Eight years ago, any mention of my imminent move to this city would bring out the similar reactions from people – they were mortified at my decision, dismissing the city as a land with the hot, humid climate, where Hindi is not widely spoken and appalled at the misery of the city whose residents pay money for drinking water. For better or worse, I decided to embrace the city and I have never been disappointed. I had arrived in this city with doubts and worries on my mind. I was enrolled in a city college for my graduate programme, and had left home for the first time. I was supposed by be suffering from homesickness, a condition brought in when one is separated from family and friends and all that they have been familiar. But on the contrary, except during the annual Durga Pujo celebrations, not many a time did I miss home. Chennai became my second home. And as this month is drawing close to its end, so is my period of stay in Chennai. Nostalgia hits me hard, as I walk back the memory lanes tracing the path to my early days in this city. I am already fighting a losing battle against the surging emotions – feeling a sense of loss –What made this stay so memorable, unforgettable? They would be my classic moments of the city as I remember it.
Hostel and fabulous roommates: My roommates hailed from the north-eastern state of Manipur in India. From day 1, we hit it off. We discovered our common love for Shakespeare and Shah Rukh Khan (in my defence this was pre-Chennai Express times), dosa and dahi and of course Korean dramas. They introduced me to fermented fish, pickled mango and sweetened chickpeas, and I returned the favour by treating them to lip smacking treat of sattu ka paratha and chilli pickle which my mum packed when I got back from my bi-annual trip to home.
The 10 rupee movie ticket: What is the price of a movie ticket in Chennai? Take a guess. 250? Nope. 200? Wrong again. Rs.120. That is all a seat in any multiplex would cost in the city. Now, for the student bonanza: All front row seats are up for grabs for Rs. 10 only!! I understand it means spending a couple of hours craning your neck, but for a student torn between her love for cinema and books, it was a good bargain.
The beach: The beach clearly sets Chennai apart from other metro cities. Witness the glorious sunrise and sunset, with hot molgha bajjis with chutney, sundal (boiled and seasoned chickpeas), and of course sample a wide variety of sea food caught fresh by the local fishermen and cooked right at the spot for you. Visiting the beach for some it is a part of their daily routine, for others a weekend haunt, some come here to seek solitude; some come to celebrate with friends and families. And when it gets too crowded you can always walk along the sea shore, footwear in hand – feeling the wet sand scrunch under your feet as the waves come and kiss your feet once in a while.
Connemara Library: It boasts to be one of the oldest public libraries of the country. I first entered the gates of the library as a college student who needed the reference of a couple of books that were not housed by the college library. The red bricked building with green windows had a look of the old colonial times, people buzzing around in the campus with the tall trees casting tall shadows blocking out the sun offering some respite from the heat. On stepping in, I saw a long hall with tables lined in the centre flanked on either side by tall wooden racks holding books from the different times, of all possible color, size and volume. It was clearly my Alice-in-Wonderland moment.
And then there are the small moments, the people, tiny details which define my life here. The prospect of moving means not seeing the patti selling malligai flowers at the end of my street, waking up early and not hearing the suprabhatam, missing the usual greeting from the friendly conductor anna from the MTC bus, no more quick trips to Pondy Bazar, bidding adieu with a heavy heart to the city which introduced me to kotthu parotta and mini idli. As John Denver sings farewell to his sweetheart:
All my bags are packed I’m ready to go
I’m standing here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin’, it’ early morn
The taxi’s waiting, he’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome I could die