‘Namma Chennai’, as the locals call it, grows on you. With its rich cultural heritage and numerous traditions, Chennai is one of the oldest metros of India. When I moved here, being a Delhiite (and used to Saaddi Dilli), I had mixed feelings about how I would fit in. I’m a big-city, urban girl, and Chennai barely qualified as a mega polis in the same breath as Delhi or Mumbai. After two years now, I will say it was definitely not love at first sight. But I came with an open mind. Gradually this place, and its people, have welcomed me with open arms and made me comfortable. If Chennai was a person, you could not just have a fling with it. You’d want it to be much more. My perspective on Chennai is bound to be very different from those born and raised here, but here are my two cents on this charming city.
Chennai is a thriving cultural hub of the country characterized by its winter music and dance festivals, excellent schools, and its dedication to the creative arts. You can see the city’s culture in the sartorial style of its denizens. You can always find men clad in dhotis or colourful veshtis and women in silk saris bedecked with gold and flowers in their hair milling around. The sun glistening off the gold is a sight to see, and could put good old Bappi Lahiri with his heavy gold chains out of business!
You will notice more two-wheelers here than cars. Men and women alike zip dangerously along the narrow roads ever ready to overtake from the left. The beaches are a great attraction, and on weekends, across the city, you see people thronging to these sandy shores or driving merrily along the scenic East Coast Road.
The food in the city comprises mainly of rice in its myriad forms. I was surprised to see even fancy buffets carry the humble curd rice. In fact most of the locals cannot finish their meal without a scoop of curd rice at the end, a concept I’m still not able to absorb. Until a few years back, I believe people found it hard to purchase rolling pins since chapattis were unheard of. However, their rice preparations suit the weather and taste buds. Eating with the hand probably adds another flavour to these preparations. As a bonus to the rice, you can smell the aroma of filter coffee at every nook and corner. Steaming hot filter coffee teamed with vadas and bhajji (pakoras) is a treat for any food lover.
The city is flooded with temples and a real estate pitch is often based on proximity to them. The architecture and carvings on these temples are beautiful and their varied colours are bound to mesmerize you. It is quite amusing to see the giant posters and banners with garish colours dot the city. It lends a larger than life feel to the city.
Chennai’s biggest treasure is its people. They seem more patient and laid back than where I come from. They lead a slow-paced life. They do not believe in confrontation and are okay with status quo. This is a contrast to the aggressive, fast-paced life of Delhi or Mumbai. The sense of community and humility are writ large on the city’s landscape, and is, therefore, very comforting for outsiders. I hear a lot of locals use the term “super” to describe things they like or admire, and it always brings a smile on my face.
The fan following of celebrity stars is at a different level here, unmatched by anything in Bollywood! Hero worship was definitely a term invented in Chennai as film stars are no less than Gods for many people. The good thing is ticket prices are still quite low compared to other cities and people come out in large droves to see movies in a variety of languages. I am told that the first-day first-shows of a Rajnikant release are an experience that any film buff needs to go through. I am hoping to get this first-hand experience during my stint in Chennai!
The thermometer in Chennai comes with only three grades: hot, hotter or hottest! The city’s heat and high humidity, can often be a dampener. But once you get used to it, one realizes the benefit of sweating it out. As a nice contrast to this weather, the sea raises a nice breeze in the evenings bringing some much-needed respite.
Comparisons are neither fair nor useful. One has to appreciate every city for what it brings to the table. Not having been exposed earlier to a different culture, Chennai has been a ‘super’ learning experience for me. For now, as I look out from my terrace to the horizon of the sea and sip on filter coffee, Namma Chennai is a reality I love living in.
I would love to hear about your personal thoughts and experiences!