Today marks the 380th anniversary of my beloved city, that I call HOME. Studies and work have taken me away from this warm city for a decade now, but Home is still where the Heart is!
Growing up, I could never answer questions from people outside of my hometown about where you could go to, in Chennai, on a week long visit. You see, being a madras-vaasi, it’s hard to think of places a tourist would enjoy, and easier to take the things we did have for granted. But that’s it, this place is for a traveler, not a tourist! The people are warm, the food is beyond amazing, and the cultural hodge-podge, unparalleled!
I had all along been trying to answer the wrong question! Instead of “Where can you go around in Chennai?”, the question asked should be “What can you do in Chennai?”!!
Chennai is so much more than the cliched list of things people from here and others fondly think about. But, the list is cliched for a reason! They are some of the most amazing things that define the place.
I grew up in a family that started the day with half a tumbler of coffee, progressed into mid-morning with another half a tumbler, refreshed themselves after a siesta with a whole tumbler, had a second – evening coffee late evening, and made more excuses to have coffee whenever anybody visited. However, I was brought up with no exposure to caffeine, except for my occasional trips to meet aunts who would sneak me a glass every morning, till I was 16. I am still making up for my loss.
As much as a Chennaiite loves his/ her coffee every morning, they come to appreciate it only in its absence! Ten years later, my dad still travels with his own coffee powder when he visits us, and leaves behind an ‘eversilver‘ coffee filter.
Dunk the idlis
A typical breakfast in everyone’s homes is idli with chutney/ sambar or even molagapodi (nobody calls it gun powder guys, sorry!). If you walked into a restaurant for tiffin (not breakfast guys, learn the jargon!), a plate of idly, pongal and vadai with sambar and thenga chutney is the go-to meal for most! And you do not dab the idlis in the sambar, you dunk them!
Better still, make a trip to Ratna Cafe in Triplicane and get a bucket of sambar to pour over them.
Of course, it goes without saying that you finish your meal with a filter kaapi.
We are a coastal city!
I cannot stress enough how much we take this for granted! One hasn’t seen and experienced Chennai without catching a sunrise at the beach. It wasn’t until my trip to Goa at 11 years old, that I saw another way of going to the beach and experiencing the water. While I do love the lazy day at the beach excursions near where I live now, and on vacations, my beach experiences back home were not even close to this. That was my beach day for the majority of my life, and it’s not with fond memories of the people I went with, and the stories that still stick with me.
The popular Marina and Elliot’s Beaches are chaotic and busy, but everyone has their spot to do their thing amidst everything else going on around them. Families run to the waters to take a plunge, while one designated member sits around the footwear and bags to ‘take care’ of them; young and old boys run around, playing completely different games with overlapping boundaries! One could be playing cricket and the other, volley ball!; older men walk with their running shoes and shorts; vendors place stalls (oh the stalls!) to sell Ice cream and specialty Beach food.
A beach trip is incomplete without some balloon shooting, Fun Orange ice cream sticks, molaga bajji and kaara manga!
December – January, the tamizh month of Margazhi is fondly called kutcheri season. Maamis, Maamas and youngsters alike, don their best sarees and traditional attire and make the rounds to Carnatic music concerts all over the city. The music needs to be experienced to develop a taste for it. How can I not mention the Bharathanatyam recitals?!One must go to a recital not just for the talent, but also for the beautiful costumes on the beautiful dancers. The sabha canteens are an added bonus!
A temple run
The most popular temple visit among tourists is the majestic Kapaleeswarar koil in Mylapore. One could easily make a day out of a visit to the Mylapore area. Stop at Kapali koil in the morning, run to Karpagambal mess for breakfast, catch a concert in Mylapore fine Arts/ Rasika Ranjani Sabha, lunch at the concert venue canteen, shop at Rasi silks/ Giri Traders and Shukra Jewellers, have some rose milk and panneer soda at Kalathi and get back to Kapali koil to sit and chat with friends, and get home for dinner. The temple and it’s kolam (tank) are beautiful, and catch the essence of every temple in the area. You could walk into any other old temple though, and experience the same vibrations, bhakthi and everyday activity there. The city is steeped in history and there are any number of old temples with their own sthala puranam (temple history).
Make a day trip out of a visit to the Mahabalipuram shore temple. What is standing today, is just the seventh in line of six other Pagodas immersed in the Bay of Bengal. The stunning rock carvings and monuments were built back in the 7th century by the Pallavas, and have stood the test of time. Book a cab now, will ya!
Apart from all these reasons to experience Chennai, the people are warm, everybody knows their neighbors, new people are welcomed in with open arms and served more filter kaapi, a small effort to say Vanakkam is well received and appreciated, you could walk into an upscale mall in a saree or go to a temple in jeans and mallipoo.
So next time, ask the Madras-vaasis “What is Chennai?” After all, it is an emotion!
P.S. My daughter now grows in a world not even remotely close to my Home, physically and culturally.I hope she experiences and sees the beauty of her parents’ hometown while developing fond memories of her own Home!
- Madras-vaasi : Dwelling in Madras
- eversilver: Used in a Madras household in place of stainless steel
- Kaapi : Coffee
- Idli, sambar, chutney, molagapodi: Breakfast items. Please google and drool away!
- Kaara maanga: Raw mango rubbed with red chilly powder and salt
- Sabha: Organisers/ venue of concerts
- Chennai and Madras are used interchangeably.
P.P.S. The image used is not my own. It is from google, and it has its watermark intact.