When I moved into this city in 2000, out of compulsion from my father's transfer, I was quite unhappy. Not only was there the initial shock of being uprooted from the garden city I was born and brought up in; the harsh weather conditions initially blew a dry impression of Chennai on me.
There were so many things I was unhappy about: missing my friends at home, going through the process of making new friends in a culturally different atmosphere in my awkward teens, the drinking water - which 'tasted' very different from the Cauvery water I was used to- and perhaps what first struck me as a very conservative environment.
Banglore will always have a special place in my heart, it being the place I was born. But nineteen years later (the last six of those in Chennai), today, if anyone asks me where my home is, pat will come the reply - Singara Chennai! This expanse of land (and maybe a little water) has an inherent beauty and culture, which not only acts as a repellent to the sometimes adverse weather conditions but smuggles into your heart a special place which can be replaced by none!
So what is it that Chennai has that takes your breath away? Thinking back, I believe that it was the beach which started re-sculpting my opinion of Chennai. It was here, under the influence of cooling breezes, that I began appreciating my surroundings. Viewing the sunset, with the famous 'sundal' (which by their very mention have the effect of causing salivation!) warming me to realization of the scenic setting I was witnessing and the very comfortable noise levels of people chattering, children playing, joggers puffing and the waves restrained by the soft sand, established my first link with this beautiful place I call home.
They say your company determines who you are. In Chennai then, you are in the midst of friendly, warm, talented and cultured people! I warmed up to this fact in my school where unlike in Banglore, the class ate lunch together and not in small groups, where my friends unbashedly opened, offered (!) and ate their curd rice daily and where the interaction at every level was open, topic oriented and challenging! After picking this up in school, I began observing this trend; and to my surprise, I found that it applied outside the school walls as well - whether I went shopping where the shopkeeper would engage in small talk while drawing up a list, or my mother bargaining with the fruits vendor or when I accompanied my grandmom to the silk store where she enquired about the place the silk came from!! Where else in the world can you discuss openly with your neighbour - "Didn't you get that free calender they promised with every purchase?"!!
But what began as a love affair became much more serious (!) after I lived through the festivals in my first year here! Be it getting up early in the morning (at about 4am !!) to see 'mamis' singing bajans in groups during margazhi masam (the month of december), trying my hand at coming up with creative 'kolams' inspired by the extensive and colourful ones of my neighbours, going to a vendor in a locality a few kilometers away to purchase four plantain leaves (!!), or just wondering at the variety, activity and din at 5am at the local markets! These were certain aspects I never associated with festivals, but which are now an integral part of my life!
But don't conclude that 'utsavams', the amazing 'kutcheris' or the traditional dramas make Chennai a city of the past, becuase that is not true. Why, the food available itself is evidence enough! Be it the delicious South Indian Cuisine of dosas, idlis and the plantain meals or the hot Tandoori dishes of Northern India or Italian, Malaysian cuisines or even the fast food junctions famous in America, you can enjoy all of them in Chennai! Being a foodie myself, I believe that the way to a person's heart is the stomach. What more can I say than that Chennai is here in my heart!!
I could ramble on and on about shopping, places to hang out, theatres to go to and local parks (oh yes! there are a few), but that you can find in any local guide book too! What you wouldn't know perhaps is that a very beautiful place in Chennai is the IIT campus where you can enjoy the experience of waiting on the road for the deer to cross or that if you are lucky enough to witness rains in Chennai, you witness nothing short of a miracle, what with the enticing smell of the wet earth and the visual of the raindrops splashing against the parched ground!
All said and done (almost), I compell myself to conclude with a final word: (though there can't actually be any) Chennai is AWESOME!!