By Kunal Anand:
Four years isn’t a long period in a man’s life. But if those four years are your college life, they ought to be special and memorable. As my college life ends and in all probability, I will leave Chennai for some other place; I can’t stop myself from saying a final goodbye to this beautiful city that has given me the best four years of my life.
My first brush with Chennai wasn’t very pleasant (and is not talking about the summer heat. That’s the only thing I wish Chennai could get rid of). As I got down at Chennai central station for my first trip to SRM to attend the counseling session, my uncle realized he needed to replace his wrist watch battery. The roadside vendor charged us Rs 100 for a 20 bucks Chinese stuff. When I tried to reason with him, he said that the battery was big. This made me blurt the most ridiculous argument ever. I asked him, “By that logic, you will charge Rs1000 for a pencil battery!“. He gave me a nasty look and that very moment, I decided this wasn’t the city I wanted to spend my next four years in. As fate would have it, I wasn’t left with many choices. I joined my college a few months later and thus began my love-hate relationship with this city.
Like most people from north, I too was prejudiced. The sambar smell, the flowers in every other women’s hairs, the undecipherable Tamil billboards, the life size cutouts of Capt. Vijaykanth with Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda (I swear I am not making this up!) were a few of the things we used to joke about in the hostel. Add to this the horrible mess food and not so friendly college administration, and the hatred for Chennai, Tamil Nadu and anything remotely associated with Chennai was complete.
Then the classes started. Slowly, I realized that my Tamil and Telugu friends are way cooler than me. They give a dime about LTTE (contrary to the belief that Tamilians sympathize with Prabhakaran). They know Hindi! Unlike the rich spoilt brats we see in Delhi and other major cities, the rich guys here are down to earth, although they love to splurge on luxuries too. They do drive Audi, but don’t run over the lesser mortals. They don’t kill Jessica Lals for not serving liquor. And money is the last thing that decides their friend circle.
The city, many people still refer to it as Madras, is as colorful and diverse as the Tamil movies. You can see 1950 Premier Padmini waiting on traffic signals alongside Lamborghini Gallardo. The Victorian structure Ripon building can still give a run for the money to the newly built Express Avenue in terms of grandeur. This city has given us India’s most sophisticated sci-fi movie- The Robot, but it still comes to standstill when India’s biggest superstar-Rajnikanth makes an appearance in his trademark black shirt and dhoti, sans make-up and wig.
The beauty of Chennaites lies in their simplicity. Their matinee idols don’t need to look young and ravishing either on-screen or in real life. They know how to love their stars the way they are. This is why a bus conductor can become a worldwide phenomenon and actresses with waist size double to that of Deepika Padukone can give her a run for her money. Inspite of mushrooming of KFCs and McDonald’s, there’s still no match for the idlis from Ratna cafÃ©. A Chennaite is deeply rooted in his culture while embracing modernity. He is as comfortable eating at the Taj with French cutleries as he is in the traditional banana leaf. If there’s one city where the old and new India isn’t two different localities but are one single entity coexisting in perfect harmony, it’s Chennai.
In Chennai, it’s impossible not to notice the omnipresent political graffiti. They are everywhere-on walls, flyovers, subways, vehicles. Karunanidhi is almost as famous as Rajinikanth in this part of the world. When you distribute free color TVs and rice at Rs1/kg, you are bound to be idolized.
This city is unique. You can sit in the local train with your friends and talk loudly in the not so decent version of “engineering Hindi” without the fear of being scolded by some elderly uncle. This city is relatively safe for girls and working women even late at night. This is one aspect in which Chennai is totally different from the national rape capital of India. Unlike other metros, people here are busy amongst themselves, too busy to think about teaching “lessons” to girls who venture out at nights for work or even discos.
Spencer’s plaza was my favorite destination for the first two years. Even now, if you visit the mall on weekends, it will resemble a mini SRM buzzing with students from our college. It’s still one of those few places where the biggest brands share space with cheap fake goods. With the opening of Express Avenue (EA), Spencer’s might have lost a lot of its admirers, but the old lady still lures us once in a while.
Watching Chak De! India on the main screen of Sathyam cinemas with a packed crowd was amazing. That was the day I became a fan of Sathyam cinemas like every other guy who has visited this multiplex at least once. You can’t escape its charm. Oh wait! You can escape to ESCAPE!
The sweltering heat can make anyone hate Chennai. But you need to know Chennai to love her. And once you do that, there’s no escaping her charm. Who can forget this city after driving on ECR, watching the sunset at Besant nagar beach, and exploring the chariot temples of Mahab? This city is like a shell. To know her worth, you have to look in to see the shining pearl-pure and immaculate, she holds inside her heart.
I was lucky to experience the joy called Chennai. Contrary to what I had thought four years back, I will leave Chennai with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. I will forever miss this city and the friends I made here. But the memories will always lighten my heart whenever I will be sad.
P.S: This might well be my last post from Chennai. I hope I get a chance to be back soon. God knows how many times I have dreamt of buying one of those beach villas on ECR and spending my life watching the waves crash against the shores. 🙂
The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.