You don’t expect magic from a cosmopolitan. But when you do encounter it, it’s the pleasantest surprise.
Ask a city Indian about home and he’ll tell you the name of his native village. It’s true. For most, home is in that place. Where the fields are. Where you wake up to the chirping of birds and breathe the freshness in the air. And it’s most certainly not a polluted metropolis with more IT offices than cattle.
But with me, it’s always been Chennai. This is home, the place I was born, the place I embraced after many muddled years in a foreign country.
I grew up despising that my family didn’t travel and that we couldn’t afford beautiful vacations outside the city. And then in the last two years, something completely changed me. I found opportunities to visit the inner parts of Madras more often and I got to see what my city really felt like in places that bustled with people and culture. They call it the ‘real’ Madras and if you’re a Madrasi yourself, you’d know exactly what I’m talking about.
I’m glad that it hit me this early in the game- it’s not really the same old spaces and the same old routines I’ve been trapped into. I used to be desperate for newness and the excitement of travel. Now I’m more desperate than I ever was, but this time, for the Madras that I still haven’t laid my feet on.
For it’s Madras that’s has made me realize that there’s so much- at home- I can’t get enough of.
My identity comes from the realization that a huge part of who I am, was and is being influenced by my city. I cannot imagine living anywhere else, and as long it’s a personal choice, I’d like for it to stay the way it is.
I cannot imagine a life without my filter kaapi and chai and Pondy Bazaar and the vegetable market in Mylapore. I cannot imagine not walking past a kadaiveethi with its sarees elaborately decorating the entrances.
And then there are things I haven’t been doing as often as I would like. The beach, for instance. I would like to stroll through the Marina every single weekend, while I don’t even remember the last time I’d been there. I would like to do so much more kacheri-hopping this December. I don’t know why that wasn’t my thing. I would like to randomly walk down the streets and spot a rack of books on sale and be like “Hey, I could do with a little more reading!”. I would like to visit Dakshin Chitra whenever I please, and feel like a connoisseur of the artistic.
Madras may not hold the allure of a little Indian village. Or the glamour of New York City.
It thrives on in-betweens and the utterly confused culture of a mixed population. But this imperfection only adds to its charm.
But most of all, I’d like to soak in all that the city has to give. I’d like to dress like a Madrasi. Eat like a Madrasi. Live like a Madrasi.
It’s a humid Thursday evening and I’m at the local Chai shop, winding up a phone-call session, when a girl wearing an ID card from work turns around to face me.
“So,” she says, “why do you still call it that?”.
“Call it what?” I respond, confused.
“Madras. Why do you still call it Madras?”
I think to myself for a logical explanation but nothing clicks.
“It’s a secret.” I end up saying. I couldn’t understand why she cared about what I called my city. I thought I’d add that Chennai wasn’t classy enough for my standards, but I thought the better of it.
“You know,” she smiles only slightly, “I still call it that too.” Her eyes gleam as she tells me so, and I find myself giggling.
Just another one of those little connections people make over a cup of chai.
But here’s the deal- there’s something about the word ‘Madras’ that truly is a secret. To us all. And I don’t think there’s a way we’d ever be able to explain it. This secret.
This little Madrasi secret.