Waiting for Madras in Chennai

This post is a part of the blog tag in The Chennai Bloggers Club with the theme Chennai- A Blend of the traditional and modern. I was tagged by Asha who is currently based out of the USA and has been blessed with a beautiful baby – Princess Ameya recently. You can read her wonderful post here.

I landed in Madras for the first time in 1989 or 1990, the memory is hazy but it was an epic adventure as I got separated from my uncle at Howrah Station and was re-united with him in true filmi fashion. My first memories of Madras as a 7 year old-kid in a tee-shirt and shorts, alighting from the Howrah Mail at Chennai Central Station was the intense smell – a mix of sweat, piss, jasmine flowers, and a smell that I now know is a combination of milk and coffee powder. ‘Eau de Madras’ is what I would like to call it. Over the years the smell has become a pronounced stench with the mix of alcoholic fumes and chewing tobacco adding to strain on the olfactory receptors.

There is a lot of good in this city that has been brought out again and again in various forms. Today I present some harsh and inconvenient truths:

  • Every place is perfect to spit or take a leak or shit away without a care in the world. For every first-time visitor to the city, on alighting the train and walking out to board a bus adjacent to the government hospital the city appears like a massive public toilet – this is a bitter fact.
  • Loud, louder loudest – The concept of private space is quite alien. Be it bus, train, share-auto, shopping mall or cinema hall, everyone is yelling at the top of their lungs on their mobile phones.
  • Pavements a dying breed – The pavements here are a joke. Whatever space is there is taken by people putting up shops. Or they are too narrow for two people to walk side-by-side.
  • Loudspeakers, banners and pandals – Be it a death, be it a birth, wedding or house-warming, or a movie release – the banner, the loudspeaker blasting songs and the pandal make their presence felt. Elections and religious functions add on to the chaos.
  • Taking a Stand – As a city, as a group, the city’s citizens are too laid-back for their own good. Someone else will do this, someone else will report this incident, this takes its toll and no one does anything. Rampant bribing, rampant mis-use of power, hand-in-glove tomfoolery by goons, politicians and certain law-enforcers make me lose all faith in the judiciary.
  • No space for the old – There are so many old-age homes that have mushroomed filled with people who are no longer needed. The roads, the temples, parks and beaches are full of people who seem lost, destitute and in pain. There is a begging cartel that works and there are many genuine outcasts. Where are we headed to as a society?
  • TASMAC – The craze for alcohol is creating problems aplenty within the state. Families breaking up, domestic abuse, children beginning to drink at 13 and 14 years of age. Stealing and indulging in fights to get money to buy alcohol – this is an endless mess.
  • I am searching for the city’s true identity. In pockets I find the goodness of the gentle souls. The people who genuinely care for others. The unconditional support offered to outsiders. The wonderful joys of waking up to the bells of the temple, the aroma of fresh idlies and coconut chutney, listening to concerts both Carnatic and hard rock, film festivals where KB and Kubrick are discussed with equal ease. The city is a strange mix of a lot of good and a lot of bad elements. There is a lot to look forward to as the city is poised for phenomenal growth and the boundaries of the city keep extending to accommodate the people arriving every day.

The city is like a strange maiden whom I met on a dark night in the rains; she seemed to say something but before I could understand what she was saying, she vanished like an unfinished dream. The hunt for the maiden and the city’s true identity continues.

I pass on the baton now to Umashree Raghunath. She blogs on a variety of interesting topics.

Happy Blogging!



  1. Very well and truthfully written with no exaggeration.NeverthelessChennai retains its old world Madras charms.You will have to be away for a while to realize it.


    1. True KP sir 🙂 it is just that I long for a simpler and less complex atmosphere. May be I am wrong but the breakneck speed of development is poised to make madras another neverending concrete jungle.


  2. You did a good thing by showcasing the not-so-good things about the city. Every place has such things, and there is no point in pretending any place is ideal. Whether it is Chennai or California.

    Destination Infinity


  3. Mahesh, Few goodness and more badnessmadness. But, there is a method in the madness 🙂 That’s OK 🙂

    If you look into the goodness- these are unique for this city.


    1. Very true ravi 🙂 that is what binds Madras together. The hope that despite everything we can still succeed 🙂


  4. Mahesh, I really like this… it is high time people woke up to the fact that this is not how a metropolitan city functions. I am with you on the dirt, the stench and the unmentionables that dot the city roads… I cannot understand how people cannot see that it is a bad thing to littler and spit and defecate anywhere and everywhere. Glad that you decided to focus on this…


  5. Very beautiful article, buddy! You pretty much summed up Chennai from the eyes of a newcomer!

    Proud to see that your posts have started becoming more better over the years.


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