The Times of India asked me to pen a tribute to our city for their Namma Chennai Chancey Illai column. It was carried this morning and I give the text below, along with an image of the article as it appeared –
What Makes Chennai Unique?
Coming from a family that was transferred across various places, I must say Madras that is Chennai became home to me quite late, when I was nearing thirty. But no matter where we were, there was one aspect of the city that travelled with us – Carnatic Music. We as a family tracked the various artistes and also closely followed the reports of the December Music Season as they appeared in the media of the times. I was always hopeful that some day I would be able to soak in the Music Season. This unique cultural phenomenon, funded entirely by private initiative and thriving over 92 years, is a special draw and I consider it my fortune that I am now able to be an active participant, year after year.
That brings me to another aspect – the way the city carries forward its culture while at the same time embracing modernity. This is where you will find age-old traditions such as temple festivals co-existing with AI. Kolams will be regularly drawn outside every home, be it a flat, a hovel, a palatial mansion or a modest residence. Chennai is still liveable because it paces its steps forward, always ensuring that the past travels along.
Books are dear to me and while I do concede that Kolkata is by far superior on this count, Chennai is no mean performer. It would rank a good second. It is very much a city that reads. That accounts for the number of second-hand bookshops, and some good outlets that still manage to hold their own against the online retailers. Let us not forget that the oldest bookshop in India, Higginbothams is here. And we also have some great libraries – for reference we have the Adyar Library, the Music Academy Library and the Roja Muthiah Research Library to name just three. There are many more.
How many cities of the world can claim to have a seafront that has not been commercialised and made the domain of the rich? We should consider ourselves lucky that we have this unique beach, the Marina. True it may not be as clean as what we want it to be but let us not forget that it is we the people who can make it so. And besides this, there are still some lovely parks and open spaces left – My Ladye’s Garden behind Ripon Buildings is still my favourite.
I will end by citing communal harmony as yet another reason that makes Chennai great. At a time when religious divides are becoming sharper, Chennai remains an oasis of equality. Let us not forget that social inclusivity began here in 1921 – almost 100 years ago!
Many pluses no doubt for the city and state. Social inclusivity is all fine and nobody in the present age can hold a grudge against that, but what about the manufactured hatred against a particular community wearing the sacred thread and heaping all ills of the past in their backyard, hounding and ostracizing them in a vile manner ? No other city or state has done that even in India. Despite the systematic marginalization of this community over the past six or seven decades in the city and state, how come, many caste related prejudices and practices still exist in the state – is that not proof that the targeted community cannot be held responsible for the past ? Despite this targeted victimization, the community thrives, flourishes and prospers in other states of the country and abroad, with the world welcoming them.
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