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As cyclone Thane swept the city with a vengeance, we stood at the Elliot’s beach, with wind in our faces and sand swirling by our feet. The waves were huge and we were drenched and cold. Some call it stupidity. I call it love for this city and its beaches. It is not Goa, but it is quite something. For a Bengali brought up in Bihar, Chennai has slowly and surely become a home far away from home. A potpourri of old and new, this place probably depicts India better than most cities. For those who blanch at the name of this city, come with a clean slate and maybe, just maybe you’ll see the place how I see it. And this is how I see it.
A beach for you and me
This is the dream. To live in a city with a beach of its own. We probably spin a new dream every day and take away a few old ones, but this was always on the wish list. Chennai and beaches put together always and infamously spells Marina beach. But what I am talking about here, are those quaint small beaches all along the East Coast Road (better known as ECR) where rarely a soul walks by. We sit there, sometimes with music and sometimes in silence, watching the sky turn orange as dusk sets in. Conversations are easy and the waves take your worst blues away. So, stray away from the regular beaches and explore the city. Slowly and surely, you’ll find your spot and you’ll love it too.
For a Bengali, good food is as essential as the air we breathe. It is a religion. We are in a constant state of unrest, till our taste buds are at peace. And somehow, I am at peace here. I am not saying that Chennai has the best that cuisine could offer. Maybe they don’t make aloo tikki chaat the way Evergreen does in Delhi and how I miss that, but you can’t match their rasam! If only we’d stop looking for the comfort of the food we have grown up with, we would see some good in the eclectic spices that is Chennai’s cuisine. A decade away from home has taught me a lot of self-sufficiency, but for the days when getting in the kitchen seems like work, Chennai does make me smile. The Nandu rasam (crab soup) at Anjappar is my favorite cure for all maladies. Sunday mornings with ghee roast dosa, pongal and filter coffee at Murugan makes me want to wake up! One of our favourite restaurants here is Cornucopia – a mix of continental and South Indian food. I’d rate it better than most restaurants I have been to, and trust me, I have been to way too many. In almost every corner of India. For the days that I miss mom’s delicacies, I head to Bayleaf for authentic Bengali food. Joojeh kabab in Fusion 9, the sizzlers in Tangerine, donuts at Atomic Donuts and so on. I could go on and on about food here. Like I said, you might not find amazing food at every nook and corner, but good food is never too far in this city.
It means do you know Tamil. I don’t. Tamil is a tough language. Some words sound the same and mean different. Some words, well they’re just difficult to pronounce. The tone is hard to get. So, you got to brace yourself. It is a tad uncomfortable when everyone around you is speaking in a language you don’t understand. But I don’t think you would’ve complained if you were in Germany. So I learned some of the key words and I still haven’t got the tone right. I still practice my dumb charades skills with my maid. I have definitely improved exponentially with the auto guys, which is mighty important in this city. But my broken Tamil is a far cry from what the language is. And, from what I hear, it is a beautiful language. From when has language been a deterrent for one to survive happily in a city anyway! If you don’t know Hindi in Delhi or Bengali in Calcutta, you’d still be equally discomfited. A pinch of humor, the ability to laugh at oneself and some common sense goes a long way in figuring things out in this city or just about anywhere in this world!
I was born with a big mole on my left toe. My father said I would have wheels under my feet. So, I grew up with this incessant urge to travel. To places big and small. The moment I set foot in a city, I start making plans to explore places in and around. Around Chennai, the two places which have become the quintessential weekend getaways are Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry. Small shacks by the beach in Mahabalipuram with lip-smacking sea food is barely 40 kms from the city. Pondicherry is a scenic three hour drive on the ECR. Pick up your car on a cloudy day, and the small French town will charm you completely. Nagalapuram, around 130 kms from the city, is a trekker’s haven. Small pools and waterfalls and lush green hills are always a respite from the warmth of Chennai. And well, if you haven’t camped yet under the stars, you are missing out on something. Kerala and most places in Karnataka are a night’s journey away. The opportunities are endless here. You just need the right perspective.
I have spoken a lot over blogs and many a conversations about this city. It has an old world charm that appeals to me. There are so many more things I could write about. The small coffee shop that encourages people to read, the movie tickets which are always priced around a hundred bucks, the public transport buses where men don’t harass women, the refreshing morning jogs on the beach and a hundred other things. The flaws are there too. Yes, the weather isn’t perfect, but I believe perfection is a little overrated anyway. So, leave behind your prejudices and then visit this city. Some wise old guy said that love happens only when you overlook the flaws and learn to accept things as they are.