chennaimadrasmadras daymadras special

Madras special – A love/hate relationship with the city

On the Madras special, journalist Vani Saraswathi paints her love and hate relationship with the city. She refuses to gush , but the journalist from Doha now wants to introduce the Madras of her youth to her daughters.

Over to her

When I was asked to do a post on Madras, I thought I would have reams to write about the only city I can truly call home. But all I have are random thoughts and memories…

Bus, STOP!

Growing up, city reference points were very much bus stop related. The DMS or AGS bus stop near home to reach school, at the Pondy Bazaar bus stop.
The Casino bus stop, to visit my friend Chris. The High Court bus stop to visit my aunt who lived on

Moore Street

. The Thillaiyadi bus stop to go for my FountainPlaza visit – Bhel Puri treats and accessories from Rajesh’s. LIC bus stop to go for a drink to Aavin. WCC stop to reach Alliance Francais and NIIT.

As I grew up, my repertoire of bus stops grew. I hated Pallavan Transport Corporation. I hated lecherous and desperate fellows who preyed on school kids… but I loved the bus ride and the bus stops. I rarely ever looked out of the bus as a child. I had my nose buried in a book, be it seated or standing. But at every stop I looked out – eager to reach my destination and also curious to know what new vendor has hijacked the shaded spot.
When I had the opportunity to completely abandon PTC, I did. I walked or took an auto when I could afford to, and later got myself a Kinetic Honda. About 16 years after my last bus trip, I still associate much of Madras neighbourhood to the closest bus stop.
Candid Madras

Within the city, the farthest I’ve been till I started working, was Anna Nagar (yes, it was considered quite out of the way then) and Parry’s Corner.
Once I started working, covering the crime and more regularly the civic beat, I discovered North Madras. Royapuram,

Ennore High Road

, Binny Mills, Perambur…Interesting areas. Areas of the ‘original’ Madras.

If you are expecting a gushing post on the city, then I am sure you will be disappointed. Because of the nature of my job, what I saw was a lot of neglect and dreariness. I had access to archive images of a beautiful gorgeous Cooum, but every day drove post what was only a large sewer line.
I saw illicit arrack being brewed, and I saw smuggled goods coming to the shoreline on the Ennore highway. I saw pot-bellied corrupt cops taking bribes in a systematic and planned manner from truck drivers. I saw the public stand by allow women to be teased, harassed and molested, because they just couldn’t care enough to muddy their culturally-superior hands.I saw very ugly sides of the city.
And when promises of Singara Chennai were made, I clung to it against my better judgement… yes, the city did get a little cleaner, and a little greener… but the people don’t change.Every year I go back, and I see total disdain for hygiene and public property.
What’s the use of flashy malls, if the stairwells are pan-stained and the parking lots reek of urine? What’s the use of flashy BMWs  on the road, if the windows are lowered only to dump garbage on the road or spit out the chewing gum? What’s the use of all that education and cultural supremacy, if we can’t hold together as a city to do better by it?
I love Madras. And at the faintest slight, am capable of turning feral. But it is like every other Indian metro – incapable of keeping up with its own growth!
Rediscovering Madras

I am now discovering Madras through my older daughter – she is all of 9. She visits regularly. And she inadvertently reminds me of all that I love about the city. The experiences that make it my home, even 12 years after I left it.
The secondhand book vendors in Mylapore and outside Moore Market. She now visits those places with my mum, with a heftier pocket money than what I had, totally in love with the smell of used books.
The lending libraries around town. Cramped, tiny, badly lit, but a treasure trove. She harasses my sister to take her to the library as often as possible.
To Landmark with her periappa (nana) for the latest Percy Jackson and Amar Chitra Kathas.
To Pondy Bazaar with my mum to pick up accessories and just browse the street side kiosks.
Auto rides. Anywhere, anytime.
Marina beach.
Idli and sambar in Palimar.
I am learning to see Madras the way she sees it. A city full of attractions and opportunities.
Madras moments

So I think of the spots that I look back at with great fondness.
Nathan’s café in Parry’s Corner.
Aavin near LIC.
The electronic store near High Court – the name escapes me – but that’s where I got my first transistor.
Ajnabi and Kwality’s where my friends and I spent most of our pocket money.
The Museum complex, which is probably the coolest place in Madras.
Elliot’s beach that played host to my budding romance.
Fabric from the street vendors outside Thillaiaadi in Egmore.
The beautiful RipponBuilding where I spent a good part of my working life.
The historical and wildly gorgeous Express Estates.


  1. Anu 29 August, 2011 at 15:46 Reply

    nice post! i could totally relate to it, even though i hardly have such a relationship with chennai. but if i change the city, i guess i feel the same about bombay too…

  2. The Floating Clouds 5 September, 2011 at 17:48 Reply

    Just came across your blog. Those who have been to Chennai and have developed fond links with some of the places you’ve mentioned will have a smile on their faces 🙂
    Do check out my travel blog if you get a chance.

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