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Madras, namma Madras!

In the past few weeks, quite a few people have written something about my hometown be it their brush with the humidity and the pollution or how diametrically opposite it is to the North Indian cities, such as Delhi. Reading about these have made me quite home sick for my lovely city and I thought I shall put pen to paper and write about what makes me love it so.

Chennai, or Madras as it was known then and familiar to me today, has always been the perfect amalgamation of the old and the new. It is a city, where the kancheevaram sarees and old maamis live hand-in-hand with the Mocha coffee swigging, tank topped teeny-bopper. It is a city where the December Music Season is the highlight of the year’s cultural calender. But it is also the city where multi-stored malls and ginormous technology parks are coming up at an alarming pace. Kapaleeshwarar Temple still holds sway while Dublin continues to rock the party, come Saturday night.

The old and the new have meshed together so well that one barely leaves a dent on another. The Geetha cafes and Saravana Bhavan clientele still continue going about their daily toils, the latest opening of Baristas notwithstanding. Pizza Hut still has a mile long seating queue outside its premises most evenings and the latest branch of Madurai Idli Kadai just a little over a mile away doesn’t put any pro-Italianos off their stride.

It is also a city of crazy traffic and diabolical drivers. Having a countdown at the traffic lights seems to have made these speed demons crazier than before, what with all the revving that happens even when the timer has a good 20 seconds to go! Latest model Honda Civics aside, the potholes the latest bout of rains have gifted to the repaved roads will give your bones a workout no Shiatsu massage ever will.

It is also the city where the humidity hits you like a wet blanket the minute you set foot in. The sweat running in rivulets, combining with the dust and grime will make you look rather like an Indian brave by the end of the day. If you are not used to it, it may well make you weep!

Though Tamil is the language of the state and the DMK fervour had made sure that there is a bit of ziddi in speaking the language, the people are not averse to learning a new language. Proof of this would be the hugely popular language programmes run by the Alliance Francaise and Max Muller Bhavan, which teach French and German, respectively. But this trait is not to be found solely amongst the younger generation. My old vegetable vendor used to speak in highly fractured but extremely serviceable Hindi to one of my neighbours, who had moved to Chennai from Bombay a few years back. Though the lady had been a resident of the city for about 3 years then, she hadn’t picked up a word of the local language while the wizened vendor knew enough to sell her bhindi and baingan on demand!

Chennai, the city, is split into many zones, depending on its population. Accordlingly, in Sowkarpet, you will find Sindhis and Marwaris whilst in Parrys Corner,you will find lot more Telugus than Tamils. (Aside: Though the Sindhis and Marwaris have settled in the city and generations of their families have been calling Chennai home, none of them could speak a word of Tamil amongst them. This was a highly irritating factor during my college days. )
Eastern Madras is full of the brahmins whilst the South has folks connected to tinsel-town.

Though the city is now expanding in all directions at break neck speed and once shunned areas such as Velachery and Virugambakkam are now extremely sought after, the old demarkations still exist. The new perimeters haven’t erased the old they have simply, in typical Chennai fashion, become a part of the fabric.

It is also the city where education is supreme. Every year, during admission time, you will find anxious mums and dads queuing outside the city’s top schools, just to get an application form. The streets will be bereft of children come evening, as they will all be busy at the abacus classes, trying to master that ancient art, before taking off to the Bharatnatyam or singing classes. It is the same city where John Britto and Swingers dance schools flourish, helping wannabe Prabhu Devas turn their dreams into reality.

This is also the city where NIFT sits comfortably next to Co-Optex showroom. The city where the latest fashion trend is a saree with a pocket for one’s cell phone. The city where heels come with butti patterns to match the pallus. The city where hipsters jeans are worn with a zari top. This is the city where the paati’s Annamacharya keertans jostle for space with grand daughter’s James Blunt.

That is the magic of my city a city where the roads are full of potholes, the traffic snarls legendary, the water problem one of epic proportions, where sabhas are as important as the multiplexes but one in which a person can go for a spot of masala dosa and milkshake at mdnight, on the way back from a disco or a pizza and fresh juice for high tea, before joining the pattu saree maamis at Music Academy for a K J Yesudas kutcheri. A city where aalaapana and Air Nikes exist comfortably.

This is Madras, nalla Madras. We are like this only, saar!

Posted by DesiGirl 7:40 am  


  1. Karthik Ram said...
    Nostalgia grips me. Great article.
    ajay said...
    Great Post. This article has made me miss my madras even more (in a good way, of course)
    Ganesh said...
    Nice post! Captures the different faces of Madras Nalla/Namma Mardas very well :)
    DesiGirl said...
    Karthik Ram, Ajay, Ganesh,
    Thanks for taking time out to read my post! And for posting your valuable comments too!
    Nagarajan said...
    This is a genuine "I Love Chennai" article. Great post !

    My only gripe - no mention of cricket :-) We are also home to the MAC stadium and the great tradition of Pongal Test matches.
    DesiGirl said...
    *doH* How did I forget cricket? *slap on the wrists*
    Nagarajan said...
    I am not a big cricket fan nowadays, but still thought it is an enduring part of the city. I should have added the contribution of Krishnans and Amritrajs to Indian tennis, but i think the Chennai sports scene needs a separate blog alltogether ( in short, i wont bore u no more !)
    janani said...
    wow!!! what a lovely way to bring out the best of chennai!!! It was a joy reading your post!! :)
    Raaga said...
    Nice post... very similar to what I'd posted on my blog.
    Anonymous said...
    A very beautiful and genuine article on the ever growing Madras aka Chennai...isn't classy and unique of Chennai that both the western influence or should I say the cosmopolitan influence blends soulfully with the Conservative culture of Chennai...this perfect mix can happen only in Chennai aka Madras.
    Anonymous said...
    Hey that was extremely impressive article on Chennai. I am from andhra yet feel so at home coming to your, rather(our) city. Good to read your article.
    Renu said...
    Nice post:)I have recently come to chennai, but i already love it except the weather:).I have learned quite few words of Tamil also, I love the tone of Tamil.

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