Look around and then try to hear something new.
Zipping down Gopathi Narayanaswami Chetty Road in an auto with Tamil hits blaring. That’s where my day finished. One of this riffs that played will transport to me to a city of colour, joy and wonderfully kind people long after I’ve left.
It’s from a song that’s soaring, compact and captures the movement of this city of seven million. Out of all the great tunes, the one that stole the show was – ‘Oh, Ho.. Sanam!’ (here is the link if you would like to listen).
It had me hooked on street lights and the movement of motorbikes, scooters, cars and other autos that swarmed and jived to their next destination.
Chennai is another world. It’s different to the India I visited five years ago. It’s friendly, welcoming and I’m yet to spot a single Westerner out on the street. On my first full day in Chennai I explored the market hub at T Nagar, the peaceful Mylapore, Marina Beach and the George Town bazaar.
(All the movement in Georgetown – 5.09.170
Every place has welcomed me. It’s not the India that leaves you feeling cheated, disconcerted, or ill at ease. There is an essence about this place where people are looking out for one another.
In Mylapore I had S teach me the ins and outs of how to polish off a Thali with my hands. In George Town a girl not much younger me than me gave up her Chenna Masala to leave me with a lasting memory of the spicy warmth of this city’s streets and its food. In that same market place, fifty people stopped and gathered as a man came tumbling off his motorbike. Thankfully he was OK.
I’ve found Chennai a city where people are happy to have an exchange where the main goal isn’t money. Walking across from T Nagar to Krishnapuram, I had a young jeweller walk along with me for a little while telling me about his home in Jaipur and the 46-hour train trip that it takes to see his family: ‘As a middle man, flight is too expensive – train is two day and one night, not too long’.
It’s a different perspective of time.
At my little hole in the wall eatery at lunch, S an Assistant Manager at a Regional Bank in Tiruvannamalai told me about the challenges of the caste system in landing his job: ‘it was not what I studied, it was what I found’.
(Lunch with S in Mylapore, 5.09.17))
Starting the day in Chennai’s teeming morning sun, my hosts at the tiny eatery across the street took time to introduce me to Poori. A very yummy wheat concoction, something like a Turkish dosai.
Walking along in the morning light of India, seeing girls in beautiful yellow and pink saris, watching men power along to the rest of their day in colourful shirts, seeing women jet about on their motorbikes and spotting seniors in green and red ruling the street took me out of the very familiar white, blue, black and grey.
(Morning light in T Nagar 05.09)
I know there is so much in India that is horrible. The terrible poverty, attitudes to women and the oppressive nature of caste system.
On my first full day in Chennai– this all sat in the background. This was a day of colour, being taught the difference between a bhaji and bonda. It was a day of thousands of people. Webs of inter-colliding neighbourhoods and neighbours. A day where fortress India opened up and left a new tune. This was a tune about an India that I wanted to see and today its melody enwrapped the city.
(Evening shopping in George Town – 05.09.17)