Almost every day in this city of approximately 800,000 people, we have two-hour blackouts because power plants fail to function at their full capacity due to the monsoons.
During these blackouts, our family gathers in the living room and we quiz one another on various topics. Since my family and others living in Salem don't know much about Hollywood celebrities, I usually quiz them on this topic. One day, when it was my turn to pose a question, I asked, "Who is George Clooney?"
I expected silence, but I wasn't prepared for the wrong answers that came my way.
"He must be an educator. I'm right, aren't I?" said my mother, beaming.
She was referring to Cluny School, an all-girls school run by nuns and a famous landmark in Salem.
"That makes sense, but it is run by nuns. Maybe he was a priest who founded the school?" my father said hesitantly.
Father George Clooney – the founder of the famous all-girls school in Salem? I thought of the adjectives typically used to describe the actor – sexy, charming, handsome – and burst out laughing.
"No, he isn't a priest or an educator," I said.
"I don't know, but if I have to guess, he must be a doctor – the one who discovered cloning?" My mother's elder sister, Manonmani Aunty, volunteered.
"Was he a scientist then?" she asked.
"I've never heard of him," said my "cousin sister."
The others remained silent.
"He is a Hollywood actor," I said triumphantly.
I picked up the newspaper lying on the desk, which displayed his photo, and showed it to everyone.
"This is him. He is a Hollywood superstar, and he is considered one of the sexiest men alive."
"Hmm... He isn't even good-looking," said my cousin sister.
Tomorrow, I plan on asking everyone if they've heard of Angelina Jolie. I'm sure they would think she is a work of art created by angels because "jolie" is slang for "work" in my language.
I never realized that learning about Hollywood actors could be so much fun. Most people of Salem are blissfully ignorant of Hollywood, although Salem has a long movie history. Salem is one of the birthplaces of the South Indian movie industry, especially for Tamil films. Some of the pioneers of the movie business lived and made movies here such as T.R. Sundaram, the founder of Modern Theatres Studio.
Salem, being picturesque and blessed with varying terrains, proved ideal for filming movies of different genres. Therefore, seeing movie stars here is common. The Tamil film industry is currently celebrating the 75th anniversary of Bombay Talkies, one of the first Indian movie studios, and churns out more than 100 movies each year.
George Clooney, though, can easily walk the streets of Salem unrecognized. I'd be thrilled if he would knock on my door – provided he can get past our security guard, Lakkhaiyan, who is extremely suspicious of foreigners.
But is he the sexiest man alive? No way! At least not in Salem.