To me, Chennai is home. It has been home for the last twenty one years. Whether I decide to settle in London or Paris, Bihar or Kerala, Chennai will be my home. But what’s there in Chennai? Why is it synonymous to home?
Well, what Chennai is to me, Delhi or Bombay is to you. My childhood memories, the sights and sounds of Chennai, the people, the history, the culture, the food – that gives it the feel of home.
It doesn’t stop there. What makes Chennai home is that it stands out. Here, we try to fit in and yet stand out. We’re different from the rest of India and yet we are similar. That is why I am surprised when people ogle at me when they visit Chennai and say, “What is there to like? It is nothing like the place we live in!”
Well, isn’t that the point? Why would Chennai be like Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta or any other city? It is another place. It has a character of its own. It stands out. Sure, we can get annoying with our native idiosyncrasies, but that’s us. We’re different.
From street food to sarees, from roadside shopping to temples, from weddings to night clubs, we are different.
While Calcutta and Mumbai chose Kulfi, Vada Pav and Bread pakoda, we chose pori, verkkatalai, raw mango and sweet corn apart from idli and dosa of course. Not to forget, our filter coffee is unparalleled.
Our Kanchivaram sarees are an epitome of our culture. Characterised by huge golden borders and produced in a variety of rich colours, they definitely make their mark among the chanderis and gadwals.
We’re different because street shopping at Pondy Bazaar and Luz Corner and even Parrys is a whole new experience. The traditional jutis and jhumkis of Rajasthan may not be there, but glittery metal and glass bangles, designer bindis and old book markets add to the variety.
Rituals, customs and ceremonies perfectly summarise a typical Chennai wedding. Carnatic music tops our playlist and not Honey Singh’s incessant rap. We prefer low decibel weddings except for blaring traditional tunes from the speakers. Slowly, we’re trying to make it a bit more peppy with a little dance and music. Again, we’re nowhere close to the typical Punjabi wedding but that’s why, we stand out.
Night life isn’t half as happening as it is expected to be. Yet, it isn’t out of the picture. A quick look at our event engagements will reveal that kacheris, dance recitals and dramas are more common in Chennai than rock concerts and parties.
But that’s what makes Chennai, Chennai and home, home. The delicious chilli bhajjis and bondas, the sound of the bell in the Kapaleeshwar temple, the smell of the sea at the beach, the colourful sight of orange and white flowers on your mother’s hair – that, is Chennai to me. From Ranganathan street to Sowcarpet to Mylapore, we are a mosaic of diverse cultures.
We’re open to pani puris and dosas, to patialas and pavadais, to golu and Durga poojas and to Garba and Bharatnatyam. We like experimenting and exploring but we like returning to our roots.
We’d like to fit in so that we’re not left out. But we want to stand out so that we’re not lost in the crowd.
The point is, while most of us are globetrotters and love exploring the world, we always look for home in an unfamiliar place. I do that quite often. But that’s when I asked myself, isn’t it better to appreciate each place for its uniqueness? It could be disgustingly different or otherwise. But that’s what lends it, its personality.
Because if we’re looking for home, away from home, then why leave home at all?