There is a certain quality to every city. There is a certain sense of attachment and nostalgia, little weaknesses and major flaws about a certain place which every person is willing to overlook if their love for the place exceeds its problems. Madras has particular such qualities within its folds of Kanchipuram silk sarees and under the aluminium tumblers filled with hot filter coffee, the biggest of them all being its inherent culture and the casual setting that will welcome anyone with open arms. (Of course, there is Rajinikanth, but since he represents Tamilnadu as a whole and not just my blissful city, I would like to let that one go.)
Culture flits through the space between your fingers and floats in the air here. Be it through the heavily jam-packed streets of Ranganthan Street a week before Diwali or Mylapore’s early morning scent of coffee and peace, there lies an immaculate love within people for the ideas and beliefs they believe in. Traditional art forms and practices are followed till date and it doesn’t always pertain to just one religion. The cosmopolitan air to the city joins hands with the living cultural realm it so feeds and the residents enjoy every major festival without any bias with respect to religion, caste or creed. The confectionaries received on Christmas, the rava laddu, seedai etc made on the days many Hindu festivals and the open invitations to hog biriyani on Eid from our neighbours are all on the same platter and always a cause for people coming together in tolerance. The lifestyle of the people who live in mutual co-existence here isn’t sophisticated but down-to-earth and quite lively.
For most parts of it, it consists of simple folks, stereotyped and to a certain extent true- a middle-class crowd, who don’t mind taking a share auto to work or eating from the roadside idli kadai. Every autorikshaw driver is anna and every flower-seller is akka. The simple lifestyle offers that much bravery to indulge in friendship with people one has never met before.
December season (margazhi mahotsavam) still has its own crowd hitting every sabha in town, every free concert attended as the last square foot would allow and the open heart to welcome another to share that last square foot to enjoy the music as well. A front-runner when it comes to theatre, the city is dotted with many established theatre groups and many upcoming ones, both in Tamil and English. A vibrant theatre scene and an on-stage presence has almost every child enrolled in music lessons, Bharathnatyam classes and oratorical skills which Madras prodigies easily obtain along with brilliant education. Cultural hubs like the Kalakshetra along the beach fronts of Chennai are most popular and ensure the continuum of tradition and art forms. Till date, the many beaches along the coastline are a crowd-puller for various shows, meets, rallies and leisure.
The immense built-heritage of the city with its innumerous Indo-Sarcenic architecture and Dravidian temple structures are a striking feature which can transport one back into the times when Chennai was still a colonial settlement and much before as an agglomeration of kingdoms. With globalization hitting every other metro in the country at rocket speed, the gradual development of this city is of much satisfaction while it still holds on to the threads of tradition.
People here are attached to the culture in ways they don’t comprehend. If you try asking an average Madrasi to read some other newspaper for a day and not The Hindu, (the most widely read newspaper in Chennai) they might go crazy with the oncoming change. There needs to be spice in the food and kolams at doorsteps, filter-coffee utensils at home and good sambar everyday and an occasional Rajinikanth movie to cheer for. (This has to be watched first-day-first-show)
Last but not least is the love the language Tamil holds and the way ‘Zha’ sounds under one’s tongue. The many aspects of heritage and the culture that has been passed down for several decades and centuries still lives in its acme living its full content and that is the biggest symbol the city could ever possess.
Post by: Hemalatha Venkatraman, Second Week Winner
The views expressed in the posts and comments of the Madras Week blogs do not reflect the positions or opinions of British Council. They should be understood as the personal opinions of the author. British Council is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied here.