Just back from an "eventful" trip to chennai - "eventful" because these trips though invariably short are always fraught with some adventure or other.
I started my trip in a non-existent coach in a non-existent train leaving from an apparently non-existent platform( almost like the 9 3/4th!) My Iticket said that I had a berth in coach AS1 of chennai express leaving bangalore at 11:45. As I entered the station and looked at the electronic notice board I made my first unpleasant discovery of the night: there was no Chennai express that night- but there was a Cauvery express leaving at 11:45 to chennai! Investigations confirmed that this was the same train ( cauvery/chennai same difference??!) and I set about looking for platform no.5 -I am very strong in numbers upto 9 so I did not anticipate any trouble- but was a little taken aback to find platform no 6 after platform no.4 although the signboard seemed to say that 5 and 6 were in the same place. So anticipating some enginnering marvel, I descended to 6 and then realised that I had to reverse to platform no. 5 which did not have its own stairs to the overbridge. Having made 2 discoveries in one night, I thought the rest was easy - I just had to hop into coach AS1 and spread the mattress on seat no 49 and go to sleep. But after walking the entire length of the train I realised that this train had left Mysore without coach No AS1! Thankfully they added it in bangalore after making us all wait for about 30 minutes and finally around 12;30 I started my journey to chennai.

Every time there is a trip to chennai I plan my itenary days in advance and list out all the things I need to do there,the places and the people to visit. I am so excited about it all that I talk about the proposed trip to everyone I know. And finally I land in chennai and 30 mins on the road I start sweating and I want to take the next plane back to Bangalore. And I never do anything I plan to do, merely sit under one fan or other and come back. But this time the weather was lovely and I could do most of the things I wanted to do and in my happy state of mind I finally understood the reasons why I love this place so much.

People: people here are very friendly if you speak to them in Tamil and they engage total strangers in an animated conversation effortlessly. For example, within a short trip between the US consulate and Sterling Road the auto driver told me how tough his job was, how auto drivers are a maligned lot in Chennai, how the police are more corrupt and yet how he was sticking to this profession because it suited his temperament as he was over-sensitive and didnt like to be bossed over by someone else! He also told me that morality was on the decline with too much money in the hands of the younger generation.He said all this in such delightful Tamil, in a cheerful tone with no bitterness, added a few jokes and plenty of philosophical statements in-between -I guess I was happy to give him the 50 rupees for the conversation rather than the auto ride.
As I got off the auto there was this man who was releasing a rat from a rat trap on to the road. As I watched the rodent race past me, the man smiled and told me that he didn't like to kill them. I said that it may find its way back to his house and he said he had the trap to catch it again! Then he also told me that he had found the rat in the coffee flask when he returned from two days leave. We both laughed at the implied joke about a caffeine addicted rat! And all this with a guy who I don't know from Adam and won't recognise if I saw him again !!
These people have a way of touching you even when they have nothing to do with you - they are never shadows and silhouettes - even if you meet them for a fleeting moment in your life!

Sense of humour:I dont know if it is true of all chennaiites or just the people I meet - they all have a great sense of humour and a sense of timing for cracking jokes. They laugh about the most serious things.They love comedy in films and theatre, they enjoy it and they use it in their day to day lives.

Songs:I love all the music I hear everywhere in chennai - be it religious songs or carnatic music or film songs and their lyrics.

The fusion:And finally I love the way the old and the new co-exist so comfortably and blend beautifully. There is an early morning life with people flocking to the temples for margazhi pooja, and elaborate kolams decorating the roads and there is a night life in the multitude of restaurants that have cropped up all over the city. You see your neighbour's daughter zipping off on a two wheeler to her college clad in trousers and shirt and a day later you find her in the temple in a traditional pavadai daavani singing the notes of a carnatic song to perfection. And they look lovely in both and fit in perfectly in both places!

This place never ceases to amaze me!
I am happy to be back at home in Bangalore but I have already started looking forward to my next trip to fascinating chennai
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22 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Ah, did you miss the typicial maami gossips, sitting around the verandah of the house? :)

  2. Anonymous Says:

    i think y tamil entities should stay in the planet called 'tamil nadu' and not venture out especially to karnataka.
    modalu kannada kalithu aamele maathadu.go stuff urself in madras you madrasi.hell to u tamils,u r the scum of earth tamil creatures,a cross of monkeys and demons.
    tamil basher

  3. passerby55 Says:

    A short trip but well narrated and with the "USHAJIII depth"...

    Loved reading it, Usha.

  4. Balaji Says:

    loved this post..normally people complain about chennai. good to see something different.

  5. Paavai Says:

    I was reading Thi Jaa and one of his characters says - its good that the society keeps a watch on me when her aunt complains of the nosy attitude of madrasis .... considering the Noida case and other horrendous acts occuring in the city, I personally welcome the nosiness which can partly curb these crimes.

    On another note, why liking a place is seen as dislike to another place - i am referring to one of the comments here. Each city has its own charm and that is what makes it unique. The hate scares me ...

  6. Mahadevan Says:

    I do not know much about Chennai,but a few visits convince me that you are right. As I wrote in my last blog, you had visited Chennai at the right time - pleasant climate, music everywhere and marvellous kolams to look and admire at.

    Tamilians certainly have a sense of humour and have lots of things to talk about. Like you, I always look forwaord to a visit to Chennai.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    You're right, U. Madras is definitely a lot lovelier than people make it out to be. The humour, the language, the smartness, the music. All of it is truly unique.

    ~ Shibs.

  8. GuNs Says:

    Where are you originally from, Chennai or Bangy?

    Though I havent been to Chennai myself, I've heard horror stories from people who've gone to Chennai and have thought that people in Tamil Nadu are the rudest of all in India if you cannot speak Tamil. Then again, it might just be a small percentage of the population but I've come across a few Tamilians in my team and at office and all they seem to do is crib about how trashy Pune/Maharashtra/Rest of India is and how amazing Chennai is.

    I mean, I'm from Karnataka and I am mighty proud of where I come from. I tell all my friends stories about the beauty in Karwar but ONLY when they ask me to.

    Maybe a trip to Chennai will enlighten me further and show me a true picture of how Tamils really are.

    Super post, looking forward to more such travelogues.


  9. Raj Says:

    Usha, I am glad that you enjoyed your stay. I had a tip-off that you were visiting Chennai and had put the city on its best behaviour.

    A friend who visits Chennai occasionally,having heard gory stories about Chennai auto drivers taking visitors on a ride, invariably asks the drivers, " Do you know Tamil?"when he gets into an auto. Friend says that this rattles the auto drivers so much that they stick to the correct fare.

  10. A very nice post. I liked the way you mentioned the co-existence of tradition and modernity(if i may say so) with the example of the young girl. This is one of the things that I really liked about chennai!

  11. You're lucky you can speak Tamil. I can only understand it - and could speak most basic Tamil - so havent had such good experiences. But yes better experiences than Delhi. But Coimbatore, I luuuvvvvv...

  12. Usha,
    My visits to Chennai were limited to trips to the US consulate and back and usually in summer, so.... However, this time I went to Chennai for a couple of days in August and this was purely a pleasure trip. Honestly, I enjoyed the stay very much. Hubby and I got to visit many art galleries and we were collecting authentic Indian art and Chennai is truly a gateway to South Indian heritage. The roads felt wider, the malls seemed less crowded and the pollution was also definitely more bearable and I speak as a native Bangalorean.

  13. rads Says:

    o yayy! We need more such posts from non-chennaites!!
    I absolutely LOVE Chennai. [has nothing to do with the fact that I spent 20 good years there ;-)]

  14. Usha Says:

    Kishore: Unfortunately, I did not get to see that side or perhpas it doesnot actually happen as much as it is claimed to be.

    Anon:Yaake ishtu kopa? ella oorigu thammma thamma mahatva iddhe irutive. Nam karantakadalli naavu elrunu sneha bhavadinda noduvade namma svabhava alve?


    Balaji:Yes,I complain too. It is the weather taht makes you react like that!


    Mahadevan:Yes that's a city you can't ignore - you either love it or hate it.

    Shibs:I guess knowing the language makes alot of difference.

    Guns: That is an existential question. I grew up in chennai but have lived for the major part of my life in bangalore. And the chennai I knew as a young girl has changed completely in these 27 years I have been away from it.

    Raj: Really! That's so kind of you. Will give you adequate notice when I am there next. You mean these auto drivers even learnt the language for me? I am touched!

    Vidhya: Yes, I love it.

    STS: You cannot really appreciate chennai if you don't know the language.Coimbatore, hm must check out!

    Orchid: And very efficient too.As for the crowds, I disagree. have you been to the Usman road saree shops side? 365 years in the day people are shopping!

    Rads:Lol. I grew up in madras too - but dont see much of my madras in today's chennai. It has changed a lot in the past 25 years, although in a new fascianting way.

  15. good u had a great time. and 1st time perhaps i hav seen someone with no complains abt chennai

  16. Artnavy Says:

    I feel so good when someone gives a thumbs up to Chennai- i have really grown to love it but for the weather, water and the auto guys

  17. Hip Grandma Says:

    Nice post.I now realize why I find it hard to leave chennai without tears in my eyes although i insist that I feel at home in Jamshedpur and wouldn't want to live anywhere else~

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Abt Chennai - knowing the language makes a big difference. Experience narrated in your nice post is a good example Usha.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    :) I think its the sheer desperation of life. The only way thing that can bring some cheer is humour.

    and of course the vivek-vadivel syndrome.


  20. Anonymous Says:

    Am here after a long time - SORRY! - and I love this blogger interface. Its different and very soothing on the eyes. Did I tell you that blue is my fav. colour? Anyway, loved this post and it reminded me of my time in Chennai. Would love to go back if only something could be done about the heat! BTW, i owe you that compilation CD which I keep talking about! We should meet up this month, methinks! Cheers!

  21. As soon as I saw the head of this post, knew I would love it. I was born in Madurai and my Dad having completed his years of service in T. Nadu, spent all my holidays a a young girl in T. Nadu. I love all things Tamilian, honestly, dunno why. I love the Tamil culture, tamil people, tamil songs, Hubs tells me he's amazed I fell in love with him and not a Tamilian and that I must have been a Tamilian in my last birth!
    Seriously, T Nadu to me is modernity keeping pace with tradition, loud, but loving, hearts as warm as the climate is hot,cheerful and helpful and courteous and rude....the most enduring images I have are of towering temple gopurams and garlands of jasmine sold everywhere...
    a lovely post

  22. Usha Says:

    JLT: Your love for chennai oozes through this comment - actually it isnt easy for a non tamilian to love chennai this much.