As the age old saying goes, "Vandhorai vazhavaikkum Chennai" (Tamil for Chennai makes it's settlers thrive) held good for my father from the other corner of the state and my mother from Bombay who started their careers and met in Madras, spawning me, a first generation Chennaiite many years later, right at the heart of city which is eternally close to my heart.
Chennai to me is a city laden with ever so subtle contradictions, coexisting in perfect harmony amidst the dichotomy. Chennai to me is the loud sigh when one cribs about the humidity, sweating profusely through their clothes while still defending it with fervour and casting blame on geography when an outsider berates it. Chennai to me is marvelling at the IT corridor skyline on an airy bogie of the MRTS and wondering if it's really the same village Francis Day acquired for the company while a silk clad bharatanatyam student steps in and reminds you it's just as ancient as its modern. Chennai to me is racking your brain over what raga the song being sung is in a marghazi concert, scoffing food from the sabha canteens and catching the midnight mass at Santhome cathedral the same night graced with the presence of plum cake. Chennai to me is a gourmet lunch at a swanky KNK road joint followed by a humble dinner at a kaiyendhi bhavan stall.
Chennai is to me is the wave of yellow at Chepauk pumped with adrenaline and praying for a last over miracle. Chennai to me is the irritation that kicks in almost instantly when someone asks why the city doesn't speak Hindi, whilst being a speaker myself. Chennai to me is countless school trips spent in Marina beach, Mahabalipuram, snake park and dakshin chitra. Chennai to me is the annoyance when a fortune teller interrupts your nervous first date at Besant Nagar beach and actually laughing about it together after. Chennai to me is the excitement of being in a non-multiplex theatre for an FDFS Rajnikanth movie, while complaining that a movie is simply not a movie without sathyam popcorn. Chennai to me is overloading on the seasoning on said Sathyam popcorn.
Chennai to me is the exasperation when the auto driver tries to fleece you and the standard "Is this a one way fare or two way fare?" counter delivered to the perpetrator. Chennai to me is trying to recreate Ratna Cafe's sambhar painstakingly and failing every single time. Chennai to me is knowledge that nothing will ever come close to Kalathi news mart's nectar in the form of rose milk. Chennai to me is the bursting cornucopia of colours in North mada street when its Navrarathri and the ingenious plans to accompany your mother to golus just to snack on a sundal or two.
Picture 1: Kapaleeshwarar Temple and Kalathi rose milk
Chennai to me is the bibliophilic tendency that was first nurtured in a Higginbotham's outlet and an obsession for chat that germinated in the narrow lanes of Sowcarpet. Chennai to me is the soft chuckle stemming from intrigue that dosa waffles and bonda burgers exist in this city. Chennai to me is the bewilderment at the line outside TASMAC as an adolescent and finding myself in the same line as an adult. Chennai to me is the bolstering sense of pride when the city is ranked highly for safety and sleeping sans consternation when a female friend or relative is out late at night. Chennai to me is calling it madras once in a while and taking in a whiff of the hoity-toity sophistication that comes from calling it that. Chennai is watching madras day videos on youtube when you miss home. Chennai to me is sitting at a Starbucks across the planet and nudging your mom to courier you some good old filter kaapi powder your way. Chennai to me is the moments if only fleeting, when you're transported back to Madras with a satisfying sip of the filter coffee all the way in Montreal, 12,982 kilometers away, for you can take the boy out of Madras, but can't take Madras out of the boy. After all, like Ilayaraja said it, "Swargame vandhaalum adhu nammooru pola varuma?" (Even if it's heaven it's no match to Chennai.)
Picture 2: Filter Coffee
About the Author:
Pranav P Iyer is a graduate environmental engineering student living in Montreal, Canada who firmly believes curd rice is a superfood (He'll fight you.) When he's not dabbling in art, playing the ukulele or watching breakfast at tiffany's for the nth time he cooks and food blogs at IG: @dudevskitchen