Is chennai your favorite city?
Madras is all surprises for me when we moved from my native town, its vastness, huge populace, distinct identity even from other parts of the state and a lot of specialties that it possessed. I am in Chennai now for almost a decade and still Chennai is keeping surprises for me. I am wondering Madras is similar to neither Bangalore nor Bombay, the other metropolitan cities in southern India.
Just as one of my friend, who speaks telugu, says that in their native place, they use Madras as a farthest point geographically so to say like “Hey, where were you man? The news that you were not in town spread till Madras”. In my native town, they hold Madras with some veneration, and won’t even say its name and just quote it as “Pattinam”. Some might remember the yester-era Balachandar movie “Pattinapravesam” which somewhat presented a dystopian view on Madras. Even among such negative views, it was believed that whoever moved to Madras prospered in life. People had so many varied good, bad, right, wrong views of Madras just as we look at America by and large.
After few days of my living in chennai, I started to feel its pressure. Even though one doesn’t have any real work or the day is a holiday, one can still feel the pressure. Time just runs real fast and the scientifically rumored bio-clock often fails in the city life atmosphere. Even if you wake up at 4:30 in the morning, time just sprints and you would find yourself quite amazing that the time is 9:30 within moments, as if the time spent is just a few minutes. The other side of it is, one will never get bored. In Chennai, we face so many people in a day and everyone is buzzing around, we are somewhat kept in the need to pay attention to the surrounding and may be thats the reason for us to not get bored.
The reason I told before that Chennai is distinct from even other parts of Tamil Nadu is because of the way people in chennai behave at each other. Especially the ‘citizens’ of chennai are famous for their language. And while speaking they won’t consider to give you a basic form of respect even if you are 90 years old. In our native, we treat elders (even strangers) regardless of their social status (even if they are beggers), with a lot of courtesy and respect. Talking to somebody as “Ennayya solre?” (What are you saying sir?) in our native place, if asked to strangers is taken as offence at times. However not in Chennai. Nobody respects anybody, right from autoriksha to esteemed diabatologist in popular hospital. “Enna sir solre?” is perfect in chennai language grammar :).
And chennai kids! The way they talk and play together is all not good if not nasty. That is no surprise because they don’t even get a chance to learn to respect, speak politely etc. even from parents. Getting a home near by a good school is real pain. House rents are so high at times even more than the salary of the envied software engineer at his entry levels.
Bangalore is cool in climate, young in populace and vibrant in culture. Though occasionally the problem of language surfaces, its by and large a nice city better than Madras, if I may say. However comparatively Bangalore is smaller than Chennai and less entertaining as I think about beaches. However, not to be worried much, Chennai beaches are becoming the worst of their kind, one might say its better to do away with those that tap on the sides.
And, how can I forget the Chennai traffic? Travelling along the south to north direction say in Mount road or its parellels is a lesser trouble than travelling crosswards – say like travelling from Adyar to Ambattur. One would be boggled down by the number of signals with almost 90% going red when you reach near them, the careless pedestrians, the zillion number of two-wheelers all whizzing past in hurry. There are a few notorious signals like the kathipara (though this might get better after the flyover is finished), Nandhanam, Kodambakkam etc. One can really have some tiffin, play a good game of chess while standing in the traffic (though the hot climate and air-pollution would avert it 🙂 ). Because of the frustration due to heavy traffic, people tend to hurry themselves and this is a reason for good number of accidents. The trains that too after they converted to broadgauge, are fine, better than the ones in Mumbai.
One thing that caught me by surprise was that Chennai public life goes to sleep so early. I am not referring to the pubs in star hotels, this is about public transport, small hotels etc. I have been to Madurai, Trichy, Tanjore etc. Even at 1’o clock in the midnight I can get buses, travel to other towns, easily find varieties of hotels from roadside restaurants to good furnished hotels. Another thing is in towns as I mentioned above, one can find clean, new buses operated by private owners. This is in stark contrast to the old, unclean government buses in chennai. On these Chennai buses, college students use the sides as drums and beat it in various rhythms, while the driver and conductor act as if they are deaf. In my town the private bus driver – conductors, if they find somebody knocking on the bus – even if they are trying to stop the bus – let alone for fun, would come down and almost beat the shit out of them.
Everyday about 45 lakh people travel in Chennai buses, most of them commuters working in government offices and private companies. A huge number of people everyday migrate to chennai as well from other towns. Wikipedia says there are 24,000 people per square kilometer in chennai (That roughly can be said 24 persons within a square meter!). Whoa, this must be the highly dense place in the world, as it seems. Though I suspect Chennai has a good number of Telugu speaking people and Hindi/Urdu speaking populace, it wears a strong Tamil identity.
One thing can be proudly said about Chennai is, Chennai has never come under the huge riots just as the ones happened in Mumbai, Delhi or Calcutta. Though there are no big communal sentiments, Chennai always retained the regional fanaticism, thanks to politics. For over several decades, the regional sentiments card always played a major role in politics that includes separatism to bitter word battle with neighboring states. Now with growing business opportunities and economic growth the regional politics seems to have gone to backseat and a much wider outlook has taken the stage. Once it was not as hospitable as Mumbai or Bangalore to people speaking different languages, but now the situation is changing. Though ‘bhashabimanis’ are more in Tamil Nadu it has never lost national sentiments and Chennai is no inferior to other states and cities of India in patriotic sentiments. One might say, chennai always kept a double opinion as on state and national affairs as we observe the way people vote in assembly and parliament elections.
The subtle thing that stands as a silent indication of the sentiments of Chennai and Tamil people at large is the number of tombs and statues surrounding chennai. Every junction you can find a statue of somebody. Some really popular people have multiple statues inside the city, thereby loosing the purpose being a landmark as well. These occupy good amount of land in a densely populated area of the city without much purpose. Even if it is Gandhi’s statue I don’t understand why it should be erected all over the place. May be time can only say.
It would be better for chennai if the government goes ahead in constructing satellite townships, secondary cities as they said before. Also promoting Madurai, Coimbatore with IT Parks, industries etc would also reduce the population stress within the city. In addition to this, the Chennai corporation could take up the task of cleaning the city, removing encroachments, enforcing laws on building construction, would be a lot useful. Parking place is a major problem especially for four wheelers everywhere in chennai. Traffic needs are to be analyzed and planned.
Well for now… Let me stop here. There are so many more things to discuss about Chennai than the ones in this post. The bottom line, so to say is, even after so many bad things that glare before our eyes, Chennai is lively and likeable city that always keeps its surprise element enviably!