Soaking up the City | Madras Week 2018

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.

You may have noticed my blog’s tagline and now you know where that need to mention my identity comes from. It 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.

151 thoughts on “Soaking up the City | Madras Week 2018

  1. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Madras growing up (but that might have something to do with the enforced annual trips to India), but I lived there as a resident from 2013 to 2017… and, let’s just say, it really grew on me. 🙂 I now share special secrets with your city, unique rabbitholes and enclosed bubbles I never thought I would find amidst all the chaos, and made so many beautiful memories in the few years I lived there. It will always be something special to me now.

    Nice write up, Soundarya. I can feel your emotions in your words. Keep up the Madras pride!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. What a lovely post, Soundarya! So nice to know you are exploring your city with such zeal. Further, I feel so intrigued to visit Chennai some day now. You have given such poetic descriptions of it here ❤ ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I read and enjoyed every word! That is quite something as I often get distracted, but you write so well I couldn’t look away. A lovely insider’s perspective on Madras 👏🏻😊💜

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Wow! Well your writing is very enjoyable so I was excited to tell you 😊👏🏻👏🏻
        You should start a series on Secret Madras Insider Scoops!

        I’m great…doing so much in the summer sun ⛰ 🚲 🍻Wordpress is being neglected.
        And how are you sunshine?


  4. WOW! Soundarya — love every word and even the spaces in between and all the punctuation of your piece here. You write soooo well and I soooo love Singaara Chennai too (i am not as classy as you are!) 🙂 It is so wonderful to feel the passion in your words for all our traditions and the mysterious timeless beauty of our country – in the bustle of the city, in the magic of the coffee and the smiles of the vegetable sellers. Thank You for being here and thank You for writing! xoxo


    1. Oh my goodness it’s YOU! Thank you so much, KP. You always know how to make my whole entire week ❤ ❤ ❤
      And oh, who am I kidding. I'm not really that classy. Yet.
      I'm humbled by your kind words and I hope to keep writing things that resonate with you.
      Thank you for being there too ❤
      Loads of love!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Are you from here? I mean, it’s not a national fest or anything for everyone to know about haha 😀
          If you are, pick up the newspapers around Madras week. There’s so much that’ll be happening. To be honest, it’s my favorite week of the year along with Navratri.
          And thanks again 🙂 ❤

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Sorry i missed this yesterday. No iam in B’lore…but i love to read anything you write….i LOVE Navaratri too — i have written a book about 3 girls (women, i should say) and their dilemmas and Navaratri. 🙂 Magic of Surrender. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Krishnapriya?
            I had no clue.
            I just checked the book out online and that’s such a clever plot! I hope I get time to read it soon 🙂
            I read about you- your life sounds like a movie. I’m so inspired by how you took a break from work in search of spirituality and I don’t know how you got yourself to!
            Your academic portfolio is literally all a person could ask for. Kudos to everything you’ve achieved!
            Also, have you ever talked about your book on your blog?

            Liked by 1 person

          3. No, i feel shy – i don’t know how it just popped out to you — i just thought about Navaratri and it slipped out. 🙂 You are so sweet Soundarya and kind and encouraging. Feel blessed to read what you write and always waiting for more. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          4. Awww…don’t be! I’m sure all your followers would love to know about it since Krishna is who you largely write about on your blog.
            I’m really proud of you!
            And you are too kind, I’m humbled ❤

            Liked by 1 person

          5. OMG! I feel Lord Krishna is blessing me with your words….i really gave up on anyone reading the book actually. i feel so encouraged that you think the plot is clever!!!! You totally made me smile – from ear to ear! 🙂 i’ll make a kindle version of it and then share on the blog – what do you think?

            Liked by 1 person

          6. It definitely is a clever plot that integrates the past and present day. I understand where you’re coming from about not thinking people would read your book. One of my relatives writes books (The Peerless Person, Who are you Krishna? are two books I’ve read by him because he gave them to me to check out). I don’t think his books sell, but they are so great. He doesn’t seem to care a bit. The satisfaction he gets writing them is all that drives him.
            But nonetheless, it’s a good idea to talk about it.
            Sometimes the effort you take to market your book is more than the effort you take to write it 😀

            Liked by 1 person

          7. Wow! i wanna read them toooo! But it says unavailable in Amazon — also his book on Ramanuja Acharya. Do you know where i can buy them? Thanks so much Soundarya. Yes, i think when we write as an offering to God, it is fulfilling in itself. For me, the whole time i was writing, i felt the Lord dancing around me and it was so magical. 🙂 i feel blessed to share my heart with you. Thank YOU!!!! 🙂


            (The only one available according to his amazon. It’s great I’ve read it.)

            But if you want to get in touch with this person for the The Treasure (his book on Ramanuja)…I would be more than happy to connect you with him!
            He’s an IIM Bangalore alumnus like you and he’s been to the US, Europe, etc. He now does upanyasams (story-telling) in Tamil and English largely about the Bhagavad Gita. I was reminded of him when I read your bio.
            He’s a great person to talk to even if you just want to have a conversation about the Gita or anything.
            He knows tons and he’s really encouraging when it comes to things like what you’re doing on WP now.

            Liked by 1 person

          9. Hey! Just placed the order. Happy. 🙂 My email is — would love to connect with him and ask about the Ramanuja Acharya book – my mother is really, really into Sri Vaishnavism and i want to get it for her. 🙂 i don’t know much about the Gita actually — but “anything” sounds good! 🙂 Thanks so much Soundarya, you are such a sweeetttiiie to take the time to write all this. Also, can i send you a copy of my books – as a celebration of Madras week? 😉 You can email me your address — only if you feel comfortable 🙂 No pressure, much love! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post !! Soundarya
    Anybody can clearly see your love for madras .. I wanted to visit but till now didn’t get a chance…as we are also not much into vacations
    Btw…be happy and keep sharing!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. First I am so glad that you wrote after a while and gladder that you wrote about Madras, I still call the city Madras. I do hope there are no equivalents of the fringe groups as in Maharashtra who would slaughter one if he refers to Chennai as Madras 😀

    I was at Madras a couple of weeks back and the history of the place just makes up for the heat that a Bangalorean is not used to. And the beach!! Yes, mornings do not begin with filter coffee and idlis 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always look forward to your comment because they make me feel like my writing is being looked forward to. Thank you so much, Parikhit!
      I’m glad you got to visit Madras. He’s pretty hot, ain’t he? 😉
      I’ve been to Bangalore only once but I wish I could go again. I really enjoyed that trip.
      I’m guessing you’re not a fan? Or did you mean “without filter coffee”?
      Anyhow, have a great day 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hey I remember commenting on this post in the morning. Can’t see it here though. Anyway this post reminded me how much I love Madras and how much of it I have not yet savoured! It’s where my favorite granny lived and expired and MAS will always bring back those lazy vacations spent in her joyous arms eating food out of her hands. Idlis and dosas and cabbage poduthuval and vathal kuzhambu will never taste the same!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Lalitha!
      What you said about your Grandmother made my cheeks burn. My Mother still talks about how her Grandmother made the best food in the world and how no one could replicate it. A lot of the nostalgia we feel lies in food, doesn’t it?
      I’m glad this post resonated with you and I appreciate your kind words 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Soundarya, a damn lovable piece. I love the way call it Madras. This place is special to me as well. I have written about it in my blog too. I have some very fond memories. What I like about Madras is, people, who are down to earth, and of course food. 😊 there is a small startup called story trails who will take you on a journey in the city that you have never seen before. Happy writing dear ❤️❤️


          1. Just did. You’ve got some really heartfelt posts about Madras that I evidently missed! Or maybe we discovered each other only after those posts 🙂
            I’m glad you’ve got sweet memories of Chennai and that you shared them with us!

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Cadie! Thanks for the nomination 🙂
      I don’t really do tags on my blog and since this story needs to be finished, maybe you should nominate someone else?
      I’m really sorry about not being able to myself.
      I just wanted to quickly let you know that and not keep anyone waiting!
      Loads of love ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I grew up and still live in Bangalore but my grandfather used to live in Madras and I remember spending time with him when I was young there. He’d take me to the beach in Besant Nagar and buy me cotton candy and stuff. My father now lives in that old house but I don’t get along with him well. I recently spent some time there though but it was chiefly restricted to the Besant Nagar area which I explored for food places and the like. I enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I can feel your words drizzling down my own heart, soaking up slightly. Even I belong to Chennai though I was born elsewhere and live elsewhere… and I am really glad about visiting Chennai (It’s somehow always Chennai to me – maybe because I was born only after the name changed) in three days! Reliving these lines…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s heart-warming to hear that from someone living elsewhere, Sahana! I’m really touched by your words. And welcome back to Chennai for your trip 😀 I hope you have a better experience than ever!
      Thank you so much ❤


  11. I visited Madras (not Chennai :-D) twice. Experience was of extremes. On one occasion the Jallikattu protest was going on and I had a flight to catch from Madras Airport. I was returning from Pondicherry . Didn’t find any cab. Any how managed to get on time with the help from local people and boarded on time.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Home town is always an temple which we love to stay. I don’t know much about Chennai despite visiting many times. The hot climate succumbed me in houses. Your words seems sensible so let me explore the singara Chennai in my next visit

    Liked by 2 people

  13. So good to know that you are re-discovering your love for the city that has made you what you are. I, on the other hand, always try to find an excuse to escape the stressful city life of Mumbai, although I’m born and brought up here. 😀

    But your post encourages me to explore my city beyond the obvious. Great read!

    Liked by 1 person

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