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The city for all reasons: a convert’s take

I belong to Sikkim but have lived in Chennai for the last nine years. Today, I consider myself fairly well-versed in the ‘South Indian’ way of life. Writing this note was on my ‘to-do’ list, to share with my fellow city folks as a tribute before I relocated to another city in search of greener pastures. However, I seem to be digging my heels deeper and a farewell seems nowhere in sight. When I read about the Madras Day Celebration this past week, I decided this would be the time to write a fitting tribute to the city on its birthday.

I lived a good part of my life in Kolkata and a few cities in Gujarat during my education and early work life. When I decided to move to Chennai with my husband, the first few reactions from my colleagues were, you guessed it, discouraging and outrageous.

Some of my friends were visibly sympathetic. Sample these: “Oh, hope you know the three seasons of Chennai – hot, hotter, hottest!”, “Why not Bangalore?”, “People are so conservative there, you can’t manage if you do not know the language”, “Hey, you don’t get non-veg. there, how will you survive?”

Having spent quite a few years in Chennai now, I am able to relate to all the above ‘words of caution’ except one: that we do not get non-vegetarian food in Chennai. The reality is quite different.

The day I landed there, my first meal was chicken biryani, that I know now one can buy in kilograms — not sure if biryani is measured in this unit in any other part of the country. Two of my young Bengali colleagues at office order chicken curry and rice every day. I am told they even have an option of getting only curry without chicken pieces on days they wish to go light on the wallet. What my well-meaning friends meant was probably that Chennai was a land of just idlis and dosas.

I got my first culture shock when I saw policemen on the streets. Traffic signals were manned by the traffic police and every few kilometres there were policemen in tidy uniforms unlike the city I came from where such sights were uncommon. I was also lucky to have a Tamil friend from my post-graduation days who I called ‘my encyclopaedia on Chennai’ and dialled her whenever I needed some advice. I remember calling her to ask which rice should I pick when shopkeepers asked if I wanted raw rice or boiled rice. My first year in Chennai was a breeze and I had nothing to complain. I was well-settled in an apartment in a good locality and made a few friends at work. My greatest accomplishment during this time was obtaining a voter’s identity card — which surprised my folks back at home as my father always complained that I was never around in town for such an important document.

The process in Chennai was simple and hassle-free: within 45 minutes, I got a laminated card with my photo without leaving my neighbourhood. I had a similar experience in renewing a passport and getting an LPG connection.

In the second year, my daughter was born. My status changed overnight from being a happy-go-lucky career professional to a responsible mother. It changed my very perspective of the city. I was soon looking for paediatricians, baby-sitters, schools and the like. My social circle grew with the growing list of my daughter’s friends. The past years have been most enjoyable for me and my family with the best that the city has offered — be it the medical or education system or the many friends I have made for life. I am not sure it would have been the case if I were living in another city.

Today, I provide regular updates on Chennai to Tamil friends living abroad and taunt them by saying that my daughter, who is eight, is more Tamil than their kids: she speaks English with a Tamil accent, eats curd rice, can rattle off Tamil prayer songs and carry off a pattu pavadai (silken full-length skirt) with grace at weddings.

I come across many people from my hometown or the other northeastern States working across various establishments and I never miss an opportunity to ask how they like the city. A majority of them seem to be happy and upbeat — which confirms and further strengthens my positivity about this city.

Even as I type this, with my favourite Tamil song, ‘maalai neram’ from the Aayirathil Oruvan is playing in the background, I hope Chennai will not lose its character as a safe, friendly city with a good balance between the new and the old. I hope its citizens will continue to be non-intrusive and helpful to outsiders like me. My friends often call me a true ambassador of Chennai, and I am proud of that.

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2022 10:44:02 AM |

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