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July 11, 2012

“Rei, I am shifting to Chennai.”

Friend 1: “Hahahahaha, all the best. And my sympathies.”

Friend 2: “I thought you didn’t want to leave the country for work?”

Friend 3: “On lo unnava?”

This was the common response I got from almost everyone when I told them I would be moving to Chennai. Any other person would have been skeptical, and even a little scared. But no, not me. I’ve always liked Chennai, and I guess it has a lot to do with how much it reminds me of my hometown, Vizag.

There are enough stories about how Chennai is a difficult place to live in if you are not a Tamilian, how the weather makes you want to watch back to back shows of Teri Meri Kahaani just to stay inside an A/C auditorium (the movie sucked more than a vacuum cleaner, btw), how the people are rude and arrogant, and the food is a problem. Guess what? Not all of it is entirely wrong, and not all of it is right either. I agree Chennai really is a little difficult to get used to when compared to the other hep southern cousins of it – Hyderabad and Bangalore. But if you are really willing to invest into the city, the city will not disappoint you at all. Chennai, and by extension Tamil Nadu, has an incredible culture and history. Try to know more about the city and its culture, and justifiably, the locals take pride in that. After all, what good is a city if it does not evoke curiosity and intrigue at all?

I know friends of mine who’ve never been to Chennai, but hate the place already. They just heard about the place from their friends, who in turn heard about the place from their friends, who actually confused Chennai with Alisha Chinai. Moral being, don’t hate the city before you’ve even set foot here. Hate it only after visiting the place. But then, which brings me to the question – What/why do people hate about Chennai?

Food, they say is a problem if you are from North India. Now, obviously you cannot expect Paneer Tikka in a Chinese Restaurant, right? It is the same. Trying to remain in the shell of your own will not help while in a new place. If you are looking for the comfort of the known, you are doing it wrong. Try the local cuisines. They are diverse, and awesome. Kothu Parotha is awesome. Dindigul Biryani was a disappointment for me though (keep in mind that I grew up in Hyderabad, synonym of which is Biryani).

“Masala Dosa” – Anna Hazare, after his fast.

Climate? Nay. I come from a humid place (Vizag), so I guess I am fine with it. Personally, I can live with the humid heat of Chennai than die in the prickly heat of Delhi or Hyderabad. It is sometimes fun to watch the tar melt, and Zebra-Crossing markings dissolve in the road though. Makes for a good science practical for the kids. If you can meditate your way through the summer months of January to December, you are fine. Heh, I kid. April to June are bad, that’s all.

Language is a problem definitely. And there is a long history about the same. It dates back to the the 50s and the 60s, and you may want to read more about the Anti-Hindi agitations which happened in the mid 60s. I don’t think it is right to blame the people if they do not speak your language (read: Hindi). I’ve been trying to learn Tamil, and it has only helped me so far. But that said, I do think there is a large problem which needs to be addressed. People who work at places where there is a large influx of crowd, importantly non-locals, like train stations definitely need a primer in English, and if possible Hindi as well. It is not always do I have the time nor the inclination to communicate through sign language while at the ticket counter.

Rude people? No. The people I’ve across have been amazingly helpful and kind. I have great colleagues at work, local people I know through twitter have all offered to help me in case I need anything, and I find the average person on the road to be just as friendly and warm as I’d find anywhere else.

“I know we just met and this is crazy, but will you donate all your life savings to me?” – Autowallahs in Chennai.

But not all is hunky dory about the city. Like I mentioned earlier, the officials at places where there is a larger influx of non-locals need to be trained. And then, my biggest gripe with the city, Chennai’s Autos. My love towards Autowallahs has been documented before. But now I have new found respect for the Autowallahs in Hyderabad (who go by the meter, btw) and Vizag. I’ll not mince words, and I’ll allow myself some hyperbole here, but the Autowallahs in Chennai are easily the most unruly, uncouth, ill-mannered and conniving lot I’ve seen in my life. Thank god the Autowallahs of Chennai are not internet savvy, else they’d have sold the country of Nigeria to the Nigerian scammers long back. Notwithstanding all that I’ve written above, the Autos of this city will be the only reason I’d not want to live here, and maybe even like it a lot lesser. Chennai has a problem, and its authorities have to look into it. Or maybe I’ll just get a vehicle of my own which will stop me from going bankrupt.

In short, it is a city which has its own pitfalls, like every other city. I really like the Train and the Bus service here, again wish they put up boards in English also. Download the ‘MTC Bus’ and ‘Chennai Train Timings’ apps on your Android/iOS phones (BlackBerry owners deserve to travel by Chennai autos), and you are good to go. Explore the city, visit the places around the city, and eat Kothu Parotha, it is awesome.

Because, Idhu namma Chennai, machi.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2012 4:20 pm

    wazza yo. sorry andi, but I think the worst autowallahs in India prize has to go to bangalore. at least in chennai they take you where you want to go (even though they may charge you half a kidney). in bangalore you’ll be lucky if an auto driver wants to take you somewhere. once I got into an auto, agreed to pay 50 rupees above meter, and halfway to my house the guy decided he didn’t want to go there and dropped me in the middle of nowhere. while it was raining. you can’t beat that. many times autowallahs in bangalore don’t even bother letting you finish where you want to go. it became so bad that I had to order a fasttrack car every evening from my office to my house simply because it was cheaper (!) and less stressful and more dependable than taking an auto. and mind you, at least we can speak passable tamil. in bangalore if you do not speak kannada you are pretty much done for. (not that you can’t communicate, but people will immediately think you are a foreigner/outsider and charge exorbitant prices.)

    However, I guess every coin has 2 sides and if you look at things from the driver’s perspective, they have a lot of obligations and bills to pay and even though they charge you insane amounts of money, the amount of money they take home is probably very little especially since I guess very few autowallahs actually own their own autos. Their attitudes can change drastically if their home situation changes for example. And more importantly, they look at us and think that we are cheap for refusing them 10-20 rs (bargaining etc). They look at it as a one-off situation and think we are being stingy – 10-20 rs is nothing for us but a lot for them etc. What they don’t realise is that 10, 20, 30 rs is fine for a one-off thing but that amount does add up if you have to shell it out every day (or sometimes multiple times per day).

    Don’t stress yaar. these are just teething issues. Don’t look at them as assholes or whatever. They’re also normal people who are trying to make a living no. Instead work out a mutually convenient agreement 😛 and beat the system!! Make an arrangement with an auto driver… someone around your complex…ask him to pick u up every day and you will give him a certain amount of money daily or monthly or weekly. (suggest you brush up on your tamil :P)..since your workplace is near your home I am sure you can figure something out with some driver.


    • July 11, 2012 4:25 pm


      (Yes, you are right. But then, there are good autodrivers too, like Bhasha)

      • July 11, 2012 4:28 pm

        Hahahaha! OK. Next time I will type my comment in telugu. Then nobody will be able to make sense of what I’m saying only =P

  2. July 11, 2012 4:47 pm

    The root cause of the problem with autos in Chennai is that a majority are owned by traffic police constables 😛

    @L: Auto-wallahs in Bangalore are rich people yaar.. why should they drive through stupid, cheap localities with bad roads where you live when it is raining? Did you know that an average auto-wallah in Bangalore makes about 1000 – 1500 rupees a day (slightly less than my “IITian” salary)

    • July 11, 2012 5:42 pm

      Ya… that I can easily believe (salary). But how much of the salary can they keep? I am sure they pay a lot of money for auto rental… gangs and all. kada?

  3. July 11, 2012 5:15 pm

    Good one prads.. yes i do agree about how much people in Chennai care about their culture and heritage… that’s something we must learn… but climate antaava… Vizag is somehow better dude… don’t ask me hw.. 😉

  4. nav027 permalink
    July 11, 2012 5:37 pm

    What macha! I expected better than this. You didn’t say a word about sambar 😐 😐 .:P

  5. karan permalink
    July 11, 2012 10:01 pm

    Ghanta! you wrote quite well. I was in chennai for a max 14 hours. In that it took me 4-5 hours to explain my taxi driver ‘McDonalds’. He was on a border with no English No Hindi, Only TAMIL. Like the place to be visited again and marina beach for some legs…:D

  6. July 11, 2012 10:20 pm

    Great blog Prad ! Atleast for someone like me who is a pakka northy but loves Chennai and would love to go there again… Try the metro routes to avoid the autowallas.. Thats what we, a bunch of gals used to do…Wish to see you there when i visit again (sometime…. ;)).. Great work and keep the posts flowing 🙂 🙂

  7. July 11, 2012 10:22 pm

    P.S – Do leave a line or two about the food…You just cant afford to miss murugan idli, sarvanabhavan or the appam with coconut milk thingy… !! 😉

  8. July 24, 2012 7:45 am

    Saleem, achha pheka 🙂

    Personally, I like Chennai food a lot. Guess what! the best south Indian food (idli/vada/dosa) I have ever eaten was just outside Chennai on the Chennai-Tirupati route.

    About people, it’s surely high on the rudeness index when it comes to the Police. People are okay once we mutually cut through the pre-conceived notions crap.

    Also, a typical problem I use to face after spending a day in the city was that I became color blind to at least two colors: very-dark-brown and yellow!

    Most importantly, I admire the general level of erudition and simplicity of life!

    (Endnote: If Karunanidhi is a Tamilian, I hate some Tamilians!)

  9. permalink
    September 13, 2012 7:32 am

    namma chennai? you mean a telugu speaks kannada in tamil land?

    • September 13, 2012 9:17 am

      “Namma” actually means the same in Tamil as well.

  10. December 10, 2012 3:40 pm

    Good Post 🙂 I am happy there is at least another person like me who doesn’t wince at the name of Chennai and appreciate its great culture,History and of course the Music!

  11. June 19, 2013 1:26 pm

    hi andi sambhar kavali

  12. August 8, 2013 9:52 am

    I’m a pure-bred Hyderabadi! I had to move to Chennai for work and lived there for 4 months. Before I left for Chennai in December last yr, I had all the same apprehensions and prejudices as the souls that advised you, thanks to a few previous experiences. At that point I swallowed all my misgivings just for the Madras Music Season and got my ass to Chennai. When I got there, I wasn’t disappointed but was pleasantly surprised and I had grown attached to the place within a month’s time. True, it’s hot and the autowallahs are just the way you describe them, but the city’s cultural charm overshadows the flaws. I had managed to learn a bit of Tamil before I went there, thanks to my hoards of Tambram friends, and I got by without hassles. Also, many people there speak Telugu too! Living in Chennai made me see a side of South India I’d have hardly seen anywhere else. It’s Chennai, not my hometown Hyderabad or the IT-gold-rush-infested Bangalore, makes me proud to be a South Indian! The four months I spent there are very special to me. I now live in Delhi, which is again an exquisitely beautiful and a culturally vibrant city, perhaps even more than Chennai,and is enormous in size, but sometimes I terribly miss India’s ‘Land Down-under’!

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