Sights and sounds of Chennai again


Chennai City in India. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

I recently went on a visit to Chennai, India’s southeastern coastal state of Tamil Nadu. This is a city I have travelled to a number of times and I never cease to marvel at how the city of 11.5 million people continues to keep its motorised traffic moving.

Buses, private cars, and thousands of tuktuks and motorcycles fill the streets where, as my travelling companion aptly summarised, lanes are simply a suggestion.

In the five days of moving around, we never found a single motorcycle accident where sporadically helmeted riders of both genders zip around the vehicular obstacle course with some carrying entire families.

For a population that is generally friendly and very helpful in personal interactions, there is a complete attitude change once they get on top of or behind the wheel of their chosen motorised options.

An inexplicable aggression sets in, drivers and riders alike unapologetically claiming their space in the invisible lanes while miraculously managing to avoid colliding into each other.

We chose to use tuk-tuks to move around, as they are the easiest to find and the cheapest mode of transport. Tuktuk drivers and motorcyclists had their phones perched precariously above the steering bars, with no apparent fears of phone snatchers.

It took a while for us to get comfortable using our phones in the tuktuks as we were Kenyan conditioned to keep such devices far from the reach of our own notorious phone snatchers.

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The penny dropped on relative safety when we observed that women wore gold everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

As gold is a cherished store of value in India, we observed that even female fruit vendors on the streets wore gold necklaces and earrings and were comfortably going about their business without any concerns about petty criminals relieving them of their possessions.

Having found myself in the city also known as Madras, I took advantage of one of India’s proudest offerings: medical facilities.

The hospital I chose to go to is one of India’s leading private facilities where cutting-edge medical technology such as robotic surgery has been pioneered.

This is not a puff piece about the depth of my wallet. On the contrary, it is the price of medical access that is mind-boggling. To access best-in-class doctors and surgeons whose professional acronyms next to their names can fill a Tata truck, the consultation charge is a flat cost of INR 1,500 or Sh 2,250.

No matter which surgeon it is. No matter how long he or she has been in practice.

I chose to do an elective procedure under the hands of a specialist whose very appearance would likely have him arrested and thrown into sartorial jail by a Kenyan medical board.

Inside his tight little office where the walls were lined with happy birthday banners and Christmas tinsel, he had a box of chocolates and toffees on the floor that he asked me to help myself to.

It must be said that there is a reason why many Kenyans continue to flock to India for medical treatment. My procedure cost a quarter of what I would have paid for in Kenya including theatre and specialist consultation charges.

The Kenyan medical fraternity has tried to throw a few obstacles in the path of those Kenyans seeking treatment in India, for instance, the requirement to have a release letter from a Kenyan doctor as a prerequisite to getting an Indian medical visa.

I can see why they would want to protect their own turf and unfettered feeding trough.

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Chinua Achebe proverbially stated, in his epic tome Things Fall Apart, “Eneke the bird says that since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching.”

Kenyans will continue to (pun intended) flock to India in the droves, for as long as the price of best-in-class medical access remains within the reach of their cost-weary pockets.

Let me brace for the backlash impact sure to be received from my Kenyan medical friends!