In 1996, my family, consisting of my father, mother, brother, and I, moved to Madras (it wasn’t Chennai then). We were moving from Calcutta, a city I will always love and cherish for the people and warmth it gave us.
Chennai to me then seemed like an overgrown village. All of 12, I never thought I would come to love Chennai so much.
The changes were just too many to handle. I went from an all-girls school in Calcutta, where I would wear a skirt, to wearing a salwar kurta in a co-educational school in Chennai. My food turned from schoolmates’ snack boxes containing aloo puri and sandwiches to seeing only lemon rice and curd rice. Even the dialect and speed of spoken Tamil was baffling.
So how did the city transform me from a weeping child to smiling wide every time I touch down in Chennai?
A friend of mine often says Madras is an emotion; you have to live it to get a sense of what that means.
The city, the people, its way of life and the culture slowly seeps into you till you become one with them. Chennai doesn’t give you culture shocks and reality checks like a Mumbai would – but will allow you to settle into it, in your own way, and then it will grow on you – slowly, but surely.
Here are a few of the things that make this city special:
1. The beach
I felt the significance and importance of the beach only when I left the city. Up until then, it was just always there. We would take relatives and friends to the beach. But the real connect happened when I came home for the first time from college in Pune for a break. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed the beach till I saw it after a few months.
A few friends decided to take me to the ‘broken bridge’, which as the name suggests is just that – a broken bridge across the Adyar river near the Theosophical Society.
We sat there watching the sunrise, discussing life and what it meant to all of us. Since that first visit, I have ensured that I visit this magical place at least once a year, if not more.
2. The food
I must confess that growing up I hated everything termed as ‘South Indian food’, which basically to me then meant idli, dosa, sambhar and the numerous varieties of chutney. With time I have come to appreciate this cuisine. There is so much more to the food in Chennai than just idli and dosa.
What I have come to love is how much this city has to offer regarding food. There are high-end cafes where one can lounge around with signature coffees or just have full meals at one of the many chains and satiate your soul.
If you happen to visit the city, do make a trip to the famous Ratna Café in Triplicane and try their signature small onion sambar and, of course, the ‘filter kaapi’.
Trust me you’ll thank me for it.
3. Its vibrant and rich culture
Why is it that everything that you want to stay away from when growing up suddenly starts pulling you when you are older?
Like many typical households in Chennai, my mornings would also begin with M.S. Subbalakshmi’s Suprabhatam. At that time I would burrow my head deeper into the pillow to stay away from it. Now I yearn for it.
Perhaps one of the best seasons to visit Chennai is during the month of December when the Mazgahi music season takes place.
The weather gods also take pity on the city and go easy on the heat during this period. It is this time of year when the city is decked up and at its cultural best. People from all over the world come here to soak in the arts, and the food in the sabhas is another post in itself.
Having lived in eight cities across India, I can say with deep conviction that the people in Chennai are special. What this city teaches you is to be grounded and civil.
The importance that families place on education helps in shaping individuals who are highly motivated and sensitive at the same time.
They are a sporting bunch who applaud any genuine effort.
A very telling example is when the crowds at the Chepauk stadium cheered Pakistan graciously after they defeated India. While they are fierce supporters of their own team and do feel equally sad and disappointed when their team loses, they do not shy away from acknowledging the opposition’s strengths.
Chennai’s sports fans are a class apart; it is a true barometer of the city and its people.
Chennai is all heart and anyone who spends time understanding this city is bound to fall in love with it.
This February, Show Some Love For Your City!
We love our city, and we bet you love yours too. And since cities are meant to be experienced and not just seen, this Valentine’s Day, The Better India is celebrating the unique experiences — places, food and activities — that define 14 Indian cities!
So VOTE for your favourite city, SHARE what you love about it and TELL us your ideas for making it even better!
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