Does Chennai attract enough talent?

Gautam Sinha, in this article in the Deccan Herald, states that cities that are strongly bound by tradition and language have not progressed (in economic terms) as much as other cities which are more open to and tolerant of immigrants.

As expected, Chennai falls in the tradition bound category.

Chennai is changing and it is a fact that it is trying to rid itself of its past and trying to embrace the future. The key however, is that no matter how many IT parks the city builds and how many roads or flyovers it builds, at the end of the day the success of the city will depend upon how many ‘talented’ immigrants it can attract and retain in the city (similar to a company).

Post-independence, Chennai’s natural advantages could not be leveraged because of its restrictive elements like a strong local language and traditional outlook. The author emphasizes that he does not advocate disowning local customs but being open to inclusion of new ones.

This is not to suggest that one should completely abandon one’s beliefs and way of life, but to reiterate, the city needs to be tolerant of differing ‘ways of lives.’ In fact, there is actually no real danger of losing its identity but growing by ‘inclusion,’ which is the key.

He goes on to add

The brand value of the city needs to be high and outsiders who live in the city need to recommend it to others.

True. The main complaints that I’ve heard from the outsiders are a) the weather b) the language (read as no one understands Hindi) c) the moral policing

Nevertheless, there have been a lot of converts. Because Chennai is a big yet peaceful city in many ways. Thoughts?

Update: Kaps points me to this comprehensive post that he wrote on the same topic

24 Comments so far

  1. shek (unregistered) on May 4th, 2006 @ 8:00 pm

    language of course is a problem and something has to be done about it.As for moral policing,no such thing exists here.Couples still freak out in beaches and coffee shops w/o being caught by any policemen.Are u really living in chennai?

    As for the weather,there’s no other go.outsiders HAVE to adapt to it.u cannot change a natural phenomenon.

  2. Lavanya (unregistered) on May 4th, 2006 @ 8:12 pm

    @Shek: I do live in Chennai – the post says “outsiders” normally complain about the moral policing – at least it has become a pet complaint that I have been hearing from immigrants in the last year.

    And from your comment I guess you are saying “This is how Chennai is – take it or leave it?” Is that why there is a general perception that people in Chennai are neither tolerant of nor open to outsiders?

  3. Kaps (unregistered) on May 4th, 2006 @ 8:32 pm


    I had attempted to list some of Chennai’s problems in an earlier post .

  4. Raja (unregistered) on May 4th, 2006 @ 9:20 pm

    Being a chennaite, I have no idea what this article is talking about :). I dont understand what moral policing is he talking about (I remember shiv sena protesting whole bunch of things incl Valentine’s day — but wait — isn’t that Bombay?). The are unlimited stories of “outsiders” making it big in chennai (look at the cine and carnatic music field, to quote a few).
    Personally, I think its just a north indian bias. The fact that chennaites don’t speak hindi is looked down upon (and the only reason B’lore is more accepted). Try going to delhi and talking to someone in English! It is unfair for someone to generalize their personal experience, in the same way I cannot criticize Bombay or Delhi for what I see as a “moralless-liberal” town.

  5. Anand (unregistered) on May 4th, 2006 @ 10:05 pm

    I do admit that Chennai is not very outsider friendly and I can very frankly admit that I have seen more enterprising people in other cities of India (take Bombay for example). There is no point in revelling in, or being in denial of some serious issues we have with regard to enterprise vs. inertia. Chennai is certainly not as cosmopolitan as it could be, considering its location at the gateway to SE Asia and Australasia.

    Not speaking Hindi is not a disadvantage. English is India’s national language; but to take a few holes in the article to diss the whole thing would be unfair. We have to admit there is something wrong when we cannot achieve our own potential. The last excuse I would like to give to this inertia is a desire to be traditional. Insularity, however cloaked it may be in culture, is a deep rooted mailaise that should never be excused, leave alone glorified.

  6. crsathish (unregistered) on May 4th, 2006 @ 10:58 pm

    Apart from the fact that chennai already have lot of local talents, it is still attracting outsiders. i dont have an clue what the hell this editor is talking abt ?

  7. Arun Kannan (unregistered) on May 4th, 2006 @ 11:23 pm

    The author Gautam Sinha has not provided any real-life examples. He just says, “strong historical and cultural roots” (as if Delhi did not have any), ‘old way of doing things’ (wat does that examples), ‘stifling way of life which is most unwelcoming to an outsider’.

    I have not lived in another city apart from Chennai. But I have met people esp from AP who easily acclamatize to Chennai. An allegation against the city is actually against the people living in the city.

    Any real life examples, outsiders???

  8. Blogeswari (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 12:06 am

    Well, do you think a woman can go to a movie theatre in Chennai and come back without being manhandled by the cheapsters? Now, I know Delhi is worse… and I also know that I can go to a movie theatre in Mumbai without having to think about the perverts out there…

    Can a girl wearing Jeans-Tops walk around freely in Chennai without having to hear a single ‘comment’ from a passer-by kezham/kumaran who whispers into her ears [read:vulgar, cheap comments] as he passes by? SHE CANT… and thats one of the few reasons why Chennai cannot progress

  9. Raja (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 2:48 am

    Anand, what does one being enterprising or not got to do with the city? Are you saying that chennai is making people less enterprising than Bombay (I though these are traits of an individual, not necessarily the society they live in). I think there are misplaced associations between one’s experience and the city they experienced it in (its just too big of a generalization). As Arun points out, the articles gives no concrete examples of a “chennai system” that spolied something. And Blogeswari seems to think that a city is more friendly if its more western (when are we going to get ourselves rid of the western hangover)

  10. sln (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 2:50 am

    Refusing to acknowledge the reality and simply shouting everything is great in Chennai is not going to help. We are neither ready for any self appraisal and pounce on third party analysis, attributing motives, defending, justifying.

    Perceptions do matter. Chennai was the third largest city / Economy at the time of independence was overtaken by Delhi, for all practical purposes by Bangalore and looks like being overtaken by Hyderabad too in a decade or two. Sure, it too is growing but not at the rate it could or comparable to other places. Of course attitudes and culture cannot be changed overnight but it does have to happen. What is more probable is, other cities getting more insular (happened in Mumbai and raises its head often in Bangalore) and sort of evening out the playing field.

    A hopeful Chennaiite

  11. Raja (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 2:55 am

    Chennai never got the economic or political focus to be sustained as a leader (unlike Delhi or Bombay). I dont think anyone here thinks alls well and great in chennai. The issue here is how welcoming and amenable is chennai to outsiders (and IMHO there is no question chennai is as good as any other city)

  12. Lavanya (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 11:11 am

    Thanks All for sharing your thoughts.

    Let us for a moment forget that we are Chennaiites and look at this city from the point of view of a newcomer. How friendly is our city really?

    Objectively speaking, not very much. We do not welcome outsiders and treat them hospitably. Do I hear a ‘show me proof’? Let us look at a few heads:

    Place to Stay:
    Kaps, in his post, mentions the issue of finding a place to rent. If an outsider (male or female) is unmarried and would like to stay alone, no landlord is going to rent their place out to him or her. Why? Singledom in a man is viewed from the perspective of “he must have bad habits and must be downright weird to want to live alone” and the same in a woman is viewed as “she must have loose morals to want to stay alone in this big city”. A lot of landlords would say “edhuku vambu?” (why get into trouble?) when considering renting their apartment to a single person.

    Transport (read AutoRajas):
    If you don’t know Tamil and cannot fight, you are going to be fleeced by the autoraja. That is a fact. And outsiders, who will be largely at the mercy of this public transport, have it really tough.

    Yes, this is not unique to Chennai. Anywhere in India this is an issue. I agree with Anand that English is the national language and that Chennai’s utilitarian services use both English and Tamil. Of course you need to know the local language in order to make your life easier. The same is the case anywhere.

    Raja, Sathish, Arun: I think Gautam Sinha was being very objective in his article. Not only that, his words were not offensive but well-meaning. At several points, he clarifies that he is not asking cities like Chennai to drop their local flavour. He says it makes sense to be more inclusive.

    The other important point that we seem to be debating about is enterprise. When Anand said that he found far more enterprising people in, say, Bombay, he was being very factual. Bombay is such a cosmopolitan city that it is bound to have more enterprising people. This does not imply that Chennaiites are not enterprising. It merely means that you find far greater congregations of talented people in places where the restrictions are minimal. Chennai is certainly not a cosmopolitan city. It could become one over time. I am as hopeful as SLN on this one.

  13. sathish (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 11:36 am

    Japan & China are great examples of non-immigrant based growth. For that matter, Europe became industrialized based on local talent only.

    I somewhere heard that TN is the 3rd largest GSDP in the country and according to CNN/IBN the second most industrialized state in the country. If this is the case is there any truth to what has been said ? If TN could have achieved all this when the Dravidian movement was at its peak, i think we will achieve more when the atmosphere is becoming more conducive to all

  14. Lavanya (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 11:42 am

    @Sathish: Exactly! We will achieve more if the atmosphere is conducive to all

  15. Sathish (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 11:47 am

    To add one more point, the National media never covers ordinary days in TN. None of the progress in manufacturing, leather, IT etc are shown. We somehow have avoided communal problems which have plagued other cities. After all this there is this talk of being insular etc. There is something called “Image” which once set is hard to remove from people’s mind. Iam not sure who ha the final authority to declare cities as “Cosmo”. Bombay can have Shiv sena, Bombay can have riots, Bombay can have rapes in train but still it will be washed away by people and continue call it a cosmopolitan city. But if something like “The Park” incident happens, people start to say “Didn’t we say Chennai is this and Chennai is that?”

  16. Nilu (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 11:49 am

    Contest: Point the 7 logical fallacies in this post.

  17. Sathish (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 12:31 pm


    As with everything about the city, Gautam has gone with the popular perception and what is on the media’s lips. “Chennai/TN is not in news, so it must be lagging behind”

  18. Raja (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 8:47 pm

    Lavanya, not to sound argumentative, but by your definition, people outside chennai (but from TN) should find it hard to get by in chennai (since language is not an issue). To the contrary, I find a mass influx from TN rural into chennai ( who will face the same kind of issues — narrow-minded landlords, autorajas etc, but the influx doesnt seem to end). IMO, the biggest reason for chennai’s bad PR is the language issue (atleast for north indians). Agreed, chennai culture is “conservative” compared to Bombay and Delhi, but that is not the reason for exclusivity.

  19. Lavanya (unregistered) on May 5th, 2006 @ 10:23 pm

    Raja – I somehow think that Chennai adopts a big brotherly attitude towards Tamilians from the rest of Tamil Nadu. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t Chennai the most cosmopolitan of places as far as Tamil Nadu goes? Therefore it is very open to other Tamilians.

    And, as mentioned earlier, not knowing the local language can make life difficult in any city – it is an issue yet it is not specific to Chennai is what I meant.

  20. xyx (unregistered) on May 6th, 2006 @ 1:48 am

    isn’t Chennai the most cosmopolitan of places as far as Tamil Nadu goes? Therefore it is very open to other Tamilians.

    so your point is,chennai must become outsider friendly and wecome them with banana leaves to walk on(westernize for blogeswari) even if it is at the cost of the rest of Tamil nadu, no?

  21. prabukarthik (unregistered) on May 8th, 2006 @ 12:09 am

    I think it’s gross to assume that only migrant talent can develop a city. And that too immigrants from north can develop a city.
    Apprently, tamilians from other parts of the city to the city hardly matter, eh?

    As far as enterprise goes, historically chennai was a place for bureaucrats. Only recently have that trend faded. And here too I think chennai has done remarkably well since the nineties…

    Regarding climate, pray tell me how salubrious New Delhi really is?

    I find all but one, are simply loaded statements simply going by what is commonly said rather than experiencing the city first hand.

    Auto folks in chennai are bad, i have to agree here.

  22. Lavanya (unregistered) on May 9th, 2006 @ 11:57 am

    @Prabhu Karthik: Yes indeed, the statements are loaded, with trivia from the collective perception of Chennai through the outsider’s eye. Essentially, it is not about what Chennai is or is not but how Chennai is perceived to be.

  23. Shyamala Rajagopalan (unregistered) on May 18th, 2006 @ 4:33 pm

    Chennai is a sweet place but you will understand its worth only if you are a Chennaite. It is a very big city compared to Bangalore or Hyderabad. The only reason Bangalore has risen up to great heights is due to its climatic conditions. I agree that you will sweat a lot in Chennai and it is very humid throughout the year. The unfriendly lot is only the slum dwellers. But, recently I see caboodle changes happening and Chennai is paddling slowly and steadily. Any other city would have kissed its grave if it had such bad weather. In spite of the weather, lot of industrial, manufacturing and software developments are happening in Chennai. The Dravidian culture has hampered the growth of Chennai, otherwise it would have risen to great heights. I know lot of Telugus and Bengalies who love Chennai and call it their home. Come on guys we need to battle this misconception out.

  24. Lavanya (unregistered) on May 21st, 2006 @ 12:08 pm

    @Shyamala: Yes indeed – there are a lot of misconceptions about Chennai and your battle call will, hopefully, find a forum in the Chennai metroblog.

    What was interesting to me in this whole debate was switching sides and playing Devil’s Advocate off and on. Usually our emotional tie to a city can prevent us from seeing what an objective eye might – both good and bad. I intend to revisit this topic in another post later and probably look at it from an insider viewpoint. Once again, thanks all for sharing your thoughts. In case you are back again at this post and reading this, I have a question – how safe do you think Chennai is?

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