On the East coast of India facing the Bay of Bengal, directly across the peninsula from the place where i was born, sits Chennai, formerly Madras, of the ‘checks‘ and ‘curry‘ fame.
Where St Thomas, the Apostle, was martyred in 70 AD, and the British East India Company built their first major settlement (in India) in 1639.
Where cricket is a religion, and a movie star (and later chief minister) was GOD!!
The home of the Dosa, Idli and filter Kapi. And exquisite silk saris woven in nearby Kanchipuram.
A place that incredibly holds onto its culture and traditions against the onslaught of centuries of foreign influence, including the current influx of North Indians.
Population: just under 8.6 million. Big, bustling, dirty and HOT. Remember R’s hot, hotter and hell analogy? We are currently well out of hell thanks to some borrowed showers from the South West monsoons.
Language spoken: Tamil. Dravidian Tamil chauvinism led to protests against the imposition of Hindi as the national language based on “numerical superiority” in the sixties. Their rebuttal: “If we had to accept the principle of numerical superiority while selecting our national bird, the choice would have fallen not on the peacock, but on the common crow!”
There were ambitious plans for ‘Singara (beautiful) Chennai” a few years ago. The putrid river Cooum, was supposed to have been cleaned up, the roads beautified, the garbage removal privatised, more trees planted, etc etc. Everyone was filled with the ‘India Shining’ fervor. But these plans fell by the wayside like all other development plans attempted by rival state governments too busy playing politics.
The biggest bone that I have to pick with the local authorities is the absolute lack of respect for heritage architecture. Oh they love their temples, although they have a strange way of showing it by painting their spires in the ghastliest colours imaginable. The beach promenade was once lined with the most remarkable colonial and Indo Saracenic landmarks. Few remain, and these, thanks to loud protests from vigilant citizens.
Still, it isn’t all bad.
We are finally getting a metro, even if it involves a few years (??) wait before it becomes functional*.
Chennai has developed into a quality industrial and manufacturing hub with every known car maker having a presence here. A Detroit of the East if you please. The resultant power shortage is another story, but it does make for a thriving, vibrant, cosmopolitan economy.
There are annual Carnatic music festivals that have people pouring in from around the world, (I shall commit sacrilege here and confess to preferring Hindustani and Sufi music!).
We have prestigious art galleries and beautiful beach resorts close by, and a more laid back life style. The food scene is improving by leaps although there never was a dearth of amazing local eateries, predominantly vegetarian (strange, considering this is a coastal city), but also the fiery cuisine from Chettinad that we love. And the Kapi of course.
And some very dear friends.
Below are a few vignettes of this metropolis I call home…….Singara or not.
* One short stretch of the Metro was inaugurated on 29 June 2015.