26 October 2011

Chennai: Dress, Language, Humidity

Dress: In Chennai, women are in salwar/saree. The other place I can think of where everyone is dressed alike is Kandy (Sri Lanka). There, everyone from teens to grannies, is dressed in a skirt but the colors/patterns break the monotony. Chennai disappoints in that count. We need visual stimuli! I missed handsome hunks waltzing past me & Sathya sorely missed lovely girls, who could make heads turn, walking past him. In Kannada we say “kannu thampu” or “aankhon ka sukoon”in Hindi: the cooling effect of watching drop-dead gorgeous faces. It was a dry spell – “Who Saat Din” in Chennai/ECR. Once, when I spotted a guy in shades, outside Express Avenue Mall, I gaped at him. He looked like a ‘celebrity’ in that barren land!

The influx of strikingly good-looking people from all over the country/world has worked in Bangalore’s favor. Here we’ve far more “sightings.” The city is pleasing to the eye (except areas like Peenya, Jalahalli & a few more!!). In Bombay, the girls are casually dressed but the variety has to be seen to be believed. Just watching their accessories & perkiness is a treat. The unusual collection, whether footwear, jewelry, outfits, bags, it’s a joy. Delhi rocks when it comes to stepping out of the house beautifully turned out –their clothes (mostly branded), shades & lovely hair - kya kehna. Hyderabad is great in places – you get to see some really stunning women/men; wander around the 2 famous Hills or Punjagutta/Somajigudda/Begumpet areas.

States in the South esp Kerala are known for their women with lustrous hair & attractive eyes & I expected (wrongly?) the same from Chennai. I was scanning every face but the numbers were too few to be encouraging. Maybe in this case, it really is the villainous weather & the harsh sun. The only colorful chicks I’d spot were these:
And some more in Express Avenue (EA) Mall who would’ve minded had I clicked them :)

Language: We value the thing that is rare. Something that is common, you take it for granted. In Bangalore, people are VERY friendly & go out of their way to help/guide you, speak to you in YOUR language & try to make you feel comfortable & you begin to think it is your birthright. But go to a city like Chennai, whenever someone helps you, you instantly feel blessed, & believe it’s your past life’s “punya” or good karma.

In Kerala, the general public doesn’t like being spoken to in English, more so if you're one of those tourist types in a sleeveless top, high heels & your fancy sunglass perched atop your head/nose. They might be a PhD in English but they’ll respond in Mal or gestures. In Chennai, you get the feeling that they don’t like being spoken to in Hindi. And Kannada. And Gujarati. And Punjabi. And Bengali. And ….

Humidity: The heat & humidity is a huge turn off in Chennai, for sure. But then Hyderabad too has the same problem- it is so hot there, it BURNS your skin. And you tan so bad, you look funny! Just imagine the covered parts of your body in 1 color & the exposed parts (face, neck, arms, back, & feet) 5 shades darker. But the people themselves are nice, & friendly. Having lived there for a year NEVER ONCE did I feel like an outsider.

In Chennai, you feel alienated, within hours, like someone’s telling you, “What are you doing here you pagan? This holy land is only for us”. You can almost hear your mind saying, “I don’t want to stay here because they don’t want me to.” And you can’t help wondering, “Dear Chennai, is it possible, no pressure absolutely, but just… can you make your city a little more likeable? Livable? If I am not wrong, aren’t you part of a larger nation? Or are you a separate country?”

I am no ardent fan of either KFC or McDonalds. I stay within 5-10 minutes’ walk of each of these outlets on New BEL Road in Bangalore. I go there to pick the Happy Meals burger only because Tan loves the toys that come with it! But I must confess: seeing McDonald outlet in Skywalk Mall in Arumbakkam made me feel at home! Like I was in familiar surroundings, in ‘my place’, a place I know & like! Tanvi & I spent more than an hour there, which is so rare I surprised myself. And that’s when I understood why some of my foreign students would always say a KFC/McDonalds/Pizza Hut in a new country makes them feel so much at ease that they can practically live there.


  1. ah...chennai then disappoints me if there is no colors and girls to make the heads turn and roll :P and well, if they dont like to being spoken in english then its not a good thing for tourists, i think the locals should realize that its okay to speak in english or some other language because people from all over the world will come to chennai... :)

  2. awww really sorry for you & sathya... actually Chennai was not that dry in beauty earlier.. it lost it completely after 2007.. that's when I moved out yaar...cche what a miss !!!! :D :D :D :D

  3. A nice investigation from chicks to languages to KFC...

  4. Hmm I agree with everything you have said except the last point. There are actually loads of outsiders who have settled down in Chennai and I haven't really heard them say that they feel alienated. Newcomers - yes probably because of language and cultural issues.

    I think Chennai is a kind of place with which you don't fall in love with immediately. Given time, it slowly grows on you. In fact reading your post, the best phrase that comes to my mind to describe Chennai is 'comfortable in its own skin' :-)

  5. dont worry chennai makes you feel like that, my frends are staying there for last 1 year and they cant wait to leave the place :P but the residents like it that way so we cant complain

  6. A very very nice description. Like the humor about Sathiya turning his head.......haha :)

    Very true about language issues.

  7. Wish you a very Happy and Prosperous Diwali.

  8. @Israr: tell me about it. wish they'd realize it too :)

    @Sunita: had no clue where you were taking me with those opening lines! chor!

    @Neeraj: investigation?? hahha just my impressions :)

  9. @Anne: true the ones who've settled might feel differently. guess like you said the city grows on you over an extended period of time. me thoh was there for less than a week

    liked that phrase Anne. was reading a lot into it

    @Madhav: hmmm. haan. kya kar sakte hai?

    @A: thank you :)

    @Seema: thank you Seema & wish you the same :)

  10. Guess Chennai wasnt "visually" appealing enough! ;)I agree with you that language does alienate visitors for a while but as Anne said, it is also true that over an extended period of time you find the people quite friendly. :)Either ways.. I guess you got to see different shades of Chennai though you couldnt find any "colors"! ;)

  11. wow you really hated chennai didnt you?!

  12. Well i would say you should feel the chennai and really know her.. once u know her u fall in love completely.. Chennaites know to adapt and we know how n where to have fun :)Most of us know english so i guess you can easily manage out.. and u go to pondi or the mahabs the locals know hindi malyalam kannada telgu french german italian very fluently

  13. There are two types of beautiful people - Physically beautiful people and Intellectually beautiful people. Its very rare to find someone who is both. People in Chennai appreciate the latter, more than the former.

    If a girl turns up in short skirts and designer 'everythings' people might look like - 'How desperate she is to garner looks in her direction!'. But even if the girl is wearing quite an unattractive dress (you know - the beige colours wala salwar) but is reading, 'The Theory of Everything' by Stephen Hawking, She's sure to get a lot of looks/ admiration in her way.

    One can never expect Chennai to integrate with the rest of the nation. The city and the state is adamant about having its own identity and more often than not, gets away with it. People learn Tamil faster while in Chennai than learning Telugu while in Hyderabad. Do they even speak Telugu in Hyderabad? People reply to you in Hindi, when asked in Telugu!

    Destination Infinity

  14. @Raj: that's right,we got to see different shades of the city

    @magic: haha no no it was fine. just a week's stay na!

    @love2smile: true, pondi & mahabs are different. i have been to both places. in fact to pondi 3 times!
    thanks for your comment & welcome to my blog

    @destination: dont agree with your 1st para.
    completely with you on the last para - even in KA, same problem. people might live here forever & yet not learn kannada. they never feel the "need" to do so.

  15. I liked the way you ended the post. To be frank, I never understood why people flock to McD and KFC. But your explanation makes sense.

  16. @SS: I think it used to be like that, but these days I guess things should have changed a lot. I have just returned to Chennai after a few years!

    Destination Infinity

  17. @Nona: thank you

    @Destination: it must feel very good to return to chennai

    @Rajesh: thank you :)

  18. i have seen multiple shades of Chennai for more than 3 decades. This time around i did not get in touch with any of the old contacts, i was able to re discover Chennai. Overall i would rate Chennai as livable place except for the sultry weather. If you know Tamil you would enjoy Tamil Nadu in general, luckily i am blessed to know all the south Indian language.

  19. Ha ha! Yeah this language problem is always there at Chennai, though I visited the place long back. Nice post! :)

  20. Nice analysis. But c'mon, aren't you kind of calling Chennaites ugly just because they have not dressed in western outfits? That's not fair! :P.
    I was in Chennai for a few months, and totally agree with what Deguide has to say that Chennai is good if you know Tamil and I ll add, like rice!

  21. @Deguide: :) its great that you know all the south indian languages, not many do

    @Harsha: welcome to my blog & thanks for your comments

    @Richa: hell no, you read me wrong Richa. i didnt say they had to dress in western outfits to look good or that they are ugly. where did i say that? you must go over those paras again.

    why that condition to like a place? "must know tamil", now that i'd say isn't fair & not the rice bit too :)

  22. Loved your observations, Sujatha. But what meets the eye need not always be the perfect truth since it is the way we perceive that makes and breaks that truth.

    I must add something here where you said about Kerala...Since I am one from Kerala, lemme tell you it's not that they don't like it when spoken to in English. They don't like it when someone who knws the tongue, Malayalam, don't speak to in that language. It's taken as being snobbish!
    [I get to say this coz my childhood was spent in Bangalore and when we moved to Kerala I had a hell of a time to get adjusted.]But if one genuinely doesn't knw the lang, they don't mind tht. If they respond in gestures, then certainty they are not fluent in English. There are many well educated people in Kerala who can write excellently in English but who find it difficult to converse since there's no scope of 'spoken english' among themselves.
    Regarding dress...you will find exceptions as in Ernakulam where you'll get the Metro city feel. But otherwise people do like it when dressed like one amomg them....atleast moderately:))
    Regarding people in Tamilnadu, if you get to know them really well...most of them are really lovable people. I have many Tamilian friends(speaking from that experience)
    Bangalore, It's just Awesome! I have so many fab friends and teachers there:)))
    I think I have written an essay!!!!!!!

  23. nice description sujatha.... twas a good read :-)

  24. @deepa: definitely Deepa - truth may be different. that's why these posts are titled "impressions"

    i too have some great Tamil friends - my colleagues especially & students.

    thank you for stopping by my blog & posting your views. appreciate it :) - your "essay" :)) you took a lot of time & i value that

    @trupty: thank you Trupty

  25. A good analysis of Chennai. But I have to differ with ur views about the tolerance of Chennaities to persons from other parts of the country.

    Over the decades, I have seen a lot of changes in Chennai. Now it has become really a Metropolitan city with thousands of men and women from North,East and West India and other parts of South India.

    If you had visited Chennai 10 years back, you might have noticed that most of the labours working in Construction sites, Hotels, Shopping malls etc were Tamil people.

    But now you can see most of these people are from Bihar,Orissa and other parts if India.

    You can manage easily in whatever offices in Chennai with a little English even if you don't know Tamil.

    I totally agree with your observations of Kerala. I had the same experience when I went there recently.

    And finally, taking cue from your postings in your Blog narrating your experinces, I am going to post my experiences in my Blog :-)

  26. @Saibaba: thank you Sir for your response. I appreciate that you took the time to elaborate on each of the aspects.

    these are my "impressions" formed during my 5 day stay in chennai & my first ever visit to the city though i've been to many other parts of TN many times before.

    i look forward to your experiences since you've "lived" in chennai practically your whole life

  27. Thank God, at least you felt home in Chennai's McDonald outlet at Skywalk Mall.
    Obviously, you get to see more attractive folks in Bangalore than in Chennai; I totally agree with this point. I even have plans to come to Bangalore and fall in love with a cute girl, why not??? ha, ha, ha.

    From: sriramnivas.wordpress.com

  28. @Sriram: good luck! but i must warn you: Blore is hardly the matrimonial hub of India :))

  29. I've been enjoying your observations on recently visited places around India. I am yet to explore places such as Kerala and Chennai, but I know what to now expect going there in the future ;)

  30. Interesting observation yaa :) fully agree with the KFC and PH part...no wonder these guys invest so much in branding...:)

  31. @Kiran: :) i am glad you enjoyed these posts. hope your trips are going to be just as memorable as well

    @India's: i know! well worth every dollar they spend because its all coming back :)

  32. Good observations..reminded me of Chetan Bhagtas book Two states. In an unfamiliar setting if one seems something that one is familiar of it is so comforting..like a lighthouse..I could empathize with your experience in MacDonald..
    Happy Diwali to you too Sujatha

  33. @Kirti: lighthouse? ;0) yeah kind of like that

  34. Nicely written Sujatha and if you chance to visit Chandigarh, it can beat delhi in quality as far as dressing sense is concerned. But, humidity is a trademark of Chennai, no city can beat that!

  35. @Saru: is it? hmmm! we do get glimpses of Chandigarh from TV shows & stuff but never been there.
    the humidity - i know - no city can beat it

  36. Well, am sure you didn't see me anywhere in Chennai during your visit. This will give a different answer to your questions on looks, language and making you feel at home.. LOLLL!!!

    Language is indeed a huge problem here; I agree. There are many people who literally hate Hindi and there are many who long that they couldn't speak and understand Hindi. The language was banned in academics due to political reasons and not one of the papers in board exams. That's what made a huge setback for Chennai.

    And no other city can beat the Humidity I guess. Its a trademark here!!! Only sunscreens and whiteners can save a good looking skin!

  37. There is something about Chennai which often doesn't meet the eyes, but yes, many of your observations are true

  38. Nice post. Getting to know Chennai from your perspective is refreshing. Yeah, am a Chennai gal and love my city, however it is. Anyways, opinions differ:) BTW, nice Blog. I love it:)


  39. @Anand: yeah i know. that's why i ""cooled my eyes"" looking at your FB pics after i came back mr.handsome :))

    true. have read about the political reasons behind the language issue, the many attempts to uphold the "divine, classical" status of Tamil

    @Shadows: welcome to my blog & thanks a lot for your comment

    @Sowmya: thanks for dropping by my blog Sowmya & posting your thoughts. appreciate it.

    yes i understand perfectly your love for your city. this post is just a capture of my "first impressions" of the city formed during a 5 day stay there. you know your city the best :))

  40. Very good observation.
    Thank You.

  41. @Rathnavel: thank you Sir. welcome to my blog :)

  42. this post is quite ironic to ur last post....

    people here dont understand hindi, kannada , telegu ?? But y do u expect them to know tat ?

    I have seen auto walas , bus conductors speak english here :P serious ,,, chennai is changing :)

  43. learnt the new word"“kannu thampu” or “aankhon ka sukoon”:)

  44. @Sourabh: if chennai is changing, then its good for the future visitors to the city :)

    i didn't get the point about 'ironic' & where did i write they 'don't understand xyz lang' ?

    @Mithlash: :)) good na?

  45. your observations are so perfect:) even my children exactly echo the same thing..
    here people are reserved and yes Hyderabad and its people are amazing and very friendly
    Autowallas in chennai are notorious for not speaking any other language and charging more from outsiders.

  46. @Renu: thank you Renu. i am happy to know you found the observations correct esp since you are from Chennai

  47. From the first two posts of this series I thought Chennai experience was positive for you but looks like its not so good to remember kind.

    Oh,that's so unfortunate.Poor chennai.I guess one may not fall in love with the city at first sight but when you spend time you start loving it.

    About men ogling(in previous post) I guess its there in chennai too but comparatively less in number and from the way you describe the situation in other parts of the country it looks like Chennai is way too better.Also I haven't seen much of pickpocket cases except in areas places like Central and CMBT where new people easily become the target.Cell phone theft is common but pick pockets not much or I haven't seen.

    Regarding appealing faces and colors.Yeah that's one thing.We guys have a hard time.But then its about the right place and time.For example in weekdays you can see good looking girls in OMR road which has a bunch of IT offices and colleges.In weekends cinemas ,malls like EA, sky walk, Spencer will be the host of good looking girls. To be honest I also have wondered whether girls(I mean good looking ones :P) come out of their home at all.By chance if you come across some bright ones you tend to think where the hell have you been all these days.Point is,there are good looking drop dead gorgeous girls but you don't get to see them frequently.

    And here people don't accessorize themselves much and they don't take much effort to look trendy except people who have settled from other parts of the country.Stylish girls or guys are relatively(and if someone looks trendy the look that look that follows them is different) less but if you take into account the aesthetically beautiful ones there are many.

    Finally regarding language I think most people don't know any other language than Tamil and that is the reason I guess.But I'm sure you can manage your way as long as you approach the right person.Even for a Tamilian who is new to the city its difficult unless he approaches the right person.You develop this inherent talent of judging the right person to approach when you spend some months in the city.I had a difficult time when I came to the city 5 years back and then I developed the trait.:P

    And I saw one of the comment pointing to the hatred on other languages like Hindi.I guess its in olden days like 1970s and 1980s.These days the situation has changed to an extent that the children of above average good schools have Hindi and french as their secondary language than Tamil.I myself know Hindi,broken Telugu apart from Tamil,English.

    One tip I can give is:Add "Anna"(meaning brother) and convey the message in broken tamil or something that resembles tamil,that will save you.I have seen many North Indians doing that.Finally,yes it has to be accepted that the language is a big problem here.

    I think people who speak English or slightly educated will help you if you strike a conversation.Sometimes if you come across a smug one then its really difficult.

    Don't give up on the city it merits another chance.Poor thing give it another try ;) .Sure its not a best tourist destination but also its not a blacklisted should-not-be-visited place.

    Guess I have typed a mini post here.Sorry,can't help I love the city and I can not stop myself from talking about it. :)

  48. @Vishnu: that's ok Vishnu - you love the city & you were trying to clear the air about it, that's why the long comment. appreciate it - taking the time to respond in detail

    also thank you for highlighting some of your observations through your response

  49. very true..............
    Living here from last 1 year feel like i have done some bad sins in my previous birth so god is punishing me for that.......

    1. oh no you sound really frustrated with the city Soniya !

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  52. In Kandy Sinhalese women wear something like a top and a skirt(obviously they copied it from Tamils) and Tamils mostly wear Salwar and Saree.

  53. U look sathiyam cinemas the interior designs is more preferred for looking and sound effects