Childhood memories apart; the city that I have lived in as a child, a teen, and an adult....Chennai...is always the quintessential Madras to me...
Last week a friend of mine returned from Chennai to Bangalore, and I asked her toddlers in a voice loaded with interest...
"So how was Madras?"
pat came the reply from my friend,
"They dont know Madras, they know only Chennai"
I took a double take.
Its not the first time I have had to correct myself, both verbally and mentally. But this was the first time I have had to do it so unconsciously. Those born into the city called Madras find it quite difficult to call it by any other name.
My so called roots. I have mixed reactions about the city, bitter sweet memories.
I know no other city culturally and I believe I am both a spectator and a participant to the transformation that I see in it.
Elliots beach is where I grew up. It is located very close to where my parents live and subsequently my in laws.
The sea answers an internal rhythm within me, and just staring at its myriad hues stretching before me shows me a glimpse of eternity and the nothingness that we are. The same feel when I stare into space.
(So you know, I do a fair amount of staring when I am alone!! )
Leaving the metaphors and magic aside, when I saw Elliots this time I was almost retching at the ghastly sight of filth, human discard and disregard.
I have a habit of walking on the beach when I am in chennai, be it Elliots when I am with In-laws or Marina when I am with sister. Post Kaanum Pongal, it was appalling to see the way people had trashed the beach. I pity the residents. Noise is one factor, but the amount of refuse and waste just left lying there is impermissible.
Why People Why??
Fun comes with responsibility. I come away this time with a very sad feeling and wonder why we don't we have have campaigns and conferences on keeping our city clean; before, rather than just cleaning up after the mess is done.
(Sadly Indians never take ownership of the crap we leave behind, or create)
I am told this is a yearly feature, which saddens me even more. I would expect that a system for trash disposal would exist by now...
I am not a "Malling" person. Basically I am a snob to capitalism and materialism, not that I don't have desires and don't buy stuff. Yet I look at luxury as a synonym to comfort, and believe in owning/ buying what I require to make myself comfortable. Nothing more, nothing less. (What would communists call malls??)
I visited one in Chennai.
Why go to Chennai to see a mall?
a) some things are better done with company and Chennai is loaded with a family who enjoy malls
b) Because it's an all encompassing fun indoor thing to do, shopping, movie, play, food...
c) Children have space to play in special areas designated and designed for them
d) Food is multi- cuisine and caters to all palates.
It was amazing. Sunday evening at a mall, is like going to the local festival/ mela sans the religious feel.
People from all walks hanging out together, eating, talking, playing, sitting, standing, shopping, window shopping...
People of all age groups, young children arms locked with each other busy chatting or texting.
Families in droves accompanied by the tiniest infant all swaddled in blankets, to teens, looking greedily at all the contraptions, deciding which ones they wanted to ride/ play.
Elderly couples strolling through the chaos, observing, some smiling, some grim faced. Accompanying their kin out of compulsion...or a desire.(A desire to see and experience this chaos, to know what the present is doing in this multiple, multi sensorial,super-stimulating environment.)
Couples, young and old, loosing themselves in this ocean, finding privacy in public.
Newly marrieds, un-marrieds, individuals, groups, men, women, children...
I come away feeling malls are social events in our lives. Happening every day, any one and every one is welcome for a price, we all get to party...
Yet I would like a quiet space within this chaos, a library maybe (I haven't seen one library in any mall), where children at least get to see that being by yourself and doing things quietly can also be infra dig.
(Please don't get me wrong, I like my partying and shouting and fun, but the other side exists too isn't it?)
These are but two places that I drowned myself in to capture the feeling of how the city has transformed...
I also did see many new public spaces around Chennai, new parks, and fountains. Wonderful frescoes along the roads, on walls that speak of Tamil stories and monuments. Quickly the roads have expanded, flyovers that have risen in a blink, metro trains that run, bus service that still carries on efficiently, transporting its faithful.
I can also see how people have taken to the changes very rapidly. Changes in clothing styles, hair fashion, accessories. In spite, the Kanjeevarams, the gold, and malli poo still retains its traditional flavour.
Chennai: Singara Chennai, your way is rapidly evolving the way million other cities grow.
As you discard old fashioned archetypes you hungrily ingest new and futuristic façades, to mark the beginning of a new decade.
I wait eagerly to see the complete transformation!