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!