“Anna! Will this train go to Avadi?” an unmistakable southern Tamil accent caressed my ears. I was standing in platform number 14 of Chennai Central Suburban railway station. I nodded to him. He walked and got in the train with the relief. With number of trains moved to different stations which do not cover Avadi, I could understand his predicament. Been there, Done that! I said to myself. I could be that boy to some other person when I came to Chennai for the first time. Then on Chennai became inseparable part of me.
It took me quite some time to adjust to Chennai. All I knew in Chennai, when I came here was Ranganathan Street and Egmore Railway station. Tirunelveli was not this complicated, I would think. May be because I grew up there. I know the lanes and narrow spaces like back of my hand. Chennai was too big for me. I constantly felt this big city would swallow me. I felt like an ant, insignificant little thing pacing here and there with no apparent purpose. One thing that struck me very hard was the mixture of unpredictability and purpose this city had.
I avoided taking buses, as the same number buses charged different changes from one way to other. I am yet to master the trick of identifying the cost of travel by the color of the board in a bus. When I was struggling to get a job and had limited change in my pockets to spend, trains were the best way to travel. Slowly the city started to make me comfortable. The unknown places were no longer unknown. It was easy to talk to the locals and they were helpful. Do you want to know where to get used books? Where to buy used gym equipment? Where to by bar bells and dumbbells? All you had to do is ask. And that I did.
The city changed in front of my eyes but not so visibly. I am sad as they take down some of the buildings and thankful for taking down some of the buildings. Entire stretch of Vadapalani is brought to dust for the Metro train construction. It was not the same place, where i had to foot board every morning till Velachery for work. I wonder how Nelson Manikkam Road still caters the ever growing number of cars and bikes? There used to be much lesser number of vehicles.
Last year, by a summer morning, I went to Adyar with good friend Clement Williams. We saw the sunrise from Elphinstone Bridge, Adyar and then proceeded to Broken Bridge. While coming back to Anna Nagar, he kind of gave me a guided tour about that part of the city. Though I am a Chennai resident for like 9 years, I was amazed and also little ashamed that, that part of the city was completely alien to me. Most importantly Clement never laughed at my silly questions. It is a blessing to have such friends.
I got used to the usual scenes of the city. The urgency and the rush towards the exit of Central Suburban station is nothing new to me now. Just that, I have decided not to take part of it. Now a walk from Mylapore tank to Santhome in a lazy Sunday evening with friends is something I got used to. The mall securities and store people smile at me in most of the places. I love Chennai. For a blogging challenge, I wrote a post called “Oor Pasam” which means, the affection towards your city, one of my friends asked why I chose to write about Tirunleveli and not Chennai. I had no answer. I could go on and on about both the places.
Tirunleveli is like mother. Whenever I go there, she will feed me like there is no tomorrow and give me the pleasant and so good experiences which only nostalgia and innocence can give you. Chennai is more like a girl friend, who seduces me day in a day out. She takes care of herself and appears new everyday. She is never boring. After a steady relationship of 9 years now, I can say I am ready for a future with her. I cannot even think of some other city now.
That is why I struck very hard when two of my friends said that they are moving out of the city. One for his career advancement and other for her higher studies. They both are really close to me. I rarely say this to people. But I felt a sudden mood shift when they broke the news to me. The offers they got were too good to refuse. And of course, I want the best for my friends. But when I come to think of it a part of the worry was about how could they leave Chennai? What is not here? Will they be safe in the new city? That is what Chennai did to me. I came here as an immigrant. Now when my friends decide to move on to a different place, it feels as though some cousin leaving MY house forever.
There were lot of memories associated with Chennai. But the memory of four people cramped in an auto, which a girl argued to be run on meter, laughing about silly things and roaming around a mall or road without any intention of buying anything will remain with me forever. I will miss them. But when they come back, Chennai and me will be there to welcome them. We would have just become older and awesome.