Trade with the East India Company, government service and Partition brought people from various communities to the city of Madras.
This city received everybody with open arms, so much so that it is called vandharai vaazha vaikkum ooru (a city that helps visitors too to thrive).
“The first man to come to Madras was Beri Thimmappa, who was from Telugu-speaking country. He was the one who helped the British strike the deal with the Nayaks. The Telugu community has grown since then and presently, we have about 25 lakh Telugus in the city,” says historian Sriram V.
The many Sindhis and Punjabis who came here during Partition in 1947 (there were small numbers of both communities living in the city even before that), Parsis who came to Madras in the early 1800s, the Gujaratis who came here in the early 1700s along with the Marathas from Tanjore, Bengalis who came here to be part of government service, the Jains who came in the 1840s and lent money to the East India Company — all of them made Madras their home.
They learnt Tamil, built places of worship, schools and colleges, established businesses and gave gainful employment to locals.
The tiny Parsi community too contributed in building the Madras that is Chennai now.
Zarin Mistry, secretary, Madras Parsi Association, and daughter of M.M. Cooper, who was professor of anatomy at Madras Medical College, says, everybody — from J.H. Taraporewala, who was in the construction business, and D.B. Madan, a shipping magnate, to Clubwala Jadav, who founded the Guild of Service — has contributed to the city.
Those who came to the city also fell in love with this place as it grew and became cosmopolitan.
Just as the visitor in ‘The Madras Song’ — presented by Murugappa Group in association with The Hindu — Amandeep Singh Kandhari, a Punjabi who runs a tyre business, says that he too has his own favourite spots and loves the city.
“From a kulfi seller in Triplicane to a place that sells fantastic chaat in Sowcarpet, to theatres that I prefer to watch movies in, I have my favourites,” he says.
Ramesh Lamba, general secretary of Punjab Association, says that when refugees started coming to the city, the Punjabi families in Madras took care of them.
“The local people and the State government were very kind to us. About 30,000 people from Punjab and Sindh provinces had to be clothed and fed. But within a matter of 6-7 years, all of them set up businesses here and became a part of the State,” he says.
Amarlal G. Rohira, a Sindhi who has been in the city since the 60s, says that the very first thing the community did was to construct a temple.
“Our temple has images of all Hindu gods and goddesses. This is our way of mingling with the society that welcomed us,” he says.
The Malayalees, who have a strong 10 lakh population in the city, have been here for a long time too.
“The Malayalee Club in Chetpet is 117 years old, and one of the oldest Malayalee associations in the world. We try to organise programmes where Tamil culture is also included. The government of Kerala recently launched a programme where non-Malayalees are taught Malayalam,” M. Nanda Govind, president of the club.