15 October 2011

Chennai: My First Impressions - Part 2

Now onto the Transport, the Roads, the Subway & the Garbage!

I was surprised when the first conductor issued 3 tickets. He hadn’t even asked for my daughter’s age (5 yrs). I learnt later they charge full rates for children above 3 years (even movie tickets). How strange! Here in Bangalore, its half ticket for age 6 to 12 & full ticket only from 12. But considering it is just Rs 5 for a 15km travel (Central to CMBT) the public transportation in Chennai is damn cheap. With a pass of just Rs 30, you can travel the whole day in Chennai buses – not only within the city but also 40km away to Mahabalipuram!

The Conductor's Seat(at the back door) which caught my attention

The conductors here don’t come asking for ticket or bother to check your pass. If some do, that’s the happy exception rather than the norm. Passengers pass around the money & the tickets to & fro to the conductor who sits peacefully on his seat at the back. Here in Bangalore, the conductors CHASE you. He never sits; he will squeeze himself & wade through a sea of men & women & maybe ask the same person twice for the tickets but demand the ticket he definitely will. Imagine doing the routine of “pass the money, pass the ticket” in our buses where people generally tend to avoid making eye-contact with each other! The very thought brought a smile to my face as I sat there watching the people in Chennai do it without as much as a crease on their faces.

One night, when we were returning to Vada Nemmeli & boarded a bus to Kovalam (oh yes, forgot to mention: TN has a Kovalam too. Not just Kerala, though its malayali counterpart is the more famous & haunted of the 2), the conductor sat rooted to his seat & as I stood there in the middle of the crowd & Sathya way ahead, he called out for tickets & Sathya passed it to someone, someone passed it to me, I passed it to someone (#2), he passed it to someone # 3 & it finally reached the conductor’s lazy hands. He tore out the ticket, & passed it back to someone # 3 calling out, “Kovalam, Kovalam” like how in court hearings the guy calls out for the accused. Someone # 3 promptly forgot whom the tickets belonged to & repeated the call for Kovalam. Someone # 2 was alert, picked them & passed it to me. A few seconds later, heard another call, “Change – Kovalam” & the entire procedure repeated itself. I can’t imagine this happening in Bangalore. Though we are, by & large, a peaceful race, this SOP (standard operating procedure) would definitely get on our nerves!

The conductor loves his seat & doesnt part with it easy. One late evening, we boarded a bus from Anna Salai & it was so crowded that we couldn’t even stand & Tanvi was extremely tired & sleepy, so I requested the conductor to let her be seated there or at least stand closer to his seat but the wretched guy ignored me completely & behaved like he couldn’t grasp human language & continued to sit on his raja seat. I struggled the whole time to find some foothold for her & me & even though he noticed that the little child was falling off unable to stand/sleep, he didn’t have the heart to make her sit on his lap or at least, give ½ an inch of his seat. I have never cursed anyone (ok, well I have! My maternal grandmother!) in my life as much as I have cursed him in that one hour journey.

One of the best roads: Beach Road has the beach (Bay of Bengal) on one side & beautiful government offices, police headquarters & other well-maintained structures on the other. It reminds you of the Tank Bund road in Hyderabad which runs along a beautiful lake but thankfully minus the mosquito attack!

I sorely missed having a vehicle when I saw the seemingly endless stretch of this road. The thought of a long drive on this beautiful road was killing me. And given Chennai going to bed by 9, I presume the road would be deserted with only a very thin traffic, unlike Bangalore where you really have to wait longer to go on a peaceful drive on some of its roads. Btw, where are the traffic jams & the endless waiting at signals? We didn’t feel the pain of either in Chennai.

The Subway system seems to be functioning really well in the city unlike Bangalore where some of them, believe it or not, are under lock & key! The reason: tube lights were being stolen from some of the subways, so reported a local newspaper! I once saw one subway with one side open & the other locked!! The logic? Don’t ask me.

Strangely, didn’t see too much garbage on the roads/streets/shop corners unlike Bangalore. Our BBMP garbage disposal system is bad & so is our people’s civic sense. Garbage being thrown all around has lately become a common sight in namma Bengaluru

I saw so many engineering college buses plying on the road. Think of a surname, the rarer the better, & you could see there was an engineering college in that name. How many more engineers dear Chennai? Aren’t you done with giving us enough & more engineers sufficient to meet the demands of an entire nation? It reminded me of Mangalore (coastal town in Karnataka) which has equally crazy numbers of medical & dental colleges.

And finally the Signboards

This is at CMBT (Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus - supposed to be South Asia's largest where anywhere between 1000-2000 buses ply everyday)

Need I say anything more?


  1. it was supposed to be your impressions about chennai.... true .. all true.. But i dont understand y u startd the whole comparison between chennai and bangalore...???

  2. Haaahh, you've listed insights on Chennai transport in such a way that only a hard core Chennaiite can do... Kudos on so much of observations. And yes, the ticket passing sequence is a patented activity for Chennai I guess LOL...

    The beach road is a beautifully maintained zone by the Chennai corporation but Chennai still has an ugly/dirty side that can be seen from the flying train service (or the MRTS as they call here).

    On the sign boards, hahahaaa, it does need a change but you might have noticed all the bus boards will have routes and destination written in English (in addition to Tamil) unlike B'lore or Mumbai. Ok, am not complaining about any city here... Its just the culture they would like to exhibit.

    But all the cities should also learn to embrace the universal language that can help guests to have a pleasant experience and not feel like alienated. Aditi Devo Bhava!! :) :)

  3. interesting...every city has it's pro's and cons i guess :)

    nice post

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  4. @Sourabh: because every impression relies & starts off from an earlier experience, doesnt it? like, when i saw the beach road, i immediately remembered my drives along Tank Bund in Hyd

  5. @Anand: i had heard about areas in chennai being v dirty or slums in horrible state but i guess my bus/taxi never went on those roads & as you said, those are visible from the MRTs. btw, i didn't know what MRT was!

    your last para about the alienation bit was supposed to come in my last post on chennai! why did u steal those lines from my mind??

  6. @Sub: hey that's great news. a new father's dedicated blog on fatherhood! will check it out right away!

    and yes every city without exception has its peculiar things

  7. @Sujatha: oops, I stole lines from your mind!!? hmmm telepathy I guess :) :)

    BTW, we have a Thames flowing through the city (on par with the London one I would say :p). And hope u found what MRTS is. They say its Mass Rapid Transit System :) :)

  8. Yea. Some conductors simple refuse to give up their seat. You should have traveled by AC buses, The service would be better there.

  9. I like the ticket-change routine. It reminds me of some old movie I watched years ago. :) As for the cleanliness and civic sense, you paint a Chennai I have never known!

  10. I can definitely see how that whole procedure can get on someone's nerves VERY fast O.o I can't imagine that being done here in the US-I can just imagine a lot of pocketed change and tickets sad to say.

    It's unfortunate that that conductor wasn't gentlemanly enough to give up his seat for a little one that was falling asleep! Sheesh, where are their manners?

    I must say I love learning about another country! :D

  11. hey your blog is nice and posts are very interesting to read keep blogging

  12. Nice to see Chennai through your eyes .

  13. @Ashwini: we did use the AC buses too & the regular ones as well.

    @Nona: haa! must be i only got to see one side of the city then during my small 5 day stay :) but m sure glad that the dirt & squalor didn't strike us in the face

    @Kayla: yes Kayla i still haven't forgotten or forgiven that conductor

    @Anand: thank you so much. glad you paid a visit

  14. felt like roaming through the Chennai once again....talking about beach road its really something where one would like to have a first hand experience of driving.....:)

  15. Interesting especially the bit about the conductor. I've transited through Chennai and loved the Highway to Bangalore and also the Coast Road, but the weather was a big put off :(.

  16. I guess u were referring to Necklace road when u said Tankbund road.necklace road is on the other side of lake,very well laid with beautiful landscapes,well maintained and with some very good amusement parks and eateries,all thanks to Chandra Babu naidu

    Hyd TOO has more than required engineering colleges..165 is the figure..out of which almost 50 colleges could get admissions in single digit..mean not more than 10.When i appeared for Entrance test in 1991 total number of seats available were 5000 {3500 general}..Today one just need to get 50% marks,4-5 lakhs as capitation fees and annual expenditure of 1.5 lakhs ..can easily become engineer

  17. Wow, really nice read Sujatha :)

    As a Bangalorean, I can so relate to a lot of the things u mentioned.. I'm thinkin if a bus conductor here wud even consider doin what their counterparts do in Chennai :)

    Nice way to see Chennai :)

  18. See i told u i had problems with language ..

    I have headr so much about bangalore I got ot visit it , maybe next month I will :) and see how it is different from chennai he he he he :)


  19. People in Chennai usually pay the exact fare to the bus conductors; because, it's very difficult to get the balance change form the Chennai bus conductors. They always act rudely and consider themselves to be the owner of the buses; they obviously don't know the idea of serving the community. I personally felt this in one of my Chennai trips. I guess, you would have felt the same in ur trip.....am I right???
    From: sriramnivas.wordpress.com

  20. @Irfan: yes Irfan m glad you understood how we felt. we missed having a car/bike to drive on that road. Or if nothing else, at least a cycle (haha)

    @Rachna: ya the weather is painful. killing :(

    @Vinod: oh i didnt know that about Hyd. 50 colleges with single digit admissions?!!! shocking!

  21. @Raj: thank you :)
    i am thinking - our conductors chasing the tickets must be what is making the BMTC profitable unlike their counterparts in many other states

    @Bikram: oh you MUST visit Blore. M surprised you havent already since u r a "techie" !
    i bet you'll be spoilt for choice here when it comes to pubs with great music.
    we may not know where the next temple is but we'll surely guide you to the nearest bar :)

    @Sriram: you are right Sriram.

  22. Interesting post ..u just portrayed what ll happen if one goes in bus ..

  23. LOL! I had completely forgotten about this conductor behavior. Whenever, I gave 10 rs, I was wondering if the change would come back to me. Even if the conductor was honest enough, to give back the change. The middle-men may gulp the money. That never happened.

    But, sometimes, to ask tickets to a place, I would find it hard to pronounce the names, the fellow passenger who stood next to me to pass the tickets would ask twice or thrice to understand what place I am referring to.

    But, people are really good. We just need to have that open mind to accept the way they are!

    Brilliant experience log!

  24. @Sahana: with Indians (& that too South) like us struggling with some of the names, i can't even begin to imagine the plight of foreigners :)

    yes, they are good - they pass the ticket AND the change too

  25. Late comment! Was busy moving houses-what a pain packing and shifting is! ugh :-(

    Coming to your post, I seriously find it surprising that you didn't think Chennai was dirty!! Well good for us, methinks!

    Oh ya if you travel by local bus everyday, you can learn allll the filthy words in Tamil! Sometimes the conductors are sooo rude! But there are conductors who get up and come around asking for tickets too-but frankly I'd rather he sit in his place. Coz when he comes arnd in a crowded bus where space is at a premium, u get squeezed and crushed into a vast sea of smelly bodies! aarrghh!

    Yes the beach road is awesome indeed. We used to live near the beach when I was small - so all days of summer vacation were spent at the beach :-)

    BTW I am amazed that u guys chose to travel by local public transport on a sight-seeing trip, that too with a small kid! Must have been pretty tiring, no? Although I do agree that it is the best way to get a flavour of the place...

  26. @Anne: to be frank, we went expecting a very dirty city as told by friends. but seems we/the buses/autos never went in those areas of dirt & squalor or maybe i had set very high expectations & whatever little i saw in 5 days, didn't meet my expectations! but i am definitely NOT complaining about it :)

    smelly bodies - yaaaa :((( damn the humidity.

    yes very very tiring. exhausting. that too with the weather. but we wouldn't have it any other way.

  27. i rarely used public transport in bangalore and chennai probably just autos...in delhi though i travelled through buses when i was in college and driver used to sit and relax at the back :D but it wasn't as strict as you mentioned...

    and that's quite disgusting to see, why not english? i understand why not in hindi, but why not in english?

  28. @Chintan: i know. m clueless! imagine the plight of foreign travelers/expats there if we are having a problem, how much more will they

  29. Chennai has well networked buses which are economical and surprisingly even Suburban trains, we commuted a distance of 48 kms to Sigamperumal and returned to Vandloor and visited the Zoo and came back to crowded shopping centre at Pondy Bazar or Mambalam and back to Egmore and hotel.

  30. OMG.. the commuters must really have patience to sit and pass tickets! And Chennai has no garbage? I'm not so surprised.. The people there are really proud of their city so they probably like to keep it clean. Here in Bangalore not many really have the feeling of 'my city'.. right?

  31. @Deguide: yes

    @Shruthi: i wont say no garbage because many chennaites corrected me saying it is a dirty city. looks like i couldn't see the dirt where i went :)
    in Blore, garbage is thrown at random places ... esp residential areas ...and empty sites

  32. That was a great Chennai roaming experience sitting at home.. And nice photography too..

  33. This seems a comparison between Chennai and Banglore. I don't know much about both cities as I have not been used to there. Your post depicts beautifully. Thanks and continue.

  34. @Sandeep: thank you :) looks like i saved your time & money then

    @Shukoor: yes this is chennai from a bangalorean's eyes.thank you Shukoor

  35. I think your assessment is pretty accurate. There is lot of focus on social aspects in TN as compared to the other states in India. I am really surprised that the roads there are brilliant, you can see the difference the minute you cross into Hosur from Bangalore.

  36. oh my...the conductor seat...and the way he collects the fare is the most amazing thing i have ever heard on this topic... with public transport comes the thought of conductor chasing you around and with a 15km ride, surely you will be asked like 15 times if you have ticket... :) but this one...its such a strange thing... :) and i wish next time you have your own car or something so that you can enjoy the long ride after 9pm on this serene road :)

  37. It is really an accurate write up on the transport system in Chennai. Many a time due to the unwillingness of the conductor to move from his seat, innocent passengers on the other end of the bus who could not get the tickets will be penalised.

    Your description of the beach road as one of the best roads is also correct. My office where I worked for nearly 20 years was on the beach road and I always used to admire the road facing the ocean.

  38. Good comparison on the transport system between Bangalore and Chennai. Did they have separate entry for women and men?
    The conductor had a seat wow!! Now I know where Rajnikant(who was a conductor ) learned his trademark tricks -while passing the tickets :-)

  39. very nice post.
    I was in Chennai for more than 6 months and its the only place where we can see such a kind of thing.I stood astonished seeing my ticket coming all the way from the conductor to me through some 5 or 6 hands.
    As you said the transport is so cheap too,anyone ever seen a 2rs ticket in your life?you can see it there.
    i am adding one thing more, the Villian conductor even if he knows that we dont speak Tamil, will never give a damn to that. He will keep asking, engey ponam, change kodungo? :) keep writing.

  40. After the first one, had to read the sequel...are you asking Ekta for a job?:) Very well written, as usual...:)

  41. hahahahaha... that last pic was :)

    there was few sadist who doesnt want to sign board to be written in english :( poor you at South Asia's largest Bus terminus..

    and teh conductors.. unfortunately you happen to see the laziest of laziest conductors..

    Clean Chennai.... Haaaa happy to hear that from a outsider...

    its simple as such... its greener the other side :)


  42. @Vikram: thank you Dr. Vikram
    its sad that Blore has been messed up real bad in the past couple of years. our infrastructure woes must reach the Gods now. the politicians are deaf

    @Israr: :) Incredible India!
    oh btw, i wanted to tell you that your profile pic is really nice. the first time i saw it i suddenly remembered Rahul Roy (remember hero of Aashiqui?) the resemblance from a distance is uncanny! i kept forgetting to tell you this even when i visited your blog! nice youthful well-turned snap Israr

  43. @Saibaba: Sir lucky that you worked on that beautiful road.
    passengers get penalized? i didn't know that. i noticed that everyone was volunteering to get the ticket instead of trying to enjoy a free ride by hiding or not taking it. i felt wow how nice, how honest people are here, they are so eager to pay for ticket. now i understand why!! a Rs 5 ticket is better than penalty

  44. @Kirti: thank you Kirti.
    true true - Rajni Sir leaned on experience :))
    no, single entry for both!

    @Heartbreaker: yaaaa only Tamil no "foreign" language :(

    @Satish: haha Sir what a thing to say!! Ekta!!

    @creationz: clean chennai has surprised many i see! i am wondering now, am i too critical of Blore, maybe i expect my city to live upto its image of garden city & not garbage city ?!

  45. Great post. I learnt a lot. This kind of information is not posted anywhere in the media. Great pictures too

  46. i have seen Chennai buses...folks hanging from the footboard, haven't been in one yet:)

  47. Hmmm nanna In law urru ri :D adru bagge bardidiri ;) So comments about that!

    But Hats of so much detailing in your posts great! I have been there for so many times never have been this observant!

    Good work!

  48. Nice post dear.

    You've real swt blog.
    Btw my first giveaway at my blog.

  49. No traffic jams and no garbage? Did you even go to a place called T.Nagar? :) I have lived in Bangalore before a couple of years (Indira Nagar) and I found that place to be pretty clean and well maintained.

    One thing you need to be careful about Chennai is - Never take busses during peak hours. And always take busses during off peak hours. Compared to Bangalore, I too feel that bus fare is very less in Chennai.

    Next time, try to go in the electric trains - they are fun to travel, again only during off peak hours.

    Destination Infinity

  50. @A: liked the bit about not finding such info in media. thank you for that

    @Life: time to go on one of them then?

    @Ramya: ohh in laws from there!
    thanks for the compliments

    @vertu: thank you

  51. @Destination: have you ever been stuck in a jam in Blore? we are the world leaders in traffic jams :)

    garbage: lately the garbage collection system isnt working well in all the areas of Blore. those workers ask for extra payment from every house/shop. if you dont pay, your garbage lies on the road/in front of the house/shop.
    frankly i didnt happen to pass through any of the famously filthy places in chennai & am glad :))

    electric trains?this is news to me. chennai has those????? ohhhh noooo i missed it then :(((

  52. chennai has good points like the beach road and marina beach one of longest in world , great dosas and some unique character ... but i like delhi the best of all metroes

  53. rightly chennai buses are very cheap...
    but never forget to pay the fare to conductor immediately after getting into d bus...evn if u get into by the front door pass the money...
    roads are good...Besant Nagar beach is better than Marina beach....
    ur post reminded me of my year long stay in Chennai...


  54. Public transport is something we generally take for granted i guess...as for the subway under lock n key....wish we could keep yeddy there :) he can stare at the tubelights for the rest of his miserable existence :)

  55. I read all your previous posts with this one today.. I have visited chennai on few ocassions but this trip with your narration gave it a different meaning all together.. It was a nice read as usual Sujatha.

  56. Nice breezy post. Reminded me of my bus rides! I find them interesting; though the conductors are not such a friendly bunch. That was really mean on his part. :(

    Oh yeah.. creating a lot of jobless engineers is a very profitable business these days u see. :P

    Very nice read. :)

  57. @Haroon: unique character ?
    i never stayed in Delhi but on the 2 occasions i visited it, i loved it

    @Soumyadeep: a year in Chennai sounds pretty long to me :)

    @India's: LOL - yeddy spending his time staring at tube-lights!!

    @Ashwini: thank you Ashwini. my first & last visit ever to Chennai :)

    @Raj: thank you
    just heard today, AP produces 2 lakh engineers every year!

  58. Guess you have captured the conductor part very well.True,they behave like Maharajas and you have to see them at their best when you give a 100 or 500 rupees note instead of change.What follows is a torrent of mumbles which sometimes breaks into arguments,cocky stares and curt remarks.One has to be careful,especially someone who is new to the city.

    Apart from that,Chennai is good.People are kinda ok if not the coolest.And regarding the comments on subways and garbage I am not sure.I think the cleanliness can be much better.I have been to other cities but haven't got a real glimpse since my visits have kinda work related,short.So I am not sure whether Chennai is the best city or not but it has its charms and it is special in its own way.I love the city.

  59. @ ... : i cant read tamil so i dont know your name. thank you for your comment.

    @Vishnu: yes cleanliness needs to be improved a lot in all cities even Blore.
    thank you for posting your views

  60. Recently been to kerela.Nice to read all of that! I just loved being in trivandrum! met hole lot of wonderful people!

  61. @Ashish: aah! that's good to know :)

  62. I've never been to Bangalore or Chennai but over here in Nasik, the conductor does come asking for tickets :-) That's a good thing that we don't have to move on to him struggling through the crowd. Moreover, the conductor charges half tickets for all the kids who are below 8 :-) .. Good post, we get to learn a lot through these journeys :-)

  63. @Kokz: different set of rules in different cities of one India :)

  64. I think you could have boarded Ac bus, but gud you explore this city from bottom means boarding local bus and felt the experience of crowded bus. Well I am not surprised by the behaviour of the conductor because this thing has been happening for long in our Political system and nobody wants to leave their chair easily...

  65. @Mithlash: hahha sahi kaha Mithlash - kissa kursi ka :))

  66. you write in a very interesting way:)loved reading it..

  67. just linked this article on my facebook account. it’s a very interesting article for all.

    Structural Repairs Chennai

  68. well explained about chennai! nice blog

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