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Chennai – I Bow to You

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Chennai has always been a city I loved to hate. But the feelings that flood rush through my mind right now about this city are far from hostile. Chennai, where I lived for 15 months and counted each day till I could get out of there. Chennai, which has now become a necessary inconvenience every time I go to India because of a lousy visa situation which requires me to go renew my Visa at the US Consulate – a requirement done now over two days instead of the earlier torture which was confined to one day.

I do not know from where this aversion to Chennai grew in me. Was it the scorching summer heat that drained my body and soul or the long wait lines at the US consulate? Was it the fact that during my Chennai life, there were days when I barely saw my husband –literally having just a glimpse of the other as we passed each other somewhere near T Nagar? Me on the way to work and he back from work. Or was it the never-ending, dusty distances I was forced to traverse on unavoidable visits to family and friends?  So when old friends planned reunions at Chennai, I always balked at the idea. Whatever it was, thoughts of the city always came suffused in a sense of dread and heat.

But today, Chennai soars above all that. I see swirling waters sculpt heroes out of ordinary men and women. Despite the loss of life and property, humanity has emerged the winner. People have taken up the job of organizing rescue missions and emergency help without waiting for government agencies to step in. Every able person considers himself or herself a volunteer. Instead of sulking over the indifference of the national media to this horrible calamity, they have gone on quietly, in their own way to get things done. Homes, theaters, schools, wedding halls, colleges, malls – everything has changed overnight into a shelter.

And the most heartening thing of all? Dear old Chennai, orthodox and conservative to the core, where house owners dictate what renters can cook in their kitchens, is opening doors and hearts to total strangers today and the famed Thamizh trait of Virunthombal is coming into full play. The last time the city got flooded, barely a few days ago, the social media was rife with Chennai memes. Smart, funny, clever. But this time there is no levity. Instead I see humanity unfolding across the internet. People going online and posting open invites. Absolute strangers are invited to walk in – simply, unconditionally. People are ready to share whatever limited stocks they have with the have-nots. Not a single post did I see which specified who was welcome – trivial stuff such as religion, community, and politics beat a hasty retreat in the face of such absolute benevolence. Everywhere I see heart-warming stories. A much needed respite from a media overkill of intolerance and hurt. Chennai today reminded everyone of what we as a nation seem to have forgotten – that human beings matter; not religions. And I am quite sure that the friendships being forged right now on rescue boats and the living rooms of strangers are special bonds that will endure.

The memes will be back no doubt. But first there is more important work to be done. Like ferrying stranded people to safety, passing on vital information, and getting the city back on its feet. After that there will be time to come up with and laugh at Chennai’s own brand of humor.

Today, the people of Chennai have triumphed and the city soars high on their indomitable spirit. Today, I have decided to ignore the heat and dust of Chennai and instead, indulge in the warm gush of humanity and the coolness of its resilience. Today, I am proud of Chennai and stand by this grand old city. Maybe it will be a love-hate relationship from now. And the next time I am at the US Consulate, memories of this day and the pride I feel will ease the torture of those long lines, a merciless sun and unwarranted uncertainty.




12 responses »

  1. Beautifully expressed Remi! Me too …..being a banglorean not a fan of chennai though ….admired them during this crisis!


  2. Well written. The true character of a city comes out in a time of crisis. Maybe Chennai has set the example.


  3. Yes, you have in your inimitable style penned the emotions of all. I really wished I could also accommodate a few in my home…but then am here in a country faraway. Hoping we learn the lesson of caring and sharing and continue that beyond this calamity.


  4. Beautifully written Remitha!!! Here’s something that I found in the social media and it’s relevant here.
    “It’s raining in Chennai.
    And it’s not just the skies that have opened up…

    Many homes are letting in water, but quite a few are letting in guests.

    The First floors are embracing the Ground floors.

    Malls are welcoming footfalls, and that too without wallets.

    Movie halls are counting box office numbers differently.

    Hotels are giving out foods that aren’t leftovers for a change.

    Marriage halls are solemnizing more marriages of souls than ever before.

    Social Walls are tearing down their Civil counterparts.

    140 characters are travelling faster than a ‘108’.

    Taxi services are plying boats, MTC buses are plying like taxis.

    Religious differences are being doused in a relentless downpour.

    Politicians are knee deep in water and politics has sunk.

    But Leaders are being born at every waterlogged junction.

    Soldiers are being born at every dangerous turn.

    And humans are being born at every deserving instance.

    It’s raining in Chennai.
    And it’s not just the skies that have opened up.”

    Credits to unknown writer!


  5. Same Pinch!! I too lived in Chennai for 15 months and spent those 15 months, thinking of a way to escape!! I share pretty much the same feelings about Chennai although I have only fond memories about Chennai.

    Hailing from Bangalore, I along with a bunch of my classmates at engineering college had to start our first jobs, that too software jobs, in Chennai. Those were the days past the 09/11 attack and the recession that followed, had our campus offers from the industry giants blown away. The Silicon Valley of the East couldn’t offer us jobs and we reluctantly accepted an offer, that came by even though, it meant relocating to Chennai. Even before moving, we decided to hate everything about Chennai. We were not going to like the humid weather, the unhygienic food, the rusty water or the conservative people, that was decided. We were the “Hep Bangaloreans”, who bathed in the Cauvery water and decided not to wash even a single piece of our clothing in Chennai. We would take our soiled clothes to Bangalore every weekend and wash them there, that was also decided.

    Two weeks at work and we began to make some good friends outside of our Bangalore group. Chennai-ites had this rare sense of humour and a warmth about them. They welcomed us despite our sucked up and snobbish attitude. Soon, the food began to appeal to our taste buds. Living in T-Nagar, shopping on the North Usman road, weekly visits to Besanth Nagar beach and hanging around in the Spencer Plaza became our favourite weekend past time. Soon, the water in Chennai cleansed us and our clothes. We soon realized that Chennai pretty much needed a small share of our Cauvery water. Although the magnetic effect of Bangalore pulled us back soon, we fondly remember our days in Chennai as the best in our lives. Chennai was the city that built my career, gave me ever lasting friends and not the least, I met my husband in Chennai.

    The Chennai floods keep our hearts pounding, wondering about the well being of our old friends back there. We pray for the safety of every soul that touched our lives. We pray for Chennai to bounce back.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautiful Remitha. I agree with the “love to hate” sentiment!

    Liked by 1 person


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