When people ask me which place I belong to, I stammer for an answer,
while indeed the answer is Chennai!
When I hear friends speaking about their filial affection to their place of growing up, I feel confused about my state of blankness.
Why haven’t I grown any affection for Chennai?!
In fact, when my parents began my suyamvar, the only condition I had put forth is that ‘the groom shouldn’t be living in Chennai’.
Well, eventually I landed here 😆
Yes, I was born at the heart of Chennai and my childhood was shaped here. Except for a few days’ of vacation to other places, I’ve never stayed away from Chennai during my formative years. Strangely, Chennai didn’t enter my blood; not even my skin! I didn’t dislike the place exactly, but definitely I wasn’t excited either. Perhaps, the thought of the sultry climate and those neighbour aunties poking into every detail of life left me annoyed sometimes.
A couple of years before the end of schooling, our family left Chennai for good. In the next fifteen years, I travelled across the country for studies and work. After having substantial experience living in seven major Indian cities, my come-back to Chennai, after marriage, was a significant turn in life. Though in the initial days, I often disagreed with H about the goodness of this city, here I am, after four years, writing with love and respect of the land I had belittled all along.
And those of you who’ve cornered Chennai as a conservative city that houses tightly-oiled haired people who cannot utter a word in Hindi, please read what this self-realized Chennaite (not a ‘Madrassi’ that all South Indians as referred to as) has to say about what our city is all about.
What drives the City?
Filter Kaapi! Even at 2 midnight, you can find dedicated coffee vendors in the city. Be it after a breakfast, a heavy meal at lunch, an evening snacks of Bajji and Bonda or a dinner, hotel servers will always offer if you would like to have a cup of filter coffee.
Food! I am a hard-core Idli, Doasi, Chutney, Sambar types. Bet me, no other city can offer the authentic versions. In fact, in Kolkata, it took a hard day’s search to locate a Dosai place 😦 That’s when I realized how welcoming Chennai is! From Roti-curries to Motichur Ladoo, most restaurants in Chennai include North Indian dishes in their menu. No wonder Chennai was listed ‘#2 in the Top 10 Food Cities’ by National Geographic Traveler. And it’s easy to locate an eat-out, no matter where you are within the city; they are omnipresent.
Movies! Rajini, Kamal, Ajith, Vijay, Surya – they are regarded as superior species of humans here. If you want to witness the real craze of movies, you must watch a first day first show at one of the leading halls. Though I used to be a big critique of this movie obsession here, lately, the quality and meaning that Tamil movies carry, especially of the ones directed by new, young people from unheard towns of Tamil Nadu, have greatly touched me. Watch Kaakka Muttai and Soothu Kavvum; you will agree with the truth in my statement.
CSK! Watch a CSK match at the Chennai stadium. Nothing else can justly describe the craze of cricket in this city.
Simple living! The best feeling of living in Chennai is that you will not be looked down upon for silly things as in other places. If you walk around Bangalore Forum mall wearing a crumbled cotton chudidhar and plated hair with red kumkum on the forehead, nine out of ten passers-by will give you that ‘damn’ look. However, you can be the way you are at Chennai Phoenix mall. People willingly accept both traditional and modern social behaviour here, without prejudice. That makes Chennai a comfortable place to live in. Rightly listed in the ‘Top 10 Hottest Cities to live in 2015’ by BBC!
Art, Music & Literature! If I have to spot one difference between Bangalore’s Times of India, Hyderabad’s Deccan Chronicle and Chennai’s Hindu newspapers, it will be the Art & Culture columns of the Hindu Daily. I was surprised to read that even when the city was hit with floods, there was a sankirtan happening at one of the halls in the city. Such is Chennai’s rich cultural heritage of theatre, drama, arts, architecture, music, dance and literature!. In a couple of days, when the season of Margazhi begins, the city will vibrate to the soothing raagas of the best musicians of the city. I am excited!
Besi! If night life meant pubs and parties in Bangalore and Mumbai, night life in Chennai is Besi. That’s what we fondly call our Elliot’s aka Besant Nagar beach. And it’s not just young teens, but from babies to grannies, several Chennai families enjoy quiet night-outs in the weekend. Hot chilli bajjies and warm breeze with the sound of the waves in the background and the chain of Cozee eat-outs, Chennai beaches are cool places to relax.
ECR! The East Coast Road is a treasure house for Chennaites. It has something unique to offer people of all ages and interests. Off road driving, go karting, boating, surfing, theme parks, drive-in theatres and restaurants – the sea side of the city has been perfectly utilized for recreational purposes.
And there’s so much more to visit in and around the city that its aptly recognized by Lonely Planet as the ‘9th Top City in the World to visit in 2015’ and in fact the only city in India and South Asia to be listed by The New York Times among the ‘Top 52 Places to go around the World in 2014’.
What connects the people?
Tamil! Chennai is not a multi-lingual city like Bangalore or a Hindi-speaking city like most other Indian cities. Tamil is a key factor that binds Chennaites. The sarcasm, the wit, the humour, the emotions – I’ve seen the freedom of expressionism and the feel good factor that people associate with Tamil, across social media. And in Chennai, Tamil is equally loved and respected as much as English is.
Though I enjoy the freedom of expression in Chennai, I’ve never found it difficult to survive in other places, no matter whether I knew the regional language or not, including Hindi. I didn’t face a problem with the courier guys in Bangalore to direct to my house, to shop at Delhi Sarojini market or to request the bus conductor in Hyderabad to inform me when Ameerpet stop arrives. I could always learn to speak at least a broken form of other languages. Then why is Tamil a problem for others who visit Chennai? All those people who complain about dealing with Tamil in Chennai and those who criticize the lack of Hindi communication here, please be informed that:
- Most of the local buses in Chennai have the destination written both in English and Tamil.
- Most can speak English here, if not Hindi, including many auto drivers.
- To learn Hindi or not to learn is an individual’s choice. I don’t feel it’s right to look down upon a sect of people just because they don’t speak a particular language.
- Now please don’t argue that Hindi is the national language and that every Indian must learn Hindi. As a matter of fact, Hindi is only an official language as English is. India doesn’t have a national language.
- And for God’s sake, be sensible and don’t feel superior because you can speak Hindi.
Culture! Something I admire in Chennaites! No matter what kind of modernization people adapt to, they are bound by a culture that’s so unique to the city. Whether you wear an Adidas shoe or ordinary Bata slippers, whether you wear a low-neck tee or wrap yourself in saree, be sure that you will not be judged for your outward looks. Most importantly, beauty has nothing to do with fair skin here, unlike the rest of India. If you ask young boys, they’ll define a beautiful girl as the one with kalai and not fair skin or lipstick-smeared lips. To all of you who have asked me how the outwardly unattractive Rajinikanth and Dhanush could become film heroes in Tamil Nadu, this is the answer.
From far, the neighbour aunty might seem to annoy you for not wearing mangalsutra or metti (toe ring) but ring her door bell once to wish “Hello aunty,” she will welcome you with a filter coffee. There’s an admirable liberalism hidden behind the outwardly conservatism. To simply put, the culture of Chennai is ‘depth’ and ‘simplicity’.
Humanity! The Chennai floods have shown the humane part of the city. None of my words can do it better.
What’s best about the city’s Design?
Roads & Connectivity! Don’t feel that I am exaggerating if I tell you Chennai has one the best transport systems in the country. If you’ve ever been caught up in traffic while driving to Dadar station or at KR Puram junction while driving to Whitefield or simply anywhere and everywhere in Kolkata, but managed to cross Anna Salai in a few minutes to reach Central station, you will understand what I mean. My coming-back to Chennai gave me a huge relief with respect to freedom of traveling and most of all, freedom of breathing! Driving isn’t tiring here, at least in most parts of the city. I don’t have to add that +1 hour for traffic jams while leaving home.
The city is well-connected within its areas and with other towns, cities and countries, as well. Airways, Seaways, Roadways, Railways – the city has developed excellent transport mechanisms that it has been ranked as ‘The best City’ at the India Today Best City Awards 2014.
Medical Facilities! The first time I visited Apollo Children’s Hospital at Greams Road, Chennai, it seemed like a mini West Bengal. In fact, the receptionists at the hospital could speak fluent Bengali. Such are the medical facilities in Chennai. People from across India visit Chennai for advanced medical treatments. This makes the city, one of the safest places to live in.
Education!…….I am uncertain of where to stop this post. Unless, I make an effort, I am going to have a wealth of nice things about Chennai to write about. Ha! You should have now guessed why my coming-back to Chennai was a turning point. The realization of truth in reality is a step forward in our evolution. Chennai, with its depth and simplicity, bestowed on me, such a grounding in my evolution.
Header Image Courtesy: www.deccanchronicle.com