Memories of Madras
My life as I say is a Tale of Two Cities – Bangalore and Madras aka Chennai, although Bombay has played a significant role in influencing my mind. Yet, Madras ranks higher than all of them, as it is a place I call home and “Roots” to me is the single most important thing in life. I often get attached to a place than people and it always feels special when I step out of the train and feel the sea breeze blow through my hair and the sun warm up my arms. The humidity of course comes later. Memories are usually very special and unlike a tourist sharing his or her experience about a city, my tryst with Madras is laced with several personal moments. Here I would share a few…
I have always had a sheltered life as a child and a teenager. My school was opposite my house and I never really had a chance to explore the city. When I went to college however, I started taking the bus and the auto. One of the disadvantages of studying in a typical English medium school is that they discourage you from speaking in your mother tongue and hence I never gained the confidence to speak to locals, especially auto drivers. And I longed to use the local slang sometime..in the typical tone and accent. Finally, a friend and I were in an auto driving through the streets of Annanagar when a cyclist ran past us and then in unison, we both shouted – ” Ootala sollittu vandhiya ” and felt very proud of ourselves. The auto driver looked at us a little chastised and said, ” It was my mistake ..”
.Discovering Annanagar was one of the most exciting phases of my life. In the 90s, as a college student a classmate and I decided to work after college and help a journalist set up a community newspaper – Annanagar Times. I had never seen the area until then. And it was just the two of us, girls with our editor, Vincent D Souza, now one of the men behind the Madras Day celebrations and a sales professional who joined us later. I managed to blend with the community and despite covering Metro Water and other civic bodies, my favourite beat was the crime beat. It was the first time I entered a police station – K4 in Annanagar and I saw a thief who had stolen pet dogs being thrashed. For an 18 year old, that was quite an experience, getting the details of the story and reporting it.
Another story took me to the Royal Madras Yacht Club where I had the chance to go to the outer arm – a sort of a land’s end in itself when a long mile of land juts out into the sea. Standing there in the night, feeling the sea breeze upon me …I can never forget the moment. The moments I would like to forget however was my debut in sailing which was a complete disaster. I plunged right into the sea from the boat and thanks to a couple of men, managed to get on to the shore. Thankfully, I was wearing a life jacket. The premises of the club was a very interesting building. On one of the walls, you can see a couple of holes – a scar from the World War 1 when Emden the German ship had bombed Madras. Another tryst I had with the harbour was when I had boarded a ship to Andamans during my college days..Now that trip is a story by itself..
The last memory ..not so good is much more recent. It was on December 26, 2004 and my husband and I were planning to go to Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary on a day trip. We cancelled the morning walk at the Marina which was not too far away from home as I had to see my ailing grandfather in the hospital and then head to the bird sanctuary. As I switched on the TV, I heard news of an earthquake in Indonesia. My uncle who was driving through the beach road told me that the road was unusually flooded with water, while a friend called to say to avoid ECR route as the bridge on Muthukadu lake had collapsed. I thought it had something to do with the earthquake. So, we drove through Chengelpattu and reached Vedanthangal and my phone lost the signals. We spent a day there and as we entered the city, we switched on the FM radio . Calls poured in. And that is when we heard of the tsunami that had wiped the city and the state. I could not believe it. I had been walking on the Marina the previous day . I went to the beach. I walked around the debris. I went towards Santhome and Fore Shore Estate and cried silently…
My mind is buzzing with more memories…some prosaic, some personal and I am feeling rather overwhelmed by this wave of nostalgia. Today is Madras Day. It may just be a date on a paper, a transaction that showed a piece of land given to the British by the local Nayaks 375 years old, but the spirit behind Madras Day is well beyond it. The city as I say is both young and old, but it has an ageless feel to it. And as to whether it is Madras or Chennai, who really cares ! ” A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”