Chennai – a sea-change is happening

No, make that a Bay of Bengal change. Actually this change is not about what is happening within Chennai but rather what is happening towards Chennai. Looks like I am still talking in riddles :-). Well, this is about what I see and overhear these days on the relocation to Chennai, by people not just from the US or elsewhere but also from other metros of India, particularly those who owe some allegiance to the city either thru familial bonds or by virtue of some connection(s) that gave them the needed fillip to get started in their lives. I have been in interviews where the person sitting on the opposite chair wanted to somehow come (back) to Chennai, especially so if they were from the nearest big-city, otherwise known as the “Silicon Valley of India”. The reasons cited could be anything and range from “my two year old son has terrible allergies due to the high pollution” and “living there has become very expensive” to “traffic is chaotic and commute is stressful” and “same or more job opportunities are available in Chennai these days”. Things like the just-concluded Bandh aren’t helping the ca(u)se of that city either.

One of the people at work who had come down from the US and who was new to this city with no one known to her, was all praise for the hospitality of the folks here and was excited to see and savor the sea. She had also been to the museum and was awe-struck at the relics that silently spoke volumes about the historicity of the city. She wrote on her blog that any city with a beach was her favorite and no wonder Chennai earned another fan.

Look at it this way. Which city both among the traditional metros and the newly minted metros can boast of such a long coastline? Not even Mumbai which is the only other sea-facing city. Anyway it is facing the setting sun over the Arabian sea and that is not half as exciting as watching the rising sun (definitely no political overtones here :-)).

With the greater Chennai metropolitan area expanding all the way to Mahabalipuram in the South, there is simply no dearth of sea and sand whenever and wherever you turn east on the self-explanatory ECR (East Coast Road). Not only that, Chennai is also the least polluted among the metros (according to a study) because of the very presence of the Bay of Bengal, whose breeze that sets in the afternoon every day just blows the pollutants away. No wonder some of those vacating other metros or even contemplating a move find that all roads seem to lead to Chennai.

Perhaps the idea of a Kannagi silai (statue) on the marina is not such a good one, even though we can try to draw a parallel to the Statue of Liberty, since unlike the US of A where the sea-route was the historical passageway to New York (the port of entry for the immigrant masses), the bulk of visitors and settlers to Chennai don’t come via the Bay of Bengal, but rather by road, rail and increasingly via air. So, the best place to have the statue will be Kathipara Junction and she can welcome those fleeing other cities and seeking asylum in Chennai thus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

slightly modified by me to remove “sea” references to “shore” and “tempest” and rewritten as:

“Give me your tired, your poorly paid, over-worked souls,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free (and fresh air),
The wretched who refuse to live in your city and more.
Send these, the restless, the temper-lost, to me:
I lift my anklet and do my “Welcome to Chennai” encore.”


13 Comments so far

  1. sj (unregistered) on February 14th, 2007 @ 5:54 am

    Well Thennavan you are talking about lots of people relocating to Chennai but don’t you think this is bad as the city is unable to cope with the current population already and surely this will only deplet the resources the city has which are already insufficient to cater to the existing population. Politicians should wake up across India and develop tier 2 cities to solve this as cross migration between cities only created more burden and more problems for the city where these people are headed. I mean look at New York they are trying to stop people coming in I think it is time Chennai did this as it can’t cope with more people coming in.

  2. Sudarshan (unregistered) on February 14th, 2007 @ 7:46 am

    I feel the whole article is unsubstantiated and is just a mere chest thumping. The whole article is so anecdotal.

    If it is what it is, I must agree with the previous commenter that infrastructurally the Government is not doing enough to control this migration. Migration and displacement are not essentially always good thing.

    Mumbai has so many people living in the slums and eventually getting bulldozed by the Govt. because the state and Cnetral Govts. never controlled the migration of people ( usually farmers) from the villages to cities in search of jobs.

  3. Balaji (unregistered) on February 14th, 2007 @ 9:54 am

    you can’t stop ppl comin into city…that too poor people from villages…coz they only know that they can survive when they come to capital city…all capital city will have this problem…every year the number of peoples in slums will increase…and at the same time we cant blame them also…when they can’t survive in thier village they come to city thinking that they can get a job and live there…

  4. Sudarshan Suresh (unregistered) on February 14th, 2007 @ 11:04 am

    How about pushing the Govt. to pump some money into fields that these people can work like farming, fishing, weaving. These people coming from the villages who would have been farmers, weavers or something like that in their previous generation are slowly being displaced from their traditional professions. But here we are in India, the Govt. deciding to sell rice for 2 bucks when we all know that a kg of rice will definitely cost more than 2 bucks to grow.

    The agricultural sector has to be encouraged and nutured for us to even compete with any of this big powers.

  5. sj (unregistered) on February 14th, 2007 @ 12:50 pm

    Balaji I am sure the government can setup manufacturing units and other sorts of parks in the village areas and other major towns so that these people can work in there home town and if infrastructure to these place is improved I am sure they would not need or want to move to the city.

  6. SN (unregistered) on February 14th, 2007 @ 1:19 pm

    Superb writing, Thennavan. The rewording of the Statue of Liberty prose was apt and excellent.

  7. manoj (unregistered) on February 14th, 2007 @ 4:05 pm

    thennava, ungaluku kusumbu athigam…
    rising sun reference kuduthutu, summa apdina nanga nambidanuma?

  8. Navneeth (unregistered) on February 14th, 2007 @ 7:50 pm

    You have to be careful about the positioning of the Kannagi statue, though. Make her point in the wrong direction, and visitors would think that we want them out, NOW!

    Of course, you make her point in the right direction, the whole bunch of funda-mental-ists would jump on the ‘Making-the-icon-of-Tamil-whatever-into-a-traffic-constable’ bandwagon.

    Therefore, I suggest, that it is best to leave Mrs.Kovalan where she is right now. That goes to you,too, political goofs!

  9. SGS (unregistered) on February 14th, 2007 @ 11:57 pm

    Thennavan .. good post …

    I’m getting a doubt .. looking at the comments whether your post is about “migration” or “come-back-home” crowd …

    But the underline statement that people are giving it a thinking or two about going back to Chennai … is TRUE ! .. especially from Bangalore. I don’t know why you avoided the name of the city .. (may be to avoid any clashes abt cities in this post) … I’m here in Bangalore now for 2 years and never felt like home .. and many here have a similar feeling as well .. I’m talking about the major IT people..

    Except for those people, who have already settled here, most of them are looking back, especially due to the emerging opportunities in Chennai …. and the bad state of other cities …. climate, rent, pollution, traffic, water problem, cost of living and many more ..

    I see this in a different way … They went out in quest of fame and money … now … May be the talents are coming back to Chennai !!?

  10. Navneeth (unregistered) on February 15th, 2007 @ 1:27 am

    Wow! This is starting to look like a discussion on inverse-brain-drain from the U.S. to India.

  11. Kamal (unregistered) on February 17th, 2007 @ 7:13 pm

    A visitor to any place gets the impression about the place on the road; while traveling from airport or rail station to his place of destination. What does one experience in chennai?

    Concrete road dividers narrowing already narrow roads. Such physical barriers were not used for regulating normal humans. Good money is spent on this by Govt.

    Totally self centered drivers of various vehicles who by hook or crook would like to reach the front line in every signal, in the process obstructing traffic for which green signal is displayed.

    Corollary to above road behavior is constant honking sound on the roads which does not signify that one is in a developed place.

    Yes, there is a great beach line and wonderful museums! How does one reach there? by road? by the time you traveled half the way if one is made to forget the beauty of these by the road and civic sense of road users are we justified in taking credit for presence of these?

    Unless the place is made better than other cities in road and civic sense for which each one of the chennaiets should strive there is no point in claiming that Chennai is attracting relocation! It will only be temporary! People move from place to place for various reasons and it is to be based on the nature and quality of life available in a city and that quality should start with life and experience on the ROAD!

  12. jillu (unregistered) on February 18th, 2007 @ 12:06 am

    The best joke in all of the discussion above, is that Indians from SFCO, Phoenix, St. Louis, Chicago, Dallas, NJ/NYC, Phila or DC Metro are the ones most probably debating about relocation to Chennai, Kolkota, Mumbai or Nayee Dilli.

    Pahle apne apne saamaan utaake waapis bharat chalne ki koshish thodi karo na bhaiyon (aur bahnon)! Phir dekhenge dilli badi ya hamchi mumvai badi ya homore kolkota ya poor, old, hapless namma ooru sennai.

    Edu kontala vaada, venkata ramana, chooduda chooduda ivanga pakkam chooduda!

  13. iMaGellan! (unregistered) on March 1st, 2007 @ 3:30 pm

    Hey Thennavan!
    You’re one proud guy! Yes chennai is very beautiful, chennai was my hometown for 27 years, I tool am one proud person like you’re but rather than leaning too much would also want to say alls not well with any place.
    I happen to live in bombay and I seem to love it too just for the variety it offers to anyone who wants to enjoy its multitude…yes it is very crowded and at times stinks like it does while you cross the hamilton bridge or for that matter the cooum bridge anywhere in proper chennai..
    this is what summarizes any Indian city no matter metro or not…we dont manage our resources properly and dont care to keep o/your cities, metros, villages, streets clean.
    Its better to hold a realistic view rather than turn a blind eye towards real and pressing issues.
    I love Madras as much as I love Bombay/Delhi/Gurgaon…Every place has its own charm…be it on the sea coast or not.

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