Greetings, readers (or reader.)
Having just returned from my annual visit to my hometown in India, I thought of writing a brief article on how much it has changed and why I feel an attachment to it (or something to this effect.)
The busy Chennai International Airport, one of the most crowded in India
The moment I set foot out of Chennai International Airport and onto Indian soil is the moment my whole body becomes instantly bathed in a heat strong enough to have the first layer of skin cells on my face instantly scalded off. Not exactly a pretty picture, but I speak only the truth.
I begin to fight a losing battle with winged vermin as my arms and legs are attacked by numerous mosquitoes whilst I struggle with my luggage and dodge others who are in a similar predicament; I silently hope I don’t roll over some poor fellow’s hallux.
At last, my prayers are answered when I spot a placard that reads ‘DIMPLE’, held up by my grandmother’s faithful and incredibly sweet driver, and I gladly hand over my bags to him as he leads me to the comfort of the silver-coloured, air-conditioned Suzuki Swift.
As he drives on towards my grandmother’s apartment, I glance out of the window and see looming cranes and jagged half-constructed skyscrapers and towering concrete structures in every direction as a bolt of lightning lights up the sky to the brightness of a tropical noon.
I secretly hoped Chennai would never become just another dull benediction of enterprise and unfulfilled ambition.
But after my initial doubts are over, I realise I am witnessing something characteristic of the developing world; the evolving of an old town into an urban megalopolis or ‘The Big Idli’* as I so affectionately call Chennai.
Because there’s no doubt that the capital of Tamil Nadu (formerly known as Madras to nostalgic parents and grandparents) is quickly developing into a fast-paced cosmopolitan hub, with the many growing establishments of up-scale shopping malls, modern cinema centres, large housing estates in many well-known districts such as Kotturpuram and Adyar as well as its thriving business landscape which will no doubt bring exciting new job prospects to its ever-increasing population.
Chennai is becoming well-worthy of rivalling other Indian cities such as Mumbai and Delhi and according to statistics, in 2007, around 650,000 tourists from all over the world including places such as the United States, the UK, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka, flocked to the capital in search of somewhere both historically and culturally saturated; and surely, would not have been disappointed.
The unique quality of Chennai is that it manages to retain its traditional roots by continuing to proudly embrace its iconic landmarks and historic buildings, all of which offer interesting locations to visitors.
Marina Beach, a popular beach along the Bay of Bengal and a hotspot for tourists and Chennaiites alike, adorns a set of stone statues along the roadside area, with most being of national or local legends like Mahatma Gandhi and Thiruvalluvar, whilst other statues having symbolic significance such as the Triumph of Labour Statue.
A quiet scene at Marina Beach
Although not many know, Chennai’s true heart lies in its significant role in the arts, being a key centre for Carnatic Music and Bharatnatyam, a classical form of dance. It hosts the annual Madras Music Season, a large cultural function and a jewel in Chennai’s crown, and includes performances by hundreds of world-renowned artists.
Chennai also boasts Kollywood as an addition to its urban accomplishments. Otherwise known as the Tamil film industry, Kollywood is one of the largest film industries in India, just behind Bollywood.
Chennai’s transformation into a booming metropolis comes as no surprise to many.
Between eating doughnuts in Besant Nagar and eagerly shopping in Express Avenue, I can proudly declare that the images I have of Chennai have been splashed onto my soul in glorious Technicolor.
It is a city filled with a constant energy and flux, beginning to overflow with vibrancy and the hunger to strive, which stems from its determination to join Mumbai, London, Paris, New York on the pedestal and become one of the great cities of the globe.
*For those who are curious, idli is a savoury cake, which is part of the South Indian staple breakfast, alongside sambar, a vegetable chowder based on a broth made with tamarind and toor dal, and vada, a ‘savoury fritter-type’ snack, all served on a banana leaf.