My college roommate once said to me, “Your whole life can just be wrapped up in your neighbourhood.” and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. In previous blog posts, I’ve written about how much Madras as a city has given me, but in this one, I want to explore the friendships that I gave it in return. What makes a city if not for the connections we make? Like Bojack Horseman said, “In this terrifying world, all we really have are the connections we make.” This essay is going to be in the form of a listicle because there are very many dear friendships I’ve been gifted from this city and each of them deserves its own special description:
A feeling that I associate with home, more than any other feeling in the world, is a very specific one of being in a Chennai friend’s house on a lazy afternoon, you’re not really doing anything and there’s no agenda for the day. You’ve just had lunch with your friend and her wonderful parents who treat you like you’re a part of their house. You’re sitting next to people you grew up with and spent a whole childhood loving. There’s a glass of cold Mazaa in your hand. We’re sitting on a balcony, listening to the sounds of the city; murmurs of soft wind, human chatter and bird song. I can smell the scent of biryani from the house next door. Chennai summers, “Ah, it doesn’t get better than this. It really doesn’t.”, I think to myself.
It’s 7 AM and I’m frantically calling my neighbours up to make sure they’re out of bed and ready to come cycling, as we planned. You can’t not be happy on a Chennai morning. Everything's better when the sun is out. We cycle along the beach, stopping here and there to make sure everyone else is on the same trail as us. There’s such a big world out there and it’s so easy to be swallowed by it all; but it’s also so easy to find hope in it. The anger will subside. This will become a blip on the radar. It’s okay. Breathe easy. A life you’re proud of. You made it. You’re almost there. So many people rooting for you. The future is waiting. Such a bright, sunny, Madras future. This city gives everyone what they deserve.
There are days when I’ve been irked by Chennai traffic but there have also been days when I’ve been thankful for it; mostly because it gives me more time to talk to people I’m inside a vehicle with. We pause at traffic and this bustling city gives us a chance to catch up and find out how we’re really doing. I find a bar of Dairy Milk silk in my bag, one that a friend’s mom gave me, as many moms do, just in case I get hungry. We share little cubes and chocolate and fill each other in on happiness, heartbreaks and dreams. All this, right at the centre of Chennai traffic; the centre of the city’s happiness, heartbreaks and dreams.
It’s my birthday and I’m struggling to pick a dress to wear. I text as many friends as possible with as many options as possible. What is a girl without her friends rescuing her out of every outfit complication ever? All of us aren’t even in the same city anymore but one said I could shop her closet for shoes and sent photos of everything that might work. Another gave me the perfect shade of versatile, maroon lipstick, so I could pair it with any outfit I decide to put together. Another asked for pictures from my birthday night, despite not being able to make it back to Chennai because of end-term exams. Even in the midst of life’s woes, depleted and drained by it all, the people in my life chose each other. Their gestures of care were tiny and magnificent.
Of course, I couldn’t write a list about friendships without writing about friendships and food. When words don’t suffice, feelings don’t encapsulate and gestures don’t count for much, food comes to my rescue and the rescue of my friends. Whenever I’m upset about anything, even if it is a minor inconvenience, which is what it mostly tends to be, my friends offer to bring me Yellow lays (unusual, I know), to make me feel better. Yellow is a colour I associate with Madras: the yellow sun, yellow dosas, yellow CSK jerseys, what not. We’re undeniably a yellow city. Everyone’s willingness to help, using a tool as simple as a packet of salted chips, illustrates how bravely people offer generosity in friendships. If you’re lucky, you will never be hungry on your friends' watch.
I can’t write about friendship without writing about memories, and the overgrowing pressure to constantly be making good memories, living a worthwhile ‘Instagram’ life. But it’s okay to do nothing with your friends. It’s okay if you’re not ticking off some imaginary ‘Things To Do Before You Turn 20’ bucket list every single day. Some days, all I need is to walk to the park with my friends. Collect bougainvillaea flowers on the way. This city will give you little gestures. Everything doesn’t have to be huge and life-altering.
In the face of a global pandemic, we were all forced to look inwards: put effort into relationships with the people in our lives, learn to love cities we were seemingly stuck in and eager to get out of. Little did I know that the friendships I’ve formed over years of living in this city would seep into my sentiments for Chennai. Of course, life goes on and we make new friends and find new cities to call home; but there’s just something special about this city and my friends here, and the acts of care we perform to hold on to each other, even if we’re miles away from one another. There’s nothing like it.
About the Author:
Neeraja Srinivasan is currently studying English Literature and Creative Writing at Ashoka University. Her work has been published by the Museum of Material Memory, The Remnant Archive, and Madras Inherited, amongst others. To Neeraja, writing is an instrument that she uses to quietly sit and examine the hearts and minds of those around her; a love language of sorts. You can find her musings on Instagram at @neeruslists.