This was only my second visit to Chennai, but it has not taken long to decide which has been my most favourite metropolitan city in India. Although I had been to Bangalore and Mumbai before, none of those cities have given me a more comfort level than Chennai itself.
Maybe it’s the historical affinity. I, being from Malabar I am bound to be attracted to Chennai more than Bangalore as until not long ago, we were part of Madras presidency, where Chennai or the then Madraspattanam was the capital. Bangalore was more of an antagonist in the sense that the Invasions that rocked the social and ethnic fabric of old Malabar in the 18th century came from Mysore. Malabar developed as long as it was part and parcel of the Madras Presidency, unlike the princely states of Cochin and Travancore. The railways are an apt example of that. Until the states reorganisation, Malabar had one of the better railway facilities in the Presidency. The route from Shoranur to Mangalore was one of the busiest of the days and only later did the focus shift to Central and South Kerala.
Maybe it’s the linguistic affinity. Tamil and Malayalam have more in common than any other languages. Even if anyone does not know the language, it is quite easy to manage with a few loan words here and there. My Tamil is amateurish by any known standards, but even with that I am easily able to hold up to any conversation that I might end up at Chennai.
Maybe it’s the colonial hangover. The word “Sir” has a profound influence on the people. In Chennai, you address anybody as “Sir” and instantly you get the respect back be it the Coolie, Auto driver, the clerk at the railway enquiry or a vendor at the railway station. This feel makes anybody who is an outsider in Chennai more comfortable than sometimes even his own hometown.
Maybe it’s the cultural affinity, built on steady ground by the cinema and art that had been based out of Chennai for a long time. Which malayalee would not remember the antics of Dasan and Vijayan in Naadodikaatu, when they landed in Madras under the impression that it was Dubai? The Besant Nagar beach, the flyovers in Mount Road, Bharani Studio… all is etched in Malayalee’s memories forever.
Then there is the beautifully planned city, thanks to the British. The roads and transport systems are easy to negotiate, be it Mount Road, Numbambakkam, Saligramam, Kilpauk or Anna Nagar. Google maps have been pretty useful here even for locating the travel routes of local buses, even better than in Bangalore or Dubai.
The most profound feeling is that Chennai is still basically South India. I am no linguistic or ethnic hooligan. But it’s blissful to reflect that unlike Bangalore, which is swarmed by people, culture and language from beyond the Vindhya’s, Chennai till now has retained the local charm – even in its various malls, markets and multiplexes.
I loved being in Chennai. Two visits maybe a little too quick to build an opinion about a metropolis, but it has definitely had created the one big impetus that is required to fall in love with a city. Hope to be back here soon, maybe with a bigger role… for a longer stay!!!