Try it! Do a Google search on “there is no place like Chennai” and then repeat it by replacing Chennai with Mumbai/New Delhi/Calcutta or Bangalore. You won’t find as many odes to other cities as you will about Chennai – or Madras as it was properly known.
I did the aforementioned Google search as part of a little research for this post and was surprised and not so surprised by the results. It is true. The love that people of this city have for it is much more than most folks have for their hometown. Chennai is a city that commands a feverish following much like New York City in the USA. In fact, a lot of my friends and family have told me that NYC has a “Madras-like” feel to it.
For those who do not know, Madras is a large metropolis, a port-city located on the south-eastern coast of India. It is my hometown. The city itself was founded almost 376 years ago and was the headquarters of the famous, nay notorious, East-India Company. “Madras” was derived from “Madrasapattinam”, one of the two villages – Madrasapattinam and Chennaipattinam that used to make up what is Chennai today. About 15 years ago, some political parties argued that Madras was an anglicized name and renamed my great city as “Chennai”.
I was born and brought up in Madras and I am true “Madrasi” who doesn’t like being referred to as a “Chennaite”. My love for this great city has only grown with every year that I have been away from it. I was part of the generation that would not accept the change from Madras to Chennai and one of the very last to ever call it so. I thought this irrational reluctance was just me until I saw the campaign slogan that celebrated Madras’s 375th birthday last year:
“Chennai is a city, but Madras is an emotion!”
This statement truly captures the love the Madrasis feel for the city.
So, what is so great about it? Well, what isn’t? Here is a list of pleasures unique to Madras:
1. The Marnia beach – the longest beach in India spanning a length of 13 Km, looking onto the Bay of Bengal. Its all sand and breeze and fresh hot bhajiis.
2. The wonderful mix of temples, churches and mosques. You can actually hear a Muslim call for prayer, a choir singing at Mass and a slokam blaring on speakers within a few kilometers of each other!
3. The idli, vada, pongal breakfast. Don’t forget to wash it down with the filter coffee.
4. The ubiquitous roadside tea shop (perhaps the one thing I miss most when I am in America; Starbucks just doesn’t compare!). Have tea, biscuits, vada, samosa or a paneer soda.
5. Street food – you name it, you can find it. From Chaat to Chinese noodles, bread omelets to brownies, pakoras to Pizza!
6. Shopping in T-nagar/Cotton street/Moore market/Aminjikarai/Parry’s corner
7. The Connemara library – it has a copy of every book published in India. The Anna Centenary library – one of the largest in Asia. Also try cheap roadside vendors selling Indian editions books!
8. Kollywood – the great Tamil cinema industry with Superstar Rajini and Ulaganayagn Kamal Hassan – enough said.
9. The amazing Chennai Auto! Transportation to any tricky location in the city.
10. Silk saris in a bazillion colors and patterns!
11. Fresh flower stalls outside every temple – no matter how big or how small
12. The radio stations – I stream on the net when I am in the US to listen to the musical genius of Madras’s Illayaraja and A.R.Rahman.
13. Chennai Super Kings – the Chennai cricket team is the best, or so I have been told… and I believe it.
14. It may be as hot as the sun in May but I look forward to the mangoes, sugarcane juice, watermelon, tender coconut water and palm fruit 🙂
15. Last but not the least – the amazing people!
These are just a few of the reasons why we love our city. Madras is also known for its safety, diversity and friendliness. Ask any Chennaite or Madrasi you know and they will agree with me. No wonder the British fell in love with India when they landed in Madras and just had to have it!
– Die-hard Madrasi AB
P.S. Someday I will write about the greatness of the suburb that I live in Madras – Annanagar! They say, Chennai is a city, Madras is an emotion, but Annanagar is another country!