"Chennai is an emotion", they say! To me, Chennai is home where I was born and brought up. Being a Bharathanatyam artiste, I have had the opportunity to travel to other cities in India. Most certainly, other cities are beautiful too; yet Chennai is home. Be it God's own country, Kerala, or the magnificent Pink City, Jaipur, or our happening cities like Mumbai or Bengaluru, visiting those places and staying there for a few days is just enough for Chennai to make its absence felt!
Chennai is truly an emotion; an emotion that has been witness to all my emotions I would say! Bouts of irritation in our jam-packed shops at Ranganathan Street, or our noisy rendezvous at Saravana Bhavan or Adyar Ananda Bhavan, Oh, and not to forget the Karpagambal Mess, to some lousy chit chats at Coffee shops, to gobbling Pani puris by the roadside and relishing a plate of Pav Bhaji at any corner of the city, to bargaining vehemently with the auto-kaarars, or even the priceless moments of solitude by the shore of our Bessie and Marina - Chennai has seen it all!
The best time of the year to be in Chennai is certainly the Tamizh month of Margazhi (December - January). And if one was lucky enough to be in Chennai at that time, that would be evidence enough for them to experience the open-armed embrace of Chennai. With 'sabha-hopping' being the predominant activity at that time for cultural enthusiasts, there is nothing that can replace that cultural reunion that Chennai harbours. As a student of the Arts, I have benefited immensely from being a part of that exuberant festival of arts, both as an active participant (performer) and the passive participant (Rasika). When the stages are filled with artistes from all over the world, what else can Chennai be, than a hub of learning and inspiration! I can confidently claim that Chennai is the cultural capital of India and it is the soil where a plethora of Artistes have sown their seeds of artistry with utmost faith and hope that the soil would give them all the nourishment to grow into a huge, unshakeable tree. One such legendary artiste, who comes to my mind instantly, is Padmabushan Dr. Vempati Chinnasatyam, who was instrumental in reviving the art of Kuchipudi. It is said that he walked all the way from his hometown (a small village called Kuchipudi, in Andhra Pradesh) to the then 'Madras' to establish what became a world-renowned institution and create revolutionary impact on the art. Could one forget the monumental institution Kalakshetra Foundation laid down by Smt. Rukmini Devi Arundale? Could one forget the number of historic kutcheris that Chennai has been witness to?
What can replace the damp air and the smell of hot Pongal or Puliyodharai in Mylai Kapali koil? If you have stepped into a temple in Chennai, you will understand what I mean! Our summers are hot, our winters are a tad hot too (but cold in the measure of Chennaites!). But, having seen the air of laziness in the other cities that have quite a 'good' climate, this heat is worth it! After all, Chennai gives us challenges to grow and outgrow ourselves. It teaches us to be united during times of trauma, and it leads by example, to embrace and welcome whatever comes our way!
What really inspires me as an artiste, about Chennai, is its inclusiveness. It welcomes everyone without any bias and gives an opportunity for each of us to grow, progress and achieve. It has to be the same with the arts too. I believe and try to put into practise, the idea that Art is for all and it should cater to all classes of audiences and make a difference in them. It should enable them to rejuvenate, introspect and finally make them better humans.
I have walked the roads of Chennai, during the peak traffic hours, stepped into restaurants and shops, many times in my Bharathanatyam attire, quite unabashedly! What is most beautiful about the city, in my opinion, is the fact that it lets you carry your identity with pride. For an artiste, this 'identity' is a significant aspect - one's identity in the Arts and importantly, how one identifies with the art. A successful artiste is one who is filled with Conviction, Confidence and Clarity; and Chennai, to me, symbolises all that and more.
About the Author:
Harinie Jeevitha is a dedicated artist who has been learning the art of Bharathanatyam from the age of six. Being a regular performer in the December music and dance season, she has had the opportunity to perform for esteemed Sabhas in Chennai.