The First of Many.. The Streets of Chennai

I think I have decided how I will go about some of my blog entries. I am reading the most exhilarating novel, “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts. This novel follows a fugitive felon who has escaped from an Australian prison and made his way to Bombay. Only to find himself pushed back into illegal activities, but not without also doing amazing good for the people of India by opening a free clinic in the slums. It is the transformation of his perception of India that is so enlightening. He starts out with the foreigner’s eyes of guilt and excitement, something I am experiencing now. Through the month then years he stays in India he comes to know the people of India and begins to understand who they live together with the traditions they share.

And so my thought is to start each blog entry with one of my favorite lines. While there are so many, I will choose the ones that I have underlined. I am only on page 300 of 1,000 so I think that I can go about this for a while. I do this so that I can not only remember of these lines for years to come, but also so that I can share them with you. This practice will also bring a theme to each blog entry, making for a better read. Knowing me I may add at the end some silly facts I have learned, we will see.

So to start the tradition I have chosen this line for the basis of the first entry:

” It smells of ten thousand restaurants, five thousand temples, shrines, churches, and 2 thousand mosque, and of hundred bazaars devoted exclusively to perfumes, spices, incense, and freshly cut flowers…each breath was an angry little victory.” pg. 4

Chennai is a city of many; many sites, many people, many cars, many two wheelers, and many smiles. This is what is amazing through all the chaos of smells and people and sounds; it is always possible to find a glimmer of life in the purest form. I find it in the face of the many children or the colors of the many saris that contrast the skins they are warn on like egg shells to oil. The smells change in an instant but this does not take away from their potency. As I walk across the bridge to go to the market my nose and mind are over taken by the rancid smell of sewage, but this passes and quickly changes to the air conditioned breeze flowing out a corner store. Then again instantly a change to the smell of curry being cooked under out of a mobile restaurant with a line of people waiting for their share. Another change, quickly to the smell of one of the many small temples, the size of my studio flat. I have self titled them “fast food temples.”

As the smells continue I am walking slower now for the heat as turned on me and humidity adds to the war I begin to fight. It has only been a few mins. out doors but I feel my Californian lungs beginning to close up. The heat creeps up on me for I am internally cooled from the lovely fanned room I resided in a few mins. before. As a tag team force the humidity and heat rain down on me and I begin to become conscientiously aware that I need a drink of water or just to slower. I remember this same war needed to be waged in South Africa. However in India you are surround by so many more people, smells, and exhaust, it take just that much more time to get used to it. If I am walking with a colleague I may mention the discomfort, the response I have continually gotten is “summer is coming to us, just you wait my dear, ja.” Then with strained eyes I see the smile of comfort and curiosity. Will she make it through? Followed by a laugh that India is so well known for.

The smells and the heat continue along with the sights to see. From the five star hotels and house next to the shake and the shrines. People are in gorgeous saris and starch pressed white lungis along side those who clothes seem to only hang on their body with the glue of sweet and filth. But the faces are the same and the smiles are just as gracious. As a rickshaw passes slowly I see the drive with one foot folded under the other and his bear feet with the 10 years of road on its bottom. He looks up to me in a questioning manner, as I shake my head saying “vena (I don’t want)” and I receive a grin. I interpret it as “Viacom Madame, enjoy your feet. Hope they take you far and I hope one day I will come to you again when you are in need of a ride.” I continue to stroll, an American crawl, to the local Nigri’s market. No need for an Ipod for there is music blasting out of cars passing by and thumping out of the local stands as I pass by. Finally my feet bring me to the entrance of the market. I enter with curiosity of what I will find today to fill my stomach. The disarray of people allows one to just blend into the rapids and browse for hours.

14 Comments so far

  1. ramesh (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 5:20 am

    What is your point with this blog, we all know Chennai is a city full of many sites and many smelly looking people who cares!!! Chennai has gone to the dogs a long time ago and will continue to do so if the government doesn’t change its policies no matter how many expressways or IT parks come up it stinks from top to bottom it is a hell on earth. Any one living here should consider themselves unlucky.

  2. Kelly (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 9:46 am

    I’m so sorry that you have such a sour view of the world around you. I have just come to Chennai and this was my first impression of the great city. Yes, I may have an idyllic view, being a new comer. But why would you take the time to spit out negative thoughts on a website with the purpose of bringing people together and sharing great things happening in Chennai. I suggest that you ignore my next posting. It might be even more upbeat.

  3. Maddy (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 11:50 am

    Ramesh, please get the hell out of Chennai or dont come to this post and let us live in peace.

  4. Vasanth (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 6:45 pm


    Why are you bothered about Chennai you aren’t living here. If you are living in Chennai, you are a hypocrite. You will never be entirely happy with any city you live in. Every city has its share of problems and good things. Try to look at the positives and get on with it.

  5. Vasanth (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 6:46 pm


    Why are you bothered about Chennai if you aren’t living here. If you are living in Chennai, then you are a hypocrite. You will never be entirely happy with any city you live in. Every city has its share of problems and good things. Try to look at the positives and get on with it.

  6. Navaneethan Santhanam (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 7:51 pm


    Negative bastards like you ought to be sent to some sub-Saharan country where the concept of basic infrastructure is a luxury. Chennaiites will consider themselves lucky if you don’t live in our city, makes it a little more pleasant. If you do, you should be forced to leave.

  7. Ganesh (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 3:02 am

    Nice (first) post ! Ignore obvious trolls like Ramesh. BTW FYI, Shantaram is being remade with Johnny Depp in the lead role. Waiting for the next “upbeat” post…

  8. prabhu (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 7:25 am

    சென்னை இச் அனொதெர் பர்ட் ஒப் டமி்ல்னடு வ்ஹிச் இச் ஹெல்ப்லெச்ச் அன்ட் இச் டொமி்னடெட் ப்ய் பெஒப்லெ பொர்ம் ஒதெ பர்ட்ச் ஒப் ஹின்டிஅ. ஹின்டிஅ இச் அ @ஒஉன்ட்ர்ய் தட் டிச்லிகெச் டமி்ல்ச் அன்ட் அச் அ ரெசுல்ட் தட் இச் வ்ஹ்ய் சென்னை ஹச் பைலெட் அச் அ @இட்ய் அச் தெ கொவெர்ன்மென்ட் பய்ச் மொ அட்டென்டிஒன் டொ இட் பெ@ஔசெ டெ பெஒப்லெ ஒப் திச் லன்ட் அரெ @ஒன்புசெட் சொஉல்ச்.

  9. T.Rajapandian (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 2:32 pm

    Are’nt there any ‘smells’ in California?

  10. KART (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 4:40 pm

    Great Post!!

  11. Shanthi (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 9:49 pm

    Finally someone else sees the beauty of humanity as we strive to get through our daily lives in Chennai. I live in Chicago now and come home to Chennai every year to experience everything that was written in this blog entry. Yes I feel frustrated, when I have to haggle with the auto driver, but also exhilarated and comforted all at the same time. This is home, this is what makes me Tamil and no where in the world do they create idli and sambar and fresh coconut chutney.
    My favorite image is of the boy selling flowers at the Adyar intersection just a few feet from g traffic. He has this little wooden platform that’s not quite a square board, with worn,jagged edges and precariously balanced on a few big stones. The board is brown with the heat and dust and fumes from the cars and on it are these neatly laid coils of flowers, white and orange, waiting to adorn the gods and ladies’ neat braids before dusk sets in. The juxtaposition of the boy, earnestly trying to make a living selling flowers and his customers in their cars and the fragility of the flowers – to me there is an inherent spirit of life here that all the regulations and organisations of the western world cannot subdue.
    Yes, I escape the frustrations by flying back to the comfort of chicago but the blog reminded that in our hurry to become an international super power we tend to forget what makes us tick as chennaites.

  12. Kelly (unregistered) on March 27th, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

    Thank you for your great post! You are a great writer and I am so glad to see another positive person here on Metro Blog.
    Thank you!

  13. sam (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 8:48 am

    I have been to Chennai recently and Hyderabad and looking at the two I can cleary say that Hyderabad beats Chennai quite easily better roads better housing and more offices the list goes on.

  14. Dr.M (unregistered) on April 3rd, 2007 @ 12:45 am

    Good post Kelly.. Looking forward for the next one…Glad that people from foreign countries like our Chennai…


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