Chennai is a word. Madras is an emotion.
A phrase that many use extensively in campaigns and posters focusing the city. I've thought this to be an over-statement, passed it off as just an emotional connection every person must have to their hometown. Over the past couple years I've spent in the city and discovering it, I've grown to associate myself with this phrase and Madras as a part of my identity, a home.
Visitors to the city often ask - "What do you guys do for fun?" I've had numerous friends say things like, "It's so hot, how do you live here?" or "Do you do things other than go to the beach?"
For someone who's grown from just residing in the city to missing wandering the streets of the City more than ever during the lock-down, I set out to find the perfect reply. I can't seem to know where to start. How can a few words do justice to what the city means to all those who hold it dear to their hearts? Believe it or not, we do much more than sip on filter coffee and eat masala dosa.
First off, the beaches are a big deal. Just sitting on the shore and watching the waves go by has a way of soothing the soul. Other than losing yourself to the rush of the crashing of the waves and the swaying breeze, there's a lot of things to do and see at the beach. From sports to street food, there's always something going on, in the early mornings and late evenings. Whether it's the Marina or Bessy, watching the sparkles of burning corn, waiting by the bajji kadais, eating manga by the waves are things that we all did. If you're a frequent visitor at the Marina, the view from the lighthouse is something you can't miss. From the height, you get a breathtaking view of the entire city and the breeze, an added bonus. When you find Bessy or Marina to be too occupied, we've all driven on the ECR stretch looking for smaller, and private beaches - which there are plenty!
Even though the city might be an urban jungle, while in need of a detox there are various green expanses across the city that are basically mini-escapes. The Guindy National Park that boasts a rich biodiversity and green cover that acts as the lungs of Chennai. Walking along these parks, or just walk along the sea to check out the Olive Ridley turtles and learn about their conservation, sit along the paths on Semmozhi Poonga or the Adyar park is something you could do and escape into nature in the midst of all the urban chaos. Pallikarnai, now being reduced to one-tenth of its original size, is one of the most diverse natural habitats in the country. It was once a hub for bird watchers with over 133 species of the same. There's the Theosophical Society in Adyar. Occupying a large green cover, it is spread over 260 acres and a walk across this expanse is truly calming.
The streets of T Nagar provide a variety of shopping options. Whether you're looking for traditional sarees, budget knick-knacks or a space to play rooftop footy, T Nagar is the place! During the festive seasons, the streets at T Nagar are filled to the brim with thousands rushing in to shop for the same. Pondy Bazaar was recently revamped with pavements and colourful walls. Anyone who's shopped here would have memories of how it was previously, with the smaller shops on the pavements, hustling through the crowds was quite an experience.
There are a number of cafes, restaurants and road-side stalls across the city offering a variety of cuisines and experiences. Be it a fancy brunch or just kothu parotta by the street, the city does have it all! Amethyst Cafe and Writer's for the reading enthusiasts who just need a quiet meal or coffee. While our South-Indian breakfast spread is plenty, it's always fun to switch things up and get an scrumptious English breakfast spread at English Tearoom, Tryst Cafe, Sandys and more recently, Pumpkin Tales. If a plate of steaming momos is what would soothe your soul, you would go to the quaint Kailash Kitchen or Momo Sa-Khang in Besant Nagar or the Wow! Momo stalls across the city. Each establishment has its own USP and theme that leave you with a variety of experiences and a tummy-filling meal.
For book lovers, now we may have our kindles and e-books but we still have a list of bookstores we loved visiting. Higginbothams, with its old charm, rose windows, a literal time machine of sorts. Along with Fountain head in Mylapore and Odyssey in Adyar, Landmark was the favorite designation in the early 90's. Those were the times when people purchased greeting cards, mostly in the book shops. Browsing through second-hand books on the street pavements are another irreplaceable experience. Copies of classics and contemporary bestsellers by western and Indian writers in stacks, and even a few academic books. Just browse through all those lovely books, even reading a few lines from some of the favorites. With the coming of Starmark and Odyssey, these smaller outlets are something that live with us.
If you're looking for fun activities and places to just hang out with a gang of friends, there are various options that the city offers. Escape rooms, gaming arcades, snooker parlours and much more. All these may be pretty new in Chennai but it's catching on fast, with some pretty amazing themes and concepts. How old you are doesnât even matter, anyone with a thirst for thrill and adventure can enjoy. Various establishments across the city, Blur, Nassaa Uth Hub, Arknemesis to name a few, provide spaces for bowling, computer gaming, snooker parlours, arcades and even a few VR options. If you want to go play games the "offline" way, there are a couple of BoardRoom cafes in the city. The shelfs stocked with more than 250 games are a true fascination to even look at. From Catan, Battleships to Uno, they offer a variety of options for you to question your friendship. Freeing India, Mystery Rooms are a couple of establishments you can visit with a group to test out your coordination and puzzle solving. The themes of these rooms are crazy, ranging from a prison break to a hangover situation.
Let's talk sports shall we? Everyone should and must attend a cricket match in the Chepauk Stadium, an unwritten rule. One can soak in the atmosphere, appreciate the finer aspects of the game as there are no ad breaks. If you're lucky enough you can even watch the match from the VIP box, with perks which aren't present in other stands at the stadiums! Rooftop football and cricket is also something upcoming amongst the youth in the city! They might not be a typical ground covering just over 5000 sqft, but playing these sports on terrace tops, enthusiasts aren't complaining. Airborne, a trampoline park in Nungambakkam will take you back to your childhood, make a fun filled outing and even make you lose a few calories. And the best part, unlike other sports you don't need or require an expertise skill set. Basketball ball hoops, sponge filled pits you can jump into to forget your worries and exhaustion.
Scared to sing out in public? No issues, go to a motta maadi session and join many to sing-along to classic numbers. The first of a kind initiative lets everyone to just indulge in good music and truly enjoy singing without getting judged. From motta maadi music sessions, indie music scenes, stand up comedy shows, live music sessions at Bay 146, theatre shows in the museum theatre are just a few of the shows that the Chennai audience look forward to and cherish. There are various venues for open mics and live sessions for stand-up comedy. Budding comedians usually tested out their material during open mics, a brief slot given to amateur comedians to perform, that take place in restaurants and pubs. Now there are a few comedy clubs set up in the cityÂfor the sole purpose - CounterCulture, Spotted Hyena, SoCo all offer great intimate spaces. Whether it's english jokes by Kenny Sebstain, Biswa or Namma tamil content by SA Aravind, Alex or KK, these shows only ascertain that laughter is indeed the best medicine!
It would be cruel to not mention Cinema in Chennai. To not have experienced a thalaivar FDFS (first day first show) show might even be a crime. A Rajini film release is no ordinary day. For, the FDFS is a phenomenon thatâs considered quite an experience much beyond the actual movie. Thereâre firecrackers, confetti and a whole lot of celebration that could well resemble a thiruvizha or a local festival. Loud cries hailing "Thalaiva" followed by frenzied whistles from all over, a Rajni movie seems incomplete without the same.
When you go seeking out in Chennai, I assure you that you will find pieces of Madras almost in every venture. Madras, for those of us who never saw it live out in front of our eyes, now exists and thrives in those within the twists and turns of the ever-changing roads, in the myths and stories of parents and grandparents and in those buildings that hide between this concrete jungle. A walk with Madras Inherited will open your eyes and leave you star-struck knowing the hidden stories in the city!
Next time someone asks you - "What's so great in your Chennai?", take a deep breath and tell them the needful, maybe send them this article. Remind them that nearly all that they have in their respective cities, Madras would have contributed in some way to bring the same. Trust me, If I could write a book on the many things you could do in Chennai, I would. The city has proved to be a comfort numerous times from quiet breakfasts, brunches to rushes adrenalin from paintball, gaming or lazer tag and I wouldn't be wrong to have a connection with Chennai. I would suggest you to venture out and find for yourself (After a few months, of course!) and dare to tell me otherwise. When you go seeking out in Chennai, I assure you that you will fall in love with the city and ask yourself, "What's not to do in Chennai?"
There are so many more things that I have missed out on, of course. Do write to me and let me know your experiences in the City. Tell me about the many mor things there is to love in the city!