This week ( 20th to 26th of August) is celeberated as Madras Week and every news daily worth its salt ( in Chennai) is writing about it elaborately through multiple columns and initiatives. Every time I read a small tidbit or an article about Chennai, my heart swells with pride. Can you imagine my joy when all these imminent people who rave about this city are going gaga over My city, My Chennai.
I can be called a migrant of Chennai, but I have embraced her with a love that I have reserved only for this city. My Parents hail from the district that is called the cultural capital of Gods own Country and my Dad came here half a century back for a job that he was committed to, and when he got married they made Chennai their home. My mom was taken to her parents place when she was heavily pregnant with me, ( the first childbirth happens at maternal place, traditionally) and so I was technically born in Kerala. I stayed on there for 8 months or so and landed in Chennai as an infant – I guess I fell in love with Chennai even back then ( Awww you know I am making that up !)
As a child my parents dutifully took us ( me and my siblings) to Kerala to spend our complete 2 months summer vacation every year in both my Parents’ ancestral homes and the strong ties I developed with my extended families of aunts, uncles and cousins can be credited to that. Kerala is yet again another scenic place with greenery and beauty all around, its truly as though God tried his hand at art work out there.
I remember my cousins jokingly remark that the Pandi’s have arrived, when we reach Kerala, probably the first of the racist comments I have heard in my life. I was young and Naïve then and I used join them in the laughter and fun poked at us. Paandi is a derogatory term used to refer the people of Tamilnadu, guess it comes from the Pandiyaas who ruled over Tamilnadu way back. And most of the Tamils in Kerala then were into Manual cheap labour, I guess that’s the reason for sarcasm. ( For those who are not familiar with Chennai, It is the capital of Tamilnadu, one the 31 states in India, and is in the southern tip of Indian peninsula and earlier called as Madras). Today none of them would dare say that to me, ( let me also add here that I have a wonderful set of cousins we are a close knit lot and are regularly in touch with each other, though we are in different parts of the world today) I would defend Chennai and the so called Paandi’s tooth and nail with anyone who would even dare to utter that today. That’s a different story altogether. But end of two months summer vacation and I wanted to be back in Chennai.
There is an unwavering love for Chennai in me and which was brought to the fore, when I had to live out of Chennai the first time in my life for around 2 years in a gorgeous hill station with so serene surroundings, anyone else would have wanted to settle down there. My first job landed me in Yercaud, so different from Chennai in all aspects, but I had this perennial longing to get back to Chennai – inspite of all that Yercaud, a hill station had to offer. I enjoyed every moment there, but deep down I used to miss the PTC buses, Suburban trains, the autos, the malls ( back then it was Spencers, Fountain plaza, Cisons complex), the beaches, libraries, theatres, the restaurants, Mount Road, Central Station, Parrys corner, T nagar, Pondy bazaar, Cathedral road, filter coffee, Vandalur Zoo, the museum, Planetarium, ECR and can you imagine even the morbid Madras Bashai
When people tell me you are a malayalee, but you speak such wonderful Thamizh without the accent of a Keralite, I feel so good. Yes, I speak Thamizh and not Tamil. I still have people who look at me and ask so you can speak Tamil? And I reply “Yeah, I can read, write and speak Thamizh”. I consider it a great language, and the only other reason I would attribute to my first mark in English and Second language ( that happens to be Thamizh) in my Twelfth grade at school is my Geminian flair for languages. A disclaimer here though My flair for languages I guess have dimmed over a period of time from those days, I see some wonderful blogs written by some great bloggers that wax eloquence and intelligence together that I wonder how people even tolerate my writing I digress here, though.
I should tell you this – in 2003 I decided to improve my professional qualification and enrolled into a MBA programme offered by Madras University ( while I have done a certificate course from Harvard University and U21, I still take pride in my UG and PG degrees from Madras university ). It was a part-time MBA which means I had to put up with a grinding schedule. I worked till 5. 45 pm and had to get into my classes at 6.30 pm which went on till 9.30 pm and reached home only at 10.30 pm. The college that I enrolled held classes in Nungambakkam, my work place was Teynampet and I was at that time, residing close to Guindy. The ones who know Chennai will tell these three places are not quite close to each other. So travelling back home late at night was an everyday affair, and me being a studious one never missed a class unless it could not be avoided, the absence I mean. I NEVER was scared of this city in those three years while travelling late night and I still feel safe to travel alone even late nights here. Until recently, in my earlier job, where I had to travel quite a bit, I used to take a late night flight from various cities in India, and reach home well after midnight in a cab. Its as though I know the city well and she knows me in turn.
In my 42 years, ( yeah that’s my age folks) I would have missed living in Chennai for say approximately 5 years, and these 5 years life has taken me to very different places on the globe both in India ( I cant list the cities and towns I visited here, that’s a really long list, though I haven’t ventured much up North) and abroad ( this I can list out actually it’s just a few) Wilmington (US), New York, Washington DC, Paramatta in Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore and Malaysia – Folks its not as though I never stepped out of Chennai and am drooling over her. Oh I am amazed at the cleanliness and the ultra modern amenities and services that are non-existent in Chennai and I am mesmerized by these cities that I have been to, in the initial days of my stay there, but soon, I have this longing for the sights and sounds that is unique to Chennai. Certain smells of Chennai still repel me, but that’s not a deterrent for my love for her.
Be it the cruel sunshine of May, or the literally non-existent monsoons, or the havoc laden cyclones that’s a regular affair year after year, which comes with the single minded focus of hitting Chennai and loses steam when it comes closer to Chennai, probably charmed by Chennai and normally drifts off to our neighboring state, the sultriness and humidity with which you can make anyone sweat and make everyone look at you with disdain.. No, I still don’t complain about the weather – 42 years is no joke, you see. You get used to it obviously.
Chennai, Madras to be precise ( I still somehow cannot shed the angelical colonized version of its name) is the place that shaped me to what I am today, She has delighted me with her cuisine that is uniquely hers alone, she has embraced me like she has embraced millions of migrants, allowed me to hope, dream, grow and fly to wherever I wanted to but always have waited for me to return to her patiently, gave me the sense of freedom and yet immense safety, memories of a happy childhood, youth and now home for my son, who loves it as dearly as me.
This is the place where I learnt to read, write and speak, value human relationships, her culture taught me to treat people all the same and not based on colour, creed or religion and this place also gifted me a medley of long lasting friendships. This is where I have laughed, dreamed, loved, cried, hoped and prayed the most and also had colossal fun. This is the place where I took my baby steps in education, profession, marriage and family, in short LIFE. Chennai is a city with a soul of its own and it gave me Roots to grow and wings to fly.
Today you complete 373 years. I am reminded of Shakespeare’s lines “Age cannot wither her nor custom stale her infinite variety.. “
Happy Birthday Madras.. ooops you are now Chennai, from someone who has made this place her home and loves you with all her heart. :-)