I was sitting in an auto, stuck in traffic in the middle of Mylapore. I looked at my mother and swallowed my tears. “Forget it. It’s fine. I’ll stay here. I can leave another time.” That’s the moment I said goodbye to my life and officially moved back. On another day, in another place, it wouldn’t have been the same. But there, in the place I’d seen and admired for years, it felt like things would be ok.
We often move out of the country to study. We find work and our feet stand still. We find a place to live and eventually, someone to live with. It’s home in all senses of the word. Yet, there’s this moment. This moment when you walk out of Anna International Airport to the sound of taxi and auto annas asking you where you want to go. This moment when you can hear the car honking all the way from the roads. This moment when a particular feeling envelopes you like you never knew it would. A feeling of belonging. A feeling of coming back from a vacation. Sure, you’re coming from home. But this place that you’ve landed at, it’s home.
A friend of mine who moved here for a while asked me, “What’s so special about your city?”
I was silent for minutes. Not because I didn’t know what to say but because I didn’t know where to start.
When I say Mount Road, the guide books will tell you about the never ending traffic, loud noises and the fancy malls. But that’s not it. When you’re driving down that road, look to your right. You’ll find history in every building you pass by. This city wasn’t made with concrete. It was made with art.
When you say food, it’s quite normal for that friend of yours who visited a long time ago to suggest some “decent” restaurant. But that’s not our food. Our food isn’t made by that chef whose name you’ll never know. Our food is the one that akka or anna sitting in a plastic chair carefully places on your plate while they tell you the tales of the city’s past and their predictions of the political future.
When they say socializing, I know you think of parties and business meetings. But that’ll never be it. Socializing in my city is sitting on those steps with other foreign return / aspiring maamis for hours on the end while secretly staring at that cute guy whose mom had probably dragged him to the temple. And have I mentioned that there’s a temple or two in every street with the kind of architecture that the modern man will consider “too time-consuming and almost impossible”?
It’s a bit of art, a bit of delicacies and a lot of smiling, helpful faces.
But that isn’t all that makes this city what it is. It’s more. More than words can ever describe. More than I can ever tell you. More than anyone will ever know. It’s home in a way that a home will never be.
It doesn’t matter if you’re from a different planet, you’ll feel welcomed. It doesn’t matter what your choices in life are, you’ll feel accepted. It doesn’t matter who you choose to be, you’ll find your crowd.
The story of who this city is will be different with every person that lives or visits here. For the ones who come with a dream, it is a helping hand. For the ones who come with tears, it is a shoulder to lean on. For the ones that come giggling, it is a friend to play with. For the ones who’ve lived here forever, it’s the loving arms of a mother that’ll always welcome us back with a smile.
And no matter what I explain, it’ll never do justice to this city.
Because Chennai isn’t just a city.
Madras isn’t just an emotion.
Happy Madras Day!