To all of you who has ever asked me, “What does Chennai have”?
I don’t know about you, but to me and to all of us who call this city home, Madras has a whole lot of things.It is home, after all.
Madras was the first man I fell in love with. The gusty waves, the dark ocean, the cold winds, the burning sun, the once-in a while cold showers, all accommodating of my erratic mood swings, just like the man of my dreams would.
Madras is the lady that I want to be. The kind of woman who can let her hair down and dance the night away but also loves her tightly braided jasmine clad hair as much.
The smell of curry leaves from the inside of a kitchen, boys playing street-cricket, the way the outside of a tumbler that has Amma’s filter coffee feels, the music that comes on-screen every time a Thalaivar movie is played, the coarse touch of kola-maavu (rangoli powder) in-between my fingers, the overpowering smell of jasmine that suffocates me and at the same time comforts me, because I know I am home.
The only “sun-burn” you will get in Chennai is probably from the heat here, but you have got to be kidding if you think that we are willing to trade the old-school magic for anything else. The day Starbucks claims to make the best coffee in Chennai, it will be apocalypse for us.
We are still all about masala vadai served with whiskey, filter coffees as hangover cures and parties are “okay-okay da” but “First-day-First-show” is more our thing.
Super-star movies or for that matter any good movie is not just a celebration here. Every time I use the internet to book a movie ticket, I am nostalgic of the times that Appa stood in those long queues in theaters so that we could watch Superstars movie on the first day. Cinema to this city, is a way of life.
Why doesn’t anyone here speak Hindi?
Let us not get into the “Is Hindi is our national or official language debate”, but really, how many of us know another Indian language that is not our mother tongue? And that too, a language with another script altogether? Not that I am against learning a language that is widely spoken, but as political history would have it, for now, our city is all for Hindi only little maalum.
Yes, we love rice. We like it with sambar, we make rice-cakes and we add rice to milk and have it as dessert.
Molaga-Bhaji, beach manga, tiny little idlies topped with sambar, crispy dosa’s that leave your hands smelling a little bit like ghee, thayir sadam garnished with curry leaves, pongal that sometimes helps me recollect every festive morning at home and filter coffee brewed to perfection.
Roti here is purely for weight-loss purpose. Really. Life is hard, and some times, so are the Roti’s in Chennai? But, so what?
We may have adapted to change and incorporated the best of both worlds in everything. The Mehendi’s, Sangeets, the Bollywood dancing and the celebrations.But, to me, the most important mark of festivity that I remember is the “Marudhani” (mehendi!) design that was done on our hands and feet when we were children.
And Madras to me in a lot of ways is the “Alta” clad feet and bangle adorned hands of a bharatnatyam dancer.
I recognize the things that my city does not have.
The nightlife, the beers, the language, the dancing, the movies you want to watch, and the rock-concerts you want to go to and so on.
But it does have one thing that I am sure you would respect.
Madras has my memories sealed in a bottle. It has the taste of my childhood, the fragrance of puberty and a touch of adulthood, all together in a bottle called home, just like your home-town would.