. I liked that.

Then suddenly thunders appeared in the horizon and soon it was raining. We all celebrated under the rain. They told me it was not common at that time of the year and, in fact, it was the first rain in months. I like to believe that it was Thor, reminding me that I was still under protection of Norway. The lights went off (as it happens at least once a day around here) and we entered and dried. Since the place where I was going to be living was close by, I decided to sleep on the floor there, instead of coming back at 1 or 2 am and listen to the Managing Prick lecturing me about any of his prick thoughts.

I got to know my future apartment and the room I would be sharing with Tom, a very nice British fellow, also working in TCS. Sleeping on the floor (with a sort of a mattress) was not so bad, specially for the chilling AC on. So when I woke up on Saturday, I asked if I could bring my stuff from the TQ, since Eric would be leaving on Sunday. They agreed, so me and Tom got a rickshaw to get my stuff.

After a lot of negotiating, a Rickshaw driver takes us there for 60 rupees. But when he reaches the beginning of the slum road leading to my TQ, the driver stops and says that he will go no further without us giving him 80. The discussion goes for about 5 minutes, when we settled for 70. Damn rickshaw drivers.

The servant under the Managing Prick opens the door to me. I say:
- I am leaving.
- What?
- I am leaving. I will get my things.
- But you can't.
- I am leaving, I will get my things.
- You have to talk to Mr. Managing Prick.
- Well, I am leaving. - And I went upstairs and started packing.

While I was packing, the servant comes with his mobile and gives it to me. On the other side of the line, I hear the voice of the Managing Prick:

- Hi, Mr. Sergio, why are you leaving? You didn't like the accommodation?
- No, no, that is not it. I just found a place, so I am moving there.
- But you can stay more.
- Yeah, but I need to move now.
- But why don't you stay? It is free for you.
- Yes, but if I don't move now, I will lose this place. That is why I need to move now. - in India is somewhat hard to find accommodation, especially good ones and close to work, I played this card.
- So you will have to pay a fine, because it was booked for 15 days!
- What? *I* have to pay?
- No, no, TCS pays. You have to sign the papers for 15 days.

I decided I would not take that shit, even though the money would not come out of my pocket. So I decided to play hard:

- I will not sign anything for 15 days without speaking to TCS first. I will speak with them and then I can sign.

Immediately he softened up after I mentioned TCS, would be very dumb of him to lose such a huge client that always has people coming to stay there: - Ok, no need to sign for 15 days, no, don't worry. Sign only for this one day that you were here. No problem.

Afterwards Tom told me: - You know you don't need to move immediately, we will hold the appartment for you and... - I interrupted Tom and put my index finger on my lip, asking for silence. Of course I knew I didn't need, but I was not going to take bullshit from the Managing Prick without the need. And I was also craving for a place that I could call my own, where I could unpack and start living a normal life - as normal as one can in crazy Chennai.

That is the story of how I settled down, but this weekend was not nearly over, on the same Saturday, I had even to run away from the police. But that is another story...


  1. You know what, I think you'll be fine in India :)

    they love to be pressured by power. And seems like you know the trick :) great lessons :))

  2. Being a clever Brazilian guy surely helps you in India. =) Good job with Mr. Prick!

  3. When I finished reading, I asked myself "What will happen in the next episode?"

    Enjoy India and keep us posted with what's going on over there :)

  4. Excellent writing style, Sergio. Made me smile at least three times :)

  5. Have you heard about this movie?


    As said in the movie, the best way to survive in India is to give in and stop resisting. Hope you have a pleasant stay in India.


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