Celebrating Chennai – City’s Characteristic Charisma

After moving to this city at a very young age and making it my home for the next two decades, I have always admired how Madras has kept most of its traditions intact even with the impact of globalization. A month or so back, Geeta Padmanabhan of THE HINDU had asked me, Vatsan, Nancy Gandhi and her husband on what Chennai symbolizes to each of us and this is what I had written to her (which also got published in the newspaper) : “the vibrancy that harmoniously blends the old with the new. The city ends the day with the same humility with which it woke up. It doesn’t need to flash wealth, doesn’t need tags like “silicon valley” or “cyberabad” and doesn’t give up its tradition in spite of influences to make it “cosmopolitan”. In character, this is truly an “Indian” city.”

And I was reminded about this yesterday when I went to the Nilgiris Shop on Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai in Mylapore. I have known the supermarket ever since they opened shop there and have on occasion, exchanged a greeting or a smile with the owners – the senior (who may be as old as my dad) and his son. I saw the elderly owner yesterday after many years and he was his usual self, working as always and wearing his trademark white shirt and veshti (dhoti) with the religious symbols on his forehead and this struck me as the typical image of a Chennaivasi (at least as it used to be) – understated (in sartorial terms), simple, unassuming, conservative and hard-working, notwithstanding affluence. This was again played out at the Sri Parthasarathy Swamy Temple in Triplicane where I went with my cousin today.

Dear Chennai, in spite of the many influences you are subject to on a daily basis, you make a great effort to retain your character and old-world charm and that probably is the secret of your success. Many happy returns of the day!

4 Comments so far

  1. phantom363 (unregistered) on August 23rd, 2006 @ 3:44 am

    hi thennavan,

    i am with you 100%. what i like about chennai is it unassuming confidence in itself. there is an assertive born out knowing its place in the world. it is proud of its tamil culture, but interestingly has played host to more cultures and languages than any other indian city. not only all of them have prospered, but each one has given back something, all of which put together, makes it the delicious sambhar to the idly that is tamil nadu. :) :) cheers :)

  2. prabu (unregistered) on August 27th, 2006 @ 8:01 pm

    I was born and was in chennai until 1995 (Now I live in UK)and I visit the city regularly since then. What amazes me is that even with all the technological developments in many fields and the increase in buying power of the people the driving has worsened on the roads and everyone educated or not drive the same way, I hear tragic stories from friends, but there seems to be little concern from the public, the police have taken care and signed lanes on roads but there is no lane discipline at all and some vehicles dont stop at red signals!. I learnt to drive in this city and took a driving test and passed it and drove with care repecting other road users rights. people do not seem to know even the basic right of way. I think the public in general should raise this issue and improve education and enlightment in proper lawful driving.The unnecessary loss of life should be stopped and people should act together towards this.

  3. thennavan (unregistered) on August 28th, 2006 @ 8:48 am

    Phantom, even I could not have put it better :-).

    Prabu, I agree about the general lack of road sense of the people in Chennai and that is one of the sore points of the city. Some of the behavior is ingrained and so it will probably be the next generation (who have been exposed to other cultures) that will learn from the mistakes of the previous and practice greater civility on the roads. Until then, I guess we got to just grin and bear it :-).

  4. rohan (unregistered) on September 1st, 2006 @ 1:48 pm

    In response to your comments about Chennai’s Tamil population retaining there culture may not be as true as you think. I have heard from many poeple who live abroad and local Tamilians who say that Tamilians don’t want to learn there own language and the government is powerless to do anything about it. They prefer to learn Hindi, Marwardi language and follow that culture. Since when does throwing coloured powder form part of Tamil culture that silly festival call Holi is not Tamil tradition I don’t see why Chennai celebrates it not other place in TN celebrates why do you? I am not trying to be offensive but Indians from other states think of Tamilians as trash that includes the ones that live in Chennai though you may not hear them say it publicly. Gujuratis have ripped of Kollatam and renamed it Dandia and claimed it as there own and Tamilians have kept quiet? Why are Tamilians so ashamed to speak Tamil in the state capital of Tamil Nadu, why such respect for Hindi culture and movies which i don’t understand?

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