Quite recently, life made me move from the familiar locales of Choolaimedu to the southern part of Chennai city. The changes in the urban fabric that this shift had ensued were startling, to say the least, and this was further compounded by the fact that I was moving away from an area that has everything.
Just the other day, I was part of a discussion about how a number of areas in the city have been greatly gentrified and spaces occupied by the working class and smaller working units have been sacrificed in the process. This remains true for a great part of the selectively developed sections of the city. But, it also made me think about the several small shops that dot Choolaimedu High Road. A case in point was the local bicycle repair shop, or as we say, kaathu adikara kadai. I could easily count at least 3 in my area, one being the regular shop that I used to go to whenever my cycle tires needed to get an air refill or if there was a puncture. You can identify them from a distance, the line of black tyres calling out to you, and the shop smelling of a mixture of grease and oil.
Take food, for instance. The area is home to countless restaurants, houses in air-conditioned spaces, roadside carts and kiosks. Their brightly-lit signs and the few sq. ft. of space that hold several customers are the most lively and active spaces come evening and night. In a way, this correlates with the fact that Choolaimedu is home to several ‘mansions’ that offer affordable housing to young professionals from out of town. In fact, a good number of employees from Northeast India also find the locales of Choolaimedu more suited to their pocket and have found a home away from home here. Add to this mix the several families of mixed cultural backgrounds who have lived here for decades and generations together. To cater to all their needs, the food scene here is, to put it simply, absolutely brilliant. Right from your biriyani, parotta and shawarma to your chaats, sandwiches and juices, there are some diverse and delicious food options that contribute to the unique attraction of this area. The fact that these are priced nominally and cater to everyone makes them further attractive. I can assure you that you will leave with a stomach and pocket’s full.
Moving on to life essentials, one fine day I found myself searching for a shop that could duplicate a key. Lo and behold, I found one in a matter of time! One of the many housed in a shopping complex, the key-shaped board that acted as an advertisement could be easily spotted in a matter of time. In the same manner, one can find a shop selling fabric and yarn, selling affordable photo framing services, offering models for school projects (!), undertaking uniform stitching, quick services for watches and clocks, drama costumes on rent or selling the ever-popular Arun icecreams (or, the locality famous Jai Icecreams that’s been around for decades)!
And, what area is complete without the presence of a small, cosy library? The one that I am a member of is one space that I absolutely adore and have fond memories of. It’s not your library in the usual sense. It’s a compact space, with the front desk doubling up as a travel booking office. But, it manages to transform the moment you enter. All the traffic on the High Road slowly fades into the background and you walk into the lands of characters and stories.
There’s so much more - accessibility to and from different parts of the city, great diversity in the kind of shops available, affordable rent, and the list goes on. But, it isn’t only about the amenities and accessibility, is it? Isn’t it also about how a place makes you feel? What do you feel when you walk through the crowds, drive past the buildings and turn into the streets? What do you feel when you see familiar faces around? What do you feel when you arrive and depart? What do you feel when you move somewhere else?
Choolaimedu makes me feel comfortable in my own skin and offers me space to be myself. It tugs at my heart once I moved away and offers me immense joy every time I return. The smallest of things bring the utmost happiness. I guess that’s what is special about an area that has everything - there’s something for everyone.