A Madrasi’s account of Madras

Madras, the same word that evokes an emotion of homeland and security, with a quintessential comfort in most people’s guts, has also been portrayed in a distorted view by people who don’t exactly feel a belonging here. I had a bone to pick with a buddy of mine who told me that Madras was apparently voted #1 in the list of unfriendly cities in India. Up until then, I resolutely gave in all I had in me to defend my precious city, to which I felt such a huge attachment to, but the minute he said what he did, my face contorted and I was starting to turn a little green. We all don’t need radioactive exposure to turn into Hulk and we all don’t need the all-powerful hammer to be Thor (a simple spoon was good enough for me to give him a clout on his head). Any hardcore Madrasi (how we are fondly referred to by our friends from up North) will devour you at the hint of you ‘oh so casually’ complaining about the city that is one of the finest and richest pearls in the oyster of India.

On Madras day today, I wish I could dissect why Madras amasses this mixture of unconditional love from people who are proud to attribute their successes to this city, and on the other hand, the ones who are always unhappy or say “Yeah whatever Madras is ok, but nothing like Bombay”. I have never understood why people who live here, earn their bread here and yet, unceasingly whine at why people wear lungis (it’s veshti, people. Lungi and veshti. Different. Really), why the weather is so freaking hot (you signed up for this when you came here, besides if you want harsh winters, you could have stayed in Delhi for all I care), how we love our curd rice (so what? You love your incessantly saccharine sweets, I love my bland curd rice, and please oh please, we don’t have curd with everything we eat!). If your version of Madras is something like this, then please read on. This Madras that you oft moan about to your peers is the Madras that’s culturally sound with people strutting around in beautiful sarees and pattu veshtis, and also where you also find people hanging around Dublin or Pasha in spaghetti tops and mini skirts (men don’t really have too many options in any country, so let’s just stick to women’s attire for the point of discussion). It has hosted Margazhi masam katcheris and also has hosted THE YANNI !

Honestly, people here are content with their lives. Yes, the economy is struggling, sometimes investments are dwindling and there is some balance that is to be regained, which I’m sure Mr. Raghuram Rajan is taking good care of. However, there is always enough and more filter coffee to make up for the doldrums life smears at you! Got just 20 bucks? Head to your nearest Madras Coffee House (MCH) outlet (my best friend and I seem to have had and witnessed the most intellectual conversations around those 4 steel tables) for the best coffee that can lighten up the worst of doom and gloom. Is it the beginning of the month after payday where you can afford to be a little more extravagant? Head to Amethyst on a slightly cloudy August afternoon for a soup and blue cheese salad and cozy up with a book while strolling their gardens and checking out the artefacts. Looking for ‘nightlife’? Zomato it and head to what fits your bill (quite literally). You think we can’t play football? Some of the best players are from North Madras, complete with their mohawk and Nike jersey ensemble. Looking for stand-up satirical performances? Go for Evam’s Stand-up comedy tamasha. Want to play cricket? Head to Somasundaram grounds or the beach and finish off the day’s sport with bajji and sugarcane juice. You get the drift, don’t you? This city is an amalgam of opposites! Yet, it tries to weave in all categories of people, all of their tastes and preferences and does it with a strike of elegance and oomph at the same time.

The reason sometimes people feel that we as a city are generally disconnected from the rest of the country is because, you have never made us a part of you. You have always discounted our language, our culture, our emotions and our achievements. You have made us feel very small in the presence of our own motherland among your diaspora. Even today, we are just expected to know Hindi, learn Hindi and speak it. The best online content writing companies are still using Hindi in an English set-up. So when we say we don’t understand it (though a good majority of us know the basics), we honestly don’t. It’s like trying to force-feed a kid who is already full. I have a friend who knows 5 foreign languages and still doesn’t know Hindi. It’s never been a problem for him! So coming back to why you call us unfriendly and ‘weird’ is probably because we are not sucking up to you, and we retain that self-respect and dignity which stems from the underlying that we are awesome and we know it. We host people from various countries, origins and ways of life and they have all been able to connect to us in their own unique ways. I am learning Spanish from a native Spanish instructor who loves Chennai for what it is, and I learnt Mandarin from a native Chinese speaker who was studying here and made us amazing potato curry. We turned out to be great friends, being the foodie I am! I have friends who live here but who originally hail from Andhra (or Telangana, I don’t know), Punjab, Karnataka, Mumbai, Kerala, Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, oh and even Kashmir! Everybody brings out their own cultural contribution and it is adapted into the paradigm on which Madras lives and strikes such a wonderful equipoise.

On a concluding note, Madras is not where you and I merely live; it is what we make of it. Happy Madras day to you too!

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52 thoughts on “A Madrasi’s account of Madras

  1. First of all, while I realize that I am THE most deeply shallow on earth, I LIVE for Madras! Madras plaid! Seriously. Secondly–be honored that people have voted Madras an unfriendly city? I’m an ex-Manhattanite and NYC has been, once again, voted one of the unfriendliest cities as well. To that I say “Great! It’ll keep the tourists who did NOT do their research about the great city away!” As for me, India is on my bucket list. I WANT to visit Madras..and Agra…and all the great wonderful places of India. I want to look and marvel at the colorful sari’s that the women wear and feel like a local when I wear one myself. Very, very nice post!!!!

    1. Catherine! Thank you so much for such a wonderful comment 🙂 Yes most of the ‘hate data’ is because some people generalise stray incidents which happens in any place. NYC is my dream destination and have fantasized about it for the past couple of years, so someday sometime. 😀 And please do come to India and especially, Madras. I’ll be more than glad to show you around 🙂 It’ll be fun 😀

      1. Oh…don’t even get me started on the “hate data’. Same thing with France. Bonaparte (my better half) was born and raised in Paris and St. Tropez. I’m extremely lucky to visit his home country every year–and every time I come home, I hear the same thing from people “Ewwww…the French are so rude!”. Excuse me, but they are NOT rude. The French are incredibly warm–especially if visitors stop and learn the few basic pharase. But, many Americans expect everyone to be like them (I’m always educating my fellow Americans). I tell my friends this: The French may seem aloof, but they are incredibly polite. Americans may be incredibly friendly, but they are impolite!. Hey–I only speak the truth! When I make it to India, you had better believe I will be a great ambassador of my country! LOL.

      2. You just mirrored my thoughts! Everybody has an opinion (most likely a negative opinion) without being backed by adequately researched information. So much for paradoxes!

  2. Beautifully written. ♡ great job! =)
    I agree with every word. Afterall, namma chennai is an amazing place with a soul of itself- crazy ignorant stereotypes, or no crazy ignorant stereotypes.

  3. I am quite struck by this line: “The reason sometimes people feel that we as a city are generally disconnected from the rest of the country is because, you have never made us a part of you. ”
    It happens to be so true. In fact, think about it.. even the national anthem does not mention anything south of the Vindhyas, apart from the Madarasa country.. And don’t forget, all that Sri Rama saw and met on his journey to the south were monkeys, never mind they were Vali, Sugreeva or Hanuman.. (er.. or Bali, as our northern compatriots sneer at us).. or Rakshasas/Asuras… dark skinned villains.. and never mind that Ravana (Raban??) was a pious Shiva bhaktha… not to mention Siva himself was usurped and transformed into/as Rudra from the dasyus that we are 😀
    Cheers, sister-monkey/asura (asuri??) 🙂

    1. Absolutely! I’m very much national or patriotic as anyone from up North, but I just don’t understand the imposition of their kind of nationalism. I have had people come to Chennai and snigger at us for not knowing the ‘national language’. When I tell them, ‘dude there’s no national language, just official languages and really get your facts right by reading the Constitution’, I love to see their faces change and it’s my turn to be smug. 😛 Might sound sadistic but it doesn’t feel good to be told we’re no good either. Yeah Shiva is still the badass here and I’m a crazy Shaivite. The temples here are at least a 1000 years old but there are very few which the world knows. That’s probably a post for another day 😀 Until then, it’s something for you to deliberate about. – Cheers, Sister Asuri 😀

      1. Ha haha.. Exactly.. I have told so many people that there is no national language, and they don’t believe me.
        (As an aside, well after Independence, our official languages were English and Urdu (Persian script).
        I am an atheist, by the way 🙂 But I have no problem with believers or religions or temples or anything..

        You should have been in college with me, only wish you were born earlier 😀 We never lost a debate ever.. and one of my partners was a Madras-educated girl who became my best friend, (also married to my then best friend now) and would spout Tamilian sentences from time to time to worry me… wondering if she was praising me or killing me with her words 🙂
        (Come to think of it, look at the news readers on the Tamil channels, at least in the old days when I used to watch tv, they sounded like they were warning us to lay off.. here is the news now.. and one tight slap, vonakkam!!)…

        hehe, I am just as bad as our north Indian gods, never mind being asuras is something we have to live with..

      2. Hahahaha! I know. We should have known each other way back. Would have been absolutely kickass and we could have royally kicked some asses. Haha we have that tongue where even if we compliment, it sometimes sounds like a swear and we take that liberty a lot with our best buds 😀

      3. I am so sorry for the delayed reply.. my friend from Bombay called and we speak for hours, strange that we spoke only for a few minutes today 🙂

        Yes, I know.. I get the same feeling but in an odd way. I knew someone exactly like you. And I have a rather abrasive personality, as you can see 😀 and I lose most of my friends.. I barely have four or five left.

        But I am so glad I met you and even if we are going to fight badly some day, this will still matter to me – that we knew each other, even if it was for a brief while 🙂
        (I certainly hope it isn’t brief.. but I know me too well.. like that nasty comment about Amish etc…)

        And, careful, Asuri 🙂 I am a charmer when you first meet me.. and it is easy to be swayed off your feet.. as many, many damsels of yore learned to their cost, too late.. 😀

        (Er.. don’t let my wife catch me saying this online.. gosh!!)

      4. Hahaha! 1. Friends don’t apologize (well I don’t :P), 2. I value my friends a lot so there’s no screwing the friendship even in the worst of tiffs and rude opinions 😛 and 3. I’m no damsel, I’m a tomboy. A straight tomboy 😛 So I’ll probably end up being best friends with you and your wife 😀

      5. Oh, that is the kind of girl my wife absolutely hates Hahahaha….
        Because, er.. my best friends were all like that.. in fact, you know, my wife is weird.. I think she would not mind if I had an affair with a mindless bimbo but woe betide an intelligent girl earning my admiration…
        Hahaha.. nah, just scaring you.. nothing like that..

        By all means, visit us some day.. (not right away.. not been working for two years now, my wife has been working for exactly one year now.. so rather impoverished.. 🙂 but you are still welcome even now, if you can live in the midst of this shambles… and in a way, this is a nice place too.. next to the beach)..

        Hmm, why aren’t there damsels with brains? I must have missed them along the way.. and when I did meet them, stupid me did not even recognize them as beautiful women.. I treated them like my male friends… stupid me.. gah!!

        Some of my best friends were women.. most of them not just equals but very superior to me.. and I have lost them all now, because I turned into a recluse a few years ago.. and I would not even speak to anyone or go out much. It is only in the last two or three months I have gone back to my normal self (My wife even said to me scornfully – you are a fake introvert.. it is just not in your genetic makeup.. you are a bleeding extrovert and you can never live without adoring fans all around you.. hahaha)…

      6. Hahaha! This missed my eye too. I’ve got to get off my couch and pay a visit to my ophthalmologist! And aren’t we all the ones who can’t live with the fans and the craze and all of its paraphernalia? 😛 And a retreat with friends on a house by the sea seems welcoming any day! 😀

      7. Oh, we are the last of the royals, trust me. My friend, Deep and I.. even if we have barely enough to pay the bills at the bar, we do have to tip the waiter 15% even if it means we have to walk home without cab fare 😀
        Last of the royals 😀

      8. Living it, I bet 😀 One kind deed should beget another. Soon enough, the waiter would become royal enough to be so kind and do you a big favour 😀

      9. Oh my gosh!!! IS that your name??? oh my god.. another unfortunate name…
        I will tell you why in a mail.. I managed to offend another blogger of the same name in absolutely no time at all, in the short while I have been blogging.. 😀

        Nice name..

      1. Nice. I am just good enough in any kind of language. And, Tried learning German, sucked big time. Now, trying learning French.. sucking even bigger time.. :/ 😛

      2. Haha, German I gave up long ago. I tried my hand at Japanese when I visited Japan and now “arigatao” is all I remember 😀 Ooh French. I want to learn French, but conjugation is a little challenging. I was so petrified, so I chose Spanish which is really amazing and fun! That is the coolest language ever 😀

      3. Woww. you are really something when it comes to languages..That already awesome list , and now German and Japanese too. Amazing.

        German and french are at opposite ends of spectrum. German too perfect, with its immaculate rules; whereas French filled up exceptions and dreadful ‘liasons’ that makes two different words sound exactly same.

        But then I read somewhere French language is best for literature, with its infinite capacity to emote. hence the love for french. *but I guess my arch enemy, laziness, wins this time too,

      4. No no. You regard me too highly 🙈 Aah French is like romance’s cup of tea. Everything about France is so light, delicate and perfect, just like their cakes. Madeleines. I’d go hungry for a week just to eat them. Sigh.

      5. Modesty is the attribute that is often found in those who are gifted. 😛

        Yes. France and things which are french evoke such feelings in mind. And don’t get me started on their cuisine.

        They love indulging their food, if not more, than as much as they love indulging in constructive arguments.

        Our French teacher filled up our heads with such vivid images of french delicacies that we could almost taste it. And then we did, one day, when she brought french pastries for us. It was heaven!

        Now I need to eat something. Something sweet and endorphin triggering 🙂

      6. Modesty is the less-known evil twin of ignorance 😀 Oooh. Vivid imagery of food is enough to make anyone hungry, even if they’ve had to their heart’s full. I’m not much of a sweet-tooth but I’d write crap for pastries (in our writing world, we know I could be the biggest sinner if I wrote crap) 😀

      7. Haha.. might be. But it is less-known for a reason. So I’m going by probability, attaching more chances to my modest-gifted theory, in your case. 😛

        Haha.. yes.. to quote ‘the things we do for love’ 🙂

      8. Aww.. Saddening the sweetest potato I’ve ever met was never my intention. Especially when I just finished devouring these lip-smacking, finger-licking ‘Aaloo parthas’ 🙂

        PS: I’ve met only one potato, so I’m not lying when I say it is the sweetest ever. 😉

  4. Ha! I have to disagree with your friend too. I couldn’t get on a train or bus without someone talking to me. It’s still not anywhere near my favourite city – far from it – but the food! While eating, I was in seventh heaven.

    1. Thank you, Mallee. I understand how you might feel and there’s definitely scope for improvement, but I’ve been bred in the fervour of this beautiful city, complete with its flaws 🙂 Thanks a ton for stopping by 🙂

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